One of the most essential elements of the D6 system as it has come to exist is the Wild Die. Within the Core Rulebooks under the Open Gaming License, we find a fair description of what happens one rolls the Wild Die with the exception of one statement: “If the Wild Die comes up as a 1 on the first roll, this is a Critical Failure. Tell the gamemaster, who will let you know whether or not to add it to your total.” Those who have been steadfast fans of the D6 system have resisted the idea of calling the 1 on the Wild Die a “critical failure” for several reasons, and many have even been surprised that the words were used in the latest incarnations of the rule systems. The following will explain why there is a resistance to suggesting a one is a failure, and then provide GMs and players of a broader understanding of how a one may affect game play.
It is unsurprising why so many D6 GMs resist the notion of a one being a critical failure, particularly if they are well versed in other gaming systems. Many gamers have been exposed to various systems, particularly the d20 system. In the d20 system, as many are aware, one rolls a 20-sided die representing a broad range of result in terms of success or failure. Rolling a 20 often is a critical success, meaning an automatic success, and often with additional bonuses such as doubling damage on a hit. Similarly, a one is a critical failure, and the action automatically fails even if all other bonuses added to the one would result in meeting the designated difficulty number. Taking such ideas from the d20 system and imposing that on the Wild Die leaves one with a skewed idea of how the Wild Die works. Many gamers new to the D6 system have commented that they dislike a system where they have a 33% chance of a critical success or a critical failure, assuming that a one on the Wild Die works just the same as the d20. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, having a system where one has a 17% chance of automatic failure in every roll would be a system few would want to play.
Further, all previous books that have incorporated the Wild Die have included options as to how to handle a one on the Wild Die. None of them have ever included any concept of automatic failure. The most detrimental of the options includes plot complications, and sometimes a failure of some sort may be included as part of the complication, but never has an automatic failure been dictated by the rules as written. Thus, the concept of calling a one on the Wild Die a “Critical Failure” is a misnomer. As an alternative, GMs should explore the options presented to them when ruling the consequences of a one on the Wild Die.
Examining various rulebooks, one can find that there are usually three options that GMs can choose from when determining what to do when a player sees the dreaded one. First, the GM may simply choose to ignore the one. Many times it is inconvenient to plot and unnecessarily detrimental on a roll for a simple action to calculate a one in any other way. Further, if a player has been receiving a long line of ones on their Wild Die, it may be best just to give them a break, and continue playing the game without undue focus being diverted to a single player. Also, many GMs opt to ignore the one when calculating damage. They reason that since the hit roll has been resolved, it is more logical and practical to simply let the damage roll be tallied as it is. Second, one may choose to remove the highest die and lowest die in the character’s dice pool for that roll. Sometimes subtracting seven from their roll leads to the player failing the roll, and sometimes not. Though this is certainly a negative consequence, nonetheless it should by no means be construed as an automatic failure. The third option is the “complication”, and complications can mean a number of different things
Complications in D6 have a wonderful variety of applications. Many GMs assume that a complication is the result of a failure (thus even further contributing to the idea of a one being a critical failure). However, this is not necessarily the case. A complication is nothing more or less than something not going as planned. However, GMs have three options as to how to play the complication.
The first option, which is sometimes picked up by new GMs is to tread every one on the Wild Die as both an instant failure on the roll and an addition of something going drastically wrong. For example, a very high hit roll can have a one on the Wild Die, and that high roll turns into the power pack falling out of an energy weapon for no very good reason. Alternatively, it could mean that a sword breaks on impact. Though this option exists, it is highly discouraged. This leaves the players with a 17% chance of not only critically failing but also heaping insult on to injury. This is obviously discouraged
The second option is to consider the total of the roll and determine whether it meets the difficulty number. If the roll succeeds (even tallying in the one), then the GM should allow the character to succeed, though still face a complication. For example, if someone rolls a one on a dodge roll to evade incoming laser fire, but still succeeds, then the GM could determine that they quickly dive behind a crate and avoid all incoming fire. However, a moment later, the character may notice that the crate is labeled “EXPLOSIVES!” They didn’t fail, but now they’ve got something new to worry about. Further, if someone is sneaking, they may succeed in crawling underneath a security fence, but not realize that they seemed to have dropped their primary weapon along the way. A one in a combat situation can make things even more interesting. For example, if a player was going to be attacking a carnivorous plant in a fantasy setting, they may roll a one on the Wild Die, but otherwise succeed in their hit roll. They may find that though they do significant damage, the plant had a pool of acid stored to break down flesh. Once the plant is ruptured, the acid gushes forth, and now the characters must get out of the way of the flow of acid.
The third option is much like the second. If the roll fails, then the one becomes an absolute bane on the character. Not only do they fail, but they fail with a complication. One example was when a group of players were sneaking through a hanger filled with enemy robots on patrol. Each person was to make a sneak roll and a Perception check. One player the group was the only one in the party to succeed with the Perception roll to notice something in the hanger, but at the same time she failed the sneak roll and rolled a one on the Wild Die. At that point, the GM made the decision that her character was so surprised that she (in a moment of thoughtlessness) exclaimed to the other players, “Hey guys! Look at that!” The combat they wished to avoid immediately ensued.
The one on the Wild Die has earned a bit of ire from long-time enthusiasts of other systems. However, one must understand that this is partly due to a set of assumptions that is not necessarily true about the D6 system. However, it is not hard to see why a one on the Wild Die should not be seen as a critical failure, but an avenue to adding interesting varieties of life, particularly for characters who have accumulated a high dice pool. The one allows GMs options for their games, and with a good GM, ones on the Wild Die have created some of the most memorable and enjoyed experiences of D6 gaming groups.