The Fighter is a rather notable class as it has
only one three core archetypes: the Champion, the Battle Master, and the Eldritch Knight. Each of these archetypes has strengths and weaknesses, the Champion has the most damage, the Battle Master comes with crippling maneuvers, and the Eldritch Knight has magic for utility and defense. It’s all rather simple. Right?
Actually, it’s not very simple at all, especially if the internet is to be believed. The relationship between the Champion and the Battle Master is a hotly debated topic. One archetype is loaded with special maneuvers, the other supposedly possesses a larger threshold for damage.
Players generally say the Battle Master is the better archetype. They see the versatility of maneuvers and believe that the potential of the archetype makes up for whatever damage difference there might be.
But who cares about that? What I’m looking for is damage! So what archetype is really the best?
Well, for that I turn to data. I built a simple spreadsheet to help determine what I should be doing if I want to dish out damage. The rest of this post will discuss my thoughts on my findings, so it will be beneficial to take a gander at the sheet.
About the Sheet
This sheet is very simplistic and very single minded in what it’s calculating. Dungeons and Dragons is too complicated to account for all combat situations.
Therefore, I assume that the Fighter maximizes Strength/Dexterity before Constitution until both are at 20. This is one reason why Feat-based damage increases are separated, as there is no way to really determine when a feat is taken.
Any time you see statistics from a monster (such as an attack bonus or damage) it is taken from the table within the Dungeon Master’s Guide (Page 274) for the CR matching the character’s level.
Damage & Archetypes
Damage on the sheet is calculated in Damage Per Round (DPR), which is an estimate of the damage that the Fighter will do each round of a combat. This isn’t an exact science, especially since combat scenarios can differ and dice rolling is a thing. So the Fighter will deal more or less damage each round. However, if you add up all the damage done within the fight and then divided it by the amount of rounds, this is roughly what you should get.
Some numbers in the sheet can be adjusted and played around with if you download the sheet to your computer or copy the sheet to your own Google Drive.
The rounds are declared within the first tab. I chose to have four rounds as a fair default setting.
I also assumed a conservative Battle Master, who uses half of their maneuvers in a fight. This can also be adjusted within the first tab as well.
Likewise, I did account for action surge and this can be controlled within the first tab. Action Surge favors the Champion, since his damage will scale with more attacks. In any case, Two-Weapon fighter gets a lesser bonus with Action Surge due to bonus action economy.
Magic Weapons? Just add +1 Strength or Dexterity, that will translate into +1 damage and +1 accuracy.
Columns of Note
- %. The Percent chance for the Fighter to hit a level appropriate monster. It’s interesting that this seems to be stagnant at 60%. There is a bump at 6/7 (The Fighter gets a bonus Ability Score Increase at 6). After that, there is only a 5% bump at level 9 (Proficiency goes up).
- DMG. The average damage done per weapon hit. Great Weapon Fighter is wielding a Greatsword (Statically better than a Greataxe if you are looking at the fighter alone).
- Battle Master. I assume here that the Battle Master will add their superiority die to damage. They could simply use Disarming strike again and again for added damage at no risk. This column doesn’t take into account situational bonuses such as tripping attack, or using your superiority dice once you see a crit rolled, which would all increase this number.
- Sharpshooter/GWM. This column assumes the Fighter is using the -5 to hit for +10 damage feature for every attack, all the time. It is showing you the added damage for doing so.
- Advantage. This section is looking at the Fighter if they had advantage on every attack of the fight. Also known as: why the Variant Flanking rules should never be used.
I calculated out the Fighter’s survivability depending on what armor they are wearing. Survival is calculated in the number of rounds that the Fighter can endure an assault by a level-appropriate, medium encounter monster. This is also a generalization, much like calculating damage, I am hoping to find the average.
I assume the Fighter will be in Studded Leather, Breastplate, or Splint until 6th level, where the armor is upgraded to Studded Leather, Half Plate, or Full Plate. This is because most DM’s don’t allow people to have Half Plate or Full Plate early.
Columns of Note
- %. The Percent chance for you to be hit by a level appropriate monster.
- AVG DMG. The average damage done by a level appropriate monster.
- DMG & DMG vs. Shield. This is the DPR that the monster will deal to the Fighter.
- Survival. The number of rounds that the Fighter will survive against the monsters attacks, on average.
- Proficient AC. This calculates all the same information, but the Armor Class (AC) is based off of the Half-Cover’s Proficient AC system, which is found here. If it’s not linked, I will feel quite silly.
Breakdown and Conclusions
Now I can talk about what we can learn from all of this. To begin with, let’s just get this out of the way.
Best Choice: Variant Human, Sharpshooter feat. Pick Archery and go Battle Master. Never stop sharpshooting. Grab 20 Dexterity then Crossbow Master.
Champion vs. Battlemaster
Despite traditional assumptions about the Champion’s ability to deal damage, the Battlemaster outclasses the Champion in damage regardless of level or weapon. The only exception is with a Great Weapon at 14th level, or at 20th level with Advantage. This, coupled with the bonuses from maneuvers, such as a menacing attack, makes the Battle Master a clearly better archetype choice in nearly every way.
- Highest Damage Output
- Level 1 to 4: A Two-Weapon Fighter will deal the most damage, with or without feats.
- Level 5+: An Archery Fighter will deal the most damage if feats are allowed, otherwise the Great Weapon Fighter reigns supreme.
- Lowest Damage Output
- Level 1 to 10: A Dueling Fighter will deal the least damage if feats are allowed, else it is an Archery Fighter.
- Level 11+: A Dueling Fighter will deal the least damage if feats are allowed, else it is a Two-Weapon Fighter.
Two-Weapon Fighting is struggling to be usable once everyone gets more than one attack, and is shockingly worse than Dueling if you don’t take the Two-Weapon Fighter Feat.
Against what one would assume, Archery is actually the strongest damage dealing fighting style, out doing even the Great Weapon fighting style, and from up to 600 feet away! This makes Dexterity the best stat if you want to deal damage, largely because of this one specific feat…
Thoughts on Sharpshooter
The Archery fighting style provides a +2 bonus to hit. This means that on average, you will be 10% more likely to hit (additive, not multiplicative). The game seems to be balanced around a character having a 60% chance to hit an average monster with the same CR as their level, which means it’s 70% for our Archery Fighter.
However, when you take a -5 penalty to gain +10 bonus damage with the Sharpshooter feat, the effect’s bonus far outweighs the trade-off. Without the bonus to hit, you would have a 35% chance of success, with it you have a 45% chance of success. This is almost a 30% increase (multiplicative). Also consider the opportunity cost, when you miss with an attack you are losing on average 4.5 (longbow average damage) + your Dexterity modifier, at most 9.5. On a success though, you deal all that damage plus an additional 10. This means that on a success you more than double your expected damage output, while a Great Weapon Fighter loses more damage on a miss than they would gain on a hit.
In fact, the Sharpshooter feat is so powerful that it is almost always the right choice to use it from a purely damage perspective. At 6th level, you would expect more damage on average with Sharpshooter unless your opponent has 20 AC or more. At 20th level, your opponent needs 23 AC or more. Due to bounded accuracy, such high AC is very unusual to encounter.
Every fighting style benefits differently from advantage. Archery benefits the least, with around 30 to 35% bonus in expected damage, while Great Weapon Fighting and Dueling benefit the most, from 40% to 45%. Archery has a smaller bonus, as advantage has diminishing returns as your base accuracy increases. If you take into account feats, Archery gets around a 50% bonus in damage, while Great Weapon Fighting gets around a 65% bonus in damage. Despite this, Archery is still stronger with advantage.
A character that has a +3 weapon will be about as strong, if not stronger than a character that has permanent advantage. A better way to think about this, is that advantage is about as good as giving the character a temporary +3 weapon. This should be considered with how often advantage is given, and with any homebrew that bestows reliable advantage.
When considering common sense, it is generally easier to gain advantage on melee attack rolls than ranged ones, since prone is a relatively easily afflicted condition, which will likely lead to a Great Weapon Fighter dealing higher damage than Archery. On the other hand, we would also have to consider than an Archery Fighter will likely be in far less situations where they can not attack anything, due to their extreme range potential.
Assuming Half plate and Plate are not available until 6th level due to the cost, the survivability difference between the different armor types is relatively small, only about 1 round in the very early levels, and this decreases to about half a round (or less) from level 4 and up.
It is notable that Shields are the primary survivability tool, the +2 AC provided by the shield vastly improves the estimated survivability of a heavy armor fighter, and provides an extra round of survivability to light and medium armored fighters.
In higher levels, monsters gain a large bonus due to accuracy, while characters do not gain additional AC without the help from magical items. In fact, for many characters, their AC will never change through an entire campaign. This creates what I consider to be the crashing realization of mortality: at low levels a heavily armored character feels invincible since monsters are always missing them with attacks. However, by the end of the game they are getting hit almost as much as a character in studded leather, and is taking the same damage. At level 20, the difference between heavy or light armor is basically ignore-able (one third of a round more survivability).
Proficient Armor Class
With Half-Cover’s Proficient AC System, characters experience a sense of growth with their defensive capabilities, and more importantly, experience a similar level of survivability throughout the entire game. As well, the defense adjustments for heavy armor keeps heavy armor around 1 round more survivable than light armor.
I would highly recommend the Proficient AC System, as it makes lower level monsters a threat since they will be able to hit characters. While at the same time, it doesn’t lead to monsters like the Storm Giant having a 85% chance to hit a character with their +14 accuracy.
Dexterity or Strength?
It’s more complicated than that obviously, but we can compare the two different statistics. This is not a mathematical comparison, but rather a case of opinions. Both Strength and Dexterity are viable builds, but to me, Dexterity seems way stronger. The reasons will be listed below, though I will not extensively elaborate as the entire topic might be better served by its own article. However all of these assumptions are regarding the core game, and does not consider any homebrew (or future releases by Wizards of the Coast).
- Dexterity provides a bonus to Initiative.
- Both allow you to contest Grapples.
- Strength can be used to perform grapple. This is useful, but does not help you survive or deal damage, it is purely a control maneuver.
- Strength does have a higher potential, but only by 1 point. This is a very minor difference, especially in the late game where you have a 60% chance to be hit, while your Dexterity based allies have a 65% chance to be hit.
- Dexterity is a better saving throw. Dexterity saves come up more often then Strength, and represents a large boon in survivability by avoiding damage, possibly allowing them to outlive a Strength character, despite the 1 AC deficit.
- Dexterity can use Effective long range options in bows, while still being able to use a rapier or short sword and be as strong as a Strength user. A Strength-based character can not attack at range while using the Extra Attack feature, and even then they are restricted to a very short range in comparison.
- Archery provides the highest potential damage, and it is most flexible in terms of range and targets – especially with the Crossbow Expert feat removing disadvantage for shooting within melee.
There you have it, my findings. Hopefully there is no major error in my spreadsheet. I made lots of assumptions, but they were generally in the favor of the Champion. If you are a DM, all I want you to take away from this article is that Sharpshooter is too potent, amplifying the plight of the Strength Fighter who is outclassed by the Dexterity fighter in almost every way.
I hope this spreadsheet is a useful example. We hope to do more class-based analysis like this in the future, using a similar spreadsheet. If you enjoyed this, have questions, or found any other observations in the spreadsheet, definitely comment below.