This question is in respect to the Champion's increased critical hit range.

On a roll of 18 or 19 (when this class feature becomes available), is the attack automatically a hit as it would be with a 20?


Yes for the Champion's instance of an expanded critical range.

Improved Critical specifically says you score a critical hit on a 19 or 20. A critical hit is a type of hit; by scoring one, you've also scored a hit. If the word 'critical' wasn't there, the ability would certainly read as if you couldn't miss on a 19 or 20.

This is in contrast to if the ability said something along the lines of 'a hit with a roll of 19 on the d20 is a critical hit'.

This is the RAI for Improved Critical as clarified by Jeremy Crawford, official rules guy for WOTC, in twitter conversations here and here. Note the first tweet:

Only a roll of 20 is an automatic hit, unless a feature says otherwise

is followed up by this amendment, and the clarification of the second tweet sequence:

I had a brain glitch and was thinking of a theoretical crit. range increase. Specifics: Improved Critical does score a hit on a 19.

If a feature says you scored a critical hit, you hit.

In #dnd5e, a critical HIT is a hit. The fighter's Improved Critical doesn't say you CAN score one. It says you SCORE it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ It would have been nice for the rules to have been clear about that from the outset, the tweets certainly help one to understand that feature (and it makes the Champion a bit better of a fighter choice from my PoV than before). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 31 '16 at 12:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Exactly how often does a 19 on an attack by a Champion otherwise score a miss? That is some ridiculous AC. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk May 31 '16 at 13:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk Maybe when he's going against a high AC creature, has Cutting Words used against him, and maybe some Bend Luck and Bane, too? I know, that's stacking the deck a lot, but you did ask :) Crits hit regardless of modifiers, he could have been given a seriously penalty on his attack roll. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 May 31 '16 at 13:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain I said "how often", which you seem to confirm as "never in most characters entire period of leveling from 1 to 20". My point is that "it makes the Champion a bit better of a fighter choice" seems highly questionable: auto-hitting 'on a 19' is not going to change a single attack into a hit in most fighter's entire careers in 5e. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk May 31 '16 at 13:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk Agreed. I think I made a similar point in a discussion / comment on this a while back (or maybe at GitP forums, can't remember). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 31 '16 at 16:52

Critical hits by definition hit

The combat rules state that a critical hit is an attack that "hits regardless of any modifiers or the target's AC":

If the d20 roll for an attack is a 20, the attack hits regardless of any modifiers or the target's AC. This is called a critical hit, which is explained later in this section.

If you have a feature that allows you to score a critical hit on a 19, an 18, or a 2, then that attack will hit regardless of any modifiers or the target's AC.

That said, there are actually 2 caveats which are often overlooked that need to be addressed:

Critical hits only ignore modifiers and AC

Critical hits only hit regardless of modifiers or the target's AC, but there are other things that can cause an attack to miss.

For example, if the target is hiding and the character must guess their location, if they guess wrong then their attack will miss automatically even if they roll a nat 20. This is not a modifier or AC, so even a critical hit can miss.

Nat 20 is separate to a critical hit

The only reason that this question exists is because "nat 20" has been conflated with "critical hit". These are two separate things, but it just so happens that by default if you roll a 20 then you will score a critical hit.

With Improved Critical you will score a critical hit on a 19 or 20. It is possible that in the future some effect will remove your ability to score a critical hit on a 20.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Another example of an effect that overrides a critical hit is Hexblade warlock's Armor of Hexes: ...on a d6: On a 4 or higher, the attack instead misses you, regardless of its roll. That "regardless of its roll" is not necessary but is useful clarification that it definitely applies to a nat-20. (or nat-19). \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes May 26 '20 at 22:06

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