Screwing Up Royally


Lately I’ve been going through a rough patch and find myself messing things up left and right. Its just plain bad and somehow life keeps having me roll Natural 1s every time. So, with that in mind (and since this isn’t the place to vent my personal issues), I thought I’d talk about epically screwing up in tabletop role playing games.

So Many Natural 1s…

Critical Failure - Well, it was time to reroll anyway... right?

Seems like only last session that I rolled up this character… oh, it was.

This is a common D&D and D20 system problem (though it exists in others) as so many games want you to roll under or as low as possible or make pairs and sets of dice or don’t even use dice at all. I think we’ve all be there and had those days where nothing seems to go right. The encounter was tailored to let your character shine, the enemy’s biggest weakness is something your Mage specializes in, your diplomatic party member finally has a chance to really use their silver tongue and charm… then it all goes to hell.

Once upon a time, in a Gamma World game at my local game store, I had the misfortune of rolling nine 1s during the session. Gamma World at least makes natural 1s more hilarious by forcing you to gain new mutations from your GM that could either help or hinder your efforts. In this case even when I wound up with something useful I would quickly fail and lose the ability thanks to my dice. It’s always the dice at fault, isn’t it?

Similarly, back during the first season of WoTC‘s D&D Encounters, I played the stock Warlock character that was offered. For the most part he was awesome. Lots of shadow walk to gain partial cover, dropping some curses, popping off a few blasts from my wand, and then going crazy with his boon. He was the main (I think only) magical character at the table and my ability to stay far from combat yet still whittle down enemy health was a big help to the other players. Where he became hilarious was rolling for Arcana. During skill challenges there were the occasional mystical runes, glowing tomes or giant circles drawn in blood on the floor… an obvious time to have your magical teammate take a look and decipher things, right? Well for all his mystical might, this Warlock could never seem to pass a single Arcana skill check despite all of his pluses. Meanwhile our Minotaur Barbarian who took to assisting my rolls would wind up with natural 20s half the time… and the other half of the time his rolls to help would still be about 5x higher than mine.

Its funny though. When you think back on your gaming experiences, you likely rolled fairly well 90% of the time. Maybe they weren’t great rolls but they did the trick. Yet the times we remember are those statistically improbable rolls… like when everyone at the table aced their initiative checks at the same time or when no one was able to make the DC10 to find that famous Alchemist in town so we all gave up and went to the inn (where the GM Deus Ex Machina’d the Alchemist just wandering in for some ale “hours” later).

Yet Another Critical Failure

The dragon swoops in, it's teeth gnashing to rend you limb from limb... *roll roll* and face plants into the dirt.

The Dice Gods hate you.

Maybe the most hilarious times were when games featured amusing crit fail and fumble charts for your rolls. Now sure, the GM could have just come up with a hilarious story about you slipping and falling into your own sword, but when you had to make rolls on those charts and screwed up twice… that was classic. Some GMs make the roll for you on that chart but not always. How bad can it make you feel when not only did you completely mess up your attack but you’re also responsible for making the roll that caused you to lose an arm? Yet again, I blame the dice.

Mage the Awakening was one game that gave tons of people headaches when it came to critical failures. Not because there was a failure chart or anything. More so because the New World of Darkness system gave you so many dice that it seemed almost impossible to ever screw up that bad. I mean, when you have have dice pool of Twenty-Three d10s you would assume that at least one of those would roll in your favor. Yet this system seemed to magically penalize you for being too good at something. Cast some spells to enhance your dexterity and strength, no problem. Followed by a boosted roll to hit someone in the face with your fist… no successes and a couple 1s. Guy at the other end of the table with 3 dice to do the same punch? Somehow rolls 12 successes. Dammit!

As for those “Roll Under” systems, Eclipse Phase comes to mind with bad rolls. It seemed so easy at character creation to make sure your computer hacker had an 80 or higher in all his important skills. Then when it finally comes time to crack the security system on the door… you roll an 81. Oops. Well, at least this game has Moxie points to flip your roll. You did buy some extra Moxie, right? Not the drink… the in-game mechanic for improbable luck. Odds are you didn’t… I’ve seen lots of people assume they’d be fine with their character’s starting amount and then never use it for fear that there might be a better use later. I always made sure to buy a decent handful because I could never trust those wily dice. But fortune laughs at those with too much luck I suppose and my beloved percentile dice bought just for this game give me doubles. But doubles are a good thing, right? Well, not if you fail and they’re doubles… then its even worse. And Moxie won’t matter cause flipping that failed 88 roll would still make it an 88. Its so sad when your little AI scientist med-bot computer programmer can’t seem to ever shine at the things he was an expert in according to the numbers on the character sheet. Mainly I had my little transhuman Tachikoma scuttle around and hit things with his pneumatic limbs and hope for a quick end to fights.

I really hate screwing up so often…

Rolls highest initiative... Critcally fail all attack rolls.

Time to take a claw hammer to that D20.

Don’t we all? Afterwards the memories make for some great laughs with friends. Especially the ones who were there to witness it firsthand and fill in the worst details that you were trying to gloss over. Sometimes I wish life were that easy… screw things up a bunch, end the session, laugh about it, and move on. Sadly not the case most of the time.

Now how about we hear some of your best in-game mess ups? Did your diplomat completely fumble and start a war? Did your Chosen One born with the greatest skill among his people wind upĀ  whiffing every sword swing? How about your wise and learned Wizard whose bloodline was destined to obliterate the great darkness across the land… did all of his spells seem to fizzle in that final boss battle? I know you people have some good tales to tell.

If you want to let us know about your greatest role playing failures, leave us a comment below or send an email to CaffeinatedNeutral@gmail.com (if you’re too embarrassed to share publicly). Its therapeutic and healthy to let it out… so why not do so here? :) And don’t forget that you can follow our blog via email and RSS as well as becoming a fan of our Facebook page. Thanks for reading!

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