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I'm wondering how much damage a PC can deal reliably and repeatedly. Another way to phrase this is "what is the maximum damage a PC can always deal?"

Constraints:

  • All content must be "official": No Unearthed Arcana, Twitter/Stream classes, or homebrew.
  • Assume all limited resources have been expended. Infinite resources, such as a Wizard's Spell Mastery spell are perfectly alright.
  • Assume neutral conditions: No winds or environmental effects, the enemy has no resistances or vulnerabilities unless a feature says otherwise (such as the Grave Cleric's Path to the Grave feature which notably is banned by the "limited resources" restriction).
  • To avoid extensive issues, assume the target is a creature that neither benefits not hinders your procedure (for example: a construct is immune to some spells, if using those spells you may assume your target it not a construct)
  • No RNG / chance based results (such as Wild Magic Surges or chaos bolt); similarly, assume you do not crit unless a feature says otherwise (such as the Rogue's Assassinate feature which notably is banned by the "limited resources" restriction).
  • All damage dice rolls are minimized, this represents your minimum damage.
  • No outside help, be that from other characters, magic items, or even mundane items, including weapons and foci / component pouches. (Summoned weapons such as Pact of the Blade's are a-okay so long as you could start every turn without the spectral weapon; bonded weapons are not allowed as that requires you to have found a specific weapon). Also you may not use Epic Boons.
  • You may assume your character is being affected by zero conditions (it doesn't need to be that reliable). However, they can still die from six levels of exhaustion.
  • You may assume your character does not need to sleep (it doesn't need to be that infinite) or at least suffers no penalties from lack of sleep (Xanathar's is optional after all)
  • Your method cannot include self-inflicted damage as the method would not work if you had 1 HP. (If you can negate the damage you can use the method)
  • Assume there is only one enemy (If you're attacking, there will always be at least one enemy, but you can't guarantee there being more than that).
  • You may assume any attack roll hits and any saving throw is failed.
  • This damage is measured on a per turn basis. You must be able to deal this damage every turn.
  • You may use Point-Buy or the standard array.
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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin you can use higher level spells if you have a way to cast them without spell slots that doesn't rely on a rest. For the sake of example Warlocks can take an invocation to cast false life on themselves at will without consuming a slot \$\endgroup\$ – Himitsu_no_Yami Oct 4 at 0:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 Wait, so any magic weapon is allowed as long as it is bonded? are you sure? \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 4 at 7:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, do people die of exhaustion? If not, do people die at all (e.g. Overchannel)? \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 4 at 7:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ You ask "what is the maximum damage a PC can always deal?", but you also mention the Grave Cleric's Path to the Grave feature and the Rogue's Assassinate feature, neither of which are "reliable and repeatable", since one is once per short rest ("Assume all limited resources have been expended."), and the other is once per fight ("This damage is measured on a per turn basis. You must be able to deal this damage every turn."). Those two class feature examples are quite misleading... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Oct 4 at 8:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the damage to be counted against a singular creature, or can we choose to do it against multiple and count the sum of damage(s)? \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Oct 4 at 10:01
6
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Given the following restrictions:

  • No items, boons, temporary conditions, or expending limited resources.
  • All attacks hit, but do not crit, and all damage dice are minimized.

A 20th level PC can reliably do 44 damage per turn. (Partial credit to DavidCoffron)

Requirements by 20th level:

  • Ability Scores: 20 Strength, 20 Charisma, Dexterity 13+, Wisdom 13+
  • Race: Lizardfolk, Tabaxi, or anything else with a natural weapon
  • Classes: Fighter 11 / Paladin 7 (Oathbreaker) / Monk 2

The math:

  • Fighter 11 gets Extra Attack (2), allowing a total 3 attacks per Action.
  • Oathbreaker paladin 7 has the Aura of Hate feature, adding their Charisma modifier (+5) as a bonus to their melee weapon damage rolls.
  • With the five Ability Score Improvements from Fighter and Paladin, and assuming the PC's starting ability scores are from Standard Array, they can reach 20 Strength and 20 Charisma by 18th level.
  • The last 2 class levels are Monk, which require 13 Dexterity and Wisdom for multiclassing. This gets them Martial Arts, which allows them to make an unarmed strike attack as a Bonus action.
  • And because of their race, they have a natural weapon, which is a melee weapon that counts as an unarmed attack for the purposes of Martial Arts. The weapon's damage is 1dX + Strength modifier (+5).

With their Action and Bonus action, this PC makes four attacks per turn, which all hit. Each attack deals 1dX + 5 + 5 damage, which rolls minimum for 11 each. The total is 44 damage.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Wait, why do you need a race with a natural weapon? With the damage die roll minimized to 1 aren't all unarmed strikes equivalent (=1+Str mod)? \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Oct 4 at 15:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil Because the rules are fuzzy about whether unarmed strikes have "melee weapon" damage rolls. A natural weapon can count as both, so it works with both Martial Arts and Aura of Hate. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Oct 4 at 15:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ The phrase "melee weapon damage rolls" is already rather unusual. Especially odd since we know they count as "melee weapon attacks" \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Oct 4 at 16:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Might be able to sleaze duelling fighting style into giving you +2 damage on your weapon attacks, especially if you had lost an arm, and had claws on the other hand. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Oct 4 at 18:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden Clever idea, but that gets into the fuzzy territory of whether creatures "wield" a natural weapon. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Oct 6 at 17:00
4
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If an Eldritch Knight is allowed to summon a weapon he has bonded to, 68 damage.

Bonus Action: summon greatsword.
Action: four attacks using great weapon master for 2+5+10 damage each.

If you can't use the greatsword because it's an item you had to buy, 54 damage, using a +1 greatsword pact weapon that an Eldritch Knight 11 / Warlock 9 created and then weapon bonded to.

Bonus Action: summon greatsword.
Action: three attacks using great weapon master for 2+6+10 damage each

If you can't use great weapon master or sharpshooter, 35 damage, from a Zealot Barbarian 20 punching someone twice while raging for 1+7+4+11 on the first strike and then 1+7+4 on the second.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ rage is consumable \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Oct 4 at 18:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden Rage is no longer consumable as a level 20 Barbarian. \$\endgroup\$ – Speedkat Oct 4 at 19:50
2
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I'm sure this might change if someone else comes up with something more damaging but a level 17+ warlock with 20 CHA and the Agonizing Blast invocation casting Eldritch Blast. If we assume each attack hits then that's 4d10+20 damage reliably. That's a minimum of 24 and a maximum of 60 DPR with no resource cost and no items required.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ OP is having minimum die rolls be the measuring stick. 24 is your answer, not 60. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 4 at 22:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ yes but I wrote this answer before OP clarified that. It's also nice to give the maximum for other people to see too I think \$\endgroup\$ – Himitsu_no_Yami Oct 4 at 23:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe? It's not what OP asked, but you can do you :) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 4 at 23:05
1
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40 Damage

The character

Level 20 Moon Druid for the following features:

  • Combat Wildshape:

    You gain the ability to use Wild Shape on your turn as a bonus action, rather than as an action. [...]

  • Circle Forms:

    [...] Starting at 6th level, you can transform into a beast with a challenge rating as high as your druid level divided by 3, rounded down.

    • Hulking Crab is a CR 6 beast from Storm King's Thunder and it has these actions:

      Multiattack. The crab makes two attacks with its claws.

      Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 20 (3d10 + 4) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 15). The crab has two claws, each of which can grapple only one target

  • Archdruid:

    At 20th level, you can use your Wild Shape an unlimited number of times. [...]

The turn

  • As a Bonus Action transform into a Hulking Crab
  • As an Action make two attacks with the claws

The damage calculation

Per the Monster Manual's Section on Melee and Ranged Attack (p10):

Any damage dealt or other effects that occur as a result of an attack hitting a target are described after the "Hit" notation. You have the option of taking average damage or rolling the damage; for this reason, both the average damage and the die expression are presented.

Hence we have the option between 20 damage or 3d10+4 damage. We choose 20 twice for a total of 40.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that section of the monster manual is intended for player use. That is to simplify things for DMs and I don't think it is valid in this case or all answers will use it. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Oct 4 at 5:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin while this isn't the best answer, why is is not valid? \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Oct 4 at 13:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin that section of the monster manual is merely explaning how the monster statistics work. The flat damage option is built into the statistics of the monster, the druid replaces its statistics with that of the monster, so the druid also gets the flat damage option. Hence I think it's valid and eitherway all answers aren't using this gimmick. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Oct 4 at 14:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've opened a question here: "Can you take the average damage roll when changed into a Monster?" \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Oct 4 at 18:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah I misunderstood, I thought the creature was invalid, didn't click on the taking the average part \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Oct 4 at 21:32
-2
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80 damage

Be old. Don't sleep. Ever.

A Warlock/Sorcerer can convert pact magic spell slots into spell points and then back into spellcasting spell slots. These extra bonus slots are lost on a long rest. The pact magic slots are gained on a short rest. A warlock/sorcerer can expend at most 2 spell slots per round-- one on their action or one on their bonus action and one on their reaction. Thusly, for a largely stoic character, at some point the number of stored up spell slots exceeds the number of rounds remaining in their lifetime. The exact point at which this happens depends on how many warlock levels you have, but is usually pretty close to the end of your life.

If we go with weapon damage augmentations, we are at least 9 levels behind top-tier-- it takes 7 levels of sorcerer to get 5th level slots. We also can only add attribute modifiers to damage once per spell, and rolling the minimum on all dice makes this extremely important.

If we go with spells, we want to have as many simultaneous single target damage instances as we can, and then modify them all with two attribute modifiers. We also want as many dice (or other base damage) as possible, regardless of their size. There's no way to do reasonable bonus-action spell damage every round-- we can only quicken 5 out of every 7 rounds-- and there are no good uses for our reaction either.

Going with spells, we want to invoke the rule on page 196 of the PHB to add twice our Charisma to the single damage roll of a scorching ray which is applied 6 times. Despite popular outcry, this is technically legal. If we can't get that ruling, then we'd try with magic missile which Crawford has explicitly said works, not that that stops it from being ruled against either. If neither works we'd go with vitriolic sphere but it takes a material component so then we fall back on destructive wave via Gruul Anarch background. We'll assume we can roll once for scorching ray and invoke PHB pg. 196, because that's not strictly a violation of the rules and the question does not prohibit favorable readings of text.

So, we take the Draconic Bloodline origin to 7 levels with a fire affinity, we take 6 levels of celestial Warlock for Cloak of Flies and Radiant Soul, then 3 levels of Storm Herald Barbarian so we can use up our bonus action and 2 of Spore Druid to use our reaction. Our last levels should probably be 1 sorcerer and 1 barbarian for two more ASIs or feats, but it doesn't really matter because with 15 starting CHA we only have room for 3 ASIs even if our race gives 0 CHA and probably we only have room for 1 ASI and 1 feat with a +1 to CHA.

Our race doesn't really matter. We will easily hit 20 Cha no matter what via ASIs and no other stat matters to us. No race increases the damage we do every round. If we avoid getting any ASIs from our last two class levels, then we need a +1 to charisma.

On our turn we cast scorching ray at 5th level for 12d6 damage with 6 beams, adding 60 damage from CHA. That's 72 damage. We also deal 5 damage from Cloak of Flies and 1 damage from spores with our reaction and 2 damage from activating our Storm Aura with a bonus action (Note-- activating one's Storm Aura while not raging is a questionable interpretation. If that's not allowed we put our 3-4 remaining levels wherever else-- they won't matter). That's 80 damage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin when I wrote this they were disallowed unless you have a way around their being limited. I have a way around their being limited, which is clearly explained in the answer. I have posted a comment because I see the question changed again to try and get clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 4 at 7:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin eh, somewhere between the 1st draft and publishing it I forgot I don't have a bonus action to quicken spell with because I need that to turn slots into spell points every 5th turn and then only cast scorching ray so there're other problems. It's not a huge deal, but since it sounds like people might not need to find ways around exhaustion I might want to introduce Overchannel and use the Int mod anyways since maximising the spell would add 66 damage (and might mean a different spell/build should be used entirely). So I'm gonna VTC unclear and just wait. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 4 at 7:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Particularly since infinite damage moonblades sound like they are currently allowed, so that obviously wins. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 4 at 7:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of note, the moonblade is not allowed (you would have to have found it which is in no way guaranteed) also you may assume your character doesn't need to sleep \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Oct 4 at 9:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also you don't add to scorching ray multiple times. Each bolt is a separate damage roll because their damage happen at different times: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/129110 \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Oct 4 at 9:20

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