Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Critical Combat Systems in Competitive Gaming

In this article, retired Dungeon Master Derrick B. Smith delves into the history of Critical Combat Systems and explains why such systems may not be the best choice for competitive games.

Computer game players are finding more games with Critical Combat Systems for entertainment. The inclusion of a random critical system in a non-competitive game can bring a level of excitement. The inclusion in any competitive gaming environment is a mistake. It turns a competitive game from being fair and balanced to one of random dumb luck. Imagine tossing a 6-sided die to decide how many points a touchdown was worth in an American Football game.

The starting point for Critical System being introduced to gaming dates back to the beginning of the RPG genre. Typically seen as “House Rules,” many groups adopted the concept. Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and similar RPG games have simplified combat systems that lend themselves to the addition of a “Critical Strike”. Many groups would later go on to add a “Critical Fail” mechanic to their existing gameplay.
Photo taken by Davi Silva.

The D&D combat system used a 20-sided die (d20) roll for combat resolution. In its easiest form, any natural d20 roll of a 20 would allow for a “Critical Hit”. This allowed the attacker to double the damage the target suffers. There were many ways to resolve this double damage. Most groups’ double the full damage including any modifiers the player’s character was entitled to utilize. Other groups adopted a doubling of only the weapons base damage die than adding any modifiers unchanged. The main difference in the two systems was the maximum damage. The second reduced the potential significantly.

Other gaming systems added complex “Critical Strike” charts typically broken down into weapon groups and creature body type/armor. Though it allowed for more diversity in the results, they also slowed gameplay down. A talented Dungeon Master could story line the results without relying on any complex charts to add flavor to the game.

The Critical Fail system allowed for comical or tragic failures. The failure was rarely automatic and very dependent on the situation at the time of the failure. This shows why a true RPG requires a Human Game Master. Though computers are great for doing calculations and simplifying some tasks, they are not able to adapt to a changing story line based on game events and player decisions. The fumbling player would in many cases be required to make additional die rolls to reduce the negative result. An example would be to prevent breaking a weapon or hitting an ally or themselves.

As computer-based games developed, it was natural to see RPG-styled games created. A “Critical Strike” component added to non-competitive games can be more exciting than harmful. Within a Player vs Computer game, the effect of this random element does not add a noticeable negative aspect to the game. This is not true when you have games designed to be competitive or built with a Player vs Player (PVP) aspect. The random element that a “Critical Strike” adds could be compared to flipping a coin to determine who goes first in each round of a Chess Match. This random factor removes the development of tactical skills from many games. Players will still develop strategies for gameplay but there will be many who only try to score that Critical to win.

There are games designed to be competitive and the random luck “Critical Strikes” add diminishes the inherent skill component some games contain. Instead of an evolution of attacks and defenses strategies being developed, players migrate to getting lucky and falsely believe that luck is similar to true skills. Though a Critical Strike system brings uncertainty and a sense of suspense, the thrill does not last long and an enduring game fails to evolve.

Derrick B. Smith is a retired Dungeon Master. He started playing D&D and similar games before it was called 1st edition. He is still waiting for the first real RPG computer game to be developed. Also, Biker, Trucker, Gamer, Seamstress.


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