Currently, a natural 20 on an attack roll has the effect of causing maximum damage; a "critical hit".
A natural 1 has the effect of "automatically missing". That seemed lacking to my players, leading to a brief discussion on the role of "critical misses" or "fumbles".
The first question is, do we need an effect for fumbles? Does it add more enjoyment or drama to a combat? I say yes, but let's see what others think.
The second question is, if we DO need an effect, what should it be?
(Lets take as a given that a dragon article or future release will give us an optional table - or even a deck of cards - with elaborate critical miss effects. That's cool, but what I want to look at is the base default rule.)
I think an effect that makes you lose an action is a big ball of no-fun for players, and a condition that has to be tracked is a big ball of no-fun for the DM. With that in mind, our thought was:
"On a roll of a natural 1, the target of the attack may make an immediate attack of opportunity against the original attacker, if it is eligible to make opportunity attacks."
Thought? Questions? Suggestions on how to use the word "attack" less often in the sentence? Anyone care for a mint?
Thoughts: Extra effects on a critical miss clearly belong in an optional module.
Suggestions: I've considered using Paizo's critical miss deck. Haven't actually tried it, so I'm not sure how much I'd like it. Your rule is OK, I suppose. I'd probably put a bit more player agency into it: "On a roll of a natural 1, the attacker must choose betweem dropping their weapon or allowing the target of the attack to make an immediate attack of opportunity against the original attacker (the eligibility line ought to be redundant).
It still suffers from the fact that it tends to punish fighters more than anyone else (or - more precisely melee attackers more) because the others are generally not attacking someone in reach of them.
An alternative approach would be to put them at disadvantage on their attacks for the next round. But that tends to punish casters because they roll more attacks and thus are more likely to roll a crit fail (as well as more likely to crit hit).
"Thoughts: Extra effects on a critical miss clearly belong in an optional module."
Do you think the same should apply to critical hits? That the max damage rule should be in an optional module?
"But that tends to punish casters because they roll more attacks and thus are more likely to roll a crit fail (as well as more likely to crit hit)."
That was true in 4E, I'm not sure it's still true in 5E with the return of the active saving throw.
True - I don't know yet to what extent area effect spells will have saves versus attacks.
The other factor which I didn't mention (and which I don't yet know if will matter in 5E) is multiple attacks.
In 3.x, the higher level you were, the more often you rolled a fumble - because the fumble rate was a constant but higher level fighters made more attacks.
This lead to the odd situation where a low level fighter rarely fumbled (maybe once in a session) but a high level would fumble once per encounter on average.
As for critical hits being in an optional module: I'd say that the max damage is OK as a core rule. The extra damage rule that Chris Perkins trotted out during the Penny Arcade podcast (1d6 extra damage, plus an additional 1d6 at levels 1, 3 and 5) probably belongs in an optional module. Certainly if they tack on anything 'fun' like injuries, extra attacks, etc - that belongs in an optional module.
It is also an established fact that critical hits and critical fumbles work to the players disadvantage. The monster only has to fight one battle - the PCs have to fight many. Therefore the PCs will experience many more criticals. Take the extreme case of a crit hit that kills: THe monster dies and its just one less monster to kill; the PC dies and its game over for that character. Even when a crit is just extra damage - it has a much more significant effect when the one being critted (or the one fumbling) is the PC because there is one PC and dozens of monsters in the long run.
On the other hand - they are still a fun part of the game.
The way my group generally handles it is a fumble is treated as a -5 on the roll instead of a 1. If this brings your total down to 0 or below, some negative effect happens, otherwise, resolve as normal (it is theoretically possible to still hit with a 1 if whatever you're fighting is much weaker than you are)
So a low level character may occasionally have a fumble that negatively affects him, particularly if he's attempting something outside his normal range of expertise. A high level character is basically never going to fumble. So it eliminates weird things like trained swordsmen stabbing themselves in the foot every couple of minutes, or constantly dropping their swords, or whatever, while still leaving it as a possibility for lower level games (especially in grittier campaigns with low starting point buy values or harsh rolling methods).
Mind you this was for 3rd edition, in 5e with the bounded accuracy we could still conceivably have characters with a +5 or less at level 10 even in things they're supposed to be good at, which means that penalty may need to be lesser, or the mechanic may just not work at all for it.
I usually just improvise some kind of fumble whenever anyone rolls a 1, usually on par with falling prone or provoking an opportunity attack if in combat, and something worse but more interesting if it is some other check.
I'm not opposed to rules for critical failures. A miss is a miss, but there's a little jolt that runs through your heart when the d20 comes up as 1. It's that "oh, crap...I really f@#$ this up."
I have had players skip their next attack when they roll a natural 1 (they can still take minor actions.....they just can't attack or cast). For fluff, I usually say something to effect of "your axe misses and lodges itself deep into the tree next to your target...requiring some extra effort to pull it free" or "as you swing your sword back, you lose your footing on the muddy cobblestone and begin to stumble, taking considerable effort to stop yourself from falling on your face."
Although, admittedly, I only impose critical failures if I feel there's a reasonable chance the character could botch the task. I rarely impose critical failures on rolls that have modified difficulty numbers lower than 10. For those rolls, a natural is just an automatic miss.
I firmly believe that there should be two editions of the game; the core rules released as a "Basic" set and a more complicated expanded rules edition released as an "Expert" set. These two editions would provide separate entry points to the game; one for new players or players that want a more classic D&D game and another entry point for experienced gamers that want more options and all the other things they have come to expect from previous editions.
Also, they must release several rules modules covering the main elements of the game (i.e., classes, races, combat, magic, monsters, etc.) upon launch to further expand the game for those that still need more complexity in a particular element of the game.
This boxed set contains a simple, "bare bones" edition of the game; the core rules. It's for those that want a rules-light edition of the game that is extremely modifiable or for new players that get intimidated easily by too many rules and/or options. The Basic Set contains everything needed to play with all the "classic" D&D races (i.e., Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling) and classes (i.e., Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard) all the way up to maximum level (i.e., 20th Level).
The Basic boxed set contains:
Quick Start Rules A "choose your own way" adventure intended as an intro to RPGs and basic D&D terms. Player's Handbook (Softcover, 125 pages) Features rules for playing the classic D&D races and classes all the way up to 20th level. Dungeon Master's Guide (Softcover, 125 pages) Includes the basic rules for dungeon masters.
Monster Manual (Softcover, 100 pages) Includes all the classic iconic monsters from D&D.
Introductory Adventure (Keep on the Borderlands) An introductory adventure for beginning players and DMs.
Character Sheets Reference Sheets Set of Dice
A set of hardbound rules that contains the core rules plus expanded races and classes, more spells and a large selection of optional rules modules — that is, pretty much everything that experienced players have come to expect. Each expert edition manual may be purchased separately, or in a boxed set. The Expert set includes:
Expert PHB (Hardcover, 225 pages. $35 Includes core rules plus 10 playable races, 10 character classes, expanded selection of spells and rules modules for players.) Expert DMG (Hardcover, 250 pages. $35 Includes core rules plus expanded rules modules for DMs.) Expert MM (Hardcover, 225 pages. $35 Includes an expanded list of monsters and creatures to challenge characters)
These expansion rules modules can be used with both the Basic and Expert sets. Each expansion covers one specific aspect of the game, such as character creation, combat, spells, monsters, etc.)
Hall of Heroes (Hardcover, 225 pages. $35 Includes a vast selection of playable character races and classes, new and old all in one book) Combat and Tactics (Hardcover, 225 pages. $35 Includes dozens of new and old optional rules for combat all in one book) Creature Compendium (Hardcover, 350 pages.$35 Includes hundreds of monsters, new and old all in one book) The Grimoire (Hardcover, 225 pages. $35 Includes hundreds of new and old spells all in one book)
A Million Hit Points of Light: Shedding Light on DamageShow
A Million Hit Points of Light: Shedding Light on Damage and Hit Points
In my personal campaigns, I use the following system for damage and dying. It's a slight modification of the long-standing principles etsablished by the D&D game, only with a new definition of what 0 or less hit points means. I've been using it for years because it works really well. However, I've made some adjustments to take advantage of the D&D Next rules. I've decided to present the first part in a Q&A format for better clarity. So let's begin...
What are hit points? The premise is very simple, but often misunderstood; hit points are an abstraction that represent the character's ability to avoid serious damage, not necessarily their ability to take serious damage. This is a very important distinction. They represent a combination of skillful maneuvering, toughness, stamina and luck. Some targets have more hit points because they are physically tougher and are harder to injure...others have more because they are experienced combatants and have learned how to turn near fatal blows into mere scratches by skillful maneuvering...and then others are just plain lucky. Once a character runs out of hit points they become vulnerable to serious life-threatening injuries.
So what exactly does it mean to "hit" with a successful attack roll, then? It means that through your own skill and ability you may have wounded your target if the target lacks the hit points to avoid the full brunt of the attack. That's an important thing to keep in mind; a successful "hit" does not necessarily mean you physically damaged your target. It just means that your attack was well placed and forced the target to exert themselves in such a way as to leave them vulnerable to further attacks. For example, instead of severing the target's arm, the attack merely grazes them leaving a minor cut.
But the attack did 25 points of damage! Why did it only "graze" the target? Because the target has more than 25 hit points. Your attack forced them to exert a lot of energy to avoid the attack, but because of their combat skill, toughness, stamina and luck, they managed to avoid being seriously injured. However, because of this attack, they may not have the reserves to avoid your next attack. Perhaps you knocked them off balance or the attack left them so fatigued they lack the stamina to evade another attack. It's the DM's call on how they want to narrate the exact reason the blow didn't kill or wound the target.
Yeah, but what about "touch" attacks that rely on physical contact? Making physical contact with a target is a lot different than striking them, so these types of attacks are the exception. If a touch attack succeeds, the attacker manages to make contact with their target.
If hit points and weapon damage don't always represent actual damage to the target, then what does it represent? Think of the damage from an attack as more like a "threat level" rather than actual physical damage that transfers directly to the target's body. That is, the more damage an attack does, the harder it is to avoid serious injury. For example, an attack that causes 14 points of damage is more likely to wound the target than 3 points of damage (depending on how many hit points the target has left). The higher the damage, the greater the chance is that the target will become seriously injured. So, an attack that does 34 points of damage could be thought of as a "threat level of 34." If the target doesn't have the hit points to negate that threat, they become seriously injured.
Ok, but shouldn't armor reduce the amount of damage delivered from an attack? It does reduce damage; by making it harder for an attack to cause serious injury. A successful hit against an armored target suggests that the attack may have circumvented the target's armor by striking in a vulnerable area.
What about poison and other types of non-combat damage? Hit point loss from non-physical forms of damage represents the character spitting the poison out just in time before it takes full strength or perhaps the poison just wasn't strong enough to affect them drastically, but still weakens them. Again, it's the DMs call on how to narrate the reasons why the character avoids serious harm from the damage.
If hit points don't don't represent actual damage then how does that make sense with spells like Cure Serious Wounds and other forms of healing like healer kits with bandages? Hit points do represent some physical damage, just not serious physical damage. Healing magic and other forms of healing still affect these minor wounds just as well as more serious wounds. For example, bandaging up minor cuts and abrasions helps the character rejuvenate and relieve the pain and/or fatigue of hit point loss. The key thing to remember is that it's an abstraction that allows the DM freedom to interpret and narrate it as they see fit.
What if my attack reduces the target to 0 or less hit points? If a player is reduced to 0 or less hit points they are wounded. If a monster or NPC is reduce to 0 or less hit points they are killed.
Why are monsters killed immediately and not players? Because unless the monsters are crucial to the story, it makes combat resolution much faster. It is assumed that players immediately execute a coup de grace on wounded monsters as a finishing move.
What if a character is wounded by poison or other types of non-physical damage? If a character becomes wounded from non-combat damage they still receive the effects of being wounded, regardless if they show any physical signs of injury (i.e., internal injuries are still considered injuries).
Ok. I get it...but what happens once a character is wounded? See below.
Damage and Dying
Once a character is reduced to 0 or less hit points, they start taking real damage. In other words, their reserves have run out and they can no longer avoid taking serious damage.
Characters are fully operational as long as they have 1 hit point or more. They may have minor cuts, bruises, and superficial wounds, but they are are not impaired significantly.
Once they reach 0 or less hit points, they become Wounded (see below).That is, they have sustained a wound that impairs their ability to perform actions.
If they reach a negative amount of hit points equal or greater than their Constitution score, they are Incapacitated. This means they are in critical condition and could possibly die.
Characters will die if their hit points reach a negative amount greater than their Constitution score, plus their current level.
Unharmed: 1 hp or more Wounded: 0 hp or less Incapacitated: -(Constitution) to -(Constitution+Level) Dead: Less than -(Constitution +Level)
Wounded When the character reaches 0 or less hit points they become wounded. Wounded characters receive disadvantage on all attacks and saving throws until they heal back up to 1 hit point or more. This allows for a transitory stage between healthy and dying, without having to mess around with impairment rules while the character still has hit points left.
Incapacitated Characters begin dying when they reach a negative amount of hit points equal to their Constitution score. At which point, they must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw on each of their following turns (the disadvantage from being wounded does not apply for these saving throws).
If successful, the character remains dying, but their condition does not worsen.
If the saving throw fails, another DC 10 Constitution saving throw must be made. If that one fails, the character succumbs to their wounds and dies. If successful, the character stabilizes and is no longer dying.
Finally, if a dying character receives first aid or healing at any point, they immediately stabilize.
Dead Characters will die if they reach a negative amount of hit points equal to their Constitution, plus their current level. Thus, if an 8th level character with a Constitution score of 12 is down to 4 hit points then takes 24 points of damage (reducing their hit points to -20) the attack kills them outright.
I like you drop your weapon/implement and so you are surprised you missed and thus give advantage until you pick it back up again on your next turn. A clever way to eliminate fumblers opportunity attacks without saying so, though it may signal someone to go beat on the one that dropped their weapon.
Not that bad for wizards even though it happens more because they generally are not near the melee for getting beat on.
Whatever you consider fair is really only fair if it happens on both sides of the screen.