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In Unearthed Arcana 2022 - Character Origins, the "Critical Hits" section on p. 19 of the PDF states (emphasis mine):

Weapons and Unarmed Strikes* have a special feature for player characters: Critical Hits. If a player character rolls a 20 for an attack roll with a Weapon or an Unarmed Strike, the attack is also a Critical Hit, which means it deals extra damage to the target; you roll the damage dice of the Weapon or Unarmed Strike a second time and add the second roll as extra damage to the target. For example, a Mace deals Bludgeoning Damage equal to 1d6 + your Strength modifier. If you score a Critical Hit with the Mace, it instead deals 2d6 + your Strength modifier.

This tends to mean that only players can score critical hits, just like everybody is speaking about on the Internet at the moment.

However the wording of the "Monsters and Critical Hits" section on p. 248 of the DMG is rather explicit (emphasis mine):

A monster follows the same rule for critical hits as a player character. That said, if you use a monster’s average damage, rather than rolling, you might wonder how to handle a critical hit. When the monster scores a critical hit, roll all the damage dice associated with the hit and add them to the average damage.

So which rule actually takes precedence, and therefore can monsters perform critical hits? Is there any other rule in the PHB or MM or other that would make it clearer in one way or another?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The playtest content conflicts with the published books in many places, since it's effectively testing mechanics for an upcoming new edition (even if they don't want to use those words). Is there a reason you'd expect the DMG from the current edition to agree with it on everything? \$\endgroup\$
    – Draconis
    Aug 24, 2022 at 20:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ The UA says that it is compatible with 5e. 1dnd says "this works for PC", 5e says "it works for monsters as it works for PC". \$\endgroup\$ Aug 24, 2022 at 20:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given that everything else in that UA is rewriting basic character creation mechanics, I think it's safe to say that by "compatible with 5e" they don't actually mean it functions in exactly the same way as 5e, just that you can use 5e subclasses and adventures with it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Draconis
    Aug 24, 2022 at 20:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: Do NPC and monsters also double damage on a natural 20? \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 30, 2022 at 6:04

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The Intent In This Playtest Release Is Monsters Can't Crit In One D&D

During the release event some videos of Jeremy Crawford explained that spike damage mechanics are already built into monsters and that critical hits create unexpected damage swings that make balancing encounters difficult. They do indeed intend to remove critical hits from monsters at this point because other spike damage mechanics already exist on some monsters, but it is playtest and might change based on feedback.

It is RAW In This Playtest Release That Monster's Can't Crit In One D&D

5e, and by extension One D&D, is designed as a game of exceptions. So, the new rules in the UA are more specific and exceptions to the published material, as such, applying the One D&D: Player Origins to a game should remove Crits from monster. The new language appears in the glossary that "defines certain rules terms that appear in [the] docuemnt, focusing on terms that have been... redefined":

This glossary defines certain rules terms that appear in this document , focusing on terms that have been clarified or redefined or that don’t appear in the 2014 Player’s Handbook.

The playtest document redefines the game term Critical Hits to mean:

CRITICAL HITS

Weapons and Unarmed Strikes* have a special feature for player characters: Critical Hits. ...

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    \$\begingroup\$ The most frustrating thing about this is that they plan on removing a major mechanic, but we really dont' know what the mechanic is that will replace it. I think it'd help for this question, as it stands with only the origins playtest available, to clarify that the actual monster rules haven't changed - just they are considering changing them as per the video. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 30, 2022 at 18:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you consider rephrasing the lead to "The current intention is that monster's won't crit"? It seems a little early to be so sure, but JC ends with especially wanting feedback on this and seeing where it might lead next. This isn't necessarily a slam-dunk definitive statement about where it will go. It is odd that they want feedback on the DM side, when we don't have the rules for the DM or monsters. But hey, WoTC gonna WoTC. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 30, 2022 at 20:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ All of One D&D is playtest and subject to change. I expect almost all One D&D questions to require an update as things change, and my final sentence already conveys that idea. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30, 2022 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ He also explicitly says (at ~01:01:30) that the docs have been designed to be used with the existing 5e core ruleset (all three of the books). So what we have at the moment is a set of rules that don't achieve their intended purpose as stated in the video (since the current playtest rules only modify player character rules, and the monster rules are provided by the other 5e core rules) \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Aug 31, 2022 at 8:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Indeed, it is the intent of the current playtest that monsters do not get crits. this is now clear I think. It's difficult to speculate on the final release, but since this question is about the UA we don't need to. You have addressed the RAI, and while OP seems clear on the RAW the question does ask "can monsters perform crits" so it would be good to address the RAW for clarity. \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Sep 1, 2022 at 0:02
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Wizards of the Coast did not say the playtest material is compatible with the Dungeon Master's Guide.

The exact quote about compatibility is:

What does backward compatible mean?

It means that fifth edition adventures and supplements will work in One D&D.

The Dungeon Master's Guide is neither an adventure nor a supplement, it is part of the core rules of the game, which Wizards says will be changing:

One D&D will usher in the next generation of D&D with new and more comprehensive versions of the core rulebooks that millions of players have enjoyed for the past decade.

There will be many fundamental updates to D&D that we will collect your feedback on.

The new core rulebooks are expected to be released in 2024.

Therefore, there is at this time no reason to assume that the playtest rule you quote is compatible with any rule from the Dungeon Master's Guide. You are quoting the Character Origins resource, that is, player facing playtest material. Wizards has not released any material at this time concerning DM facing NPC material. It is quite natural to assume that it will be abundantly clear soon enough how the combat rules are changing. There is no reason to believe that the currently released material attempts to answer your question here, so we shouldn't either.

All this is not to say “you aren’t supposed to use the core rules of 5e” - you wouldn’t have a game to play that way. It’s about expectations. You have to use the PHB and the DMG, but contradictions like this are exactly what we should expect from a playtest that modifies the core material. This question isn’t supposed to have a canonical answer, at least, not at this point. It will certainly be addressed in future material, but for now, put the rules we have together as best we can and provide feedback about how it went.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Several questions come to mind with this answer, making it incomplete. First: are you supposed to play(test) without the DMG? WOTC requests us to test it at our table, but we can't use the DMG? Second, the UA says that it redefines some terms of the Player's Handbook, and from the Player's Handbook only. so the scope is very clear. So I should be playtesting with the DMG. Third, it's compatible with adventures, some of those have monsters that can refer to monster crit (Langdedrosa Cyanwrath from HotDQ, Ghald from PotA). \$\endgroup\$ Aug 25, 2022 at 8:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlivierGrégoire It’s playtest material that is changing the core rules. They aren’t supposed to fit together neatly. You’re supposed to take the rules we already have, and the new playtest rules, and mash them together as best you can, then provide feedback about what worked and what didn’t. There isn’t supposed to be a canonical answer to this question. You’re supposed to figure out what you think the answer is supposed to be, then report back to Wizards of the Coast with what you found. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 25, 2022 at 10:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user77842 No: the DMG says what I quoted in the question, including the "That said", meaning that the preceding part is a full blown statement, not a mere indication. In my view, you put a bounty based on a complete misunderstanding of the sentences. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30, 2022 at 6:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ No part of this answer actually addresses the main question "Can monsters perform critical hits?" But is rather meta-commentary on what is or isn't compatible with the playtest material. Sure the quoted rule from the DMG isn't compatible, but are there other rules (e.g. the standard attack rules from the PHB) that imply that a monster can crit? Or visa-versa? \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Aug 30, 2022 at 23:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin “The material we have doesn’t address that question” is a valid answer. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 31, 2022 at 0:17
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The rules provided only apply to Player Characters and thus this rule does not preclude critical hits for monster and NPCs

The very first paragraph of the playtest material says:

This document is the first in a series of Unearthed Arcana articles that present material designed for the Player's Handbook coming out in 2024. The material here uses the rules in the 2014 Player's Handbook, except where noted. [...]

(emphasis mine)

These rules, are only replacing the PHB rules where they are to be used. They do not replace any Dungeon Masters Guide or Monster Manual rules. As a result, until material replacing those comes out, we must use the 5e DMG and MM for playtesting purposes. You can't playtest with rules that you do not have.

As a result, as things stand for the current playtest material, Monsters and NPCs can crit.

But what about the quoted text?

The paragraph you quote states:

Weapons and Unarmed Strikes* have a special feature for player characters: Critical Hits. [...]

This says that Weapons and Unarmed Strikes have a special feature for PCs. It does not say they don't have that special feature for either of monsters or NPCs.

Just because one group of creatures gets something does not preclude other creatures from also having that feature. This line does not preclude monsters and NPCs from being able to crit.

They can currently crit, so we must conclude until we have evidence otherwise that they can still crit for the purposes of this playtest.

A note on compatibility

The playtest material FAQ specifically notes:

What does backward compatible mean?

It means that fifth edition adventures and supplements will work in One D&D.

Some adventures (like Locathah Rising), explicitly refer to NPCs making critical hits.

Gar surprises the kraken, hitting it twice with Wave before the creature can react, and achieving a critical hit both times. [...]

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft has at least one monster variant that explicitly mentions critical hits (Unspeakable Horrors with the Bone Blade limb).

So at least some of the material the playtest is compatible with assumes that critical hits can be performed by creatures that are not PCs.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Aug 31, 2022 at 8:26
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If I'm not wrong, this rule only existed in the first playtest.

It doesn't appear in the second playtest and it has not existed since the one.

Anyway, IMHO, it's not good to remove crits from monsters.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. \$\endgroup\$
    – Community Bot
    Oct 8, 2023 at 17:01
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The "One D&D" content is effectively playtesting mechanics for a new edition, though they're trying not to use those words. As such, many things in the One D&D playtest work differently than they do in the current edition (5e).

This is one of those things. In 5e, monsters can score critical hits. In One D&D, or at least in the current playtest materials, they cannot.

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