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File:Critical-failure 3368.jpg

"You see, Fighter, any time you do anything, there is a one in twenty chance that you will critically fail. The results of such catastrophic events are up to the gods. Sadly for us, they are vindictive, and filled with bad ideas."

You had a one in twenty chance to be a loser

Your lack of luck just makes me want to hurl

It's really rather scary

How you rolled that just like Jerry

Congratulations, you roll like a girl! (A tiny giiiiirrrrlll...)

Just as a Critical Hit gives a character a random chance of doing noticeably increased damage with an attack, a Critical Failure is the precise opposite: A finite possibility that the attack will fail, be resisted, miss (or even backfire and hurt the attacker), regardless of any stat bonuses, upgrades, tweaks, or special equipment they may have.

The amount of explanation you may get depends on how broadly it's being applied. If being used on everything from swordplay to archery or magic then it could be just an element to show the inherent danger in messing about with such dangerous things. Perhaps it's described as the unseen weak chink in the armour or the sudden gust of wind or the gods just being dicks that day. When used only on particular items or actions, it could be used to show how they are the riskier choice or contain some particular special power that must be paid off for with a special risk.

The weapon of choice for the Killer Game Master, the bane of the Munchkin and the source of mirth for The Loonie, Dungeons and Dragons utilisation of it as the roll of a 1 on a D20 is the Trope Namer and Trope Maker for many tabletop and video games based on roleplay, but it has often been a factor in games of luck for much of time. When explained, the description of the failure is often played up for laughs, occasionally making it an Epic Fail for the player.

Magic Misfire is one possible consequence or subtype. See also Luck Stat. Can sometimes result in a Critical Existence Failure but the tropes are not directly related.

"Critical Miss" redirects here. Click here for the webcomic Critical Miss.

Examples of Critical Failure include:

Anime And Manga

  • In the last pre-Duelist Kingdom arc of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga, Bakura plays a tabletop game with Yugi and his friends, wherein they use percentile dice (two 10-sided die—one for the tens and one for the ones) — for every roll. When Yami Bakura takes over, rolling a 99 (a fumble, 00 is interpreted as 100 and is the opposite—a Critical Hit) carries the penalty of having your soul trapped in your figurine.
  • Digimon: War Greymon's Dramon Killers can cause this. They're especially effective against draconic digimon. War Greymon himself is a "dragon man" however, and is constantly at risk of serious, self inflicted injury as a result.

Tabletop Games

  • Of course, the Critical Failure rule from Dungeons and Dragons has caused a lot of funny deaths over time. It's not even an official rule, just a nigh-omnipresent House Rule. The actual official rule for rolling a 1, depending on edition, is either nothing at all, or it's just an automatic miss with no additional effects.
    • That being said, the Critical Failure rule has been included in the Dungeon Master's Guide since 3rd edition as an example of what a house rule is. In 4th Edition, the suggested House rule format is that a player who rolls a 1 on an attack roll loses all subsequent actions this round. Rather tame and less deadly than the more classic versions.
    • The 3.5 Dragon Compendium includes expanded rules for what happens when rolling a 1 or a 20 on an attack roll. The critical failures are rather amusing.
    • And that quote from Red Mage at the top of the page is a very good reason to never enforce these rules. Especially the Dragon Compendium version.
    • In 2nd edition there were semi-official optional rules for critical hits and misses published by Dragon magazine, where you would roll a percent and in general, the higher the number the more potent the effect. The funny thing is, both critical hits and critical failures used the same table - so it was entirely possible to decapitate yourself on a critical failure if you rolled exceptionally high on the table.
  • In Nomine, which is based on the War between Heaven and Hell, has a special take on critical failures (and critical successes) the game uses a system of rolling 3 six sided dice, a natural roll of 3 ones (representing the Holy Trinity) is a "Divine Intervention" which is good for angels and those allied with them, and bad for demons and their allies, a natural roll of 3 sixes (representing... well, you know) is an "Infernal Intervention" which is good for those on Hell's side and bad for those fighting for Heaven. Depending on the nature and circumstances of the roll, these Interventions can be anything from a(n) (un)lucky coincidence to a blatant spectacular manifestation of divine or infernal power.
  • Shadowrun has Glitches—rolling a one on half or more of all dice in a roll—and critical Glitches—a glitch that also has no successes. The former is just annoying side effects like a burst of suppressive fire hitting a steam pipe, but the latter tends to invoke the Chunky Salsa Rule.
  • Unknown Armies has fumble rolls at 00. Since they're vastly less common than typical Critical Failures, they also tend to be vastly more dangerous or entertaining. The only real rule is that they won't kill a player, but that not very reassuring in the setting.
    • The technical term for these is "BOHICA": Fun with Acronyms for "Bend Over, Here It Comes Again".
  • Due to a quirk of the system (the use of 3d6 rather than a d20, and success made by rolling under a target number) GURPS reverses the normal expectations and has critical failures on an 18 and critical success on a 3. This may be due to Champions's influence on Steve Jackson; Hero System runs the same way.
  • Sameo: proof that even a critical failure can be a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • Exalted has its own version, which tends to be very, very bad for you. To fail you have to have half ones and NO successes. The more dice that come up one, the worse the problem. You screw up less often as you get more skilled but when you do it is more catastrophic. That's the Exalted for you - even their screw-ups are epic.
  • Speaking of White Wolf, both versions of The World of Darkness come with rules to this effect. In the Old version, should you roll no successes and one or more dice come up 1, you get a "botch" (also the term Exalted uses) — which is usually a horrific mishap of the amusing-but-grievous variety. In the New World of Darkness, when your dice pool is reduced by penalties to nothing, you get a "chance die"—it only succeeds on a 10 and gives you a Dramatic Failure on 1.
    • Due to the fact that Game Designers Have No Sense of Statistics, the OWOD system made you more likely to botch on very difficult rolls if you had a large number of dice to roll, as illustrated here and here. Thankfully Revised Edition reduced this problem, as every 1 no longer cancelled out a success.
    • Demon: The Fallen is notable for encouraging Storytellers not to rely on just "you fail in a horrible manner" for botches. Their example was jumping across rooftops: on a failure, you fall; on a botch, you barely make it across... and interrupt a Mafia execution.
  • Scion, which uses a readjusted variant of the Old World of Darkness system, carries over the Botch rule. However, there is one form of relief—if you have Epic Attributes (which add automatic successes to rolls involving them), you can't botch rolls of that attribute. Divinity means that even if you fail, you fail well.
  • Magic in Warhammer is portrayed as an always risky affair, manipulating the spillage of raw Chaos into the material world that invites the attention of deities who are far too ugly for a mother to comprehend never mind love. So not only does it have the Miscast rule that automatically fails the players' attempts to cast a spell but the player must then roll again to see what happens to their mage; it ranges from a bad headache to a legion of Cosmic Horrors invading its brain and dragging the world around him into hell.
    • And don't think worshipping one of the good okay deities in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay exempts you from this rule. The same botch rules apply, only the gods get angry with you for abusing their gifts. It's generally not as bad as the Curse of Tzeentch, however—the gods may get angry and stun you for a round, but they won't summon hordes of demons, inflict insanity points on you or render your entire family sterile(!).
    • The eighth edition magic rules changed most magic critical failures into "bad critical successes": The spell succeeds and can't be dispelled by the enemy, but something bad happens to the caster.
    • In the offshoot board game Blood Bowl, you can make a "Go for it" roll to move up to two extra spaces in a turn. You have a 1 out of 6 chance to fail, but failure is treated the same way as if the player was attacked by an opponent, which means they have to roll against their armour. If they fail their armour roll, they make a roll on the injury table, which has consequences ranging from being briefly stunned up to a permanent disability or death. If the player is equipped with a chainsaw, they have a significant penalty to their armour roll which makes them very likely to be injured every time they fall down.
    • There is also a 1-in-6 critical failure chance in non-magic affairs, such as combat. If you roll a 1, no matter how skilled your warriors are, you miss.
      • The new Skaven army book has misfire charts for virtually every weapon more complex than a pointy stick (and even some of those). With the amount of 1-in-6 failures inherent in the army, you are practically guaranteed never to end a game without one of your wonder weapons shooting your own troops / exploding / gassing itself / blowing up / imploding / causing daemonic burns / catching fire / sucking the user into the Realm of Chaos.
  • Warhammer 40000 has its rules reflect the fact that the game takes place in a crapsack universe where Everything Is Trying to Kill You - like your own weapons, for example. Guns with the Gets Hot! special rule, such as Imperial plasma weapons or some of the more dangerous Ork "kustom shootas," will overheat and wound their wielder if you roll a 1 to hit. They're totally worth the risk, though.
    • Previous editions were even more fun. The second edition, with its detailed skirmish-level rules, included obscure failure modes for the most experimental or cobbled-together weaponry available. As a particularly memorable example, shoulder-mounted missile packs could misfire in a manner which required the player to roll for direction and range over and over again as the wielder's remaining arsenal launched itself around at random and the poor soul spun around comically. Chaos Space Marines got the worst of it, with plasma weapons which could fail in fashions ranging from "weapons jam" to "smouldering crater", and Juggernaut war-machines that would randomly go on an auto-pilot rampage across the board and never be seen again.
    • Chaos Dreadnoughts, being psychotic super-soldiers entombed in a walking tank, have a special Crazed table you have to roll on each turn, giving you a one-in-six chance that your mobile weapons platform will unleash a salvo of missiles and plasma fire on its own side.
    • Rolling nothing but ones to hit with a Space Marine's assault cannon used to jam the gun, making it unusable for the rest of the match, which may have contributed to its rarity in 3rd Edition armies. More recent rules updates have reversed the trend, however.
    • The Orks' Shokk Attack Gun, the infamous weapon that fires Snotlings through the Warp into (literally) enemies, has a long and complex misfire table, which includes results such as the gun spinning out of control and hitting a friendly squad, the gun firing its wielder instead of its ammunition, or the gun exploding into a crackling hole in reality that removes any nearby models from play. But that's just part of the randomness that makes playing Orks so fun.
      • Orks basically run on this trope, with nearly everything devastating in their arsenal having some small chance of Critical Failure.
    • A critical failure on a psychic test (double one or double six, around a 5.5% chance of occurring) causes the Warp to fry the Psyker's brain. Curiously, if you roll a double one on your psychic test (which is a critical success as it's based on morale/command), the power still works even if the Psyker actually dies from backlash.
    • Due to the nature of Ordnance weapons, you can totally miss your target, and completely obliterate your own troops due to a misfire. Not exactly Critical Failure, but just as hilarious (to your opponent, if not you).
    • Teleportation, also known as Deep Strike, has the possibility of the Deep Striking troops landing in terrain, fusing them (and by extension killing them) to the terrain and utterly obliterate the squad.
      • The Daemons are especially prone to this: you can wind up having more than 50% of your main troops having to enter battle this way, meaning you could lose half your army due to a bad roll.
    • Speaking of Daemons, they will suffer a combination of Critical Failure and Critical Existence Failure if they suffer too many wounds. If they fail the resulting leadership test, they will completely evaporate back into the warp, which in-game destroys the unit.
    • Apocalypse games allow fielding the Land Raider Terminus Ultra, which can suffer a Critical Failure if all 5 of its Las-cannons overheat, effectively turning it into a mini-nuke.
  • Older versions of Rune Quest had a notoriously unforgiving fumble chart. Some player did the math and determined that of a squad of 200 trained swordsmen, after 2 minutes of battle, 10 of them would be dead from self-decapitation.
  • Role Master. Its critical hit and critical fumble charts have some legendary results, including one that involves "tripping over an imaginary deceased turtle". (This is of course humour indicating that the character just blundered big time with zero style.)
    • Of course, this was counterbalanced by its critical success tables, with such legendary entries as "Target's bones are vaporized, target is reduced to a liquid paste. Try a ladle.". In a later Companion, both aspects combined led to Fatigue criticals, which if you played the rules straight meant you could kill yourself by what amounted to explosive decompression through exhaustion. Or hunger.
    • When rolling for one weapon category's fumble's effect, if you get a high enough roll (99 or 100 if memory serves) there's a 50% chance that the enemy bursts to laughter and is helpless for an amount of rounds, (the other 50% consists of you spraining your groin) giving you a free attack for the next round, turning a major gaffe into an advantage.
  • In the infamous F.A.T.A.L. roleplaying game, "crucial fumbles" (1 or 2 on a d100) have surprisingly reasonable effects. Except the 1% chance that a god decides to kill the offending character, possibly by making the whole building collapse.
    • The magical mishap rules, however, are awful. There are pages and pages of possible side-effects, ranging from repetitive ("caster worships and entire body is branded with the symbol of god X" for every possible god, spanning 8 pages) to childish humour ("caster grows a piece of fruit from their dickhole/cuntpipe every ten days") to game-breaking stupidity ("nearest two nations declare war on each other", DEATH OF EVERY LIVING THING) - and of course "roll for 1d20 other effects".
  • While the rulebook encourages creativity with these things, the punishment for "botches" in Ironclaw (the same as a Critical Failure) is usually less severe than most (for instance, botching a spell usually only results in the spell backfiring and dealing damage to you). However, if you play as a Necromancer, and you roll at least three 6's when dealing with a Black Magic spell, expect the heavens to open up, hell to let out a loud roar, and Cthulhu to wince in pain at the mighty backlash of chaos magic you just wrought upon the world.
  • Using a set of 0s in Legends of the Wulin will allow the DM to offer you Interesting Times. If you accept, you receive what is essentially the Power of Plot, but there will be trouble: any success off that roll will be a complicated affair, and any failure will be devastating.
  • Rolling a 20 in Paranoia. Your gun can explode, your mutant power backfires horribly, and so on.
    • Some GMs also invert this with a house rule that rolling a 1 may mean you succeeded too well. Shooting a Commie mutant traitor sends their shattered remains flying backward through a wall, causing pipes to burst and release toxic chemicals... that sort of thing.
  • Deadlands uses them too, and we call 'em "busts" 'round these parts, hombre. Going bust becomes worse if a character has the "Bad Luck" Hindrance. Of note is the fact that the only sort of magic that doesn't tend to do horrible things on a Critical Failure is that of the Blessed. Turns out God (or whoever else) isn't too hard on His most devout followers.
  • The Star Wars D6 system has the interesting expansion of allowing a critical failure that is also a success. The classic example is a successful dodge which leaves the player standing close to Exploding Barrels, or a successful attack resulting in the victim falling onto an alarm button.
  • Cartoon Action Hour call these a "Flub". A "Flub" is a roll of 1 on a D12.
  • One of the main points of Roll To Dodge is that everything is determined by the Random Number God - rolling a 6 or a 12 makes the Universe bend to your will, whereas a 1 can result in Epic Fail or worse.
  • In Eclipse Phase, all rolls are on a percent die (from 00 to 99). Doubles (ie. 00, 11, etc.) are critical. Whether they're critical failures or successes is up to the parameters of the roll (so if you needed a 40 or lower to succeed a roll, 44 is a critical failure). 00 is always a critical success, and 99 is always a critical failure. Probably the most interesting critical failures in Eclipse Phase are those involving Psi Sleights. The consequences there can include nosebleed, Grand Theft Me, or Your Head Asplode.
  • Spycraft has a rule where a bad roll triggers an "error", only slightly worse than a normal failure, and a true Critical Failure requires the Game Control to spend one or more action dice, theoretically ensuring that critical failures don't disrupt the flow of the game and occur when most dramatically appropriate. A similar rule has players spend their own action dice to activate a critical success when they roll a "threat". The game also plays around with the ranges of d20 rolls that constitute an error or a threat depending on the circumstances, producing some interesting risk/reward mechanics.
  • Toon is similar to GURPS above, but with one less die. A natural 12 is a critical failure. Keep in mind this is a cartoon roleplaying game, and you can imagine how much fun a critical failure can be.
  • Ars Magica. Currently, you might botch if you roll a ten on an ability check while under stress. Previous editions had a critical failure table with increasingly-horrific results—the worst results kill you instantly, with helpful descriptive text such as:

 "Rising after yet another resounding exchange of blows, you look to your weapon and realize it's broken short, the lethal end impaling you from abdomen to spine. For a moment you feel the sinews of your back slide from their moorings before you fall lifeless to the ground."

    • This is not even the absolute worst result. The worst result has you die instantly, as above, and attack one of your allies by mistake as you die.
  • New Horizon uses two twenty-sided dice as its success determiner. They are referred to as the White Die and the Black Die in the rules. And if you get a twenty on the black die, you not only automatically fail, but you have to use the white die to see how much you failed. Fun.
  • M.E.R.P (middle earth role playing) game has some interesting one's for critical failures covering everything from simply inconvenient to embarrassing to down right deadly depending on actions taken and roll made on fumble chart. These can include dropping or breaking your weapon or failing to move, causing a critical strike to yourself, biting off your own tongue and swallowing it, tripping up and landing in an embarrassing position, shooting yourself in the foot or falling and crushing your own skull and dying and my personal favourite for those fighting from a mount “you drive the point of your weapon into the ground, pole volt 30 feet and take a 'C' crush critical to yourself”

Video Games

  • The whole rationale behind Accuracy stats is to mix things up by imposing upon you the mathematical certainty that some of your attacks are simply going to miss (unless you maximize that stat somehow).
  • The first two Fallout games are interesting examples in that they have an optional character trait that causes everyone to suffer more critical failures in combat. This can be a very bad thing if your Luck stat is low, considering that the game's critical failures tend to do things like make energy weapons explode in your hands.
    • Strangely, the trait is a very good thing if you have an epic Luck Stat, considering that at 10 luck you won't be getting many critical failures even with the Jinxed trait, but everyone else in the world will be suffering explosive weapons failure every other shot.
      • Compound that with using weapons who do not have too bad side effects for critically failing, like melee or unarmed combat, and it's a rather deadly character build.
  • The Knights of the Old Republic do model critical failures—for example, if you're disarming a mine then a 'failure' just means failure to disarm the mine (i.e: nothing happens), but a critical failure means the mine blows up on you at point-blank range.
    • The chances of a critical failure are often tied to the character's skill level in the respective task—if you're too unskilled to reliably disarm a mine, you're likely to accidentally set if off in the process, whereas if you have better than even odds for disarming it, you likely won't ever have a mine blow up on you.
  • Persona 3 and Persona 4 form a rare JRPG example; a critical hit will cause the target of the attack to be knocked down, but a critical failure will cause the attacker to be knocked down. Of particular note is the animation for Shinjiro Aragaki's critical failure: rather than tripping like the others, he falls to his knees in a coughing fit, which is one of the clues that he is Secretly Dying.
    • Also, no matter how high of a level you are, some enemies retain the small chance of reflecting physical damage. Since the reflected damage is equal to what you would have dealt to the opponent otherwise, it is quite possible to have a level 99 protagonist kill himself in one shot against a level 10 opponent. This causes an instant game over, since We Cannot Go on Without You.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, Setzer's special command, Slot, can roll the combination of 7-7-bar. When that happens, everyone in your party dies. Game over, man (unless you had Reraise).
    • This feature carries over to Final Fantasy VII, in Cait Sith's Slot Limit Break, with the 7s being replaced by sections of Cait Sith's face.
  • The series Fire Emblem has the Devil Axe, a weapon that is rather powerful but can potentially injure (or kill) the user when used. It has spawned a number of videos where characters kill themselves by attacking a wall or a tree with it.
  • In World of Warcraft, engineer-made gadgets have a slim chance of critically malfunctioning whenever they are used. This ranges from not working, to doing the opposite result expected, to outright exploding on the spot. Anything with the words 'Safe' or (worse) 'Ultrasafe' in its name is all the more likely to do so.
  • Every weapon has a chance of critical failure in Kingdom of Loathing, which it calls a Fumble. Some weapons, such as the Awesome but Impractical Ridiculously overelaborate ninja weapon has a 3x chance of Critical Hit but a 3x chance of fumble. If you assemble the Cyborg Armor, made of Inspector Gadget's coat, pants, and fedora, fumbles become positive side effects.
  • Arcanum has a wide range of critical failures, such as breaking your own weapon, breaking your own armour, knocking yourself out, dropping your weapon, dealing heavy damage to yourself, semi-permanent disfigurement and injury... and it's not unusual for several effects to happen at once, which is hilarious when it happens to an enemy and incredibly frustrating when it happens to you. (And it will happen to you A LOT when starting out. Expect the words "Are you blind? What in the gods-er, better luck next time!" to be burned into your mind.) There's also a trait that makes critical hits and misses less common, but more spectacular. Oh, and the critical failure chance of technological weapons is increased in the hands of a magic user, and vice versa.
  • In the PlayStation 3 version of Tales of Vesperia, many of Patty Fleur's arts have a chance of backfiring instead of causing good effects. The results include hitting herself with her own attack, K Oing herself instantly, completely emptying the Overlimit gauge, or cutting the entire party's HP and TP in half while also applying an array of bad status effects to them.
  • Elly from Xenogears has a 1 in 5 chance of having her ether spells fail. She is the only character whose ether attacks have such a property, making her a bit of a Scrappy.
  • The map-based operation-level war game The Ardennes Offensive incorporated the element of chance into its battles by listing six possible outcomes, ranging from worst to best, and rolling a die. Basically, the greater your numerical and tactical superiority, the better the six possible outcomes would be - but no matter how completely you dominated the battlefield, rolling a 1 would always mean losing more than you gained. Yes, even when chasing stragglers with entire armoured divisions.
  • Similarly to Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights makes traps go off in your face if you fail badly enough at disarming them. However, since you are allowed to 'take 20' when out of combat (in other words, being able to devote your full attention to it rather than to avoiding a severe stabbing), this only applies if someone gives you a nasty shock or otherwise tries to beat on you while you're distracted.
  • In PangYa, there are two versions of the Lucky Pangya and Control Pill items. One version requires currency that is bought with real money, and is guaranteed to work. The other version, which costs Pang (a currency that can be obtained through playing the game), has a 30% chance of failing. And no, you can't simply use another of the same item; you can only use one item per shot.
    • Missing Pangya while using super shot (Tomahawk, Cobra, Spike) used to make the super shot fail to activate, now it causes the shot to arc wildly (and randomly). With a Tomahawk or Cobra, the shot generally lands close to the target anyhow, with a spike however, expect 30-70 yards of deviation, usually OB and in All cases there's a good chance that any PPI Ced power shot will hit a tree trunk or other impassable obstacle on the way to the target.
  • In Pokémon, while many basic attack moves (Scratch, etc.) have 100% accuracy, many high-powered moves have accuracies in the 80-90% range, making them occasionally fail to inflict damage. The "Jump Kick" family of moves in particular will backfire and damage the user if the attack misses (for any reason).
    • Players often find that those 90% accuracy moves are just inaccurate enough to only miss when it would screw you over the most.
    • Funnily enough, the Jump Kick family was changed to specifically reflect this change. Although it has gotten better, most pokemon that use it will often end up killing themselves because they are JUST THAT STRONG.
  • Just try to do anything in Nethack with your luck negative, your alignment negative, and your god furious at you.
  • Enemies with high speed/agility stats in the Dragon Quest series can dodge critical attacks. "Excellent move... It is dodging!" Or even block them. "Thy attack failed and there was no loss of hit points!"
  • in E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy every now and again in combat you get the message, "Bullshit! Ultra-failed attack!" though these can still kill enemies. However when you failed a hack, there was always a slim possibility that your brain would be fried by the firewall, resulting in instant death regardless of how many resurrectors you had.

Web Original

  • In Penny Arcade's D&D Podcast, Jerry has quite a reputation of rolling horrible. He even rolled critical failures back-to-back at the climax of season 2.

Web Comics