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I used to DM a group of players who liked to heavily optimize their characters (and the group as a whole) to take as little and deal as much damage as possible (seriously, these guys were crazy). It got to the point that I was routinely throwing encounters at them that would be considered "deadly" for a group of their level. Unfortunately, some of the members of that group moved away at around 6th level, so I never got to see how it carried on to later levels.

I recognize that this question is very broad, so to clarify and narrow it down a bit:

What is the most optimizable class from the Players Handbook for damage output per round in a single encounter, assuming the character:

  • is fighting four Brown Bears
  • has just finished a long rest
  • has no magic items
  • uses the standard ability array or point buy,
  • has no buff effects from allies.

and to narrow it down further:

  • use only RAW content from the Players Handbook

For the sake of clarity, let's define damage per round as the amount of damage a character can do averaged out between 5 consecutive rounds (assume the character doesn't die and the bears don’t die). Damage from Area of Effect spells hit all four bears.

Also, I'd like to state that I'm not looking for survivability here, so things like HP and AC are irrelevant.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: What is the most damage with a single ranged attack, with a single melee attack, with single target spells, at level 20 & in 1 round, at level 1, with a cantrip, in one round & alone & against a Terrasque. Note that many of these (especially well-upvoted ones) have numerous extra details. \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 24 at 15:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is being discussed on meta: My question was closed for being opinion based. Why? \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov May 24 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ It’s probably bad form to bounty a question while close voting may not yet be settled. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov May 25 at 7:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Setting a bounty to prevent closing is gaming the system. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish May 25 at 9:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ While, yes, please do not use bounties to prevent closure, Imma assume this is simply a genuine desire for more answers and I don't see any issues in this specific case. Specifically, I see no outstanding requests for clarifications and regarding scope; we have plenty of questions in this vein that ask for similar (albeit maybe with more direction) for 20th level and with all on the table and those work fine. Finding the best method when they calculate their own score should be something the votes should be plenty capable of handling. If for some reason this isn't the case, do raise that then. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil May 25 at 11:29
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Just Cast fireball A Lot

A sixth-level sorcerer has three third-level spell slots and six sorcery points. That sorcerer can get ten more sorcery points by converting their lower-level slots, and then convert ten sorcery points into two more third-level spell slots.  (We assume the sorcerer has a few rounds of downtime to do this before the battle.)

The sorcerer then can cast fireball five times, once per round, for an average damage of 28 before saves.

The sorcerer can apply Empowered Spell to each of their casts.  This lets them reroll up to four damage dice.  The average damage goes from 28 to 33.61 (according to my simulation).  Then, using Draconic Fire Bloodline, they can add their +4 CHA mod to the damage roll, for an average damage of 37.61.

A bear has a +0 DEX save, versus DC15, so it passes 30% of the time, which multiplies the damage by 0.85.  We multiply by four bears, and we get 127.8 damage per round.

If our race is tiefling, then we can also cast hellish rebuke once for 3d10*.85*.2=2.8 damage per round. The total is 130.6 damage per round.


Can some other build do better?

I think sorcerer is the best class for this, simply because the sorcerer is the only class that can cast five fireballs at this level.  Multiclassing would worsen the build because it would lose the Elemental Affinity power which requires six levels of sorcerer.

I did not investigate other sorcerer options -- I just took the one that was visible on https://roll20.net/compendium/dnd5e/Sorcerer (Draconic with Fire), as it offered an additional +4 fireball damage and that seemed like a good deal.  It may be possible to do better using some other choice.

It's unfortunate that the sorcerer doesn't have a good damage-over-time spell to supplement all the fireballs, perhaps making use of their concentration or their bonus action or their reaction.  Unfortunately I didn't see anything promising on their spell list.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Funnily enough the bears would probably die after the first fireball \$\endgroup\$ – field158 May 25 at 7:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ It would be good to specify the details used in the sorcerer. Contents at the other end of links may change or become unclear \$\endgroup\$ – G. Moylan May 25 at 13:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, vis-a-vis the bounty looking for alternative answers, I don't think there is one. This answer is correct. Whereas before this theorycrafting question was too broad to answer, now it's answerable but the answer isn't very interesting because the question has stacked the deck. Sorcerer is the class that can cast fireball (which was deliberately built to overperform vs. other 3rd-level spells) the most number of times in a single encounter. If it's guaranteed to hit all four targets every time, certainly no martial class at 6th level could keep pace with that. \$\endgroup\$ – screamline May 25 at 14:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @screamline You're probably right. We'll see how it goes (; \$\endgroup\$ – Jake Fuller May 25 at 16:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JakeFuller Just to be clear, I'm not trying to beat up your question per se. Theorycrafting questions tend, I think, to invite difficulties like this. And believe me, I have my share of bad questions out there. And bad answers. And bad comments. Come to think of it, what the heck am I even doing on this site? \$\endgroup\$ – screamline May 25 at 18:43

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