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Our family game consists of Fighter-Rogue-Cleric, playing through Dragon of Icespire Peak. The characters have reached L4 now. In combat the Fighter typically does 1d6+3 bow damage per turn and the dual wielding Rogue is doing 1d6+4 +2d6 +1d4. After a couple of rounds the Fighter generally closes to melee range but is still outshone by the Rogue's sneak attack. Admittedly the Rogue is not sneak attacking every turn, but at least 75% of the time.

From player comments, it appears to me the Fighter's player is envious of the damage dealing of the Rogue. As a new DM I would like to ensure all players enjoy the game and this is an obstacle for me to overcome.

I would like to design upcoming encounters that will de-emphasize the rogue as the superstar but not sure what options to consider, and would like some guidance from those who have trod this ground before me.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What subclass of fighter are they? What fighting style did they take? \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve
    Mar 21, 2020 at 2:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ What weapons and armor is your fighter using? It would need to be very strange for the damage numbers you show, and for their AC to be worse than a rogue's. \$\endgroup\$
    – Blckknght
    Mar 21, 2020 at 2:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ You at least want to specify what equipment and abilities the Fighter is using. Maybe ask a separate question about the Rogue, because those numbers don't seem completely kosher (not impossible, just a bit unlikely). \$\endgroup\$
    – Cubic
    Mar 21, 2020 at 3:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems like the underlying question here is how to let the fighter contribute more in combat. Have you noticed the fighter being unable to act in combat? Or are they just envious that the rogue deals more damage? \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeQ
    Mar 21, 2020 at 4:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MikeQ yes - my belief it is a question of pure envy. Guybrush McKenzie's answer below answers fabulously the question I intended to ask. I will modify my question (if I am still able after it is closed) and accept his answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phil S
    Mar 21, 2020 at 17:10

2 Answers 2

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It definitely sounds like you have a player who expects, as a fighter, to excel when it comes to fighting - and for them that means hitting enemies, and doing damage. But the rogue is also very good at that! I would recommend designing encounters that help show the fighter where their strengths lie in combat outside of just dealing damage. Here are a few ideas:

  • If the fighter is using a bow, have some flying enemies out of reach. The rogue can throw daggers but the fighter will have more ammunition and do more damage in such a circumstance. (Enemies also using bows would likewise help, especially if shooting from out of dagger range.)

  • Use monsters and enemies who have attacks, spells or abilities requiring Constitution or Strength saving throws (poisons are the most common). These should favour the fighter, but even if they fail the save, they should have substantially more hit points and this should highlight for them that they are tougher than their companions. It might even lead to a circumstance where they hold off the enemy while the cleric aids the rogue.

  • Introduce non-combat elements to an encounter that also play to the fighter’s strengths. For example, a door that is stuck or barred and must be battered open. (It could also be locked, so that the rogue needs to pick the lock first, allowing them to work together.)

  • Disarm the players and get them into a fistfight. Assuming they have a higher Strength, the fighter is going to hit more often and do much more damage than the rogue.

I would also recommend checking on some rules to make sure the rogue hasn’t been gaining unfair advantage - in this case quite literally. Sneak Attack isn’t expected to be used every turn; its requirements are (from the Basic Rules):

Once per turn, you can deal an extra [1d6] damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll. The attack must use a finesse or a ranged weapon. You don’t need advantage on the attack roll if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn’t incapacitated, and you don’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.

The rogue should not always have advantage, but they might always be attacking the same enemy as the cleric. If this is the case, split them up - introduce more enemies at once, and have them pair up against the adventurers. Or have enemies use effects that grant their attackers disadvantage, which also means Sneak Attack can’t be used. Or have them attacking from range! (The intent here isn’t to punish the rogue, but to teach them to work a little to make narrative sense of Sneak Attack, and give all the characters some opportunities for tactical and narrative decisions in a fight.)

I’d also look at the fighter’s weapon, armour and ability score choices, and help them understand why their damage seems so much lower - and also that they are not meant to be doing the most damage, necessarily! If weapons or armour are part of the problem, there are lots of places to find better ones, or they could just buy them - Lionshield Coster stocks all the weapons and armour in the PHB/basic rules, if they’re based in Phandalin.

  • 1d6 suggests they are using a shortsword or mace, but a fighter has no particular reason to stick to a low-damage weapon. Even a longsword does 1d8 one-handed, and can be swung with both hands for 1d10, without giving up any utility over a shortsword.

  • If they’re focussed on Dexterity, and thus using finesse weapons, give them the option of a rapier for 1d8 damage (though this might cause some friction with the rogue, who will also get a lot out of a rapier). If they are using a shortbow at range, a longbow is a good option - the rogue probably isn’t proficient with them (unless they are an elf).

  • Look at the Ability Score they are most often using for combat; unless you rolled for stats it should hopefully be as high as the rogue’s Dexterity. (The damage numbers you cite suggest they have at best a 17 in their primary combat stat, while the rogue has an 18 or 19.) If it isn’t, see if there’s a way to rejig that - let them change their Ability Score Increase (or feat) choice from level four, for example.

  • Likewise, look at their Armour Class - in general a fighter should have much better AC than a rogue (who without magical assistance probably isn’t going to have much above 16 AC, especially at level 4), and so even if the rogue hits more often, they should be getting hit more often too. They might want to upgrade their armour, or - if they’re trying to stay light on their feet - invest in a shield if they fight one-handed when in range.

  • Let them know that while a fighter can be very versatile, their strength is often in specialisation. If they are using a bow at range and a standard melee weapon up close, they may be splitting their attacks across two Abilities, and one will usually not be as good as the other (or both will be slightly lower if they split their Ability Score Increases between them). Also look at the Fighting Style they chose, and make sure they are getting the most out of it! (Again, let them change it if they don’t use it or don’t like it.)

  • Make sure they know how to use Action Surge and Second Wind and add complications to combat that will make those features shine. And don’t forget at level five they’ll get Extra Attack, which levels the playing field a lot, especially against larger groups of smaller enemies.

Hopefully some of these ideas will help; I’ve found all of these to be sources of confusion or dissatisfaction among new players in combat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast This is a good improvement, and I’ve edited it in. Thanks! I’ll see if there’s a question with a list of such attacks etc. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1 at 23:21
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Everything comes to those who wait...

One thing to bear in mind is that the fighter's damage will literally double next level, when they get Extra Attack.

Right now they don't have any explicit damage features that would compete with the Rogue's sneak attack, other than arguably using their Action Surge to attack twice in precisely one round between rests. But at level 5 they'll be able to make two attacks with big weapons every round (adding their ability modifier to each), whereas the Rogue's damage won't go up.

Assuming they're using a Greatsword, have the Great Weapon Fighting style and pumped their Strength to 18 at level 4; then they're doing 4d6+8* every round (assuming both attacks hit, as we did for the Rogue). By comparison the rogue gets 4d6+1d4+4 if they have Advantage/adjacent allies, otherwise it's a paltry 1d6+1d4+4 (whereas the Fighter's damage doesn't fall in this case). In terms of average damage, it's 24.6 for the Fighter vs 20.5 for the Rogue.

In this sense, sometimes characters have different "hot spots" at different levels (indeed the Rogue could start to feel jealous of a Fighter who can beat their best-case damage and absolutely destroy their worst-case damage...). I wouldn't consider this a problem overall, especially if people are aware that their turn will come.

*with the reroll from their fighting style making these more like "d7"s in terms of average damage

The Fighter's focus may be wrong

Part of the problem though might be that the Fighter is not built for damage (using a shortbow sounds weird, especially if they then choose to go into melee - so they're either using lower-damage Finesse weapons, or they're splitting their stats across Str and Dex). If the Fighter is focusing on sturdiness that is a perfectly sensible role - but they shouldn't compare themselves against a "glass cannon" Rogue in that case!

If this is what's happening here, it may be worth pointing out the situations where they take a hit that would down the Rogue, where they make a Con save that the Rogue would have failed, etc. Depending on the player and your group's approach to the meta you might just be able to compare their literal stats; or you might need to highlight these situations during play (and hopefully you can get the Rogue involved to emphasise these situations too).

But maybe they need a little help

Alternatively it's very possible that the Fighter is poorly optimised/played, and isn't at their best in any situation. In such a case, sitting down and explaining mechanics with the player (allowing them to make some build changes as needed) would be the best outcome in my opinion. You wouldn't have to set up encounters to disadvantage the Rogue, the Fighter would see their damage go up, and everyone's happy.

If it helps, what I'd say is that if they want to do damage, they need to be wielding a big two-handed weapon in melee (and choose the appropriate fighting style). If they say they want a shield (or the Defense fighting style), highlight that this is a trade-off that will increase their AC at the expense of damage. If they want to go ranged, highlight that similarly this will drop their die from a d12/2d6 to a d8, in exchange for more survivability/ease of targeting. If they're choosing a Short race, then they're giving up access to all the big weapons and again this is dropping their damage in exchange for whatever they think they're getting from that race.

Then I'd highlight the importance of the primary stat (i.e. Strength) for increasing chance to hit and damage; if they didn't start with a +3 at first level and increase it to a +4 at 4th, this is once again a trade-off where they've chosen to increase something else at the expense of doing damage.

Finally there might be some cost-free choices to make, e.g. pointing out that they can (if they're sticking with range attacks) use a longbow instead of a shortbow. If they're never using their Action Surge (or saving it "for emergencies"), remind them that they can use it to double their damage in one round; over the course of the day it's not much, but when the evil sorcerer is left just about standing after the Fighter's action, being able to strike again and take them down - doing that damage when it matters - is priceless.

(If they're still happy to explicitly accept the initial trade-offs, then hopefully they'll accept lower damage as par for the course and understand why it's much lower than it could be. As I said in the second section, it's definitely not wrong to want to play like this, as long as they understand they can't do top-tier damage and e.g. wear a shield.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A level 4 Fighter with a Shortbow tells me one of two things: either the character is built sub-optimally, or the DM is being stingy with gold so the Fighter can't get proper gear. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael W.
    Feb 1 at 21:59

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