Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Critical about Criticals

So I have been trying to sort out what I should post about first. There are some big issues with D&D and some of them are going to be long winded and probably require some serious thought. I finally decided on something simple.

Critical Hits

You would think something so simple wouldn't be the cause of edition wars, but of course people will look for any reason to try to convince WotC that D&D Next needs to be like their preferred edition. If you want to read all this conflict, head over to the WotC Community Forums. I don't recommend it. I find it mostly depressing.

There have been several Critical Hit (Crit) systems in D&D. None of them have been perfect, but they have tried to improve. Here is my breakdown.

The Attack Roll

A critical on a 20. Yep, this makes sense and is a good way to do it. You roll the top number of your d20 and you land a Crit. Simple and effective. No downside here.

Threat on a 20 with a chance of a Crit. This was the 3e mechanic and it was good, but took a lot of the thrill out of rolling a 20. You rolled a 20 so you made another attack to try to hit the enemy again. If you missed the joy for rolling the 20 was wasted, if you hit you got the Crit for rolling whatever the second roll was. It made sense sure, but it was less rewarding and added complexity the system didn't need. Make it an option if people want it, but not the core rule.

Miss on a 1. Lots of people hate this, I think it is fine. If you are in a fight where you would hit on a 1 then there is a balance issue, but maybe you are just running through a low level encounter, or have stacked bonuses too high. Roll a 1 on a d20 and you miss. All good here.

Fumble on a 1. This is where things get really problematic. How do you deal with fumbles? Does the person drop their weapon? If so, what I'd they are flying on the back of a Pegasus, do they lose the weapon forever? Fumbles add a certain feel to a fight for sure, but there are other ways of doing it. I would prefer a characters problems to come from the actions of their enemies, not through a bad die roll. When you add the 2nd edition options of having a chance of breaking your weapon on a 1, the fun went right out the window. There is little fun about losing a battle because of a single roll of the dice. Keep fumbles out of the core rules.

There is one place that both 3E and 4E fail, and that is the increased chance to Crit mechanics. I have no problem with people of higher skill with training getting Crits more often, but 3E got silly and 4E tried to wind it back, but it got silly again fast. When you have a character not half way through the leveling system Critting on a 16, the system has turned a special bonus into a requirement. Crits should be special and the exception rather than the norm. If they happen too often you are just forced to ramp up the encounter difficulty, and the players who don't have the high Crit chances get left behind.

I would out a limit in the bonuses you can get to Crits, and I would make them not easy to get. Using 4E terms, set a limit of 20 only in Heroic, 19+ in Paragon, and 18+ in Epic. On top of that make it harder to get. Maybe your paragon path or prestige class gives you that bonus with a specific weapon. Maybe you get it from training several feats or skills with a specific weapon. Don't just give it to a weapon class, don't just make it a simple feat, and don't let it get out of control. Players should be happy to hit, not sad they didn't Crit.

Damage from Crits

Like critical hit systems, there have been many critical damage systems. Most of them have been playable, but some are better than others.

Double damage is fine, though it suffers from a similar problem to only getting Threat on a 20, bad dice rolls ruin the thrill of getting a Crit. You don't want to do a Crit for less damage than you can do with a normal hit.

Maximum damage is good. It means you are guaranteed to do well with that 20. I approve of this system, however 4E really lost the plot with the way they did it.

In 4E you do maximum damage, great. Then you add 1d6 which you roll for every plus your weapon has, which slows things down, but isn't too bad. Then you have weapons that do d8s, d10s or even d12s for that bonus, which starts feeling like the inflation problem all over again. Add to this the concept of High Crit weapons, which do bonus weapon damage, and you are talking about sometimes doing levels of damage that are encounter breaking. Crits should be special, not required, and the levels of damage that you could get to in 4E were ridiculous.

Other systems had extra dice rolled, but few of them got as out of hand as 4E. I think extra damage dice is a nice, but not required.

So What's My Suggestion?

Critical on a 20. If you are an experienced character who has specifically trained for it get to 19. A legendary character who is known the planes over for their proficiency with their weapon or implement of choice can get it down to an 18.

Do maximum damage with some bonus that doesn't get out of control. One bonus d6 for Heroic, two bonus d6 for Paragon, three for Epic. If you don't use tiers, it doesn't matter, the concept holds true. Maybe a weapon specifically enchanted for it might get to d8s, but you don't want the damage bloat to get too bad. It would even be fine to keep the dice out of it and just have a weapon do bonus damage equal to three times it's multiplier or something similar.

If you want weapon types to have some bonus for being High Crit, keep it under control. Maybe 5, 10 or 15 damage, again based on character progression.

Miss on a 1. You his shouldn't come up too often, but who it does it's simple and means characters are never guaranteed to hit.

Other Ideas

There are some other good ideas I have encountered that could be used in place of extra damage dice, or in addition too if you really want Crits to be game changers.

All of these suggestions would work as Crit bonuses for certain weapon groups without just being bigger numbers.

Suffer a Crit, get a penalty. If you critically hit an enemy that enemy suffers a penalty to all attacks until the end of their next turn, or even until they save. Maybe it even opened a gap in their armor so their defense goes down a little. This adds flavor instead of just damage to Crits.

Score a Crit, get an extra effect. Maybe the big hammer you are using allows you to push the enemy, or even knocks them prone. Maybe the dagger penetrates their foot and slows them. Maybe the axe causes ongoing bleed damage. Maybe the fire spell Crit causes the enemy to lost their next standard action while putting themselves out.

The options for this are almost endless, and it makes Crits add to the story of the combat, not just the damage done.

I don't expect anyone from the D&D Next Design Team will ever read this, but I hope they figure all this out for themselves.

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