Critical Hits

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Fantasy literature is full of mighty blows and grievous wounds that change the course of a battle. Characters such as Robert E. Howard’s Conan, Beowulf, or any of the heroes of the Arthurian legends wreaked havoc among their enemies—cleaving skulls, severing limbs, and otherwise smashing their foes into red ruin. Every fan of heroic fiction is a little fascinated (and sometimes horrified) by blood and gore. You only have to go out to the movies to see that this is true.

However, the purpose of critical hits is not to overwhelm players with sickening displays of pointless violence. The purpose of these rules is to provide the game with a more realistic system for simulating telling blows and specific injuries. At its most basic level, the AD&D combat system is a contest of attrition that all boils down to who runs out of hit points first. Critical hits can change that.

Critical hits occur when a character hits the target by a margin of 5 or more after all adjustments. The weapon deals double the base weapon damage, and a specific injury may occur. However, the effects are determined by four factors: the type of weapon compared to the type of target, the location of the hit, and a roll for the injury’s severity.

When doubling damage for critical hits, roll the base weapon damage twice. Thus a weapon that normally deals 1d8 damage, instead deals 2d8 damage on a Critical Hit. Do not double any modifiers for Strength, specialization, or magic.

As with all instances of multiplying damage, the increased damage for Critical Hits is additive with other damage multipliers. Thus if a Thief backstabbing for x3 damage (2 extra dice) also scores a Critical Hit (1 extra die), the net result is 4x damage, not 6×.

Weapon and Creature Types
There are three types of weapons: slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning. Every weapon in the AD&D game system is assigned a type, with only a couple of exceptions such as lassoes and nets. If a weapon does not have a type, it cannot roll on a critical hit chart, although it can still inflict double damage on a critical attack roll.

These three weapon types are compared to three target types, for a total of nine different critical hit charts. The target types are humanoids, animals, and monsters. Below you’ll find a chart for Bludgeoning vs. Humanoids, Bludgeoning vs. Animals, Bludgeoning vs. Monsters, Slashing vs. Humanoids, and so on. In most cases the correct critical hit chart to use should be relatively obvious.

Humanoids include anything that is generally shaped like a human, ranging from pixies to giants. If it has two arms and two legs, it’s probably humanoid.

Animals include anything that is a normal or giant-sized version of a normal animal. Mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians all fall into this category—but not insects or fish. It also includes monsters that are animal-like in form, such as blink dogs, winter wolves, moon dogs, hell hounds, nightmares, osquips, or fire toads.

Monsters include anything that doesn’t fit into the previous two categories. Giant insects of any kind, fish-like monsters, composite creatures such as manticores or dragons, and weird things like xorn or leucrottas would all be considered monsters. If in doubt over whether something is a monster or not, call it a monster; this is the default category for things that defy classification.

The critical hit charts require two die rolls: one to determine the location of the hit, and the other to determine the severity. Note that these can be rolled simultaneously. The location die is usually a single d10, but there are some exceptions.

  • Called Shots. If a character hits with a called shot and scores a critical hit, the location die is ignored. The location is automatically determined to be wherever the character had been aiming.
  • Low Attacks. If the attacker is fighting a creature two sizes larger or a defender with a distinct height advantage, use a single d6 for location. Head and upper torso shots become extremely unusual in these cases.
  • High Attacks. If the attacker is two sizes larger than the defender, or has a significant
    height advantage, roll 1d6+4. Giants fighting halflings don’t often strike them low.

The severity of a critical hit is determined by the unmodified damage roll of the weapon. Thus larger weapons tend to have more grievous effects (its hard to cleave off a limb with a dagger). No modifiers for strength, specialization, or magic apply to this roll, only the base damage dice for the weapon. The DM is free to rule that the actual damage roll be used for the critical hit severity (thus more damaging attacks are also more severe crits) or to require a second roll.

Critical hits automatically inflict double damage dice, or triple damage dice if the severity roll is 13 or greater. In addition, if the base damage roll is greater than 3, a specific injury occurs.

Some monsters are naturally resistant to the effects of certain critical injuries. Creatures such as golems, undead, or elementals don’t bleed and therefore ignore any such effects. A monster like a hydra can lose a head without being instantly slain. However, these injuries can still be important because it might affect the way a monster moves or attacks. A skeleton that’s had a leg knocked off can’t move at its full rate, even if it is less troubled by the injury than a living person would be. Slimes and jellies have no parts that are more specialized or important than the rest of the body, and are therefore immune to the effects of most critical hits. Use common sense to handle these situations as they arise.

Specific Injuries

The critical hit charts include a number of specific injuries that go beyond a simple loss of hit points. Wounds are divided into five degrees of severity: grazed, struck, injured, broken, and finally shattered, severed, or crushed.

Wounds should be recorded on the character sheet. Attack and movement penalties remain until the injury that created the penalty has healed. Wounds are always accompanied by some loss of hit points, but a specific injury isn’t damage per se; consider it a temporary penalty that the character has to put up with until it is restored.

Severe injuries can temporarily reduce a character’s maximum allowable hit points. In other words, a fighter with a broken leg will not be allowed to enjoy his full allotment of hit points until his broken leg is repaired. If the character has more hit points than he is currently allowed, he is reduced to the injured value when the current battle is over. This represents the increased vulnerability of badly wounded characters.

For example, if a fighter with 30 hit points receives 10 points of damage and an “arm destroyed” injury that reduces him to 50% of his normal hit points, he drops from 20 to 15 when the battle is concluded and remains at 15 until his ruined arm is somehow healed.

Grazed: Grazes are minor injuries that may prove troublesome if they bleed. A cure light wounds spell or other healing magic capable of restoring 4 hp will heal a graze. The healing doesn’t have to actually restore 4 hit points; it just must be capable of doing so. Grazes also heal naturally after 1d6 days (half that if resting). Note that the graze isn’t tied to the character’s actual loss of hit points in any way. If a grazed character receives healing magic, the graze is healed and he gets to recover hit points.

Struck: A body part that has been struck is often penalized in a small way for the effects of the wound. For example, a critical hit that reads, “weapon hand struck, –2 penalty to attacks,” means that the character has a –2 attack penalty with his weapon hand until the wound is healed. Injuries of this type can be healed by any healing capable of restoring 5 hp of damage. Struck areas heal naturally after 2d6 days (half that if resting).

Injured: Wounds of this severity can trouble a character for weeks; they heal naturally in 10d6 days. Any healing capable of restoring 10 hit points can also repair the injury. Injuries almost always entail serious combat penalties for the wounded character.

Injured arms, legs, or tails reduce a character to 75% of his normal hit points. An injury to the abdomen, torso, or head reduces a character to 50% of his normal hit points. A 25-hp character with a chest injury can have no more than 13 hit points until his injury is healed (and could have a lot less than that if he continues to suffer damage!)

Broken: Broken bones run the gamut from minor fractures that don’t hinder a character at all to life-threatening compound fractures. Generally, the previous two injury categories are considered to include minor breaks or cracks; this category is reserved for severe fractures. Broken bones can be mended by a cure serious wounds spell that is devoted just to knitting the bone; unlike grazed, struck, or injured, the character regains no hit points from a spell used in this way. Broken bones heal naturally in 20d6 days, so bed rest in the care of a proficient healer is a really good idea if the injured character is planning on resuming his adventuring career anytime soon.

Broken arms reduce a character to 75% of his normal hit points. Broken ribs or legs reduce a character to 50% of his normal hit points. Any other broken bones reduce a character to 25% of his normal hit points.

Crushed, Shattered, or Destroyed: Limbs that suffer this kind of catastrophic injury may never be usable again; hits to the torso, abdomen or head of this magnitude are often lethal. If the victim survives, he will never naturally recover to his normal self. A limb damaged this way will be useless for the rest of his life, and hits anywhere else will leave the victim incapacitated. The victim will be bedridden for at least one to eight months before he can even regain a semblance of mobility.

Healing magic capable of restoring 20 hp of damage can repair the damage of this kind of injury. In addition, the bones of the affected area are assumed to be broken and may require another application of healing magic to repair.

Destroyed shoulders, hips, or limbs reduce the victim to 50% of his normal maximum hit points. Any other wounds of this magnitude reduce the victim to 25% of his normal total.

Severed: Obviously, a creature that has a limb severed can no longer engage in activities that require the use of that member. A human with a severed leg can’t walk or run and is reduced to crawling until he gets a crutch. A character with a severed shield-arm can’t use a shield anymore, and so on. The only way to undo this kind of damage is by means of a regeneration spell.

The shock of losing a limb will prevent a character from moving independently or attacking for 2d10 weeks. At the DM’s discretion, a character who “only” loses a hand or a foot may actually be able to perform limited activities after being stunned 1d6 rounds, but only by passing a System Shock roll. However, characters who sustain such massive injuries are best off abandoning the field to their enemies.

The loss of a limb will reduce a character’s maximum normal hit points by 25% for a partial loss, or 50% for a more catastrophic loss. If the character can compensate with a wooden leg or hook, the hit point loss may be reduced by one step.

Critical Hit Effects

There are several possible effects of injuries caused by critical hits: bleeding, attack penalties, movement penalties, knockdowns, dropped weapons or shields, and possible armor or shield damage. Some of these conditions are temporary—a dropped weapon can be picked up—while others remain until the injury that created the effect is healed.

Bleeding: A character with minor bleeding loses an additional 1d2 hp per turn (10 minutes outside of combat) until the wound is magically healed or bound. In addition, there is a chance that minor bleeding will stop on its own. The character may roll a saving throw vs. death each time he suffers damage from minor bleeding; if he is successful, the bleeding stops.

Anybody can stop minor bleeding by applying a bandage or otherwise addressing the injury. This one combat round with a successful Healing proficiency check or one minute without the proficiency.

Major bleeding results in a loss of 1d2 hp per combat round until the wound is magically healed or bound. Left untreated, major bleeding can easily cause a character’s death. In effect, the dying rules represent major bleeding; the character loses 1 hp per round when reduced to negative hit points.

Major bleeding can be stopped by the healing of 5 hp of damage by any magical means, or by a successful use of the Healing proficiency. If the wound is bound by an untrained character, make an Intuition check for the would-be medic. If he fails, he is unable to help. If he makes the check, the bleeding is reduced to minor.

Severe bleeding causes the victim to lose 10% of his maximum hit point total every combat round. For example, if a fighter normally has 43 hit points but receives a severe bleeding result, he loses 4 hp (10%) in each round of severe bleeding. Needless to say, this is extremely dangerous.

A 5 hp of healing will reduce severe bleeding to major bleeding; 10 hp of healing reduces it to minor bleeding; and a cure critical wounds or heal spell stops it altogether. An untrained character has no chance to bind a torso, abdomen, or head wound with severe bleeding, but a successful use of the Healing proficiency with a –4 penalty reduces severe bleeding to major bleeding.

Note that once a character drops below 0 hit points, regardless of the number and combination of wounds she is suffering from, she only suffers the effects of major bleeding (i.e., only 1 hit point is deducted per round).

Attack Penalties: Many critical hits hamper the victim’s ability to fight, resulting in an attack penalty. This is noted as applying to all attacks or to attacks with the particular limb that was injured. Other critical hits may prevent the victim from making attacks at all. If a critical hit prevents a character from making attacks, it also prevents him from casting spells or exercising any other combat action except moving or using magical items.

Movement Penalties: Hits to the legs and body may penalize a character’s ability to move. Usually, this is expressed as “1/2 move”, “1/3 move”, and so on. If the character’s movement is limited, he may not charge, run, or sprint; he can only move by using the reduced rate. A character with no movement at all can still ride a mount with difficulty, or drag himself on the ground with an effective movement rate of 1.

Knockdowns: If a critical hit calls for a knockdown, the victim is still entitled to a saving throw to avoid falling down. The normal penalties for being knocked prone apply.

Armor and Shield Damage: Some critical hits call for possible damage to a creature’s armor or shield. If the victim of the hit has no armor at that location, the blow is usually assumed to have more severe effects than if the character was protected.

If the creature struck does have a shield or armor to deflect the blow, it may be damaged if the chart calls for it. His armor or shield must roll an item saving throw vs. normal blow with the severity of the hit used as a negative modifier for the save. If the attacker is larger than the defender, the save is rolled against a crushing blow, instead.

A damaged shield is useless. If armor is damaged, only the location struck is useless, and it no longer contributes to the overall AC of the suit. Refer to the rules for Partial Armor in the Complete Fighter’s Handbook. Damaged equipment can be repaired by a skilled armorer or by magical means.

Critical Hit Tables

First, find the appropriate table for the weapon type (slashing, piercing, or bludgeoning) and the target type (humanoid, animal, or monster.) Then roll for hit location (d10) and severity (see above). Refer to the entry indicated on the chart. Remember, critical hits inflict double (or triple) damage dice, in addition to any specific injury that may result.

Bludgeoning vs Humanoids
Bludgeoning vs Animals
Bludgeoning vs Monsters
Slashing vs Humanoids
Slashing vs Animals
Slashing vs Monsters
Piercing vs Humanoids
Piercing vs Animals
Piercing vs Monsters

Critical Hits

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