I am currently a player in a D&D 3.5 game where rolling a 1 on any attack roll is not only an automatic miss, but also means that something "bad" happens – such as dropping your sword, falling over prone, etc. The DM insists that this is part of the core rules, but I cannot find a reference to it anywhere.

Is the Natural 1 Epic Failure an actual official rule, or just a house rule that my DM forgot was a house rule?


12 Answers 12


In 3rd edition this was not an official rule, but a very common house rule.

If it was added in 3.5 I'd be surprised, as this is not a very "fun" rule unless you have a group who enjoys the humor of it.

The following item has a rule set for this house rule.



People are amazingly blind to even bold print in their books. It is an offical variant rule on DMG p28. Bottom right corner.


If you want to model a chance that in combat a character could fumble his weapon, then when a player rolls a 1 on his attack roll, have him make a DC10 Dexterity check. If he fails, his character fumbles. You neeed to decided what it means to fumble, but in general, that character should lose a turn of activity as he regains his balance, picks up a dropped weapon, clears his head, steadies himself, or whatever.

Fumbles are not appropiate to all games. They can add excitement or interest to combat, but they can also detract from the fun. They certainly add more randomness to combat. Add this variant rule only after careful consideration.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I was surprised that this was the first answer to include this. I was almost about to make it my own answer. \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Jun 13 '12 at 4:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for an answer that is something other than a random tossed-off opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Nov 20 '13 at 12:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your answer nicely details the variant rule, but might be improved with clarification that 'natural 1 epic failure' as asked is a house-rule, because it lacks confirmation (DC 10). \$\endgroup\$ – Mala Feb 1 '15 at 23:35

It's highly discouraged to set a 1 as a critical fumble in 3/3.5 One reason is that players get more attacks as they level up. A 20th level fighter gets something like 5 attacks/round. This will be even higher if they have multi-weapon feats and such.

In other words, a 20th level fighter will be falling prone, dropping his sword, or god forbid, stabbing himself 5x more often than a 1st level wizard. It's really un-fun and gets old fast.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point. I suspect that the "having to roll two 1's in a row" bit would mitigate this to a large extent (and to the extent it doesn't, it would be explainable as, "well, you're swinging a lot more often and a lot more quickly...more chances to mess up") \$\endgroup\$ – Beska Aug 20 '10 at 13:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for pointing out the evil math. Rolling a 1 on a d20 is a 5% chance. If you get two attacks her round, you now have nearly a 10% chance of a fumble on any given round. By 20th level, it's over 20% - so every fifth round you'll be eating sword. \$\endgroup\$ – Allen Gould Feb 22 '12 at 22:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Allen Gould Probability doesn't work like that. By your math, 20 dice rolls would have a 100% chance of rolling a 1, which is simply not true. \$\endgroup\$ – Yandros Mar 4 '12 at 1:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yandros I skipped over the heavy-math bits - you do the math by calculating the chance of not fumbling over X hits. So, you have a 19/20 chance of not fumbling on a single roll (95%, meaning a 5% fumble chance). On two rolls the odds are 19/20 * 19/20 (90.25%, leaving a roughly 10% fumble chance). The odds level off over time - at twenty rolls, you only have a 35.8486% chance of not fumbling at all (meaning, you have a ~65% chance of fumbling at least once). \$\endgroup\$ – Allen Gould Mar 5 '12 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yandros In 10,000 rolls it will average out to exactly that 1 roll in twenty will come out a 1.anydice.com/program/32d Meaning that multiple rolls would equate to the death of the fighter at their own hand more often than anything else. \$\endgroup\$ – Vethor Jun 13 '12 at 7:20

From what I can find, 3.5 lists a 1 as an automatic miss with no other options, but it's a popular house rule. (It does, like everything, require a "good" DM. Bad use of critical fumbles is an easy way to piss off your players. And not in a good way)

  • \$\begingroup\$ For many, "Fumble" equates to "automatic miss." \$\endgroup\$ – aramis Mar 18 '12 at 2:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ For my DM, "Fumble" equated to "weapon broke in half". It didn't take us long to rebel and insist that it's merely an automatic miss. \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck Mar 27 '14 at 4:27

The only official ruling I can recall in any core D&D ruleset is that it's an automatic failure. Making it some sort of epic failure is typically up to the DM.

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    \$\begingroup\$ only on combat and saves there is no such rule for skills. \$\endgroup\$ – David Allan Finch May 13 '13 at 8:41

No, it is not an official rule through any D&D system I have GM'd. (Which is Advanced D&D through D&D 4 and SWSE)

However, some GMs love to mess with their players by adding a bit of randomness to the game like that. However, as you have read, because of this, players get upset and it can harm the fun of the game. The whole point behind playing these games is to have fun and enjoy the company of others.

The truth is, you can either do one of two options (coming from a DM's viewpoint):

  1. Discuss the situation with the DM and figure out some middle gray area that pleases the group as a whole, not just him or you. Remember, you are playing with a group, not yourself (usually).
  2. If worse comes to worse, leave the game and find a new game to join. That, or deal with the rule. Sometimes DM's can be rude and not budge.

If you do your research on the issue, print some things out, and make a good case for the situation, usually the DM will budge.


By the book, all that happens on a 1 is that you automatically miss (even if 1 + your bonuses would hit). This is balanced by the critical hit bonus when you roll a 20.

Adding insult to injury on 1s is a popular houserule, but there are a few issues to watch out for:

  • a 1 will be rolled 5% of the time - more common than you might think.
  • this is a general decrease in power: how much depends on how severe the fumble penalty is.

Personally, if I was to go with the "horribleness on 1s", I'd probably remove the threat reroll on 20s (making those auto-crit) to balance things out.


I've checked in the Pathfinder rules, and they seem to keep to the official "1 is an automatic miss only" rule. But there's a house rule that we've used in D&D3, 3.5 and now PF that I think gives a bit more oomph to a natural 1, without being totally unbalanced or penalizing high-level warriors.

Whenever someone rolls a natural 1 on an attack roll, he gives an attack of opportunity to anyone within melee range of him, as if he had cast a spell or performed an unarmed strike. This makes the fumble meaningful - you can get hurt! - but not too much, since you still need to be hit, and since most opponents don't have Combat Reflexes or the equivalent, multiple fumbles on multiple attacks probably won't draw any more than the first AoO attack.

I think this is a lot less painful than the "attack yourself" or "drop your weapon" rules.


It's always been optional and at the DM's discretion. In Pathfinder, it's an optional rule used in their Critical Fumble Deck. They have three options if you roll a natural 1 - either you have to roll again to "de-confirm" at full BAB, or roll again to de-confirm at the same bonus that attack went off as, or it's just a fumble.

In my pirate-themed Pathfinder campaign, there is a cursed pirate named Jaren the Jinx, and only when he's around do natural 1's autofumble and require a draw on the deck.


It is not an official rule. However, if you have a disagreement with it's common house rule variant, that "something bad" must happen, you could let the dice decide for you.

I've commonly made a list of possible effects on a natural 1 roll, I (as DM) roll a d10.

1-5 - just miss, no additional adverse effects.

6 & 7 - miss target and player rolls attack & damage on self.

8 & 9 - miss target and player rolls attack & damage on ally (chosen at random).

10 - most random & improbable event happens, left to DM's discretion.

I use #10 as additional story line spice. For example, last time, the player missed, and caused a butterfly effect by accidentally hitting one of the braces on a dam. The battle raged on, but in the weakened state, the brace broke, releasing the dam, finishing the battle, removing the enemies, and continuing toward the town that had contracted them to rid the evil characters in the first place. One time, the natural 1, plus my 10, caused an arrow to ricochet off a rock, into the air, hitting a harpy passing by. Thus arousing more angry harpies.

Basically it can be blan and just a miss, or an opportunity to expand on the intentionally vague rule.


IIRC, in 3.5 when you roll a 20 you generate a "critical threat" and have to roll again against some threshold to get a "critical". I recommend that when a 1 is rolled; roll again. On "another 1" then you have a critical failure. My $0.02.


It is most likely a house rule. In my D&D games when we roll a 1, its a hit against yourself and you treat yourself as an enemy character. If you roll a 1 and 3 20's in a row, you instantly kill yourself... Not very fun when that happens.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you expand on this? If it's not very fun, why do you do it? \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 6 '11 at 1:08

protected by Oblivious Sage Nov 17 '13 at 0:30

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