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RPG» Forums » General Discussion » General Role-Playing

Subject: What was the first RPG to have critical hits? rss

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Douglas Bailey
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The Iron Crown Enterprises website http://ironcrown.com/ makes a bold claim:
Quote:
We are the creators of the Critical Hit, the devilish inventors of the Critical Fumble.

You might wonder: is that true? Were there games before Rolemaster—or supplements prior to Arms Law, ICE's 1980 inaugural release, to be more exact—that made use of either concept?

Wikipedia's "Critical hit" article claims (or did when I wrote this) that Empire of the Petal Throne in 1975 was the first RPG to include the concept of attacks which do extra damage* to represent lucky hits, but also points out that these weren't actually called "critical hits" in the rules.

The earliest game I know of that had critical hits and fumbles with those names was RuneQuest, in 1978:
RuneQuest (1st edition), p. 24 wrote:
CRITICAL HITS
At all times, a strike resulting in a roll of 01 on D100 is a Critical Hit. As an Adventurer gets better at fighting, his chance of striking a Critical Hit improves. If the player manages to roll 5% or less of what he needs to successfully attack, the character has struck a Critical Hit.

[…]

FUMBLES
An Adventurer using a weapon for which he has only a 5–20% chance of success has a 5% chance (roll of 96–00 on D100) of Fumbling. For every additional 20% capability an Adventurer has with a weapon, his chance of fumbling with it is reduced by 1%. However, an attack roll of 00 is always a Fumble. Even an Adventurer with a 100% chance of hitting (actually 95%, for dice rolls of 96–00 are always a miss) will fumble if a 00 is rolled.

That's enough to disprove most of the claim, though I suppose ICE can always say that they invented the "critical fumble" nomenclature.

I wonder, though, were there earlier games that included "critical hits" or "fumbles"? Have I overlooked someone and given credit to RQ where I shouldn't have? Comments welcomed.



* My PDF copy of EPT shows (on p. 32, in section 731) that not only did hits on a "natural 20" allow you to roll all your damage dice twice and add your bonuses once—the same mechanic that 5th-edition D&D settled on many years later—but they also let you roll again, with a result of 19 or 20 killing your foe instantly.
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Clark Timmins
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The Arduin Grimoire 1: The Arduin Grimoire (1977) had both critical hits and fumbles, both called that.

I'm searching my old A&E for Perrin Conventions stuff, now, as it led to RQ.
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Early in my D&D career we had a guy join our group who was an experienced dungeon master.

He absolutely loved those Arduin tables even though some of the results were pretty crazy. Like fumbles where you took an arm off yourself or an ally.
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In Alarums & Excursions (Issue 12 - Jun 1976), Lee Gold writes "Steve Perrin's critical hit table (as distributed at DunDraCon) is:" and then offers the d% critical hit table. It's even more lethal than Hargrave's Arduin table. The reference appears to be to DunDraCon #1, in 1976, but I'm not sure on the exact date - before May, when issue 12 was put together. This would have pre-dated the Perrin Conventions (or perhaps been an early part of it, depending how you look at it).

Also in issue 12, Richard J. Schwall in his zine offers "DMs still using the hit points system may want to try this new system for handling critical hits...", which were hugely amped up damage.

The phrase "critical hit" occurs with regularity, being used in the sense that we still understand it today, throughout at least the next year's worth of issues.
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OK, an this tidbit comes from Alarums & Excursions (Issue 1 - Jun 1975), in comments from Lee Gold, "For those unfamiliar with Dungeons and Beavers, the Cal Tech game...They also have a Critical Hit Chart (1/12 chance of receiving one) to allow characters to be killed off more easily than is provided for in the original rules...Switzer calls it a little more brutal and I quite agree."

So, Critical Hits pre-date Alarums & Excursions! Let me dig out my old APA-L hoard. If I can find it.
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In Alarums & Excursions (Issue 10 - Apr 1976), Glenn F. Blacow offers (in response to magic users casting spells in "close melee"): "I'd simply rule that the fighter has an automatic hit every melee round, and roll for damage on the Critical Hit chart (this excludes being like Hakshasa, which are practically invulnerable anyhow, even they would be..."
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I don't find critical hits in the D&D issues of APA-L. So the first mention probably goes to A&E 1.

Later, A&E contains references to a critical hit chart in The Complete Warlock - I can't seem to find my copy, though, so I can't verify.
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OK, for Fumbles, their claim isn't looking great, either. No less than John Sapienza wrote, on Dec 30, 1976, in Alarums & Excursions (Issue 18 - Jan 1977), "I ignore pluses and minuses on a natural "1" for combat result. It's a miss, and I roll for a fumble too. (On an adjusted "1" from for instance a natural "3" with a -2 sword, you miss, but I won't roll to see whether you fumbled...A natural "20" always hits, and I roll for a critical hit too."

He doesn't offer tables, but from the tone and context of his comment, above, he hardly feels the need to explain either critical or fumble as a concept, indicating they were de rigueur by the end of 1976.

----

Hartley Patterson in Alarums & Excursions (Issue 20 - Mar 1977) writes "...persons of lower dexterity take the difference and add this to their opponent's MR and if you have such a thing the chance of a fumble. Thus a character of DEX 10 wields a flail (DN 13); a roll of 4 or below is a fumble and he has entangled himself or hit someone else!"

Later in the same issue, Sapienza offers "I have not (yet) developed a fumble/critical hit system for the MCT. When I do, it will probably be a fumble on the natural roll of "1-2" plus a second D20 roll of "1-4" with a critical hit on a natural roll of "20" plus a second D20 roll of "1-4." In this context, the MCT is the "Magical Combat Table", or Revising the Mechanics of Magical Combat (in D&D) - so by this time, criticals and fumbles were already being applied to magical spells, too, not just melee attacks.

----

Steve Perrin, in his discussion of "New Perrin Conventions" in Alarums & Excursions (Issue 22 - May 1977) contemplates adapting Wayne Shaw's system of criticals and fumbles for the planned revision: "I think that I might adopt a system of rolling 2d6 with every D20 combat roll. A 2 or 12 with a hit means a Critical Hit; a 2 or 12 with a miss means a fumble" - and goes on to complicate it with a character level factor.
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Myth - busted.
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ctimmins wrote:
The Arduin Grimoire 1: The Arduin Grimoire (1977) had both critical hits and fumbles, both called that.

I'm searching my old A&E for Perrin Conventions stuff, now, as it led to RQ.


That's the first thing I thought of when seeing 1980 listed in the OP. Those charts stick in the brain after being a victim (and surprise victor) via them so often. As your follow up fairly easily displayed, I wouldn't have thought of them as the first. Much of Arduin was just an expansion to existing concepts and things.
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ctimmins wrote:
A&E contains references to a critical hit chart in The Complete Warlock - I can't seem to find my copy, though, so I can't verify.

The item image gallery shows the TOC. It says "Critical Hits" is on page 18.
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Here's the relevant page from Alarums & Excursions (Issue 12 - Jun 1976), and as always for Lee Gold zines - on pink. Pretty conclusively an unambiguous "critical hit" chart.

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ICE did raise the critical hit to a wonderful new level.

Now everyone, roll on this table to see how good your computer skills are.


Pauli
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