View Full Version : Fumble rules suggestion

Dragoon 6
2011-04-12, 03:12 PM
Hey all,

This is the system I use in my games to account for the chance for things to go horribly wrong:

ON a roll of a natural 1, roll another check using the same DC and Bonus. If the check succeeds, only the normal consquences for failing the original roll occur. If the Check fails, then a negetive outcome results (Use whatever ,ethod you wish to determine specific outcomes).

This system compliments the "Critical confirmation" rules, and allows for a much lower chance of failure for at higher levels, where skill is higher compared to the DC being attempted, or when simpler tasks are being accomplished. This also means that characters are less likely to fumble when attempting things that they are skilled at vs. things that they are untrained in.

This system can be faily applied to Attacks, skills, and if you really want to saves as well. Feedback welcome.

Dragoon 6

2011-04-12, 03:36 PM
ON a roll of a natural 1, roll another check using the same DC and Bonus. If the check succeeds, only the normal consquences for failing the original roll occur. If the Check fails, then a negetive outcome results (Use whatever ,ethod you wish to determine specific outcomes). I've been using something similar for quite some time.

IE-Character is trying to jump a motorcycle between two apartment buildings in order to pursue the BBEG.
Fails the check (or critical fail), means he didn't quite make the distance. I allow a reflex save to jump from the motorcycle (at heavy penalties) to try and not plumet to death. Success on the reflex means he ends up falling two stories and ends up through an apartment window, and takes some fall damage as a result. Motorcycle falls to the street below and is totalled.

Mind you a critical fail might also be interpreted that he fails before he starts, meaning he goofs on the brakes before jumping the bike. Ergo he flips over his front handle bars but is still on the initial building, and the jump merely never took place.

Just my thoughts on the matter.

2011-04-12, 04:33 PM
I think I'm about 15 years ahead of you :smallsmile:
Roll a 1 on an attack:
Roll another attack role and work out the AC.
If its > 20 its just a miss.
Otherwise the AC indexes into a table with the fumble result.
Again the higher entries are minor inconvieniences, mainly just one round status like effects.

Skill Checks:
1: Roll again, and subtract 19. May open-end.
20: Roll again, and add 19. May open-end.

I've been using this sort of system since 2E.

2011-04-13, 12:17 AM
I don't use them. Melee sucks enough in 3.x, fighters don't need the risk of things catastrophically blowing up in their faces every time they want to do the one thing they've trained their entire lives for.

There's also the problem that a high level fighter, with multiple attacks per round, is going to critically fumble a lot more than a novice fighter, due to the fact that the high-level guy is going to be rolling a lot more often, and sheer probability means he's going to roll a 1 sooner than the the low-level guy.

So, yeah. If you want to really hammer in the "fighters in 3.Xe are useless" nail, include critical fumbles, but all it's really going to do is make your players gravitate more towards casters.

2011-04-13, 02:50 AM
What Shpadoinkle said.
Also, to quote myself from another thread:

Critical Fumbles in D&D are [always] a stupid idea [...]. For one thing, it would be really stupid to play a TWFer in such a game -- twice the number of attacks, twice the chance to fumble. Anyway, where's the logic in a level 20 Ranger being seven times as susceptible to hurting himself than a level 1 Anything?
Even if you have "just" 4 attacks per round, your chance to blunder in ONE ingame minute would be 87%, in words, EIGHTY-SEVEN PER CENT! That's just stupid, stupid, stupid; words fail me to describe how stupid Critical Fumble rules are in a language that's fit for children and the elderly to read.
Fwiw, for the level 16+ TWF character, the fumble chance is >98% per minute.

End quote.

Your "confirmation roll" somewhat ameliorates this, but it doesn't change squat about the fact that characters who are supposed to be _better_ fighters (by merit of higher BAB) will fumble _more often_. I don't know what else to say to this. There is a _reason_ why D&D has _no_ fumble rules, _at all_.

As Shpadoinkle implied:
If I had to play in a game with fumble rules, I'd play a caster. Never make a roll yourself, but force your opposition to roll all the time, that's the way to go. Beginning to make sense why Fumble rules are a really bad idea?

2011-04-13, 05:26 PM
I have been playing with these fumble rules for years now, although I also make wizards roll to cast spells and don't use iterative attacks, so the worst of the complaints don't apply to my game.

2011-04-13, 06:17 PM
An option which penalizes multi-attackers significantly less is to make it that you only can fumble on your first attack (or, if you ask me, your last attack).

The problem then comes when wizards don't have to make rolls to cast fireballs (While it does nerf their ranged touch attacks, a wizard can do a lot more than that). The additional problem then comes with buffs - if you haste your party, can you fumble that roll? How about with summons?

I have been playing with these fumble rules for years now, although I also make wizards roll to cast spells and don't use iterative attacks

Well, at least that does apply the additional random evenly. :P Does that include, say, healing spells and buffs and summons and the 'aid another' action? How about talking to the duke?

Most importantly to me, however... do any of these rules improve fun? Having the combat be functionally over, casting scorching ray or swinging my good ol' longsword at the last goblin and suddenly projectile vomitting doesn't sound like it improves the gaming experience much, and that will happen a lot more often than the potentially neat 'drops weapon at a moment that increases dramatic tension'.

Those with more violent aims nudge closer to 'random TPK', which generally isn't terribly fun either. I've played in games where on a natural 1 you automatically lose your weapon, and it also is thrown at an ally and deals them a sizeable amount of damage. At no point was that fun when it happened, and it in fact wrecked a potentially neat encounter with an important bad guy when he threw his sword into a ravine on round one, resulting in that evening being kinda lame.

I've also played in games where, on a natural 1, 'Your weapon shatters into a million pieces none of which are larger than a grain of sand', unquote. As a pure fighter, in two combats in one evening I went from having a neat plot-based greataxe which did neat things and was important, to doodling and writing a story when the next enemy had DR20/magic. It also led to one fight pair later when literally all of our melee attackers were without the ability to function, which was... moderately amusing for a couple seconds, I suppose, but the novelty wore off swiftly.

So I dunno. :P

2011-04-13, 06:54 PM
I apply fumbles on any d20 roll of a nat one with a confirmed failure, and apply a critical success on any d20 roll of a nat 20 with confirmed success.

All spells also require the caster make a roll to cast, so yes, it applies to healing and buffs as well.

Like anything failure failure can be frustrating if it happens at a crucial time or too often, but I can't recall a single fumble actually turning the tide of an important encounter or leading to a TPK.

Also, most fumbles, at least in combat, are typically no worse than losing your next turn recover (for example tripping or dropping a weapon) or striking an ally. If someone does damage a weapon it is only giving the weapon a -1 penalty until they get it repaired, hardly rendering the weapon useless, and most magic items are immune anyway.

2011-04-13, 07:23 PM
Two questions, then.

How about skills? Do you, one in twenty times, have worse than a roll of 1 to chatting with the Duke?

Secondly, uh. Have these improved your game? If they've hardly ever turned the tide of a relevant battle, they're probably not actually helping much either.

:P Ours certainly didn't. They encouraged our spellcaster to never use scorching ray for fear of hitting herself with it.

2011-04-13, 07:43 PM
Two questions, then.

How about skills? Do you, one in twenty times, have worse than a roll of 1 to chatting with the Duke?

Secondly, uh. Have these improved your game? If they've hardly ever turned the tide of a relevant battle, they're probably not actually helping much either.

:P Ours certainly didn't. They encouraged our spellcaster to never use scorching ray for fear of hitting herself with it.

Yes, every d20 roll, but you do need to confirm the failure, so it is only 1 20 if you have no business being there in the first place (ie can't succeed without a 20).

Hard to say if any single thing makes the game better, off the top of my head I can't recall any specific times it has happened which made for anything more dramatic than laughter.
It certainly makes it more interesting and less predictable, and dissuades character's from just trying something they have no skill in because they might get lucky.
It also makes the game more realistic, because people do, quite often, mess up.

2011-04-13, 08:02 PM
Well, it presumably doesn't seem to be hurting your game, so hey. ^_^ I'm glad it's working for you guys.

I'm not too keen on that myself, though - particularly the 'punishes someone who is attempting a roll they couldn't really make'. I mean, they already presumably can't succeed 95% of the time - you want to punish them harder in there when they've already failed? Isn't 95% enough of a fail chance?

Also, you stated:

It also makes the game more realistic, because people do, quite often, mess up.

First of all, a natural 1 that fails... is, in fact, messing up. Someone attempting to do something they can only do on a natural 20 is messing up 95% of the time. Fumble mechanics don't make failure more (or less) prevalent, they just punish you more fiercely for doing it.

Secondly, if people had the vicious fail rates a lot of fumble rules seem to use in real life, nobody would ever accomplish anything. In addition, most of the time when someone makes a screwup in real life, the odds of the failure being something more than a normal fail are also slimmer than the presumable 1/400.

So I dunno. If you'd like to introduce more randomness, just let natural 1s be automatic misses. You don't need something spectacular to happen.

If you want the funnies, what my group has moved to is when you roll a natural 1, it's just a miss - but it can be described as comedic if the situation demands it.

2011-04-13, 08:27 PM
I am talking about people with no ranks in a skill attempting fairly complex tasks. In real life if you have no idea what you are doing you will more often than not make the situation worse. For some things its not a big deal, but if you are trying to do major automative repair or surgery, well you probably will be sorry if you don't get someone who knows what they are doing.

Before I implemented fumble rules I would get the entire party attempting every skill check, and it was just silly.

I don't want to go into an in depth discussion of all the rules I use, so this may not make sense, but it is especially vital when it comes to high end spells. Without the threat of miscast mages can repeatedly attempt world shaking effects that they only have a small chance of success at, which is all right in a one time emergency, but will swiftly ruin the game if performed regularly.

2011-04-13, 08:59 PM
The current campaign I'm in utilzes critical failures, of sorts. Basically you roll a natural 1 on a d20 roll, doesn't matter what. Then the GM rolls a % die and based off a list none of the players have seen something happens. Notice I didn't say something bad happens. Supposedly, after a natural 1, there is an equal chance of something bad, something good, or something completley irrelavent happening. And the smallest chance of something actually inconvient happening. This has only happened once. Our Sorcerer fired a Fireball and rolled a natural 1 (the attack roll was simply to see if it hit the squares AC of 5). GM rolled and said "As you launch the fireball, a large gust of wind hits the flamming sphere redirecting it.....at you" (pointing to me, playing a Ninja/Rogue.) Luckily, I was only near enemies and had a massive Reflex Save so I easily dodged and dealt damage to the enemies around me instead of the ones originaly intended. All other times something extremely humorous has happened. Our fighters Greatsword decapitates a random mook, who's head flies straight up and lands on a differenent mooks shoulder who then freaks out and runs, provoking an AOO from two different PC's, which subsequently killed said fleeing mook.

2011-04-14, 12:49 AM
Let's suppose I normally need a 6+ (ie 75% chance of a hit) to hit, and fumbles need to be confirmed. That means with my primary attack, 1 attack in 80 will be a critical fumble.

(The iterative attacks will have 1 in 40, 1 in 26-2/3, and 1 in 21-1/19 chance of a fumble, respectively).

Over the course of a minute of fighting, a 1st level character will have a 12% chance of one or more fumbles.

A 16th level character with the same chance of a hit with his primary attack roll has a 14% chance of a fumble each and every round, or a 78% chance of one or more fumbles over the course of a minute.

If that 16th level character is fighting with two weapons and has all the right feats, he has a 26% chance of a fumble each round, or a 95% of at least one fumble over a minute of fighting.

Even with fumbles needing to be confirmed, the odds of throwing your sword on the floor mid-fight are too high to be believable, even for 1st level characters.

2011-04-14, 05:16 AM
Okay, first i'd like to state I've been using "fumble" rules for the last 20 years (started with first ed)....

IMHO, they DO add something important to your game, but they have to be very carefully balanced. They can bring in comedy if properly described, surprise or unexpected effects, and event turn the tide in a fight (happens a lot when the players are so sure of themselves...)

First thing to think about is the style of play.

You have a game table with mostly "role-players" (emphasis on role). Then using the fumbles is much alike using the criticals, they are occasions to use descriptions to add momentum and colour to your scene, the famous "epic" feel. Here is the time to drop the sword and see if the opponent gives a chance to pick it up or uses the opportunity for a cheap shot.


You have a game table with mostly "roll-players" (emphasis on roll). Then using the fumble is introducing variety in an otherwise very "scripted" game phase (roll to hit, roll damage, next...). There you have to introduce a very precise mechanism for those who care about crunching numbers : Using your idea for a fumble-confirmation roll, is the Power-Attack a bonus or a malus to this roll ? What about Expertise ? How do you treat a Defending vs Vorpal weapon ?

Chances are your party will be composed of a mix and match of those two player archetypes...

My take on it : I effectively use a confirmation roll, though a pure D20 (no bonuses) and I rule EVERY case depending on situational factors. Only thing that is permanent is rolling 1 is always a miss AND always stops further attacks (iterative or RS/TWF alike, you fumbled, you stop rolling)

Example 1 : the seasoned (15th lvl) fighter is in the middle of a series of "cleave" (hacking down the goblin first line) and rolls 1. This is a routine move. Depending on the confirmation roll i'll probably rule (this is an approximation, i don't keep tables about this) :
1-10 : nothing, you just finished your turn
11-15 : you miscalculated your move : AoO for enemies
16-18 : Trip (fall prone) or drop weapon : AoO for enemies
19-20 : What the hell did you do ? Either hurt yourself or an ally, AoOs and eventual tactical disadvantage (prone, shaken or whatever)

Example 2 : the novice (1-5 lvl) fighter or seasoned non-fighter (wiz15) tries to outmaneuver the veteran mook (this usually begins with the player doing an lengthy description of some heroic move...). This falls into the "Are you sure you want to attempt that ? Okay, roll for it..." category. Again an approximation depending on the confirmation :
1-5 : nothing, you just finished your turn
6-10 : you miscalculated your move : AoO for enemies
11-15 : Trip (fall prone) or drop weapon : AoO for enemies
16-18 : What the hell did you do ? Either hurt yourself or an ally AND AoOs AND eventual tactical disadvantage (prone, shaken or whatever)
19-20 : WTF ??? Roll critical damage either on yourself or an ally, AoOs, tactical disadvantage PLUS possible long-lasting effect (scarring, broken limbs etc ...)

Example 3 : the rogue tries to pick the lock, he fumbles...
1-10 : he's double-locked the door and needs two rolls to open it now...
11-15 : he's broken or jammed his picks, the DC to open has raised by 2 unless he changes tools (may vary if masterwork or magical tools)
16-18 : he's broken or jammed the lock, it's now unopenable.
19-20 : same as above, plus some metal piece fell on the other side, and the ennemies are now aware someone is behind the door...

Notice that I rarely bring in big disadvantages, and that they depend mostly on the situation. The novice rogue might break his lockpicks inside the lock and make it unopenable. The veteran rogue will always be able to recover from this, except if he's working on an exceptional lock, etc...

On a side note, casters effectively rarely roll during combat, but that doesn't mean they don't fumble. How many times has the fireball singed several friendly characters ? My take on it is, again, situational. The 20th level wiz is less likely to do this, therefore i'm more lenient with him, warning him ahead of time, while the 5th level one will have to learn on his own, going as far as preventing him from consulting the spell description during combat (I know, sometimes i'm a b***h).

Use these opportunities to bring more colour in the game, comedy is the easy one, but you can also build suspense or fear into these, and never forget that Gygax said "dices are only here to make some noise behind the screen"

PS : please forgive my english, i'm french

2011-04-14, 10:34 AM
Personally, I have a liking to critical fumbling, just to spice things up; though I do agree that it must be used with wisdom (aka. needs house ruling).

Here's the usual two ways me and my friends use it (and we use it both ways for both hits and misses).
Needs a confirmation.

Simply, on a critical roll (be it good or bad) make a new roll with the exact same conditions to confirm or deny it, almost 100% exclusively used for battle situations.

On a failure:
Another 1 - Yes, you have just failed horribly, something unintended happens, such as throwing the weapon far away (requiring a full round to recover), hit an unintended target (DM roll, not always bad) or be tripped prone (with AoO).
Miss - You fail, but rather humorously so, such as dropping your weapon, getting it stuck on the ground/wall, miss and spin in place, etc.
Hit - Just a normal fail, nothing to see here.
Natural 20 - You manage to turn it into a normal hit, this is considered as those times when something is about to fail but you manage to save the situation, much to everyone's surprise (even the baddie's).

On a hit:
Natural 1 - You manage to turn it into a normal miss, this is considered as those times when you manage to make something awesome but ends up so impressed that you pause for long enough for it to end up meaningless (so the baddie takes advantage and it's now a miss).
Miss - It turns into a normal hit, basically you did the awesome move, but failed to take advantage of it, but not to the point that it misses.
Hit - "Normal Crit", hitting is boring.
Another 20 - This is it, awesome of awesome, it's a double critical! Most times on attack rolls it is considered an instant and very awesome kill.

Is actually just -20

Used almost exclusively for skill or ability checks, but outside of battle.
Natural 1 - Counts as an -20 on your check; note that it might still be a pass or at least salvageable due to bonuses, but is often with with humorous effects, such as looking like a fool even if you succeed.
Natural 20 - Inversely, counts as an extra +20 (or +40 in total) on your check, again, not necessarily an instant hit, but the effect is always epic and awesome, even if you end up failing.

2011-04-14, 11:25 AM
In a melee combat only context, a nat 1 representing a fumble, causing an AoO, is a rule I'm mostly okay with. I do martial arts and swordfighting/fencing in real life, and yes, when someone is that little bit off balance, you have an advantage you can press. Fighting is that kind of serious. In the context of melee VS melee, I think it works, but only because your opponent is in the same boat. Range Attackers and Spellcasters don't have the same problem, though casting a spell while in Melee does provoke automatically.

Realistically speaking, taking a sword and attacking a tree 20 times (in real life of course), you aren't likely to stab yourself accidentally unless you are pants on head stupid. And even then it isn't a matter of bad luck so much as stupidity. But what will happen in those 20 swings is, somewhere, you will over-reach, you will unbalance your stance, you will swing too wide or too narrow or present a poor body line, the kind of thing that a real opponent *COULD* take advantage of. Hence why in the DnD context, having the opponent take an AoO which still has to deal with your AC still bears some sembalance of realism, albeit only a little though.

As for 'more attacks = greater chance to roll a 1' I'll again point to realism for just a second. The more attacks I make towards an opponent, the less time my guard is up to begin with. That is just the reality of how swordfighting works. If I swing harder and faster, it takes much more skill to control the blade properly and NOT off-balance myself or overreach or overextend, etc.

Oh well. I consider a nat 1 = AoO a houserule, it is one that most DM's I run with all use (because they also shook their heads at the idea that a trained warrior would stab themselves with their own weapon quite so often). And remember that any melee enemy has the same vulnerability.

Rolling a nat 1 with a spell = spellfailure? Now that is out of my area of expertise.
Rolling a nat 1 with a range weapon = shoot an ally? If they're shooting into melee and their ally's are part of that melee? Makes sense to me as far as realism goes.

But, I'm still a fan of the idea of the secondary check which the OP mentioned, or some variant thereof.

2011-04-14, 08:47 PM
Um I am pretty sure your not supposed to auto fail, or auto succeed (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0036.html) on a role of 1 or 20, respectively, on skill checks. You only critical fail / auto succed on saving throws and attack rolls. There is even mentioned in of the early strips of O.o.T.S.!

2011-04-15, 06:14 PM
Have these improved your game? If they've hardly ever turned the tide of a relevant battle, they're probably not actually helping much either.

I use the rule that you can critical fumble any roll where you'd be able to critical hit, and you need to confirm it.

One of the first monsters I ever used as a DM was a gargantuan shark (huge shark with an enlarge effect applied), probably much too strong for the party at the time. It nearly killed at least one character.

Then it rolled a natural 1, and it rolled a 1 to confirm.

My players still talk enthusiastically about the gargantuan shark that bit itself to death.

So yeah, they've improved my games.

2011-04-16, 12:14 AM
In a session when our DM forgot his screen, he ended up rolling in the open.

So were getting back at this evil mage guy who screwed us over, but he was considerably powerful and it was unlikely that the fight would end without any sort of loss.

Then he made a petrifying touch attack...and rolled 1...four times in a row.

The DM said "ok, the universe seems to want this, so he tripped and accidentally delivered the touch on himself, ending up petrified".

We proceeded to break his arms and legs so he would have a hard time when he came back and took along one of his fingers so we know when he's back.

It was fun and much more fulfilling than have him teleport away (he was our first big bad and was supposed to survive the encounter anyway).

2011-04-17, 04:01 PM
I guess there's no right or wrong answer here: fumbles suit some playstyles but not others. I find that they add more interesting moments in a game; and, the way I run them, they are exceedingly rare at mid level, let alone high level.

Some moments:
I had a high level kobald sorceror survive to become a recurring villain when everyone fumbled their hits on him in one of the first encounters in which he appeared. Without the fumble system he would still have survived, but it would have been less memorable. I was expecting that he was a goner. This added to the tension later because, in subsequent encounters, they kept just failing to kill him. Its like he was blessed. When they did kill him they were ecstatic.

Back in the days of 2E I had a young white dragon take an interest in the party. The party were in the wilderness and miles from either cover or help. The dragon kept circling waiting for someone to break off. Finally someone did peal away from the party and the dragon swooped down to grab them. Fumble: the dragon crashed into the ground and died. This lead to raucus laughter from the players, more relief than anything: again memorable.

All of these are infinitely better, IMHO, than "You miss".