How do Critical Hits work in DnD 5E?

Breaking down the mechanics of Critical Hits in 5E.

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You will often hear the words ‘critical hit’ or ‘crit’ thrown around in DnD, and if you’re new to playing, you might not understand what that means and results in. Don’t worry; it is a straightforward mechanic, but this article will help you know how it all works if you’re unsure.

What is a Critical Hit?

A critical hit is when you roll a d20 to make an attack and get a 20 on the die, this is called a ‘natural 20’ and is a critical hit (or crit). If you get a total of twenty after rolling and adding your modifier, this is called a ‘dirty twenty’ and has no special mechanic. No matter what the AC of your target is, a crit will always hit.

When you roll a critical hit, you have struck a particularly effective blow; this is represented by more damage to the target. All dice involved in the attack’s damage are double by a critical hit, but you don’t double the damage modifier. So a Fighter with a +3 Str getting a critical hit with a short sword would do: 2d6+3 from the critical. Since it includes all dice on the attack, it will also double abilities such as a Paladin’s Divine Smite, a Battlemaster’s Superiority Dice (if the maneuver used adds damage), and a Ranger’s Hunter’s Mark, to name but a few! If the ability uses words like ‘immediately after hitting with an attack,’ that ability wouldn’t benefit from extra critical damage (an example of this is the Psi Warrior Fighter’s Psionic Strike).

Do you need to roll a 20 to crit? Actually no! Some abilities in the game give you an expanded crit range; this means they let you crit on a 19 (and maybe even an 18). This is treated as if you rolled a 20, so you automatically hit and get to double your damage dice. Examples include the Champion Fighter’s Improved Critical and the Hexblade patron Warlock’s Hexblade’s Curse.

What is a Critical Miss?

On the flip side of a critical hit, you have a critical miss. This occurs if you roll a d20 but if it lands on a 1, which means that you miss the attack no matter what. So, if you had +9 to your attack rolls and rolled a natural 1, a target with an armor class of 8 still would not be hit as you rolled a critical miss.

Note! Critical successes and failures only exist on attack rolls. Rolling a 20 or a 1 means nothing special for ability checks or saving throws.

Hopefully, this article has cleared up how critical hits work in the 5th edition. It is always a good idea to check with your DM what rules they follow as some alter them slightly. With that, I’ll wish you all plenty of natural 20s!