|If you roll a lot of these, you may as well commit seppuku.|
Let's be crystal clear, here. If your game already has critical fumbles built into its existing mechanics, that's fine. If you can point to the page in the rule book with the chart and effects, then you're just playing the game as it exists. On the other hand, if you feel the need to add fumble rules to your game, whether it's with the Paizo Critical Fumble deck or just with a random chart you made up yourself, then I would ask why you're doing that? How does this enhance your game, and how do you deal with the fact that it punishes your players a lot more than it punishes your villains?
But I Run It Fair; PCs and NPCs Both!
Equal isn't the same as fair in this case, because the burden is going to fall a lot harder on the players than it will on your monsters.
|Because that 5% chance has a longer-lasting effect on players than on you.|
While it's true that you and the players are both rolling D20s, and that you may even roll substantially more than the players do (and thus you will have to deal with more critical fumbles on average), the important point is that you have a never-ending stream of characters. The players have only one, and those characters have limited resources that can be easily wrecked by pure bad luck, quickly shifting their chances of progressing the story.
Take one of the most common crit fumble rulings ever; the broken weapon. Your sword snaps, your bowstring breaks, what have you, but your main weapon is now either crippled or useless because you had a particularly bad roll.
Now, say this happened to a monster you were running. Oh no, the goblin's sword broke, or the giant's club snapped in half. Is that monster totally out of options? Probably not. Chances are good they have some kind of back-up option like natural attacks, or they have additional weapons on their person. And even if they don't (say your PCs were ambushed by footpads in a city chase), did you expect those NPCs to survive the fight anyway? Probably not. In fact, a majority of the characters who get involved in combat on your side of the line are meant to get defeated. Even if it's a big boss, like the minotaur in the middle of the maze, or that necromancer you've been saving for a big fight, do you honestly want those characters to win? Especially if it means they kill the PCs, meaning that now everyone has to start over again?
You want your fights to be a challenge, because that's what makes winning all the sweeter. But critical fumbles don't make things more challenging; they turn combat into a disheartening slog.
Let's take that same broken weapon situation from the PC perspective. Your paladin charges in, sword held high, and when he brings it down, oops, it breaks. That's bad enough at low levels, but what about when your party has enchanted gear? Does it break just as easily as common steel? Or does it just impose a negative while you wield it until it's repaired? Either way, that character may not have a back-up option in the same sense that the monsters do. Sure he can punch with a gauntlet, draw his knife, or shield bash, but you took away their main fighting option for no reason other than hey, you rolled the 1 big guy, you should have known better. And that is going to last for the rest of the dungeon, which may consist of dozens of fights, in addition to the big, climactic battle.
There is no scenario where this kind of action feels like a challenge, instead of a slog. The archer's bowstring breaks, so now they have to take an entire round or two of combat to re-string their bow (assuming they even have a spare bowstring on hand). The rogue slips in spilled blood and goes down prone while surrounded by ogres who now all get bonuses to hit them. The barbarian loses their grip, and their ax goes flying, making them a sitting duck until they get it back. These feel like dick moves on the DM's part because players are being punished for trying to do something. Even if their strategy is sound, and their tactics are good, that natural 1 doesn't just make them fail; it slaps them across the face for even trying.
Aside from the fact that it feels like random punishment (because let's face it, you're being punished based on a random die roll), there's also the question of resources. How many weapons do you expect your warriors to carry because they know any die roll could break one? How many spare bowstrings do you expect bowmen or crossbowmen to have? And if we look at the more serious crit fumbles, what do you do if a party gets crippled (lost eyes, reduced stats, etc., etc.) due to bad rolls, and is now unable to be a legitimate threat to the big boss? Or they have to blow potent healing resources that were meant to carry them through, but instead they're out of bullets less than halfway through the night?
Why Add Insult To Injury?
Rolling a natural 1 is already a punishment in and of itself. Whatever you were trying to do, there's a pretty good chance it isn't going to work. You failed, and your action had no serious impact... that's disheartening enough. You don't need to randomly have your future effectiveness penalized as a result.
|Hey, you shouldn't have rolled a 1 on your polymorph. No, I don't know how you'll undo it, either.|
If you want to make your players feel challenged, then don't give them random negatives. Instead, bring your A-game when it comes to your own strategy and tactics. Engage them, and provide opportunities for them to succeed or fail not because of a quirk of fate, but because they came up with a plan and executed it well (or because they failed to anticipate your plan, and had to scramble to counter it).
When you lose in a game of chess, you lose because the other person out-played you, you made mistakes, or some combination of both. No one is ever in the middle of a strategic game, then suddenly loses the ability to move their queen because they rolled a 1, and considers that a refreshing challenge. It's just a pain in the ass, and it does more to harm PCs than it ever will your villains in the long run.
But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...
With all of that said, if you are hell-bent on using your 5th Edition critical fumble deck fresh from Critical Hit Publishing, far be it from me to tell you how to run your game. However, there is something that you should definitely do that will stop roughly half of the problems you find with introducing critical fumble rules to games where none exist.
Get your players' consent first.
|Seriously, consent makes all the difference.|
If you're going to be adding a rules set to the game that is not actually in the core rules, don't just assume that everyone at the table is cool with it. Ask your table, preferably during Session 0, if they want to use critical fumble rules at all, and if yes, if they want to use charts, or a deck, or whatever your preferred tool is. Another good question to ask is if they only want temporary negatives like one-round drawbacks, or do they also want the serious stuff that can shatter their equipment, give them permanent negatives, etc. Some folks who'd be okay with the former may balk at the latter, after all.
You need to be prepared for either a yes or no answer. Because if everyone is on board with those critical fumbles (even if, in the end, they do them more harm than good on average), then shine on you mad bastards! On the other hand, if there are players who don't like the odds of using critical fumble rules, or who are outright against the idea, then you might want to save that deck for another day. Because everyone has to play the same game, and what do you gain from bringing in additional house rules that your players don't want?
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