If you are just tuning in, Part 1 can be found here.
In our last article, we discussed the history of the natural 1 and 20 throughout the life of the game, and began to get an understanding as to why it will be difficult to transfer our traditional methods of adjudicating critical hits and misses into 4e without destroying some of the fine balance the game has achieved. But before we move onto the mechanics of making such a thing possible, it is important to ask one more question: why? Why tamper with the rules at all, especially since they are written to be as balanced and stream-lined as possible?
The 4e combat rules are a thing of grace and beauty. They are stripped down to the essence of fantasy action combat, with very little excess rules-baggage in the way of its streamlined processes. By adding critical hits and misses, we are adding a layer of complexity back into the system. There is a loss of cohesion when we add rules to this sleek system, and at worst an imbalance. There is also an additional time factor spent around the table, that should be taken into account when adding or changin rules. Granted, I would estimate 3 or 4 1s and 20s are rolled all-told in an average setting, so for each of these rolls, more rolling and description will become necessary.
So why do we do it? The answer is simple, really. Combat is messy. It is bloody, slippery, gritty, hot, blinding, and dizzying. Combat is unpredictable, and any time people start swinging around big honkin’ chunks of sharpened steel, unusual things start to happen. The critical hit and miss are meant to represent the chaos and unpredictability of battle. Strange things happen when blood starts to fly.
By God its a 20, Jim, a Natural 20!
There are other more personal reasons for having critical hits and misses as well. In a small way, these rules give each battle the chance for something extraordinary to happen. Doing maximum damage on a hit is great, but not exceptional. However, when an enemy’s ears fill with blood from a mighty blow, deafening them, that is something exceptional and memorable. Finally, another reason closely tied to that, is that critical hits and penalties, and the numbers that they represent, 1 and 20, can cause great emotion around the table, and for those who roll them. These rules attempt to give meaning to those feelings people get – and the outbursts they make – when such epic wins or epic fails are rolled. It is a chance for hilarity, rage, relief, or whatever other pent up emotions can boil to the surface during an intense gaming session. To scream out “20!” seems worthy of more than maximized damage, just as the quiet mewling “…1..” that DMs have to strain to hear needs to do more than simply signify a missed attack. Heck rolling a 2 will get you that most times. To shout 1 or 20 is to shout “Catharsis!” and the game must oblige such moments with occasions of corresponding action in the game. Nothing less will do.
Egads, I’ve done it now, ’tis a 1!
The mighty 20 and villainous 1 deserve more. They aid combatants to achieve the heights of battle prowess and sink into the depth of despair when it comes to combat. Criticals keep battle real, awesome, and frightening, as they should be. And they do this with only a small impact on the flow of the average battle, and therefore fit into the modern concept of 4e Dungeons and Dragons, which is to minimize the wildly random results of previous editions. They are the spice that gives flavor to the meat and potatoes of a battle. Without further ado:
Critical Hit and Critical Miss Rules
Official rules still apply
The number one thing to remember when adding the Critical Hit and Penalty Roll rules is that all the standard official 4th Edition rules still apply. This includes for a natural 20, doing max damage every time a 20 is rolled, and a natural 20 will always hit. For the natural 1, the only rule to apply is that it will always miss.
No criticals against minions
Ignore all natural 20 and 1 results against minions. Since they are always killed on a hit, and never damaged on a miss, they are immune to the effects of criticals, and thus provoke none.
Once per encounter
Once per encounter, the first time any combatant rolls either a natural 20 or a natural 1, that combatant should roll on the applicable chart. Only a single natural 20 and a single natural 1 per encounter per combatant is allowed.
Spend an action point
The only exception to the “once per encounter” rule is through the use of action points. A PC can spend an action point to be able to roll a second, or third time on the Critical Hits chart beyond the first time allowed per encounter. In addition to, or instead, a PC can spend an action point to ignore rolling on the Penalty Roll chart for the encounter.
Critical Hit Chart – Roll a D20
1-2: Target deafened until end of targets next turn (-10 perception)
3-4: Target weakened until end of targets next turn (half damage)
5-6: Target blinded until end of targets next turn (-5 to attack)
7-8: Target slowed until end of targets next turn (movement reduced to 2)
9-10: Target pushed 1 square and knocked prone, attacker can shift 1 square as immediate reaction
11-12: Create opening, Attacker makes extra melee or ranged basic attack against target, or adjacent ally of target
13-14: Energized: Attacker gains 5 temporary hit points
15-16: Target dazed until end of targets next turn (only one action, move, minor or standard)
17-18: Target bleeding (ongoing 5 damage; Save Ends)
19-20: Double Damage – Attacker adds extra 1w (2w for paragon, 3w for epic) to the damage total.
Critical Miss Chart – Roll a D20
1-2: Attacker weakened until end of next turn, Endurance check DC 15 + 1/2 level to avoid
3-4: Attacker loses 1 healing surge or takes 5 points damage, Heal check DC 15 + ½ level to avoid
5-6: Attacker knocked prone, Endurance check DC 15 + 1/2 level to avoid
7-8: Attacker drops weapon/implement, Endurance check DC 15 + 1/2 level to avoid
9-10: Attacker damages weapon/implement, -2 to hit/damage until short rest, Athletics check DC 15 + 1/2 level to avoid
11-12: Attacker stumbles 2 squares in any direction, taking OAs along the way, Acrobatics check DC 15 + 1/2 level to avoid
13-14: Roll the attack again, if it hits, good, if it misses, roll again on the penalty chart with d12
15-16: Attackers encounter or daily power is not expended if used to make attack, no other effect
17-18: Make a basic attack against same target in place of this failed attempt
19-20: Amazing recovery, roll on the critical hit chart, target is affected by roll, but not by damage of missed attack