's original charter: 3.x development

I found a lot of proofreading errors in one of the dark sun books and when I mentioned it to Flip, was given the opportunity to edit and proofread it. I’m not sure how much I can say prior to my edits being accepted or rejected. I don’t think it would make a difference either way, but I’d prefer to get an okay from Flip before I go into details, just in case. If it is accepted, then we should see one of the downloadable books get an update to a new version.

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Any news on this? I’m curious.

I have not heard back from Flip on this. I’m still waiting on him.

Sent him a PM in addition to my previous email. ^^

Does this mean that Dark Sun Online could be resurrected if it was done with 3rd Ed. rules?

Is this license still effective?

It also implies that 2nd Ed. is not available for development?

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The charter only covers the production of 3.x rpg material here on this site. Electronic games are not covered by the original charter, to the best of my knowledge.

WotC has not come forth with any new information regarding the charter of any of the official websites. So it’s a case of everyone assumes it’s still in effect as WotC hasn’t said anything to the contrary yet.

For those who are interested, and given that this is the thread about the Charter, here is the content of the Agreement (Please take note of Item 5, that’s the one I’m always going on about):

Official Homepage Requirements

Wizards of the Coast values its intellectual property a great deal, and it also values its customers who make purchase decisions based on their love of the IP. As sales dwindle on certain worlds that we create, we make the decision to no longer produce printed materials for these worlds. As Wizards of the Coast desires to keep previous customers happy with the investment they have made with our products, we allow select websites to take over the duties of providing new materials for retired intellectual properties.

In order to be considered an official website, the site must:

  1. Portray the intellectual property in a manner consistent with its positioning. This information can be found in the Brand Positioning documents. In lieu of these documents, work with the Brand Manager of D&D Worlds on an approved look.

  2. Retain the iconic heroes, locations, magical items, and artifacts. Official sites are not allowed to kill off major PCs, destroy well-known artifacts, and similar activities.

  3. Official sites must have links back to the Wizards of the Coast website that tie to:

  • Message Boards
  • Chat Rooms
  • Mailing Lists
  • Online Catalog
  • Online Store
  • Campaign Worlds
  • Dragon Magazine
  • Dungeon Adventures
  • Player Registry
  • Books

Official sites also must:

  1. …not create their own community sections that duplicate those services and features offered by the Wizards of the Coast website.

  2. Provide new content for fans within the guidelines in sections A and B. While there is a great deal of latitude granted in this regard, official websites should remain in close contact with the Brand Manager of D&D Worlds (

  3. Keep Wizards of the Coast related materials separate from other non-game sections of the website. This means we don’t want to see other business ventures mixed in with our intellectual property, such as pornographic offerings, get-rich-quick schemes, etc.

  4. Conduct its activities in a professional and businesslike manner. This means that all actions on the part of visitors to the website should conform to generally accepted business standards. Sites should never sell visitor information records to other firms for the purpose of marketing, for instance.

  5. Refer players to the Other Worlds section of the Wizards of the Coast page instead of their own URL. While many fans will bookmark your own page anyway, it’s important that fans receive the other information presented at the Other Worlds section.

  6. Make the material available for free. You’re not allowed to charge for access to official products.

We encourage fan sites to begin making updates to their content to bring it in-line with 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons as soon as possible. We will begin phasing out web pages that do not offer 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons content soon after the launch of the new game system in August 2000.

In exchange for providing all of the official new material for an intellectual property, Wizards of the Coast agrees to:

  • Provide prizes and other support materials at a level established by the D&D Worlds Brand Manager.

  • Establish a direct link from the Wizards of the Coast web page to the official fan site.

  • Have only a single source for all official content, that being your site. Other sites that wish to be listed as part of the IP will be directed to the official website.

This agreement will change as business necessities force us to alter the manner in which we do business. Should the intellectual property currently being supported by the official website be brought back into print, the official status of the web site will be removed and Wizards of the Coast will begin creating new content to support the relaunch of the game (or work with the current official site to migrate content over). (Italics added)

Content created on the official website is considered to be derivative work (as it is based on the intellectual property owned by Wizards of the Coast). This means that fan-created add-ons (such as new net books, adventures, etc.) are jointly owned by both Wizards of the Coast and the creator; neither can do anything outside the official website without the permission of the other.

Good Gaming!
Jim Butler, Brand Manager
D&D Worlds
Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

This Concludes the official Agreement.

Note that depending on how the italicized section just above is interpreted, the publishing of the 4th ed version of Dark Sun could be interpreted as having already ended Athas’ charter, since it was “brought back into print,” even if it wasn’t a 3.x product. As the owner of the website works for WotC (last I heard) I imagine that it wouldn’t be hard to obtain permission, unless it was considered a conflict of interest.

Since no official statement clarifying whether this is or is not the case, we arrive at our current circumstances.


A lot to unpack there. I can’t see a conflict of interest as there is no financial harm, we keep to the canon, there’s no competition, and the reach of the brand is only increased by this website. I appreciate your posting that full charter. I will review it intently.

It’s long been my dream to piece back together DSO. I will be careful how I tread on this topic, no need to kick a hornet’s nest.

We’re eight years since the last DSun publication out of WotC… 4e rerelease didn’t sell well?

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Nijineko - good find. All I can say is that its out of print now lol.

The only conflict of interest I was speaking of was regarding the owner of the site specifically. With regards to an electronic game, that’s more of a licensing issue and rights issue. Who currently owns the rights to produce a product derivative game? Either WotC or some game company, depending on if the rights reverted or not once the work was done.

For example, Steve Jackson Games has long been in a fix with regards to the Car Wars based computer game Autoduel. As was common back in the day, the rights for producing electronic games was signed over to Origin System, and eventually wound up in the hands of EA when they purchased all the IP owned by Origin. As such, SJG cannot produce an MMO, or any kind of electronic game for that matter, based on the Car Wars property. They’ve been trying to negotiate the return of those rights for decades.

Any such effort would have to enter negotiations or at least discussions with WotC lawyers before proceeding, lest any fan work get shut down mid-stream for infringement on the right to produce the game, not use of IP, per se.

Having said all of that, I’d be very interested in a 3.x based Dark Sun game that really brought psionics to life.


Thank you for your continued input. Looks like SSI became part of Ubisoft many years ago. I will examine this issue carefully. I will start with a contact to Ubisoft.

No problems! I’d also reach out to WotC’s lawyers or similar, chances are they know who has which rights currently. After all, the SJG thing happened decades ago, and they were a small company who was busy recovering from being raided by the Secret Service. ^^ Times change. Especially since Hasbro owns WotC, very little chance of any IP “getting lost”, as it were.

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Wow, I wish I would have found these forums about 20 years ago. I browse all the time, but never went to the arena. I’d love to help in any way I can, but it seems my thoughts on a lot of how Psionics should work, and especially on how Psionics and Magic should interact, puts me in the minority.

Psionics never get the amount of attention they are due because they have a bad reputation. Period. It dates back to people going cross-eyed in the first Dark Sun boxed set when reading the explanation of MTHAC0, and Wizard players huffing and puffing because Psionicists worked off of a point system that allowed them to empower on the fly and “not memorize all of their spells at the beginning of the day”. The bad rap has been that they’re complicated and overpowered ever since, and likely is what made Dark Sun seem less attractive to publishers/developers/players - It was reliant on this “bad experiment”.

In 3.5 rules set, we’re in an era of spontaneous casting, metamagic, and other things that didn’t exist when this reputation formed, but Psionics superficially still look the same to the uninitiated except metapsionic feats, which do nothing to tamp down the reputation of being “silly and OP” that persists. That MTHAC0 is gone removes some of the intimidation factor, but also removes one of the neat features that set Psionics apart from magic - people have an effective AC to protect them. Psionic powers look like they are more-or-less balanced against magic, have power points that a lot of people think exist just to pump up psionic powers unfairly, and often resolve like magic. Add in a lot of the easier to find material gives the impression psionic items are intended for psionic characters, and no wonder there is a bias. No one thinks a Flaming Burst Longsword is for a Wizard, because it obviously isn’t.

If you want more Psionics, you have to make them more appealing, accessible, and set them further apart from magic. Barbarian class abilities are what I like to call “pseudo-magic”… They’re obviously magical, but they’re set so far apart and presented in such a way that people don’t think about Rage as being Bull’s Strength and Bear’s Endurance, but with limitations on actions that can be taken, a short duration, and a hangover. I’d consider bringing back a kind of mental AC, with WIS or INT standing in for DEX (complete with flat-footed state if charmed, sleeping, etc) and a universal skill for all non-psionic classes that can be purchased at cross-class rates to further improve the mental AC, and as a class skill for Psionic classes. Then, the idea of using points to empower manifestations will be more appealing, and the cost/benefit ratio can be tweaked so the Psionicist gets more reliable bang for their power point buck. Then, increase the number of points and eliminate metapsionics or tweak the presentation… Barbarians don’t get “Metarage” feats. If you want more Psionics and less magic, stop making them use the same terminology. Finally, create and dump out an equipment list of psionically powered and crafted items obviously not intended for psionics users, and make them do things magical enchantments don’t. How about an “Inertial Sword” that gives a +2 AC enhancement bonus if used in the main hand, increased to +4 if held in the off hand if the character can dual wield, and stops the character from being counted as flanked unless surrounded by 3+ enemies? You just got the attention of every frustrated DW Fighter in the building, and maybe a few Rogues.

Finally, I saw a lot of mention of the philosophical debate on if Psionics are or are not Magic… and that is kind of a waste of time in my opinion. They’re not. It is clearly said that The Way comes from within and then without, and resolving it as “B Team Magic” is a lazy development solution. Dark Sun is the setting of Psionics, and basing what goes on here on what other settings have said is like Dragonlance basing how Kender act on the Halflings from Forgotten Realms post the year 2000 or so. That being said, if magic and psionics have coexisted for thousands of years, it is safe to assume that both disciplines would have figured out ways to sniff out the presence of the other. Allowing Detect Magic, the spell, to become Detect _____ and the caster deciding if it is “Detect Magic” or “Detect Psionics” at the time of casting is no big deal. Just make it so the psionic items get a DC or save to go undetected. The opposite would be true for the psionic Detect Psionics, and it would be magic that gets a “save” to go undetected if it is used as Detect Magic, etc.


Interesting thoughts!

Personally I’ve always wanted to explore the development of psionics as a survival mechanism in reaction to the post apocalyptic wasteland that humanoids have made of Athas… a rise of the psi-mutant animals versus a dwindling humanoid remnants concept.

Also, expanding magic is a stupid choice in a setting where magic is feared because of the destruction, because of defilers, and because of evil overlords. Magic should be lost tech, dangerous, unpredictable, and deadly, regardless of use or intent. All magic should backfire, even when successful. Casting magic, for any reason, even with the purest of motives, should harm the caster and defile them. Magic is evil in the setting and source books should treat it as such.

Psionics should be dominant, and the normal way of life.


I was almost done with an initial reply, and decided to look at the two resources that cover this material. I’m glad I did, because I was wrong, and you were right. I’ve run a ton of games in the Dark Sun setting using various ways to wedge things into place with this edition’s rules, but my players, cumulatively, played a grand total of 1 psionic class 1 time, and as a DM I was usually raiding these books for tables/powers/feats/etc and not reading them with an eye to constructing a whole, viable setting. My gripe with this edition’s psionics has always been its reduction to just another kind of magic in that its saves are calculated in the same fashion as any standard spell, and generally speaking it is easy to victimize the low Will save value for a lot of player classes. I always felt that the developers missed a golden opportunity to do something different. Hence my crack about bringing back a Mental Armor Class instead of usual saving throw calculations, which was only about half a joke. Powers seem like they should have a different feel than spells, even if it is just a sort of illusion and the math works out relatively the same, though with feats and augmentations they are capable of being… interesting… for sure.

Just glancing through with a different purpose, the actual workings of psionics are explained in one book, garbled in the other, and certainly need to be condensed down into a concise page or two for a setting in which they are so important. If the DM has some experience and knows what is needed and what should happen, there is more than enough information here to run a game, but there is not enough content to form the core of a vaunted setting that holds psionics as a central aspect of what makes it unique.

All the same, I don’t think the authors of this site/Dark Sun Core Rules are to blame for not moving quicker. For a lot of reasons, expanding further on this looks like a time consuming effort in the extreme, and it might be easier to focus on other things first, especially if psionic classes aren’t the most popular among players. There is enough to effectively make the setting work in terms of monsters and NPCs, but not enough to put psion types on equal footing with, say, a Wizard from Forgotten Realms, which is the closest thing that leaps to mind as a possible equivalent to a Master of the Way on Athas. People trying to make Dark Sun what it should be are really on an uphill climb when one of two resources for psionics has a page full of identical feats, the only difference being the shape of the same psychic weapon in question…

This would be a good candidate for a straw poll on which powers, feats, and classes the community thinks need the most attention, followed by a second poll on if new powers, feats, classes, prestige classes, or items are most important to them. Then at least there would be a starting point, and there are people around to at least spitball ideas. I’d still love to see psionics stretched to fill gaps where magic leaves off and get into that rare air of being “not just another kind of magic” again, but there is a definite need to broaden things out to fit the status of The Way on Athas.

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Part of the problem with game design in D&D is the legacy information, rules structures, and unwritten assumptions.

Another part of the problem is the built in game assumption that the players will try to screw the game and screw the story - so the DM should screw the players whenever they try it.

For example, take a look at the rules structures inherent in 3rd ed:

• random number generation for stats
• point buy rule for skills
• option select rule for feats
• every feat is a unique rule.
• package type option select rule for classes and levels
• every power and spell is its own unique rule apart from the rest of the game
• option select rule for races
• many races have unique rules
• optional selection rule for templates, bloodlines, and alternate class features
• resource exchange rule for equipment and magic items
• more unique rules for magic item creation

… You get the point by now, I’m sure. It’s a giant mess. This is why the game is considered complex with a high learning curve.

So, enter psionics.

Psionics has existed in every edition of the game since the Original rules… except 5th. (Which is why I won’t play 5th until they release official psionics rules. )

At first they tried to make the rules unique, but as editions passed they found it caused problems, especially with how they viewed the action system of psionics versus magic and physical combat.

Thus in 3rd they tried to harmonize the rules with the rest of the game, with some success. While it made psionics more accessible, it also reduced the unique feel, plus they were probably leery of repeating the previous mistakes.

The skill system is not robust enough to handle skill based abilities, as was proven with the Truenamer. So that’s sadly not an option in 3rd or d20 unless they fix the skill system.

The feat system is horribly broken, given the several thousand feats available, and the decided lack of theme or harmony in how they should work. So a feat based system is not likely to work.

Class features and levels of classes, races, templates, bloodlines, and alternate class features are what we have now, and it’s not pretty, even if it mostly works… if everyone cooperates and agrees on imposed limits of some kind.

Any new system would suffer from support and adoption issues unless it really managed to take hold.

The takeaway?

Some people are going to have to do an awful lot of work to make anything happen, and then even more work to spread the word.

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I’d also add in the imbalance in Prime Requisite value in regards to saving throws.

Most classes don’t get a great Will save, and don’t particularly have a good reason other than saving throws to put value into Wisdom.

The classes that do get decent Will save values are often classes that highly prize Wisdom, or retain it as their Prime Requisite, so their saves are notably higher.

Only 3 scores contribute to saving throws as a rule, so wizards that have Intelligence as their Prime Requisite and actually carry a good advancement in Will Save don’t benefit from their best score.

Lots of spells and spell like things that are frighteningly effective pummel the Will save. Reflex saves are usually to avoid damage, Fortitude is often either damage or an environmental effect. For example, a L4 Cleric with access to the FR setting spell list with nothing but a holy symbol, dagger, and a smile can dominate a L20 Fighter in level appropriate equipment. The FR list includes a trio of low level spells that can lower a target’s Will Save via Morale, Luck, and Enhancement effects (if memory serves), so they all “stack” as it were, and the Fighter has a hard enough time beating the save from a L1 Divine spell if the caster has a high enough mod to begin with. If all 3 hit and the Fighter has no gear on him to help him make saving throws or avoid being immobilized, his Will save will compute down into the negatives and he is a Hold Person and a full turn action coup de grace away from death by a L4 Cleric with a dagger.

You’re right about the feats, but I think that is more due to a rush to produce new material to sell more products and too many cooks in the kitchen. The system has merit, but it went in every direction at once and wasn’t always reigned in by common sense and balance.

The skill based abilities I’m not entirely sure about. Just because it hasn’t been executed properly does not mean it is not possible, but in my experience most DMs and players have never heard of Synergies, so it is likely best avoided due to lack of interest.

Classes/races/templates/bloodlines/variant class options/etc are very much a victim of the same issue as feats. Great system in principle, but a victim of too much additional material being produced too fast by too many different people.

Two years ago I was asked to do a Dark Sun conversion for 5th by some folks. I spent a month just getting the Templar class and all of its different “path” options down, one for each SK. Went to find where Psionics were hidden, as I don’t care for 4th or 5th and don’t know them exceptionally well beyond everything I don’t like about them, and couldn’t find any. After much searching I found notes on the 5e Psionics that were “in playtesting” at the time and were teased in an article. They didn’t look like anything to be as excited about as the developers seemed to be, and in fact, they didn’t even look like they had thought put into them. That 5e still does not have Psionics tells me I was right to tell my friends a 5E conversion wasn’t currently possible and shelving all the work I had put in.

I think that d20 in an of itself is essentially a broken system. I argue with people all the time about this. It doesn’t mean it is bad, and it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, but there are a ton of little things I see that tell me d20 was never fully finished in the bare-bones concept stage, and was brought to market too fast. The system always breaks down in the middle levels. The question is how to get what we can out of it.

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I would like to disagree on one point.

The D&D system, and by extension the d20 system that was based on it are not broken.

Broken, by definition means it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do.

D&D does exactly what it was designed to do, and what it was designed to do is to become a completely different game at different level groups. The fact that people don’t expect the game to change under them midstream is why people mistaken call it broken.

In other words, they aren’t playing the game as it was designed!

According to Gygax’s and Arneson’s original designs, the low levels are for dungeon crawling, survival, save or die lotteries, and the torch and ration management inventory mini game. Note the extensive rules for hirelings, cohorts, followers, and so forth, as it becomes important for early survival and the key to the mid stages of the game. Think 90% combat, 10% rp and other stuff.

Then in the mid levels, the game suddenly changes and you’re supposed to become a team leader with each character leading a group of followers and establishing a base somewhere, defending your turf, launching the occasional expedition, and joining wars for your king (who is the one who sponsored your wizards tower, fighter’s keep, monks monastery, and so forth).

This is where D&D shows its wargaming roots again, and you are supposed to be the commander of forces up to the size of battalions. The game also becomes a political game of negotiation and diplomacy with only the occasional combat. Think 50% rp, 10 to 20% other stuff, and 30 to 40% combat with most of that being large scale armies.

Then, the game changes again at high levels. At high levels, you are supposed to leave your home plane, and explore the great beyond, engaging in epic battles, and negotiation with strange races and forces beyond the ken of normal mortals. Sweeping storylines, and sinister plotting are the par for the course.

Then, your character is supposed to retire, and you start over at level one with a new character.

A lot of the hidden assumptions in the game are based around this premise.

Sadly, most of the modern designers keep all this legacy stuff, without considering that modern players don’t know any of it, and thus the game always turns strange on them…

So, that opens a couple of possible ways to “fix” the game, depending on if one will stick with original intent, or do something new with the underlying assumptions.


Oh, I played AD&D as my first RPG, I remember all of that. One of my favorite things to do when I get drafted into DMing “newer” players is having them down a monster with a treasure hoard, giving them the weight of the hoard, and watching their heads blow up when they realize they can’t carry all of it by themselves. The henchmen and “home base” mechanics of the older systems made a lot of sense in so many ways, and by level 12-15 you were the one sponsoring your henchmen to go do quests and giving them rewards.

I miss that stuff, but the legacy effect isn’t entirely what I am talking about.

In my opinion, d20 has some insidious little math issues that undermine the system. I’ve had trouble explaining all of it in the past, so I’ll give a couple cliched examples.

A level 1 character has a 20’x20’x20’ bale of hay he must search through and find a needle in 30 seconds, or his party dies at the hands of the villain holding them captive. The DC is 55 due to the sheer mass of hay and the small size of the needle. The character did not take any ranks in search during generation, and has no modifier bonus.

Chance for success: 1 in 20.

A level 20 character has a 20’x20’x20’ bale of hay he must search through and find a ten foot long, 8 inch diameter log in 30 seconds, or his party dies at the hands of the villain holding them captive. The DC is 8 due to the sheer size of the log. The character has 5 ranks in search and a 2 bonus from his modifier.

Chance for failure: 1 in 20.

A character has 18 strength. When does he count his strength as 18? Lift/pull/drag/carry/max lift off of ground, and for meeting prerequisites for feats and sometimes maybe an item. For any and all other functions, his strength is effectively 4, because, aside from the above mentioned exceptions, the modifier is always used instead of the score. Why is this? With a variable of 1-20, 18 is a honking big number, so they had to find a way to reduce it, but wanted to keep the “legacy” look of rolling up on 3d6 with 18 as a max score (though they did do away with 18.99 STR for fighters). It would be better to roll stats on d4s and just adjust the immutable table numbers in the PH and the prerequisites to reflect the new normal. Staying with a needlessly high number that has a silly mechanic to reduce it to a workable value plays into players wanting higher numbers associated with advancement, and that is a big source of power creep. If players have a 4 STR, a belt of giant’s strength +2 is a big deal. If players have a 18 STR, it isn’t, so the dev’s release stuff with +6 and +8 values, which the modifier rule reduces to +3 and +4, hammering away at the power of a 1-20 variable to provide balance in the process.

1-20 is a small variable window to allow for advancement, especially given 1 is always a failure when it is rolled, and 20 is always a success when it is rolled. I’m sure most everyone who has ever played has been in a challenging encounter (usually between levels 9 and 13 or so) and found himself saying, “So long as I don’t roll a 1 I’m good.” That is an indicator of game math breaking down, because you’re only challenged by the prospect of a 1 in 20 chance of automatic failure, and the rest of the balancing factors are beginning to fall away.

Just my viewpoint, though.


Actually, in 3rd ed, skills don’t have the critical success or failure mechanic. Only attack rolls.

But I do recall what you mean, myself. And yes, the “1-20 plus some value” range is a pretty small to represent all the possible outcomes for every possible situation.

Speaking of failing to represent, let’s bring up hit points while we are on the topic. In a world where hit points don’t represent actual physical damage, but rather “overall durability and endurance”, why, why, WHY does one cap falling damage to a maximum of 20d6… especially when high level characters can easily take that much damage and walk away.

And why is one perfectly capable of full combat capability at 1hp, unconscious only at exactly 0 hp, and dying at -1 to -9, and dead at -10… unless the damage is nonlethal, in which case you are actually unconscious instead.

Potion miscibility, magic misfire, and why don’t we have a matching critical fail mechanic to match the critical hit one? Critical tables?

Is there no official way to get broken bones in D&D?

Grappling rules… argh.

Lack of knockback rules - I’m sorry, but when a storm giant hits a halfling, even if he’s a level 20 mega-halfling, that pint sized hero is going to go flying into the next time zone. And take falling damage… which he will probably walk away from.

I could go on. So many things to address.

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Falling damage cap is due to terminal velocity, I think, though I believe that it should take longer to get there.

The 1 HP thing I guess is a cut off that has to be made somewhere, 1, 0 and -1 are good places for arbitrary cut-offs. I’m more interested in why HP can go below 0 but ability damage is death at 0.

The Critical fail thing I almost used instead of the haystacks example of d20 strange math. I imagine because a 1 in 20 (minimum) chance to score a critical got caught in playtesting and confirmation was a… uh… easy solution? Failure likely wasn’t seen as the same balance issue, though it really can be, especially in Dark Sun when rolls of 1 tend to break your equipment.

Bone has a hardness, but I think debilitating physical injuries like that are automatically “patched” by magical healing.

There is a way to do knockback… Either it is an obscure rule in one of the lesser used tomes or you pull it out of a fighter feat. Can’t recall.

Oh, and you try explaining to players 20 doesn’t mean they win. I long ago gave up on that and let people win on 20 and lose on 1 in all situations, not just combat. I thought it was an acceptable variant from the DMG I or II, but either way it is a house rule that has been around for so long I forgot it isn’t printed law, lol. Apologies, but it did serve to illustrate my point.

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