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In D&D versions Original to 3.5, the ability to hit your opponent varies from class to class (i.e. Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard). The classes in 5th edition all seem to have the same basic attack adjustments from proficiency at every level (not counting ability score adjustment, skill expertise or racial adjustments).

This seems to be a major departure from previous editions, so I'm not sure if I'm reading it right or missing something major.

Do all character classes really get the same attack adjustments? Is there something in the rules that I am missing? Unless a wizard specifically focuses on using a specific weapon, I would have assumed fighting classes would be inherently better at hitting their target. As far as spell targeting, that makes sense, but not for physical combat.

Just to be clear, I am in no way criticizing the rules. I am just trying to understand how it all fits together.

All classes have proficiency in several simple weapons (Dagger, Dart, Sling, Quarterstaff, and light crossbows). With these weapons, all classes have the same proficiency bonus. I am purposely not considering ability scores to compare against previous edition. In previous editions, even with proficiency, there was a difference in ability to hit between classes.

Is this understanding correct? Is there something else that accounts for the differences, like combat tables or class combat adjustments?

It just seems that there is no basic combat difference between classes, other than ability scores and specialty skills, and I find that surprising enough to think I'm missing something.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Oct 23 '17 at 23:57
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Dale M's answer is pretty much the one I would have given, but I'll try to add clarification based on the comments from his answer.


On a single attack, a wizard and a fighter of equal stats and features have similar chances to hit. But it doesn't matter because a fighter will still be a better fighter than a wizard will be. It also raises the point that the wizard shouldn't have the same stats and features after lvl1.

This is related to the change in philosophy of 5e : the number in the attack doesn't grow that much, but more interesting tools and tricks make the difference between a good fighter and wannabe-fighter. Example include sneak attack, battlemaster's maneuver, bonus action extra attack, conditionnal extra damage (ex. the ranger's colossus slayer).

How is a fighter's training shown in the mechanics

A fighter's training doesn't appear as bigger to-hit number. It appears as extra attack, more HP, fighting style (the fighter goes beyond blindly hitting things), more reliable crits, combat related feats, more efficient offhand attacks...

Bonus attacks, fighting style, feats, stat boosts are not new to 5e, but they still make a difference when it comes to actually hitting. They actually make more of a difference because the base numbers are closer. And then add more damage once an attack does hit.

I will ask the reverse question

If a wizard and fighter have equal experience in fighting (aka they are level 1 and have never seen a real fight), why should the fighter have more chance to hit? They only ever had basic training experience. Or at least even the fighter may have never seen a real combat. While the wizard may at least know enough his staff to hit a target.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Very good point. I see that ultimately it's about making the game more balanced. Normally in 2nd edition games, a 1st level wizard would keep his distance from a warrior class, having only one spell available. I personally used a house rule that gave mages the same type of bonus spells that clerics have, only in relation to their intelligence instead. I didn't think it was fair for clerics to have bonus spells and wizards not. Even back then I strove for balance. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Dunn Oct 24 '17 at 0:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ A Wizard shouldn't even have the same stats at level 1, really. There's little reason for them to pick Strength. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 24 '17 at 7:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I always assumed that before becoming level 1 in a class, you had to undergo years of training or appropriate conditioning. For example a random villager who kills a wolf and levels up would be a Man/Woman level 2, not a fighter level 2. \$\endgroup\$ – Tyler S. Loeper Oct 24 '17 at 18:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik I agree with you actually. The example I had in mind was a dex+2 wizard (with finesse or ranged weapon) compared to a defensive fighter with con+3/str+2. In this case they have equal chances. But yeah. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Oct 24 '17 at 20:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TylerSigi the rules appear to be on your side. At least the pathfinder rules with their npc classes. Altought, in my mind, a lvl1 fighter might never have faced a life or death situation. And a wizard who decides to go adventuring may have trained with basic weapon enough to be able to defend. And years may not be really a prerequisite, seeing how the character can multiclass relatively quickly. I'll probably edit that part. At least the 3 month part. (Damned be the 5 minute edit rule) \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Oct 24 '17 at 20:20
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You are missing something ... just not about how the proficiency bonus works

All classes making an attack with a weapon they are proficient in or with a spell they have spellcasting proficiency in get their proficiency bonus added to the attack roll.

However, martial classes will tend to put their best scores in Strength or Dexterity and spellcasting classes will tend not to - this will typically make a difference of +2 or so (equal to the 1st level proficiency bonus). In addition, as the character earns ability score increases (and the fighter gets more of these) they will tend to go towards Strength/Dexterity for the martial classes and elsewhere for the spellcasters.

This means that, from the get go and even more as they level, a spellcaster will almost always be better off using an attack cantrip (the damage of which scales with level) than a weapon attack. This is without considering their leveled spells.

Further, martial classes get extra attacks (or more sneak attack damage) and extra things they can do with melee/ranged that spellcasters don't. While the spellcaster may have the same chance to hit with a weapon they will do it much less often and do much less damage when they do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget that fighters get proficiency with better weapons. \$\endgroup\$ – BobTheAverage Oct 23 '17 at 22:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ This really hits the core of the question. If you have a Wizard and a Fighter with the same ability scores and using a dagger, yes they will perform mostly the same, but why the hell is a wizard stacking strength and a fighter not using a martial weapon? \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Oct 23 '17 at 22:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ What you are talking about is also in the previous editions, in some form or another. Previous to 3rd edition, you needed magic to raise your ability scores. Typically in previous editions you would also assign ability scores to make your character more capable for their class. It still doesn't account for what previous editions did for class and level. Original through 2nd edition had combat tables, 3rd edition had different attack modifiers based on class and level. They all have the same or similar features you point out. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Dunn Oct 23 '17 at 22:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisDunn But 4e didn't - you added half your level. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Oct 23 '17 at 23:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's actually quite reasonable for a caster to take 16 dex, particularly as an elf or halfling, which means that you'll be at equal hit chance until you reach level 4. But since weapons let you add your modifier and cantrips don't*, a wizard is better off using a light crossbow (1d8+3 (7.5)) over firebolt (1d10 (5.5)) for the first few levels. Once the caster hits level 5, though, the cantrip-scaling and ability score modifier will make spells clearly superior. * Unless a class feature says otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – Trevel Oct 24 '17 at 17:54
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One major philosophical shift in 5e is the emphasis on active rather than passive abilities. Additionally, as godskook pointed out in the comments, 5e also introduces the idea of "bounded accuracy" which compresses the possible space of possible attack bonuses and armour class values and instead shifts the emphasis of power away from accuracy.

Thus, in 3.5 the difference in Fighter skill vs. Wizard skill in combat was represented by base attack bonus. While there are still some inherent passive bonus differences in 5e (for example, fighters can add their proficiency bonus to any simple or martial weapon, whereas wizards only get that bonus when wielding a dagger, dart, sling, quarterstaff, or light crossbow, barring any proficiencies from other sources such as feats or racial abilities), the primary differences will manifest as active abilities or specializations which improve the effectiveness of one's actions.

At first level the differences may not be large, but even so the fighter still has a definite edge (also keep in mind a fighter has 10+Con. hit points vs. 6+Con. HP for a wizard): the fighter will have a Fighting Style which can include, for example, Great Weapon Fighting to reroll 1s and 2s on damage dice when wielding a two-handed weapon, as well as Second Wind to use an action to recover 1d10+level in hit points.

Those abilities alone should heavily tilt combat toward the fighter, and their combat abilities only continue to diverge from there, with Action Surge at second level providing an extra action 1/short or long rest, and the Martial Archetype of 3rd level providing a broad range in choices to give the fighter an edge.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If you wanna talk about the fighter class abilities, you should talk about them. The stuff you mention has no impact on hit chance... \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Oct 23 '17 at 21:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Right, my point was that even if hit chance is the same, combat effectiveness is different. In the original phrasing of the question it asked whether a group of unarmoured adventurers all wielding staves were more or less equivalent. The question has now been edited to focus more explicitly on chance to hit. I am unclear with forum rules what should happen now to my answer given the change in focus of the question post editing. \$\endgroup\$ – Mozglubov Oct 23 '17 at 22:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Frame challenge the focus on "chance to hit" based on 5e's addition of "bounded accuracy". Redirecting power from accuracy was a needed step in reducing complexity in other facets of the game, such as the elimination of touch and flat-footed ACs. Touch AC especially is worth talking about to improve your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – godskook Oct 23 '17 at 23:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ At first level, the difference is huge mostly because the Fighter has good AC and the Wizard does not. Wizards are lucky to have an AC over 11 while Fighters generally start at 16 minimum. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 24 '17 at 7:54

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