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TLDR: In my game, finesse and ranged weapons don't get a stat damage bonus and Dueling gives the damage bonus to 1- and 2- handed weapons. Is this balanced?

Starting running a game for the first time in several years. Two of the players are new to D&D (a Warlock and a Bard). The other hasn't played since 2nd edition (a Ranger).

During character creation, I gave them incorrect rules about weapon damage which I must have misremembered. I told them that Finesse and Ranged weapons don't get a damage bonus, whereas other weapons get a strength bonus. The correct rule, having checked, is that Finesse and Ranged weapons get a damage bonus from dexterity.

Now, the Ranger player, remembering 2nd edition, gave his character a high dexterity for archery, but chose to have them wield a longsword with no shield. That means has base damage dice is the same as the bard with his rapier - both a d8. However, his bonuses are actually lower. At 1st level, he was a worse fighter than the bard!

After the first session, I took his player over the bonus and dual-weapon rules and checked if he wanted to keep using the longsword and not use a shield, and he did: he just chose to wield it two-handed for the higher damage dice. So I decided to keep my rules error a feature of the game. That way at least the Ranger gets a bonus on his damage dice, and the Bard does not.

I'm not sure why the Ranger wants to keep the longsword, I think he's just got a strong image in his head from his 2nd edition Ranger characters. As a result, I also rejected the obvious compromise of letting the Ranger have a "longsword" that's actually a rapier. I figured that might also cause problems with distributing magic items (is it a rapier? is it a sword?).

At 2nd level, the Ranger chose Duelling and, again, I've let him keep it as +2 damage with his longsword even though, strictly speaking, it's not supposed to be used two-handed. Now the Bard gets +3 to hit and a d8 damage while the Ranger gets +1 to hit and a d10 +3 damage, which at least makes him seem like a bit more of a warrior.

I haven't explained to the players that I've got the rule wrong. Not out of fear of losing face but because it makes the party a little better balanced, and I don't want the Bard claiming his +3 damage, putting him back in front of the Ranger. None of the other players has a rulebook.

I don't believe this is in any way game breaking: it just gives the party a marginally lower damage output. So long as I tailor the encounters accordingly, I don't see it as an issue. But I know D&D 5e is much better "mechanically balanced" that some older editions and I might have missed something going forward when the party gains more levels and meets more powerful foes.

Is my approach here balanced and fair, in particular, have I made the Ranger overpowered and the Bard underpowered in comparison?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "The Ranger has a +1 to hit and a d10 + 3 damage" I'm assuming the Ranger's Str mod is a +1. I just want to make sure, do you know that you add your proficiency bonus to attack roll modifiers? At level 1 it's a +2. So the Ranger should have a +3 to hit (and the Bard should have +5 I think, depending on his Dex mod). \$\endgroup\$ – field158 Jan 13 at 11:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @field158 Yes thanks, I was aware of that I was just focussed on the stat bonuses when writing the question - but appreciate the thought you took to point it out \$\endgroup\$ – Bob Tway Jan 13 at 13:26
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It changes things substantially

Firstly, weapon attacks don't get DEX bonus to their damage. You've already mentioned this affected the party's combat abilities:

it just gives the party a marginally lower damage output

I tailor the encounters accordingly

I have to say this change affects not "the party" as a whole — it nerfs particular characters, shifting the spotlight from them. Creating a DEX-based melee character becomes an sub-optimal choice comparing to STR-based ones, and creating a range weapon damage dealer (like an archer) is now sub-optimal comparing to spellcasters.

Secondly, Dueling becomes more preferable choice, since you can use it with 2H weapons. So you can have a STR-based Fighter which uses a 2H greataxe and deals 1d12 + STR + 2 damage on each hit.

This issue becomes more severe with level-ups, when classes gain multiattack.

But the most important issue is — you have to change other feats and features with this new rule in mind. For instance, you have to change how the Two-Weapon Fighting style works:

When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack

I suggest you not to turn the misread game text into a house rule, regardless of the campaign being already started. Talk to your players — "Look, I messed it up, DEX-based damage should work this way. Let's change this starting from the next session". The players probably wouldn't mind and the problem will be solved.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, the players might mind actually. You would be basically be nerfing some players, in a game where things are set in stone (it's not like you can respec…) So this might need to involve some negotiations and retcons. Which is perfectly fine, mind! I am just disagreeing with the simplistic "yeah players just won't mind" sentence. The rest is good. \$\endgroup\$ – o0'. Jan 14 at 17:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @o0'. well I said "probably", assuming quite the opposite — the players' characters will be "un-nerfed". But you should discuss this with players anyway, of course. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jan 14 at 17:53
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Don't change the rules to accommodate an individuals choices

This is a frame challenge, from one of your comments:

Because - in my head at least - a Bard should not be the party tank. Since the Bard also gets more spells than the Ranger, and many of the Ranger's unique skills are highly situation-specific, keyed to certain enemies or terrain, it would seem to leave the Ranger without much to excel at.

I don't know where you got the idea from or why, but you are coming from a position of bias, which is always bad.

Also you are asking if a rule is balanced when you have players clearly taking suboptimal choices. Balanced rules only really stay balanced when the people using them are making roughly equal use of them, which isn't what is happening here.

Also you are all pretty new to the game, which just makes things worse because your grasp of the rules and balance isn't great in general yet.

My advise is twofold:

  1. Assume the rules are balanced until you find some place they are clearly unbalanced (the ranger class is fine by the way generally, and if built / played well)
  2. Let the ranger live with the consequences of their choices, because D&D is a game about choice
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that there is some official support for the idea that Rangers are a weaker class. The game designers even attempted to improve it: dnd5e.wikidot.com/revised-ranger-ua \$\endgroup\$ – user56480 Jan 14 at 8:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that making the ranger live with their choices/calling it a bad choice is fair, given that they made their choices based on incorrect information about the rules. Assuming your first point is supposed to mean "assume the (real) rules are balanced (and use them)", I think it would be way more fair to let the ranger revise their equipment/fighting style choices. \$\endgroup\$ – Michelle Jan 14 at 16:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Michelle the ranger has already decided they don't want to take that route, the OP has offered to let them take new equipment. But yes 100% let them respec and reequip if they want. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jan 14 at 16:31
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You are going to have problems if the Warlock takes Agonising Blast, and has a cantrip that deals 1d10+cha as that is about twice the damage of the ranger or bard.

The damage that spells deal is written assuming that weapons will get stat to damage.

I would tell your players that you misremembered rules, and offer them the chance to re-stat their characters using the actual rules

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 13 at 16:13
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Don't punish your bard for knowing how to play, uplift the other players by helping them with the rules. If they want to kick ass like the bard but are unwilling to invest a little time learning the rules.. well that's on them

One thing I did for a group was stop at level 3 and make sure everyone was happy with their choices, if not they could change. That way they got a little experience and didn't feel they were locked into uninformed choices.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer. Not sure if you want to add how the Adventurers League allows a total respec up to getting to level 5; seems the game's "authorities" are aware that for beginning players (which this edition was tailored to somewhat) will sometimes have 'buyers remorse' and will have more fun with a different character ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 14 at 14:22

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