Ask Angry: Thinking Critically

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Do you have a question for The Angry GM! Well, because people can’t get it right, I had to set up a separate page with instructions. About how to send a f$&%ing e-mail. Ready How to Ask Angry to learn how to submit a question.

Loric the Gunslinger asks:

When you run Pathfinder, do you have players confirm their crit and have your tried using critical tables? Crit tables sound good in theory, but a lot that I’ve found are overpowered (instant death) and the players wouldn’t be cool with it if the same crit table was applied to them.

Really I just want something cool to happen on rolls of 20 besides their crit modifier and I haven’t decided how to add that to my game. If you have a critical table for successes do you have to have a critical fumble table?

What are your thoughts on this topic?

And Nibelung asks:

What is your opinion on Critical Hit and Fumbles tables? What’s your tips on creating/using one?

Wow. Just wow. This is one of those rare instances where I got the same question twice from two different people within days of each other. And that tells me that this topic is generating a lot of interest. Literally twos of people are asking about it. So I can’t ignore it.

I also have to hand it to Loric and Nibelung – and I’ve really got to start asking for preferred pronouns – they were smart cookies. We’re talking Fig Newtons, because those are the smartest of the cookies. After all, they invented calculus. By asking the same question at the same time, they’ve kind of prevented me from ripping apart their questions and their names and making fun of them. Safety in numbers.

But, the absolutely f$&%ing amazing part about this is that both Loric and Nibelung actually submitted PERFECT e-mails. See that s$&%? Literally, all I had to add was hitting enter. They literally both sent me e-mails that read exactly: “[Name] asks: [question].” Holy mother of f$&%, if I gave awards out, I would give first place to Nibelung and third place to Loric because he referred to a bulls$&% class that has NO F$&%ING PLACE IN PATHFINDER! F$&% GUNS IN D&D! AND F$&% THE GUNSLINGER MORE!

Thanks guys, gals, or gender-neutral whatevers.

So, let me answer the specifics first and then we’ll get to the rambling general discussion of critical hit systems.

Loric, yes, when I run Pathfinder, I do use confirmation for crits. Yes, I also use fumbles. And I used GameMastery’s Critical Hit Deck and Critical Fumble Deck. PCs always used the decks. And following the Savage Worlds logic, minor monsters just used the normal damage multiplier rules and couldn’t fumble. Major named foes used cards too. My players enjoyed that system. Mostly. Were some of the cards overpowered? Yes. But others were underpowered and sometimes a crit didn’t work out as great as it could have. It all balanced out. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the players getting lucky enough one out of every twenty attacks and then getting a lucky pull of the cards one out of every 52 times or whatever to get the card that actually instantly killed a monster. Who gives a f$&%?

However, I frankly think the whole critical hit system in 3.5/PF is f$&%ed up. There’s two things going very wrong in that system as far as crits go. First, there is way, WAY too much going on that extends crit ranges and crit multipliers. Now, PF got it a little under control compared to 3.5, but you can still build a character that has a very high chance of critting and deals very high damage crits with the right combinations of feats, abilities, magic items, spells, and all that other bulls$&%. And that’s really against the spirit of the critical hit system. I don’t care that players can maximize their damage output. I don’t whine about that sort of s$&%. I can handle it. I’m not one of those morons who screams that, if the party doesn’t take exactly the right amount of damage over the right number of rounds every time, my boss monster was RUINED! The players are supposed to win, luck is a factor, and sometimes that’s just how it works out. And it doesn’t ruin the f$%&ing game.

The problem with that is that the critical hit system isn’t supposed to be an option. It isn’t supposed to be something the players fiddle with, like choosing AC over damage by choosing a shield instead of a greataxe. It’s supposed to be just a matter of random fun luck every so often that says “surprise, WHAM!”

The other problem with the 3.5/PF crit system is the f$&%ing confirmation roll. That thing is a complete waste of time and it completely destroys the spirit of crits. First of all, when the confirmation is a success, it doesn’t add anything to the game. It was just an extra die roll you had to make. But when it’s a failure, it really sucks. At that point, it’s not just another that didn’t crit. It’s the dice stealing a crit from you. You rolled that crit. You deserve that crit. And now it’s gone because the f$&%ing die said ‘2.’ How is that any fun at all for anyone? You already rolled the crit. And, in exchange for that roll that at best doesn’t do anything and at worst feels like a kick in the dice bag, you get to redo the attack roll. You get to stop your game and roll ANOTHER die roll. What a waste of f$&%ing time.

Now, I understand the reason for it. The reason for it is a pretty nitpicky little point that a 20 always hits. Which is fine, except that a 20 always also crits. And that creates this weird disconnect where you’ve got a first level fighter with an attack roll of +5 fighting a dragon with an AC of 26. That creature is unhittable, right? Unless you get that on-in-twenty natural 20. In that case, you actually do get to hit and do damage, right? And without the confirmation roll, you’d automatically crit. So, you either can’t hit the creature at all OR you can only crit it. So the confirmation roll was added to ruin that corner case. Even though you can actually sort of justify why maybe it should work that way.

Consider this: if you’re that fighter, you can’t penetrate the dragon’s armor. You can’t meaningfully attack it. Unless you get super lucky and manage to stab it somewhere vital, like in its eye or in that one little patch of stomach where it is missing a scale. That’s why a natural 20 is a hit, no matter what. But that’s also what a crit is, isn’t it? So, it actually does make some amount of logically sense that the fighter can only whiff OR crit with nothing in between. But that’s just if I wanted to explain it.

The question though is how often PF PCs actually do end up in combat with things they can’t hit at all. And when they do, how many PF PCs will actually stand there and attack without trying to boost their attack roll first. And of that fraction of a fraction, how many of them are actually going to roll a crit. I don’t have any solid numbers, but I’m going to guess it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of “yeah, that doesn’t come up.” So, the confirmation roll fixes a problem that probably no one has.

Now, you can also argue that it mitigates the extended crit ranges being a problem, but you’d be wrong. Remember, except on a natural 20, you still have a to hit after you add your modifiers to the attack roll for an attack to be a threat. That is, if you have a crit range of 18-20 and you roll an 18, that doesn’t become a threat unless your modified attack roll actually hits the beastie in question. So, if you’re that first level fighter and you’re rolling against a 24 AC, no threat bucko.

But let’s get away from the 3.5/PF specific crits and talk about crit systems in general.

First things first, let’s admit crit systems are weird and kind of out of place. Now, don’t get your underthings in a wad, when I say this, but crit systems don’t really sit well in D&D and Pathfinder. The only reason they still exist is because players pretty much expect them. And that’s because they’ve been around for so long that they’ve become ubiquitous. It’s actually weird to see a system WITHOUT a crit system.

The thing about critical hits is that they actually represent “degrees of success.” That is, you can have a failiure, a good success, and a better success. And with fumbles, you can have “the worst failure, failure, a success, and a great success.” Right? But D&D generally isn’t built around degrees of success. It’s pretty much a binary resolution (which is what makes them such powerful storytelling tools compared to narrative storygamey bulls$&% once you actually know how to use them). Except for the attack roll. The attack roll is just different. In that one weird instance, we care how well you did.

Except, on top of that, an attack roll already has a degree of success built in: the damage roll. Right? You roll the attack roll to see if your attack is actually good enough to cause an injury, but the damage roll determines the actual outcome. Did you graze the goblin’s ear or run him through? That’s why the damage roll exists. In point of fact, if you want to get really nitpicky, you could say the damage roll is actually really out of place in D&D and probably unneccessary. But let’s not go there.

A critical system adds another layer of resolution to what is already the most complex roll in the game. Think about it, attacks are pretty much the most complicated things in D&D. When you roll a skill check, you generally just add your skill modifier and you’re done. Rarlely, there might be ONE situational modifier or ONE spell or bonus effect. But when you roll an attack roll, the DC changes based on the opponent, and there are always a bunch of situational modifiers that could come into play. Attack bonuses and penalties come from everywhere. And after you roll that attack roll, you aren’t done. Because here comes the damage roll. And that can have some variable modifiers apart from the basical ability bonus. Not as many as the attack roll, but still some. And then, you can add in the interaction of damage types against resistances and vulnerabilities (depending on which edition you’re playing).

So, you already have a die roll that has variable degrees of success and the most complex resolution of any action, and on top of that, you want to add another layer of rules: crits and fumbles.

By the way, you can probably see now why I advocate against critical hit and fumble tables. Because now, on top of all of the layers, you’re also adding opening a book to a big ole random table, rolling, and adjudicating that effect.

On top of that, statistically, critical hit and critical fumble systems work against the players. See, in any game of chance, any additional random element you add – any additional variance – will always favor the underdog. Look at it like this. Imagine you and I are playing the d4 game. In the d4 game, we roll a d4. If you get a 4, you win. Any other number and I win. Now, the game is stacked against you, I’m very likey to win. But lets say we add a roll that if you roll a 1, 2, or 3, you get a second chance. But you have to keep that second chance. In essence, you now have two chances to get a four. My odds of winning have dropped from 75% to about 60% and yours have gone from 25% to 40%. Roughly. Random elements favor the underdog. And in the game of D&D, remember, the game is designed around the idea that the PCs should win. The game of D&D is stacked in favor of the PCs. Adding crits and fumbles favors the monsters more than the PCs on average.

Even further, monsters tend to roll WAY more attack rolls than PCs. In a standard adventuring day, imagine four PCs have four combats against four groups of four goblins. And each combat lasts four rounds. Imagine all the PCs are fighters and all they do is attack every round. The PCs will roll 64 attack rolls and probably have 3 crits. The monsters, on the other hand, will roll 256 attack rolls and see 13 crits. That’s just the way the game works. The GM rolls way more attack rolls than the players, on average. So, the PCs are crittees far more often than they are the critters.

So crits add an extra layer of complexity to an an already complex system, they add degrees of success to a game that doesn’t otherwise include degrees of success, and they favor the bad guys over the heroes. From a purely objective standpoint, they kind of suck. The thing is, though, people are really bad at understanding odds and percentages and things. Players don’t see it that way. They see crits as awesome things to happen. And, as much as being critted sucks, most PCs have enough hit points to absorb a crit and lots of rules to keep them alive if they do get brought down to zero, whereas most monsters tend to really get slammed by crits. So, in general, critical hits feel good.

What’s really interesting is that, as much as players love crits even though they are bad for them, most players HATE fumbles. Now, when you do the same analysis, you discover that fumbles are going to impact the monsters far more often than the players (the more attack rolls thing), but players still hate fumble rules. That’s why most games have critical hits but they don’t have critical fumbles. Economists and accountants understand that people are naturally risk averse. And the reason is that human beings are hardwired to overvalue losses as compared to gains. That is, if you offer a person a chance to bet $2 for a chance to win $3 (total gain $1), some people will take it. But if you offer them the chance to bet $20 to win $30, fewer people will take it. Statistically, those are the same bets, but the bigger the potential loss, the more people will be averse to it, no matter the gain.

Even though critical hits and critical fumbles are pretty much the same thing, people hate the fumbles and love the crits. Because their loss aversion screws up their ability to assess probability, which is already pretty screwed up.

So what does all of that theory tell us? Well, all of that helps us answer Nibelung’s question: how do you make a good crit and fumble system.

Well, first, you have to recognize why you’re making a critical system at all. And the answer is: because players want it and they are too stupid to know they shouldn’t. In short, it’s a feel good system. You’re adding it because you’re expected to.

Now, as I’ve said before, complexity is a sort of currency. When you add complexity to the game, you’re buying something with that. Fun, depth, engagement, whatever. And like anything, you’ve got to pay what it’s worth. So, a crit system is basically fluff, right? It’s a worthless little but of “just for funsies.” It doesn’t actually add a whole lot to your game other than “boy, it sure feels good to get extra lucky every twentieth time.” So you want the system to be as simple as possible. It just isn’t worth your complexity dollar to do any more than that.

On top of that, remember that crit systems come in two flavors: critical hits and critical fumbles. Each one will add a layer of complexity. Now, we’ve already talked about how people don’t like fumble systems. So, we might as well just get rid of them. I know there’s this sort of “symmetry” thing in our brains that says “if we have crits, we need fumbles,” but that’s not true. There’s no good reason to add fumbles other than “we like things to be symmetrical.” And that’s dumb. So f$&% fumbles.

Now, crits should be simple to recognize. That’s why the “natural 20” system works so well. It’s easy to spot. The die hits a 20 and nothing else matters. I hit, it’s a crit. That’s actually really elegant. We don’t need confirmation rolls, extra threat ranges, or anything else. Remember, the only thing the crit system actually does is say “boy, it sure feels good to get extra lucky every so often.”

On top of that, crits should be simple to resolve. That is why “maximized damage” and “double damage” are both really nice. Maximized damage actually reduces the complexity of the roll by taking out the damage roll. Double damage is an easy thing to keep in your head. The trouble with maximized damage, though, is that it doesn’t generally feel good enough (in my observations). For a crit to feel good, it has to do a little more than what a regular roll could do. But damage multipliers can get out of hand. Remember, crit systems tend to make things worse for the players, even if they are too dumb to realize it, so we (as smart designers) want to minimize the impact of crits. We’re keeping them around just to make players feel good. If they f$&% with our game balance, that becomes a problem.

D&D 5E is interesting because it goes the double damage roll route. But damage tends to climb throughout the game. That is, the designers decided that, in 5E, damage is the thing that seperates level 10 from level 1. Which means, as the game goes on, crits have a greater and greater impact. Now, that’s probably okay because, as the game goes on, the PCs have more and more ways to mitigate and recover from damage. So, I’d actually call that an elegant solution. But I’ve also found the crit system in 5E to be pretty powerfully stacked against the players at low levels. A monster crit at first or second level can literally kill a PC.

The way you can get around this is by saying “only PCs can crit.” And that’s not ridiculous. Savage Worlds has that sort of mindset that mooks aren’t important to get bonus stuff. Only PCs and important NPCs and villans and big, powerful things get the bonuses. They play by different rules. And that’s not a bad approach. But it does mean now you’ve got two sets of rules and every monster and NPC and villan needs to have some designation that says “they get to crit.” Or you can say “only players can crit.” And that’s totally fine. I could get behind that system. But I wonder if some players would actually find that unsatisfying, feeling (irrationally) like it was a crutch, handicap, or dumbing down. Remember, players have a desire to be challenged and they want to feel like they’ve earned their victories. If they feel like a mechanic is training wheels, it makes the game feel less fun.

But there’s another approach we could take. I mean, right now, crits are just “you got extra lucky, isn’t that nice?” If we could actually make crits add an extra dimension of fun to the game, it would be worth a little more complexity. What if your crits were a way of recognizing why your attack is special?

So, what if the basic rule is “on a 20, you crit, and you do maximum damage,” but then, each weapon and spell has a “crit effect” written into it. What if heavy bludgeoning weapons add a knockback or knockdown effect on a crit. Something like this:

Maul Attack +4, Damage 1d10+4, Crit 14 damage and target knocked back 5 feet.
Longsword Attack +4, Damage 1d8+4, Crit 12 damage and target takes 4 damage from bleeding next round
Ray of Frost Damage 1d6 and target slowed, Crit 6 damage and target immobilized instead of slowed

As much as I am an advocate against critical hit tables, I do LIKE specific critical effects and I think players do too. They are more interesting than just extra damage and they add some fun flavor to the game. They make your choice of weapon or attack more interesting once in a rare while. Yes, it means an extra blank on the character sheet and extra text in the book, but in a combat focussed game, they can be fun. You can also then add critical effects to powerful monsters and NPC villains. So, maybe the average goblin can’t crit. But the goblin boss has a crit effect on his spikey goblin axe. That makes certain monsters more powerful and more interesting without every monster having to crit.

Is all of that worth it? I honestly don’t know. There’s really no objective way to measure it because we’re talking about a system that literally only exists because it is subjectively fun. Objectively, crit systems suck and should be pulled out of the game. So figuring out the level of complexity people will tolerate for the payoff of “more funsies” is a lot harder. If I were designing an RPG from the ground up (I’m not saying I am), I’m tempted to bake crit effects directly into attack forms or feats/techniques, but that also goes against my objective mathy brain.

My objective, mathy brain says “on a 20, you do double damage, and only if you’re a player” or “on a 20, you do max damage with no roll, whether you are a player or not.” I think either one of those systems does what we want to the crit system to do, is worth the complexity, and doesn’t add more problems. So, start there.

Oh, why do I use the critical hit cards in Pathfinder given all of this? Well, the cards have an advantage over tables. They don’t require page flipping and extra die rolls. You flip a card and the rules are there. Why do I use the critical fumble cards? Because I find them hilarious. I love watching my players fumble. I’m kind of a dick.

Actually, truth is, I won’t be using the cards in the future. I started using the cards because the critical hit cards seemed like a good idea. They seemed fun. However, in order to mitigate them, I also added the fumble cards knowing the monsters would roll more fumbles than the players to offset the extra critical hits the monsters would get. Eventually, I tumbled onto the idea of not having mook monsters use the cards at all. But that’s not how I started out.

In the end, though, I didn’t like the cards. They were an extra layer of complexity and they slowed down resolution of what should have been the most exciting rolls. I wanted to remove them. But the players really liked them and voted to keep using them. Because players were irrational. I kept the fumble cards in hoping the players would eventually hate the fumbles so much, they would agree to remove all the cards, but we didn’t reach that point and the campaign eventually ended because I moved to another city 800 miles away.

But that just shows how sticky an idea can become once players buy into it. Which is how we got stuck with crit systems in the first place.

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21 thoughts on “Ask Angry: Thinking Critically

  1. Iron Kingdoms, the new one, has a crit system that basically says: If your weapon has a crit effect, it does it when you crit. For example, the Flaming weapon sets whoever you hit with it on fire if you crit. Personally, I dislike it (in Iron Kingdoms). The relatively low health, and high damage means that the damage die itself does a good enough job of conveying the idea of “an especially lucky hit” when you roll high.

    Pathfinder has it worse, in my opinion, with the extended crit range, keen weaponry, Magus class, etc. Critting the enemy is a part of the balance there (Magus w/ keen rapier and shocking grasp, anyone?). I’m really glad that 5E did away with a lot of that nonsense.

  2. Enjoyed the read, great points.

    From my experience with PF: I used the optional “Hero Points” system PF outlines, as well as the fumble and crit decks. When a PC fumbled, they had the option of ignoring the fumble or drawing a card and gaining a Hero Point. By adding a little reward to the risk, and making the risk optional, my players were now excited when they fumbled. Just something that worked in my game for my players. Might help someone else’s PF game, so I mentioned it.

  3. The reason for crit confirmation is mostly to handle weak monsters with high crit weapons. Basically throw your group of high level characters into a horde of scythe wielding ogres that get on a hot streak and they’ll get butchered. When crits do x2 damage its not a huge deal but allow x4 crit and full power attack and things get crazy in a hurry after a few natural 20s. It wont really be uncommon for the PCs to go against monsters that can barely hit them.

    I also have always found fumbles stupid, especially since D&D fighters get more attacks as they level. A 20th level fighter has a greater chance of fumbling than a 1st level mage. That’s just stupid.

  4. Here’s my crit system for D&D 5E:

    A natural 20 on an attack roll deals double damage, and the attacker can make an extra attack roll against the defenders AC to apply a harmful effect.

    When players crit on enemies, they do things like stun, open a bleeding wound, or drop the defender’s AC. All things that are immmedeate and tip the battle. When enemies crit on the heroes, the heroes receive a lasting injury. These are penalties to attributes. Healing a lasting injury requires five days of rest or a healing spell of 4th level or higher.

  5. I understand the excitement created by crits. I see it as gambling. That’s why playera like it it’s having won a game of chance with a greay payoff.

    The irritating thing for me is that crits don’t really make sense. If you’re lucky you deliver an extra powerful blow. Isn’t that what warriors and soldiers are teained to do though? Why is a fluke if chance better then what a warrior is trained for. Shouldn’t the warrior already be able to do that?

    It especially doesn’t make sense whebn weapons arw taken into account. Certain weapons, the great axe, and the great sword are designed to do as much damage as possible. The weapon hitting something is supposed to be a crit butnit does paltry dmg.

    • lets use boxing as an example. A full powered uppercut is a crit. The boxers are well trained and would like to hit with these every time. They have the physical training and power to make these hits very damaging. But a variety of factors make landing these hits rare.

  6. Maybe I’m just missing it, but I’m thinking the math in your example is incorrect.

    If you have 4 individual combats, each combat is against 4 goblins, each combat has 4 rounds, that’s 64 total attacks by the goblins. If the 4 PCs are attacking each round as well, then you have 64 attacks by the PCs. (4 PCs x 4 rounds x 4 combats = 64 attacks) Where’s the 256 attack rolls coming from for the goblins?

    • I think the intent was that each combat be against four groups of goblins, not four combats with each being against one group of goblins. That results in 256 goblin attacks (16 goblins per fight, 4 rounds of attacks, four fights).

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  8. I kind of agree with what you’ve written here, but to my ongoing surprise my players love rolling on critical tables.

    A long time ago, I made one for each class of weapon damage (slashing, piercing, bludgeoning) and give the choice of maximum damage or rolling 2d6 on the table. The results have some damage-appropriate effects like stun, knock prone, or disarm, but there’s only a small chance of more damage, and a significant chance of less damage since they don’t get a guaranteed maxed-out die result when they roll on the chart. I’d theorize it’s enjoyable because it makes the critical feel like a more significant event, adds interesting outcomes, and there’s the excitement of a small chance (on a 2 or 12) of significantly more damage. For NPCs, the same rule applies, it’s just that I almost always choose maximum damage rather than the roll. So for running NPCs, this crit system means fewer rolls for the DM if that’s what the DM wants.

    I like the idea of adding a special result for magic attacks.

    • I never said they don’t. I said players are stupid and from a strict perspective of game design, they are wrong. In fact, my point is: you CAN’T take crits out of the game because of idiot players. My idiot players like using the stupid cards. But cards and tables are wastes of time and break the flow of the game. Just because people enjoy something doesn’t mean it’s good design. The question is whether they would enjoy NOT having crit tables if they had never had the experience. The answer is: no player is clamoring for crit tables. No player was even asking for crits. Until you handed them crits and crit tables. And then, suddenly, their stupidity became a problem.

  9. As much as I like your website and even though I mostly agree with this article as well, I just must point out your math is flawed this time. You are not talking probability, but sampling, actually. The randomness in itself isn’t universally against heroes, just as it doesn’t always favour underdogs. It’s small sample sizes that do that.

    Let’s take your d4 game as an example. You argue that adding this reroll favours the guy who needs to score a 4 and that’s true. But what if we made it that it needs to be a 4, but you also need an odd number on another die, or that after you get that 4 you also need a 6 on a d6? That is still us adding randomness, but it can go both ways, there is no rule about it.

    But sampling is different. See, I am pretty sure that over the years of gaming, my rolls have been no better or worse than my friends’. Because we made thousands of rolls and it all eventually evens out. But due to the linear probability distribution on d20 it is possible as hell to botch every major roll during a session. Because the variance is big and the sample is small.

    That way, when you throw even an easy encounter at your players, a couple of good rolls on their side can change it into a deadly one because the enemies suddenly pack much bigger punch. It’s equally possible for players to be lucky, but they are supposed to win anyway, so getting a crit just makes them expend a bit less resources and feel powerful. On the other hand, when this hobgoblin, who gets one shot at the party’s mage, rolls a nice crit, suddenly his life gets a meaning and he may die happy, because he did his job, and better than expected, too.

    And the monsters just keep coming. They are destined to die on the party’s swords (well, most of them, anyway), so if the heroes mop them up easily, they will just progress to the next encounter and maybe do one extra this adventuring day, because they are on a lucky strike. This is something that thus influences pacing as well (#megadungeon).

    Back to sample sizes, let’s talk concealment and miss chances. Who is more vulnerable to 50% miss chance, a giant with one powerful blow, or a tentacly thing with 5 attacks? Neither, actually. When the giant misses, he does nothing, but it is entirely possible for him to also ignore the miss chance throughout the fight – he will likely only have 3-5 attacks after all. And the tentacles guy? He will probably hit 2-3 times each round, rarely scoring 5, but rarely completely missing as well. But give both of them a couple dozen rounds and it will mostly even out, with both of them missing 40-60% attacks. Same probability, totally different behaviour.

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  11. I’ve struggled for finding a crit system that keeps the fun and excitement of rolling a crit without being a “Critical Deck” level of total randomness with a chance of seriously crippling or killing PCs due to one lucky minion roll. I finally found it – there’s a Pathfinder third-party splat called Laying Waste that redefines critical hits. I highly suggest you try it some time ^_^

    Summary: Hits within your threat range are automatically criticals (non-20’s still have to hit, though) for max damage (don’t apply the weapon’s critical multiplier). No confirmation roll. However, you do still roll another d20, this is a “severity check”. You add to this d20 the amount your crit beat the opponent’s AC by, a modifier based on the weapon’s old critical multiplier (so weapons with a big critical multi do more serious criticals still), and any feats or class features you have that boost them (anything that used to boost confirmation rolls boosts severity checks, and things that defended against confirmation raise the DC of severity checks). If you fail to beat DC 20 on the severity check, your critical just did max base damage and that’s that. 20-29 is a minor critical, 30-39 is a moderate critical, and 40+ is a major critical. (so, more accurate characters tend to do more serious criticals as well, while 10 STR wizards on lucky 20’s don’t tend to lop off limbs). Half the book is the charts, divided by critical seriousness and weapon type (minor piercing, moderate bludgeoning, etc) – and they have an app that automates the chart roll, because we all know finding and rolling on a chart is the most fun part of D&D. EVERY DEBILITATING EFFECT ALLOWS A SAVE. No more “I drew the card that says you lost an arm permanently.” Successfully saving against an effect trades the effect for bonus damage (also based on critical multiplier, but not on the weapon’s base damage) – you can choose to fail the save if you’d rather take the effect. More serious criticals have more serious effects and sometimes do bonus damage regardless of save (like, bonus damage + Fort save or lose a limb); saving against these effects does the bonus damage again.

    It’s a really fun system that just takes a little getting used to. (No, I’m not affiliated with it, just a fan.) Anyway, I just read your whole archive on Mad Adventurers and now I’m reading these and thought you might find that interesting. Have fun, happy gaming.

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