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D&D 5E Difference between critical hits and automatic hits.


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Tormyr

Adventurer
I'm not sure I follow - the quoted text seems fairly explicit and unambiguous. Is there something I'm missing?

In the combat section under "Rolling 1 or 20" the PHB explicitly says that 20 is an automatic hit regardless of AC. It states that in addition, the hit is a critical hit. The Champion's text expands critical hits to 19 and eventually 18, but it makes no mention of automatic hits. You can definitely go either way on this. Critical hits being auto hits makes sense, but I don't think that is how the rules were written.

Here is the tweet back in July where Mearls said he thought the expanded criticals were auto hits, but even he was a bit nebulous about it, like he was going off of memory. This was a week after the Basic PHB came out.

https://twitter.com/mikemearls/status/487302292312305664

As for me, I don't have a Champion at my table, so this won't be an issue for a while.
 

tragicjones

First Post
In the combat section under "Rolling 1 or 20" the PHB explicitly says that 20 is an automatic hit regardless of AC. It states that in addition, the hit is a critical hit. The Champion's text expands critical hits to 19 and eventually 18, but it makes no mention of automatic hits. You can definitely go either way on this. Critical hits being auto hits makes sense, but I don't think that is how the rules were written.
The question of whether or not a critical can ever occur without an automatic hit does remain open. However, in the case of the Champion's Improved Critical, there is absolutely no vagueness, ambiguity, or room for interpretation: "your weapon attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20."

If a normal attacker rolls a 20, "the attack hits regardless of any modifiers or the target's AC. In addition, the attack is a critical hit" (p. 194). This takes us to the Critical Hits section: "When you score a critical hit..." (p. 196).

If a Champion rolls a 19 or 20, they "score a critical hit." This takes us to the Critical Hits section, as above.

The "regardless of..." clause is there for emphasis and clarity. Functionally speaking, it's a redundant "step" that the Champion text skips. It's logically equivalent to say, "Attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 20."
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
The question of whether or not a critical can ever occur without an automatic hit does remain open. However, in the case of the Champion's Improved Critical, there is absolutely no vagueness, ambiguity, or room for interpretation: "your weapon attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20."

If a normal attacker rolls a 20, "the attack hits regardless of any modifiers or the target's AC. In addition, the attack is a critical hit" (p. 194). This takes us to the Critical Hits section: "When you score a critical hit..." (p. 196).

If a Champion rolls a 19 or 20, they "score a critical hit." This takes us to the Critical Hits section, as above.

The "regardless of..." clause is there for emphasis and clarity. Functionally speaking, it's a redundant "step" that the Champion text skips. It's logically equivalent to say, "Attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 20."
I am a little confused comparing your first sentence to your last as to which position you are arguing for, but I think it is toward the 19 always hitting if you get a critical for a 19.

The differing interpretations start in the "Rolling 1 or 20" section. If it had instead read that "a 20 is a critical hit, it automatically hits and you roll double the damage dice", there would not be any ambiguity because it would define a critical hit as automatically hitting. Because it defined the 20 as automatically hittingand it is also a critical hit and sent the reader to a separate section to define a critical hit, it defined the critical hit as double damage dice only. So a champion's critical hit at 18 or 19 is double damage dice but does not necessarily hit (in my opinion).

Now, as I said at the beginning the requirements for this to even be an issue are ridiculously tight. You need a level 3 champion to attack with a bad stat for them (strength fighter using +0 or -1 dex attacking with a bow) against someone in +1 plate, a shield and a ring of protection (or something similarly rare/contrived). The chances of this coming up are exceedingly rare to non-existent.

As a DM, I look to the community for help with interpretation sometimes. This is what I knew was a corner case that could go either way and wanted to poll the community to see if my interpretation of this was at least agreed upon by some people and worked since I am relatively ignorant of the finer points of the rules in earlier versions which could give some indication of intent here.

Thank you everyone for your input. I really appreciate it.

EDIT: After re-reading the thread dd.stevenson 's idea of 3/4 is a much easier way of making the scenario come about.
 
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tragicjones

First Post
I am a little confused comparing your first sentence to your last as to which position you are arguing for, but I think it is toward the 19 always hitting if you get a critical for a 19.

That is what I'm arguing, at least in the case of the Champion's Improved Critical. Sorry that wasn't clear.

So a champion's critical hit at 18 or 19 is double damage dice but does not necessarily hit (in my opinion).

A Champion rolling 18 or 19 scores a critical hit. The text isn't specifying what the damage would be if they hit (ie., "If you roll a 19 and hit, you score a critical hit"). It's stating directly, explicitly, and unambiguously that they "score a critical hit."

It's fair if you want to change this with a house rule, if that's what you mean. But I can't emphasize enough that the rules as written don't leave any room for interpretation.
 

As far as I'm concerned the game is about fun, and its no fun to crit and be told you missed.
Right, but PCs aren't the only ones who can have class levels, and it's even less fun when you can only be hit on a 20 and the enemy manages to score a critical hit on a 19. Of course, it's also no fun to suffer a critical hit on a 20, when a 20 shouldn't even hit you anyway, if it wasn't for that stupid mercy rule.

My house rule is that a hit can only be a critical hit if it's a 20 (or whatever, based on other features), and if that would normally hit by at least a margin of 4. If you need a 19 or 20 to hit, then you can't score a critical hit against that target. If you can only be hit on a 20, then you don't suffer a critical hit from 100% of successful hits.
 

Andor

First Post
You know, I was reading the Champions ability as being the same as the 3e Improved critical, but it's not.

In 3e Improved Critical doubled your threat range, which is the area in which you may score a critical, if you hit and then confirm.

In 5e there is no confirming. Furthermore the language of the Champions ability is that he scores a critical hit. Not that he deals critical damage if he hits.

I think the OP is right, it's pretty unambiguous. If you take off the prior edition glasses the champion hits and crits on a 19 and eventually an 18. Cool. :cool:
 

keterys

First Post
Prior editions or not, it doesn't seem clear what happens when you "score a critical hit" that "misses" because you failed to get a high enough AC. That's the problem with the "automatic hit" being separate from the "critical" language.

_Personally_, I hope that bounded accuracy means that we never need to answer this question.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
You know, I was reading the Champions ability as being the same as the 3e Improved critical, but it's not.

In 3e Improved Critical doubled your threat range, which is the area in which you may score a critical, if you hit and then confirm.

In 5e there is no confirming. Furthermore the language of the Champions ability is that he scores a critical hit. Not that he deals critical damage if he hits.

I think the OP is right, it's pretty unambiguous. If you take off the prior edition glasses the champion hits and crits on a 19 and eventually an 18. Cool. :cool:
Actually my thought was the opposite, that automatic and critical hits are separate things except for a 20, but that the wording if changed slightly would have made it obviously what you posted here. Additionally Mearls thought that all crits were auto hits. As a DM, I might weight this in the player's favor (yes for players, no for enemy NPCs).
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
Prior editions or not, it doesn't seem clear what happens when you "score a critical hit" that "misses" because you failed to get a high enough AC. That's the problem with the "automatic hit" being separate from the "critical" language.

_Personally_, I hope that bounded accuracy means that we never need to answer this question.
My thoughts exactly. Thanks for saying it more succinctly.
 

Andor

First Post
Prior editions or not, it doesn't seem clear what happens when you "score a critical hit" that "misses" because you failed to get a high enough AC. That's the problem with the "automatic hit" being separate from the "critical" language.

_Personally_, I hope that bounded accuracy means that we never need to answer this question.

The automatic hit language is not separate from the critical language in the only place that matters, the Champions ability.

Basic Rules: "Improved Critical
Beginning when you choose this archetype at 3rd level, your weapon attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20."


Note the language, a critical hit. Not a threat as in 3e. Not damage which perhaps you could quibble with, but a hit.
In fact the difference between a miss and a hit is only explained once in the rules.

Basic Rules:"3. Resolve the attack. You make the attack roll. On a hit, you roll damage, unless the particular attack has rules that specify otherwise. Some attacks cause special effects in addition to or instead of damage."

The keyword seems to be hit, if you are feeling pedantic. A Critical Hit is a specific type of hit, but it's still a hit.

Basic Rules:"Critical Hits
When you score a critical hit, you get to roll extra dice for the attack’s damage against the target. Roll all of the attack’s damage dice twice and add them together. Then add any relevant modifiers as normal. To speed up play, you can roll all the damage dice at once."


Basic Rules:"Each weapon, spell, and harmful monster ability specifies the damage it deals. You roll the damage die or dice, add any modifiers, and apply the damage to your target. Magic weapons, special abilities, and other factors can grant a bonus to damage."

If you score a critical hit you roll damage. If you roll damage you apply it.

Now you are right that there is a distinction in the rules between an auto-hit and a critical. Although since this is a general rules and the Champions ability is specific the Champion overrides the general case.

Basic Rules:"If the d20 roll for an attack is a 20, the attack hits regardless of any modifiers or the target’s AC. In addition, the attack is a critical hit, as explained later in this chapter."

Why is this distinction drawn if there is no place in the PHB where it makes a difference? At a guess it clears design space for future feats or classes, or for interaction with specific monsters.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
My house rule is that a hit can only be a critical hit if it's a 20 (or whatever, based on other features), and if that would normally hit by at least a margin of 4. If you need a 19 or 20 to hit, then you can't score a critical hit against that target. If you can only be hit on a 20, then you don't suffer a critical hit from 100% of successful hits.
I like this, in principle.

There needs to be some space between miss outright on a 19 and auto-crit on a 20 to make it a bit less all-or-nothing; and guaranteed it'll come up more often than you probably expect even with 5e's constraints on numbers.

Then again, someone who needs an outright 20 even to hit should still have a chance of critting, and so in the example given by [MENTION=6775031]Saelorn[/MENTION] above I'd put some sort of confirm roll back in - maybe a d10 where you crit on a 7 or better, with the '7' being variable to reflect the difficulty in hitting at all. (if you'd otherwise need 25 to hit at all then you'll only crit on a 9-0, if a 19 actually only misses by one then you might crit on a 5 or better...up to you-as-DM.)

Lan-"to counterbalance baked-in crits the game needs baked-in fumble rules"-efan
 

The last public playtest version read:

"Improved Critical
Your weapon attacks can score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20."

D&D Basic reads:

"Improved Critical
Beginning when you choose this archetype at 3rd level, your weapon attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20."

Note the conspicuous absence of "can" in the release rules compared to the prior playtest rules.

This sounds to me like an intentional change or clarification.
 

keterys

First Post
The automatic hit language is not separate from the critical language in the only place that matters, the Champions ability.
In the how to resolve an attack section would be a pretty nice place for it to be, to be honest. Since it's an automatic hit _then_ it's a critical, which is just a subset that happens to deal double-ish damage.

Again, hopefully we never need to know this, but it's hardly open and shut. The term "critical threat" doesn't need to exist for it to be unclear what happens when you roll a 19 and miss something's AC, but could score a critical hit on said 19. Because looking at the DM and going "One of us should double check our math, this should hit regardless of whether the champion power makes it hit"

Now you are right that there is a distinction in the rules between an auto-hit and a critical. Although since this is a general rules and the Champions ability is specific the Champion overrides the general case.
The champion rule in no way shape or form states it makes a 19 into an automatic hit, nor in any other way uses similar language ("regardless of any modifiers or the target's AC", etc. Incidentally, it also doesn't have any language to trump abilities that create automatic misses or miss chances, should those exist.

The most unfortunate part about "specific vs general" is that people love to say things are specific when they're not terribly specific. I'll admit, this is a lot easier to just rule in favor of the fighter (back to my someone's screwed something up if a 19 doesn't hit), but my favorite is still Polearm Gamble from 4th edition, where many players claimed they could opportunity attack creatures that teleported, shifted, or were pushed next to them, because their feat trumped the rules that said no opportunity attacks in those circumstances.
 

charliebananas

First Post
Right, but PCs aren't the only ones who can have class levels, and it's even less fun when you can only be hit on a 20 and the enemy manages to score a critical hit on a 19. Of course, it's also no fun to suffer a critical hit on a 20, when a 20 shouldn't even hit you anyway, if it wasn't for that stupid mercy rule.

Dem's the breaks, I know I would rather take the accasional hit from a rare champion than have my (what a lot of people say is a lackluster) class nerfed. The rules are written in a 80/20 format for a reason... rulings not rules, so whatever works for your table is good, me I want to keep it simple, and if we keep having as much fun as we have been having for the last month, then we are doing it right. :p
 


pemerton

Legend
The differing interpretations start in the "Rolling 1 or 20" section. If it had instead read that "a 20 is a critical hit, it automatically hits and you roll double the damage dice", there would not be any ambiguity because it would define a critical hit as automatically hitting.
Prior editions or not, it doesn't seem clear what happens when you "score a critical hit" that "misses" because you failed to get a high enough AC. That's the problem with the "automatic hit" being separate from the "critical" language.
The most unfortunate part about "specific vs general" is that people love to say things are specific when they're not terribly specific.
I agree that "specific beats general" is a pretty hopeless interpretive principle.

I also agree that the wording could quite easily have been much improved - along the lines Tormyr suggests - without making it harder to read or interpret. "Plain English" does not have to be synonymous with "sloppy drafting".
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
For me personally... I've never used the idea that just because the term 'critical hit' has the word 'hit' in it, that means it is equivalent to the successful attack roll that is defined as a 'hit'. If the term they had used was called 'critical shot' to define when you get to do extra damage, would we make the jump that it is always an automatic successful hit? Maybe some might, but I know I wouldn't.

The game has traditionally said that 1s were always misses and 20s were always hits, regardless of whether they would or wouldn't hit ACs even with those numbers. Critical hit ranges never played into it. And the fact the book specifically calls out '20s' and not 'critical hits' as the roll that automatically hits, tells me to follow my instincts on this (which for me include past history of the game.) The book may say all 20s are automatic hits, and that all 20s are critical hits... but it doesn't necessarily follow that all critical hits automatically hit. After all... I can state that all robins are birds, and all robins are spelled R-O-B-I-N... but that doesn't mean all birds are spelled R-O-B-I-N.

So I'm okay with the decision I've made on it. But then again as so many folks have said... with Bounded Accuracy it's probably not going to come up all that often anway, so I'm not going to worry my pretty little head over it.
 

the Jester

Legend
Huh. After reading this thread, I'm changing my position. I now believe that the champion both auto-hits and auto-crits on a 19 (or 18) to 20, when high enough level.
 

tragicjones

First Post
I've never used the idea that just because the term 'critical hit' has the word 'hit' in it, that means it is equivalent to the successful attack roll that is defined as a 'hit'.

I think you've zeroed in on why I'm so stuck on the opposite side of the argument. To me, it's absurd that an attack could "score a critical hit" and also not hit - precisely because the word "hit" is used as it is. If the authors intended for a 19 not to constitute a hit, it could have been phrased to reflect that: "If you roll a 19 on a weapon attack and hit, your attack is a critical hit," or "roll damage as if you had scored a critical hit."

Another issue is that Improved Critical's language includes both 19s and 20s. While this is largely a RAW discussion, it's worth dipping into RAI a bit here: if the authors intended for one rule (critical maybe-hit) to apply to 19s, while the normal rule (critical always-hit) applies to 20s, why would this class feature be phrased as though the same rule applies to both? It seems that by including "or 20," the text is communicating that the purpose of the class feature is for 19s and 20s to function identically for the Champion.
 
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