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The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide includes a new martial archetype for fighters, the Purple Knight of Cormyr. Comparing its traits to the fighter archetypes in the PHB, it seems really underpowered.

It looks like the Purple Dragon Knight is intended to be focused on the roleplaying "pillar" of gameplay, but I think I'm missing how it's at all comparable to the other martial archetypes. I'm not heavily invested in the Forgotten Realms setting; are there enough setting-specific benefits to offset its mechanical weaknesses?

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It's fine unless you're level 18

To see how Purple Dragon Knight (PDK) stacks up let's compare it to a fighter archetype from the PHB. Since we're worried about PDK being underpowered we only need to find one already accepted archtype that it is comparable to. We're going to use Champion because it is broadly similar and it's abilities make an for easy evaluation. Also we're only going to look at direct ability vs ability since the, "feel", of an archtype in play is too subjective.

Level 3

  • Champion: Improved Critical for some occasional (1/20) bonus damage.
  • PDK: A (fighter level) group heal once/short rest as a bonus action.

It's a judgement call but I'd say they are about equivalent at this level. Improved critical may or may not come up much based purely on luck but some extra group healing is always handy.

Level 7

  • Champion: Half proficiency with some skills they may already have. Longer jumps.
  • PDK: Extra skill proficiency. Double proficiency with persuasion.

About equivalent. Both archetypes just pick up some skills.

Level 10

  • Champion: Another fighting style
  • PDK: When you action surge one of your allies makes an extra attack. Goes up to two attacks from allies at level 18.

Since the fighting styles don't offer much synergy the extra fighting style is likely to give a bonus to the fighter's backup weapon or just +1 AC. A once per short rest extra attack for your allies is likely to do more damage in an average day; near certain to after level 18.

Level 15

  • Champion: Improved Critical 2, the Critening.
  • PDK: Bonus saves for allies a couple times per long rest.

Champion might be better at this level but it's a judgement call. If you value straight damage another 1/20 chance of critical hits is something. If you value survival clutch extra saves for your team is great. I'd call it a toss up.

Level 18

  • Champion: Quick healing
  • PDK: Your level 10 ability now works on two allies

This is the tipping point where Champion is clearly better than PDK. PDK's big finisher is just... a slight improvement of an earlier ability. That's pretty sad.

Conclusion

Below level 18 PDK is happily balanced versus Champion. At and after 18 PDK is just too badly hampered by its lack of an archtype-capstone ability. Luckily for PDK most campaigns are played well below 18 making this less likely to be a problem.

Note about the level of Inspiring Surge

While the book says the Inspiring Surge upgrades at level 17 that is apparently in error. This tweet from Jeremy Crawford says that it should be 18th level.

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8  
This covers most of what I was going to say (to the point where I don't want to make a separate answer), but it might be worth mentioning that the archetype probably looks underpowered because its benefits are focussed on your allies rather than yourself. – Miniman Feb 4 at 7:54
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Hmm. I guess I can see the case for PDK being roughly equivalent to a Champion, especially for a RP-heavy game, but it seems significantly weaker than the Battle Master or Eldritch Knight in general, and there already are tools to build an "inspiring leader knight" character (Knight background + Inspiring Leader feat) without sacrificing combat ability. – Mark Cogan Feb 4 at 7:59
    
@Miniman That's a good point but I'm not sure how to make it. Please feel free to edit and expand if you've got an idea how to. – Ceribia Feb 4 at 8:04
    
@MarkCogan I don't know what you mean by, "seems significantly weaker". My analysis shows that the abilities of PDK (and they are all combat abilities) are equivalent to the champion before level 18. None of what I've said relies on it being an RP-heavy game. – Ceribia Feb 4 at 8:07
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@MarkCogan I've had Persuasion come up in combat often, healing remains handy at all levels, and improved critical is a crapshoot. My analysis only compares PDK to the Champion because when deciding if a new archtype is under-powered we only need to find one already accepted archtype that it is comparable to. If you're wanting to compare the balance of how archtypes seem or feel in play I'm afraid this question is going to be unanswerable as it is too subjective. – Ceribia Feb 4 at 8:18

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