If Wizard is showing emotion, you know it’s got to be bad. My feelings on the other hand are a little more complicated.

There are undeniably some amazing stories that come out of botched rolls, and failure is by no means a bad thing in RPGs. Failure results in drama and tension, and those are things we like. The problem comes up when frequency and severity bump heads. You see, in the d20 system, any given die roll has a 1/20 chance to come up as a 1. In most versions of the system that’s just a missed attack or a failed save. However, if you happen to play at one of those wacky tables where any 1 on the die becomes the worst possible outcome for the situation, then you’ve got some bad times headed your way. Shall we do the math? Let’s shall.

Take your average level 1 monk fresh from the monastery. That sweet flurry of blows class feature means he gets two attacks, right? Bully for him. Now the formula for figuring out the odds of at least one of those dice coming up 1 is explained right here. For our purposes, it can be rendered as:

1−[(19^2)/(20^2)] = 39/400 = 9.75%

Our acolyte is going to botch on a little less than one in ten of his turns. Not bad for a young pup. Now let’s turn our attention to the legendary kung fu master Clown Shoes. Clown Shoes has studied for long years, survived countless hardships, and reached the pinnacle of his art. In other words, he’s a 20th level monk who can flurry for seven attacks. Legendary kung fu master indeed. But check out the probability that he will roll at least one botch on those 7 dice.

1−[(19^7)/(20^7)] = 386128261/1280000000 ≈ 30.2%

That means Clown Shoes is going to botch almost a third of time he makes his full complement of attacks. Remember the “frequency and severity” stuff I mentioned up top? Well there’s the frequency issue. Here’s the severity half of the equation: If you just say “it’s a miss” when Clown Shoes rolls his 1, then everything’s peachy. He keeps on with the rest of his 7 Petals Of the Immaculate Lotus Kata or whatever he’s choosing to call it this week. If, however, you declare that a 1 means he loses the rest of his attacks, punches his buddy in the head by mistake, or else falls down a flight of nearby stairs, then you begin to understand where Clown Shoes gets his name.