Critical Hit & Fumble Decks
by Paizo Publishing
One of the problems with D&D combat throughout the ages is that player characters behave like they’re extras in a post-apocalyptic zombie movie: they stumble about blindly in search of intelligence, much like Gamer Bling and his party did a few game nights ago. We were raiding a goblin fort and… no, actually, we were blitzkrieging through it like the 7th Panzer through the Belgian Army. Gamer Bling is a big fan of lightning warfare, and we had the goblins rocked back on their heels, whacking unsuspecting guards and catching unarmored goblins in the halls and the like, until our so-called party leader decided we all needed to stop and regroup. Gamer Bling was all for pressing the advantage, but instead, with the all-important Mo on our side, the team called time out and gave the goblins the extra time needed to bring in their goal line defense, pump everybody up with spells, etc., so that when the final confrontational battle came, we barely escaped alive. And our fearless fighter was, again, the first to fall. Serves him right, him and his shifterrific WWI thought processes.
Speaking of which, the other way that player characters behave like they’re extras in a post-apocalyptic zombie movie is, as our party fighter has so excellently demonstrated in session after session, that they take untold amounts of punishment until suddenly they fall over dead. No degradation of skills, no apparent change in attitude or bloodthirstiness, certainly no improvement in insight or cleverness, just a few more point on the tally board until their little red health bar abruptly goes black and the player starts squealing for the box of band-aids party cleric.
Not much role-playing there. “I’m standing! Full speed ahead!” And then, one smackdown later, “I’m down! Save my life!” And not much in between.
Which is why, in part, Gamer Bling’s good friend Andy Heckt of Wizards of the Coast thoroughly enjoyed playing a chaotic neutral half-orc cleric of Gruumsh, because whenever anyone begged for healing, he’d dismiss them as a mewling weakling suitable only for being culled from the herd; and if someone stoically took their injuries without begging for healing, why then that character was tough enough to do without. Suffice it to say that Andy played one of the most irritating and entertaining clerics that Gamer Bling has heard of, and one that almost never cast a healing spell. (Note to self: Do not irritate Andy Heckt.)
Now the sameness of damage is not particularly a problem, except that the sameness extends into the area of critical hits. Critical hits ought to be cool. In the movies, Critical Hits are something like Serenity, or else the licensing agency run by gamer-babalicious Cindy Rice. But in 3e D&D, a critical hit is a double or triple heaping dose of the same old damage. Not that damage is bad, but it’s not exciting, especially when you roll low. In fact, large tubs of damage only become a concern in 3e once you start hitting the massive damage threshold of 50 points. Otherwise it’s all the same. And automatic failures are just that: a failure. Yawn.
Enter Paizo’s Critical Hit and Critical Fumble Decks. Or don’t enter them; there’s not much room in those deck boxes. Rather, let them enter you, by which Gamer Bling means that you should let them enter you in an esoteric zenlike sense, as in let them enter your consciousness and your game, and not that you should actually eat them, because although they are high in fiber, they are also full of artificial colors and taste like unsalted low-fat tofu Pringles.
The Critical Hit and Critical Fumble Decks add spice and variety into the game that curmudgeons like Gamer Bling, who abandoned the old White Box D&D for 1st Edition RuneQuest back in the days when he was a young school kid and not an embittered and cantankerous old fool, reminisce about daily. Not the incomprehensible rules part, but the detailed charts part.
Because RuneQuest contained a big chart for fumbles. And these were real foul-ups, events that varied from minor to catastrophic and added an element of humor and/or desperation to the game. From the simple (drop weapon) to the horrific (critical hit ally) to the overwhelming (roll thrice, apply all three), whenever you rolled a fumble, it was always bad. But immensely entertaining when it happened to someone else. If you weren’t standing too near. At one point, Gamer Bling’s character had a set of trained animals; they all eventually died at the hands of friendly fire, the most notorious of which was when Steve Heckt, elder brother of the aforementioned Andy Heckt, chopped one in half with a poleax. (Note to self: Do not irritate Steve Heckt, either.)
Of course, even RuneQuest didn’t have a detailed critical hit table. Although in defense of RuneQuest, a critical hit was usually enough to put one’s foe out of the fight, or at least break the limb that you struck and put it out of commission, which was a big edge. Leave it to Rolemaster to create critical hit tables that described with unflinching medical accuracy the horrible things that were happening to the unfortunate victim. Like splitting his jugular and esophagus at the same time so he drowns gargling in his own liquids, spraying blood everywhere with each coughing attempt to breathe. Yech. Not the happy talk at the gaming table, especially when the Gamer Bling Official Companion is within earshot, to say nothing of Expansion #2 and Expansion #1 who, despite having broken the DVD player, have managed to avoid being critically hit thus far into the epic campaign.
But a few years ago d20 crushed those games beneath its juggernautical open gaming license, and everybody and their kid brother switched back to D&D, because it was fun, just like in the good old days. Except for the sameness of critical hits. With which words Gamer Bling has written himself into a circle. So at this point he will go on, turning the circle into the letter Q.
The Critical Hit and Critical Fumble decks each have 52 useful cards, two cards of rules and/or spells, and one card packed with the requisite d20 legal stuff in very tiny type. Not that anyone cares.
Each of the game-useful cards has four entries on it. For the Critical Hit Deck, these are the four basic types of weapons: slashing, piercing, bludgeoning, and spelling magical. For the Critical Fumble Deck, these are the four basic styles of attack: melee, ranged, natural, and magic.
When your character criticals or fumbles (suggested rules for the latter are included), you draw one card at random from the deck and check the result that matches the sort of weapon or attack the character is using. For weapons with a larger critical damage multiplier (e.g., the picks with their particularly nasty 4x critical damage multiplier that Gleek was so fond of yet never actually achieved before his untimely demise, the GM instead throwing lots of undead and elementals and other immune-to-sneak-attacks-and-critical-hits-and-compound-adjectives monsters at us), you draw additional cards and choose which one you want, therewith getting progressively nastier effects. Basically, take the weapon’s damage multiplier, subtract one, and draw that many cards.
For fumbles, the results range widely from the simple and painless to the simply awful. For critical hits, they range from a bit of an annoyance to cards that make double damage look like a walk in the park.
For example, critical fumbles range from wasting an extra piece of ammo (shrug) to 1d6 intelligence bleed, which can reduce a caster to a drooling rutabaga in short order. Critical hits range from normal damage plus 1 Cha damage plus 1 bleed (slower than double or triple damage, and who cares about Cha damage?) to… well, we’ll talk about the upper end in a bit.
Some of the cards can lead to good roleplaying, if your group actually does that in preference to crunching numbers (aka roll-playing). For example, one fumble card is “Insecure: you take a –1 penalty on attack rolls for 1d4 days or until you score a critical hit.” A parallel critical card states, “Normal damage and target suffers from humiliation and may only attack you (Will negates).” Both of these are rather fun.
As an extra bonus, and to help avoid the appearance that we’re just crunching numbers, each entry on each card has a name. Some of the entry names are anachronistic, for example Can You Hear Me Now? and Pimp Slap and, for you Daffy Duck fans (and Gamer Bling is indeed a fan of the avian Robin Hood), the classic Parry! Dodge! Spin! Thrust! While Gamer Bling generally doesn’t like anachronisms, these do not bother him because (a) they’re not in-game, (b) some, like Pain and Simple, are pretty clever, and (c) you don’t have to use them. Players typically just want the bottom line, and couldn’t care less about the clever title.
The decks were based on D&D 3.5, which makes them not entirely compatible with 4e. For example, over 9% of the fumbles (19 out of 208) and 22% of the crits (47 out of 208) result in ability damage. But 4e has no ability damage, it having been deemed unnecessarily complex. Gamer Bling agrees with this deduction, but it does mean that you, as the unspeakably powerful GM, must determine how to suitably simulate said ability damage with penalties to skill rolls related to that particular ability.
The decks will also keep you on your toes: you’d better know the difference between such states as stunned, staggered, dazed, fatigued, exhausted, nauseated, sickened, and bewildered-by-multiple-states. Although Gamer Bling presumes more schoolkids can rattle off the 3e states far quicker than they can the 50 States. And there are almost as many…
A couple of the Critical Hit Deck’s results are a little underwhelming. Giving the target an infection or striking him so that he cannot heal the wound naturally are both fairly weak, since PCs are generally not of the “fight and run away” orientation, and such results only have their true impact outside of combat.
In the Critical Fumble Deck’s listings for natural weapons, there are three solitary “if” statements, including the curious “if this is a reach weapon,” which is generally hard to accomplish with natural tools unless you’re a big ol’ dragon or something. So this means that you’re probably free from a couple fumbles if you’re using a natural weapon, because as any programmer knows, if you’re using an if/then, you’d better have an else clause as well.
A couple of the fumble results are just lame, for example damaging your ammo. Odd, that one. Who tracks ammo damage, anyway? Sheesh. All Gamer Bling can say is that if one of his readers does track ammo damage, he doesn’t want to hear about it. This is Gamer Bling’s version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Even though Gamer Bling asked four sentences ago.
There are three critical hit results that are potentially very dangerous to the player. The worst offender is the arcane result that transposes the position of you and the target. In all likelihood, this puts you, the frail and underarmored arcane caster, in the midst of the enemy battle line, flanked and horribly exposed to attacks of opportunity.
Worse yet, eight of the fumble results are potentially or completely beneficial. For example, one melee-weapon fumble entry states, “Your attack hits the target, but deals minimum damage.” Umm… okay! That’s a lot better than a straight-up miss! Unless, of course, you draw this for a monster fumble, in which case you as the DM better be ready for some honked players. Honk! Honk!
The Bottom Line
If you’re playing 3e, these are required. Even if you’re playing 4e or some completely different system, these are still a pretty cool tool.
Bling Factor: 7
Price: $10.99 per deck
You need: Both.
That’s about it. Can’t really see Paizo doing an “Average Hit” or “Everyday Whiff” deck.
There are two decks in this line, and Gamer Bling has done some basic analysis for you, parsing the decks into types of impact.
Critical Hit Deck
Here’s how the Critical Hit deck looks. The base multiplier is given for cards that use special effects (target stunned, you get +4AC, etc.). Card that deal extra damage either have splash effects, extra attacks, or deal additional nonlethal damage.
Note also that nine of the results in total deal with arms and armor, which is of little use when fighting owlbears or flying firebreathing kobolds that have abandoned their worthless picks for tooth and claw.
|1x damage + SFX on target||16||16||17||14|
|1x damage + SFX on you||2||0||0||2|
|2x damage + SFX on target||25||21||22||18|
|2x damage + SFX on you||2||3||3||4|
|Maximal Impact||Target can’t breathe||Drown in his own blood||Death||Send target to a random plane|
Critical Fumble Deck
Here’s how the breakdown of the Critical Fumble Deck looks. Gear effects are things like bending your weapon; condition effects slap you with dazed and such; conditional impact uses the dreaded “if/then” without the “else”; and SFX is anything that is not neatly categorized (like stumble ten feet provoking attacks of opportunity, which sounds funny just reading it).