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Old 03-24-2011, 01:16 PM   #1
Edges
 
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Default Unlikely criticals, rationalize or house-rule

Criticals often produces upsets that can seem (at least to our groups) unrealistic. Examples include a skilled wrestler accidentally falling down when facing a beginner, a master swordsman being "disarmed" by a novice via a crit parry, etc.

You can always come up with some far out rationalization like "a bird pooped in his eye at just the wrong moment" or something. But after a few of those it starts to get too silly. Or you could house rule something to make crit fails for masters even less likely.

What have you done or recommend?
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Old 03-24-2011, 01:27 PM   #2
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Default Re: Unlikely criticals, rationalize or house-rule

For highly skilled characters I prefer to explain crits as having external causes rather than internal ones. They don't have to be outlandish. Same effect in the end but a noticeably different feel.

The person with Shortsword-11 trips over his own feet while attacking and leaves himself open.
The person with Shortsword-18 gets momentarily blinded by a reflection while attacking.
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Old 03-24-2011, 02:35 PM   #3
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Default Re: Unlikely criticals, rationalize or house-rule

Being a master isn't insurance against bad luck (or an enemy's good luck) or stupidity. The history of warfare is packed with tales of grizzled veterans surviving doom after doom, only to be taken out by a stray bullet fired by a conscript on the other side, or to slip on blood and impale themselves. Such is life (death). Immunity to bad luck is definitely cinematic . . . cinematic masters ought to have Luck, and should save it for second chances when they screw up. If they don't, then they're merely mortal masters, and subject to dying unexpectedly after lengthy careers.

Personally, I just let the dice fall where they may. If someone with 10 levels less skill beats a master, then tough 'nanas. It happens. Perhaps the skilled warrior got overconfident and sloppy, or was playing the game at such a high level that he fell for a beginner's trick. Maybe the wrapping on his hilt came loose, or as someone else suggested, he turned to face into the sun and was blinded for an instant. Conceivably he's just having a bad day; masters aren't immune to headaches, allergies, tics, or toothaches.
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Old 03-24-2011, 02:44 PM   #4
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Default Re: Unlikely criticals, rationalize or house-rule

I try to use them dramatically, in an effort to show just how brutal the world can be. But I tend to run games with grim moods. Death really is around every corner, and in the chaos of melee, even a stray bullet can end a life. Modern TV series tend to show this quite a bit. BSG had it, The Shield had it. I think even Sons of Anarchy did once or twice.

In your example. The old wrestler may get a cramp or slip.

Examples of awesome folks failed my poor circumstances are numerous. Stonewall Jackson and Takeda Shingen come immediately to mind.

I once watched a fairly skilled black belt get fall for this. During a throw the W=opponent lost a bridge. It spooked the first black belt s so much he let go and fell. His opponent had no problem pinning him. That would, to me, be an example of critical failure in a tournament.

EDIT^2: They could also have a "Maladaptive Brain Activity Change."
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Old 03-24-2011, 05:56 PM   #5
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Default Re: Unlikely criticals, rationalize or house-rule

Here's a story about this: A couple of years ago, I ran a sixth-month campaign set in Paris in 1715, with all the PCs being fencing students (I wanted to give Martial Arts a serious test). So three of the PCs with varied skill levels got stalked by some street thugs intent on robbery and maybe rape (two of the three were women). And the male PC, who had the midlevel of skills, charged straight at the big thug who was cutting off their escape.

Okay, so he was moving and attacking, and he missed. The big guy, who was just a street bruiser, took a wild swing with his club, and hit, and the random hit location was the leg. The PC didn't dodge. The damage was crippling injury, so he fell to the ground and was pretty much out of the fight. And that left his two companions to take down the big thug and one or two other robbers.

Then at the end, we did dice rolls to find out how bad the crippling was, and discussed treatment. And the player's comment was "Bad Leg and Addicted to Laudanum? Sweet!"

The Renaissance manuals of arms Sidney Anglo quotes in book all say that when someone comes at you with a weapon, you should assume he means to kill you, take it seriously, and act accordingly. The day you start thinking fights are safe and easy sets you on the path to death or disability.

Bill Stoddard
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Old 03-24-2011, 10:08 PM   #6
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Default Re: Unlikely criticals, rationalize or house-rule

Cool. It sounds like everyone so far votes for "rationalize." Make up some creative reason why the crit makes sense and just go with it. That's basically what we've been doing. And I'm fine with continuing.

The only reason I bring it up is that it seems to happen with unrealistic frequency. I like to imagine a master swordsman defeated by a novice as being a fluke that happens at most a few times in his whole life. But when it happens every few sessions, it starts to get weird.

I guess criticals come up in-game more than my gaming group feels they do in real life. We usually see around 4 crits per session total at the table. Out of those 4, it's not unusual for one to be either a crit success by a novice in some kind of contest with someone significantly more skilled (be it combat or whatever), or a crit failure by a master competing against some kind of novice. And it's not unusual for these crits to determine the outcome of the contest. The players are always pleased when they're on the winning end. And boy do they gripe about realism when they're not.

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
Here's a story about this: A couple of years ago, I ran a sixth-month campaign set in Paris in 1715, with all the PCs being fencing students (I wanted to give Martial Arts a serious test). So three of the PCs with varied skill levels got stalked by some street thugs intent on robbery and maybe rape (two of the three were women). And the male PC, who had the midlevel of skills, charged straight at the big thug who was cutting off their escape.

Okay, so he was moving and attacking, and he missed. The big guy, who was just a street bruiser, took a wild swing with his club, and hit, and the random hit location was the leg. The PC didn't dodge. The damage was crippling injury, so he fell to the ground and was pretty much out of the fight. And that left his two companions to take down the big thug and one or two other robbers.

Then at the end, we did dice rolls to find out how bad the crippling was, and discussed treatment. And the player's comment was "Bad Leg and Addicted to Laudanum? Sweet!"

The Renaissance manuals of arms Sidney Anglo quotes in book all say that when someone comes at you with a weapon, you should assume he means to kill you, take it seriously, and act accordingly. The day you start thinking fights are safe and easy sets you on the path to death or disability.

Bill Stoddard
Nice story. What was the critical though?
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Old 03-24-2011, 10:14 PM   #7
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Default Re: Unlikely criticals, rationalize or house-rule

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Originally Posted by Edges View Post
I guess criticals come up in-game more than my gaming group feels they do in real life. We usually see around 4 crits per session total at the table. Out of those 4, it's not unusual for one to be either a crit success by a novice in some kind of contest with someone significantly more skilled (be it combat or whatever), or a crit failure by a master competing against some kind of novice. And it's not unusual for these crits to determine the outcome of the contest. The players are always pleased when they're on the winning end. And boy do they gripe about realism when they're not.
Realistically, there is no such thing as so much skill disparity that the master can be confident that a neophyte won't harm him in a deadly serious fight.

This is why grandmasters of martial arts or world champions of competative fighting sports don't really want to fight a random speed-phreak in a dark alley. A critical can mean it's all over.
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Old 03-24-2011, 10:26 PM   #8
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Default Re: Unlikely criticals, rationalize or house-rule

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Realistically, there is no such thing as so much skill disparity that the master can be confident that a neophyte won't harm him in a deadly serious fight.

This is why grandmasters of martial arts or world champions of competative fighting sports don't really want to fight a random speed-phreak in a dark alley. A critical can mean it's all over.
One of the main reasons I almost always have Luck in my campaigns. You can reroll and still flub it, but it greatly lengthens the odds.
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Old 03-24-2011, 10:29 PM   #9
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Default Re: Unlikely criticals, rationalize or house-rule

There's a saying in Amtgard, my martial sport of choice: "The slow blade penetrates the field." Actually, it's a quote from Dune. But the point remains, that sometimes something unexpected, even inexpert, can defeat skill.

"There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight. Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn't need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn't do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn't prepared for him." - Mark Twain

I have seen some really astounding things done by "experts." I've seen top-rated Amtgard fighters strike themselves by accident, or simply drop their weapons, or fall down. I've seen an SCA heavy fighter ring his own bell. I've seen a Shao Lin sifu toss a curved sword right into a crowd of people by accident. And I once watched, on live television, a champion bull-rider get killed in under a second. If you watch a lot of martial arts or all sorts, you will see that pretty regularly, people will fall down and worse, due to simple missteps, with great frequency.

If anything, GURPS is overly generous, in letting characters avoid awkwardness.
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Old 03-25-2011, 10:00 AM   #10
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Default Re: Unlikely criticals, rationalize or house-rule

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Originally Posted by Edges View Post

The only reason I bring it up is that it seems to happen with unrealistic frequency. I like to imagine a master swordsman defeated by a novice as being a fluke that happens at most a few times in his whole life. But when it happens every few sessions, it starts to get weird.
That sounds like a fluke of math or an issue with play style; I cannot guess which. All I know is that I had a long-running fantasy campaign wherein combat occurred regularly and the best PC swordsman – via Extra Attack – made many dice rolls a turn. He was never once defeated by a novice. He occasionally dropped a sword or strained an arm, but that didn't deter him! He was a master, so he could could flip his blade back into his hand using his toe, or Fast-Draw a replacement . . . or fight with the other hand . . . or bash his enemy into submission with his shield . . . and his Luck foiled the worst screw-ups. In short, he followed Masters (p. B172), and supplemented his high Shortsword skill with Combat Reflexes, Extra Attack, Luck, Trained by a Master, Off-Hand Weapon Training, Fast-Draw (Sword), Shield, etc.

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And it's not unusual for these crits to determine the outcome of the contest. The players are always pleased when they're on the winning end. And boy do they gripe about realism when they're not.
Realistically, only a small percentage of would-be masters live for long enough to become actual masters. They do so by beating the odds. It's absolutely realistic to give them Luck to represent this. The meta-game effect is to let them look back on a career of near-spotless success, which is plausible but rare, because statistics suggest that anyone who fights all the time is liable to be maimed or killed. Skill helps hedge the bet, sure, but fighting men have distinguished between skill and luck, favoring luck, for as long as there have been fighting men.
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