Saturday, December 4, 2010

Non-variable weapon damage and critical hits

Having gotten used to non-variable weapon damage a bit, I'm starting to think about how to handle "critical hits". Typically, I've used a simple "roll a natural twenty and get double damage" model, but that's really gotten a bit stale, and I constantly waffle about whether to add modifiers like strength, magic, etc. to that doubling. On top of that, crits just don't seem to happen very often, and when they do, it seems like the critting player all-too-often rolls a "1" for damage, which immediately turns that critical hit into a deflating, anti-climactic boo-fest.

That's not to say its "all about the damage"; its great when a 20 gets rolled when the player is doing something cool like lobbing a grenade into a giant toad's mouth or participating in an archery contest against the evil baron's head marksman, no damage roll necessary to achieve the desired result. But it would be nice to chop an orc in half once in a while, and sometimes it seems like what you really need are two lucky rolls (first a 20, then a 5 or 6, for instance) to really enjoy that rare critical hit.

So I'm pondering taking the critical hit away from the roll-to-hit mechanic and making it a function of the damage dice instead. I like the old "exploding dice" houserule, so I'm going to try something along those lines.

When a damage result of "6" is rolled, the player gets to roll another d6 and add the result to the previous 6 points of damage. So a "critical hit" essentially means 1d6+6 points of damage, or 9.5 points of damage on average. And 1 in 6 hits is "critical" on average, a grisly figure that lines up better with my gritty pulp sensibilities than 1 in 20.

Whats really interesting about this model is that when you add it to the non-variable weapon damage of two-handed weapons (roll 2d6 and pick the better die), you get an increased chance of a critical hit. Which seems very appropriate for Zweihanders and Dane Axes when you think about it.

And since there is no to-hit roll involved, spellcasters could enjoy the occasional critical hit as well (death by magic missile!, life by cure light wounds!).

So what about those "nat 20's"?

Well, there's a sticking point. I could either just rule a nat 20 always hits (which is kinda special, kinda meh), rule that a nat 20 always hits and is an automatic crit (roll d6+6 for damage), really ramp up the damage potential by allowing a possible third roll for damage (roll d6+6, roll another d6 if that damage result is 6 or greater), or just let the player decide what happens when a crit is rolled ("I impale him to the wall!").

I've looked at a couple of critical hit charts, too. But this is one thing I always enjoy immensely for reading purposes, but absolutely hate in actual play. I want me and the players to decide when a hand is chopped off, not a chart, and I hate stopping the narrative and speed of combat to roll yet again and check yet another chart.

What would you guys do?

24 comments:

  1. I took a page from Rolemaster and implemented the following rule.

    If you roll a natural 20 you do max damage plus your normal damage. In addition you get to roll again and if you roll another natural 20 you get to add max damage again. You get to continue rolling until you fail to roll a natural 20.

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  2. So, any magic missile has a 25% chance of being critical??

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  3. @Wilson Theodoro: Depends on which rules you're playing by - in B/X D&D and S&W, a magic missle can do 1d6+1 damage.

    As for the result of a natural 20 (assuming using exploding dice for your critical mechanic), perhaps you could rule that it gives the best possible result in the situation, something that goes above and beyond the critical mechanic.

    The cleric not only heals the person's wounds, but does it so well that for the next [X period of time] they regenerate 1 hit point per round.

    The magic-user taps into the arcane well enough that their next three spells are not erased from memory.

    That sort of thing. You could develop simple lists of possible outcomes, one for each class, and just pick the next item of the appropriate list when necessary.

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  4. I haven't really considered the question carefully, as I am still putting things together. One immediate idea is to pull the concept of "cherries" from Unknown Armies. Basically, come up with a list of items - max damage, roll damage twice, get a second attack, dodge next attack that hits you, disarm opponent, knock opponent down, blind opponent, prevent opponent from getting cherries for the rest of the combat (or 2d6 rounds, or whatever), etc - from which the player can choose. Maybe this could be extended by limiting particular fighting styles to have special cherries available to them, so that the barbarians of the Northlands have some cherries, while the desert nomads have another list, and the ascetic warrior monks of the Dragon god have yet another list. That idea is very campaign-dependent, though.

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  5. My gut feeling with this is that if you are going with "exploding" damage -- which i have been vaguely considering for my campaign as well -- that the nat. 20 should automatically grant d6 + 6 damage. My question back at you: for those of us using variable weapon damage, do you think "exploding" damage die rolls is too potent? I too have been feeling bored with "nat. 20 = double damage" but I use variable weapon damage in my game and fear that exploding damage dice will make things awfully deadly in my campaign.

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  6. I like Rob's version he is doing in his current campaign. I was going to do a small twist on mine and go for more of a hackmaster version where a nat 20 scores max damage, then the player gets to roll a normal damage die. So a d6 weapon would do 6+d6, but should the player roll max damage he can roll again until he no longer rolls a six. So if you have someone with a hot hand they can do an insane amount of damage even with a normal weapon.

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  7. WFRP 1E used an exploding roll similar to what you described: roll to-hit, if successful, roll a d6. If the result is a six, roll to-hit again and, if successful, roll another d6. If that comes up six, just keep rolling the d6 and adding until something other than a six results. The sum of the d6 rolls is final damage result. The players enjoyed it and it could lead to some dramatic combats. I'd suggest you do something similar with the process you describe: just let the player keep rolling and adding, as long as the damage dice rolls a natural six.

    For nat-20s, I like your idea of simply making it an automatic hit and allowing the player to describe some dramatic outcome.

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  8. You could just make stuff up. I mean, on a roll of nat 20 you could say that the receiving creature henceforth has a penalty to hit and damage, and then make up the reason on the spot. Such as, "Your handaxe chops to the bone on the orc's arm, he henceforth swings his club daintily."

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  9. I use natural 20 = max damage in the Doomed Wastelands. In addition, if you kill the opponent by rolling a natural 20, you can roll on the table or horrible dismembering.

    That works out pretty good, with a nice balancing between rolling to poor damage and make a ton of damage anyway.

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  10. I also prefer 20 = maximum damage. It never "disappoints," is less arbitrarily brutal to PCs who have been playing intelligently, and is quicker to resolve, rather than slower, than a normal hit.

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  11. I also use 20 = maximum damage, which is plenty nasty although not terribly exciting. I'm wary of truly devastating critical results because they are overly punitive to the PC's who will be suffering them, on average, more often than scoring them.

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  12. In Dark Heresy, which i believe is related to WFRP (Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay?), the best result a player can get on any check is actually a nat 1, which confers no particular bonus. All damage dice are d10's or d5's (which is a d10/2) so whenever a 10 shows up on the actual die (always a 10% chance on all rolls) it is called a Righteous Fury. To confirm the Righteous Fury, one must roll a successful attack roll again. If you roll more than one die for damage and get multiple 10s then it confirms automatically.

    This extra damage is not attributed to the characters, but instead the the God-Emperor on Holy Terra, meaning that only his followers can get it. It also means rank one noobs can experience miracles in battle, if the dice are hot. A handful of villains have access to an identical ability, if they worship a competing god.

    Just thought I'd share.

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  13. Another one in the chorus of 20= max normal damage. It's faster, rather than slower, and it doesn't come out of nowhere and waste a PC who was otherwise intelligently played for no reason other than pure bad luck. If you do exploding damage dice (roll of 6 = add 6 and roll again), I guarantee more dead PCs.

    You can always make certain special deadly weapons do the exploding damage thing, or get an extra die on a crit. Maybe magical two-handed weapons do this.

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  14. For me, 20 = max damage or the victim suffers a "fall down" type result; see here.

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  15. I was always disappointed by my PC's rolling a 1 on a nat 20 so I started using the double damage dice (keeping the bonuses unchanged). 1d6 becomes 2d6 and 1d8 becomes 2d8, etc... Alternatively you can do max damage plus a die roll 1d6 becomes 6+1d6 and 1d8 becomes 8+1d8.

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  16. "I could either just rule a nat 20 always hits (which is kinda special, kinda meh)"

    I thought a nat 20 already always hits, and a nat 1 always fails. Is that not the way of S&W?

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  17. @Spawn, only "optional" crit rules in S&W, they suggest "always hits" and/or "double damage".

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  19. "What would you guys do?"

    I'd give it a shot and see if it "takes." I was doing the "nat 20 = max damage" thing, but dropped it after a couple sessions...didn't find it to be what I wanted to model...and I haven't found the idea of "crit hits" to add much to combat (especially when combat consists of eight guys trying to maneuver effectively in a cramped dungeon).

    Still, I like there being the added bonus for 2-handed weapons.

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  20. I've always HATED the idea of critting on a natural 20!!
    I am notoriously unlucky with die-rolling, and frequently have to sit idly by as everyone else at the gaming table gets to hoot and holler in celebration of their critical rolls.

    But aside from that, something about the math of the natural 20 crit bothers me: If my fighter needs an natural 11+ to hit a monster and crits on a 20, then 10% of his hits crit. If that same fighter needs a natural 19+ to hit a monster, then 50% of his hits crit. The 19+ monster is probably tougher than the 11+ monster just by nature of its AC, but somehow my fighter is better at dealing strong, telling blows to it even if he hits less frequently.
    Even with abstract combat, that still seems weird.

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  21. I have an enjooyable and easily resolved critical hit system that was featured in
    Fight On.

    My system seamlessly factors in weapon type, armor type, as well as ability scores.
    All that is required is d6!

    For the word document send me an email at clovisCithog at HOTmail

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  22. Natural 20 = maximum damage.
    Contemplating adding JB's 'cleave' to the natural 20. When a character embroiled in melee with multiple opponents does more than enough damage to kill a foe, the extra damage can “carry over” to additional opponents.

    Natural 1 = minus 1 for the party's next initiative roll.
    Cue loud grown from the table for a natural 1. It's a cumulative penalty. Cue even louder grown if a second player rolls another 1.

    Only humanoid monsters receive benefit/penalty for natural 20 or 1. It's how we fight. The same way a human character can not do claw/claw/bite.

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  23. Sovereign Eternal- 3E's system directly addressed that issue. Instead of an automatic critical, a 20 (and possibly a wider range of numbers, depending on magic, weapon, etc.) is a Threat of a critical. You have to Confirm the Crit by rolling a second time and still hitting. This solves the problem you have with most people's system, and does create a bit of drama while everyone watches to see if the Threat is confirmed, but does slow down combat a bit.

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