From publisher blurb:
Issue #39 of Dragon magazine, published in July of 1980, offered up the article “Good Hits & Bad Misses” by Carl Parlagreco. It presented alternative critical hit tables that were meant to balance out the odds of characters achieving a critical, but really provided colorful alternatives to simply doing more damage. The effects were sometimes devastating, sometimes humorous, and almost always more interesting than just rolling double damage.
Nearly every gaming group I’ve played in or gamemastered for has used some variation of these tables. In Second Edition, I had a ranger that has just achieved 2nd level put an arrow through a dragon’s eye, killing it instantly. Was it ridiculous? Sure. Was it awesome? Absolutely! Did that character ever do anything that cool, ever again? Not really, but it did change the tone of the entire campaign as the player characters had to live up to their own legend.
First Edition rules were very different from the current Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rules. There was a lot more left up to gamemaster caveat, and many things were left open to interpretation. In using those old tables in our current campaign, we kept having to make mental adjustments. Pathfinder has specific combat conditions meant to simulate some of the effects described in those table, that work in specific ways. Pathfinder also has its own critical hit system, which adjusts the threat range for specific weapons, as well as setting different critical damage multipliers. It became obvious to me that we needed to stop trying to fit square pegs into round holes, and that a new set of critical tables needed to be created.
Greatest Hits and Epic Misses is meant to capture the feel of those original tables, leveraging the Pathfinder rules without losing the intent of its critical hit system or significantly altering the rules. It’s not as lethal as the original, by design. I don’t think it’s particularly fair for a 2nd level character to kill a dragon outright without at least a saving throw, even if it did benefit me greatly back in the day. That works both ways; I don’t think it’s particularly fair for a player character to get decapitated or lose a limb through a random die roll without some sort chance to avoid that fate. The idea is that when a player rolls really well (or really poorly) something unusual should happen. Things that have a mechanical affect, yes, but also add to the story. These aren’t more rules simply for the sake of making more rules; these tables exist to add some twists to the story.