Crit Happens: When Bad Rolls Happen to Good Players

The critical fail. The natural 1.  The ultimate miss…

Bummer.” “You miss.” “You stab your friend.” “Your sword breaks.”

Yeah, we’ve heard it all before.  That 20-sided die can be tricky.  But as a DM, honestly, I have to tell you that I hate when a player rolls a “natural 1“, probably more than the player does.  Yes, seriously.  I want my players to have fun.  Here’s something even my players don’t know: I want them to win.

Because there’s no story if the players fail.  It becomes a tragic tale of wasted youth and “woulda, shoulda, coulda”.

I set up the challenges and monsters and traps and dungeons so they cansurvive them, not so they can be killed in increasingly elaborate ways.

I’ve played in groups where the DM was the enemy (and the players knew it!) and I have learned that it’s not only a poor way of interpreting the rules, but it’s just not any damn fun.  And it’s a game, and games should be fun.  Remember when playing pretend was all you needed?

Yeah, so when players roll that natural 1, I grimace and grind my teeth and try to not kill the poor guy off.  Unless he didn’t bring me any Mountain Dew that day.

All kidding aside, though.  As a DM, if you jump for joy (inside) when one of your players rolls a natural 1, maybe you don’t really have the best interest of your party at heart.  And that boils down to being the DM’s fault. No, it’s not your fault he rolled a critical fail.  But it is your fault if that makes you happy.

A “natural 1” should not make your day as a DM.  I wince just as hard as the players when they automatically fail, especially when it’s something that would have been cool to see in the game.  Because they know as well as I do that there’s very little that I can do to soften the effects of a 1.

When it becomes less about the story and more about seeing your players fail (or lose, or even die), maybe you ought to hang up your dice and let someone else DM for a while.


Originally Posted: Saturday, August 29, 2009, 02:20 AM PST [Dungeons & Dragons]


5 Responses to “Crit Happens: When Bad Rolls Happen to Good Players”

  1. November 13, 2009 at 10:04 am

    I’m very lucky in that my DM is awesome. He is a great story teller and he makes everything interesting, from roleplay to dungeon crawling. And yeah, it sucks when we role a 1, but he usually makes something interesting happen. It’s usually bad, but when I play a halfling, it’s always funny and it’s usually bad for the other guy.

  2. November 13, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks for chiming in, Katie! Glad to see you don’t just post on Twitter. Rolling a 1 is a chance you take, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Having something “interesting” happen is way more fun that having something “bad” happen. Your DM sounds like they’re on the right track.

  3. 3 Gray
    November 20, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    As somebody who’s played in your campaigns and alongside you in others’ campaigns, let me say that I kind of love critically failing. I highly value a little chaos in an adventure; it’s always satisfying to see a by-the-numbers fight turn on a dime (in any direction). I appreciate the extra challenges the occasional rolled 1 brings. Like that time that I died in the first round of combat and sat out the ensuing five hours of play. Yeah, it was kind of crappy to not be able to play for that long, but it also made for a much more exciting fight to watch as everybody had to scramble to make up for the sudden loss of an ally. In the end, we won the fight, and it was all the more satisfying given how dismal things looked in round one!

  4. November 20, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Haha! Thanks, Gray. The critical fail is an elusive beast that can be devastating, but it can be fun if you have the right attitude.

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