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In my last session, my group had in a single encounter over 8 botches, I lost count in fact!
At first, I was statistically amazed at how our ranger botched 4 rounds in a row (in-game interpretation would equal to a birth-deficient kobold with cataract trying to throw a rock point-blank at a boulder and miss), but then it became agitating coming up with ideas on how to "punish" botch.

Normally our DM says: "On 1 your bow string snaps, on 2 your arrow hits the fighter adjacent to the enemy, on 3... blah blah blah" and rolls 1d4 to determine the outcome, which in my opinion slows down the fight and does not add to the role-playing experience at all, not to mention each class requires different actions, while AoE attacks can critical hit one target but botch on another... However, I feel critical failure should exist as a means of balancing natural 20 and making multiple attacks during a turn more risky. Being under constant life-threatening stress, even a master would make a mistake, or grow reluctant not knowing his enemies' traits.


All of the above lead to one rational question: Any creative suggestions on how to handle critical failure, while not slowing down the action?

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Natural 20s are balanced out within the game’s math and expectations internally; it does not need an extra “balance” and adding one is overcompensating. Moreover, while even a master can mess up, a natural 1 is 5% of the time; masters don’t mess up that often. Finally, critical failure rules are really bad for the game, and ultimately awful for the PCs. –  KRyan Feb 20 at 12:48

6 Answers 6

Honestly, I don't think that Critical Failures really have a place in the game. Sure, miss on a 1. That means that everyone, no matter how skilled, has a chance of missing. But it's kind of silly to suggest that every person, no matter what their level of skill, has exactly a 5% chance of muffing things catastrophically.

One option you might look at, especially for cases where a 1 is rolled, but it's still successful, is to consider situations where your attempt worked too well. You attempt to tackle the fleeing noble and accidentally break his jaw, making it that much more difficult to question him. You shoot the marauder with your bow and the arrow over-penetrates to hit the cowering barmaid behind him. You attempt a Ritual to summon a minor imp and instead wind up with a more major demon. It's still random chance, but it suggests that luck goes all sorts of different ways and someone skilled is more likely to overdo it than to mess up entirely.

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This doesn't really answer the question though does it... –  Phil Feb 20 at 12:28
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Eyeh, depends upon your point of view. To me, this is my explanation of how they don't really make sense from a creative point of view. –  Sean Duggan Feb 20 at 12:31
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@Phil It does answer the question, as "missing such an easy thing so many times is punishment enough" is a legitimate response. –  Tridus Feb 20 at 12:46
    
But you are right that I really didn't address creativity awfully much. So I will add a bit of an affendum. –  Sean Duggan Feb 20 at 12:50
    
@Tridus fair enough :) –  Phil Feb 20 at 13:25

First, a story:

One evening, I rolled eleven ones. Yes, eleven. I had more ones than every other number combined. I was poisoned, charmed, paralyzed, knocked prone, and blew a spell all in one fight. In short, I was the bumbling oaf character that couldn't hit the broad side of a barn from two feet away.

How do you think I felt during that session? The only reason I survived it is that the DM took pity on me and had the enemies decide I was so low risk as to be not worth worrying about, and they ignored me. We laugh about it now because that kind of luck is so rare it's kind of comical, but at the time it sucked.

Do you believe that I needed extra punishment on top of failing at absolutely everything I tried to do?

Do Absolutely Nothing

Ones on 1d20 happen 5% of the time. That's not rare. When they happen, they're already bad. They make you fail things. When they happen several times, they severely limit how effective you are. They can frustrate a player who is having bad luck pretty quickly.

Do not pile yet more on top of that. It doesn't add anything to the game, and your goal as a DM is not to punish players for bad luck. The bad luck is already punishment enough.

Describe Something Funny

If you really want to mark the occasion with something, make up a description of something funny happening. Like you roll a 1 attacking with your bow, so you stumble on a rock while shooting, your arrow whizzes by its intended target and files two inches past the face of a party member. Everyone has a chuckle at the close call, the game moves on without more rolling, and you haven't inflicted additional punishment on your PCs just for having bad luck.

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I don't believe in bad luck, just in plain numbers. Rolling 4 1's in a row happens in about 166k encounters, which means most probably it will not happen again in my entire life. Also, see the fighter that took the arrow? That was me :) –  Necrofear04 Feb 20 at 14:51
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@Necrofear04 Well, I can relate. :) I've just found that players having a bad night don't need extra piled on them other than what's already happening. This isn't a case where the game has to be balanced in terms of "fair", but does have to be in terms of "fun". Critical successes are fun, critical failures are extra on top of already failing important things. When they stack up, they become not fun really fast. IMO. You and your other players may want a different feel in your game, and that's perfectly alright. :) –  Tridus Feb 20 at 15:34
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+1 for "Describe Something Funny". It even answers the OP, as there is punishment of sorts (social/RP rather than mechanical), but it can be made fun and keeps the game moving. –  Neil Slater Feb 21 at 7:26

First, I would skip the 1d4 roll entirely and just give them a quick statement of what happens to them on a critical miss. That should quicken the pace. Also, in reference to your comment about running out of botch punishments, reuse some of the same previous punishments. Your GM could make a quip about the character having a rough night's sleep and it a bit off his game, explaining why he continuously sticks his sword in the ground instead of connecting with the enemy. I personally have that list of four or five ideas that your GM seems to roll randomly from, except I just choose one and say that's what happens.

Here's what the DMG says about crit misses, albeit the only mention of them (I can find) is under examples of house rules so they arent "real" rules, but none the less here's what is in the book:

  • In reference to attacks:

FUMBLE: Whenever you make an attack roll of natural 1, your turn immediately ends, and you grant combat advantage to all attackers until the start of your next turn. If the roll is part of a close or area attack, resolve all the other attack rolls before ending your turn.

  • In reference to skill checks:

CRITICAL SUCCESS AND FAILURE: On a skill or ability check, a roll of natural 20 is a critical success and a roll of natural 1 is a critical failure. On a critical success, the check automatically succeeds, and you gain a +5 bonus to checks with that skill until the end of your next turn. In a skill challenge, add one extra victory to the tally. On a critical failure, the check automatically fails, and you take a –5 penalty to checks with that skill until the end of your next turn. In a skill challenge, add one extra defeat to the tally.

Again, those examples were from the House Rules section on page 189 of the DMG. While they aren't technically rules, they are all I could find other than "A roll of 1 on the die is an automatic miss and your turn ends." So, even though critical miss punishments are fun they aren't necessary as far as I can see.

To quickly discuss the AoE crit. misses, I chalk them up to the monster either absorbing the damage (high AC/FORT) shakes it off like nothing happened (high WILL) or being nimble enough to get out of the way(high REF). Dodging is a great excuse for misses with things like fireballs. An example: Once in my game our rogue and fighter set off a magical trap on a door that engulfed the hall in fire, I rolled to hit them, hit the fighter, missed the rogue and said "The rouge was nimble enough to hide behind the hulking body of his dragonborn ally".

SUMMARY

  • Don't roll random punishments, just choose one
  • Reuse botch examples
  • Don't be afraid to treat 1's as regular misses
  • Remember the reasons for missing vary greatly, it might not always be the players bad luck, but an enemy's good luck.

Hopefully these few tips should expedite some of the game play allowing turns to move more quickly in the future. Good luck talking it over with your GM!

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As others have said, 4e balances fine without critical failures, so the best advice we can give you on botches is to ignore them. It's bad enough when an attack misses. However:

If you must have botches in your game, consider lowering the odds that it happens and adding an attempt to resurrect the action (introducing a bit of extra balance as the botch throws it off).

This makes botch punishment more meaningful, and gives you a chance to resurrect a failed attack beyond the normal power structure.

In our game here is how we do it:

  • If a natural 1 is rolled (any time), d% are rolled (this goes for PCs and Monsters).
  • On a roll of 15 or lower, something bad happens
  • On a roll of 85 or higher, you get a reroll.

This would have resulted in (on average), only 1 or 2 of your natural 1s being a botch, and 1 or 2 of them being rerolled.

This lowers the probability of something bad happening to 3/400, and improves critical hits very slightly (1/20 + 1/20*15/100*1/20 = 43/800). These are silly odds, but at the same time they are just silly enough to make it fun if these rules must be used. Doing something bad to a PC (or even a monster) 20% of the time really isn't fun.

This can also speed up your game as it's a quick die roll where something happens rarely, on the good, it's a quick reroll of the attack, on the bad, that takes longer, but it's relatively rare.

As far as botch punishments? If it's an attack, generally have the attack hit an ally, destroy something mildly important (do not harm the plot please), or marginally lower effectiveness of the attacker for a round or so (don't do too much harm, as that's not really in the spirit of 4e). For skill checks, a simple penalty until the next short rest will do. Keep it simple, consistent, and when there is question discuss with the players what might happen.

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If you are looking to punish multiple attacks, without slowing combat too much, I can think of a pretty easy 'natural 1' fumble result:

If you roll a natural 1, you botch up and lose the rest of your actions for that round.

Perhaps the fighter's sword gets caught in the ground, perhaps a bolt in the crossbow got jammed somehow, perhaps the archer hit his hand with the bowstring and needs some time to get ready again to bite through the pain.

There are plenty of descriptions one could come up with why you would lose the rest of your actions that round and it won't slow down the action at all, in fact, it'll make the current round go by faster.

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Not exactly what I had in mind. It would just be weird if the fighter cleaves, the first hit is natural 20, the second is natural 1, that's what I tried to convey. Nonetheless, I find your suggestion quite interesting, but the players could abuse it by consuming all available actions and attacking last, same as Charge on 4e, since it's a standard action. –  Necrofear04 Feb 20 at 8:53
    
If a cleave hits a natural 20 first and then a natural 1, you could pass it off as dealing a critical hit, only to be parried and losing one's balance as they go for the second target. I see what you mean about playings abusing the system by simply attacking last however. You could change it for 'after a natural 1, you need to perform a standard action to ready yourself again', which means they would suffer the consequence in the next turn if they decide to attack last. –  Theik Feb 20 at 9:08
    
But attacking is pretty much a standard action, unless stated as a minor, which means players lose next round's standard anyways. I could use the minor or move as a balancing action, but for some reason it does strike odd. I 'll ask my group's opinion though. –  Necrofear04 Feb 20 at 9:26
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@Necrofear04 Cleave's second hit is auto damage (unless you're using Deft Hurler)..but...that's not the point, twin strike works just as well as an example. –  wax eagle Feb 20 at 14:01

We used the following for both pathfinder and 4e (with some minor adjustments on the fly). If nothing else you can take a few of the fumbles that work right out of the box and use them with whatever else you have.

We used the Critical Fumble deck that Paizo put out, or its app equivalent iFumble. Granted they both cost if you want more than a pdf but it should list off more than you could have hoped for for not so pleasant things happening.

Heres a link to the PDF http://www.eatoutin.com.au/Pathfinder%20RPG/Paizo%20Decks/Critical%20Fumble%20Deck.pdf

Though a simple Google search would turn up both [the physical cards and the app].

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The critical fumble deck is designed for Pathfinder, and uses concepts which do not exist in D&D 4e. (Check the question's tags: the [dnd-4e] tag is there) –  doppelgreener Feb 21 at 14:50
    
If you look at the actual cards you would see most are generic enough to be used. –  user3303373 Feb 21 at 15:37
    
And FYI we first used this deck in a 4e game. Not in a pathfinder game. Ergo, not incompatible. –  user3303373 Feb 21 at 15:38
    
I did read them. The cards use concepts which don't exist in 4e: bleed, attribute damage and drain, and status effects such as sickened, deafened, and fatigued. Some of the concepts are entirely out of place in 4e: hand it over from page 35, critical mistake from page 8, power drain on page 9. If you want to provide a conversion guide, that would make this more appropriate for a 4e answer, but I'm still not sure I'd support using these cards considering how much of it is non-4e stuff. –  doppelgreener Feb 21 at 15:44
    
Hmm we must have used some altered version then. I'll poke around. –  user3303373 Feb 21 at 15:48

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