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I'm building an archer fighter and have been considering making his race that of stout halfling because the halfling race gets +2 DEX and the "stout" subclass gets +1 CON, which seems perfect for an archer fighter.

My only hesitation is that he would have disadvantage when attacking with longbows, because they have the "Heavy" property (PHB p. 147, or here in the basic rules):

Small creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls with heavy weapons. A heavy weapon's size and bulk make it too large for a Small creature to use effectively.

I'm not trying to be stuck on min/maxing, but I want him to be the best he can be in combat. (He's a fighter, after all.)

Is using a stout halfling with a shortbow (1d6) going to be statistically less effective archer-fighter than a medium-sized creature wielding a longbow (1d8)?

I'm wondering if it's a mathematically poor decision to be stuck with a smaller damage die so I can get those good ability scores.

I'm just using the PHB and don't have a DM yet (just doing some play-testing for a campaign I'm writing), so I'm looking for answers that don't include "ask your DM".

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The question in your first bullet point has already been asked (by me) and answered here: Is there anything that cancels out Small creatures' disadvantage to attack when using Heavy weapons? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 18 '18 at 5:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ That said, you should limit each post to a single question. Those two bullet points are substantially different questions. The first is a duplicate, as stated; the second is too opinion-based as currently phrased, but could probably be edited into an appropriate form. In any case, they should be edited out of this question, and asked separately if they haven't been already. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 18 '18 at 5:40
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1d6 averages to 3.5 damage per hit (not including any additional modifiers).

1d8 averages to 4.5 damage per hit (not including any additional modifiers).

You can get +5 to attack and damage rolls from a maximized Dex score of 20, and +10 to damage (and -5 to attack rolls) from the Sharpshooter feat (PHB p. 170). If you take the feat, the difference between a d8 and d6 is trivial.

With that in mind, why not use a hand crossbow and take the Crossbow Expert feat (PHB p. 165) so that you can get an extra shot off with your bonus action? You might as well, if what you want is high damage output.

To optimize, consider the variant human choice. Starting off with 2 ranged attacks as a lvl 1 variant human fighter is pretty excellent.

  • Two shots from a d6 hand crossbow actually beats the averaged damage of using a d10 heavy crossbow. D10 averages to 5.5, but your Dex bonus alone makes up for the two point difference as it is applied to every shot, and when you've got two shots, there's far less chance of missing with your only attack and doing zero damage.

About optimizing for archery damage

If optimizing for damage, seriously consider choosing the variant human, which allows you to start with a feat. Stats matter, but not nearly as much as feats do. That said, there's nothing wrong with waiting until level 4/6 ASI/feat decisions for your fighter to come online as a sharpshooting crossbow expert. After all, races with darkvision don't suffer the way humans do. And this is a game which involves dungeons!

While this may seem silly, I found a permanent solution to the issue with small creatures having disadvantage to attack when using heavy weapons, and it doesn't require the wish spell: A wild magic sorcerer who rolls an 11-12 on the Wild Surge Table can grow as much as d10 inches permanently on an even roll.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it would improve this question if it at least mentioned that feats are an optional variant which is not the default (as you might get to believe after browsing this stack :-) ) \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Jul 18 '18 at 7:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, but there's human, and then there's variant human. I didn't say human. I said variant human. But either way I should link it. Thanks for the tip J.E. \$\endgroup\$ – AshRandom Jul 18 '18 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure if you're answering the OP's question or a similar question related to maximizing damage as an archer. If the latter, I'm curious about your choice of using crossbows whose utility will depreciate substantially when the Fighter reaches level 11 as well why you include a discussion on Wild Magic Sorcerer's, which seems to contain erroneous information related to how Portent works. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jul 18 '18 at 14:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AshRandom Also, to benefit from wild magic in the way you describe, the character would need to multiclass to Sorcerer, which I don't think is a very optimal when combined with Fighter. Lastly, even if the character did shrink, nothing in RAW would actually cause an actual change in size. We've a character in our party who was affected by this and has lost like 1.5 feet in height, he's still medium unless the DM decides otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jul 18 '18 at 14:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jul 18 '18 at 14:12
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To be honest, the difference between 1d6 and 1d8 is not very big as the levels go up. and if you do take Sharpshooter (Player's Handbook, p. 170) as a feat (a lot of archers do), then the main source of your damage will come from Sharpshooter and Dex rather than the damage die.

A lot of feats and abilities, such as the Arcane Archer's subclass features (Xanathar's Guide to Everything, p. 28), work for both longbow and shortbow; as such, the main differences between the two are the effective distance and the damage die - both of which will not be very detrimental in the majority of situations.

You should not let the small differences deter you from playing the race and way you want.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The question was if Shortbow is less effective than Longbow. I do not see a clear answer in your text. \$\endgroup\$ – András Jul 19 '18 at 7:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ basically i'm saying, it isn't. As they pretty much amount to the same thing. Unless fighting in a large (100+ ft.) area. \$\endgroup\$ – Curios Maximus Jul 19 '18 at 7:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is, very clearly. Not by much, you are right there, but unmistakably. \$\endgroup\$ – András Jul 19 '18 at 8:04
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You'll Trade Damage For Defense: I think you come out ahead

For the purposes of this argument, I'll assume that we are comparing the halfling to a medium creature that also gets a +2 bonus to dexterity. See AshRandom's excellent answer for how this build compares to a Variant Human.

You lose some damage, sort of:

At most levels, If you used a shortbow while a medium fighter used a longbow, the medium fighter would do a bit more damage. Similarly, if you used a light crossbow (1d8) while a medium fighter used a heavy crossbow, the medium fighter would still do a bit more damage most of the time (in each case, about 1 point more damage per attack, on average).

This may sound like it's a problem that gets worse as you level up (since you attack more often, a damage disparity per attack seems like it will add up). But it may not for a couple of reasons. First, both you and a medium creature will likely want to grab the Feat Crossbow Expert (if Feats are allowed in your game). This will usually allow you to attack with a hand crossbow as a bonus action, giving you an additional attack each turn. That more than makes up for the difference in damage dice, even when you're usually attacking 3 times in a turn: both you and the medium archer will likely be using 1d6 hand crossbows whenever possible.

Second of all, at higher levels you may have access to magical weapons. If you do, you're unlikely to be given access to unlimited options: you'll likely find what you find. So you may not even get access to a longbow at later levels, but rather have to use the magical light crossbow (or whatever).

So at low levels, this problem is very minor (doing 1 point of damage per round less). And at higher levels, the problem may not exist at all.

What you gain:

While you give up some damage, you gain some versatility. If a medium fighter gets surrounded by medium enemies at close range, they cannot effectively escape (without some optional rules), since you normally can't move through an enemy's space unless they are 2 sizes larger or smaller than you. They'd then find themselves attacking with bows at a disadvantage, since an enemy is within 5'. But halflings have access to "Halfling Nimbleness" which enables them to move through the space of creatures which are one size larger than them. So as a halfling, you'd be able to disengage and then move through the enemy's spaces, perhaps even attacking afterwards if you used Action Surge.

Likewise, as a stout halfing archer, you'll be more capable of surviving combat than the medium creature at lower levels, given your higher constitution. This will also be crucial if you go for the "Eldritch Knight" variety (or multiclass), because both your higher Con and halfling Lucky feature will make you more capable of maintaining concentration. Halflings and Humans are the only race that can start off with a +3 bonus in both Dexterity and Con without rolling their stats, and only halflings can do so with a standard array of Ability scores (unless the Variant human uses a feat that gives them +1 in a stat, but that's a bit of a waste of a feat).

From a optimizing point of view, this could be particularly significant around level 13 or 14. If you did go Eldritch Knight, you'll now be able to cast Haste on yourself. If you spent two feats on Sharpshooter and Crossbow Expert before now (which would make a lot of sense), you likely have your CON up to 16 or 18. If you're at 18, this would give you a +9 to Concentration checks. You (unlike other +2 dex races) will thus be in "auto succeed" territory for Concentration saving throws on an attack which did 20 damage or less to you. With Haste's high cost for losing concentration, this will be a serious boon to you at this stage. And if you're only up to a 16 for Con, then you'll only fail a concentration check with a DC of 10 one in four-hundred times, thanks to your Lucky racial feature.

One Real Difference: Range

The longbow's greatest advantage isn't their higher damage die: it's their range. In real medieval warfare, English longbow-men were so deadly on massive battlefields that enemies often threatened to cut off the shooting fingers of any archers they captured (which is why the British still raise two fingers as a sign of defiance and disdain). But in DnD, almost every fight will start within 50-100 feet of an enemy. Otherwise, the archers and Warlocks would just spend 3 or 4 rounds shooting charging enemies while all the other characters stood around doing nothing. Not much fun for them, so the DM is unlikely to craft such a scenario often (sorry to go metagame there, but it's a factor).

So overall, the disadvantages are likely to be minor or nonexistent. In truth, for a balanced fighter-archer, a stout halfling may even be an overall optimal choice.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry about my lack of clarity: I've edited the answer to clarify that the halfing racial trait "Halfling Nimbleness" lets them move through medium enemies' spaces. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Jul 19 '18 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is excellent. Nice synopsis on "Halfling Nimbleness". I can see how even without the optional rule for flanking, being able to move through an enemy's square is still tactical gold. Especially since most of us don't play on battle mats that allow for truly long distance shots. \$\endgroup\$ – AshRandom Jul 20 '18 at 1:58

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