If you’re new to Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, combat is complicated enough as it is. But then, you get lucky and start rolling critical hits. Now, you have a whole other mechanic to work through.
Luckily, critical hits in DnD 5e are pretty easy to figure out.
So, in this article, we’re gonna cover what critical hits are, what they do, how they relate to ability checks, and everything else you need to know to play DnD.
Let’s get started with what critical hits are.
DnD 5e Critical Hits
Page 194 of the Player’s Handbook, or here in DnD Beyond’s Basic Rules, states:
"Sometimes fate blesses or curses a combatant, causing the novice to hit and the veteran to miss.
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….
If the d20 roll for an attack is a 1, the attack misses regardless of any modifiers or the target’s AC."
We’ll get to the last part of that a bit later on.
Basically, critical hits in DnD 5e are a combat mechanic that signify a creature dealing a direct blow against their target.
What Does a Crit Do?
So, how do critical hits work in DnD 5e?
Page 196 of the PHB explains what crits do in 5e as:
"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 put it simply, critical hits in DnD 5e mean you automatically hit your target (regardless of their armor class) and double the number of damage dice your roll. The die type changes based on the weapon. And, it’s important to remember, you double all of the dice.
So, for example, if you’re using a longsword and roll a natural 20, you roll two 8-sided dice (2d8) for damage instead of the base 1d8.
That being said, you don’t double your damage modifier. All you double is the actual, physical (or digital) dice. Then, you add your regular damage modifier onto that total.
Now, usually, that’s all crits do; automatically hit and double damage dice. But, they do have the additional bonus of helping you make your death saving throws. Then, you automatically gain one hit point and regain consciousness.
Critical Rolls on Ability & Skill Checks
Rules As Written, rolling a natural 20 on an ability or skill check has not additional effect. But, page 242 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide gives guidance on using them to add more to critical rolls.
Now, the standard ruling for critical hits only applies to attacks made in combat. This means that rules as written (or RAW), critical rolls don’t apply to ability or skill checks.
The DMG states:
"Rolling a 20 or a 1 on an ability check or a saving throw doesn’t normally have any special effect. However, you can choose to take such an exceptional roll into account when adjudicating the outcome. It’s up to you to determine how this manifests in the game. An easy approach is to increase the impact of the success or failure."
Basically, if a character at your table rolls a natural 20, they get more than what they were asking for. Maybe that means additional information from an Intelligence (Investigation) check or the jump farther on a Strength (Athletics) check.
But, remember, for every critical hit or roll, there’s the chance of the opposite to strike.
What is a Critical Miss?
Like how rolling a natural 20 results in a critical hit, rolling a natural 1 (no modifiers, you dropped your d20 and the 1 shows on top) means you score a critical miss.
Critical misses work in much the same way as critical hits but in reverse. Rolling a natural 1 on an attack means you automatically miss with that attack. It doesn’t matter how high your attack modifier is. You just miss.
Much like critical hits in DnD 5e, critical misses don’t have much bearing outside of combat by RAW. Usually, you’ll get to add your skill modifier to an ability check or saving throw even if you roll a natural 1.
But, if you’re rolling for death saves, rolling a natural 1 makes you fail twice instead of the normal once.
Now, a lot of tables like to change up the rules for critical hits and misses. So, let’s get into that.
Critical Hit Homebrews
Alright. Time to introduce you to some of the homebrew rules for critical hits in DnD 5e.
There are several. So, I’m gonna do a brief breakdown of each.
Double the Damage
I know what you’re thinking. "Wait, this is just the basic rules." But, bear with me.
This homebrew for critical hits doesn’t double the number of damage dice. It doubles the damage rolled on the dice you normally rolle.
That’s…not much better.
Here’s an example. Say a Fighter crits with a longsword. They roll a 1d8 for the damage and get a 4. Rather than roll a second d8 and add that, they double the 4 for a total of 8 damage.
This is probably the more popular critical hit homebrew ruling since Matt Mercer uses it on Critical Role.
I like this method of improving crits in 5e. But, it still has the failing of rolling a low number.
Yeah, great, you score a critical hit and roll a 1 for damage. Way to go champ.
…That’s usually how I feel when I roll that low. Which is…often.
Anyway, moving on.
Add the Max Damage to the Damage Roll
Okay, this is a fun one. And, it actually feels like you do a lot of damage.
Basically, instead of rolling twice for damage or simply doubling the damage rolled, this critical hit homebrew rule adds the max damage on a die to the number rolled.
So, using our longsword fighter example, if they roll a 4 for damage, you then add 8 to the damage for a total of 12. With that 8 coming from the fact that they rolled 1d8 for damage.
I really like this method.
It removes some of the disappointment of rolling a low number on a critical hit. So, even if you roll a 1 on your crit, you’re still gonna do decent damage by adding the max number for that die.
I’ve seen a few people start using this alternative to critical hits in 5e. And, I can definitely see why. It’s a ton of fun and makes crits feel a lot better.
An alternative to this homebrew rule is to just double the maximum amount of damage a weapon can do. So, if you’re using a longsword one-handed, a critical hit would deal 16 damage (8 + 8 from a 1d8 damage die).
While this is awesome in terms of the sheer damage output, I’m not a huge fan. I still like rolling dice, so this alternative removes some of the tension in my opinion.
Confirm Critical Hits
Back in the olden days of DnD, you had to confirm your critical hits.
Basically, you had to roll another d20 and hit the armor class of your target to actually score the crit.
You don’t need to do this by RAW in DnD 5e anymore. But, some tables like to keep this as a homebrew critical hit rule.
Personally, I like the simplicity of crits auto-hitting. It feels good and removes another level of confusion and math.
But, if you want to add this to your game and make critical hits a bit harder to make, it’s an option.
Similar to confirming crits, you can make your critical hits explode.
Exploding dice refers to when you roll the max number on any die, you roll again. And, if you roll the max number again, you roll again. Basically, you keep rolling until you don’t roll the highest number on a die.
So, this homebrew critical hit rule means if you roll a natural 20, you roll the doubled damage dice. And, if you roll the max number on one (a 6 on a 1d6, an 8 on a 1d8, etc), then you roll that die again and add what you rolled. But, you keep rolling until you don’t roll the highest number.
For example, in my first ever game of DnD (it was actually a homebrew system a buddy of mine made in college, but shh), my character rolled a critical hit for a basic fire spell. Think firebolt but weaker because it was only 1d6 fire damage. So, I rolled a 6. My DM used the exploding dice rule so I rolled again. Another, 6. Then another…and another. I rolled 6d6 because I kept rolling sixes. The poor bandit didn’t even know what hit him.
That’s how exploding crits work.
DnD 5e Critical Hit Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions surrounding critical hits in 5e.
Is There a Way to Increase Critical Hit Rate?
Yes. There are various class features that can increase your critical hit rate in DnD 5e. For example, the Champion Fighter’s 3rd level feature Improved Critical means you crit on a 19 or 20.
But, there are other ways. Hitting a target affected by the Paralyzed condition turns that attack into a critical hit; all hits against an unconscious creature count as critical hits; and a Hexblade Warlock’s Hexblade’s Curse feature lets you critically hit on a 19 or 20 (like the Champion Fighter).
Does Rogue Sneak Attack Double on a Crit?
Yes. When you score a critical hit with the Rogue’s Sneak Attack feature, you double all the dice. This includes both their weapon’s damage dice and the dice rolled for Sneak Attack.
Does Rolling a Critical Hit on a Spell Attack Do Double Damage?
Yes. If a spell requires you to roll a melee or ranged spell attack and you roll a natural 20, you still get score a critical hit. So, you’ll double all the dice stated in the spell’s description. But, if you don’t roll a spell attack (as in, you force a saving throw), you can’t actually get a critical hit with that spell.
Do Crits Auto-Hit in 5e?
Yes. Critical hits in 5e auto-hit. That and the bonus damage done are the main benefits of rolling a natural 20 in combat.
That and being all kinds of hype at the table.
Do You Confirm Crits in 5e?
No. You don’t need to confirm critical hits in DnD 5e. This is a hold over from previous editions that was removed for this version of the game.
That being said, you can add crit confirming to your game pretty easily. Once you roll a natural 20, just roll again to see if you can hit your target’s armor class again.
Do You Double Your Damage Modifier When You Crit in 5e?
No. You don’t double your damage modifier on a critical hit.
Rules as written, you double the number of damage dice for the weapon you’re using, add those numbers together, then add your regular damage modifier to that number to get your total.
That’s about it for critical hits in DnD 5e.
Basically, they’re a mechanic used in combat when you roll a natural 20 on an attack. Your attack automatically hits regardless of your target’s Armor Class. And, you double the damage dice you deal.
There are loads of homebrew critical hit rules. My favorite is adding the highest number on a damage die to whatever is rolled.
And Dungeon Masters, remember; if the party gets homebrew critical hit rules, so do your monsters.
Suddenly, that goblin with the 1d6 scimitar becomes a lot scarier when he’s dealing a minimum 7 damage on a critical hit. Or, that ancient red dragon bite attack is dealing a minimum 60 damage. So, keep that in mind.
Do you use homebrew critical hit rules in your DnD 5e game? Or, are you going to start using one after seeing what you can do with them? Leave a comment below!