How to arbitrate a critical failure out side of Combat and Spell casting In AAIE:
In AAIE if a character takes and action the Gm does some figuring (and only the GM) the player rolls 3D20 and compares a die value to the difficulty number the GM has assigned. If the players roll is equal to or lower than the difficulty number the player succeeds if not they fail. Simple enough.
Where things get interesting is in that one of those three dice thrown is designated a "Result Die" which determines how successful the characters action is. If a character fails and that result die is also a 1 then the character has committed a fumble and those can be astoundingly bad.
(statistically critical fumbles and critical successes happen somewhere in the neighborhood of .075 percent of the time and are unaffected by level or character ability. In effect extreme failure or extreme success are plain cosmic luck of the dice.)
There is a chart of 100 combat fumbles, and a chart of 100 spell casting fumbles, most of which fall solidly into the category of "oh crap I'm dead." These charts are working fine in games when they do come up the rolls create quite a bit of tension .
What we ran into last game is the situation where a player fumbled a general skill check. For the record I think it was an underground Lore check. If he had simply failed I could easily say, "You know nothing about this area," or "You have never heard of this kind of rock formation before."
The problem comes up when a player fumbles a general check there should be something worse as a result then simply not succeeding. A fumble remember is the whim of the cosmos telling the player that on a very personal level, the dice hate them.
Here are my thoughts:
- It is impossible to create a "chart of Fumbles" that could capture all of the possible general checks that may or may not happen in a game.
- If the player fumbles a skill check the GM must decide if the check is a physical check or an information check.
- Physical checks are things like Riding, Climbing or lifting, or what have you. Generally Anything that might be modified by Athletics, Brawn, or Resolve or Appearance.
- Information checks are things like lore checks or tracking checks. An information check involves the player trying to find something out or discern something particular. Any check that might be modified by Academics, Knowledge, Focus or Leadership will generally be informational checks.
- All general check fumbles will be described by the GM. (And the GM should make it MEMORABLE Damn it)
- General check fumbles will always result in the player earning a story point.
- Physical check fumbles should result in damage, described by the GM.
- It is not "Your character falls down the hill," Rather it is " Your character bounces down the hill and lands unnaturally on his neck, everyone hears a loud cracking sound, a white light flashes before his eyes and for a second he can't feel his feet. IT's all so frightening that it takes a moment for him to realize he has also landed on a Fire ant mound."
- The damage should be at least 1D10 per level of the victim (yeah that's steep, it should be! The character just fumbled. Lets be honest here, your character likely just tripped and fell face first on a rusty rake made out of hate.)
- For informational checks this is the only time I would ever say to the GM .. LIE TO THE PLAYER.
- The player knows he just fumbled the roll is right there on the table, so the player is in on the joke.
- Have at it, give the player the most off base information possible, make it grand.
- The Character was trying to track wolves through the woods, tell him "You find the tracks but they end abruptly, by the looks of this are some thing ate the wold and stopped off to the south." The character is researching a magic item and fumbles! Great they discover "You seem to be holding Evan Sword of Dragon Slaying!" right up until they face a dragon and realize their research was way off base
- At that point Its up to the player how his or her character processes the results of the bad roll.
General skill check fumbles are good instances for pointing out the story game influence in AAIE. While the guide lines above give a frame to hang the results of a horrible roll, it again comes back to the creativity of the GM and the players to arbitrate the results. A fumble on a information check could easily send the party spinning off in a new and horridly misinformed direction. The Gm and the players need to be accepting of this style of play for it to work out.