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Dungeons & Dragons 3.t, critical hits streamlined

As in my previous entry about the 3.t system, I'm trying to make D&D 3.5 play faster.  Today's rule revision has to do with critical hits.  Right now in 3.5, each weapon has a "threat range" such as 19-20, which means that if you roll a 19 or 20 on a 20-sided die, you are maybe going to do critical damage.  To determine if you actually do get critical damage, you roll again.  That's a bit convoluted.

The problem?  To fix this, we cannot just drop the confirmation roll and say "all critical threats are automatically confirmed."  If we do that, then crits will happen much more often and low-level characters will die more often.  But if we reduce the damage of the weapons, then we can keep all those crits.  That should speed up gameplay without changing the numbers (much), because there is no more rolling to confirm crits.  They just happen.  It should be more enjoyable for the players, too -- their weapons might do a tiny bit less damage each hit, but they will do critical hits often.  So what we're about to do will keep damage roughly the same, but remove an extra dice roll.  Ready?

Critical hits

  1. Drop every weapon's damage to the next smaller die.  1d12 becomes 1d10, 1d10 becomes 1d8, 1d8 becomes 1d6, 1d6 becomes 1d4, 1d4 becomes 1d3, and 1d3 becomes 1d2.  Now, there is a tricky part here, for weapons that do two dice worth of damage per hit: 2d6 becomes 1d10, and 2d4 becomes 1d6.
  2. All critical threats are automatically confirmed.  Done.

I don't trust the math!

If you don't trust the math, I'll give you some of it here so you can check for yourself.  Consider an opponent with AC 20 (to hit him, you need to roll a 20 on a 20-sided die).  Now, if your character has a +4 to hit, you get to add that to your rolls, so it's a roll of 16 + 4 = 20, which still hits.  Conveniently, rolling a 16, 17, 18, 19, or 20 is exactly 25% of a 20-sided die.  We're going to use that scenario here to help simplify our testing.  25% of the time, you hit.  Likewise, 25% of the time, you'll confirm your critical hits.  OK?  Here is the damage output of a rapier (1d6 damage) over the course of 80 rounds of combat:

1st 20 rounds: 15 misses, 5 hits, 0 confirmed crits
2nd 20 rounds: 15 misses, 5 hits, 0 confirmed crits
3rd 20 rounds: 15 misses, 5 hits, 0 confirmed crits
4th 20 rounds: 15 misses, 2 hits, 3 confirmed crits (x2)
23 x 3.5 average damage = 80.5 points of damage

Now, consider this modified rapier.  It only does 1d4 damage, but it crits every time that it can.  We don't roll anything to confirm a crit -- it just happens whenever it's eligible.  In 20 rounds of combat, you would get an average of 3 critical hits (the rapier crits on a to-hit roll of 18, 19, or 20).  Here it is over 80 rounds of combat:

1st 20 rounds: 15 misses, 2 hits, 3 automatic crits (x2)
2nd 20 rounds: 15 misses, 2 hits, 3 automatic crits (x2)
3rd 20 rounds: 15 misses, 2 hits, 3 automatic crits (x2)
4th 20 rounds: 15 misses, 2 hits, 3 automatic crits (x2)
32 x 2.5 average damage = 80 points of damage


You can change the weapons, the AC and the to-hit bonuses, but on average this system will still work out every time.  Sometimes weapons will do a few points less damage, but that's over eighty rounds.  During the course of a 10-round fight, it's negligible, and both sides would experience the change, so it's even.

In conclusion

So let's wrap this up.  This really is simple, even though the math might make your head spin.  The good news is you don't have to think about the math, just remember this: you can change your weapons' damage to use the next smaller die and just assume any crit is confirmed without a roll.  Enjoy!

And if you'd like to see the other gameplay advancements in this series, just review all the articles with the 3.t tag.


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Comments (20)
Debater writes:

I would prefer it if you had to confirm the critical with a second roll, but if you confirm, you do max possible damage. This still spotlights the character's accomplishment, but reduces the waiting to count up the damage. I think this is Pathfinder's solution, but I could be confusing it with 4th Ed.

I have not run through the math behind this, but it should lower the one crit-kill scenarios that plague many encounters.

Tony writes:

Thanks for the comment!

Thoth writes:

The trouble with this is that combining the critical hit roll with the attack roll with a d20 works nicely when the characters need something in the 8-12 range - but against tougher targets you'll soon hit the point where every third (18+ required), other (19+), or every single hit (20+) is a critical result. That really doesn't work well.

Scoring proportionately fewer critical hits against weak creatures is awkward too.

The original (first-edition) method was to presume that a "critical hit" was simply a good damage roll; that was the point of rolling damage rather than simply giving each weapon a fixed damage rating.

Numerous informal rules - maximum damage on a 20, double damage on a 20, roll on the critical hit table on a 20, extra damage on a maximum damage roll, special effect on a maximum damage roll, roll on every hit to see if you got a special effect, various schemes for allowing low-probability-but-high upper end damage scores - promptly appeared. None of those rules really worked very well, which was why 3'rd edition used the second die roll rule.

The 3.0 and 3.5 d20 rules actually have very weak critical hits compared to most systems out there, simply because the authors correctly recognized that strong critical hit systems tend to kill off the characters. In most settings the characters do a LOT of fighting, but the monsters only come on the scene once or twice each. The greater the variability of the combat results in a system, and the greater the potential for quick kills, the likelier random character deaths become.

The critical hit system that worked best for me was simply to narrate an exciting result on a 20 (for most fights) or on a 20 and a high damage roll (for fights where the characters were having a hard time hitting at all). “Your mighty blow caves in the left side of Sir Ranulf’s breastplate, he is now having a hard time raising his left arm! If you can gain a height advantage, he will have a hard time fighting you - but that may be awkward the way you’re limping after the previous exchange of blows!”.

I tried allowing people to trade in some damage for their choice of some minor special result on a 20, but that only worked when people were really familiar with the system, and still bogged down when people started min-maxing.

Overall, the 3.5 system certainly isn’t perfect - particularly if you want more dramatic results (in which case a chart or some such is probably in order) - but it really isn’t bad. If you want to speed it up, it might be easier to dump iterative attacks in favor of a damage bonus for those with high base attack bonuses and simply roll two differently-colored dice to attack: if you hit, glance at the second die to confirm or eliminate the critical.

aboyd [TypeKey Profile Page] writes:

Thoth, no one has described a system where critical hits would happen "every single hit." You do realize that a critical hit is based off the original natural die roll, right? It's not based off the adjusted number after modifiers are added in. So there is absolutely no way to get the scenario you described, so the trouble you're having doesn't make sense to me at all. Perhaps you can clarify?

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dress writes:

good article,thank you!

DSLR-A850 writes:

Lovely sharp post. Never thought that it was this easy. Extolment to you!

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed an article as much as this one. You have gone beyond my expectations on this topic and I agree with your points. You’ve done well with this.

Aina writes:

Two more options:1. Players roll all the dice. If a motnser would roll dice against a PC (say, an attack roll), let player roll (AC-10) + d20 with difficulty 10 + motnser's attack roll. (Or difficulty 11 + whatever the score originally was, if you want the probabilities unchanged.)2. Play a diceless rpg, use the D&D rules as guidelines about what would be reasonable. This is the way actually diceless roleplaying works. If something is uncertain, ask the player to describe it in more detail so as to find out if it works. This pretty uch requires strong level of player-GM trust and a group where everyone is on the same page about how the setting works and what genre the game takes part of and what power level are the characters on. writes:

Thinking like that shows an expert at work

website writes:

The accident of finding this post has brightened my day

This was so helpful and easy! Do you have any articles on rehab?

That's an ingenious way of thinking about it.

This is a really intelligent way to answer the question.

I was seriously at DefCon 5 until I saw this post.

Ah, i see. Well that's not too tricky at all!"

Your answer lifts the intelligence of the debate.

That's an apt answer to an interesting question

At last, someone who comes to the heart of it all

online writes:


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