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When I came back to RPGs (after 20 years) I discarded pathfinder after reading about the complexities of the systems and the fact that there was a real chance of getting “bad characters” if you made bad choices and didn’t put enough time into reading the rules (different tiers of classes and stuff also) and thinking your character through ahead of time (it seemed to be a consensus at least pathfinder requires more investment).

We’re a bunch of 40 yo players with children and very little time so I moved to D&D 5e with the aim of simplifying. My understanding was it was more streamlined and simpler and we could just move in, chose a desired race and class and that would be just as powerful as any other without having to worry too much about choices, that is, that choices would shape the role playing part of the game and no so much the balance of the party.

Then I came across this question about two weapons fighting being subpar for fighters. It seems to imply that different paths for a fighter may yield very different “power levels” and that somehow there’s a “right” way and a “wrong” way of creating a fighter.

Now, I can’t say I understand the math involved so I’m not sure if that question deals with marginal differences or two fighters, one with a two handed sword and one with two weapons will make the second feel being outperformed and regretful of the choices he made through.

I’m also worried that happens for other classes.

Is this something I have to worry about with my players? I don’t expect them to read the PHB throughout so, should I become an expert and somehow advice them to the right paths or are these kind of differences not likely to get my players to feel frustrated?

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Short answer: No, mostly.


I come from a D&D 3.5 background, so I've had ample experience with the extreme power difference that you can get between a straight-class Monk and an optimized Ruby Knight Vindicator. D&D 3.5 had a lot of complexity: Bloodlines, Templates, Prestige Classes, Organizations could all be mixed and matched, and some combinations were insane, really rewarding deep knowledge of the game.

By contrast, D&D 5.0 has far fewer options. None of the aforementioned Bloodlines, Templates, Prestige Classes, for starters. Simplified skills system. Fewer feats to choose from, etc...

The lack of flexibility makes for a much more balanced game, because designers were able to pay attention to a lot of interactions:

  • Any single-class character with its Ability scores correctly assigned is viable.
  • The power difference between two different "specialization" of a given class are not that big.

If we look at the example of the Two-Weapon Fighting Fighter, it is indeed less powerful than a Great Weapon Fighting Fighter.

There are two things to notice, though:

  1. It is not THAT much less powerful. We are not talking about a factor x2 here; taking a Str of 20 (+5) and 4 attacks, the formula given yields 47.5 DPR for TWF and 53.2 DPR for GWF. That's a mere ~12% difference.
  2. It allows using Dex rather than Str as your attack ability, which is actually good for optimization as Dex also gives Initiative, AC and saving throws whereas Str doesn't give much.

The worst part is equipment -- having to get two magic weapons -- as a DM that's really the easiest part to solve.


As you can see if you peruse the comments to this answer, there are apparently a few "traps" to avoid, such as Ranger (Beast Master) and Monk (Four Elements).

In general, though, it could happen that a player starts a character with a certain picture in mind, and it turns out in play that the character just does not live up to their expectations. Maybe they misread the rules, maybe they can hardly ever pull it off. It's happened to us all, really.

There are also choices that were superb at 1st level, and whose utility decrease as time passes.

In this case, you should allow the player to tweak their character's past choices. There are already classes which allow switching some choices at pre-determined intervals -- the Warlock switching known invocations, the Battle Master switching maneuvers -- so it's fairly easy to allow switching Fighting Style or Feat when gaining a level, and much less work than creating and integrating a new character in the campaign.

This approach alleviates the pressure from your players: if they make a bad choice, they are allowed to correct it; no sweat, no fuss, the show just goes on!


Unless your table is very concerned with optimizing, and it doesn't look so, then D&D 5.0 should really be a straight improvement.

I personally find it extremely freeing; in D&D 5.0 you can play a sub-par character because you had a cool idea you want to toy with, and yet still contribute to the party without requiring extra work for the DM because you are not that far below the power curve.

One class, one specialty, and you've got a viable character. It's that simple.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For single classed characters, the PHB beastmaster ranger is not really viable, and the Wild Magic sorcerer is that much less powerful than every other kind of sorcerer if your DM is skimpy on your rolls and refreshes. Otherwise you are pretty safe, though, as you say. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Apr 27 at 22:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I think “no” might be a bit of an overstatement—it’s massively less of a problem than 3.5e or Pathfinder, so coming from that background it might seem like a non-problem, but really there are still some traps. If you were coming from, say, a 4e background, you might have a very different perspective on this, since 5e has a fair few more traps than 4e did, and the traps are a fair bit more significant than they were in 4e. If a 4e player was asking the question, the answer would almost-certainly be “Yes, you have to worry about this a little bit, at least more than you did in 4e.” \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 27 at 23:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer: It's not that the Beast Master ranger is "not viable" in general, in the sense that rangers are roughly as capable in combat as any other class - but because rangers as a base are already quite capable, the beast is comparatively weak/unable to act on its own, so it doesn't really live up to the archetype that most players who pick it want to emulate. (The Wild Magic sorcerer is very dependent on a DM that's willing to work with them, though.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 28 at 2:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Ranger is arguably the weakest class, and Beast Masters are the weakest among them. \$\endgroup\$ – András Apr 28 at 8:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @András: Ranger is mechanically mostly fine in combat in terms of damage output. It's moreso that the out-of-combat features (Natural Explorer, Primeval Awareness, etc.) are a mess, and they don't really execute on the vision of "survivalist living off the land" that the class presents itself as, and it's not very fun to play. This isn't really the place for that conversation though :P \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 28 at 9:51
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You don't have to worry

Doing the kind of optimization which is done in your linked question is only relevant if your table goes for optimized characters. If you do, your table needs to talk about it; in particular your DM should know (or they will soon find it out) as such characters are more powerful/efficient than the guidelines in the DMG expect.

While it's possible to make a character in 5e that 'does nothing' or 'is bad', you almost have to try for it. Arguably the biggest 'pitfalls' are cantrips (most of which are picked at first level) and feats. For cantrips unfamiliarity with the rules can make some feel less useful than others (blade ward springs to mind) and RAW they can't be changed. However if a cantrip was chosen because the player thought it did more/would be more useful, it is perfectly reasonable to let them change it. As for feats there are a few which are generally considered good and some that are particularly bad (Keen Mind, Weapon Master), however the 'quality' of the rest are quite contested (although most would agree there aren't that many bad ones). In general the 'bad' feats are so because they are appropriate for exceedingly few character concepts or campaigns. If a feat fits the character concept (i.e. the player is excited to take that feat), it is probably completely fine for that character. It's also important to remember feats are an optional rule, and that most of the time taking the normal ability score improvement is better.

Broadly for spells they are either prepared for each day, or they can be replaced on the next level up if found to be less exciting than the last (or maybe they don't not do what you thought, I've certainly been there).

In terms of players feeling that another player in their party is more powerful; the different classes have different strengths (and weaknesses) and generally play differently. So as long as your players play different classes (or at least different character [as in their race, background or other defining characteristics] and/or subclasses) you shouldn't find a discrepancy between players. (Unless one player goes for hard optimization, but most of that is done at first level although it might take a few before it is noticeable).

I would also like to add that if a player feels like their character is 'under-powered' or 'incorrectly built', there is nothing wrong with letting them rebuild or change a couple of things, or make sure there's some magic item or similar reward that is particularly suited to them to bump them back up to par with the others. (Avoid doing this last one too much though, it can easily be seen as favoritism.)

The key takeaway is that any incidental errors are going to minor, not impact you game unless you go for (or assume) high optimization, and are fixable when/if discovered/felt.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Weapon Master isn't always bad. For example, it can be a means of acquiring Whip proficiency for a Rogue (who get an above-average number of ASIs), which is pretty nice. But yeah, for most characters it's a waste. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Apr 28 at 9:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your title says almost the exact opposite of the body \$\endgroup\$ – András Apr 28 at 10:40
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Break rules, and solve anything after the fact

Good on you for being concerned about the PC’s of your inexperienced players. Rest assured that you can use your DM discretion to bend rules, or provide items, and fix any problem after the fact.

You mentioned the 2-weapon vs great weapon build issue. This issue, I think, is a bit overblown. There are some things a 2-weapon fighter will actually be better at, like killing multiple weak monsters. If you send a variety of monsters up against your characters, the typical players of 2-weapon fighter probably won’t notice doing a little less damage per round.

Yes, new players can make bad 5e characters

New players who don’t study the rulebook can make bigger problems for themselves. A few I’ve seen:

  1. A character that should have a good melee attack, but doesn’t. For example, a druid with no strength or dexterity bonus, who does not know the cantrip Shillelagh

  2. A player who decides to be an Eldritch Knight or Arcane Trickster, but who didn't put a good stat in Intelligence.

  3. A spellcaster who chooses cantrips that ends up not aligning to their play style. (One wizard is always out-or-range for Poison Spray. Another is always at disadvantage for casting Firebolt at melee range.)

Fun > Rules

By the rules, these choices could result it characters that are very much sub-optimal and are frustrating to play. But rules that wreck the fun are rules the DM can and should ignore.

I’d suggest you consider early level-up’s as an opportunity to allow your players to tweak their characters (with your guidance and approval). It’s possible for this sort of thing to get out-of-hand, if you end up with a min-maxer/powergamer, but it doesn’t sound like you have that problem.

In general, allowing new players to switch a cantrip or spell for another one (of equal level) or swapping two ability scores, won’t harm anything.

If a player is making so many changes to their character that you or the other players have trouble of keeping track of who they are, and the lack of continuity starts to strain the suspension of disbelief, that’s your cue to rein in the character changes and start adhering more to the rules.

Give away goodies to patch character gaps

Many character weaknesses can be fixed with a little generous creativity with magic items.

Let’s say a player wants to fight with daggers when they probably should be using rapiers. Just give them a pair of magic daggers that do some extra damage.

Or there’s a paladin with no dexterity bonus, but your campaign involves a lot of long-range fighting. (It be frustrating doing 1d10 damage, when you roll a bunch of 1's and 2's, when other folks have a +4 or +5 damage bonus.) A magic javelin with extra range, and which always returns to the thrower’s hand, solves that problem.

Balance Among Party Members is Key

It might surprise you that having a party full of mediocre character builds is not really a problem. As DM, you just ratchet down the enemies a little. Or wait until the party is 6th level to use that module "for 4th to 6th level characters."

It can be more of a problem if some characters are highly optimized and others are not. Then the players with the “chumps” can get frustrated.

You don’t need to worry, because who have the power to fix any problems that arise.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Seconding this. I've personally seen one character start as Barbarian and multiclass into Druid with barely a 13 Wisdom for it. The DM's answer was to give them a custom shoulder harness a few levels in that allowed them to use Strength as their spellcasting ability for Druid spells! \$\endgroup\$ – sevenbrokenbricks Apr 27 at 21:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think one thing that enables this strategy is that very few choices depend on other choices. So if you discover at 10th level that a choice you made back at 3rd level was wrong for your character, you can usually just change that one choice without breaking a bunch of things that depend on it and having to rebuild the entire character from 3rd to 10th level. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Apr 27 at 23:19
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No, if you ban multiclassing and feats, or make them replaceable

There are differences in power level between classes and subclasses, but they are much smaller than in 3.5 or pathfinder.

If your players stick to one class, they are mostly fine, unless they pick Way of the Four Elements Monk, or a Beastmaster Ranger.

The problem starts with cantrips1 but becomes really visible with optional rules, a lot can go wrong with multiclassing and feats.

Multiclassing

It is hard to do it properly. A Paladin 12/Sorcerer 8 is great, a Paladin 19/Sorcerer 1 is bad, a Monk/Wizard is worse.
You either have to understand most of the rules and their interactions, or read a lot of guides. If not everyone has the time for it, just banning it is easier.

Feats

There are some trap feats, like Charger that look good, but are actually weaker than an ASI.
It is easy to fall behind others, if you neglect your ASIs.

There are 4 options

  • You learn the system for them, giving advice on level-ups. I guess you want to avoid this, not only would it be time consuming for you, but they will feel their characters are not really their own
  • Ban these options. It can feel very limited for players with serious system mastery, but it does not sound like you have any of those
  • You let them "try out" these options, giving them a standardised way to backtrack one encounter, session or level2 after they picked
  • Everything goes, and you adjust encounter difficulty to their capabilities. This means a lot more preparation time for you, and can breed tensions inside a group, if some are feeling useless, or being called useless

I have tried using the first option, as I had the time and knowledge, but my players felt I forced their choices.
So I ended up with the last one, works fine for us.


1) both Blade Ward and True Strike look good, but are generally terrible for your usefulness
2) as you see fit

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My objection to this would be that banning is overkill, especially for feats. One wasted ASI will not a character break. Multiclassing can be a trap, but there seems to be a middle road of just telling them to do some google research on the multiclass they are trying or at least general strategies of multiclassing, without necessarily promising mulligans. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Olson Apr 29 at 15:23
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There are plenty of great answers here!

I, like you, had decades of a dark ages from D&D, having played AD&D back in the day. In my case I got back into it when my college-age son picked it up. It's given me an awesome venue to connect with him and some of his friends.

I'd like to emphasize some thoughts, touched on in a couple of other answers.

It's About Having Fun

It's all about fun, right?

If a player feels like they've made a sub-optimal choice, it's perfectly reasonable, with open discussion involving the other players, to re-think that decision.

Maybe a player has a wizard, and is thinking fighter is more appealing. There is really nothing wrong with allowing that player to exit one character, and enter another.

Or if a player feels like swapping out a character feature, if that makes things more fun for everyone, then there's nothing wrong with it.

Clear Communication

Clear communication on such options among all the players and the DM is really important. It's perfectly reasonable to ask the table if such changes are reasonable, and how often.

It's reasonable to talk about such things and come to some agreements early on, before the issue arises. Some people talk about session 0, which is a great idea. It's also always reasonable to communicate meta issues of the game with everyone.

Final Word

There is an amazing array of tools out there that make D&D even more amazing than it was last century. Rpg.se is definitely one of them, as you've discovered. Collectively we are kind of awesome!

Other important tools we use in my group to communicate and connect include Discord, D&D Beyond, and Roll20.

Good luck!

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Whenever you hear about a class, weapon, spell, strategy, etc. being suboptimal, keep in mind that this is in the context of minmaxing. Don't confuse minmaxing with actual play. Minmaxing assumes that the player knows the rules very well and always makes rational decisions.

  • In reality, most players don't know most of the rules, even the core rules. They may decide on what to do in the game based on their flawed understanding of the rules, or they may deliberately act in a suboptimal way for roleplay reasons, or they may not remember a certain rule they know at that moment, or they may simply be too drunk, tired or lazy to bother properly thinking things true. After all, it's about having fun, and in DnD you don't really need to win to have fun.

What the minmax community considers optimal or not will rarely match up with what ends up being optimal in your group. Most people will play at a level that is below even the least optimal strategy. This means that even a class considered terrible can be the most effective in a party, because other players with more optimal classes still play them suboptimally. Besides just player knowledge and bias, DMing style has a big effect also.

Minmaxing disregards DMing style and assumes games are DMed by a robot, otherwise minmaxing rules is not practical, only minmaxing your OOC influence on the DM and other players. For example, the notorious example is a Wizard being very powerful because it can prepare for any situation, but if your DM starts messing with rest (and actually enforces the requirement to rest and prepare spells instead of just auto-refreshing them like most do) that all goes out the window. If your DM starts throwing you into situations that you didn't prepare for (he can see your spell list), that again goes out the window.

With the above in mind, you shouldn't worry about what minmaxers say is a good or bad strategy, class, or whatever, which is not to say that you shouldn't care about players making bad decisions.

  • Here's why: Usually, people like to have some impact on the game instead of playing completely ineffectual characters that effectively just observe the action. With players who don't know the rules very well, it's pretty random which character will be weak and which one will snowball. If your DMing style is not perfectly balanced that will contribute also. Soon enough you will have some characters kicking ass while others are stuck behind, which is a bit boring for people playing the latter.

The obvious way of increasing the agency of a poor character is to create tailor made challenges for them. For example, the guy who put all his points into underwater basketweaving can now feel useful because King Neptune is about to execute them unless they can beat his master basketweaver. But if these are obvious it undermines the sense of agency you get from them - people want to feel useful organically, not just because DM threw them a bone.

You can tweak your encounter/challenge policy to balance things out, for example if the wizard in your party is the OP character, you can have more magic resistant monsters, or if the fighter is OP you can have harder to fight monsters like ghosts. Generally you want to prefer soft counters over hard counters (so be careful with the rust monsters and the anti-magic fields). But the problem there is that it may not be viable to balance things in this way.

  1. What if you have two fighters, one is very well built and the other sucks?
  2. What if magic-resistant monsters would clash with your lore?
  3. What if you don't know good monsters at that CR, don't feel like making your own statblock, and don't want to go scouring a bunch of splat books for them?

    These problems are a lot easier to deal with if they don't happen in the first place. Simply encourage your players to discuss their strategy (this can be done in 1-2 hours), and keep an eye on their character sheet. If they are making suboptimal choices, gently recommend a more optimal way of doing the same thing. If they are strongly attached to one particular concept because, that's fine, but most people are not and most really bad decisions are made by accident or not knowing / understanding some basic rule. Even if the player's character concept is inherently poor (eg. master card player in a dungeon crawl) it's probably not so extremely specialized that they can't have useful ancillary skills. For example even if the card player's main skill is useless for fighting dungeon monsters, the card playing skill probably doesn't preclude taking rogue levels and being a decent fighter with a dagger.

Conversely you can have the problem of a player who is much better than the group and steals the show. Again you can gently recommend they make a less powerful character given the rest of the group. Most minmaxers aren't fanatics about it, they do it more out of habit, but they probably also wouldn't mind the opportunity to play a suboptimal build in a game where everyone else isn't very well-built anyway. If they really insist on their optimal build, you can still go to the other players and ask them to not specialize in the same thing as the minmaxer. This way you can balance your encounters to challenge the minmaxer without overpowering everyone else, but due to planning ahead of time you avoid the issues I mention earlier like two characters being too similar to balance independently, or your lore/campaign concept not having any good balancing options. If you know everyone's level and specialty ahead of time, it's easier to come up with campaign concept that will make it work.

So I would say you do want to worry about players making bad choices, but not in the sense of agonizing over what the minmax community says. Instead, you want to monitor your own players and make sure somebody isn't making too many consistently bad or good choices, in terms of their actual performance in your campaign rather than what the minmax community says. Ideally, you want everybody in the game to have something to do, and those somethings should be connected rather than separate challenges. So if you can ensure that by making the characters have similar power, great. If not, power is relative to precise characteristics of the challenge, so you can design challenges accordingly. The main thing you want to "worry" about is getting painted into a corner where the characters are unbalanced, the players are hating it, and no reasonable challenge balancing is available to you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Chris. Word to the wise: Succinct answers get better reception. Remove every unnecessary word. Ref: hananiahwilson.com/2016/11/09/dreaded-wall-of-text \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Apr 28 at 0:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimGrant That link ought to be required reading before anyone is allowed to touch a keyboard. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 29 at 13:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I tossed in a few formatting examples on how to break up your wall of text, but I think you answer would benefit from you adding a few headers to indicate your major sub topics. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 29 at 13:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted for extensively covering important points that aren't brought into discussions often enough. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Olson Apr 29 at 15:38

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