Critical Failures

Critical failures are controversial. For many the automatic result of rolling a 1 and failing an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw is enough of a punishment. I can’t blame people who feel that way. I don’t use critical failures at my own table for that very reason. Still there are tables who find failing hard (that’s failing with major consequences as opposed to just failing with the normal ones) fun and interesting. That got me thinking about what critical failures would look like at my table. What would be fun and interesting for me and make some sense based on the rules we already have?

Behold! My rules and reasonings for critical failures below. Remember that if you use these rules, 5% of the time your players will be suffering extra for simply being unlucky.

Optional Rule: Critical Failures on Ability Checks

In general if a creature rolls a natural 1 on an ability check, they just fail. However if failure of that ability check means it takes damage (like falling while climbing) the creature takes double the damage dice, just like when an attack roll is a critical hit. If they are using tools to complete the task (such as picking a lock) the tool breaks.

Optional Rule: Critical Failures on Saving Throws

If a creature rolls a natural 1 on a saving throw and as a result takes damage, the creature suffers double the damage dice, just like when an attack roll is a critical hit.

Note: Be really careful with this rule. It can result in instant death for being unlucky.

Optional Rule: Critical Failures on Attack Rolls

When a creature rolls a natural 1 on an attack roll, the attack misses as normal and you can choose to roll for an extra miss effect on the table below. Not all results on the table resolve by taking damage and the harshest and most bizarre results only have a 1% chance of occurring. Read over the chart and if there are any results you feel are unfair or need to be changed, you can just reroll and ignore any results you don’t like or put in some of your own.

Critical Failure Attack Effects
d100 Critical miss effect
1 – 3 You drop your weapon or spellcasting focus and it sticks in the ground or a wall. You must use a bonus action to retrieve it.
4 – 6 You drop your weapon or spellcasting focus and it gets stuck deep into the ground or a wall. You must use an action to retrieve it.
7 You drop your weapon or spellcasting focus and it gets stuck very deep in the ground or a wall. You must make a successful DC 15 Strength check as an action to retrieve it.
8 You drop your weapons or spellcasting focus and if it is nonmagical it breaks.
9 – 12 A random nonmagical item (determined by the DM) falls from from your backpack or belt pouch.
13 – 14 A random magical item (determined by the DM) falls from from your backpack or belt pouch.
15 – 16 A random nonmagical item (determined by the DM) falls from from your backpack or belt pouch and breaks.
17 A random consumable magical item (determined by the DM) falls from your back or belt pouch and breaks.
18 – 20 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction and it lands 5 feet away.
21 – 22 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction and it lands 10 feet away.
23 – 24 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction and it lands 15 feet away.
25 – 26 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction, it lands 15 feet away, and it sticks in the ground or a wall. You must use a bonus action to retrieve it.
27 – 28 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction, it lands 15 feet away, and it gets stuck deep into the ground or a wall. You must use an action to retrieve it.
29 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction, it lands 15 feet away, and it gets stuck very deep in the ground or a wall. You must make a successful DC 15 Strength check as an action to retrieve it.
30 – 31 If it is able to do so, your attack hits your closest ally to the intended target.
32 – 34 If it is able to do so, your attack hits your ally closest to you.
35 – 37 Your attack hits you.
38 If it is able to do so, your attack hits your closest ally to the intended target. This attack counts as a critical hit against the new target.
39 If it is able to do so, your attack hits your ally closest to you. This attack counts as a critical hit against the new target.
40 Your attack hits you. This attack against you is a critical hit.
41 – 42 The miss creates an atmospheric disturbance (such as dust or smoke clouds) right in front of your face and you get this in your eyes. You are blinded until the end on your next turn.
43 – 44 The missed attack connects solidly with an object in front of you and makes a very loud noise. You are deafened until the end of your next turn
45 – 46 You marvel at how poorly you missed. You are incapacitated until the end of your next turn.
47 – 48 In the process of executing your attack you hit yourself in the stomach rather hard. You are poisoned until the end of your next turn.
49 – 51 In the process of executing your attack you trip and fall prone.
52 – 53 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 5 feet and fall prone.
54 – 55 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 10 feet and fall prone.
56 – 57 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 15 feet and fall prone.
58 – 59 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 5 feet and fall prone.
60 – 61 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 10 feet and fall prone.
62 – 63 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 15 feet and fall prone.
64 – 65 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 15 feet and fall prone.
66 – 67 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 5 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
68 – 69 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 10 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
70 – 71 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 15 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
72 – 73 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 5 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
74 – 75 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 10 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
76 – 77 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 15 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
78 – 79 In the process of executing your attack you launch yourself hard into the ground. You take 1d4 blugeoning damage and are prone.
80 – 81 In the process of executing your attack you launch yourself very hard into the ground. You take 1d8 blugeoning damage and are prone.
82 – 83 In the process of executing your attack you launch yourself as hard as you can into the ground. You take 1d12 blugeoning damage and are prone.
84 – 85 In the process of executing your attack you become restrained in your clothes and armor and must use an action to untangle yourself.
86 – 88 Your attack is so wild it takes a moment for you to recover. You have disadvantage on your next attack made before the end of your next turn.
89 – 90 Your attack is very wild and you need more than a moment to recover. You have disadvantage on all attacks you make before the end of your next turn.
91 – 92 You chip your weapon or arcane focus. You take a -1 penalty to attack rolls until you get it repaired.
93 – 95 Your attack is wild and allows any enemy in melee range an opening. As a reaction enemies may make an opportunity attack against you.
96 – 97 Your attack is very wild and allows any enemy in melee range an opening. As a reaction enemies may make an opportunity attack against you with advantage.
98 If your attack is made with magic weapon or spell, your miss rends a spot where the barrier between planes is weak and accidentally summons an angry minor elemental (CR 1 or lower). This demon’s turn takes place immediately after yours and it is hostile toward you.
99 If your attack is made with magic weapon or spell, your miss rends a spot where the barrier between planes is weak and accidentally summons an angry minor devil (CR 1 or lower). This demon’s turn takes place immediately after yours and it is hostile toward you.
100 If your attack is made with magic weapon or spell, your miss rends a spot where the barrier between planes is weak and accidentally summons an angry minor demon (CR 1 or lower). This demon’s turn takes place immediately after yours and it is hostile toward you.

PDF

Want these rules in a free PDF? Ok! It’s in the link below.

Critical Failures

This document will live forever on the Free Game Resources section of this site so if you ever need it again, go there to find it alongside magic itemsmonstersD&D fifth edition rules modulesbackgroundsspellsadventures, and more.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!