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So, I was attempting to theory-craft a character that could deliver a massive amount of damage in a single melee attack. I know that there are builds to deliver a massive amount of damage in a single round that can most definitely out-damage this one, but I was specifically looking for a single melee attack.

So, my idea was a Half-Orc Paladin/Hexblade Warlock/Sorcerer multiclass. Using a combination of Divine Smite, the Warlock's Eldritch Smite Invocation, a +3 magic weapon, the Half-Orc's Savage Attack feature, Absorb Elements, and Hex, with max damage and crits, I got a lot of damage (I don't have the exact math's, I lost the paper I was doing my calculations on). I think it was over 100.

However, I'm sure that this is nowhere near as high as it can possibly be. So what is the greatest maximum amount of damage you can do with a single melee attack?

Anything from books published by Wizards is allowed, whether it be race, class, magic items, etc, as long as you make it a single melee attack. This includes 20th level characters and epic boons. UA should not be considered.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I kind of want to see a version of this question for every character level. Or at least 1, 5, 11, 15. Is that awful? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Dec 7 '17 at 15:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm While the middle levels would probably be a little complicated, trying to see what would be possible for 1st level characters would be interesting. Hell, even a breakdown of all the character classes & subclasses with how much damage they could do in a single attack at first level, depending on spells, potential feats, magic items, weapons, etc, in a kind of grid display. \$\endgroup\$ – Jay Kay Dec 7 '17 at 17:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Rules on setup or anything goes? \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Mar 25 '18 at 6:03
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If you're looking at a single melee attack, you're absolutely going to need at least 17 levels in Rogue (Assassin) for Death Strike. I can't think of anything in the game better for increasing single-hit damage than the deadly combo of Sneak Attack (9-10 d6), Assassinate (automatic crit), and Death Strike (double damage). I'd take two levels in Paladin on top of that for smites, and then your final level could be Barbarian (for rage damage). Additionally, take the charger and martial adept feats.

Average Damage without items: 222

Max Damage without items: 364

Damage Breakdown

  • Rapier: 1d8 + 5
  • Sneak Attack: 9d6
  • Smite: 2d8
  • Rage: +2
  • Charger feat: +5
  • Maneuver (several choices): 1d6
  • Dueling fighting style: +2

This gives us a total of 3d8 + 10d6 + 14 damage. However, if we assume ideal conditions this Rogue will be attacking a surprised enemy that hasn't taken a turn yet, so the attack will auto-crit. That brings the damage to 6d8 + 20d6 + 14. That averages 27 + 70 + 14 = 111 damage (182 with max rolls).

Death Strike doubles that damage, for 222 average or 364 max.

Now let's add in weapons, items, and enchantments that could boost it above those numbers:

  • Vorpal Sword would add +3, as well as +6d8 on a nat 20
  • Enlarge: +1d4 damage (cast by a friend, or potion)
  • A library of Manuals of Gainful Exercise would add another +5 from STR

These would add a total of 1d4 + 6d8 + 8 to the numbers above. Auto-crit to 2d4 + 12d8 + 8, and double, and you get an additional 134 (average) or 224 (max)

Then add Purple worm poison for another 12d6 damage (that doesn't crit or double, thanks Jonatan) - 42 average or 72 max.

This gives us a total bonus from weapons & spells of 176 average or 296 max.

Average damage with items & spells: 398

Max damage with items & spells: 660

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    \$\begingroup\$ You can actually use Strength with sneak attack. The only condition is that you be using a finesse or ranged weapon, not that you actually be using dexterity. But I did need to change "manuals of quickness of action" to "manuals of gainful exercise" to reflect this, so that was still a good catch. \$\endgroup\$ – Dacromir Dec 5 '17 at 20:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin Please avoid using backticks for quoting, as it marks the text as code, which is considered harmful on non-code text. Just use quotation marks or italics or something — anything that's normal for quotations in text. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 6 '17 at 4:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ How about adding Green-Flame Blade (as a bonus cantrip for High Elf for example)? It will increase damage by 6d8. \$\endgroup\$ – AntiDrondert Feb 7 at 8:52
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I think we can do a little better. Let's try a Half-Orc Tempest Cleric 9/Whispers Bard 5/Hunter Ranger 4/Paladin 2, with Strength 19 and three feats, casting the spell Booming Blade with a Greataxe. Let's assume we crit.

  • Greataxe does 2d12+4 (average 17, max 28).
  • Booming Blade does an extra 6d8 thunder damage (we'll come back to that).
  • Half-Orc's Savage Attacks add 1d12 (average 6.5, max 12).
  • Orcish Fury feat: 1d12 (average 6.5, max 12).
  • Great Weapon Master feat: 10.
  • Martial Adept feat: 1d6 (average 3.5, max 6).
  • Absorb Elements spell (9th level): 18d6 thunder damage.
  • Searing Smite spell (8th level): 16d6 (average 56, max 96).
  • Divine Strike: 2d8 thunder damage.
  • Venomous Blades: 6d6 (average 21, max 36).
  • Divine Strike vs undead: 12d8 (average 54, max 96).
  • Colossus Slayer: 2d8 (average 9, max 16).

So thunder damage. The nice thing we have is Destructive Wrath; we can use our Channel Divinity to maximise our thunder damage. So we have 8d8 and 18d6 thunder damage which maximises to 160.

And one more thing: if we hit our enemy with the spell Contagion, we can make them vulnerable to all damage. So let's double everything.

Average base damage: 687

Max base damage: 942

Then we add a Vorpal Sword; going from 1d12 to a 2d6 greatsword loses us average 5, max 12, but Vorpal gives us 6d8+3, so a total of average 25, max 39. Then Purple Worm Poison adds 12d6, average 42, max 72, and 6 from Manual of Exercising our Strength up to 30. And, of course, double EVERYTHING :D

Average damage with items: 833

Max damage with items: 1176

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, it's not clear to me: the attack as laid out requires a maximized Absorb Elements that was used against thunder (or lightning) damage. So this attack requires that you are hit by this type of damage in the round preceding this attack, right? That's not mentioned in your answer. Also, you might clarify that you need to use both channel divinities, one for Booming Blade and one for Absorb Elements, and not that the same one can be used for both. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Feb 7 at 1:30
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Well not actually infinity but arbitrarily large. Since you said any official items are allowed, the answer keeps getting higher the more time you have to setup. This is because of Moonblade.

Moonblades gain a new rune for each master it has served, meaning that with more former masters, it will have collected more and more runes. Two of the runes have a property that increase damage without a limit on how many you can have:

91-92 When you hit with an attack using the moon blade, the attack an extra 1d6 slashing damage.

93-94 When you hit a creature of a specific type (such as dragon, fiend, or undead) with the moonblade, the target takes an extra 1d6 damage of one of these types: acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder.

Nothing states that multiple instances of these runes don't stack so your melee attack will deal a maximum damage approaches inifinity as time goes on (I'm ignoring the other factors to its damage since the runes provide much more damage comparatively then the damage from the possible vorpal feature of the moonblade, among others).

For details on the approximate damage based on the number of runes, see this Q&A.


Note: yes, the one rune does truly not include the word "deals" and it STILL has not been errata'd. I assume that is the intent for the purpose of this answer

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth noting that the runes are random, if I’m understanding the “91-92” correctly. The expected damage per runes (each chosen randomly) would be \$2\% \times \overline{\{1, 6\}} = 0.02 \times 3.5 = 0.07\$. An auspicious number, to be sure. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 22 '18 at 16:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan except some runes can't stack so eventually the probabilities get much higher. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Jul 22 '18 at 17:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough! It would be interesting to see that analysis, but it might be rather involved... sounds like a decent candidate for a new question. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 22 '18 at 17:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan was thinking of asking that a while back. With a specific goal it'd be easier. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Jul 22 '18 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I went ahead and asked that question. Feel free to add any details you think I missed. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 22 '18 at 18:04
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Using your suggested methods, here's the breakdown. All of the dice values are on crit

Weapon: Great Axe +3 2d12+3
Race: Half-Orc: 1d12
Notable Stats: 20 Charisma +5
Classes: Paladin 8 / Warlock 9 / Sorcerer 3
Class Features: Hexblade Warlock Eldritch Smite, the rest don't matter for damage.
Feats: Great Weapon Master +10 , Orcish Fury +2d12
Spells: Absorb Elements 10d6, Hex (or Hunter's Mark) 2d6
Abilities: Smite 12d8, Eldritch Smite 12d8

When you crit an undead creature, you roll the following damage: 12d6 + 5d12 + 24d8 + 18, for a maximum damage of 72 + 60 + 192 + 18 = 342.

How to: Cast Absorb Elements as a 5th level spell (1st warlock slot) and get hit by any of the damage types listed. As a bonus action, cast Hex. On your next turn, crit an undead creature with your +3 Great Axe while taking a -5 attack roll penalty for +10 damage. Expend a 4th level spell slot (multi-class spell slot table) for Divine Smite and a 5th (2nd warlock spell slot) for Eldritch Smite. On crit, your half orc racial gives you +1 weapon die (1d12) and your racial feat grants you two additional weapon die. Being a Hexblade Warlock allows you to use your charisma for damage modifiers.

Ways to increase this based on target: Attack a creature vulnerable to Slashing, Radiant, Force, and whatever type Absorb Elements used for double damage to any of those types.

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Hit it with your Vorpal Barbarian

Race: Half-Orc
Class: Barbarian 17/Paladin 2/Warlock 1
Relevant Ability Scores: Strength 29
Weapons and Magic Items: Vorpal Great Sword (2 handed), Belt of Storm Giant Strength
Feats: Great Weapon Fighting, Magic Initiate (for Absorb Elements), Savage Attack
Relevant Class and Race Features: Brutal Critical (3 dice), Great Weapon Fighting Style, Divine Smite

Setup: Assume the target is a legendary undead creature who has been afflicted with Hex that is hit by a crit and is neither vulnerable nor resistant to any element being used. In the prior round, you were hit by some sort of fire attack that enabled you to trip Absorb Elements.

I am simplifying the math to assume that because of the chosen Fighting Style, the dice range for the great weapon is between 3 and the upper end of the relevant die.

Effect of Hit:

\begin{array}{rlll} 21 &= &2\text{d}6+3+9 &\text{(Vorpal Sword)} \\ 13.5 &= &2\text{d}8+1\text{d}8 &\text{(Radiant damage from Divine Smite on an undead creature)} \\ 3.5 &= &1\text{d}6 &\text{(Necrotic damage from Hex)} \\ +\quad3.5 &= &1\text{d}6 &\text{(Fire damage from Absorb Elements)} \\ \hline 41.5 & \rlap{\text{average (48 max)}} \end{array}

Additional effects from crit (please note the following on Vorpal weapons):

\begin{array}{rlll} 225 &= 3\times(2\text{d}6+12\text{d}8) & \text{(Brutal Vorpal crit)} \\ 75 &= 1\times(2\text{d}6+12\text{d}8) & \text{(Savage Attack racial)} \\ 13.5 &= 1\times(2\text{d}8+1\text{d}8) & \text{(Smite dice are rolled twice, but not thrice because} \\ & & \; \text{they are not melee weapon attack dice)} \\ 3.5 &= 1\times(1\text{d}6) & \text{(Crit on a Hex)} \\ +\quad 3.5 &= 1*(1\text{d}6) & \text{(Crit on Absorb Elements)} \\ \hline 320.5 & \rlap{\text{average (468 max)}} \end{array}

This insanely nasty crit will deal, on average, 362 damage. It has the potential to deal as much as 516 damage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Brutal critical and Savage attack only let you add one additional die to the damage roll. So, savage attacks with a greatsword will add an extra 1d6, and brutal critical(3) will add an extra 3d6 for a total of only an extra 4d6. I'm not sure how they react with the extra 6d8 from the vorpal sword, but at best you would get only an extra 4d8. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Dec 5 '17 at 21:44
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A Bugbear with Rogue level 3, Paladin level 2, and Wizard level 15 can deal 560-840 damage at once in two swings.

  • Assassinate: All to-hit Dice x2

  • Absorb Elements 9d6 + 9d6

  • Wrathful Smite Scroll for 9d6 + 9d6

  • Booming Blade for 4d8 + 4d8

  • Short Sword + Sneak Attack + Surprise Attack = 5d6 + 5d6

  • Divine Smite for 5d8 + 5d8

  • Finally All spell damage maximized because of lvl 14 evoker ability: Overchannel since almost all of the damage is spell damage.

Damage spread is from 280 Damage to 420 damage in a single swing. You take damage from quaffing a flagon of alchemist's fire and from overchannel.

Add vorpal and purple worm poison and a bunch of other stuff and it gets ridiculous. Then you get a second swing.

This is viable in almost all situations. No vulnerability or other wierd tweaks, just damage dealt not how the damage is received. No magic items or poison either. Pure build mechanics.

This build also gives you high AC, Trapping, 8th level spell slots. A bunch of other fun things too.

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Infinite
Or 1860
Or 1956 with UA

Before we get into this a word of warning: you could use the books and the Morgan Freeman method detailed in Acumen's highest ability score video for infinite damage, so that's the max, but following is the maximum finite I've found.

First of, make your character a lv. 17 Rogue Assassin, lv. 2 Paladin, and lv. 1 Mystic. You'll need 5 other members in your party: a druid, bard, 2 paladins, and a wizards. You're able to replace the wizard with a sorcerer, and one of the paladins with a cleric. Second, choose bugbear as your race. Choose Dueling as your fighting style for Paladin. Be a good alignment. Get the Martial Adept ability, along with any skill that lets you add your superiority die to damage.

As far as magic items go, we only need 1. Get a Vorpal Scimitar. Also obtain Purple Worm Poison.

Now is when things start getting desperate. We need 1 level in Mystic for the Brute Strength discipline. If you don't like UA, then sadly we lose quite a bit of damage, but you get a free level. Second, we must be in the plane of Mount Celestia. Good-Aligned creatures here benefit from the effects of the Bless spell, and along with that you need to somehow get a fiend there. We also must acquire the Boon of Luck, and 10 boons to increase DEX and CHA to 30, making this section easily the most controversial of all.

Time to put it all together. Have the druid in your party cast Flesh Rot Contagion on the fiend. The Bard needs to use bardic inspiration on you, and cast Bestow Curse on the fiend. One of the paladins needs to use Crusader's Mantle, while the other uses Holy Weapon on your weapon. The druid should then cast Elemental Bane on the fiend, choosing thunder. Finally, cast Thunderous Smite, Apply Purple Worm Poison, and sneak attack. On the damage roll for this attack use Boon of Luck, Bardic Inspiration, Divine Smite, 2 Uses of Brute Strike, Your Martial Adept ability, Channel Divinity Sacred Weapon, roll a nat 20, make sure your opponent is immune to Vorpal Insta-Kill, and Death Strike.
All damage dice gets doubled on a crit (I believe, I may be wrong about this), meaning you'll be dealing 2d12+2d10+12d8+50d6+6d4+25 damage, multiplied by 4 for Death Strike and Vulnerability you have 8d12+8d10+48d8+200d6+24d4+100 damage, and assuming you roll max on all of them:

1956 Damage. Nearly 2000.

Excluding UA like OP said it's 1860 damage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your block of text is kind of hard to parse the steps. But can you clarify the "Contagion cast on target (x2)"? It also appears you may have multiple concentration spells going at once. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 6 at 20:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ All of the spells other than Thunderous Smite are cast by other party members. By x2 on Contagion is from the Flesh Rot ability, because you're dealing several types of damage here so it would be simpler just to give the target vulnerability to everything. As specified, if your entire party was working on it, but this would take several party members. \$\endgroup\$ – Appledirt Feb 7 at 0:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hmm. It doesn't say no outside buffing, but no other answers use it and I dont think it's the intent. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 7 at 0:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ I fixed the formatting to make it look better. Replacing Contagion and Bestow Curse with their respective scrolls and removing the rest of the outside help this setup reaches 8d10+32d8+184d6+16d4+100 for a max of 1604 damage. \$\endgroup\$ – Appledirt Feb 12 at 3:09
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The Monk class has the way of the open hand discipline, which has the quivering palm ability at level 17. Using an unarmed strike and an action the target must make a Constitution saving throw. If they fail, the targets hit points are reduced to 0. If the target succeeds, they take 10d10 necrotic damage.

Max damage is infinite, since any amount of hp can be reduced to 0.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already. Technically, this answer isn't true; Quivering Palm simply automatically reduces the target to 0 HP if it fails the Con save, without doing damage. (The banshee's Wail action works similarly.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 29 '18 at 7:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Reduced to 0 is not the same as taking damage. An effect that triggers on taking damage would not be triggered by this, for example. I don't think this actually answers the question as posed. This answers a different question entirely. \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Nov 16 '18 at 0:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ And even if Quivering Palm dealt damage, it still would not cut it because it is not an attack. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Dec 12 '18 at 8:24

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