I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Friday, December 01, 2017

D&D 5e fighting styles comparison

In 5e some classes have fighting styles in order to be more effective with a particular type of weapon or technique.

There are also feats that make you better with one style or the other. Feats like Sharpshooter, Polearm Master, and Great Weapon Master are some of the best feats in the game.

Some real-world and fantasy styles are sorely missing, and if you are swinging a weapon without an adequate feat (either because you didn't pick it or because it doesn't exit), you are probably getting outshined by warriors who have them.

Here is a brief analysis of the fighting styles and related feats.

Please notice that these are GENERIC; each class has considerations of their own, which I might briefly comment on, but I do not intend to be exhaustive.
Heavy armor + bow = suboptimal in 5e (source).
Archery: You gain a +2 bonus to Attack rolls you make with Ranged Weapons.

Pretty straightforward. Combining it the Sharpshooter feat makes it a lot better than most styles. Ignoring the penalties due to distance and cover, with a +2 bonus on top of that (and a Bless spell in some cases), guarantees you will be hitting your target often enough, even with a -5 penalty, so you basically get 20 points of damage per hit (if you're using a longbow with Dexterity 20)... against targets that might be unable to fight back.

Defense: While you are wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to AC.

Seems a bit boring at first, but consider it stacks with any other fighting style and doesn't use bonus actions or reactions. The better your armor, the better this style gets; if an enemy only hits you by rolling 18 or more, this style will cut one third of the damage you take, for example. Great against multiple weaker enemies.

I can see this being more useful than Great Weapon Fighting if you're a paladin with a polearm, among other possibilities.

Spear + shield = not that great either (source).
Dueling: When you are wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other Weapons, you gain a +2 bonus to Damage Rolls with that weapon.

This is made for anyone with a one-handed weapon plus shield. It gives you a greater damage boost than GWF, below, and you get +2 AC from the shield. Without any feats, this can be more powerful than GWF in most circumstances - all things considered, if you were using a two-handed weapon you'd usually be dealing a little more damage (less than 20%), but avoiding more than 20% damage from the increased AC.

Shield Master is also a very good feat. Shoving a creature might be more useful than dealing damage and the boost to Dexterity saves is excellent.

Great Weapon Fighting: When you roll a 1 or 2 on a damage die for an Attack you make with a melee weapon that you are wielding with two hands, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll, even if the new roll is a 1 or a 2. The weapon must have the Two-Handed or Versatile property for you to gain this benefit.

This adds very little damage to your attacks - about 1 point on average, a bit more for greatswords, a bit less for everything else. Fortunately, great weapons already deal lots of damage. The main perk of using heavy weapons is still the Great Weapon Master feat. Although it allows you to attack at -5 to-hit/+10 to damage like sharpshooter, GWM is somewhat worse for a couple of reasons:

* You are more likely to get attacked back immediately, making the -2 AC you lose from the shield more relevant.
* Since you deal more damage on average and you don't get the +2 bonus from archery, the +10 damage is not as important; knowing when to use  GWM is a bit tricky (here is the formula).

On the other hand, the feat gives you a melee weapon attack as a bonus action sometimes, which is not bad, specially for a Champion fighter.

Protection: 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.

This is very flavorful, but has some heavy downsides. Imposing disadvantage is meaningful, but it uses your reaction - and at higher levels, monster damage is usually divided among several attacks, and this will only work against one. You also have to be within 5 feet of your ally - which limits its utility.

Not a great style in my opinion.

Heavy armor + longsword + shortsword (?) = no reason to do that (source).
Two-Weapon Fighting: When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second Attack.

Attacking twice per round deals decent damage at lower levels, but it becomes increasingly less useful as you get more attacks as a fighter, and it doesn't work well with an action surge.

If you get magic weapons, you also need one magic weapon for each hand... and each might require attunement. Same thing with the Magic Weapon spell.

This style is a bit better for rogues and rangers... but it uses your bonus action. Thing is, rangers and rogues often have better things to do with their bonus actions. On the other hand, rogues get a second chance of landing a sneak attack (and rangers their Hunter's Mark, Colossus slayer etc.), making this style more useful. 

The Dual Wielder feat is also very underwhelming. +1 AC is nice, and using a rapier in each hand - as ridiculous as I think this looks - gives you a +1 damage boost per attack, but you still lose your bonus action, and it doesn't help you land that sneak attack. Of course, if you had picked the dueling style you'd have the same +2 damage boost and a +2 AC boost, without using a feat.

Or - guess what - you could just pick +2 Dexterity instead of the feat! The AC bonus would be the same, the damage boost would be equal (+1 per attack on average), you'd get +1 to hit and better initiative, saves and skills!

I guess you can use the feat if you're have Dexterity 20, want to throw weapons, or have Strength instead of Dexterity... but it all pales in comparison to the other feats mentioned here.

Of course, this is not a bad choice for rogues, and in my opinion rogues work well enough even with these downsides. Notice that rogues do not get fighting styles (in this case, it means they don't get their ability bonus to the damage of the second attack) but using one weapon in each hand works for them anyway. 

In any case, it still bothers me that holding a quarterstaff or lance in each hand is a viable tactic in 5e, while sword and main-gauche is not, but mechanically the only issue is using your bonus action.

The worst thing, I think, is that this style doesn't stack with anything; your AC is probably too low to make the defense style useful; you cannot boost your damage with dueling, or use powerful feats like Polearm Master, etc. - and the dual wielder feat is near useless is most circumstances. 

In short, TWF is a bad choice for fighters; not good enough for rangers (but they are being revised anyway); and decent for rogues, even though ranged combat is usually a better choice.

To be 100% honest I kinda LIKE that this style is suboptimal, because I think in real life there would be little reason to use this over sword and board under most circumstances. But TWF has enough D&D tradition and fans to deserve a bit more love in 5e.

But why have fighting styles at all?

So we've got a bunch of fighting styles. Three of them (dueling, GWF, archery) are basically bonuses to damage or attacks, while defense is a small bonus to AC. TWF and protection aren't very good. GWF is a convoluted way of giving extra damage while making the greatsword - a weapon that needs no boosts - even better.

In short, you wouldn't lose much if you would just let PCs choose any fighting style and get two out of three options: +1 to damage, +1 to-hit or +1 to AC. Getting a second fighting style would allow you to get +1 to all three in some circumstances, but not more than +1 for each.

And this simple change would make:

* TWF more viable for different builds.
* The combination of archery and sharpshooter less powerful (which is good).
* GWF equally useful to greataxes, halberds and greastwords.
* New styles easy to create and justify (what about a defensive quarterstaff style? etc.).
* And all styles a bit more flexible.

Simpler and better all around.

In conclusion

Overall, I think that the fighting styles are balanced and simple enough. It is probably my favorite version of D&D in this regard (yes, I DO think the RC made it too complicated).

Is there room for improvement?

Yes, specially in the last two fighting styles.

Is there enough reason to complain?

Not really, in my opinion.

(but I'm fixing it anyway!)

What about Tasha's? [2022 update]

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  1. I haven't played 5E... Dual wielding quarterstaffs is... blergh.

    1. Yeah, I hate that too. 5e is actually a great game... with a few weak spots like this one.

  2. Really good analysis. Do you have something like a complete set of house-rules for 5e, or is this just a one-off?

    1. To be honest I am always trying new stuff with 5e. Some house rules become permanent, others change frequently. I do not have an unified document.... But maybe that would be a good idea, I usually love those.

    2. Simple fix: disallow dual-wielding of versatile or reach weapons.

      What makes you say that sword and main-gauche isn't a viable tactic?

    3. There are lots of simple fixes for 5e weapons... this is a good one! Rapier + main-gauche requires Dual Wielder feat, and if you have the feat you'd better use one rapier in each hand for the extra damage.

    4. I would think that a main-gauche would count as either a dagger or a shortsword, which are both light weapons, which means you don't need the Dual Wielder feat to use them in your off-hand.

    5. I agree with your line of thinking, but in 5e RAW, if the weapon in you MAIN hand isn't light, you cannot attack with a dagger or a shortsword.
      "Two-Weapon Fighting: 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."

    6. Ooop! I missed the fact that *both* weapons have to be light.

  3. you are right, TWF is historical and part of the D&D world as well, but after people figured out how to abuse the 3.5 system, the designers of 5e knew they couldn't just leave it out, so they made it so unworkable players either avoid it or play characters who fall behind quickly to other styles (unless you house rule a little to make it workable again). I have found 5e to be a VERY bias game against certain areas, in fact heavy handed in the designers not liking something and punishing players for choosing certain styles of characters.
    Our fix was to modify TWF in the PHB allowing the 2nd attack to be in the Attack Action. You must have either the feat or fighting style to perform it. the feat being a single use and not getting the ability bonus on the off hand attack. the fighting style you get the ability bonus and this becomes the only style you can re-take to get additional off-hand attacks when yo have extra attacks, on a one-to-one basis. We actually have dex based TWF that can deal almost as much damage as GWF behemoths!
    And for those who think TWF isn't real here are historical occurrences of it (go do some research if you dare!):
    Japanese - Katana & Wakasashi
    Chinese - too many to list two weapon and two sword techniques
    Middle East & Indian - dual scimitar warriors were commonplace
    Europe - many sword and dagger, dual short swords/daggers
    Europe & asia - many staffs were used as dual weapons, constantly using both ends to attack with.
    ** Ignorance is not an excuse**

    1. Yeah, I see how this might be an overreaction to abuses in 3.5, and now the pendulum has swung too far in the other way.
      Even if TWF wasn't historical, I'd still want it in D&D as an option.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Eh, I reread your post and realized I had asked a stupid question. This is a great write-up, thank you for sharing : ).

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Two weapon fighting mainly existed as a style for civilian use because carrying an extra blade around was less cumbersome than a shield if you didn't expect a fight to be likely. The same goes for situations when weapons had to be hidden, and better a second weapon than an empty hand. A staff was something that people mostly carried when they were too poor for something else or weapons were regulated. It's basically always better to put a spearhead on one end.

    Two weapon fighting was often done to show off in duels, etc. and is probably over-represented in the historical record because people found it impressive. Similarly people were very impressed anytime peasants armed only with staffs repelled armed soldiers and the like, so this often gets mentioned.

    People with a one-handed weapon expecting combat nearly always favored a shield. You can't actually attack any faster in most situations with two weapons because it involves too much reorienting of the body and is difficult for the brain to process efficiently, so the second weapon would be defensive, for which a shield is better. Furthermore no matter how deadly you are with two weapons most strikes don't have sufficient stopping power to down a enemy immediately so you're dealing with a few swings.

    I'm not saying it wasn't a thing, but it was a thing that people expecting combat and not prioritizing showing off over effectiveness (so most real soldiers and most D&D characters) would not do in a world where wounds are a bigger problem than needing your cleric to cast healing word.

  7. I'm surprised polearm master+dueling fighting style wasn't mentioned. Unless I misread something, you get +2 AC with a shield, +2 damage per attack, and the "off-hand" attack isn't given the same penalties as TWF. You get all of that with the spear or quarterstaff.

  8. I'd love to see an update to fighting styles with the new ones introduced via Tasha's, and hear ur opinions on the new battle master maneuvers. (I quickly checked to see if u had any Tasha's content and found ur post, I agree with alot of ur points, some REALLY basic stuff here)

    1. Yes, I basically skipped Tasha for now... but might take a look later on.