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I want to know the damage (as well as how such a thing would be worked out - show your working please - I want to learn how to do this by myself for the future, since I'm also interested in Tiers 3 and 4) that a ranger, well optimised for a DPR party role, can deal in a typical combat encounter (meaning, one that lasts the average number of rounds that combat tends to last in D&D; according to this, that means five rounds).

I'm interested in Tier 2 levels (specifically between levels 7 to 10 - I'm going to pick level 8 as my level to focus on, since that gives us the ranger's 7th level class archetype feature, an extra ASI to play with, but without the proficiency bonus being bumped up to +4 yet).

The restrictions:

  • Assume standard array stats, but assume the race to be Wood Elf for that +2 DEX and +1 WIS (or any race well suited to this role; I'm just suggesting Wood Elf because that's what I'd choose, I'm not married to it).
  • No spells; let's assume this ranger already used up all their spell slots before this encounter.
  • No multiclassing; this must be a ranger and nothing else.
  • No magic items or buffs from others; I want this damage to be derived from the ranger's own class features and feats, etc, rather than magic items or other party members' spells.
  • You can assume every attack hits, but I'm not interested in critical hits; we're lucky, but not that lucky.
  • You can also assume that, if using a ranged weapon, that we have more than enough ammo for this encounter.
  • Let's assume there's, say, a raging grapple-based barbarian who's soaking up the enemy's aggro and keeping the enemy pinned so that the ranger can ignore defense and focus solely on DPR.
  • We can also assume that the ranger is the only one dealing damage against the target, which we can assume to be a single big-bag-of-hit-points enemy; this matters for a Hunter's Colossus Slayer feature, since the first hit won't be against a wounded target, but subsequent attacks will be.
  • Sources are anything RAW, so not UA nor anything homebrew/third party.

I was originally going to ask for a Gloom Stalker Ranger, because it's popularly considered one of the strongest ranger archetypes, but then realised that some of its features aren't relevant, such as being invisible in darkness, if we're assuming that every attack hits and they don't need to worry about defense, so I'm leaving the archetype open for answerers to decide.

So, just to restate my question, I'm looking for the average damage over 5 rounds that a level 8 ranger of any race and archetype can deal with the above restrictions. This is in aid of trying to come up with my own answer to this deleted question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 3 at 11:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to pick nits, that answer says 4-5 rounds is the general maximum, rather than the expected number of rounds in a combat; in my experience combats are generally about 3-4 rounds. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Jan 3 at 13:34
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301.5 damage total, 55.5 damage on most rounds

Feat selection

Given that we assume all attacks hit, any serious attempt must include either Great Weapon Master + Polearm Master or Sharpshooter + Crossbow Expert so at to maximize the number of attacks and the damage on a hit.

None of the many reasons we might favor the SS+CE over GWM+PM (Archery Fighting Style, lack of heavy armor, Elven Accuracy, etc.) matter given our restrictions, so we choose GWM+PM because of the slightly larger weapon dice.

Race selection

Given that we are using GWM+PM we need a race that can improve strength. Whether the race improves it by 1 or 2 is irrelevant because we can choose either 14 or 15 point buy so our starting strength modifier will be +3 regardless. Among such races, there are several with an offensive trait that might improve melee damage.

  • The Dragonborn's Breath Weapon and the Simic Hybrid's Acid Spit can't even compete with a single GWM attack, so they're out.
  • The Half-Orc's Savage Attacks is irrelevant given our restrictions, so it's out.
  • The Centaur's Charge, the Longtooth Shifter's Shifting Feature, and the Minotaur's Goring Rush can't compare to a GMW attack, so they're out.
  • The Fallen Aasimar's Necrotic Shroud (even when applied over the course of the next 4 turns) can't compete with two GWM attacks, so it's out.
  • The Bugbear's Sneak Attack deals an extra 2d6 at the beginning of combat (assuming surprise), so it's a contender.
  • The Variant Human's Feat allows us to reach a +4 strength strength (instead of +3), so it's a contender.

Over the course of 5 turns the extra strength deals more damage than 2d6, so we choose Variant Human.

Subclass selection

None of the Ranger's subclasses provide offensive features at level 7, so we need only compare the level 3 offensive features.

  • The Ranger's Companion and Planar Warrior cannot compete with a GWM attack, so Beast Master and Horizon Walker are out.
  • Colossus Slayer is strictly superior to Slayer's Prey given that we already have a use for the bonus action and that 1d8 is larger than 1d6, so the Monster Slayer is out.
  • Horde Breaker is useless because we are facing a single enemy, Giant killer is also useless because the Barbarian is soaking all the enemy attacks, whereas Colossus Slayer's deals 5d8 over the course of 5 rounds, so it is a contender.
  • Dread Ambusher deals a GWM attack and a d8 at the beginning of combat, so it is a contender.

5d8 is slightly less than a GWM attack + 1d8, so we choose Gloom Stalker.

Build

Partly because we had few things to consider and partly because some of the restrictions heavily favor some choices over others, we managed to narrow down to a single build.

In other words, we can be reasonably certain that the combination which deals the most damage under our restrictions is a Variant Human Gloom Stalker with Great Weapon Master, Polearm Master, and +4 strength modifier, even if we don't make the full damage calculation.

Damage calculation

The total damage over the whole combat is [rounds] * ([2 action attacks] + [1 PM bonus attack]) + [1 Dread Ambusher attack] = 5 * (2 * (1d10 + 10 + 4) + (1d4 + 10 + 4)) + (1d10 + 10 + 4 + 1d8) = 5 * 55.5 + 24 = 301.5.

In that calculation I have not taken reactions into account. If we can guarantee an opportunity attack each round, then the total becomes [rounds] * ([2 action attacks] + [1 PM bonus attack] + [1 opportunity attack]) + [1 Dread Ambusher attack] = 5 * (39 + 16.5 + (1d10 + 10 + 4)) + 24 = 5 * 75 + 24 = 399.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Cool, didn't expect that to beat your Hunter build, but that's still in the version history, so I feel like I've got two answers for the price of one! Thanks very much for this; unless another answer comes along to compete with this one, I'll accept this in the near future... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jan 3 at 12:38
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Your best bet is probably a Monster Slayer using a Hand Crossbow, with the Crossbow Expert and Sharpshooter feats

I'll start by pointing out that I don't think that "assuming attacks hit" is an especially effective way to gauge character damage output. Many methods of producing damage, like the Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Master feats, specifically exploit the fact that using them causes you to hit less often, dealing more damage when you do hit. So ignoring that context will cause misleading results.

In my table below, I've included calculated average damage-per-round for various Armor Class values. I've included the hypothetical "AC 0" to simulate a character "basically always landing their hits", but I don't recommend solely relying on it, because it simply does not represent normal gameplay.

Additionally, these values are averaged across all rounds of combat, but you can get to 5 rounds of combat by simply multiplying each value by 5, since there's no confounding gameplay mechanics that would make that inaccurate.

Below are the important stats for each character I've considered:

  • Horizon Walker Heavy Crossbow: takes the Archery Fighting Style, and the Crossbow Expert feat, for an Attack Bonus of +9, Damage Bonus of +4. Always uses their Bonus Action to invoke their Planar Warrior feature.
  • Horizon Walker Sharpshooter: same as above, but also takes the Sharpshooter feat and uses it relentlessly. Attack Bonus +3, Damage Bonus +13.
  • Monster Slayer Hand Crossbow: Archery Fighting Style, Crossbow Expert feat. Attack Bonus +9, Damage Bonus +4, uses Bonus Action to make another Crossbow shot. Slayer's Prey persists over multiple rounds, so it's been included, and we presume it is applied before combat even began (because there's no mechanical restriction against it)
  • Monster Slayer Sharpshooter: Same as above, but takes the Sharpshooter feat. Attack Bonus +3, Damage Bonus +13.
  • Monster Slayer Glaive PAM: Assuming a different race to get optimal Strength stat, takes Polearm Mastery feat. Attack Bonus +7, Damage Bonus +4. Bonus Action used to make PAM 1d4 attack. Slayer's Prey applied before combat.
  • Monster Slayer PAM GWM: Same as above, but takes Great Weapon Master feat and uses it. Attack Bonus +1, Damage Bonus +13,

\begin{array}{|l|r|r|r|r|r|r|r|} \hline \text{Name} & \text{AC 0} & \text{AC 11} & \text{AC 13} & \text{AC 15} & \text{AC 17} & \text{AC 20} & \text{AC 25}\\ \hline \text{HW Heavy Crossbow} & 23.325 & 23.325 & 21.358 & 19.300 & 17.153 & 13.763 & 7.663\\ \hline \text{HW Sharpshooter} & 40.425 & 28.853 & 24.815 & 20.688 & 16.470 & 9.975 & 3.278\\ \hline \text{MS Hand Crossbow} & 25.584 & 25.584 & 23.343 & 21.075 & 18.758 & 15.144 & 8.578\\ \hline \text{MS Sharpshooter} & 51.234 & 36.308 & 31.220 & 26.042 & 20.752 & 12.560 & 3.998\\ \hline \text{MS Glaive PAM} & 28.584 & 26.043 & 23.475 & 20.858 & 18.170 & 13.962 & 6.301\\ \hline \text{MS PAM GWM} & 54.234 & 33.020 & 27.542 & 21.952 & 16.228 & 7.348 & 4.298\\ \hline \end{array}

Observations

The first thing to notice is that by a modest margin, the Monster Slayer Polearm Master + Great Weapon Master does offer the highest theoretical damage, at 54.234 DPR against a creature where only a natural 1 misses. This superiority vanishes once we're dealing with more realistic Armor Classes, though, and the Hand Crossbow + Crossbow Expert + Sharpshooter reigns supreme, offering its own 3 attacks with the Archery Fighting Style's improved attack bonus making up for the lower damage dice.

I've included Horizon Walker just as a frame of reference, but it's never competitive with the options presented here except against especially tough targets, where the once-per-turn Planar Warrior feature starts to win out against the Slayer's Prey feature—and even then still doesn't compete against the Crossbow without Sharpshooter. Most of the Horizon Walker's most powerful features (Haste, Distant Strike) don't come online until levels 9 and 11, so by the restrictions on this build, we can't use those.


The table above was generated via the use of a tool I created. I'll step through the process for one cell, but the same process can be applied to any combination I've described. We'll use the Hand Crossbow with Sharpshooter against a target with AC 13 as an example.

To start with, we need the miss, hit, and crit chances. With an attack bonus of +3, this means the natural d20 needs to roll a 10 or higher to hit. In total this means our odds are

\begin{array}{l|l|l} \text{Miss} & \text{Hit} & \text{Crit} \\ \hline \text{45%} & \text{50%} & \text{5%} \\ \end{array}

A hit with this weapon deals 1d6+13 damage, and a critical hit deals 2d6+13. In addition, once per turn we can apply the bonus damage from Slayer's Prey. This will always (per the ability) apply to the first successful hit; and if the first hit is a critical hit, that damage die will be doubled, so we'll need to rig up some math to figure out how to apply that. We'll get to that later.

For now, we have a 45% x 0 + 50% x 16.5 + 5% x 20 = 8.25 + 1 = 9.25 expected damage per hit. Over three attacks, this amounts to 27.75 expected damage in a round.

The odds that the first hit is a critical hit is 5% (if it was the first attack), 5% x 45% for the second attack, and 5% x 45% x 45% for the third attack, bringing the total to 8.2625%. The odds that the first hit are a normal hit are 50% + (45% x 50%) + (45% x 45% x 50%), or 50% + (45% x 50%) + (45% x 45% x 50%), or about 82.625%.

So the damage dealt by the Slayer's Prey feature will be 8.2625% x 7 + 82.625% x 3.5, adding up to 3.47025 expected damage.

27.75 + 3.47025 = 31.22025, which was rounded in the above table to 31.22025.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I've been looking into this myself, trying to use Ruse's answer to scale this up to Tiers 3 and 4, and I'm finding much truth in your first paragraph. I do think that restriction was a mistake, but it's done now. Hence thank you for including your table of different ACs, which both answers the question as-is and as I should have asked it. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jan 3 at 16:54

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