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At a recent game, a character confirmed a critical hit with a natural 20 and there was a brief discussion whether natural 1s and natural 20s auto failed or auto succeeded (respectively) to confirm critical hits.

The ending result was that, the Players Handbook says attack roll so it utilized the normal attack roll rules (which includes 1&20 auto-fail/auto-success).

From the srd:

Automatic Misses and Hits A natural 1 (the d20 comes up 1) on the attack roll is always a miss. A natural 20 (the d20 comes up 20) is always a hit. A natural 20 is also a threat—a possible critical hit.

...

To find out if it’s a critical hit, you immediately make a critical roll—another attack roll with all the same modifiers as the attack roll you just made.

I recall in the past reading differently but could not find anything in brief look-over including the MainFAQ. Any other citations we missed that might make this more clear/compelling one way or the other?

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A critical roll is another attack roll

As you mentioned, the Player's Handbook (2003) on Critical Hits says that

When you make an attack roll and get a natural 20 (the d20 shows 20), you hit regardless of your target’s Armor Class, and you have scored a threat. The hit might be a critical hit (or “crit”). To find out if it’s a critical hit, you immediately make a critical roll—another attack roll with all the same modifiers as the attack roll you just made. (140)

This information is repeated almost verbatim by the Rules Compendium (Oct. 2006) on Critical Hits (40). It is undisputed by D&D Frequently Asked Questions (June 2008).

A critical roll, then, is another attack roll, therefore automatically failing on a natural 1 and automatically succeeding on a natural 20.

(Pathfinder likewise virtually repeats the Player's Handbook in Common Terms on Critical Hit.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel compelled to point out that this would mean that your critical roll, being an attack roll in itself, requires a critical roll of its own on a 20. Pointless and stupid, but the recursion is there. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jan 30 '17 at 2:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman By slavishly following the rules to the exclusion of sense and survival, one could die rolling endlessly, although chances are slim. However, as success on the critical roll (the second attack roll) is all that's necessary to yield an answer ("Is the critical threat a critical hit?"), there's no point in continuing rolling. (Also, if playing with the Variant: Instant Kills (DMG 28), rolling a third attack roll on a threat on the critical roll, in fact, is a thing. Only the bloodthirstiest of DMs should use such rules, though.) Don't joke about critical hits, man. ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jan 30 '17 at 4:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yep, I wasn't suggesting anyone should ever do it (pretty sure I used the phrase "pointless and stupid" :P ) \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jan 30 '17 at 4:44

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