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Critical Hits
Design & Development
by Logan Bonner

The Design & Development article series premiered on the D&D website back in September 2005, and has been a staple ever since. With the approach of 4th Edition, and our designers and developers focused on the new edition, this column will be the primary vehicle for 4th Edition coverage. We’ll not only give you peeks at what’s forthcoming, but also the “how” and “why.”

Keep in mind that the game is still in a state of flux, as refinements are made by our design and development staff. You’re getting a look behind the curtain at game design in progress, so enjoy, and feel free to send your comments to

To score a critical hit in 4th Edition D&D, do the following:

Roll 20.

Simple enough, right? Just one number to remember. And more importantly, just one roll.

Yes, the confirmation roll is gone. So why did we get rid of it? Because we, like so many players, had rolled crits only to have the confirmation roll miss. And we didn't like it. We don't think that many people did. (I look forward to reading the posts of people who disagree.) Having one roll is faster, and it's more fun. It keeps the excitement of the 20, and ditches the disappointment of the failure to confirm.

Critical Damage

Here's the part that's going to take some getting used to: Critical hits don't deal double damage. This changed because doubling everything 5% of the time led to some pretty crazy spikes that were very unpredictable.

Let's say you roll a crit with a power that deals 1d10+4 normally. So the crit deals 2d10+8. The next turn, the monster attacks you using a power that deals 3d6+4 damage. He crits, dealing 6d6+8. Between the extra dice and the doubled ability modifier, that's a pretty huge difference! (And a pretty painful one.)

Instead, when you roll a critical hit, all the dice are maximized. So your 1d10+4 power deals 14 damage and the monster's 3d6+4 deals 22. Generally speaking, randomness is more of an advantage to monsters than PCs. More predictable critical damage keeps monsters from insta-killing your character.

Having maximized dice also helps out when you have multitarget attacks. You'll roll an attack roll against each target, so maximized dice keep you from needing to roll a bunch of dice over and over -- you can just write your crit damage on your character sheet for quick reference.

Beefing Up Your Crits

PCs also have some extra tricks up their sleeves to make their criticals better. Magic weapons (and implements for magical attacks) add extra damage on crits. So your +1 frost warhammer deals an extra 1d6 damage on a critical hit (so your crit's now up to 14+1d6 damage in the example above). Monsters don't get this benefit, so PC crits outclass monster crits most of the time.

Crits can be improved in a couple of other ways. Weapons can have the high crit property, giving extra dice on a crit. Like this:

Weapon Prof. Damage Range Cost Weight Category Properties
War pick 2 d8 -- 15 gp 6 lb. Pick High crit, versatile

In addition, some powers and magic items have extra effects on a hit. So crits are doing just fine without all those dice.

Crits in Play

In playtest, it does seem like critical hits come up more often. The subtitle of this article is stolen from Chris Tulach, who sings a bit of, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Crit-mas" whenever the natural 20s come out to play. Fortunately, hit points are higher, especially at low levels, so there's a bigger buffer to keep those crits from killing people too quickly. It still feels great to roll one, but the fight goes on.

We've tried to corral the numbers but keep the feel that a critical hit is a special event. So grab your d20 and your big, nasty magic axe, and get ready to crit for the fences!

About the Author

Logan Bonner joined Wizards of the Coast as in 2006 as an editor on Dungeons & Dragons. He had no experience in the industry prior to joining WotC, and marvels that his clever ruse has lasted this long. After doing some class design work for 4th Edition on the side, he joined the mechanical design team. His previous editing products include Magic Item Compendium and Monster Manual V, and he wrote about half of Eberron Survival Guide, which releases in March '08.