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My primary question is: Which of the following builds deals the most damage on average: Dual-Wielding Twinned-Shillelagh Quarterstaff and Club, Polearm Master Shillelagh Quarterstaff with Shield, Direwolf Wild Shape with Charger, or any of those three builds with Savage Attacker instead of the listed feat?

For context of the party, I am playing in a game with up to 6 other players, where not everyone is able to make every session. The level-4 party, as of next session, will consist of: 1 Rogue, 2 Bards (formerly a Paladin and Warlock, both killed in combat), 1 Barbarian, 1 Druid (starting next session), 1 Sorcerer (my current character), and one other character whose player hasn't revealed yet (formerly a Warlock, killed by player between sessions). I want to mention that the DM has suggested that we each bring a backup character, as the chances of death are quite high, which we are all fine with.

With this in mind, I want my backup character to be support when we have enough fighters (should any of the squishier character perish), frontline when the Barbarian is gone or needs more assistance, and serve as a mount when I'm unable to attend sessions. A midfielder, if you will. In-universe, the story is that the character was trained as a Druid to protect a mystical spring, but he gave in to temptation after his Druidic mentor passed and drank from the spring, which gave him uncontrollable magic.

For the actual build, the backup character is a Half Elf, Outlander, Moon-Druid 2 / Wild-Magic-Sorcerer 4 (base class Druid). Ability Modifiers: STR -1, DEX +1, CON +2, INT -1, WIS +3, CHA +3. The DM has approved a staff to triple serve as a Quarterstaff, Arcane focus, and Druidic focus. One of my Sorcerer spells is Mage Armor, which stacks with using a shield or carries over to Wild Shape.

Here are the builds with their attacks and damages:

  1. Twinned-Shillelagh with Dual Wielding feat:

    • Attack: 1d20+6, Damage: 1d8+3
    • Bonus Attack: 1d20+6, Damage: 1d8
    • Can't dual wield with Quarterstaff (which is needed to Twin Shillelagh) without the Dual Wielding feat
    • AC: 15
  2. Quarterstaff and Shield with Polearm Master feat:

    • Attack: 1d20+6, Damage: 1d8+3
    • Bonus Attack: 1d20+6, Damage: 1d4+3
    • AC: 16
  3. Quarterstaff and Shield with Savage Attacker feat:

    • Attack: 1d20+6, Damage: 2d8 (drop lowest) +3
    • AC: 16
  4. Direwolf with Charger feat:

    • Action: Dash, coming straight at target for 10 feet
    • Bonus Attack: 1d20+5, Damage: 2d6+8
    • AC: 15
  5. Direwolf with Savage Attacker feat:

    • Action: 1d20+5, Damage: 4d6 (drop lowest sum of first+second or third+forth) +3
    • AC:15
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  • \$\begingroup\$ It kinda seems like you already know what damage all these builds do. What's the question here? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 25 '17 at 23:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ One question (that I probably should have asked before doing all that down there): you say it's a level 4 party, but you've got 2 levels of druid and 4 of sorcerer. What's up with that? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 26 '17 at 0:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was unaware of the anydice site, so I didn't know if a +1 to hit was worth a -7 to damage on average \$\endgroup\$ – C. A. Jones Aug 30 '17 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Level 4 party, but I just want to have an idea what direction to take the character feat-wise \$\endgroup\$ – C. A. Jones Aug 30 '17 at 14:24
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(Prescript: I like this question--thanks for bringing it and laying it out so clearly.)

Direwolf+Charger gives you the highest expected damage. But I'm still not sure that's your best choice.

First, the expected damage calculations. I'll assume that your druid-form hits opponents 65% of the timea. This means that the Direwolf will hit 60% of the time.

\begin{array}{rlll} \text{(AC)} &\text{Build} & \overline{\text{DPR}} & \text{Notes} \\ \hline \text{(15)} & \text{Twinned Shillelagh+Dual Wielder Feat} & 8.25 & \text{always on, uses bonus}\\ \text{(16)}&\text{Q'staff+Shield+PAM} & 8.8 & \text{always on, uses bonus}\\ \text{(16)}&\text{Q'staff+Shield+Savage Attacker} & 6.02^b & \text{always on}\\ \text{(15)}&\text{Direwolf+Charger} & 9.35 & \text{uses wildshape} \\ \text{(15)}&\text{Direwolf+Savage Attacker} & 7.61^b & \text{uses wildshape, uses bonus}\\ \end{array}

From this we see that the Direwolf+Charger is the most-damaging option. When it's available.

Things to consider:

This "midfielder" role you've described might make dependence on wildshape-availability not such a big deal--you're only looking to be the big-hitter some of the time, after all. But it seems like you're talking about role-switching not encounter to encounter, but session to session. In my opinion widshape-dependence just isn't going to work well with what you've described. But I might be wrong.

The expected DPR difference between Direwolf+Charger vs. your PAM build comes out to 1 or 2 hp dealt in an encounter. For my money, sacrificing 1-2 hp dealt to "recapture" all your wildshape uses (either for combat versatility or for out-of-combat use) is definitely worth it.

You also haven't much mentioned your spell-usage (beyond mage armor and possibly shillelagh). Again, for my money your thinking about how you may use spells is probably weightier than 1-2 hp difference in an encounter.

You mentioned ACs in your post, so I included them in the table above. But the table ignores the huge hp pools that wildshaping brings with them; if you wanted to include defensive considerations, that almost certainly argues strongly for the wildshape-dependent builds. Again, wildshape-availability is going to be an issue there--if you hit an encounter and have no wildshapes.... But the danger of that happening is something that you're in the best position to judge. (We're not privy to rest-practices at your table.)

Summary:

  1. For pure offense, assuming you always have wildshape available, the Direwolf+Charger build is strongest.
  2. If you admit any possibility that you will hit an encounter with no wildshapes left to use (or have concern about hitting the prereqs for Charger) then PAM outperforms Direwolf+Charger.
  3. Personally, I'd take PAM over Direwolf+Charger anyway, to "free up" the wildshape uses for other shenanigans. But that's a playstyle thing of mine.

  4. Spell-usage and defensive considerations (OAs with Charger, HP pools in wildshapes) are big blind spots in this analysis. Much bigger than the differences among the top builds here, frankly.


a - In my experience PCs hit level-appropriate opponents about 2/3 of the time. Enough that I think the fact that we even have ACs and hit-bonuses and attack rolls is the purest evidence that "rolling dice and feeling the suspense as I tally things up" is an intentional part of the game--we could get rid of most of that superstructure and not change the results in any significant way.

However, some might think 2/3 is a tad high or low. You can bump it down to 40% or up to 100%, it doesn't change the ordering of your options. It does squeeze and spread the spacing within the order, in ways that I don't find important.

b - The expected value of 2d8k1 is ~5.81, as can be seen in this anydice program. This can be trivially modified to see that the expected value of 2d6k1 is ~4.47.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's worth pointing you that you can't twin Shillelagh. Twinned Spell only works on spells that target 1 creature; Shillelagh targets an object. \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Sep 8 '17 at 3:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ In most encounters Charger can only be used once, if you do not want to provoke Opportunity Attacks. At the beginning ofthe combat, if you won the initiative. \$\endgroup\$ – András May 25 '18 at 7:07
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You need to define "most" in order to say

Here is an anydice program that shows all the options. It is set for an AC of 14 but you can change that in the first line.

Direwolf with Charger has the highest maximum damage (40), the highest mean damage (10.5) and the highest median (12.5), however, it also has the highest standard deviation (8.59) meaning that the results can be wildly different from the mean/median and one of the highest chances of doing 0 damage (0.35). It is also highly situational: you need wildshape and a straight 10 foot path to your target. Further, to repeat the manoeuvre next round you need to either kill the target or accept an opportunity attack as you move away to charge again.

Quarterstaff and Shield with Polearm Master feat has the next highest maximum (36), mean (9.1) but its median of 8.5 is only the third highest. It has a relatively low standard deviation (5.6) and, like all the dual-wielding attacks, only misses 0.125 of the time.

You can analyze the rest yourself.

Which is "best"?

This is much easier than which does the most damage - Quarterstaff and Shield with Polearm Master feat.

I can say this because damage is only one consideration - you need to consider how the game actually works. Your target has a set number of hit points. To defeat them you need to do at least that much damage - any more damage is wasted. If you make multiple attacks then if your first attack dops your enemy, you can attack someone else - the "excess" damage from that attack is not wasted like it is for a single attack. Similarly, your damage output for the round is diversified - 2 attack rolls massively increase the chance of doing some damage and as D&D is a resource management game and your actions are your scarcest resource any damage is better than no damage. You also increase your chances of a critical hit.

Also, you want damage that is consistant (low standard deviation) - damage that varies wildly from hit to hit means a greater chance of wasted damage.

These are general observations: in this particular case, the direwolf options depend on having wildshape available,; something you cannot guarantee.

Of the two attack options, Quarterstaff and Shield with Polearm Master feat is strictly better than the others. You can see this if you display the results as an at least graph - it is always above and to the right of the others.

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