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If a creature hits with a natural 20, can a Lore bard use his Cutting Words ability to substract an inspiration die from the result, thus preventing a critical hit?

Cutting Words:

When a creature that you can see within 60 feet of you makes an attack roll [...] you can use your reaction to expend one of your uses of Bardic Inspiration, rolling a Bardic Inspiration and substracting the number rolled from the creature's roll. You can choose to use this feature after the creature makes its roll [...] (PHB, p. 54, emphasis mine)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Though, @DaFluid brings an interesting question in the comment below about the corollary of that logic: can Bardic Inspiration turn a regular roll into a critical hit? As you can see in his (clever) post (rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/72065/…), answers based on Jeremy Crawford’s interpretation open the door to unforeseen implications (not to say shenanigans). That’s why I’m now wondering if Mr. Crawford really thought his answer through in his tweet… \$\endgroup\$ – Meta4ic Dec 11 '15 at 14:42
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Apparently, you cannot. At least not any more.

Jeremy Crawford, the official rules sage of Wizards of the Coast, was asked in December 2015:

@JeremyECrawford Can I cancel a "Natural 20 Critical Hit" using Cutting Words? 9:26 PM - 2 Dec 2015

He responded at that time:

@LeonardoNocchi Yes, you can. 6:48 PM - 3 Dec 2015

My reasoning at that time for his response: The actual mechanic of cutting words must be to actually reduce the die roll, before modifiers are applied, which is consistent with the wording.

However, on February 3, Jeremy Crawford reversed his previous ruling.

Cutting Words can't nullify a critical hit—no bonus or penalty can (PH, 194). [Overrides a deleted 12/3 tweet]

If you want to play by the rules as strictly as possible, canceling a crit should never be possible. If you do want to implement crit canceling in your game as a house rule, Crawford's initial, overridden ruling shows that it's not crazy to do so. As with most rulings, consistency is usually preferable to conformity.

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When a creature that you can see within 60 feet of you makes an attack roll [...] you can use your reaction to expend one of your uses of Bardic Inspiration, rolling a Bardic Inspiration and substracting the number rolled from the creature's roll. You can choose to use this feature after the creature makes its roll [...] (PHB, p. 54)

This is an example of specific beats general. The general rule is on p. 7:

The d20

  1. Roll the die and add a modifier.

  2. Apply circumstantial bonuses and penalties.

  3. Compare the total to a target number.

Bardic inspiration specifically refers to this as changing the creature's roll; not as a modifier or circumstantial penalty.

The creature's roll is therefore not a 20 and all things that would follow from it being a 20 (automatic hit, critical etc.) don't.

If it helps, for both Cutting Words and Bardic Inspiration, think of the roll as the two dice together. Just like rolling 2d8 or 3d6 is a single roll.

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No

PHB pg. 194 states:

"If the d20 roll for an attack is a 20, the attack hits regardless of any modifiers or the targets AC."

There is some confusion to whether "Cutting Words" is a modifier. Even though the wording is slightly different from other modifying features like "Bardic Inspiration"...you are still clearly modifying the creature's attack roll by "subtracting" the number. That makes it a modifier...end of story.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I decided to add this answer as the previous answers do not clearly answer the question. PHB pg. 194 Combat Rules on "Rolling a 1 or 20" clearly answers this question without having to wonder what Jeremy Crawford or anyone else says or debates the question. \$\endgroup\$ – user33129 Jan 3 '17 at 17:08
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As found on http://5edndwiki.wikidot.com/howtoplay-combatattackbasics

Natural 20: If your d20 roll is a 20 before adding modifiers, your attack automatically hits. In addition, the attack is a critical hit [...]. (Emphasis mine.)

I'd say 'yes', because Cutting Words would qualify as a negative modifier.

(Not sure this applies to 5th edition, but if a weapon crits on 19-20, the roll is 20 and you roll 1 it'd still be a critical hit).

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    \$\begingroup\$ That link refers to the Playtest phase of 5e and is no longer an authoritative source for rules. That said, it could be a good source for demonstrating developer intent. \$\endgroup\$ – DaFluid Dec 10 '15 at 14:22

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