Thursday, July 9, 2009

Critical thoughts on critical hits

Not sure what sparked it, but I got to thinking on the critical hits last night. So I figured I'd post a short comparison of the 3.5 version versus the 4E rule.

There's no arguing that the 4E version of critical hits are easier and quicker to resolve. Roll a natural 20 and you automatically hit and do maximum damage. I mean, they just couldn't be more straight forward. The only ambiguity is whether bonus dice from powers like "Hunter's Quarry" or feats are also maxed out. That's probably in the rules somewhere but since I don't know it without looking I call that an ambiguity.

That one little question aside (and it's something that can easily be looked up) the 4E critical rule works just fine. The math is simple enough and can be jotted down somewhere on the character sheet. The elimination of a confirmation roll keeps combat moving at a nice pace. There's also no need to keep track of the threat range each and every weapon provides. All good things.

On the downside, it feels almost anti-climatic now. In 3.5 a natural 20 (or a 19 in some cases) always sparked a round of excited hoots from everyone in the party. We'd all sit forward and watch the confirmation roll with great anticipation, followed by more whoops or dejected groans. It was great fun.

Now a natural 20 is still good but the best response it gets from fellow players is a "way to go" or "nice". That's it. No huzzahs or woots. Just a golf clap and a nod to the dice gods for favoring us with a nat 20.

So, the criticals in 3.5 have the edge in generating excitement. However, there's no denying that they slowed down play. Especially when that 18th level fighter with the falchion and all the crit expanding feats started rolling. It could take five minutes or more to resolve one round of attacks.

I'm mixed on the threat ranges for weapons. On the one hand, I miss it because that was one thing that really seperated one weapon from another. That and the critical damage multiplier. Crossbows did more damage but a longbow did triple damage on a critical. The kukri rolled the same damage dice as a dagger but had a better threat range. At the same time, I don't miss having to look up the range for a weapon that I only used once in a while (like a throwing axe). That was another of those time wasters that 3.5 combat was full of.

The one thing I certainly don't miss from the 3.5 critical rules is the whole this-thing-is-immune-to-critical-hits bullshit.

With hit points being an abstraction it never made sense to me that undead/constructs/plants/oozes were immune to critical hits. I've always believed that if something has hit points it can be hit especially hard, which is basically all that a critical hit is. It's just an especially nasty or effective attack. Sure stabbing that vampire in the guts isn't going to be anything but an inconvenience to him, but there's no reason a natural 20 can't spill more of it's blood, or temporarily snap a bone (ie. do more damage). An ooze can be splattered a little farther, a plant can be hewn a little deeper, a construct can have some extra bolts loosened. With DR and Resists on top, monsters of the undead and construct variety were far scarier than they really should have been.

In my opinion, the 4E critical system has some really great points. It's fast and simple and works against anything. It should honestly be a hands down favorite but somehow it still falls a little flat in play.


Crwth said...

I think the bigger reaction from a player-rolled 20 is from me: my NPCs' hitpoints are my biggest marker for how close I am to a Total Party Kill, and every critical y'all dole out reduces that. My poor babies.

I, too, miss the variety in weapons with their damage dice, threat range, and crit multiplier. It was one complication which felt like it belonged, but I understand why it was removed.

I disagree with you about the critical immunity though, and perhaps that's just the DM in my talking. I liked having monsters that didn't have to tremble at a falchion, just because you'd gotten the threat range down to 15-20, or a rapier at 13-20. The critical hit was always argued as hitting a "vital" area, and oozes, constructs and undead just didn't have vital areas. And without such immunities, 3.5 CRPGs would have been boring, if you didn't have to keep your vs. undead weapon, your vs. construct weapon, your vs...

Griff said...

Yeah. Because that's the key element of fun when it comes to computer games. Logging in/booting up and then spending an hour sorting through pages of inventory to make sure you have all the "vs" bases covered.

Crwth said...

To each their own, so back off!

Thaseus said...

Personally I've never liked the natural "20" critical hit rule for all versions of D&D or the threat range rules or confirmation rules.


Because the odds of getting a critical hit against a dangerous creature with high AC is much greater than it is against a piss-ant Kobold.

For instance, let's say your character needs a 19 or higher to hit a creature... that means your odds of attaining a crit, when you do hit, are 50% (as opposed to a 20% chance if you need a 16 or higher). In D&D 3.5 the system of confirming crits still does not alleviate this initial set of criteria and its associated problems. Even worse, it slows the game down.

Add in the threat range rules and things are even more absurd when all your hits basically qualify for crits as well.

So what's a better option?

Here is what our gaming group does:

We have everyone roll a 12-sided die at the SAME time they roll the 20-die to hit. Then, if the 20 die results in a hit (with 20 being an automatic hit), they glance at the other die... if that one shows a 12 it's a crit.

Likewise if the 20-die results in a miss (With a 1 being an automatic miss) and they glance at the other die and it shows a 1... well, then it's a fumble.

This system is fast, simple, and more reflective of individual combatants' abilities/skills (or lack there-of). With it, a skilled attacker finds it easier to attain a crit against a low-skilled, low-AC opponent (or reflex, fortitude, etc). Likewise, it is much harder (and exciting) to attain a critical hit against a high-skilled opponent who has high AC, reflex, etc.

The opposite is true for fumbles (i.e. skilled attackers vs. unskilled opponents are less likely to fumble and vice versa).

Meanwhile, the AVERAGE odds of attaining a critical hit (when neither combatant has an advantage over the other) remains roughly the same as it was under the old system when both opponents were of equal level/skill (i.e. when the to-hit range was 10 or higher and you needed a 20 to crit, which was roughly a 10% chance).

In other words, the new system means the base chance to crit is roughly the same as it was under 3.5, but it then scales to increase or decrease according to the attackers advantage (or disadvantage) over his/her opponent.

Try it out. It really works! Then tell me what you think.

Griff said...

I've gotta disagree with this... "Add in the threat range rules and things are even more absurd when all your hits basically qualify for crits as well."

I mean, I see where you're coming from, and I can't claim to fully grasp the math behind it, but the confirmation roll is more likely to fail against Mr. Badass than it will against piss-ant kobold.

If you need a 19 or 20 just to hit the BadAss, you'll need to roll really high twice consecutively. The odds of rolling two 19s (or 20s) in a row aren't good. Whereas hitting a kobold, say you need a 10 or better, is going to confirm a crit 1/2 the time.

The whole point of the "natural 20 hits everytime" is so that there's always a slim chance of landing a hit despite the target's insane AC. Sure, it's also a critical threat but the odds are pretty good that you won't confirm that critical.

That said, I do like your house rule method. At least on face value.

Anything that brings out the poor forgotten d12 is good. He's the Tito of the dice bag.

Anonymous said...

I also somewhat miss the feeling of actually landing the crit - 1 in 20 is still sort of common.. 1 in 20 but I have to _confirm_ - that's more thrilling.

OTOH, the real fun of Crits in 4th edition is the bonus dice you get with a magic weapon.. and High Crit weapons.

Now it's all about the extra damage. Your so your high-crit vicious falchion+6 wielded by a Str 28, 25th level Epic character with a simple at-will does max (2[w]+6+Str) + 3[W] + 6d12
which works out to be 31+6d4+6d12

Tell me that rolling all that damage wouldn't make you whoop with glee.