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My 5e group just finished playing through the 5e Starter Set. I am currently a level 4 rogue that has specialized at level 3 as an Assassin. In the starter set I was able to pick up a Wand of Magic Missile (Starter Set) that lets me cast the spell Magic Missile using charges on the wand.

The Magic Missile (PHB) spell creates 3 darts that automatically do 1d4+1 damage to up to three targets at level 1 and makes an additional dart for each level following. Since there is no attack roll this spell normally has no opportunity to crit. However, the Rogue's Assassinate (PHB) skill says:

You have advantage on attack rolls against any creature that hasn’t taken a turn in the combat yet. In addition, any hit you score against a creature that is surprised is a critical hit.

If I use my Wand of Magic Missile against a creature that is surprised do I get to double the damage rolls? In other words, would using the wand to cast level 3 Magic Missile (max possible level from the wand) against a creature that is surprised do 10d4+5 damage to a single target?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Please take a moment to check out the tour and the help center to get an idea of how things work. That said, great first question! \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jun 16 '15 at 12:45
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No, critical hits must be linked with attack rolls.

I checked with Jeremy Crawford on Twitter and he says that critical hits must come from attack rolls:

@JeremeyECrawford No, since only attack rolls can score critical hits.

In response to @Kevinaskevin Can my Rogue's Assassinate cause my Wand of Magic Missile to crit against surprised creatures?

You should read the full conversation between he and I to get more detail.

Critical hits come up in the PHB on pgs. 194 & 196. As I see it the PHB pg. 194 text doesn't imply that critical hits are exclusive to attack rolls:

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.

PHB 196 describes critical hits but never uses the words "attack roll". Reading the text above someone new to DND could reasonably assume there are other causes of critical hits.

Despite this, Jeremy made it clear that the game designers intended critical hits and attack rolls to be linked.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A nice way to think about it is that critical hits are just lucky shots on a specific part of a creature's body (and/or sucker hits in the case of Rogue abilities). Auto-targeting spells like Magic Missile, etc. don't have that possibility because you aren't actually aiming them, you're either in range and automatically hit or you can't hit them at all. \$\endgroup\$ – JAB Jun 17 '15 at 14:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JAB Being blind sided with magical darts wouldn't be a sucker hit? \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Jun 18 '15 at 0:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ruut When knowing they're coming can't change how they'll hit you, yes (unless you have some sort of immediate action counterspell prepared, but then it just wouldn't hit you at all). Being blindsided by a ray, however, would definitely be one. \$\endgroup\$ – JAB Jun 18 '15 at 22:19
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By strict reading of the text, Yes.

Although you are not rolling to hit, the spell itself says it automatically "Hits" and therefore fulfills the requirement of:

In addition, any "hit" you score against a creature that is surprised is a critical hit.

Critical hits with spells are double damage dice. Therefore, each missile you produce would deal double its dice in damage.


After reading the Twitter conversation...

I am still inclined to state "by strict reading of the text" since:

That's the intent, and why the rule is under the heading "Attack Rolls."

A lot of rules can be under different headings - and intent is Rules as Intended not necessarily Rules as Written.

Should a DM take the intent into consideration? Absolutely.


In addition means as an extra person, thing, or circumstance.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Holy crackles, Batman, that is powerful. \$\endgroup\$ – Taejang Jun 16 '15 at 15:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ But only for 1 round, until surprise wears off. \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Jun 16 '15 at 16:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this ruling. However, I had a conversation with Jeremy Crawford on Twitter that I assume overrules your answer. Am I correct in assuming he has final authority? \$\endgroup\$ – kevinaskevin Jun 17 '15 at 1:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with this reading. The Rogue's Assassinate (PHB) skill clearly express that there is a link between the Attack roll and the next sentence "In addition". I would also add that the second sentence talk about hits scored which don't happen as Magic missile directly does damage, as such there is absolutely no notion of scoring a hit, it just does the damage. On the other hand, I would rule that another wand/spell which actually need a roll to hit would work. \$\endgroup\$ – Harmelyo Jun 17 '15 at 2:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kevinaskevin Not necessarily. Sort of related question on Meta. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 26 '15 at 12:29
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NO - For several reasons. Just need to follow book structure to figure this out.

Page 97 Assassinate - Starting at 3rd level you are at your deadliest when you get the drop on your enemyies. You have advantage on attack rolls against any creature that hasn't taken a turn in combat yet. In addition, any hit you score against a creature that is surprised is a critical hit.

Paragraphs keep like-minded text together. Since they brought up attack rolls, it is a safe assumption that their intention that they were alluding to 'Attacks' which they describe later.

Page 193 "Making an attack" - Whether your striking with a melee weapon, firing a weapon at range, or making an attack roll as part of a spell, an attack has a simple structure.

This clearly limits what 'making an attack' is. Thus casting magic missile or any spell for that matter without an attack roll is not considered under the classification of 'Attacks'. So, no, magic missile is not considered making an attack anymore than Fireball is!!! Furthermore, if we were to determine what ascertains as a 'hit'.

Pg 194 Attack Rolls - When you make an attack, your attack roll determines whether the attack hits or misses. To make an attack roll, roll a d20 and add the appropriate modifiers. If the total of the roll plus modifiers equals or exceeds the targets Armor Class (AC), the attack hits.

So far Magic Missile can't be considered an 'Attack'. Since it doesn't require a d20 roll it's not considered an 'Attack Roll' under rules of page 194. Heck, it can't even technically land a hit based on these rules as you didn't meet or exceed any AC. Yes, the rules for Magic Missile say the darts hit a target but they don't land under rule terms what is considered a 'hit'. More on this at the end.

Finally, lets looks at the section of what happens when you roll a 1 or 20.

Pg 194 "Rolling a 1 or 20" - Sometimes fate blesses or curses a combatant, causing the novice to hit and the veterans to miss. 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.....

Yes, there are rules to govern how to handle a Critical Hit. However, this is the only section in the book that describes how to acquire a Critical Hit. Again, you'll notice that it requires a d20 roll which Magic Missile does not. Since Magic Missile does not utilize a d20 we can't stretch the rules and say it auto-hits and even remotely try to call it a 'hit'. And since this is the only section that describes how to get a Critical Hit it is safe to assume the d20 roll is linked.

Finally, lets look at spell Saving Throws and Attack Rolls.

Page 204 Spells - "Saving throws" - Many spells specificy that a target can make a saving throw to avoid some or all of a spell's effects....

So making a saving or not only lets you apply the effects..again it doesn't count as a hit.This in addition to the d20 requirement is what protects players from being critted by Fireballs and Cone of Colds. Granted magic missile has no save so moving on to attack rolls.

Page 204 Spells - "Attack Rolls" - Some spells require the caster to make an attack roll to determine whether the spell effect hits the intended target.....

Remember that Attack Rolls all require a d20 roll. As such, your Magic Missile spell doesn't fall under this category. Even still, this only determine whether or the not spell's effect's hit. So yes spells that utilize 'Attack Rolls' can land 'hits' but Magic Missile does not.

Q.E.D Since no section in the book other Pg 194 Attack Rolls governs how one can acquire a critical hit, it is safe to assume that the only way to obtain critical hits is through Attack Rolls. Magic Missile does is not considered nor does it utilize an attack roll since no d20 is involved in the success/failure of the spell, thus it cannot land 'hits'. Since it doesn't land a 'hit', Magic Missile cannot crit via Rogue's Assassinate.

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