Friday, 19 March 2010

Ye Olde Crytical Hyttes

Back in the day, we loved our AD&D. We loved it so much that we went to vast lengths to improve it, and since we were mostly nerdy wargamer types with an overinflated sense of the importance of (a) charts, and (b) gore, one of the things we put a lot of effort into was making combat bloodier and more dangerous.

This chart was the end result of our desire to make our Hits more Critical, and we used it for many years.

It is not what, these days, I'd consider an elegant solution to the problem — if indeed there is any problem. It required at least two additional d% rolls after the attack roll, plus a damage roll, and the results were adjusted by the target's level and armour class as well as the type of weapon being used. It's a cross-referencer's wet dream, but it brings combat to a screeching halt whenever a potential critical occurs.

I used them right up until we swapped the campaign over to the Hero System. When D&D3e came along and I swapped the campaign back to D&D after some years of Heroing, I decided I didn't want to use this system any more, for two reasons:
  1. It's as clunky as hell, and...
  2. I was fed up with having a party full of characters ending up as Gimpy Ted the one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged Thief.
The problem with critical hit systems is that they work against the party much more than for them. True, it does mean that every once in a while a lucky blow will take out a mighty dragon with one hit (which, I might add, really pissed me off and led me to do some rather petty and unworthy DMing, but that's another story), but the characters get to take it as well, and the results can be devastating. If you chop the leg off an unfortunate ogre and it hops away to bleed to death in its cave, well, chances are you'll have forgotten that ogre tomorrow; monsters are ephemeral things. If the ogre chops your leg off, you get to enjoy the ongoing effects of that because characters are not (usually) ephemeral.

Because people do seem to like to get something a bit extra from a really good die roll, we did eventually go back to using a Critical Hit (and Fumble) system. However, it's a straight damage multiplication system — I wouldn't use a specific-damage system again.

For what it's worth the system we use now goes like this (note that we use ascending AC):

  1. If you roll a natural 20, you damage the target even if you wouldn't normally be able to hit it (unless it's invulnerable to your weapon for any reason). If you need less than a 20 to hit, you do maximum damage
  2. You then roll another d20 and add that to the first; if the result is 20 more than the target's Armour Class, you get to do additional weapon damage on top of the max. damage for the first 20.
  3. If you roll another 20, add it and if the result is 40 more than the target AC, you get to do more weapon damage
  4. And so on. if you keep rolling 20s you keep getting potentially more and more damage.
If a stabbing weapon like a javelin or arrow gets a critical, it lodges in the wound and does half extra damage every time the victim moves violently, and normal damage again when it is extracted.

What I like about this system is that there's nothing to look up. All you have to do is keep adding your d20 scores and checking how much bigger the result is than the AC you're aiming at. No legs chopped off, no inevitable death from having your liver split. No having the indignity of watching the rest of the party dividing up your stuff because you're going to be dead in twenty minutes and they don't have a Cure Critical Wounds to keep you alive.