The role of dice at your table will always be unique to your table.
Every group rolls a little differently and has a slightly different idea of what different rules mean. In some parties it’s as simple as rolling above the DC is a success and below is a failure.
In others, how far above or below the check your dice land determines just how well you do.
In this article, we’ll be talking about one way that D&D players handle that dice roll you never want to see… a one.
There are a lot of different ways to deal with a critical failure, and one that never fails to invoke laughter and/or tears is a fumble chart.
A fumble chart is a list of different scenarios that could be the result of a failure.
In our example fumble chart we’ll cover scenarios for the different types of attacks:
When Does A Critical Failure Happen?
While the simplest answer is “whenever you roll a one”, different house rules can develop their own ways to handle this process.
The Player’s Handbook states that “If the d20 roll for an attack is a 1, the attack misses regardless of any modifiers or the target’s AC.” It also states that 20’s are critical hits, a concept I’m sure you’re at least a bit familiar with.
Using RAW just means that we fail to hit our attacks. While you can certainly count this alone as a critical failure, many DMs will add a more forgiving measure in the middle.
Typically the first 1 shown on a d20 is an automatic failure, and then the player (or npc) has to make another roll to see if it’s critical.
The extremely forgiving method is to require two 1’s in a row for a critical failure. A more devious rule for DMs to use is that if the second roll does not beat the AC (before modifiers) the failure goes from automatic to critical.
A common issue players have with critical failures is that higher level characters in general have a higher chance of rolling 1’s. A high level fighter can make 4 attacks in a single attack action, and use an action surge to get another attack action in one round of combat. That’s 8 attacks, and a way higher chance of getting a natural 1.
An excellent way to circumvent this issue is to make the second roll after a 1 rears its ugly head more scaled. Consider setting the DC to avoid critical failure as 20 minus the character’s level.
That means that a level one character has to get a 20 to save their own hide, but a skilled level twenty character would finally be safe from the bumbling failures provided below.
A few notes:
- Unarmed strikes and improvised weapons are not in here. Most would fall into the melee weapon category. Feel free to change certain results as necessary, a broken hand makes more sense than a shattered one for example.
- You may notice the magic fumbles seem to be more harsh than the other categories. Since spell attack rolls are much more rare, we believe there should be more at stake if you fail critically.
- Oof! Six levels of exhaustion results in the death of a player, which feels a bit dramatic for missing an attack.
- Ranged attacks include any weapons with the ammunition or thrown properties.
While you can certainly use this chart as is, we hope you take the time to talk with your party about what they want to see at the table. Some players are constitutionally against any use of a critical failure chart, and others love the idea with all their heart.
Making sure everyone at the table is on board is really important when dealing with an issue that can make heroic characters look like bumbling fools. As a Dm, you should never force your players into having fun the way you want to have fun; communication is key.
Now get out there and roll some high numbers, and hope you never have to look at this table again, or else.