Our game night doesn’t have goal posts, a football, or three hundred pound linebackers. Instead we have a kitchen table, some dice, and pizza fueled co-workers ready to slay a dragon. Halfway into the night, our bard is out of potions and the ranger is in the bathroom, again. A scarlet serpent roars, and we know we have only one more chance. The paladin grabs a die, swings his hammer, and let’s both clatter: stone to wood, steel to scale. The ranger curses at the sight, toilet flushing in distance. The Game Master, myself, laughs, as the number one gleams against the sky.
A critical failure signals the worst possible outcome, yet it creates some of the funniest moments in gaming history. Some authors love writing failure. (We’re looking at you Mr. Martin.) And more than a few memories are made from seeing that dreaded one. Here are a few books that a crafty Game Master can use to inspire some terrible, yet side-splitting, consequences the next time one of your players roll a natural one.
The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson is a fantasy set in a time reminiscent of the Old West. The opening sequence shows how to start a game fast, hard, all the while creating dire outcomes. If interested in seeing how luck can create chaos, this is a must read.
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie has the grittiness of Martin, but doesn’t shy away from the realities that even heroes sometimes face. Ever wondered what would happen if your character really became crippled? What about using a rapier to fight a broadsword? Any of Abercrombie’s battle scenes depict the chaos of warfare while showing that no matter how hard some people try, even heroes fail.
Finally, Redshirts By John Scalzi is a fantastic work that shows how failure can be terrible and hilarious at the same time. This work won a Hugo and is easy to see why it deserved such a high honor.
Next time a player rolls a fatal one, don’t settle for few points of damage. Have their fireball tear into the dragon, only to transform it into something more sinister than it was before.