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The Archery Fighting Style (PH 72) gives +2 to hit. Adding in a magic weapon +3 and magic ammunition +3 gives a whopping +8 bonus to hit in addition to the Dexterity and proficiency bonus.

On this site the highest standing AC without cover is listed as 35 (40 so long as you have spell slots to burn and can cast spells since shield happens before you get hit): What is the highest possible AC?

This means that to-hit bonuses need to be at least +21 or more to hit on anything other than a natural 20.

So an Dexterity-based ranged attacker with level 17 and 22 Dex can only get +20 to hit when needed (Assuming no more than one Manuals of Quickness of Action is found per party during the campaign).

Melee can get weapon +3, and +9 (if you get an extremely rare legendary) if belts are allowed (this Sane Magic Item Prices list doesn't even allow them). This leaves Strength-based melee at +18 (at level 17 or higher) with no hope of improving it (unless finding at least 5 Manuals of Gainful Exercise, but let us assume no more than one is found by a party per campaign). This still leaves melee with 2 less to-hit than ranged (and you of course have to be able to get up close first to even take a swing).

Are there any bonuses I'm missing? It seems a character that did a Min/Max AC build would only need to worry about natural 20's in order to get hit.

Note: In original post I erroneously listed Bracers of Archery as giving +2 to-hit instead of the +2 to damage. Thank you to those that left comments for pointing this out.

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Probably not, but there's not that much difference :

Attacking a Min/Max AC build would be boring for anyone.

5e changed a lot of things.

one of them is magic item scarcity ; of course it depends on the DM, but you usually can't plan on obtaining that much specific items or manuals. Which cripples both your build... and the min/max AC one.

another is bounded accuracy ; strongest creatures are only meant to have AC as high as 25, and player characters are not meant to be able to hit them easely. To hit bonuses are rare.

Let's assume you have easy access to magic items except manuals, and do not use a very specific character build.

Best to-hit melee value : +18

9 (strength modifier using a storm giant belt/potion) +6 (proficiency bonus) +3 (weapon bonus)

You hit AC35 on 17+, so that's a 20% chance to hit, and 5% chance to crit. Boring.

Best to-hit ranged value: +19

5 (dexterity modifier) +6 (proficiency bonus) +3 (weapon bonus) +3 (ammunition bonus) +2 (archery fighting style).

You hit AC35 on 16+, so that's a 25% chance to hit, and 5% chance to crit. Marginally better.

Bad news : The min/maxer you are attacking will most probably use his vicious knowledge of the rules to prevent you from hurting him - searching for full cover, or falling prone to give you disadvantage.

With disadvantage, you'd be only left with 2,25% chances to hit him, and 0,25% chance to crit. Better leave him die from old age.

A note on used magic items :
Indeed, the sane magic item Prices list considers giant belt/potions to break bounded accuracy. When considering your specific scenario - giant potions have the same impact as magical ammunition, granting a good temporary bonus (between +3 & +5)... at a very high cost.
Of course, unlimited manuals bringing ability scores to 30 would give ranged attacks a new lead (+24 vs +19) - that still would be affected by tactical combat (ranged disadvantage vs prone, melee attackers benefit from better damage / Attack of opportunities, grappling techniques to avoid targeting AC, etc.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Small point of confusion: why did you consider the +3 arrows and weapons to be "normal", but the belt of giant strength (which in this case would only add a +2 to the barbarian's attack) as "not normal"? Is the cutoff that the belt is a Legendary item? If so, that might be worth spelling out. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Jan 24 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Barbarian level 20 is one class only, where as fighters (level 1), paladins (level 2), rangers (level 2) all get Archery fighting style and don't have to wait until level 20 which might not even occur before the campaign ends. Also assuming Belts of Giant strengths are allowed as the books most certainly do, Barbarian strength boost is moot in max to-hit talks (except for allowing him or her an extra attuned magic item compared to other classes). \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Maryott Jan 24 at 23:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fun fact: 20th level Barbarian with magic weapon has less chance to land a hit against AC 35 than a 15th Fighter Champion :) \$\endgroup\$ – AntiDrondert Jan 25 at 7:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gandalfmeansme Initially used sane item list restrictions, but eventually added giant strenght items - Current wording should concile the 2 views? \$\endgroup\$ – Bash Jan 25 at 9:15
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Melee attacks can hit an AC of 35

As commented by bash, you did not add the proficiency to the to hit calculation, at level 20 this is +6. This combined with a +9 from the 29 strength from the storm giants belt and the +3 from a magic weapons lands you at +18, this means that everything above a 17 is a hit on AC 35.

Also as mentioned in this question there are many ways to increase to hit rolls, although these are not specifically for melee it does open a lot more options to hit an AC of 35.

But as I am seeing it ranged attacks do have more opportunity to get higher to hit rolls but melee weapons do more base damage (1d10 for heavy crossbow vs 2d6 for maul/greatsword).

fun side note: as a 15+ champion fighter 18s and 19s are also crits, that means at least a 15% hit chance with any AC.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I also initially left of the +5 bonus of shield which prevents even the triggering attack from hitting. My apologies for the over-simplification and lack of clarity, I have rectified it. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Maryott Jan 24 at 23:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ yep.. critical hits are hits as answered here \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Maryott Jan 27 at 3:49
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No, but there are ways to get to-hit higher for both.

Thank you to Gael L for his answers here, which included:

  • The Oath of Devotion Paladin's Sacred Weapon Channel Divinity at level 3 (add Charisma bonus on top of the regular ability bonus for an attack roll).
  • The Cleric's Bless [level 1 spell (Concentration up to 1 minute)] (add a d4 to attack rolls for up to 3 creatures)... Note that the feat Magic Initiate (PHB 168) would allow any class to take this and use it once per long rest.

Unlike other temporary or permanent buffs, these two stack with all other assumed bonuses and work with both melee and ranged attacks.

I'll bookmark his list which he said he'd keep up to date.

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