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Meanwhile, since my weekly gaming group took the night off (apparently real kids take precedence over imaginary characters) I got to thinking about critical hits. Specifically how just multiplying damage is critically boring. So here are 3 official (yet optional) ways to make them exciting plus 3 ‘House Rules’ that I’ve been kicking around.
Official Optional Rule #1: Not all Natural 20’s automatically hit
We all Geek out when a 20 comes up. Our group even has the LED dice which blinks crazily. But there’s a serious statistical problem with using the PHB rule as written, & that is that 5% of the time, even the suckiest, red shirtiest guy can hit a Hero. As the 3.5 DMG put it; “the lowliest kobold can strike the most magically protected, armored, dexterous character on a roll of 20.” Likewise, the players can hit monsters/NPCs that they really shouldn’t be able to. i.e. whacking Elminster . (Hey, we’ve all wanted to) The answer is to make a natural 20 still significant, without ruining realism by saying it ‘ALWAYS automatically hits & is ALWAYS a critical threat.’
We do this per the 3.5 DMG page 25, “a natural 20 is treated as a roll of 30.” Simple. It’s still a possible threat, but only if it would still hit. This reigning in of the 20 makes actual confirmations a little more rare & therefore more special.
Official Optional Rule #2: Use a Critical Hit Deck or table
Quick, which is more interesting: Doing straight math for a x3 increase in damage or causing a punctured lung: “Double damage and target begins to drown 3 rounds later. DC 20 Fort save each round to end effect.” Or x2 versus a crushed toe: “Normal damage and 1d4 Dex damage. Target’s land speed is halved until healed.” Of course as a DM, if you yourself confirm a critical then you get to pull a card yourself which ratchets up the tension when the 18s, 19s, & 20’s are hitting the table. Getting a critical hit deck like the one Paizo makes is an easy way to make your games more exciting but you can also find free resources online such as the Variant Criticals Table from the D&D Wiki.
Official Optional Rule #3: Yes, you can instantly die in D&D
Check out Instant Kills from the DMG, page 28 “a natural 20 on an attack roll, a critical roll is made to see if a critical hit is scored. If that critical roll is also a 20, that’s considered a threat for an instant kill. Now a third roll, an instant kill roll, is made. If that roll scores a hit on the target in question (just like a normal critical roll after a threat), the target is instantly slain.” This is obviously dangerous, but combat IS dangerous. When using the Official Optional rule #1, there’s a balance, yet on any given gameday, it’s possible to pull of a David & Goliath shot. These are the criticals of the criticals and surely to be remembered long after the campaign is over. Which is how you ‘win’ at D&D.
House Rule #1: Getting a critical hit from something makes you more afraid of it
So that Giant just completely smashed you down with his club. Naturally you’re going to be more cautious, even hesitant not only for the rest of the combat but against giants in general. When a creature confirms a critical against someone, they are automatically Shaken vs that subject for the rest of the encounter. Furthermore a Will save when fighting similar opponents (i.e. giants) in the future is called for, with failing causing the Shaken condition. To resolve this fear requires it suitably be overcome, as determined by the DM.
House Rule #2: Criticals are harder to heal
A critical should be more than some math off your total. It’s a serious physical trauma. To better represent that, healing the HP of a critical wound takes an amount of curing equal to the critical multiplier of the attack times the amount of damage done. So if x2 weapon causes 15 points of damage, it would take 30 points of healing to recover from. If a x3 weapon causes 8 points of damage, it would take 24 points of healing to fully get over. Still curable, just not as easy as a typical wound.
House Rule #3: Criticals cause scars
So even after the HP has been brought back, the actual injury lingers. When a critical is confirmed, the area where the hit was (roll randomly or if using the Critical Hit Deck, already specified) remains scarred. Make suitable adjustments to CHA or skills like Intimidate, but the character now has a very distinguishing characteristic. At the very least, there’s a story behind the mark one which can follow the character.
There ya have it readers: 3 semi-official ways + 3 House Rules to make critical hits more exciting. Give a few of them a try & then let us know how they did in YOUR games! And don’t forget to check out the art contest for Pen & Pixels: