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Fighting Styles in D&D 5e

Fighting Styles in D&D 5e are interesting. They are coded to be a fighter specific feature, with the half-fighter classes of paladin and ranger getting a taste. In the text accompanying the Fighting Style feature, there isn’t anything to indicate this is a result of formal training or instruction. It simply says these styles are adopted as a specialty. Fighters get this feature at first level, while paladins and rangers wait until level two, and both have two fewer options to choose from than fighter. Other melee combatants, such as barbarians, monks, and rogues, are left out of this type of weapon training. The fighting styles all fall into three broad categories: active, passive, and memory-required passive. Memory-Required Passive as a category means these styles provide a passive bonus, but you have to actively remember to use the bonus, rather than add it flat into your bonuses when you calculate things. The fighting styles, when placed into categories, look thus:

Active
Protection (F, P)

Memory-Required Passive
Great Weapon Fighting (F, P)
Two-Weapon Fighting (F, R)

Passive
Archery (F, R)
Defense (All)
Dueling (All)

It should come as no shock to experienced gamers that both categories of passive styles are objectively superior to the active style, which is a shame. However, it takes a lot of work to get “always on” powers to balance well against “use” powers. The path of least resistance naturally inclines most people to want the first option, and they tend to be well-balanced, as it’s easier to model as a constant. On a psychological level, there is never a fear of the feature being useless because you forgot, it’s baked into your sheet math. Archery always provides a +2 bonus to your ranged attack roll. Defense always gives you +1 AC. Dueling always gives you +2 damage, as long as you use one one-handed weapon. Easy, and sheet-friendly.

Memory-required passive can take a hit here. They are “always on”, but require the player to remember them as the don’t always apply. Great Weapon Fighting always lets you reroll any 1s or 2s you roll on your weapon die once per attack, and take the second result. You can always do this for every attack, but you have to remember to do so, as it doesn’t automatically occur. Two-Weapon Fighting always let you apply your ability damage to your offhand light weapon attack, but the two weapon fighting rules are not an “always on” sort of thing. You might not spend your bonus action on the attack.

Protection

As many people have discussed, the Protection fighting style is cool, but lacking. I think it definitely gives the player the best sense of “I’m a protector”, and most people choosing the style want to feel that way. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things working against the style. You have to be within five feet of an ally, it costs a reaction, it doesn’t scale, and requires an early declaration of use.

Requiring an adjacent ally, even if it doesn’t take variable size into account, isn’t a big deal. I like that it requires you to be near an ally, rather than an opponent. It costing a reaction is also fine, but it requires a bit more oomph behind the feature. The Sentinel Feat provides some new uses of an opportunity attack and a way to spend your reaction while adjacent to a foe. I am fine with competing reactions, as Sentinel is a more offensive type of fight control, versus the defensive control Protection is trying to engender. Weirdly, the third feature of Sentinel actually  works against the passive control granted by the feat, as the attack you make in reaction to a creature near you attacking someone other than you isn’t an opportunity attack. Anyway.

Not scaling is pretty rough. As the game progresses, most of the other fighting styles scale inherently. Archery, Duelist, and Great Weapon Fighting all get better as you get more attacks. Defense allowing the AC bonus means more avoidance across the board, even with creatures getting additional attacks. Two-Weapon Fighting doesn’t scale at all, and neither does Protection. They apply to a single attack, regardless of how the game progresses. Not great.

The early declaration for Protection is hard, as it triggers the reaction use when an ally is attacked. So two attack die are rolled, and the lowest result is taken. Only in the advent of different color dice that you declare one to be first roll and the other the disadvantage die or the baked-in features of Roll20 would you know if your imposition of disadvantage changed the outcome. Both dice could still be a hit and both dice could be a miss. In that case, you didn’t do anything.

 

Does it need a fix?

As written it reads,

“When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll. You must be wielding a shield.”

My version would read,

“When a creature you can see hits a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to roll a number of d6 equal to your proficiency bonus and reduce the damage the target takes by the result. If this would reduce the incoming damage to 0, the target takes no damage.”

It scales, it’s responsive, and even a low roll isn’t a complete do-nothing result. Is it ideal? Probably not. Some bad rolls will make it feel icky. Still, pretty good based on some basic math over several monster types and CRs.

 

Two-Weapon Fighting – Fighter

Two-Weapon Fighting a bit thornier. The current Two-Weapon Fighting rules are still a reaction against 3e and 3.5e crazy dual-wielding shenanigans. 4e just had attacks associated with the weapon style, so it wasn’t the craziness of before. Now, far be it from me to think I understand perfectly the reasoning behind every 5e decision, but most everything has been to reinforce ease and speed of resolution. However, I think they over did it.

You can only use a light weapons in each hand, unless you take Dual Wielder as a feat. Let’s assume for a second you are a stupid elf outcast folk hero who uses scimitars. You are probably at least an 11th level fighter, so you get a third attack, and you have the existing two-weapon fighting style. You probably have defense as your other style from the ranger levels you ill-advisedly picked up in order for some bad story idea you wrote. Anyway.

On average in a round, you’ll do thirty-four points of damage, with your bonus attack landing and each attack breaking out to 3.5(weapon)+5(ability). If you had say, duelist instead, you could use a different weapon, like a rapier. You’d then be doing 4.5 (weapon)+5(ability)+2(duelist) three times, or 34.5 damage. This is every time, and never requires you using your bonus action for the attack. Even using one bonus action sets you behind, like second wind, or some of the battlemaster maneuvers. This is all perfect world modeling.

Of course, if you take Dual Wielder you can use double rapier or whatever shenanigans and also get an additional AC bonus. Why not? It’s a super good feat, if you are going this route. You could go dual rapiers then. This matters a lot. All of a sudden you are dealing thirty-eight damage with those four attacks, edging out duelist. Then again, if you take one of the feats affording you reaction attacks while you have duelist, it ends up being more or less a wash once more.

For a fighter, this isn’t really all that bad. However, it ends up scaling sharply downward the more you use bonus actions, even if you take a feat, since the entire style predicates use of your bonus action for damage.

Two-Weapon Fighting – Rangers

Now, let’s assume for a minute you aren’t a fighter and you are playing a ranger, instead, and still want to do melee damage. With duelist, you’d do 11.5 damage from level 2-4, and 23 damage from 5th level and up, not including your path features. With two-weapon fighting, you’d do 17 damage from level 2-4. and 25.5 damage from 5th level and up, not including path features. Not really surprising, as when you have fewer total attacks, having another attack is much more meaningful.

The path features change things up a bit. Colossus Slayer doesn’t really favor one fighting style over the other, but in edge cases until level five, two-weapon fighting is slightly better. Both Giant Killer and Horde Breaker favor two-weapon fighting until 5th level, 25.5 damage for two-weapon fighting vs. 23 damage for duelist, but above 5th level, duelist pulls ahead, 34 damage for two-weapon fighting vs. 34.5 damage for duelist. A small advantage to be sure. Dual Wielder is more beneficial here, as you end up at 37 damage, and it’s harder to get an addition attack through feats. However, ranger spells play a big part of the equation for these two fighting styles, as does concentration, you know, War Caster feat.

Hunter’s Mark is a bonus action to cast it, and to move it around the battlefield. This means when you cast it, it favors duelist over two-weapon fighting. The more you have to move the spell around, the more it favors duelist. The same is true for things like Ensnaring Strike, Grasping Vines, and well, not a lot else. If you are a melee ranger, you’re going to cast Ensnaring Strike and Hunter’s Mark like, a lot. The point is, if you are using spells, it heavily favors duelist.

If you never cast spells, and always solo-fight, then you’ll be better off with two-weapon fighting. If you do cast, and use your archetype features, then duelist is hands down better. Not even close.

Does it need a fix?

It’s actually not as dire as I thought it was, though it’s still not great. It shows part of the issue with passive vs. active, because if you miss even one use, the passive starts to pull ahead and it’s hard to catch up if you miss more than one chance.  It could use a slight change, but keeping it simple is the key, and you don’t want to overload the power in those lower attack cases.

Two-weapon fighting as a general ability reads thus;

“When you take the Attack action and attack with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in one hand, you can use a bonus action to attack with a different light melee weapon that you’re holding in the other hand. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack, unless that modifier is negative. If either weapon has the thrown property, you can throw the weapon, instead of making a melee attack with it.”

and two-weapon fighting style reads;

“When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack.”

I think you could get a long way with changing the style to read’

“When you take the attack action, if you are wielding a light weapon in one hand, you may make an attack with a different light weapon in your other hand. You don’t add your ability modifier to this damage of this attack, unless you spend you bonus action to do so. ”

It’s not quite as clean as it could be, but it moves the damage around and resolves a bit of the sharp scaling down if you can’t use your bonus action. I’d be ok with running this as a live rule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 comments

  1. you can only hunter’s mark on a kill.
    until then twf takes advantage of the extra 1d6.
    additionally, i miss regularly. horde breaker and colossus slayer add 0 if you never hit. i will happy take an extra chance per turn.

    as far as protection, my mage appreciates the help

    1. Hunter’s Mark is a bonus action to initially cast. While it is true you only spend a bonus action to move it to a new creature when the initial creature drops to 0 hp, this happens quite a lot during the course of an encounter, unless you are fighting a solitary creature, which is must less common than fighting multiple creatures. Your game could certainly be different, as no two games are the same, but I am confident in stating in the majority of games, encounters contain multiple creatures. You then lose TWF on the initial casting bonus action, and every time you bounce the mark when a creature goes down.

      Archery adds a flat +2 bonus to hit with a ranged weapon, and does not alter your action economy. This is across all of your attacks made with a ranged weapon, rather than in the specific use case of hitting with your off-hand attack to add a damage kicker. With Archery, it is pretty common to have a +8 bonus to hit at 1st-level. In a game of bound accuracy, it’s a big deal. If you go with standard values, that’s an 80% chance to hit a challenge 1 creature. Even if your only have a 16 in the stat, you’re looking at 75% chance to hit. I am not doubting you might be rolling badly, or your stat generation might be atrocious, but even challenge 10 creatures have an AC of 17 on average. With archery, and a 16 stat, you’re still hitting 65% of the time. Those numbers dip 10% without Archery, of course, but it’s not exactly a whiff-fest. You should be hitting more than you miss, on average. That’s with you in a silo, of course.

      Protection feels great when it works, no doubt. However, it’s the worst of the skills, in my opinion. You can feel otherwise, of course.

  2. Definitely wasn’t arguing against archery. Given that it’s purpose is to ensure that you hit with every attack, the bonus attack doesn’t matter as much. It is probably overpowered. However, most of your post was about twf against dueling. Damage per round rarely takes misses into account and can be misleading.

    Protection is the only team style. The DMs I play with like to ignore the tanks and break the squishies. Disadvantage is worth -2 to -5 on an attack. The only thing better than passing a concentration save, it not having to make on in the first place.

  3. You mentioned you miss regularly. My point in discussing the math behind archery is to show that even if your stats are “bad”, you’re hitting more than you miss. It is certainly possible you roll badly, but on average, even with non-optimal stats, that isn’t the case in this edition. Using your bonus action for an off-hand attack can certainly give you another chance at damage, but there is enough in the ranger arsenal that uses bonus actions to make this a weaker style. As a melee ranger, you’ll be casting a lot of hunter’s marks and ensnaring strikes. Having your spells directly compete against the fighting style, when the other do not, put it in a slightly worse place. If you enjoy it, then awesome. I am not saying you shouldn’t enjoy it. I am just saying it is slightly weaker and could use some comparative love.

    Protection feels great when it works, but there are so many cases where it does nothing. Again, if you like it, great.

  4. What you say about Protection can be said about Archery fighting style. Anytime you exceed the attack roll by 3 or more, the fighting style does nothing. The fact that Protection is 1/round is a critical weakness.

    Missing 1/3 of your archery attacks is regularly missing, plus partial coverage modifiers (Feats muddy the math even more). Melee at 55% is missing every other swing.

    In your Ranger TWF vs Dueling, why do you specifically exclude path features? That affects the damage significantly. At 55%, Horde breaker and Colussus slayer, trigger 1/round for TWF or every other round for Dueling.
    Adding Ensnaring Strike and concentration saves muddies the water even more for either fighting style.

    “If you do cast, and use your archetype features, then duelist is hands down better. Not even close.” This is inaccurate if you account for missed strikes and path features. They are much more balanced..

  5. The more you attack, the more chances for Archery to apply, particularly when you add in Sharpshooter. That +2 is meaningful when you are taking a -5 penalty. When you are using Swift Quiver combined with Sharpshooter, it’s a big deal. It is also baked into your sheet math, and applies every time you attack.

    Protection triggers on an attack, so you use it even if the attack would be a miss. You roll the attack with disadvantage. Unless you specify a certain die is the disadvantange die, you can’t know Protection did anything. Both of the rolls can be a hit. That’s a lot of failure cases. Again, feels great when it works, but it has a lot going against it.

    For most of your life as a ranger, you have multiple attacks per round. I’m not ignore the path features, as you seem to think. You’ll receive the damage from Colossus Slayer every round on average, even with a 55% hit rate when you have two attacks. The damage triggers once. Horde Breaker isn’t based on hitting, it’s based on making an attack. Horde Breaker benefits from Duelist, but not TWF.

    Again that 55% hit rate is pretty much worse case for that point. I was illustrating that even if you don’t make much of an effort to resolve things in your favor, you still hit more than you miss.

    I am not sure why you think adding Ranger features that take bonus actions muddies the waters. It specifically goes to point. When you use things that cost a bonus action, you don’t benefit from the TWF bonus. It in no way affects the other fighting styles, nor does concentration.

    Again, you can feel free to disagree with me, but I do not believe I am mistaken. I do not believe TWF is as good as Duelist, particularly for Ranger. You obviously disagree.

  6. I glitched on Horde Breaker, I did think it was on a hit.
    I glitched on you not taking Path features into account. Literacy helps.

    Each attack is: Hunter’s mark (3.5) + weapon (6.5duel/3.5twf) + 5
    twf = 12 (extra chance to hit, but may not get to use it cuz casting/moving the spell. I agree this is huge.)
    duel = 15

    About spell casting muddying the waters. Everytime the enemy gets to attack, your ability to maintain concentration is put at risk. More attacks per round means more chances to get that bonus before you lose the spell. Additionally, if you are only doing 34 hits per round, you won’t need to move Hunter’s mark every round.

    “55% is pretty much worst case”.

    I disagreed with “Hands down.” because it excludes regularly (30-50% is regular) missing and assumes you get a kill every round. TWF and Dueling is balanced for a Ranger.

    Anyhoo. We have hit an impasse. I do enjoy your blog though.

  7. Stand Your Ground
    Prerequisite: Reach Weapon

    Through training you have become a master of
    Standing Your Ground. As a bonus action,
    you may enter a defensive stance, while using
    this stance you gain 1 bonus Attack of Opportunity
    against targets that move 5′ while in your Reach.
    you gain additional bonuses 2 at 7th and 3 at 15th

    My attempt to fix Tunnel Fighter to something good but not completely broken

    1. Tunnel Fighter is not my favorite thing they have released, that is for sure. It costs a bonus action, which I have lamented at length above and I’ll not rehash for the sake of everyone. It gives you unlimited standard opportunity attacks, and then lets you spend your reaction to attack when opportunity attack wouldn’t otherwise apply.

      I am not sure I quite understand your fix. Are you giving a scaling amount of free opportunity attacks that fall under the original’s second condition? That seems possibly stronger than the original, since the original still requires the creature to entirely leave your threatened area. I might be reading it wrong. It’s happened once or twice 🙂

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