[Author's note: A reader asked me to explain this post. I'm amazed to find out that I have readers! But more to the point: this post is about the table top role playing game "Dungeons and Dragons", not about a computer game. If you don't know what D&D or RPG's are, then this one might be confusing. My apologies;)]
So Sarah Darkmagic posted an article called Swing and A Miss, where she's asking DM's and players to comment on "failure stories".
I've always DM'ed with a "house rule" for critical misses. Whenever a player rolls a 1, I ask them to roll a second D20 to see how bad the miss was. Then I arbitrarily choose a reasonable outcome, based entirely on the game context. No random deck for me! The outcomes are worse on low rolls, and sometimes even help the party if the second roll is high.
Most of the time the player will trip, stumble, or lose their balance, and find themselves granting combat advantage, or prone, or maybe just losing any remaining actions in the current turn. Weapons are dropped, axes get lodged into door frames or into opponent's shields, and the player will need to spend an action (perhaps with a skill test) to get it back. Ranged combat is dangerous - usually it ends up with the player rolling again to see if they hit the dwarven defender holding the line... Good thing defenders have armour.
Environmental effects are always fun. Players can slide down a slope, drop into water, or get tangled up in chains or ropes. Fire is also fun - there's nothing like setting fire to the temple you were trying to defend, and then having your group forever remembered for it. Spilling acids on the floor to create a new hazard, setting off traps, stapling the rogue's cloak to the door, or cutting the rope that holds the chandelier. These effects don't usually harm the players directly, but they often add tension and or humour to the combat.
If the second roll is exceptionally high, I have more fun with it. You missed the target, but somehow managed to thwack the invisible gnome that was sneaking up on you. The troll dodged your attack, but tripped backwards over into the well. Your sword is now lodged into the dragon's hide, so if he moves you can hold on and treat it as a grapple.
Rolling a second "1" is a double critical miss, and that's an entirely different story. The table goes quiet and grim faced players slowly turn to find out what has befallen their unfortunate friend. Recently a wizard blasted his familiar (an invisible, telepathic, and extremely moody Drake) who skulked off for several sessions before finally forgiving him. Another player rolled a double critical, and managed to lodge his magic axe into a stone column, and was only able to pry it out after the combat, breaking it in the process. My players felt I was exceptionally harsh on that one, but they didn't know that the party was one room away from an enchanted forge, which allowed the dwarf to repair his weapon.
In the last session we saw a spectacular run of bad luck as the party tried to clear out a cavern full of orcs. A fighter tried to use a chain to sweep some orcs into an underground stream. Critical miss, and he found his arm caught up in the chain. One action would have freed him, but he decided to press on and attack instead. Another critical miss and the chain was wrapped around one of his buddies, who was unimpressed. The orc then scored a critical hit on the buddy, knocking him into the fast flowing river, and after many failed attempts to free themselves, the fighter got dragged into the river as well. As the party rushed to aid the pair, one of the remaining orcs scored a knockout blow against the fighter, leaving him as a dead weight in the water, dragging his buddy downstream. Other party members grabbed on, but nobody could slow the progress (how many times can a party roll without scoring a "5" or better???) and slowly the human chain was dragged into the river.
The last free moving character was the familiar-less wizard. He finished off most of the orcs, and was facing the last surviving orc who was at this point down to one hit point (our group calls these "born again minions"). The orc wisely chose to drop his spear and fall on his knees in surrender, allowing the wizard to grab onto the last player in the chain. Although he failed the roll to pull the group out, he did provide enough ballast to stop them.
The party heaved a sigh of relief, thanking their lucky stars. Then the wizard heard the orc walk up behind him, and very gently push him in.
(Did I mention that sound of a thundering waterfall that the party had heard from up ahead?)