When Ultimate is ultimately low


You spot a weakness in the Orc’s defenses. He’s lowered his shield. A blunder. You wind up and… miss his jugular by a hair, just nicking at the skin of his neck.


I let players roll to confirm fumbles. On a nat 1, they roll again. Miss and it’s a fumble, hit and it’s just a big failure.

To me, the Ultimate d12 has the “roll to confirm” built in. If you roll a 1 or a 2 on the d12, you just didn’t confirm the crit.

With that said, if a low ULT roll is too much of a bummer, I would go with the max effort on a Nat 20 suggestion. Still makes the Nat 20 sweet, while allowing the room to confirm those crits. Rerolling below a threshold seems like a pity handout from the GM and I don’t love that from a player perspective.


You could replace the Ultimate on Crit Hit with 3d12, thus the min is 3 plus any bonus but the max is still 12 plus bonuses. This gives more median damage on crits as the average will be about 7 to 8.

Personally, though I am more of a fan of the crit cards from Pathfinder or the crit hit tables in Warhammer 40K. I don’t care for the added damage but rather the added status effect you could apply on the crit hit. This adds flavor to the hit, not just damage. It also keeps the encounter from becoming just a contest of who can deplete the other side’s pool of hp first.

You could use either method by making your own set of crit cards. Or Crit table based on the two methods mentioned above.


you could also as an added perk let the player who rolled the crit grant a hero coin to a party member, a simple but very beneficial thing to symbolize raising the moral of the party.


At our table, when you roll a nat 20 you add the 1d12 and results 1-4 on it are considered a 5 result.

so for like a sword…

1d6 + 5-12 additional damage

been working well for us


I like this idea better than the re-rolling below a threshold because it keeps the “low rolls are the worst outcomes” meta-rule intact. I might go for this if the maxing out of the normal effort die turns out to be too deadly. (The latter still feels the most natural to me.)


I’ve been thinking on this and its interesting that the D12 is dedicated for ULT, it can be buffed by character creation, but it rarely receives points for this purpose. With my project I’ve been trying to show some love to the “ULT stat” as a bonus for growing as a character. If you have +3 in ULT, this becomes less of an issue, and one can get a 15 point bonus with a max roll! All these proposed solutions are excellent and it has me thinking that poor neglected part on the character sheet and how it can become more interesting in my games.


One thing to note if you intend of making this change is; the change to the Ultimate roll should only be applied to the Crit Hit damage, not any other time the Ultimate die is rolled. There are some Equipment or Milestone Rewards that allow for the roll of Ulitmate Effort in place of the normal effort die.


I think the lion’s share of the effort bonuses are going to TOOL and MAGIC, at least for fantasy games, since most people roll with “TOOL bonus to your weapon, even if/when it does ULT”. BASIC similarly receives littles attention.


I agree that both ULT and BASIC don’t get as much love as the other Efforts

I’ve been trying to make BASIC more appealing by having Martial Artists do 2d4 + Basic with their unarmed attacks instead of the vanilla 1d6

so if you have +1 to basic effort it would be 2d4 +1 damage

and attached it to some status effects like poison doing BASIC damage/round instead of a static amount (consider they have to successfully hit the enemy and then the enemy has to fail a CON save to gain this poison makes it not as OP as it looks initially.)

So if you have +2 to basic effort then poison would deal 1d4 +2 each round


unless the buffs are homebrewed for every 2 points it receives the crit range drops


I’m not personally keen on the “martial arts as super power” thing, but I do love to make BASIC part of the strength or duration of abilities.


What do you mean? Crit is a NAT 20 in ICRPG, other than a few loot items.


I was leaning in the other direction: 1d4 + bonus to me seems like too much damage from unarmed attacks for many characters. I’m considering making damage from unarmed attacks 1 HP always, except for fighters trained in unarmed combat who get the 1d4 + bonus.


i meant it as for every 2pts or even more balanced every 5pts in uintaite your crit threshold goes from from 20 down to 19 or 18


I’m not following; is this your house rule, in which for so many points put into a single category, you get an increased crit range as a bonus?


Yes, for me it gives players a reason to invest in effort of all kinds


If a character rolls a Nat 20, everyone at the table cheers. I immediately tell the player to mark that mastery bubble! And then the player rolls his damage/effort with his bonus, and then rolls an extra D12 for the critical success.

And if the effort roll plus the D12 are low, let’s say the total result is minimum, a 3, you’re right, it is a bit of a downer. But. As the DM, I just narrate the result. Sometimes the enemy just gets grazed, even when the shot is perfect. But the dice have spoken.

To lesson the letdown, I might also award a hero coin in that moment. Or I might confer some other benefit that isn’t just damage: the enemy is now pinned down and will roll hard next round, or the enemy is off balance and your next attack is Easy on that enemy.

There’s no science to this. It’s all art: staying present in the moment and adjudicating the moments in the fiction as they happen. Sometimes a low dice roll is just that. It’s all part of the game.

I note that some folks have pointed out the rule in Altered State where any roll below a 5 on a D12 is re-rolled. This happens (to the delight of players) because of the tone of Altered State: you can get pumped full of bullets and still stand back up, and most of the Runners are always walking away with explosions going off behind them. That’s a totally different feel in a different genre, so I don’t recommend it in the normal run of fantasy or other games. Just accept the dice results and move on. Don’t overthink it.


I agree whole heartedly with Alex here, and highly suggest the use of other benefits as he said such as ‘off balancing’, ‘bleeding wound’, ‘blinded in one eye’ or ‘hamstrung’. You can offer narrative reasons for the detriment and the player will still feel the exhilaration of the crit hit even if the damage is low because they caused a secondary effect that hurts their foe’s ability to be as effective in combat.

Taking it out of the combat mode you can apply this reasoning to social encounters where the players must meet a threshold of influence measured in hearts to succeed the encounter. A nat 20 may ‘grease the gears’ of conversation, allowing the player to glean additional information or advantage to their next roll in some capacity.