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I've just learned that the Protection fighting style is supposed to be used before any attack rolls are made, via this question: Can Protection Fighting Style Be Used After The Roll?

In my group, we've been using the (unresolved) attack roll as the trigger for Protection, and applying pseudo-disadvantage by rolling an additional d20 and taking the lower of the two rolls. When the initial roll has advantage, we just take both dice away and roll one of them again. These rolls are all made openly.

We're enjoying playing this way, but I'd like to understand how much more utility the party is getting out of it compared to the 'correct' way of using this fighting style. I'm interested in any answers which can quantify the difference (e.g. comparing wasted reactions & successful deflections), but more generally in the basic balance question: 'Would a right-minded party with an interest in optimisation always choose this modified version of the Protection fighting style over the other available fighting styles'?


An afterthought about the usefulness of this question:

I wanted to make sure that this version of protection wasn't so good that players would always choose it, because that's boring. But balance within a party is often primarily about ensuring that players aren't frustrated by another player consistently outshining them in combat. Because Protection directly aids other members of the party, making it more powerful isn't likely to directly ruin anyone's fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd very much recommend a self-answer here. You've actually playtested it and have a judgement - you're extremely well qualified to answer :) \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jul 30 at 22:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch that's a good point. But I haven't played with the intended rules, or really been in many parties with other fighting styles in play. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lovell
    Jul 30 at 22:09
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That's usually more balanced, except with high AC allies

The real question is: how much less damage does the party as a whole take when one member has a certain fighting style? The only defense-oriented fighting styles useful to a shield user are Defense, Protection, and Interception (TCE), so I'll also be looking at those, plus your version of Protection and an alternative.

A potentially more balanced homebrew Protection works as follows:

  • If the attack has neither advantage nor disadvantage, one d20 is rolled. After seeing the roll, Protection may now be used. If it is, an additional d20 is then rolled to represent disadvantage.
  • If the attack has advantage, one d20 is designated the "primary" die. The primary d20 and another d20 are rolled. After seeing the roll, Protection may now be used. If it is, only the primary die is kept.

Without this modification, your version of Protection can turn a normal hit into a critical hit. It also may be too powerful when protecting high AC allies, as I'll discuss later.

Meeting the party

For the sake of comparison, all five party members are level 5. The main stat we care about is AC, so without further ado:

  • AC 19. The character with the Fighting Style (designated "Main"). Maybe a fighter or paladin.
  • AC 14. A backliner who doesn't want to get hit. Most warlocks and bards.
  • AC 17. Monks, two-handed weapon users.
  • AC 19 (again). Another mid/frontliner. Fighters, paladins, clerics, etc.
  • AC 24. Slayer of bounded accuracy. Bladesingers, Eldritch Knights, dips into classes with shield.

Setting the stage

The party will face off against a (nearly) Deadly encounter - two CR 5 creatures. I'll use an air elemental's Multiattack to represent a typical CR 5 creature.

For each comparison, only Main and one other party member (designated "Ally") are targeted by attacks. What about the rest of the party, though? If you're in an encounter with two typical enemies who spread their attacks across more than two targets, you've probably already won. Focus fire is king; even dumb enemies (who don't all gang up on one target) tend to each pick a target and stick to it.

Since this is a "party with an interest in optimisation", I'll assume that they have good tactical positioning. The AC 14 warlock will (try to) stand in the back and won't be targeted by as many attacks as the AC 19 fighter. They won't always succeed, though, so here's how often each party member is in a position to get hit:

  • AC 14: 25%. The other 75% of the time, they are 60 feet away from the enemy, invisible, etc. This also accounts for times when the enemy chooses not to provoke opportunity attacks to reach them, can't get through a chokepoint, is stopped by Sentinel, etc.
  • AC 17: 40%. They are often hitting enemies in melee, but may be able to hit-and-run (monk's Step of the Wind, for example).
  • AC 19: 50%. They are standing next to Main trading blows with enemies on a regular basis. They're just as likely to be targeted as Main.
  • AC 24: 50%. They are also up front next to Main. At level 5, most characters can only reach AC 24 using shield, meaning their normal AC is 19. Some DMs will never target them ("smart enemies should switch targets"), some will always target them ("they invested in AC, they should get to use it"), while others are somewhere in between. I'll use 50% as a middle-ground.

Main will pick up the remaining slack, as they try to protect their allies. When we focus on their ability to protect the AC 14 squishy, Main will be targeted the other 75% of the time due to the squishy's good tactical positioning.

Kicking in the door

Let's simulate a million rounds of combat (each with four attacks) to see how much less damage Main and Ally take (combined), based on Ally's AC:

% less damage taken by Main and Ally

Your version of Protection is strictly better than RAW in all cases. That said, RAW Protection is also worse than Interception in all cases. Interception falls off when defending an AC 24 Ally, since it's quite likely they won't be hit at all.

Defense trails behind the rest, as Main's AC 19 isn't high enough to break bounded accuracy. However, Defense leaves your reaction free for opportunity attacks, shield, Sentinel, etc.

What if the enemies had advantage?

% less damage taken by Main and Ally (with advantage)

Interception and your version of Protection are barely affected by advantage for an AC 24 Ally, while everything else weakens noticeably. My proposed alternative drops off considerably at AC 24, bringing it more in line with Interception.

Conclusion

Without advantage, your version of Protection is strong, but probably not overpowered in general. Interception is much better at protecting low AC, while your Protection is much better at protecting high AC. If attacks at your table are only directed at AC 20+ targets, though, your version of Protection may end up overpowered.

With advantage, your version of Protection definitely protects high AC allies too well. Given how powerful super high AC already is, it becomes a must-pick for higher AC parties. If you still prefer Protection to Interception, I'd recommend adopting my proposed changes to both tone down high AC defense and to avoid "helpfully" turning a hit into a crit, while still improving on the RAW version.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I really don't understand your proposed version, what do you mean by rolling two additional dice? That sounds more complex than 5e is expected to be. Your maths also makes some assumptions that aren't really useful in my opinion, and only work for a party of 2 from what I can tell, with enemies that don't go for the squishy, which isn't how most intelligent enemies work. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Aug 1 at 17:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Yeah, I wasn't super happy with the wording on my proposed version. Edited to (hopefully) be clearer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Red Orca
    Aug 1 at 20:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I also added an explanation for focusing on two of the party members. When facing two typical enemies, if they distribute their attacks amongst 3+ party members, they're playing highly suboptimally. Regarding targeting the squishy - I am assuming that the enemy wants to target them, but veteran parties are usually able to position the squishies to make reaching them painful or impossible. Hence the AC 14 character only being in danger 25% of the time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Red Orca
    Aug 1 at 20:30
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In my experience, this only makes it competitive

The protection style costs your reaction (so no opportunity attacks, no shield spell if you have access, etc) and is never even guaranteed to be of use. The other styles are always of use, and don't have an action economy cost.

I have seen protection taken several times in my life, and every single time the player has asked to switch it out, or change it to how you suggest.

I always offer both, and with every player who has used your rule it hasn't made me (as a DM) notice any real balance effect when I plan encounters, but it has made the ability more useful, and more importantly make the player feel much better about it.

Effectively you are taking an ability that I would rate very very low on the power scale, and making it useful, but in no way overpowered unless you somehow have multiple reactions. And even if you do have multiple reactions it isn't the style that becomes overpowered, but the 'whatever it is' that grants the extra reactions.

Another way of looking at it:

With your rule, ask yourself "would I always pick protection" and unless the answer is a resounding yes (hint, take defense for the +1 AC) then it is probably fine.

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Anywhere from “none at all” to “a bit”

The limit on the Protection fighting style is the use of your Reaction: you only get one of these per turn.

In a situation where a single adjacent ally will be attacked once and once only and you will have no other use for your reaction it makes no difference.

In a situation where allies can be attacked multiple times and combat is dynamically offering you several opportunities for opportunity attacks and you took the Magic Initiate spell to get the Shield spell then being able to decide to use Protection after you see the die roll is advantageous. Game breaking advantageous? Probably not.

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