Contest: Swing and A Miss

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 09 December 2010

When I started playing D&D, failures scared the hell out of me. I come from a computer RPG background where failure, particularly in combat, meant death. Since D&D doesn't have such things, it's understandable that I thought failure was never an option. Every missed attack, every 1 I rolled felt like it was a direct reflection on my ability to create a character. "Sorry guys" was a common refrain.

As I gained more confidence and learned that not every DM was adversarial, many of these feelings went away. That is until I played a game with some strangers at my local gaming store. That DM pulled out a critical miss deck. I saw it and my stomach started churning. He could tell that a few of us were a little nervous and he offered the let us look at the cards. After we had a chance to look through them, he asked us how we felt. My big concern had to do with weapon breakage. We were starting off at level 2 which meant my swordmage had a nice magic sword that I really didn't want to lose. He responded by removing those cards from the deck and we started play.

While I was still nervous about it, the game sold me on tricks like this. Fortunately, the only ones to roll a 1 were the monsters, but it was fun to think of what my character might do in response to some of the miss cards. For instance, one card stated that the creature loses her grip on the weapon and it goes flying some number of squares. I just painted a scene in my mind of fighting with a large ogre and trying to get past it to grab my weapon while it swung at me. At the end of this game, I was willing to give anything a try, including failing.

So how about you? What is your favorite failure story? The kind folks at We Xogo will give away a prize. If you follow @wexogo on twitter and leave your story in the comments below or post it to twitter using the #rolling1s hashtag, you will be entered in our "Failure is an Option" contest. We will pick our favorite entry and send the author one of Paizo's Critical Fumble decks. The contest ends at 12:01 am, Monday, December 13th. Winners will be chosen by me and the folks at We Xogo and can be disqualified for any reason at our sole discretion. You must live in the US to be eligible for the prize.

As an added bonus, from now through Sunday, December 12, you can use the code "darkmagic" to get 10% off anything in the store.


During one of my first games ever playing D&D (3e) some skeletons were attacking a girl and her mother who were hiding inside a tree. My character ran over to save them by pulling out a quarterstaff and trying to fight them off, but unfortunately I rolled a 1 on my very first attack. Not only did I break my weapon on a tree branch, but I also slipped in some mud and fell prone right in the middle of the skeletons.

After being mauled by the skeletons for a few turns I managed to back on my feet, but I had no other weapons to fight them with besides a bow. So I decided to pull out the Wand of Bull Strength we found in the previous game (the magic words were "It's clobbering time!") and beat them to pieces with my bare hands.

That is one of my favorite memories playing D&D and its all thanks to rolling that critical miss.

This may be a case of double-dipping, but my best friend had a failure moment that was so magnificent, Kyle Ferrin actually drew it as an XP comic (

The party had split up inside a dense forest, and each of us ran into a clone of one of the other characters. My character, Spider Daymare, a deadly half-elf fighter/psionicist, easily dispatched the clone of the party's wizard, and then raced through the forest and found my own clone. Just as he felled the party's cleric, I stepped into the fake Spider's clearing, drew my magical daggers, spun them in a flourish, and growled, "How about you face the real thing?" Then I charged forward, rolled a natural 1 (FUMBLE!), and fell on my face.

The best critical failure story I had was back in White Wolf. A PC vampire was trying to be badass and stepped in front of a motorcycle to raise his hand and command him to stop ... or at least that was the plan. He rolled a critical fail and managed to trip on the curb, falling on his face in the path of the motorcycle. I gave him a save to try and roll out of the way before he became a bump in the road which also resulted in a critical fail. A third critical fail soak roll then managed to follow. When he rejoined the party, the most that he could say was "Don't Ask" in reference to the giant tire marks and blood stains running across his wrecked coat.

Here's the thing about events like a broken weapon, while less salient in a one shot store game, but still a great opportunity-- if the GM realizes that the weapon is integral to the character and an essential of how business gets done, he should be using that broken weapon as an opportunity for character growth.

There are stories of how you struggle with the broken weapon. There are the stories of how you try to repair the weapon. The stories of how you acquire a new weapon. These are all adventures, or even just aspects of larger adventures that help define your character and give your character motivation to drive onward beyond the simple hook that might have started things. That kind of incident makes the adventure personal to the character.

The key is to not call them "failures," because they're not-- they're story opportunities.


I tend to do things on a fumble (Natural 1) that seem plausable - Your blade slips, you slide in the mud, you end up prone - and only take a free action or minor to fix. And I apply it to both the players, NPCs, and monsters equally.

If, however, you happen to fumble a Daily, the repercussions can be a bit more interesting. It is, after all, a Daily, and since it is mighty when it hits or misses, it should be just as painful on a fumble. Case and point :

The druid in our campaign fumbled his Daily Faerie Fire somewhere around level 3. Faerie Fire is one of those lovely powers that just gives you a condition - like slowed or dazed - at first, then hits HARD when you successfully save.

And he damn near killed himself with 3d6+4. Fortunately, our artificer and paladin kept him alive.

I've only ever had the one player fumble a daily so far. But the Evil DM in me is just waiting for the next one.

(Also, I took a little heat on twitter & my blog for that house rule at first, but my players agree with it, and they're the ones that matter....)

Speaking as the druid in question, I'm waiting for one of our foes to fumble on a non-at-will power that doesn't recharge.

And I half expected this to be a link to my entry about my poorly-executed plan last week, but that didn't involve rolling a 1 - just rolling a natural 20 to hit the only ally in the burst attack.

Ceri may never forgive me.

Yeah, the natural 20 was a critical success which is what made it even funnier (sorry). As one of ksonney's players, I have no problem with the critical consequences. We play so that interesting things might happen and are rarely disappointed.

See this? This is why I love my players. *grin*

I've been dealing with the "fear of the miss" in my home game. I have a group of new players, and in the last few sessions, nearly all of them managed to miss with their encounter and daily powers at critical times. The dice were cold, combat dragged on, the party nearly died, and it definitely decreased the fun in those sessions.

In my last session, I instituted "reroll tokens" house rule. The tokens function mechanically as a combination of an action point and the Wood Elf encounter power Elven Accuracy. Each player starts with a reroll token at the beginning of the session. Players have the ability to earn additional tokens by roleplaying well, or finding creative solutions to problems. I use poker chips for the tokens, so as an added bonus, different color tokens can be awarded that offer reroll +1, +2, +3, etc. The tokens can be awarded by the DM, or by near unanimous player vote. So far, this has gone over with the players very well. They still missed a bit, but they noticeably had a LOT more fun.

In the LFR game I play in, the DM uses both Critical Success and Failure cards. This has caused most of the players at the table to choose power cards that allow reroll, or change the die roll just to avoid critical failures. Since the DM applies these cards to player characters and enemies, it has resulted in a power boost for the players, since player characters are generally avoiding critical failure consequences.

My story ran a little long, so I posted it at

Critical misses are probably the best part of my games;)

hehe, if you ever feel like a n00b when you're playing, or if you're afraid of making a bad decision/call/roll...

Just remember, there will always be noobier than you. (my players, for example, haha!)

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

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