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Obviously, allowing a character to critically hit or miss on demand is hugely impactful, but if it's only once a day is it appreciably overpowered compared to other similar features? Aside from the two I mentioned in the title of the question, there's also Path to the Grave that could achieve a similar effect (though the two together would certainly make for a powerful combo).

My instinct is that it's somewhat more powerful, so I plan to attach a Wish-like possibility to lose the ability entirely, but I'm trying to gauge the power level before deciding what the odds of losing it are.

Is it on the level of a feat, where it's a potentially strong boon but equally as viable at any character level? Is it like a class feature where it can be balanced depending on what level it comes online?

I at least feel confident it's not powerful enough that it would have to be a single-use-ever ability, but there's a wide range in between that and being just a little helpful.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is just a personal opinion (hence this being a comment) but I feel that regardless of balance, taking the random element completely out of an action that was designed to have it is contradicting the spirit of the game. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 17, 2023 at 13:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's a fair point! It's an ability that's thematically about cheating the odds, but since nobody is likely to use this for anything but a 1 or a 20 anyway, I could probably involve some chance in it just being one or the other. That should make it considerably less powerful as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – aryst0krat
    Jun 17, 2023 at 15:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Now THAT would be fun, you get an 80% chance of getting the number you want (be it 1 or 20), and 20% for the opposite. (80/20 because you're cheating the odds after all) \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 17, 2023 at 16:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Whose d20 can this affect? Could I, for example, affect an attack aimed at me or a saving throw for my spell? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2023 at 11:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ComicSansStrikephim That's the idea, yeah. \$\endgroup\$
    – aryst0krat
    Jun 19, 2023 at 16:03

4 Answers 4

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This is extremely powerful

For an attack, what you propose will guarantee a critical hit, and when combined with things like a paladin's divine smite or a rogue's sneak attack, will go a long way toward killing an opponent on the first round.

Choosing the roll is somewhat less powerful for spell-casters, but only because a lot of the more powerful enemies have legendary saves. Against a competent spellcaster's DC, a natural 1 essentially guarantees failing a 'save-or-out' save like banishment or polymorph. This would include any reasonably powerful foe, and even most that are way over the party's challenge rating bracket.

I am playing a Divination wizard, and Portent is easily the differentiating feature of the school. It is why you take the school, really. It can give you a high probability to succeed on a save yourself, or to make an enemy fail a save, when you have the luck to roll an extreme result for the day. However, even with Portent's initial two rolls, your chance to roll a natural 1 for the day is only ~10%. And a result around 10 or 11 does not really do that much for you — it is only useful if you have a pretty good idea about the opponent's likely bonuses and can estimate whether an average roll would be enough.

Is choosing a single roll better than Portent or Lucky? With Portent you get two, or later three, chances to get an extreme result. Portent is stronger than Lucky, because you know the result beforehand, and can apply it after having calculated its effect. Lucky still is widely regarded as one of the most powerful feats in the game. So is the certainty of the most extreme result worth more than two or three shots at a somewhat extreme outcome?

The way the game is balanced numerically, you normally have about a 65% chance to hit, or the opponents around 60% chance to fail a save. At that rate, being able to shift in one or the other direction with the equivalent of advantage or disadvantage can be worth about 24%. Is a 24% chance of improving your hit three times better than hitting once guaranteed and critically for nearly doubled damage? I think it is worse both from an expected damage perspective (24% x base damage x 3 is less than 100% x variable base damage, unless less than 72%% of your damage output is variable, which it won't be if you smite or sneak attack), and from a timing perspective: with certainty of the crit in round one, you can take down the enemy faster, and you are sure that what you try will work.

I think for Portent with casters it is a pretty close call which one would be better, because you don't necessarily need a 1; any low or high result can work quite reliably, and you get two or three uses with Portent. For fighters with nova damage, who can take advantage fully, choosing the roll is better. It might still not be quite broken as a feat, and I'm not sure you need to attach a chance to lose it forever.

If you do, I think the chance of loss should be pretty low - like 1 in 20, but because this is not off-label wish heavy duty, I think a design where you can lose it is no fun. You either won't use it unless it's a do or die case, or if you will use it regularly like a class feature so that you're bound to lose the ability pretty soon. If I would attach a penalty, then maybe that you cannot use it for a few days after you did, or something like that, instead.

In any case, you need to playtest it before you can say for sure. This is a very dangerous ability.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the in-depth response! Rather than an ordinary feature, this is a free 'capstone feat' for a system of Item Sets I'm developing. This particular capstone is the result of collecting all four Gambler's Set items, which are themed around cheating the odds. So losing it permanently is not quite as serious as losing access to an actual feat, as you can always just get different items. I appreciate the clarity on just how powerful it would be, though! \$\endgroup\$
    – aryst0krat
    Jun 17, 2023 at 15:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you think about an alternative version where you change the roll to either a 20 or a 1 based on a coin flip? Same potential reward but with much higher risk. \$\endgroup\$
    – aryst0krat
    Jun 17, 2023 at 15:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ If I may suggest an alternative "punishment": 1 level of exhaustion. That's going to stop many players from using it as an opening gambit. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 17, 2023 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was interpreting it as a picked number is not a natural so it's not going to crit. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joshua
    Jun 18, 2023 at 3:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes It was indeed just an idea I thought may be worth considering. The goal being to push this ability more towards "last resort in big battles" than "start every combat with an instant kill", but maybe it pushes it too far. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 18, 2023 at 11:01
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Extremely powerful, but I balanced it with a tweak

Others have gone into the details of why it's over powered, however I did run something very similar and had a work-around to balance it. In my game it was for a specific quest - not the whole thing - where they were dealing with people altering fate. The foreshadowing was that fate always balances itself.

You, as the DM, get to use the roll they choose too (whenever you like, not necessarily that fight). They want to crit hit the enemy? Sure, but the enemy will get a 20 too - perhaps to sneak up on you and get a surprise round, perhaps in a hit or in setting a trap that'll stay hidden or saving against some big spell. Your party has weaknesses - if they choose to force a 20 they know you can hit them with it too. Likewise for natural 1s, if they roll a natural 20 you could just step in and stop that. I found this meant my players were only using it for really key moments, not as a crutch to carry the team, it meant it was sometimes used for 19s rather than natural 20s too.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Huh, I really like this! WIll definitely take it into account when I try to move forward with this ability in some form. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$
    – aryst0krat
    Jun 18, 2023 at 17:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ So like the dice the players choose will give the same dice as some sort of Portent dice to the DM? Sounds cool \$\endgroup\$
    – justhalf
    Jun 19, 2023 at 1:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @justhalf Yeah so whatever value you choose for yourself, fate balances it the other way and the DM gets to use that value too. Give yourself a nat 20 and you give the DM one too. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2023 at 7:32
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It's absolutely huge in a party that can set up combos when they know a crit is coming, like a consistent 238 average damage with a grave cleric and a high-level paladin's first attack (or mid-level paladin/sorc multi-class, or hexblade with eldritch smite). Or if have another way to impose vulnerability for one attack.

It would also be quite good for a high-level rogue with lots of Sneak Attack dice.


If you have paladin levels for divine smite, you can dump a high-level slot whenever you do eventually crit. But that might not be until late in a battle (and taking some enemies off the field early means they had fewer turns to damage the PCs or whatever). Or you might not crit at all during a fight, so you might use those spell slots early on non-crits.

But some abilities have to be used ahead of an attack, so can't be used in reaction to rolling a crit. If you know when you will crit, you can stack those up:

  • paladin Banishing Smite (5th): the attack deals an extra 5d10 force damage to the target. - it's part of the attack so it's doubled by crits
  • cleric Path to the Grave (grave cleric Channel Divinity) - vulnerability to all damage from the next attack that hits.

Grave cleric readies an action to channel divinity as the paladin or hexblade is moving in to attack. Paladin casts Banishing Smite, then attacks with an auto-crit and does a 4th-level Divine or Eldritch Smite (the max 5d8) on top of that. Lets say their base damage is 2d6+5.

On a non-crit with that setup, against non-undead, they'll do 5d8(divine smite) + 5d10 (banishing smite) + 2d6 (weapon) + 5 (str), for an average of 62.
On a crit, average of 119.
With Path to the Grave vulnerability, double that for 238 damage average (max 418) in the first round from their first attack, absolutely guaranteed no way to avoid unless they're resistant to some of the damage types, or if they have Mirror Image or Armor of Hexes up to make the attack miss regardless of the d20 roll.

Also, if that attack leaves the target with less than 50 HP, it's banished (no save). (The wording seems different from Banishment (4th) - if not native to this plane, it's banished to its home plane, full stop. You don't have to maintain concentration for the full minute to stop it from coming back; that part only seems to apply to banishing a native creature to a harmless demiplane.)

So if a creature is banished, then the whole party can heal up and ready a fresh round of attacks.

With more PCs getting in on the action,

  • fighter Commander's Strike: let another creature make an attack, adding your superiority die to the attack's damage roll. So maybe the paladin casts Banishing Smite at the end of their first turn, then after the cleric uses PttG, a battlemaster fighter can use a reaction to have the paladin attack with an extra 1d8 damage that gets doubled on crit.

  • Valor Bard - Combat Inspiration lets you add it to a damage roll. Or the optional Tasha's rule Magical Inspiration lets any bard's inspiration die be added to a damage roll. (The phrasing of those aren't 100% clear that they're part of the weapon damage roll, which is required for it to get doubled on a crit.)

  • Holy Weapon (5th) - the cleric could cast Holy Weapon on the paladin's weapon before combat, or on the first turn and do this combo on the 2nd, making attacks with the weapon do an extra 2d8 radiant on hit.

So potentially getting an extra 1d8+1d12 (or whatever size of inspiration die) doubled on crit instead of when they're spent in most other cases. Plus the 2d8 holy weapon on every hit including this one.


Or for a caster, a high-level Inflict Wounds (level+2)d10, e.g. 9d10 for a 7th-level spell slot. 18d10 on crit averages 99 necrotic damage, vs. 75 for a 6th-level Disintegrate of 85.5 for a 7th-level Disintegrate on a failed save. (Nothing on success, that's why Disintegrate (6th) does so much damage.)

At mid-level play, a 3rd to 5th level crit Inflict Wounds is even more serious business compared to regular 3rd to 5th level spells. Like 55 average damage for the 2x 5d10 of a 3rd-level Inflict Wounds, vs. average 28 on a failed save for single-target Fireball (3rd)'s 8d6.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess in balancing for my own table I tend to forget that there are hyper-optimizers out there, and it's good to be reminded because I may share the creation I need this feature for with others. Thank you for the hard math! \$\endgroup\$
    – aryst0krat
    Jun 18, 2023 at 4:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aryst0krat: Critical Role's campaign 2 had a grave cleric and a hexblade/paladin multi-class. They comboed PttG + Smite maybe once, but I forget if Fjord cast a Smite spell. He had Banishing Smite as a warlock spell-known, so this exact combo (non-crit) was possible for them, and it was kind of frustrating to me that they didn't do this more. But apparently Caduceus thought Path to the Grave was "mean" and should be reserved only for the worst of enemies. And when he did use it, it usually wasn't for Fjord. And upcasting a single attack-roll spell that scales well is just common sense. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2023 at 5:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah it always surprised me when he set it up for Yasha almost every time. \$\endgroup\$
    – aryst0krat
    Jun 18, 2023 at 9:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aryst0krat: To be fair, for most of the campaign Fjord only had 2 warlock spell slots, and didn't want to spend them on smites most of the time. But yeah, Nott would have been a better choice most of the time for Sneak Attack, especially with Yasha not getting her Aasimar wings out for big bonus damage on her first attack. But if initiative works out so you have a decent choice without readying your action (to later use your reaction), that's much better for a grave cleric. Especially the way CR usually mis-plays it where readying uses up your reaction before you even take the reaction. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2023 at 9:09
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Lets be honest: "choosing the result" = "pick 1 or 20, likely when it translates to a critical hit or miss".

With that in mind, we can compare the probabilities of getting the same with various portent:

  • Portent: with 2d20 rolls, there's a 18% chance of getting 1 or 20, with 1% chance of both; if we double count the last scenario, that's 20%
  • Portent lv14: Similarly, we have 24.3% chance of at least 1, with 2.7% of two and 0.1% for three = total 30% chance of a critical hit

On the other hand, non-critical rolls of portent still give you some value; let's count rolls >15 or <5 as having half value of a critical roll. This will give you an approx value of 0.65 (vs 1 from your ability) initially, rising to 0.975 at level 14.

So while this could be interpreted as reaching parity with portent at level 14, it's important to remember that your ability allows choosing between 1 or 20 and has potential for bigger spikes of damage every time, becoming the one trick the party might center their strategy every time - which, besides more powerful, is also boring.

Possible tweaks

As mentioned, I think there are two problems with this ability:

  • it becomes the one trick the party will be pulling every day
  • it is rather OP

On the other hand, I like the idea of dictating the roll, instead of having a random roll that can be used. So what if we reflavoured portent to do this?

We know that portent has a 20% chance of giving you an 1 or 20 - so instead, you could do this at the beginning of the day:

  • roll 1d10
  • on 1, you can replace a roll with a 1
  • on 10, you can replace a roll with a 20
  • nothing happens on the rest of the rolls

This is strictly inferior to portent as you don't get the intermediate rolls that could be used and no chance of 2 crits, so we could buff it a bit by saying that on 9 and 10 you can just choose the result of a roll.

On lv14, the range can be expanded to 8-10, giving you a 33% chance of that happening. Of course, you can use 1d20 instead with ranges of 18-20, then 16-20.

Perhaps this is a rather underwhelming ability so some playtesting would be nice to find a good range. One particularly annoying issue is failing multiple days to get this activated; even with 33% of activation, there's a good chance (30%) it wont happen in 3 consecutive days, which would be rather frustrating for the player. A possible fix for that is to have a mercy mechanic where the player automatically gets to use it after 2 fails, but makes the ability more complex.

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