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I play a halfling hexblade pact of the blade warlock. I recently learned exactly how hexblade/pact of the blade interaction work in this this question. I figured out that I can have 2 weapons that benefit from the hex warrior feature. I also read everywhere that using a 2 handed weapon is better then dual wielding, but since I am a halfling I get disadvantage on 2 handed weapons (at least on heavy weapons but almost all 2 handed weapons are heavy).

My question is:

What weapons would be best for a high DPR on a halfling?

  • a 2 hander even though I have disadvantage on it (1d12 but disadvantage).

  • 2 light weapons for dual wielding (2x 1d6).

  • 1 versatile weapon (1d8 but 1d10 versatile).

I would also like to know how this damage is compared to eldrich blast.

I currently am only looking for the best way to play at this level, sugestions for higher levels are always welcome.

All weapons would use the same modifier (CHA +3) because I can make them with the pact of the blade or have them as a pact weapon (for dual wield).

I do not have any bonuses from feats or eldritch invocations, I used them for roleplay aspects.

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Two-Weapon Fighting is best for DPR

TL;DR: The Heavy weapon causes the Halfling to miss too often, losing a lot of DPR and the damage from the second attack of Two-Weapon Fighting is greater than the damage gained from the higher damage die. Eldritch Blast is a very poor option before level 5 if you don't have the Agonizing Blast invocation.

Heavy vs Versatile

First let's compare Heavy weapons with Versatile weapons wielded in 2 hands. A Heavy weapon's 1d12, on average, deals 1 more damage on a normal hit and 2 more damage on a critical hit when compared to a Versatile weapon's 1d10. So, if we multiply these damages by hit chance and crit chance, we can arrive at how much damage a Heavy weapon deals over a Versatile weapon (for a Medium creature).

Regular Hit Formula: \$HitChance=\frac{(20-(Target AC - Attack Bonus))}{20}\$

\begin{array}{c|c} \text{Target AC}&\text{Damage Difference} \\ \hline 10&0.85 \\ 11&0.8 \\ 12&0.75 \\ 13&0.7 \\ 14&0.65 \\ 15&0.6 \\ 16&0.55 \\ 17&0.5 \\ 18&0.45 \\ 19&0.4 \\ 20&0.35 \\ 21&0.3 \\ 22&0.25 \\ 23&0.2 \\ 24&0.15 \\ 25+&0.1 \\ \end{array}

Formula: \$Regular Damage+Critical Damage=1*HitChance+2*0.05 \$

However, Halfling are small, so they have disadvantage on checks with Heavy weapons. This means there is a 95% chance that a critical hit is not one and a chance that a hit becomes a miss. This means the entire damage of the attack (or extra die) is lost, and that damage loss is shown in the following chart:

\begin{array}{c|c} \text{Target AC}&\text{Loss from Disadv} \\ \hline 10&1.83 \\ 11&2.09 \\ 12&2.30 \\ 13&2.47 \\ 14&2.59 \\ 15&2.66 \\ 16&2.68 \\ 17&2.66 \\ 18&2.59 \\ 19&2.47 \\ 20&2.30 \\ 21&2.09 \\ 22&1.83 \\ 23&1.52 \\ 24&1.16 \\ 25+&0.76 \\ \end{array}

Formula: \$Regular Loss+Critical Loss=9.5*HitChance*(1-HitChance)+6.5*0.05*0.95 \$

Since at every relevant AC, the loss is greater than the damage gained from the higher damage die, all other things equal the Versatile weapon is better than the Heavy weapon for the Halfling.

Versatile vs Two-Weapon Fighting

Now that we know Versatile is better than Heavy at all Armor Classes, let's compare Versatile and Two-Weapon Fighting. First consider only the first attack. A Versatile weapon's 1d10, on average, will deal 2 more damage on a normal hit and 4 more damage on a critical hit when compared to a Light weapon's 1d6. We follow the same procedure as with Heavy vs Versatile and see the damage based on target Armor Class.

\begin{array}{c|c} \text{Target AC}&\text{Damage Difference} \\ \hline 10&1.7 \\ 11&1.6 \\ 12&1.5 \\ 13&1.4 \\ 14&1.3 \\ 15&1.2 \\ 16&1.1 \\ 17&1.0 \\ 18&0.9 \\ 19&0.8 \\ 20&0.7 \\ 21&0.6 \\ 22&0.5 \\ 23&0.4 \\ 24&0.3 \\ 25+&0.2 \\ \end{array}

Formula: \$Regular Damage+Critical Damage=2*HitChance+4*0.05 \$

However, When using a Light weapon, the warlock can use Two-Weapon Fighting to get another attack. This other attack doesn't add the ability modifier, but still increases damage by an average of 3.5 on a hit and 7 on a crit. Here is the damage from second attack modified by hit and crit chance:

\begin{array}{c|c} \text{Target AC}&\text{Second Attack} \\ \hline 10&2.98 \\ 11&2.8 \\ 12&2.63 \\ 13&2.45 \\ 14&2.28 \\ 15&2.15 \\ 16&1.93 \\ 17&1.75 \\ 18&1.58 \\ 19&1.4 \\ 20&1.23 \\ 21&1.05 \\ 22&0.88 \\ 23&0.7 \\ 24&0.53 \\ 25+&0.35 \\ \end{array}

Formula: \$Damage=3.5*HitChance+7*0.05 \$

Since, at every relevant AC, the damage from the second attack is greater than the damage gained from the higher damage die, all other things equal Two-Weapon Fighting is better than the Versatile weapon.

Eldritch Blast?

Eldritch Blast is even worse than a Versatile weapon at level 4. Since the warlock does not add Charisma modifier to damage from eldritch blast, the spell loses 3 damage on a regular and critical hit when compared to the Versatile weapon. Here is the Damage Difference between 1 attack of a Versatile weapon and an eldritch blast beam:

\begin{array}{c|c} \text{Target AC}&\text{Damage Difference} \\ \hline 10&2.4 \\ 11&2.25 \\ 12&2.1 \\ 13&1.95 \\ 14&1.8 \\ 15&1.65 \\ 16&1.5 \\ 17&1.35 \\ 18&1.2 \\ 19&1.05 \\ 20&0.9 \\ 21&0.75 \\ 22&0.6 \\ 23&0.45 \\ 24&0.3 \\ 25+&0.15 \\ \end{array}

Formula: \$Regular Damage+Critical Damage=3*HitChance+0*0.05 \$

Since the Versatile weapon is already established as worse for DPR than Two-Weapon Fighting, eldritch blast also falls short (although it does beat out Heavy weapons at low Armor Classes).

Summary Table

I've been doing comparisons throughout this answer to show how flexible math can be for figuring out differences between a few different options saving some time on doing the entire damage calculation. But here is the entire damage calculation for the sake of completeness:

\begin{array}{c|c|c|c} \text{Target AC}&\text{Heavy}&\text{Versatile}&\text{Two-Weapon}&\text{Eldritch Blast} \\ \hline \text{10}&6.41&7.08&8.35&4.68 \\ \text{11}&5.67&6.65&7.85&4.4 \\ \text{12}&4.98&6.23&7.35&4.13 \\ \text{13}&4.34&5.8&6.85&3.85 \\ \text{14}&3.75&5.38&6.35&3.58 \\ \text{15}&3.20&4.95&5.85&3.3 \\ \text{16}&2.7&4.53&5.35&3.03 \\ \text{17}&2.25&4.1&4.85&2.75 \\ \text{18}&1.85&3.68&4.35&2.48 \\ \text{19}&1.49&3.25&3.85&2.2 \\ \text{20}&1.18&2.83&3.35&1.93 \\ \text{21}&0.92&2.4&2.85&1.65 \\ \text{22}&0.71&1.98&2.35&1.38 \\ \text{23}&0.54&1.55&1.85&1.1 \\ \text{24}&0.42&1.13&1.35&0.83 \\ \text{25+}&0.35&0.7&0.85&0.55 \\ \end{array}

Formula: \$Regular Damage+Critical Damage+Second Hit+Second Damage=\frac{Damage Die+1+2*Modifier}{2}*HitChance+2*\frac{DamageDie+1}{2}*0.05+\frac{Damage Die+1}{2}*HitChance+2*\frac{DamageDie+1}{2} \$

note: eldritch blast consists of only a second attack in this formula and the Heavy column has Disadvantage factored in (square HitChance)

Level 5

Level 5 changes things a lot. Eldritch blast gets a second beam, your proficiency bonus increases, and you get access to Thirsting Blade and Eldritch Smite as Eldritch Invocation options if you want to choose them. Since you said you choose Invocations for roleplay purposes, I'm going to assume you did not choose a combat Invocation for this table (if you want to know how to maximize the functionality of one of these invocations, I suggest you ask a new question). Below find the adjusted table for level 5:

\begin{array}{c|c|c|c} \text{Target AC}&\text{Heavy}&\text{Versatile}&\text{Two-Weapon}&\text{Eldritch Blast} \\ \hline \text{10}&7.19&7.5&8.85&9.9 \\ \text{11}&6.41&7.08&8.35&9.35 \\ \text{12}&5.67&6.65&7.85&8.8 \\ \text{13}&4.98&6.23&7.35&8.25 \\ \text{14}&4.34&5.8&6.85&7.7 \\ \text{15}&3.75&5.38&6.35&7.15 \\ \text{16}&3.20&4.95&5.85&6.6 \\ \text{17}&2.7&4.53&5.35&6.05 \\ \text{18}&2.25&4.1&4.855&5.5 \\ \text{19}&1.85&3.68&4.35&4.95 \\ \text{20}&1.49&3.25&3.85&4.4 \\ \text{21}&1.18&2.83&3.35&3.85 \\ \text{22}&0.92&2.4&2.85&3.3 \\ \text{23}&0.71&1.98&2.35&2.75 \\ \text{24}&0.54&1.55&1.85&2.2 \\ \text{25}&0.42&1.13&1.35&1.65 \\ \text{26+}&0.35&0.7&0.85&1.1 \\ \end{array}

Note: the formulae are the same as for the level 4 table, but the eldritch blast column is doubled since there are now two beams

As you can see, without a combat invocation, eldritch blast surpasses the weapon options at level 5 even without Agonizing Blast.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Now that's detailed; +1, and a tip of the cap. (But weren't you tempted to lead with "eldritch blast is best for DPR after level 5" ) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 25 '18 at 1:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Thirsting blade makes the melee options more competitive. It's hard to know what Invocation the OP will choose since we don't know the "roleplay" choices he would make. I mostly put the level 5 table in to hint that a melee Warlock needs Thirsting Blade or Eldritch Smite to keep up. If someone wants to ask another question about which option is best with Thirsting Blade, I'd be glad to answer. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Sep 25 '18 at 1:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ The wide 2-row tables don't display well and the text overlaps with the related questions/HNQ in the sidebar. You might want to make them vertical 2-column tables instead. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 25 '18 at 1:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Will do. They displayed well when the answer was below the text, but will fix \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Sep 25 '18 at 3:09
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2 Light Weapons would normally be best

Comparing the weapon options

If we take an enemy with an AC of 15, we can directly compare the average damage of each of the options that you listed:

  1. A heavy weapon (1d12+3 damage) with disadvantage on attack rolls

    • For this weapon, the average damage on a hit is 9.5 and on a critical hit you do an average of 16.
    • However, given the disadvantage, you only have a 30% chance of a normal hit and only a 0.25% of a critical hit.
    • Thus the average damage in a round is only 2.89
  2. For a versatile weapon, wielded in 2 hands (1d10+3 damage)
    • The average damage on a hit is 8.5 and on a critical hit it is 14
    • The chance of a regular hit is 50% and the chance of a critical hit is 5%
    • Thus the average damage in a round is 4.95
  3. For dual wielding 2 light weapons (1d6+3 damage and 1d6 damage for the offhand)
    • The average damage with you main weapon is 6.5 for a hit and 10 for a critical hit
    • The average damage with your offhand is 3.5 for a hit and 7 for a critical hit
    • For both attacks, the chance of a regular hit is 50% and the chance of a critical hit is 5%
    • Thus the average damage is 3.75 + 2.1 which gets you 5.85

Other Considerations

There are a couple of other points worth considering when evaluating the weapon choices

Disadvantage: - If the enemy has a lower AC then the impact of the disadvantage from the heavy weapon becomes lower, however 2 light weapons are still better - If the enemy has a higher AC, the impact of disadvantage becomes more pronounced and the 2-handed weapon becomes an even worse option - However, if you have disadvantage on your attack for another reason, then there is no penalty to a 2-handed weapon and this becomes the best option.

Bonus Action: - While the 2 light weapons produce the highest DPR, this does also use your Bonus Action. - If there is another use that you regularly have for your BA, then the versatil weapon becomes a more attractive option.

Comparison to Eldritch Blast: - Assuming that you do not have Agonising Blast, the average damage per round from EB is worse than for the versatile weapon at only 3.3 - If you do have Agonising Blast, then the damage for EB becomes the same as for the versatile weapon (1d10+3) although obviously the range on EB is much higher!

Hope that helps!

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With no Invocations, Two Shortswords are best

The rest of this post will detail the effect if you do take Invocations to improve DPR. If you don't, then all you need to know is that no matter your damage modifier, 2d6 is always going to deal more damage than 1d10, so regardless of damage modifiers your damage output will always be higher with two Shortswords than with one Longsword.

Having said that, Warlocks get 8 invocations in total, gain them as they level, and are permitted to swap one-per-level as they level up. So since your damage output will strongly depend on having one or more of those Invocations active, I strongly recommend you take them.

Regarding Hexblade's Curse

For the purposes of this post, I'm going to mostly ignore the effect of Hexblade's Curse. It has substantial implications for your overall damage output, but it's also limited to a single target per short rest, meaning you can't count on it taking effect on every single creature you fight. I'll factor it in for level 14 onwards, since at that point, you gain the ability to transfer it between creatures, but until that point, I'm going to treat it as though it doesn't exist.

Before Thirsting Blade Invocation (level 5), use two Shortswords

This is your damage output potential for each style:

  • Before level 5's Thirsting Blade:
    • Two Shortswords: 1d6 + 3 (Attack Action) + 1d6 (Bonus Action) == 2d6 + 3 == 10
    • One Longsword: 1d10 + 3 (Attack Action) == 8.5

The downside is the use of that Bonus Action, which you may have preferred to use on a Bonus-Action spell. If that's the case, then the longsword will be better in terms of action economy. But for pure damage, the Shortsword is better.

With Thirsting Blade Invocation (level 5), use a Longsword

The damage numbers shuffle around to favor a Longsword in this range. We'll also assume you have either a +CHA modifier of 4 or 5.

  • With Thirsting Blade:
    • Two Shortswords: 1d6 + 4 (Attack Action) + 1d6 + 4 (Thirsting Blade) + 1d6 (Bonus Action) == 3d6 + 8 == 18.5
    • One Longsword: 1d10 + 4 (Attack Action) + 1d10 + 4 (Thirsting Blade) == 2d10 + 8 == 19

With Lifedrinker Invocation (level 12), use a Longsword

The Lifedrinker invocation adds more damage to your attacks, but only to the Pact Weapon, not to your Hexblade weapon.

  • With Lifedrinker:
    • Two Shortswords (Pact Weapon main, Hex weapon offhand): 1d6 + 10 (Attack Action) + 1d6 + 10 (Thirsting Blade) + 1d6 == 3d6 + 20 == 30.5
    • One Longsword: 1d10 + 10 (Attack Action) + 1d10 + 10 (Thirsting Blade) == 2d10 + 20 == 31

With Master of Hexes Hexblade feature (level 14), use Two Shortswords

Since you can now much more reliably depend on your hex being applied to more than one creature, it's now appropriate to factor it in in a more general scenario. This feature dramatically improves your overall damage output based on your level:

  • Two Shortswords: 1d6 + 10 + PROF (Attack Action) + 1d6 + 10 + PROF (Thirsting Blade) + 1d6 + PROF (Bonus Action) == 3d6 + 20 + 3xPROF == 30.5 + 3xPROF
    • At level 14, with PROF == 5, this becomes 45.5
    • At level 17, with PROF == 6, this becomes 48.5
  • One Longsword: 1d10 + 10 + PROF (Attack Action) + 1d10 + 10 + PROF (Thirsting Blade) == 2d10 + 20 + 2xPROF == 31 + 2xPROF
    • At level 14, with PROF = 5, this becomes 41
    • At level 17, with PROF = 6, this becomes 43

If you can always count on your Hexblade's Curse being active (or only care about DPR while it is active), always use Two Shortswords

In the scenarios where Longsword is better than two Shortswords, the benefit from Hexblade's Curse will cause the DPR of the Shortswords to exceed the damage of the Longsword (which we can observe with trivial calculations).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @András Yeah. I've fixed it. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Sep 24 '18 at 15:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @András Small creatures can use Versatile weapons. The issue that you may be thinking of is that they have difficulty using Two Handed melee weapons, since all such weapons are Heavy. But it's the Heavy quality that causes the problem: not the use of two hands. (For example, Small creatures can use Light Crossbows without disadvantage, but not Longbows). \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Sep 24 '18 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Combat usually is shorter than 3 rounds, the better optimized you are, the shorter. Starting Hexblade's Curse is a bonus action, it takes away one of your 3 off-hand attacks. Monsters die even more frequently, the 3 rounds are from the start of the encounter until the last monster dies. In practice you lose more than one-third of all off-hand attacks. \$\endgroup\$ – András Sep 24 '18 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that the weapon chosen with Hex Warrior, while it gets to use Cha for attack and damage, is not a pact weapon, so invocations that improve pact weapons don’t improve that weapon. Specifically, lifedrinker only applies to the weapon that is the actual pact weapon. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 24 '18 at 16:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Good point, I'll fix the post. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Sep 24 '18 at 17:06

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