The Immortal Rants of Sean K. Reynolds – “Keen and Improved Critical are too good if they stack!”.

06/11/2007 (Day 341) - Memoir '44

Are you SURE these guys belong at the Tournament Kaptain Kobold?

Editorial0 has contributed a set of article-replies to some of Sean K. Reynolds rants about third edition design decisions. Those decisions have heavily influenced a lot of game designs since, so I’ll be putting those up – along with some additional comments.

To avoid excessive reprinting, you can find the general introduction to this series in the first article, HERE.

This particular rant is entitled “If Keen and Improved Critical Don’t Stack, The Terrorists Will Have Won” – and explains why the math underlying the weapons statistics calls for this to be so.

And to turn you over to Editorial0…

This is another rant where I agree with Mr Reynolds. In fact, I agree with him more here than almost anywhere else. I’m not going to criticize him here at all, because he has the right idea and his mathematics and his assumptions are all quite correct.

The problem is that things weren’t very well communicated to the audience, which resulted in an obnoxious “fix” being implemented in 3.5 edition D&D. It was a bad idea then, and it wasn’t needed, but this wasn’t adequately conveyed to the people playing the game. In fact, it apparently wasn’t communicated to the people writing the game after Sean K. left.

At the heart is the idea that all sensible combat styles (i.e., things not totally silly or obviously flawed) within the game should have some point to them. Otherwise, they don’t really need to be in there at all. They don’t have to be completely equal, but rather useful in different situations. (We’ve discussed a similar concept in our essays on Game Balance.)

Sean K. intended for one of those worthwhile styles to be Crit-stacking, where you focus around having a few surprisingly big attacks. Sure, you can’t rely on them all the time, but they add up and eventually even out to be roughly equivalent to other attacks.

He actually worked this out very well, and his averages are all correct. What probably happened, though, is that Game Masters did not like it – not at all. Crit Stacking is one of the few things which can wreck their day. They may put a lot of work into developing a monster or arch-nemesis, when a lucky Crit-stacker can instantly execute the poor target. And unfortunately, people may not always realize how events average out. You can easily ignore three mediocre attacks, because the one awesome blow is more vivid. Few GM’s remember that the Scythe-wielder hits so-so five times for every giant 100+ damage swing. And they are often going to miss the fact that the one giant swing may waste most of that damage on a creature that didn’t have many hit points left anyway.

This is one reason I’m beginning to consider some kind of “norm” explanation essential to gaming. Much of the time, players simply have no idea about what they ought to target their characters towards. How much combat will the game feature? How much stealth? How much puzzle-solving? How much travel? With some rough benchmarks, they have more to go on in designing characters and can fit things together more easily. Mostly this is a GM-directed idea, where the one running the game sets a certain amount of time aside for exploration, role-playing, puzzle-solving, and combat. Then the players can arrange their characters knowing what they’re getting into.

For a differing perspective, here’s a response

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