Monday, July 22, 2013

Ruling the House

One of the things that I really love about Dungeons and Dragons is the do-it-yourself nature of the hobby. Whether you are playing original Dungeons and Dragons, Fifth edition or anything in-between you'll find that someone is tweaking the system. A rule adjustment here, a home brewed monster there and soon every game is unique to the individual sessions being played as the game evolves organically around the play style of the group.

All of that said tonight I am going to talk about one of the House Rules that I've been running in my games for the last couple of years: the exploding damage die mechanic. I first ran across the concept when I picked up a copy of the Savage Worlds game system. In that game whenever you rolled the maximum amount on a given die you got to roll that die again, adding its result to the initial roll. If you were lucky enough to roll the maximum result again you added it to your total and continued rolling until one of your die results were less then the maximum.

What I liked about this mechanic was that it made combat incredibly dangerous which in turn made my players more thoughtful about how they proceeded but when I initially tested the mechanic in my Dungeons and Dragons game there was a problem. If I allowed the mechanic to work at all times, with all damage rolls, then combat became impossible as every attack was capable of taking out anyone at anytime. And while it's all well and good when you're first level and you take out an epic level creature the same can't be said when you've worked your way up to eighteenth level and a measly goblin kills you with a sling bullet.

In order to remedy this problem I was forced to use the mechanic only when a player had rolled a critical success. This still made the combat dangerous, but not to the point of making it moronic to even enter combat.

Now the aspect to this mechanic that I had not anticipated was the way that my players crowd around the table when someone starts a series. They're doing the math and acting like every roll is their own - and when the tables turn! My god when the tables turn it's even better!
Critical Damage: For critical damage results we will be using the exploding damage mechanic. After confirming a critical success, roll your damage die, if you receive a maximum result, roll that die again. For example, Tim’s Fighter confirms a critical success with his short sword (1d6). Tim rolls 6, 6, 6, 6, 4 ~ ending his exploding die rolls ~ and he has a Strength modifier of + 3. Thus his total damage is 31 (6 + 6 + 6 + 6 + 4 + 3 = 31)


  1. I tried the same in my campaign (HackMaster being the source of inspiration here) and came to the same conclusion. It's just too damn lethal. My solution was to switch to an echo effect. If the someone rolled the maximum of a die, the effect is that he gets to roll the next lower die and add the result to his damage. If this die, again, rolls the maximum, he's allowed to add the next lower die after that and so on (respectively d20, d12, d10, d8, etc., there is no die below d4). Had pretty much the same result, but a lower damage output. Works fine, in my experience.

    1. Do you do that sort of damage on critical successes only or on all rolls where the maximum is result is rolled?

  2. I allow it for every in-game roll, not only damage and critical hits (hit points and initiative being the exceptions). It's also one of the house rules the players keep remembering...

    1. Cool. So how do you handle critical successes? Are they just automatic hits or have you developed a mechanic that allows you to emphasis them (like a critical strike table)?

    2. Basically a natural 20 is not a critical, but you get to roll on the d12. Every result other than a 12 will reduce a targets Endurance (we play with that, too), but a 12 will trigger the critical hit and severity. Further reading (the first link explains further how we handle critical hits, the second is about endurance, which is important for how critical hits play out):

      So a natural 20 still has an effect (maximum damage, Endurance damage, which makes fighting so much harder), but "real" critical hits with brutal results in severity are rare (and quite entertaining...). All in all the game is a bit more lethal, but on early levels the players benefit from that (because low level creatures mostly deal a d6 damage or lower and have low Endurance). And having an echo on a die happens a bit more often than having a natural 20 and it makes the players happy. HackMaster 4E was a great inspiration for most of those house rules.


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