Critical Failures

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Predetermined negative effects that occur due randomness when trying a game action which don't occur during normal failures.

Many games require the outcome of player actions to be determined by a combination of randomness and the diegetic skill of the agent the player is using to perform that action. Critical Failures are specifically bad results that occur randomly which have (bad) effects beyond those possible through ordinary failures.

TV Tropes have an entry for Critical Failure[1].


GURPS, Hârnmaster and the World of Darkness games are examples of Tabletop Roleplaying Games that make use of Critical Failures. Performing magic in both Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Warhammer Fantasy Battle has a certain risk of causing supernatural being to take notice to the action and react to it.

Using the pattern

Designing Critical Failures in a game have three main components: deciding which actions can result in Critical Failures, what the effects are of those failures, and what should be the probabilities of such failures. Combat is probably the most common case where Critical Failures are used through the most specific pattern Critical Misses but actions requiring the use of Skills are also common since these Skills allow easy ways to construct algorithms that decide the probabilities of Critical Failures (meaning that these two patterns modulate each other). The negative effects of Critical Failures can be described as simply attributing specific Penalties to those suffering from them, but these Penalties are typically ones that one cannot get through ordinary failures. As just mentioned, Skills can be used to calculate the probabilities of Critical Failures, but these can also be modified by Tools (Weapons in the case of Critical Misses). Regardless of how the probabilities are determined, Randomness needs to be used to create Critical Failures since by definition the pattern does not depend directly on players' performances.


Critical Failures are a type of Critical Results and can become Exceptional Events. Rather obviously, they are in conflict with Critical Successes, and make Predictable Consequences less likely. Since they are based on Randomness rather than how well players' perform, they also work against Performance Uncertainty.


Can Instantiate

Critical Results, Penalties, Exceptional Events

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Critical Misses, Randomness

Can Be Modulated By

Skills, Tools

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Critical Successes, Predictable Consequences, Performance Uncertainty


New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. TV Trope's entry for Critical Failure.