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Critical Hits agree:

When you make an attack and succeed with a natural 20 (the number on the die is 20), or if the result of your attack exceeds the target's AC by 10, you achieve a critical success (also known as a critical hit).

Determine the Degree of Success disagrees:

If you rolled a 20 on the die (a “natural 20”), your result is one degree of success better than it would be by numbers alone. This means that a natural 20 usually results in a critical success and natural 1 usually results in a critical failure. However, if you were going up against a very high DC, you might get only a success with a natural 20, or even a failure if 20 plus your total modifier is 10 or more below the DC.

So if I roll a 20 on my third attack, but it is stil lower than the enemy AC (because of MAP for example), is it a critical hit, or a normal hit?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems like a legitimate question to me, given that the two quoted passages seem to be contradictory on plain reading. No idea why it's getting downvoted. \$\endgroup\$ – Ilmari Karonen Mar 4 at 20:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, at a glance, one possible way to resolve the contradiction could be to read "succeed with a natural 20" as "roll a natural 20 that meets or exceeds the DC", but that's by no means the only (or even the most) reasonable reading. Another possibility could be that the two passages are meant to apply to different, mutually exclusive situations, but a quick look at Checks doesn't seem to support this reading, as it specifically lists "attack rolls" as a type of check. I'm hoping someone can supply a definitive answer, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Ilmari Karonen Mar 4 at 20:22
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No, a natural 20 is not always a critical hit.

The key phrase is in the second passage you've quoted.

If you rolled a 20 on the die (a “natural 20”), your result is one degree of success better than it would be by numbers alone.

This turns a critical failure into a failure, a failure into a success, and a success into a critical success (leaving a critical success as a critical success).

The first passage says "when you succeed on a natural 20," which is to say, when you roll a natural 20 and the result would be a normal success before factoring in the increase in degree of success.

So, a natural 20 can even be a failure if it would usually be a critical failure, it's just that this is very uncommon in the game due to the expected level of enemies you'll be facing.

EDIT: To answer your final question specifically,

So if I roll a 20 on my third attack, but it is still lower than the enemy AC (because of MAP for example), is it a critical hit, or a normal hit?

It would be a normal hit, unless your roll total would otherwise be a critical failure, in which case, it is a normal failure.

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