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We all know that both Precise Shot and Rapid Shot are important to ranged builds, but if you had to only take one which one is mechanically more vital to a build?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Campaign theme may make all the difference. Is it expected that the majority of combats take place in 1980's video-game-style tight and twisty labyrinths with hordes of foes rushing the PCs or that the majority of combats take place on wide-open battlefields with plenty of time to launch attacks at approaching foes before they engage the party in melee? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 10, 2017 at 14:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ No but i do expect the majority of enemies to be engaged in melee at least 70% of the time \$\endgroup\$
    – Masakan
    Jun 10, 2017 at 15:02

2 Answers 2

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[Note that the following values are not exact because they don't incorporate natural 1s, 20s, or scenarios in which you cannot hit or are guaranteed to hit with a certain BAB. The following values should be very close to their true values however and this nuance likely does not change the conclusion (which is a little fuzzy anyway).]

Let's assume that the enemy is in melee and you only have a single attack normally (+5 BAB or less). Then, the precise shot is going to be 30% more likely to hit than each of the rapidshots. The average damage equals out when your precise shot to-hit is 60% (60% = 30% + 30%) and is in rapidshot's favor when it is higher.

Next, let's assume that the enemy is in melee and you normally have two attacks. Again, each precise shot is 30% more likely to hit. The average damage equals out when your precise shot primary attack to-hit is 90% (90% + 65% = 60% + 60% + 35%) and is in rapidshot's favor when it is higher.

For three attacks, they even out when your precise shot primary attack to-hit is 110% (100% + 85% + 60% = 80% + 80% + 55% + 30%). So, by the time your BAB is +11, precise shot is always better when the opponent is in melee.

So, when opponents are in melee, it looks like rapid shot is really only better for those early levels before you get multiple attacks. It seems unlikely that your primary attack to-hit with precise shot is going to ever be 90%, however since opponents aren't always going to be in melee, precise shot and rapid shot might close to equal in the BAB +6 to BAB +10 levels.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Unlike the other post, you don't show the expected damage on hit in your calculations. Since this can influence the expected damage output when comparing the feats, you should include it. \$\endgroup\$
    – DvdZee
    Jun 11, 2017 at 8:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wraithguard The expected damage is equal to the average damage times the expected number of hits. Since this is a constant multiplier, it can be omitted and the remaining calculations are easier to digest. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 11, 2017 at 14:53
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Rapid Shot, by a country mile.

Additional attacks are always a DPS booster more than even modest attack and damage bonuses, and the Precise Shot attack bonus is situational to the point that it may not come up in a given combat, while an additional attack nearly always comes up unless you're always moving.

There are obviously exceptions for a given build (like some scouty build that requires you to be taking a move action every round) but in the general case, rapid shot is to be taken immediately and precise shot eventaully, and the latter more for prereq purposes than its actual utility. Precise Shot is archer feat #4 or 5 at best (Deadly Aim comes way before it as well).

Math:

If you do x damage and have a y% chance to hit, then your expected DPS is x * y. Omitting fenceposts and crits, for low levels let's use a base "I need to roll a 10 to hit" (you have about a +5 attack bonus and are seeing AC 15 threats) and "I do 5 points of damage on average". So your base DPS for those example numbers is 2.5.

If a target is not in melee combat, then precise shot doesn't help you. Your expected DPS with rapid shot is 2x(y-.1), which is 4 for our example numbers.

If the target is in melee combat, then precise shot retains your DPS at 2.5. Rapid shot becomes 2x(y-.3), which is only 2 for our example numbers.

However, even if your targets are in melee 70% of the time (an extremely questionable assumption in my experience), your net DPS with rapid shot is 2.6 ( 4 * .3 + 2 * .7), still higher than our 2.5 original number.

And of course, as you can see from the equation, the more you don't suck - your chance to hit and damage go up - the more the equation comes out in your favor. If your base chance to hit is 60% or more then rapid shot is always better even when your opponent is in melee (I'll let you solve the system of equations yourself to prove that).

Precise shot is only better when a) a target is in melee and b) it's pretty hard for you to hit that target in general.

But a good archer (in a party with good tactics) is usually choosing their targets so that's not the case... Your 70% value raises warning flags for me. Most combats aren't solos, and given 5' steps, your fellow party members should be ganging up on high AC people while disengaging from other targets as much as possible. If "the majority" of the opponents are "in melee 70% of the time" you should be shooting at the minority that aren't. Precise shot can, at best, get you up to your normal expected damage; don't play that game, use things like Rapid Shot to double it!

This can't be mathematically proven because every campaign and combat tactical situation is different, but in, uh, 17 years of 3e play every single character I've seen who invests in ranged feats goes rapid shot as early as possible. Pathfinder's Deadly Aim is the only thing that has snuck in as a contender, but even there you're comparing +2 damage at -1 to hit vs 2x damage at -2 to hit, usually not the right thing to do.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Note: The Fighter ACF Targetteer (Dragon #310, p. 38) comes with a bonus feat replacement called Arrow Swarm, which has Rapid Shot as a prerequisite and offer a further increase: +2 attacks (for -5 AR). The penalty is severe (-25% to hit), but +2 attacks! \$\endgroup\$ Jun 11, 2017 at 10:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. And only good sense prevents combining the special ability arrow swarm and the feat Rapid Shot for three extra attacks during a full attack—all attacks suffering a whopping -7 penalty on attack rolls, of course. Even a level 1 human targeteer fighter can have both, for example, but he'll probably run out of arrows before he hits anything using them, pretty much defining spray-and-pray. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 11, 2017 at 15:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan: At 1st-level, indeed. Later on it becomes more viable. It's a tool, much like Power Attack. Knowledge Devotion can help greatly in making suitable in more situations. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 11, 2017 at 15:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ It has been my experience, playing an archer without Precise Shot, that enemies are in melee about 70% of the time... the melee people in the party have their own concerns and aren't going to go out of their way to disengage just to help me in a situation where it would leave them exposed, not flanking, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Jun 12, 2017 at 12:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ It seems you are very right as long as the shooter don't have iterative attacks, but when she gets her second one the numbers become less friendly for Rapid Shot, so I guess a lvl 6 warrior who plans to fight in close quarters would prefer Precise Shot to Rapid Shot. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 12, 2017 at 14:40

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