Classes D&D homebrew Table Top

Fighting Styles in D&D 5e, Part Two

The first part may be found here.

Having looked at a few of the styles in depth, the other thing I wanted to do was look at barbarian, monk, and rogue and see if there is a reason some fighting styles weren’t extended to them, as well. As mentioned before, the Fighting Styles feature just states “you choose a particular style of fighting as your specialty.” There isn’t anything to indicate this is a result of training, but rather just preference from experience. However, that doesn’t mean fighting styles should just be handed out without some analysis.

The Barbarian

In the equipment section, the class provides a bevy of fighting options, gives either a greataxe and two hand axes, which are light weapons, or a choice of any martial and simple weapon. Barbarians can wear up to medium armor, though Unarmored Defense, one of the key class features, makes it compelling to possibly wear no armor, should your Dexterity and Constitution scores be relatively high. Having both of these be high is fairly unlikely, as your Rage keys off your Strength, and only benefits Strength attacks. Interestingly, the text goes out of its way to state barbarians can use shields, and your Rage isn’t limited in any fashion if you use a shield. It’s pretty easy to envision a barbarian screaming and shouting while slamming axe against shield.

Rage does add a flat bonus to each Strength based attack made while Raging. At 1st-level, a barbarian dual-wielding hand axes edges out a greataxe barbarian, thanks to this bonus, at 16 damage against 13.5 damage. At 5th, two-handed pulls ahead, at 27 damage against 21.5. Even with scaling rage damage, this gap remains fairly large.

Unlike with other classes, a slightly increased critical chance from two-weapon fighting matters because of the additional die. Assuming 1 in 20 attacks critically hits, after seven rounds at fifth level and above, you’d have a critical hit using two-weapon fighting, but it would take ten rounds for a single weapon. So, after 100 rounds, you’d have ten critical hits with a great weapon, and fifteen with two-weapon fighting. At 9th-level, you’d get an average 130 critical damage with the greataxe, and an average 105 critical damage with the hand axes. If you opt for Dual Wielder as a feat, it’s 135 damage. Woo? At 13th-level, it’s an average 195 critical damage against either 157.5 or 202.5. At 17th-level, it’s an average 260 critical damage against either 210 or 270. It’s pretty clear that this does not favor the two-weapon barbarian, as it’s either less damage or not enough to offset the difference in passive average die roll. This doesn’t even consider the Frenzy path feature.

So what?

The math above (half-orc not withstanding) does a fair job illustrating there is, unfortunately a best-path damage barbarian. However, the text all seems to indicate all sorts of other barbarians should exist, but where is the support then? Surprising no one, there isn’t any defensive support in the Path of the Berserker. Rage has baked in weapon damage reduction, and Path of the Totem provides some additional reduction,avoidance, and control at the first and last tier. Elk and Tiger gives some additional options for control at 14th, if you have the Swordcoast Adventurer’s Guide.

Weapons don’t play a big part in this, which is great as a path, but the class itself really just expects you to use a greataxe, do a lot of damage, and just rage your way through. This is a shame. In looking at all of this, barbarian could definitely benefit thematically by having some fighting styles. This isn’t just an add-on for power or even for more options, the class write-up literally wants there to be diversity in weapons, armor, and styles, but doesn’t do anything to then engender it.

Barbarian wrap-up

Based on everything the class says, and the paths available, it makes sense to me to allow barbarians to have fighting styles. What’s more, really all of them work thematically, even archery. Barbarians hurling axes and javelins as they rage is pretty cool, and is supported by what is written of the class. Really, this only makes barbarian more engaging and dynamic, and allowing all of the same options as fighter doesn’t detract anything from fighter, in my eyes. Fighter has so much else going for it. I can easily imagine a protection barbarian banging an axe on a shield and roaring at someone to come at him, bro, as he fights near his dane. I can just as easily think of a barbarian wielding two axes, whirling through the battlefield and maybe even hurling one as she went.

It only makes the class more engaging and more thematic.

The Monk

Monk is fine. It’s core mechanics are vast, and it’s built around martial arts, where weapons are more props than anything. Seriously. You describe your monk weapon, how you fight with, and you class assigns you the damage from the martial arts column. Honestly, that’s pretty cool. The weapon is an extension of style and prowess, and nothing more. I could easily get behind the Martial Arts column being reworked for each class in a more stylized, stripped down, cinematic 5e game. Anyway. Monk doesn’t really need fighting styles, it goes against what the class is doing. I respect that.

The Rogue

The rogue is in a weird place. The machine gun nature of the sneak attack from 3e and 3.5e is gone. 4e had rogues deal sneak attack once per turn, though it was much less damage, but 4e also had a lot more damage going on overall, and the rogue got to do all sorts of shit. The rogue gets more damage from sneak attack than in 4e, scaling up to 10d6, and more emphasis is placed on the skilled nature of subterfuge. The rogue is now, more than ever, the suave man of mystery, killing with a single stroke.

The assassin doubles down on this idea, with two synergistic abilities keying off a surprise round. It’s an auto-critical hit dealing doubled damage on top of the critical, should a stout saving throw be failed. It also expands to include some poisons(even if it never does anything with them), and does a lot with the assassin setting up disguises to get at victims.

The thief archetype is all about doing cool cat burglar things. Your bonus action lets you get more or safer movement, or hide, already, and the thief expands this to include swiping things, picking locks, disarming traps, and using objects. This last is  solid synergy with Use Magic Device, which the thief picks up later on. The other features are more movement options, better stealth, and the capstone feature of two turns during your first round of combat.

The Arcane Trickster is a shell of its former self, but you get the fantastic cantrips introduced in Swordcoast Adventurer’s Guide, which help a lot. Most of your spells have to be illusions and enchantments, but you get two cantrips and four other spells, one for each spell level for first through fourth, really. It’s not all that dire, I just remember the insanity of the Arcane Trickster from yesteryear. You don’t sneak attack with your spells any more, but the features are cool. You magically steal and pick locks, your spells are hard to save against from hiding, you can give yourself advantage. The capstone is very thematic, stealing spell knowledge and so on.

Swordcoast Adventurer’s Guide offers two additional archetypes. The Mastermind is every heist-inspired dashing rogue,  thematically cool, and the Swashbuckler is some bullshit. The Swashbuckler states it wants you to use two-weapon fighting, but it’s weird. It gives you a free Disengage on weapon hit, but that’s literally all it does. Another ability also uses a bonus action. The biggest thing is you get sneak attack even if you don’t have advantage, if you isolate them. You literally just get sneak attack like all the time, as a result. You also get a weird taunt that might be a charm. You rely on spending your reaction to halve the damage, and evasion to save you from spells. Rogues are nimble, sure, but they get hit a fair bit and only have d8 hit points. Hubris, thy name is Swashbuckler.

Do rogue have call for fighting styles?

Interesting question, over all. The rogue has three real modes of combat: single weapon (probably rapier), ranged weapon (light crossbow, probably), or two-weapon fighting (for style, usualy). If you look at it, that’s already three distinct styles. Defense probably fits rather well, too. This ends up being the same four fighting styles associated with ranger.

Right now, rogues often really look alike, Arcane Trickster not withstanding. I recently played in a game with two thieves and an assassin. The group decided to pursue a contract more traditional in nature, and while the rogues skills were often highlighted, surprise happened but once, which seems common in group play. For the most part, the rogues were good at the same things, and played very similarly. It would only be a huge benefit to rogue diversity to allow Archery, Defense, Duelist, and Two-Weapon Fighting as Fighting Styles.



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