The current tag descriptions:

  • (20 questions):

    For questions about critical failures (sometimes called "critical fumbles"), a mechanic in various RPGs in which results of actions which not only fail to meet their goal, but also hamper the doer of the action or their allies. Some examples of such mechanics include rolling natural 1s on some d20-based systems, or rolling a Despair in the Star Wars FFG system.

  • (10 questions):

    For questions about "fumbles" (which some systems call "botches"), a term sometimes used to refer to especially bad dice rolls or results that result in an outcome worse than a normal failure.

Here's an example, with two questions:

Both questions ask about the same outcome (rolling nat. 1 on an attack roll) in the same game system. One is tagged with ; the other one has the tag.

Do these tags mean the same? Should they be merged into a single tag?

If they should be merged, which tag should remain as the primary one? And should the other tag be left as a synonym of the primary tag?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Interestingly, 2 questions (one of which is closed) have both tags. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 11, 2020 at 3:16
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ Personally, I feel like [fumble], [crit-fail]/[critical-failure], and [botch] are synonymous. The degree of badness is usually only differentiated based on the system. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 11, 2020 at 12:31
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It already has [critical-fumble] and [crit-fumble] as synonyms anyway. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 11, 2020 at 21:50
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnMontgomery: Also, I think I'm the one who added those two synonyms to the [critical-failure] tag a while back; I don't think I even knew [fumbles] existed as a separate tag at the time, but had seen several questions using the terms seemingly interchangeably (and have seen them used somewhat interchangeably in the D&D 5e community, at least, to mean "worse than just a miss/regular failure"). \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 14, 2020 at 2:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Upon skimming all the questions each tag is on, it's looking more and more like the answer is yes; the vast majority are on D&D/Pathfinder questions, and the few that aren't still mostly seem to use the terms in essentially the same way. (This Cortex question seems a bit unclear, because neither the question nor answer actually define the term and I haven't actually played a Cortex System game so I don't know how it's being used, though ostensibly it's similar.) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 15, 2020 at 9:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; the above conversation about glitches in Shadowrun has been moved to chat, as mentioned earlier (they're not quite about this Q&A directly). \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 19, 2020 at 11:00

2 Answers 2


Either they should be merged, or their descriptions should be changed to be clearly distinct.

From :

a mechanic in various RPGs in which results of actions which not only fail to meet their goal, but also hamper the doer of the action or their allies.

From :

a term sometimes used to refer to especially bad dice rolls or results that result in an outcome worse than a normal failure.

These are very obviously saying the exact same thing. Both describe failure with consequences worse than a normal failure. We should merge them, or the community needs to work together to reach consensus on how they are distinct and edit one (or both) so that their descriptions are clearly distinct.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I considerably prefer the description of fumble. It is simpler, it is clearer (for me), and I suspect it is more universally true. \$\endgroup\$
    – Isaac
    Aug 17, 2020 at 14:17
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I find that agreeable. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17, 2020 at 14:17
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Re merging: These terms appear to be used somewhat synonymously. There are 66 posts in the critical-failure tag (19 Q + 47 A) and among those 25 mention fumbles. In some ways critical failure is more technical sounding, although in some games fumble is the exact terminology used, but it's still the same basic concept: roll a bad number, bad things happen beyond failure. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17, 2020 at 14:24
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener: Yeah, the terms do seem synonymous to me as well. I'm personally unsure which tag should remain as the primary one (with the other one made a synonym of it), but I concur with the assessment that they should probably be merged. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 17, 2020 at 22:11
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ It may also be worth clarifying in the tag info (if the current tag descriptions are accurate) that the tag should not be used simply on questions that refer to, e.g., a nat. 1 being an automatic/guaranteed failure in D&D-like systems, if that result doesn't have worse effects than any other regular failure. ...In that sense, [fumbles] may be the better tag to have as the primary one, as it does a better job of signaling the intended meaning of "not just a failure". \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 17, 2020 at 22:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ (Following on from the end of my previous comment: Another possible solution would be to merge them but have the primary tag name be something like [critical-fumbles], if there's a concern that "fumbles" is too general a term and may be seen as not clearly "worse than a normal failure".) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 23, 2020 at 22:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I dunno, I feel like [Critical-Fumble] sounds a bit redundant. Since [Critical-Failure] is the more commonly used tag, I feel that it should probably be kept as the primary. [Botch] should probably be lumped in as well, although I think there's an argument that it might be WoD specific. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 28, 2020 at 18:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ The tags have now been merged to [fumbles]. (I mean, they already were merged a day ago, but I figured I should leave a comment too in addition to Someone_Evil adding the [status-completed] tag. :P) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 30, 2020 at 4:24

No, we should not merge them

Here is why: connotation of the terms.

A critical failure encompasses a wide variety of things going horribly wrong during an RPG. A fumble has a more limited application, in that it implies a certain lack of manual dexterity or ability to hang on to your lazer gun, you magic wand, your {implement or weapon of choice}, and so on.

The consequences of that fumble will vary with game system, but it may not be a critical failure in the narrative sense.

The critical failure's criticality is what makes it a different category of "Oh, no, what just happened?" Examples include ...

  1. I tried to hack the code and I didn't just fail, I set off an anomalous (bad) chain of events.
  2. I tried to steer the battlewagon in the way of an oncoming assault of enemies and I didn't just miss my mark for location and time, I drove it over a cliff.
  3. I tried to thread the needle with an arrow and not only didn't emulate William Tell, I ended up hitting the innocent bystander right between the eyes.

Path forward: don't merge, differentiate better

Let's write better definitions / descriptions for the two terms within the tags to clarify. For example, I think we can leave alone, and revise to this, or something like it:

A mechanic in various RPGs in which results of actions not only fail to meet their goal, but also inflict on the character and / or their allies, and even innocent bystanders, significant negative outcomes - either mechanically, narratively or both.

  • \$\begingroup\$ With this, do you propose community review of the 27 questions which have one or both of these tags to determine which applies? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 18, 2020 at 13:00
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ At the moment, the distinction you make seems arbitrary. I would need to see examples of use cases within sundry RPGs consistent with the distinction you draw. Is the difference of degrees you propose consistent with how various RPGs have used these two terms? There is also the issue of non-technical use within the community. Do community language patterns reflect this distinction in a meaningful way? My concern would be that if we change the tags, we potentially have questions using "fumble" and meaning "critical failure" and vice versa. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 18, 2020 at 13:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Forgive me, but I'm not quite sure how you're saying they're different. Are you saying that a fumble is just a failure, but a critical failure includes other consequences? \$\endgroup\$
    – willuwontu
    Aug 18, 2020 at 13:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Hypothetically, I would be worried about a situation where a user tags a question critical-failure, uses the phrase "critical failure" several times in the question, but then describes a situation consistent with our definition of fumbles. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 18, 2020 at 13:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not entirely sure how "results that result in an outcome worse than a normal failure" and "actions not only fail to meet their goal, but also inflict [...] significant negative outcomes" are especially different. I think explaining this difference more would improve your answer \$\endgroup\$ Aug 18, 2020 at 13:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ From what I understand, Korvin, you're describing [fumble] as relating to the literal physical action of physically fumbling something (your gun, wand, sword, etc), and [critical-failure] as relating to an extraordinary failure that comes with an additional severe narrative consequence, therefore the tags have different subject matter. Further, they may coincide, but they may not. Is that accurate? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 19, 2020 at 9:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @williamporter Yes, more or less. The term "critical" is what's important here. not a simple mistake, a significant mistake \$\endgroup\$ Aug 19, 2020 at 11:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Yeah. That's the point. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 19, 2020 at 11:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 What is the difference between dropping your saw while trimming a tree and cutting off the tree limb only to have it land on your neighbor and his wife as they are walking down the street, not realizing what you are doing up in that tree, and injuring them? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 19, 2020 at 11:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov "do you propose community review of the 27 questions" No, I do not. I think that is a waste of time. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 19, 2020 at 11:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ My concern with this answer is that, based on your clarifying comments, the broader meaning you're ascribing to the term "fumble" is not how the [fumbles] tag is actually being used. Your proposed rewording of the [critical-failures] tag info doesn't seem significantly different from the current [critical-failures] tag info, which doesn't seem meaningfully different to me from the [fumbles] tag info. Both tags seem to be getting used to describe "a result worse than just normal failure" already. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 23, 2020 at 22:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ (If your main concern is the need to include the word "critical", another possible solution is to merge them and leave the primary tag as [critical-fumbles] or something similar. I don't know if this would be acceptable/desirable to you, but I figured I'd bring up the possibility.) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 23, 2020 at 22:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I don't see a fumble being critical in nature, and that is why I believe we need to make the distinction so that the tags don't point to the same thing. Critical failures encompass a much wider range of calamity than a fumble ... and the frustrating bit is that we are trying to apply this across a wide range of game systems, some of which have neither, some have one or the other, and some have both. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 24, 2020 at 12:16

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