Is there a way to compare single-target damage to multi-target damage?

For example, what is better, doing 13 damage to one creature, or 10 damage to two creatures each?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This is relevant for every combat-oriented RPG, not just DnD5. Please do not add that tag \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Feb 7, 2022 at 14:23
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It may be relevant/useful for other systems, in which case the presence of the tag doesn't matter, but the question, and in particular its answer, is highly based on D&D 5e and thus keeping it's scope clear is important. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Feb 7, 2022 at 14:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Numerous systems would have entirely different answers to this question; the system matters \$\endgroup\$ Feb 7, 2022 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ the system matters, but this is the same in every version of DnD and Pathfinder 2. Basically in any system where armor does not reduce damage but only hit chance, this is true \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Feb 7, 2022 at 16:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ But it being tagged as D&D 5e, when that is the version that was asked and answered, doesn't prevent it from being useful to readers interested in other applicable systems. But that applicability should already be obvious to a reader (and if not, they may have a good question to ask) and undertagging does nothing to help that end. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Feb 7, 2022 at 16:29

1 Answer 1


Diminishing returns

On the now closed WotC forums the accepted way was to calculate with diminishing returns.
The first target is calculated with full damage, the second with half, the next with third, and so on.
The reason for this is that two Ogres at half hit points do twice as much damage against you as one dead and one at full health. A second target might not even be in the ecounter, be out of reach, etc.
Most of the times it is better to concentrate your damage.

So 15 damage to one creature is about equivalent to doing 10 damage to two creatures each.


You do not want to waste damage, a wolf is just as dead from 20 damage, as from a 100.

On the levels where you have access to Finger of Death (average damage 61,5) most enemies you meet can easily take it, and a Fireball needs 5 targets to break even1. However, if only 3 bugbears attack you, not 5, Fireball is still the better option.

Also, sometimes your goal is to do some damage to as many enemies as possible, for example to force Concentration saves. In these cases, focused fire is not your friend.

These situations are rare however.

Distrtibutable damage is the best possibility

Extra Attack2 lets you concentrate on one foe if necessary, or target another one after the first one is down.

1) ignoring spell slot levels
2) or Scorching Ray, or Eldritch Blast


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