Five Moons RPG: A Different Critical

Ogrebreaker

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:

longsword: 1d8/19–20/x2

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:

longsword: 1d8/19–20/+4

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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28 thoughts on “Five Moons RPG: A Different Critical

  1. This is a great idea. Primarily I GM, so it doesn’t bother me when I roll a minimum damage critical, but I feel guilty when a poor first or second level wizard gets decapitated by a scimitar wielding gnoll’s max damage crit.

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  2. From what it looks like, you want to minimize the disappointment of Critical Hits, making them more impactful. While you also want them toned down, it looks like your current method won’t really be to scale, that by the mid levels will be rather irrelevant. So if someone wanted to make a “crit-fisher” type character, it only be a speedbump, it’d become valid, but also quite minor in terms of impact it’ll have.

    Throwing aside the “wanna get complex” notion you’re not doing, the piddly modifiers for masterwork & like don’t seem conductive to keeping things simple, and easy for your game (especially new players). Since one ailing complaint from likes of 4th edition, was all the piddly numbers you’d have to track down and dumpster dive through the book for (SR is similarly guilty of this). Though I somewhat like the granularity, moreso making “masterwork” more than its been in D&D (I own some 3rd party dwarf booklet that expanded on masterwork concept I somewhat enjoyed), one has to weary of adding a bunch of small little modifiers everywhere. That’s how games like D&D got so “heavy” & complex over time after all.

    Lastly for weapons themselves, I thought ye weren’t going with specific names for weapons, but more vague based on their role? So it was more something like “1H, 2Hander, Reach, X/Bow, Double?,Light” opposed to “Longsword, greatax, Guisarme, Shortbow, double spear, dirks, & bohemian ear spoons, etc”. IN case you’re still going with that method, but it’s more of a “make your own” weapon, there’s this one game that implemented that called “D20 Legend” that may have some good ideas to look at there (Downloadable in link below, pg 292 &294 details how to make it)

    http://www.ruleofcool.com/

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    • {While you also want them toned down, it looks like your current method won’t really be to scale}

      What do you mean by “won’t really be to scale”?

      {that by the mid levels will be rather irrelevant.}

      I’d like to know what you mean by this, too–more details, please, so I can answer what you’re saying instead of what I think you’re saying. 🙂

      {one has to weary of adding a bunch of small little modifiers everywhere}

      This doesn’t have to be any more search-multiple-books-annoyance than “masterwork (+6 crit) longsword.” Or, if in a stat block, “Melee longsword +5 (1d8+4/18–20/+6)”

      {I thought ye weren’t going with specific names for weapons, but more vague based on their role?}

      I don’t think that’s what I said. The game could still have a D&D or PF-style weapons table, with various weapon categories and slightly different stats. But when it comes to the description of two weapons in the same category (like longbow vs. crossbow), the game wouldn’t create different rules for reloading the crossbow just because (on Earth) crossbows work differently than longbows.

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      • “I’d like to know what you mean by this, too–more details, please, so I can answer what you’re saying”

        I will try, what I mean by that, is it looks like at the low levels it might be more impactful, but as HP & other such defenses (DR, Regen, Fast-Heal, etc.) grow through the levels, the benefits of the Critical Hit will diminish over time. Unless you’re going for extremely small scale of numbers, like AD&D’s Lolth/gods having 66 Hit Points! small. While sure, the “meaning” or intent behind it doing over average of the weapon’s damage will stay the same, the reality of its importance over the 25 levels game span, is to be called into question. Which, we would want to keep an eye that its a rule that stays relevant throughout the game.

        Hopefully that’s clearer, as it coincides what I was saying how it makes a “Crit-Fisher” type of style (whether you’re a lucky guy, a deadly assassin, or ex-executioner) lot less likely to be imbalancing, but only because the benefit itself wouldn’t likely be by much.

        “This doesn’t have to be any more search-multiple-books-annoyance ”

        While true, but it’s also a fair heads up I figured to mention. As it looks like a habit that one could easily get into, could start with crits, and end up with lot other stuff too. I don’t want to end up with 4th edition/PF style tiny mods everywhere, that can quite annoying to find & track for new players (while I myself might enjoy it in some way). As well that, as the game grows over time, more books being added, this habit, could easily combine with that over time, and that could right complicate things for not as awesome gain (especially if there’s a slew of smaller, PDF products & like. Though I don’t expect it to have the sheer volume of the D&D line).

        Anyway, does seem to be a good few toggles in there, that wouldn’t have statblocks pre-placed in there,as they’re things Players would be adding to their base weapon. “Quality” of the weapon (Inferior, Not-as-Good?, standard?, Masterwork, Masterwork-exceptional), Reforge, Feats, and Magical item property.

        “I don’t think that’s what I said. The game could still have a D&D or PF-style weapons table, with various weapon categories and slightly different stats.”

        (checks) I guess you’r right, it looks like I over extrapolated based on what I had read, especially with the quote I’ll place below.

        “(Obviously this sort of thing would only apply to conceptually similar weapons. I still think the game should treat a greatsword differently than how it treats a dagger or a whip, because those weapons have a different “thematic niche,” but you could apply the Rule of Cool to let you treat a short sword and a hand axe as basically the same, or a greatsword or a greataxe the same, and so on.)” /quote.

        It looks like what you’re saying is that there’s broad catetgories for each weapon that have set statistics (all 1H weapons have same statblock), but can have traits added to it to make it different, and “examples” of those would be placed down as a “Weapons table”. So for example, maybe all 2-handed weapons deal 2d6 , but they give a free trait to make it distinctive, and it can be made “weaker” giving more options (ability to disarm/trip, Crits, etc), and examples of such 2H weapons would be put on the weapons table for our convenience.

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      • {the benefits of the Critical Hit will diminish over time.}

        Only if crits from higher-level characters have the same effects and damage numbers as crits from lower-level characters.

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  3. This is genius. Cut off the highs and lows, maintaining the average.

    Since you are eliminating the highs, will you get rid of the confirmation roll as well?

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      • Doesn’t really look like such a roll would be necessary for such little damage, and impact on the game. It’d be an extra roll, and since SKR wants to minimize unneeded rolling steps, it would be wise to do away with a “confirmation” roll. I could see it maybe coming back in the form of more powerful “critical hit” like abilities. Such as if one used 3.0 Vorpal where it was a mere crit that pulled a SoD (where it could be a DC vs. Death, or A confirmation roll that gives the decapitation in this case).

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    • I think the confirmation role serves a very important purpose: without the confirmation roll rule, if you’re fighting a monster that’s really hard for you to hit (like you only hit on a 20), then *all* of your hits will be crits. Even if you have an exception rule that says, “if you can only hit on a 20, you can’t crit,” that still creates a situation where you only hit on a 19 or 20, so *half* of your hits are crits.
      1 in 20 rolls shouldn’t be confirmed crits… they should be the *opportunity* for a crit.

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      • That raises the question: on such monsters, do you crit because you hit, or do you hit because you crit? I’ve always seen it as the latter. I don’t have a problem with the idea of always critting something I can only hit in the threat range. With a lower crit ceiling, it’s even less of an issue.

        I know you don’t want a corner case rule for high AC monsters. But without the high damage potential, confirmation rolls only exist for that corner case, so that type of rule is already there. (Unless there’s another reason for them I don’t understand.)

        I’ve always seen the *opportunity* to crit as being the attack roll itself. If I know I crit on a 20, it’s really easy to figure out my crit %. (Not that it’s something I really need to know, but it’s nice to know I can eyeball it.) But with a confirmation roll, I need to know statistics to figure it out. Math hurts my soul. I’m pretty sure it’s Evil. 🙂

        For me, the excitement happens when the threat is rolled. Then if I fail to confirm, it’s a buzzkill. Confirmation rolls have always felt like a chance to have something taken away that I’ve already earned.

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      • {That raises the question: on such monsters, do you crit because you hit, or do you hit because you crit? I’ve always seen it as the latter. I don’t have a problem with the idea of always critting something I can only hit in the threat range. With a lower crit ceiling, it’s even less of an issue.}

        It breaks my suspension of disbelief if the only time you hit the almost-impossible-to-hit creature is *exactly* in the place where it takes *double* damage from your attack.

        {For me, the excitement happens when the threat is rolled. Then if I fail to confirm, it’s a buzzkill. Confirmation rolls have always felt like a chance to have something taken away that I’ve already earned.}

        But if you fail to confirm, it’s still a regular hit! Roll your damage! 🙂

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      • Under your current Critical Hit model, the minor damage boost I don’t think warrants the need for an extra step of a “confirmation roll”. As one less roll will help speed up the game, no need to keep that in for something that isn’t necessarily that major of a difference.

        “if you’re fighting a monster that’s really hard for you to hit (like you only hit on a 20), then *all* of your hits will be crits. ”

        These seem to be rather minority situations, such that if you’re in one such situation, it’s likely an encounter that’s going to go badly for the PC’s, possible DM error in statblock made, or a majorly debuffed PC by the opposition in the encounter itself. Therefore, in such desperate situation, I wouldn’t think that’s problematic that in the only time their apparent contribution is mattering, is when they roll a 20.

        On the flipside, I realize that this means masses of NPC’s could attack in bulk, and that’d mean 1-20 would auto-hit the PC’s for above average damage. Which case, I imagine a design of mass NPC’s making single attacks (less rolls is good), or possibly rule that minions don’t crit, and so on, would counter that.

        “It breaks my suspension of disbelief if the only time you hit the almost-impossible-to-hit creature is *exactly* in the place where it takes *double* damage from your attack.”

        I don’t really see why it breaks that when the notion of attack roll, to damage to substracting HP is quite a game abstraction already (much as we try to give explanations, and descriptions to what goes on in the action). If anything, it can make more sense, like the super hard carapace that has a single weakepoint that one was fortunate enough to hit, or the super-dodger making one slight error that caused their momentum to be leveraged into the strike (Or barely dodge it by making a risky maneuver that drops their luck or tires them out more than normal). There’s many other examples one could come up with for it to make sense I’m sure.

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  4. If you are keeping DR from Pathfinder, you may want to consider allowing a critical to bypass it. This conceptually works when the DR is some sort of special armor-like defense.

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  5. A suggestion from a friend on critical hits, was to keep the way 3rd edition D&D’s crit multipliers, BUT, only the first die is maxed, and you roll the rest for the weapon. So like the Longsword, it’d become 8+1d8, giving a good range of 9-16, or Greataxe 12+2d12. So it’d still go above the average per your “sad panda” notions, and keeping it only on the weapon die still removes the bonus “language” that make criticals powerful in the first place (and keeps the dice rolling that people enjoy doing).

    Quibble I can see with it, how it scales over time, from the games 1-25 level span.

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    • The thing is, though, that crits don’t have to be devastating to be effective. A 1d8+4 crit is a good crit even though it’s not a 1d8+8 crit. In fact, having the crit be full+roll tends to invalidate the other contributions the character makes to the roll. Frex, a Str 18 fighter with a +1 sword normally deals 1d8+7 with a normal hit; using full+roll, that fighter’s adds to the damage (+6, including the sword) are less than what the crit provides (+8), which is basically telling the fighter, “your contributions are less important than the crit.”

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      • True that they don’t have to be “devastating” which is why we’re discussing an alternative. You wanted less unreliable scenarios to crits and this suggestion would seem to do that. Far as the PC’s contribution, your rule makes it based on his weapon, so in a sense he’s already “invalidated” as he’s not being factored into that roll at all. A roll with more dice involved would make the player feel more involved in that case (though its luck of their dice, the range is still good enough it won’t make “sad Pandas”). Lastly, hopefully said fighter would have more to contribute to that crit roll, such as their attack powers, class abilities, or even the magic weapon they earned that’ll speak for their “contribution”.

        ” A 1d8+4 crit is a good crit even though it’s not a 1d8+8 crit.”
        Like my friends idea, I think I’d need to see the math of the game to know for sure how well that holds up.

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  6. I delayed commenting on this because I wanted to stew on it for a bit. However, my final thoughts mirror my first impressions. I’m not a fan of these critical hit rules for a number of reasons.

    1) Rolling damage dice is fun — one of the most fun parts of the game that require rolling dice. All of the players in my campaign love rolling big damage dice or rolling critical hits even when they know the enemy has only a handful of hit points remaining. In every thread I’ve read on the house rule Paizo forums about simplifying critical hits have ultimately ended with a consensus that reducing damage dice rolling isn’t preferred.

    2) Critical hits become more complicated. Now weapons have three critical hit attributes instead of two. Relating it to damage dice helps, but it still adds a little memory load and adds extra bulk to a weapon description, which I believe you do not really want with Five Moons.

    3) The fighter suffers. Fighters typically rely on critical hits to keep up with enemy hit point progression because basic attack damage scales much differently than hit points and spell damage. Iterative attacks* also become less powerful. Admittedly, this point rests on unknown information. I have to make the assumption that Five Moons basic attack and hit points use similar formulas as 3.5e/PF. I am also not sure what the action economy of Five Moons will look like.

    I do like how your rules increase the design space of magic weapons in a cool way.

    *Iterative attacks strike me as a good place to cut down on rolling. I’ve considered house-ruling them out of my campaign since I had a TWF rogue, a monk, and a ranged fighter contribute huge chunks of combat time. In one of my projects, two-weapon fighting and similar abilities is one of the only way to get extra attacks per round. One of the things I did like about 4th Edition was that characters get bonus weapon dice to their damage as they level up instead of getting iterative attacks.

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    • On the other hand, I do think this article underplays the greatest strength of this critical hit system, which you very briefly mention in the last part of the post. Toning down critical hits would enable characters to obtain more abilities that hook onto critical hits, like the Critical Focus line of feats in Pathfinder. They could get them much earlier and have more interesting possibilities, whereas Pathfinder doesn’t give them out until level 10 or higher. I could even envision the flaming weapon property deal its bonus critical damage as fire damage instead. This is something I can get really excited for.

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    • 1) Rolling damage dice IS fun… but it’s also cumbersome when you have a bunch of other abilities that add extra dice. In my high-level all-drow game, we often had players who’d have to interrupt a later playing in combat and say, “oh, I need to add 2d6 to that damage.” Having flat numbers means you can just add it all up ahead of time.

      2) It’s still three attributes no matter how you do it: 1d8/19–20/x2 vs. 1d8/19–20/+4.

      3) This will be addressed. As will iterative attacks.

      And yes, this does allow more funsies with crits at lower levels than you can get in PF.

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      • {1) Rolling damage dice IS fun… but it’s also cumbersome when you have a bunch of other abilities that add extra dice. In my high-level all-drow game, we often had players who’d have to interrupt a later playing in combat and say, “oh, I need to add 2d6 to that damage.” Having flat numbers means you can just add it all up ahead of time.}

        Good points there, though I found that the case for pretty much all situational damage. My players frequently forget to add their bonuses from Point-Blank Shot or increase the weapon’s enhancement bonus for the bane property. Still, I suppose that’s easier to deal with than interrupting combat to roll another 1d6 or two.

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  7. I really liked how crits were handled in 4E: you do max damage. No roll required at all and all your weapon’s damage counts. In Gamma World you even get to add special damage and effects depending on your archetype. Loved that and to be honest: I think it is easier and smoother that this.

    But what I really like: you do ask the right questions. Everywhere. (And I just LOVE the boost)

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