Cleaning out my garage this weekend I made an amazing find: my house rules binder from my gaming youth. This set of tables was compiled around 1983-1984. I was twelve. It was based off a few magazine articles, as well as a chart (using percentiles) by the big brother of a friend. We were the “second generation” of role players to arrive on the scene after our older siblings paved the way. One of the innovations I learned from those Old Ones was the idea of creating “Campaign Binders” that contained all manner of new rules and details about the ongoing games being played. Critical hit and miss tables were one of the first things I created and inserted into my binder.
These tables were used continuously for the entirety of our AD&D careers, covering hundreds of natural 20’s and 1’s up until 1989, when we stopped playing regularly and my game binder became lost amidst the onset of adulthood. In the years since, I have toyed with many other systems for Critical hits and misses, and in that time I have switched from calling a natural 1 a Penalty Roll to calling it a Critical Miss. (Never liked fumble.) It just sounds better that way. Here is a previous two part article I wrote about using critical hits and misses in Fourth Edition. (Those rules never quite had the “pizzazz” around the table I was hoping for, and led to us eventually moving back to Pathfnder Hit and Miss cards.)
The fact remains that these tables are the best I have ever used, and although they might seem harsh (what with all the limb-lopping) they provide combat with a gritty, dramatic, and visceral component that is hard to match any other way. They have been revised over the course of hundreds of hours (just look at all the exceptions) to create an unparalleled system for capturing the chaotic violence of mortal combat.
A special note should be made to point out that in the 30 years since these tables were originally concocted, role playing games have gone from meat-grinder factories to heroic deeds of legend, and that these tables should be used not with an eye toward permanently handicapping the players — one limb at a time –- but towards making each combat riskier and bloodier. Taking recovery into account is important as well, and magical healing should be considered for the re-attachment of limbs and other permanent injuries that may affect player characters. Possibly with the addition of a nasty scar. These charts are not for the faint of heart. Just don’t make it too easy…