Current table has a house rule that spells attacks can not deal extra damage through critical hits. They have the rule that you can critically succeed or fail on a natural 20 or 1 on saving throws.

I brought up how I was worried about how this would affect the balance of the game, fairly certain this would impair characters who are primarily casters in the long run. (Most of the PCs are half casters or not at all, save for mine and a couple others.)

I was told they are going with this ruling because it is more balanced, but I'm not convinced. Could someone with a more thorough understanding of the rules elaborate on how this could unbalance the game? Or am I just worried over nothing?

This is a pay to play table that I've already paid a subscription for so I'd like to not be told to just walk away as an answer. The DM has told me if there really is a balancing issue he'd see to fixing it.

2nd half of this question.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Did they provide any "in-game" justification or is just perceived "balance" issues? \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Mar 16, 2018 at 12:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth Balance, because 'spells are powerful' \$\endgroup\$
    – Clarus_Nox
    Mar 16, 2018 at 12:45
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Related: How would changing critical hits like this affect my game? \$\endgroup\$
    – Sdjz
    Mar 16, 2018 at 12:48

7 Answers 7


It would be very unbalanced, especially in the long-run

I understand some of the logic behind this: some cantrips can critically-hit, and those would deal lots of damage when they do hit despite being cantrips. However, what the DM fails to realize is that a Rogue can also do this much damage or more with a Sneak Attack Critical, and on a hit-die (1D8 for the Rogue) that is equal-to or greater-than the three typical dedicated spellcasters: Wizards (1D6), Sorcerers (1D6), or Warlocks (1D8).

This means that a smart-enough Rogue can deal more damage on a critical, has more health than a dedicated spellcaster, and does so on a higher frequency, since, to get Sneak Attack Damage, they have to be rolling to hit on-Advantage (which is why some Rogues never go anywhere without an ally near them), which improves the likelihood of at least one of the dice rolling a Critical.

A Critical Hit doubles the number of dice rolled for damage, or, for some DMs who would rather simplify it, it doubles the amount of damage rolled on the standard amount of dice.

Let's compare:

  • The Eldritch Blast Cantrip makes a Ranged Spell Attack and, when it hits, it does 1D10 Damage. The "average" roll for 1D10 is 5-6 points of damage. A Critical Hit would deal 2D10 points of damage, which averages to around 11. This will critically-hit at a 5% chance.
  • A Rogue with a Light Crossbow makes a Ranged Sneak Attack, and, when it hits, it deals 1D8 points of damage. The Rogue rolls on Advantage, because they have to be doing so to get the Sneak Attack, and Rolling on Advantage roughly doubles your chance of critting, so, instead of having a 5% chance to roll a 20, the Rogue has ~10% chance to critically-hit. In-Addition, a First-Level Rogue rolls 1D6 in-addition to whatever damage they do, and, when you critically hit, those Sneak Attack Dice are doubled, too. So, that ends-up 2D8(9) + 2D6(7), or with an average damage of 16.

Saving Throw Spells

But there are other spells, yes. These force the opponent into performing a Saving Throw and can never critically succeed or critically fail. Many of them, especially at higher levels, still deal damage when the opponent succeeds their Saving Throw, but don't do as-much or don't cause additional effects.

In a sense, for a damage-dealing capability, the removal of the ability of Attack-Spells to critcally-hit makes them much-less preferable than Spells that cause Saving Throws, since Ranged Spell Attacks on-failure never do damage while most of the Saving-Throw spells are still useful when the opponent succeeds their DC.

But wait, your DM is allowing Critical Successes and Failures on Saving Throws! And this is where the balance really gets broken: Most of the spells that used Ranged Spell Attacks are designed to do moderate single-target damage, while the spells that cause Saving Throws either do a lot of damage and/or bestow a crippling effect on one target, or do a sizable amount of damage and/or a strong effect to multiple. Think of the Cleric's Spirit Guardians spell, which deals 3D8 damage on a failed save and half as much on a successful save. Adding critical successes and fails means that any opponent that enters the area or starts their turn there could take as little as 1/4th damage on a critially-successful save to as much as 6D8 damage on a critically-failed save.

Essentially, this ruling makes a great portion of the spells on the Spell lists much less useful, makes Saving Throw Spells much more preferable, and doesn't compensate the Spell-Attack spells for this reduction in viability.

  • \$\begingroup\$ this question is connected to my second one, which is about the dm removing crit damage to sneak attack and smite: How does removing crit damage for divine smite and sneak attack affect balance? \$\endgroup\$
    – Clarus_Nox
    Mar 16, 2018 at 15:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Overall good answer but there is a small error. "to get Sneak Attack Damage, they have to be rolling to hit on-Advantage" is false. Every rogue can get sneak attack without having advantage by having a hostile creature near the target. Several archetypes also provide additional ways to get sneak attack without advantage. Having a nearby ally does not automatically give advantage especially considering flanking is an optional rule. \$\endgroup\$
    – user60913
    Jul 18, 2020 at 7:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Odo that is true. However, most Rogue subclasses don't get more than one way to get sneak attack reliably at level 1. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5, 2020 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right, so rogues often rely on the general case rule of getting Sneak Attack via an adjacent ally. Having advantage is only necessary on targets nobody else is in melee with. Crossbow-expert rogues usually use their bonus action to shoot again, rather than hiding for advantage. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 15, 2020 at 0:15

There's a balance problem here, but not the one you think.

To answer the actual in-the-title question first...

Removing crits from spells results in a downturn in a spellcaster's damage potential at low level, which largely fades out as they level up. There are only 33 spells in all of 5E (including all supplements) that use an Attack Roll instead of a saving throw. This is, however, weighted very heavily towards lower level spells. A little more than half of all combat cantrips (and all the highest damage ones save Toll the Dead) use Attack Rolls.

Naturally, the consequence of taking this away means that the spellcaster no longer has the opportunity for the 'spike' of damage (and the glee) that comes with rolling a natural 20. But, as a spell caster gets higher level, they often become less and less dependent on their cantrips (unless you're a Warlock spamming EB), and more reliant on the 'big spells' that they have an ever increasing library of.

But...the clarification you have in the question about how a Saving throw can Crit Fail and explanation of what that means changes everything about this answer.

Your Fireball can Crit.

Let me say that again...

Fireball. One of the best damaging spells in the entire game. Can Crit.

Not because you rolled it, no. But because every single individual caught in the blast has to make a discrete save...and the more of them who are rolling, the higher the odds of one of them dropping a Nat 1, and getting hit for critical damage (and bonus effects). Sure, it may not be doubling up on damage die entirely...but it is (at the very least) getting a heap of bonus effects that in can apply, which can very often be just as--if not more devastating in the long-run.

Here are a few other catastrophe-grade spells that can critical now:

Disintegrate, Meteor Swarm, Earthquake, Firestorm, Cone of Cold.

In short...your DM has taken away crits from the minority set of your spells, and given them to the majority set (there are a lot more save-dependent spells than attack-dependent spells). Most of which, unlike Attack-roll based effects, hit multiple targets.

Your DM has actually made spellcasters terrifying. One of the balancing features of Save spells is that they can't crit. They do massive damage across large areas, but there isn't that 5% chance of them doubling their dice.

At this point, you have two options...

  1. Tell your DM about this egregious balance issue, and let him reset things back to 5E the way it was designed (the Devs did this for a reason, after all. Playtesting is a thing).
  2. Pick up all the Saving-throw based AoE spells you can, and cackle maniacally as you devastate entire battlefields singlehandedly.

Honestly? The Rogue and the Paladin are the ones getting it the worst here. But that's a separate question

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jul 18, 2020 at 6:58

There are two main types of attack spells, Cantrips, and not Cantrips.

Cantrip Criticals

There's no reason to remove the criticals from cantrips. It's the source of a magic user's "standard attack", so to speak. It can be compared to a fighter's sword or a ranger's bow. The damage begins fairly low and scales with levels as a reliable source of damage. Spells like Fire Bolt and Eldritch Blast remove the wizards with crossbows of previous editions (and good riddance).

nonCantrip Criticals

Let's use chromatic orb as an example. A caster is risking a spell slot on this attack. If it misses, then the slot is expended and no damage is dealt. Compared to spells (that do damage) with saving throws where it's full damage or half damage on a successful saving throw. Spell slots are precious, especially at low levels. That's why spell attacks crit.

My own 2 cents about this:
These changes are unneeded and likely a throwback to older editions. This DM has decided that he knows better than Wizards of the Coast about how to balance a game and make it fun. Maybe he's right (doubtful), but I can't recall seeing any mass complaints about the balance of 1s and 20s in 5th edition.

Also, if he's allowing saving throw spells to critically fail, then he clearly doesn't think that "spells are too powerful to have extra effects", so he's just being semantic.


First, the rules are absolutely clear. When an attack (melee, ranged, spell) is a critical hit (whether due to a natural 20 or unconscious within 20', etc.), then all of the attack's damage dice are rolled twice and added together. All modifiers are then added once.

A house rule which only allows the weapon dice to be doubled changes the balance quite a bit. Off the top of my head, this clearly benefits classes who deal most of their damage via multiple unmodified melee attacks, especially fighters.

Fighters with 4 attacks have more chances to deal less damage. However, on a critical hit, all of their weapon damage would be doubled.

Most attack spells are cantrips and low-level spells. For many characters, their spellcasting modifier is not added to damage, so attacking with a single scaling cantrip might give you 4d8 (9 avg for 50% hit chance) damage. Compared to a fighter attacking with a longsword who could get 4*(1d8+5)=4d8+20 (19 avg for 50% hit chance). The Wizard could try firebolt for d10s, but that is easily resisted at high levels, whereas the fighter can go to 2d6 with a greatsword to do even more damage. Warlocks are special. Their spellcasting is limited and their Eldritch Blast is supposed to be potent. Taking away crits from attack spells makes the at-will damage disparity even worse.

Redacted due to changing question....

Rogues, rangers, paladins, melee clerics, etc. who attack once or twice but use class features or spells to deal most of their damage will suffer the most. Crits will now only help increase their damage a little. The best example is probably a 20th level Rogue who crits with a dagger. In games with use the rules they would be ecstatic doubling their sneak attack for nearly double damage (80 vs 42.5). But with the house rule, a crit would mean virtually nothing more than an automatic hit, just an extra 1d4 damage (45 vs 42.5). (And with 5e's bounded accuracy, a 20 plus modifiers should rarely miss even if not automatic, so clearly that's not really the main benefit of a crit)

Spellcasters with attack cantrips suffer the same as those classes listed above. A lot spell damage comes from save vs damage (which cannot crit) rather than spell attacks, so they may not see as much of a penalty. It will depend on builds.


Often, imbalance between spellcasters and martial classes has more to do with encounter quantity than anything else.

Spells are certainly more powerful than other effects in the game so it is important to utilize the limited nature of that resource in play.

If a DM implements very few encounters (less than the recommended 6-8 per day), then limiting the power of spellcasters can make sense.

While I wouldn't use this type of nerf, there are three major consequences

  1. Warlocks have it much worse off.

    • The warlock class has very few spell slots and is primarily a blaster, which means uses cantrip attacks (usually eldritch blast) for damage. Warlock damage would be reduced from this by about 24*5.5*0.05 = 6.6 per day per tier of play based on the proper encounter day (slightly less if there really are fewer encounters). This is fairly significant over the span of a campaign.
  2. Gish characters become much stronger.

    • Characters such as the Valor bard, Eldritch Knight, and Bladesinger wizard receive a power jump since they have spells but still use martial combat. Having the full range of spell slots AND avoiding the spell attack nerf makes them outshine all other classes in a low-encounter / low-skill-challenge adventuring day.
  3. Cantrips (and spells in general) that use saving throws become stronger

    • Some cantrips have higher damages if used properly since they require a saving throw (acid splash for an example) which requires somewhat better understanding of a monster's weaknesses to use effectively. Since these cantrips also dodge the spell attack nerf, their power relative to other cantrips increases. This is especially true since the enemy can critically fail a saving throw with your house rule.
  • \$\begingroup\$ The original question got split into a total of three questions, so you might want to revise this a bit. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2018 at 14:59

I don't think removing spell criticals is balanced. This becomes more of a problem if other type of 'criticals' still exist in the campaign (critical attack success/failure roll, save rolls, skill rolls) as mages/spells got weakened in 5th edition.

The harshest comparison I can come up with is that this is like taking away a warriors (not monk) weapon and tell him to fight with fists alone.

Mages will roll a 20 very rarely and there aren't many ways to influence the critical chance as even dipping into Fighter (Champion) wouldn't help as the class feature for improved crit specifies weapons.

The only way I can think of is focusing on attack advantage and luck/halfling luck bonus, however such character is specifically built to get the advantage on that instead of on something else.

If a fighter with multiple attacks can dish out criticals (even more likely if Champion archetype) in a single turn then even a war/combat oriented mage will lose when comparing damage options if they can't even hope to actually score critical hits, and they still have to roll for spell attacks to hit without this extra risk (to hit at all) offering any benefit anyway. In such a case avoid using spells requiring attack rolls at all, focus on spells that automatically hit and those that require an ability save check instead.

Another option while using these home rules is to focus on boosting/buffing spells on your party, try getting access to Enhance Ability which is powerful both in and outside combat. If you just consider inside combat then the Dexterity advantage option from it grants Advantage on Initiative rolls, Stealth rolls (for Rogues a huge boon) and Acrobatics rolls to have a good chance at making amazing scenes ingame which also grant ingame Advantage whem performed with success.


They are throwing out a rule, because of a perceived problem. For one, the rulebook is very clear that spells with an attack roll ABSOLUTELY get extra damage. This is for a number of reasons. One, a spell with an attack or sneak attack damage, only happens once a turn. To be balanced, lets think of the type of classes that have this ability, generally speaking the "squishier" characters. Yes, a wizard or sorcerer may be able to cast a cantrip with a critical hit, but one critical hit, could make that same caster go down.

Now the DM may have a mentality of "the players will beat me too easily." He should applaud them if something like this occurs, and make a more challenging scenario in the next session. Someone who you are paying to play, should have more experience than your average DM, and knows how to make a scenario like this. If he doesn't, then you may have been hoodwinked into paying for an unexperienced DM.

To try and get him to see the error of his ways, remind him that casters are going to be weaker than the fighter counterparts. That not everything has to be bashed with a stick, and that you feel like your character has been hamstrung due to this ruling, (Which goes against the rules btw). He didn't publish the rulebook, thus he doesn't know the actual mechanics and style behind the choices they made. Casters should get a cool moment to shine when a critical hit occurs.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Hello and welcome! If you have time please take the tour to find out more about how this site works. For clarifications such as asking for the edition we use comments. In this particular case you can see that it is indeed 5th edition by looking at the question's tags (just below the question body) \$\endgroup\$
    – Sdjz
    Mar 16, 2018 at 13:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ The ability to comment on other user's posts is unlocked at 50 rep, which won't take you too long with a few good questions or answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam
    Mar 16, 2018 at 13:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question is about D&D 5th edition — you can tell from the [dnd-5e] tag on the post. I've removed the material in this answer wondering about that, especially since the rest already assumes that's the case. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2018 at 19:19

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