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I'm new to D&D and am playing a 5e campaign as a Paladin with a focus on Dex rather than Str; I am considering multi-classing into Fighter to get the two-weapon fighting style, per some of the suggestions in this answer and associated comments. I also just like the idea of dual-wielding finesse weapons (perhaps a whip and a rapier) per the Rule of Cool.

Thematically, however, I would like my character to be interested in protecting others during combat whenever possible. So I like the idea of adopting the Paladin's protective fighting style, but since that style has no effect without a shield, the choice would be at odds with the dual-wielding I'd like to do.

One option would be to take the Sentinel feat, which is somewhat similar to the protective fighting style, except that it is offensive (providing an opportunity for attacks using a reflex action) rather than defensive.

What I really want is a game mechanic that would allow my character to defend others against incoming attacks without using a shield; to return to the whip example, perhaps this would mean using the whip, Indian Jones style, to interrupt an attacker before they can complete their attack. Ideally, I would like a feat or a fighting style that would do something like this:

When a creature within range of a melee weapon you are wielding attacks a target you can see (other than you), you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll.

This is just the protective fighting style but with a range determined by the weapon used to perform the defensive action and without the requirement for a shield. It also swaps "can see" versus "in range" requirements for the attacker and the target, since the idea is to somehow stop the attacker rather than to thrust a shield in front of the target. In particular, this prevents using the mechanic to do wuxia-style "blocking" of incoming projectiles.

My DM seems pretty amenable to variant rules and homebrew options, but he's also new to D&D, so neither of us have any experience making sure these sorts of options are well balanced and fair, nor do we know what other pitfalls there might be in making up the rules as we go along.

Is my proposed rule variant "broken" or unbalanced in some way? How do I decide whether this should be a new feat or an alternative fighting style? Is there any already-existing mechanic that accomplishes the same goals so that I can avoid having to write my own mechanic?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered casting shield of faith (granted it burns a spell slot) on your party mate, or is that too high of a resource cost? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 12 '17 at 22:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast That's an interesting idea! I hadn't actually read all the Paladin spell spell descriptions yet. It's definitely not quite what I was picturing (magical rather than physical, must be done on my turn instead of as a reaction, has a somatic component so I can't cast it while dual wielding until I have the feat that allows that), but it does seem like it accomplishes something similar mechanically. \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle Strand Jun 12 '17 at 23:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Kyle the reason I asked is that it isn't like for like, since the fighting style is a matter of making a decision in combat, while the spell burnt is an opportunity cost versus another spell or a divine smite. Glad I asked, but I didn't help to answer your core question. Since you are looking at a homebrew solution, this will take some more thought. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 13 '17 at 1:28
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To find out, benchmark it

When balancing a new feature, you have to benchmark it against what already exists in the game. In this case, we have to benchmark it against all the other fighting styles. Let's assume a 16 Dex and ignore smite damage (which is constant regardless of the choice of fighting style).

Finding benchmarks

  • Defense: +1 AC

    • Build 1: Equip a shield and longsword. Overall +3 AC. DPS: 1d8+3 (7.5 ave) at level 1-4. 2d8+6 (15 ave) at level 5+

    • Build 2: Equip a greatsword. Overall +1 AC. DPS: 2d6+3 (10 ave) at level 1-4. 4d6+6 (20 ave) at level 5+

  • Dueling: +2 damage (one-handed rapier)

    • Equip a shield (typical Dueling style strategy). +2 AC. DPS: 1d8+5 at level 1-4. 2d8+10 at level 5+
  • GWF: between plus \$\frac{4}{5}\$ and \$\frac{4}{3}\$ damage (two-handed greatsword)

    • Feat: Great Weapon Master (typical feat "tax"). Extra attack on a crit. Optional +10 damage per swing. No AC bonus. DPS: 2d6+3 (11.9 ave, with crit) at level 1-4, 4d6+6 (23.2 ave, with crit) at level 5+

    • Feat: Polearm Master (typical feat "tax"). Bonus action attack with a polearm. No AC bonus. DPS: 1d10+1d4+6 (15.3 ave) at level 1-4, 4d6+6 (24.1 ave, with crit) at level 5+

  • Protection: 1 reaction to impose DAdv with shield. +2 AC

    • Feat: Shield Master (typical feat "tax"). Equip a longsword (highest one-handed damage die). DPS: 1d8+3 at level 1-4. 2d8+6 at level 5+
  • TWF: +3 damage at level 1 (one-handed weapon)

    • Feat: Dual Wielder (typical feat "tax"). +1 AC. Equip two rapiers. DPS: 2d8+6 at level 1-4. 3d8+9 at level 5+

Interpreting the benchmarks

When there is a feat "tax" that typically comes with the fighting style, I include it in the benchmark. Since the system allows for this synergy, having both must be in the realm of an optimized but balanced combination.

We see a trade-off mainly between AC and damage. Specifically, the benchmarks show us:

  • At a +3 AC bonus: DPS is 7.5 at level 1-4, 15 at level 5+

  • At a +2 AC bonus: DPS is 9.5 (w/o reaction) or 7.5 (with reaction) at level 1-4, 19 or 15 at level 5+

  • At a +1 AC bonus: DPS is 10 (no bonus action used) or 15 (bonus action used) at level 1-4, 20 or 22.5 at level 5+

  • Without an AC bonus: DPS is 11.9 or 15.3 at level 1-4, 23.2 or 24.1 at level 5+

When you create your new fighting style, check where it fits in the above list, and use your intuition where it doesn't quite fit.

Evaluating your Fighting Style

This is what you proposed as a homebrew:

When a creature within range of a melee weapon you are wielding attacks a target you can see (other than you), you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll.

This is a very versatile fighting style since it allows for any combination of weapons and shield, and might synergize with different feats. Let's examine each of those.

  • Build 1: Equip a shield and longsword. Feat: Shield Master. +2 AC. DPS: 1d8+3 (7.5 ave) at level 1-4. 2d8+6 (15 ave) at level 5+, reaction use

  • Build 2: Equip two rapiers. Feat: Dual Wielder. +1 AC. DPS: 2d8+3 (12 ave) at level 1-4. 3d8+6 (19.5) at level 5+, reaction use

  • Build 3: Equip a greatsword. Feat: Great Weapon Master. No bonus to AC. DPS: 2d6+3 (10.5 ave) at level 1-4. 4d6+6 (20.5 ave) at level 5+, reaction use

  • Build 4: Equip a halberd. Feat: Polearm Master. No bonus to AC. DPS: 1d10+1d4+6 (14 ave) at level 1-4. 2d10+1d4+9 (22.5 ave) at level 5+, reaction use

It comes out to be the same as the Protection FS when using sword-and-board, is weaker than TWF for dual wielded weapons, and is also weaker than GWF when using a greatsword or halberd.

This is good, because a FS that is too versatile risks being better than all the others. For example, if the Paladin could throw down a shield and pick up a second sword and suddenly be as good at TWF as someone with the TWF fighting style, but pick up a shield and suddenly be as good at defense as one with the Protection fighting style, then this feat would be better than either TWF or Protection.

Is it balanced?

It is very versatile, but damage-wise, it is weaker than most of the other options if it tried to copy them. But it is equivalent to the Protection FS when equipping a sword and shield. In this regard, it is stronger than Protection, such that given a choice between this homebrew and Protection, it is always better to choose this homebrew.

However, with regards to game balance, it cannot do something that any other fighting style cannot already do. On the whole, it does not break the game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Very helpful analysis! One question--when you say that my proposed style is "stronger than" Protection and that it's "always better to choose" it when given the option, are you taking into account the advantage Protection has against incoming arrows? \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle Strand Jun 13 '17 at 19:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ (I'm not sure how much arrows "matter" in D&D, but we did run into a few of them in our first session.) \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle Strand Jun 13 '17 at 19:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KyleStrand Good question. No I don't, because that doesn't affect damage, to-hit bonuses, or AC. Different campaigns will have different rates of use of ranged attacks (and Protection would apply even to ranged spell attacks). \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jun 13 '17 at 23:00
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Your proposed fighting style is significantly better than the protection fighting style...

There are 2 reasons for this. The first is that your fighting style imposes no restrictions on what weapon the character uses. The protection style requires you to hold a shield, which means your weapon has to be 1-handed, and you can't dual-wield. Your fighting style, however, allows you to hold anything you want - 2-handed weapons, a weapon in each hand, a weapon and something else, and so on.

The second reason is the situational aspect. The protection fighting style requires you to stand next to an ally, while your fighting style requires you to stand next to an enemy. So why does that make yours better? Because while you're often standing next to an ally, if you're a melee character, you always want to be standing next to an enemy. Additionally, the allies you most want to protect (the squishy ones) generally won't be standing with you in melee - they'll be as far back as they can be while still being effective.

...but that's a good thing!

The protection fighting style is, frankly, the weakest of the fighting styles by a significant margin. To quickly compare (note: I'm assuming here that you're using the weapons/armour to go with the fighting style, because if you weren't, why use it?), we have:

  • Archery: +2 to hit. Every attack you ever make will be ~10% more likely to hit. Great.
  • Defense: +1 to AC. Every attack you're ever targeted by will be ~5% less likely to hit you. Amazing.
  • Dueling: +2 to damage. Every attack you ever hit with will do 2 more damage. Awesome.
  • Great Weapon Fighting: Every attack you hit with will do ~1.3 more damage. Still good, if not as good as some of the others.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting: An attack you'll generally make once per round will do 5 more damage if it hits. Also not great, but kinda necessary for dual-wielding to be effective.

And finally, Protection: Once per round, if you're standing next to an ally and haven't used your reaction, you can make one attack against them significantly less likely to hit. It's situational, competes for your reaction, and only works once per round at absolute best. Your proposed version is less situational, and therefore, stronger than protection, but still weaker than any of the other fighting styles.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thinking of ways to make Protection style work makes me want to try running an adventure with a group of Paladins and pure casters making a phalanx where all incoming attacks have disadvantage. \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle Strand Jun 15 '17 at 20:57
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Homebrew is a form of play test

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There are two similar ideas floating about in the WoTC Unearthed Arcana with the Mystic class, published here, and Blade Mastery, one of the weapons feats here. In this case, combining the Variant Human "choose a feat at first level" choice with a variation on the Soul Knife and/or Blade Mastery offers a reasonably even trade to accomplish your goal. (If not a variant human, this would mean spending a feat at the 4th level ASI).

Here's the proposed home brew feat to ask for, and to work out the details for in collaboration with your DM. You will both need to play test it at the table to see if it fits at the power level that suits you both.

Protective Parry

  1. Homebrew version feat for the dex based, dual wielding Paladin, modest version (More Mystic inspired):

"When fighting with two weapons, you can use one of your weapons to parry and gain a +2 to AC until the the next turn, or use it as a reaction to provide +2 AC to an ally within 5' of you when that ally is attacked."

  1. Homebrew version feat for the dex based, dual wielding Paladin, robust version (Blade Master inspired):

"When fighting with two weapons, you can use one of your weapons to parry and gain a +1 to AC until the the next turn, or, as a reaction, 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."

These two forms of similar abilities/feats in the UA play test material posted are intended to capture the spirit of what you are trying to do.

Variations on the current play test themes

From page 8 of the Mystic UA (p.8):
{ship the psionic power stuff from the soul knife ability}

• As a bonus action, you can prepare to use the blades to parry; you gain a +2 bonus to AC until the start of your next turn or until you are incapacitated

From Blade Mastery (Feats UA, p. 3)

• You gain a +1 attack roll to attacks you make with the weapon.
• On your turn, you can use your reaction to assume a parrying stance, provided you have the weapon in hand. Doing so grants you a +1 bonus to your AC until the start of your next turn or until you’re not holding the weapon • When you make an opportunity attack with the weapon,you have advantage on the attack roll

You'll notice that I scaled both of them down a bit, but that was intentional.

Be careful with adding / substituting feats

This approach, using play test material, is a little bit tricky since feats often have three properties, and there is some question on how to balance a feat. In this case, we forfeit the +1 attack, and convert the advantage on an attack to disadvantage on the defense only in the case of helping another ally. Likewise, reducing the parry for yourself to +1 (since you don't have a shield), and then convert the advantage on an attack to disadvantage on the defense makes this feat unique. From a thematic point of view, it mirrors the "doing it for someone else" idea of the original protection fighting style of the Paladin class. there is also some similarity to the dual wielding feat but you still have to retain the light weapon restriction.

The dev makes a comment about Blade Mastery.

Why I Like this Feat
This feat is simple, but it provides a tangible boost to both offense and defense.

That is preserved in the latter case, and since you already have the two weapons fighting style, maybe adding +1 attack for the "modest" case brings them closer to equal.

Is it balanced?

It costs a feat, or an ASI, but it provides what you want with abilities similar to the other features in a thematically appropriate style, and somewhere within the balance estimates the devs are considering. You'll only know if it "works" if you play test it at your table.

Run this by your DM

It might fit, and it might not. It's worth a try, it is thematic, and it never hurts to ask.

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I feel like the sentinel feat really does the role of protecting other characters, and here's why:

You have to think about how this actually affects how a monster reacts. Your actions will change how monsters behave if your DM is decent.

If protection paladin uses his shield block to impose disadvantage when attacking an adjacent Ally, a monster will either target you in the future since you don't impose that disadvantage when you're being attacked, or will try to move your ally away from you.

Now, your sentinel character gets a reaction attack when they're adjacent to you and target someone else. They will either start targeting you to prevent those reactions, or try to move away (inciting your immobilizing opportunity attacks) to continue targeting your ally.

I actually feel like sentinel is a better protective option than the protection style, as it indirectly draws fire and isn't limited to melee attacks. If there's an annoying mage in the encounter, plop yourself adjacent to them and slap them every time they do a ranged spell attack, and soon they'll be trying to target you, possibly with disadvantage if you interrupt an attempt to move away from you.

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