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For Critical hits, the PHB states

When you score a critical hit, you get to roll extra dice for the attack's damage...

for acid splash

... A target must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw...

Unconscious (leaving out first 2 bullet points)

  • The creatures automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.
  • Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.

So a sorcerer sneaks up to a sleeping creature (within 5') with the intention of doing as much damage as possible, and can either firebolt it or acid splash it.

  1. Firebolt — The advantage of being unconscious is negated by the disadvantage of making a ranged spell attack at 5'. If it hits, it is rolled as a critical

  2. Acid Splash — The advantage of being unconscious is now obsolete because the target automatically fails dexterity based saving throws. The spell automatically hits as a critical.

Does the acid splash work this way?

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Sorry, but No

The Key Word here is Attack. Attacks as defined in the PHB are D20 rolls against AC.

From PHB, 194

If there’s ever any question whether something you’re doing counts as an attack, the rule is simple: if you’re making an attack roll, you’re making an attack.

Critical Hits are defined on page 194 (emphasis mine),

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.

Acid Splash is a Save-based Spell and doesn't qualify as an Attack for a Critical hit, since there is no d20 roll for attack.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So firebolt qualifies for crit? \$\endgroup\$ – Zaibis Jul 13 '17 at 10:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zaibis Fire Bolt does count: "Make a ranged spell attack against the target." Any spell that involves an "attack" can score critical hits. \$\endgroup\$ – phyrfox Jul 13 '17 at 11:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @phyrfox: so having a spell that makes an attack and has quite a handful dmg rolls is super efficient on crits? \$\endgroup\$ – Zaibis Jul 13 '17 at 11:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zaibis "super efficient" - depends on you definition. It's better for a crit to have many dice and few fixed bonuses (because bonuses do not get doubled). The amount of dice for any given average damage only affect the variance of the result. I.e. 6d6 average 21, 2d20 do too, but 6d6 heavily clusters around that average, while 2d20 is far more evenly spread over the 2-40 range, see anydice.com/program/21c7 It's usually in favor of the players to reduce variance, though. \$\endgroup\$ – TBP Aug 10 '17 at 7:45
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I agree and disagree...

Acid Splash, I agree, should never crit. Simply because it's based upon a DEX save.

However, Fire Bolt, I disagree shouldn't. No spell is an ATTACK ACTION -- even if it requires a to-hit roll (in this case, I'd concede that it would have advantages to-hit if cast as specified ) and causes damage-- it's a spell (governed under Casting a Spell), therefore it only does what it says it does...and it doesn't say it can crit.

Just because a spell requires an to-hit roll, doesn't automatically make any spell an ATTACK ACTION.

I think that as such, almost no spell can crit, as almost no spell is an ATTACK ACTION.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ We have a question about spells and criticals that’s relevant: Are there critical hits for spells? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 30 '18 at 17:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ A character can make "attacks" without using the "Attack action". By this answer's logic, one cannot crit on a opportunity attack reaction, because it isn't the "Attack action". \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jul 18 '18 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ahh..but even as you say it, it's an "opportunity attack action"...still an Attack action, just a different sort of Attack action, who's limited by other constraints on timing. I mean a Trip or Bull Rush is still an Attack too. However, I'm saying spells are an entirely different thing all together and that they only do what they say they do--whether they require a hit-roll or not --and pretty much should NEVER crit. \$\endgroup\$ – David Fass Jul 18 '18 at 18:45

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