Crits are a funny thing. I remember playing 1E and 2E AD&D, and just about everyone had a house rule for critical hits (and fumbles, but that’s another story). Then 3E came along and made crits a core part of the system, which added a whole bunch of variety to weapons in the game.
The one thing that really disappointed me about crits was how unreliable the damage was. As someone who played a (very non-optimized) crit-focused character in Monte’s original Ptolus campaign, I rolled a lot of crits… and rolled a lot of low-damage crits. How often has this scenario happened to you?
The Sad Crit Panda
Player: I roll a critical threat with my longsword… my confirmation roll is… 21?
GM: That’s a crit! Roll your 2d8.
Player: *rolls dice* … two 1’s. That sucks.
In other words, if it’s possible for a critical hit to do less than the weapon’s average non-critical damage, that goes against the common perception of what a critical hit should be: a crit should do more damage than you would with a normal hit.*
I get why it works the way it does: because rolling dice is fun, and there’s that possibility you’ll roll really high and do amazing damage to your opponent. (But that also means your opponents can roll really high against you, as many 1st-level adventurers instantly killed by a regular orc war1 rolling max damage–36–with a 3d12 greataxe crit.)
So let’s mix it up a bit.
Making it Different
Currently, a longsword’s stats look like this:
Normal damage is 1d8, threaten on a 19 or 20, a crit deals double damage.
The average non-crit damage for a longsword is 4.5 (rounded down to 4, of course). So what if a longsword’s stats instead looked like this:
In other words, normal damage is 1d8, threaten on a 19 or 20, a crit deals +4 damage.
That would mean even for your worst damage roll on a crit, your minimum damage is at least as good as the average damage for the weapon. And although you may not be able to get that sexy 16-point max damage 2d8 crit with a longsword, a 12-point max damage 1d8+4 crit is still pretty sexy.
It’s really easy to apply this rule to all weapons in the game: instead of rolling the damage twice, just take the weapon’s average damage and add it to the damage roll you’d normally make. A shortsword crit is 1d6+3, a heavy crossbow’s crit is 1d10+5, a falchion’s crit is 2d4+5, and so on. For x3 weapons, add in the average damage twice instead of once, so a warhammer crit is 1d8+8, a greataxe crit is 1d12+12, and so on.
It’s one fewer die to roll, so it speeds up combat a little bit.
You could even get rid of the “and add all your usual bonuses” language that make crits really explode into high damage (which are fun in the hands of PCs, but murderous when directed against PCs).
And if you get rid of the “and add all your usual bonuses” language, that means you can get rid of the “except for sneak attack dice and other bonus dice from things like flaming” exception to that rule, because the critical hit rule is just: a crit adds the weapon’s average damage to your normal damage roll.
This actually opens up a lot of opportunities for tweaking weapon stats in the game.
- A masterwork weapon could add +1 to hit and +1 to crit damage.
- Exceptional kinds of masterwork weapons could add +2 or more to the crit damage… a nice perk when you crit, but not something that gives a peasant a huge attack bonus.
- Not-as-good-as-masterwork weapons could only add to crit damage but not to non-crit damage. Now your grandparent’s heirloom weapon can just deal an extra +1 on crits… a cool thing for your character to have at 1st level without having to hand-wave that your weapon is worth more than all of the fighter’s gear put together.
- You could have ways to reforge an existing weapon to a better crit value.
- Altered versions of Improved Critical and keen might be able to stack again without breaking the system.
- Bane weapons could do extra crit damage against their chosen creature type.
- Inferior weapons could have less-than-normal crit damage (like a longsword that’s 1d8/19–20/+3, +2, +1, or even +0).
Five Moons RPG uses this variant crit system, giving players and GMs a lot more options for selecting weapons and using character and monster abilities to alter or improve critical hits. If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for Five Moons RPG. Thanks!)
(If you wanted to get really complex**, you could radically redesign the threat ranges, too. So*** a longsword might be 17–20/+2, a rapier might be 16–20/+2, and so on. Improved Critical might increase a weapon’s threat range by 1 instead of doubling it, keen might do the same***. So long as the math works out*** that a character who focuses on consistent non-crit damage overall is doing about the same as the character with a very large threat range but poor crit damage (like a rapier that’s 1d6/9–20/+1), that’s fine.)
* Note that the game doesn’t actually define a crit as “doing more damage than normal.” It’s defined as “you roll your damage more than once, with all your usual bonuses, and add the rolls together,” which acknowledges that it’s not a guarantee you’ll do any better than a regular hit. But that’s still not the common perception of what a crit is or should be.
** I don’t want to get that complex in Five Moons RPG, but it’s nice to leave it open for house rules or a future combat-oriented sourcebook.
*** I’m just throwing out numbers, I’m not running the math on whether these are statistically the same as the damage values for the default weapon rule. If I were to publish the rule with that level of detail, I’d really check the math. Seriously, this is a blog post where I’m suggesting someone who really wants to get technical with the weapon stats could do so, but I don’t want to do so, so I’m not going to spend any time trying to come up with accurate math for an optional extreme of a new rule.
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