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I've been given the task of trying to show as much damage as possible with a 17th level fighter in a single round of combat. My restrictions include:

  • No multiclassing.
  • No magic items.
  • No outside help.
  • You cannot assume bonuses/advantage; if you can make the build to give a bonus/advantage to yourself, this is fine.
  • You may account for critical hits.
  • You may not account for situational damage outside of your turn such as opportunity attacks.
  • The target(s) will have 19 AC and saves will be +5 across the board.
  • You can assume up to two enemies, any distance from each other to get the most damage.
  • Assume this is the first round of combat and you are first in initiative.
  • You have no prep rounds before the fight.
  • Use point buy for stats.
  • Use only published material.
  • Optional rules are allowed.
  • Calculate using average damage.
  • Once-a-day nova damage is preferred
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    \$\begingroup\$ What’s the target? We need the stats of the target to calculate expected damage. (Armor class, save bonuses). \$\endgroup\$ Feb 11, 2022 at 18:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ updated again, thank you for asking. just to give you some insight into why I'm asking. Someone challenged me with making a fighter to see if one could do more damage to two enemies in a single turn than a wizard just casting meteor swarm on them. So in this case I'm trying to answer your questions and keep things in the realm of a reasonably fair comparison. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 11, 2022 at 20:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good point @Exempt-Medic I feel like poisons in particular shouldn't be allowed since they are single use items that are pretty much limited by how much gold you can spend on them. The idea is to see what the character can do with basic equipment and features. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 11, 2022 at 20:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can I have a horse and are the targets medium or smaller? \$\endgroup\$
    – goodguy5
    Feb 11, 2022 at 20:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: how much damage can be done in one round with action surge \$\endgroup\$
    – goodguy5
    Feb 11, 2022 at 21:10

2 Answers 2

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On average, about 234 damage in one round

Vanilla Battlemaster

Using a plain vanilla fighter from the PHB, you pick Str 14 for one of your stats, pick a race like Mountain Dwarf or Half-Orc that gives you +2 to Strength for a starting Stength of 16. Use Half-Orc for Savage Attack (thanks to Someone_Evil for pointing that out).

Pick the combat style Great Weapon Fighting on level 1 and the Battlemaster subclass on level 3.

You have 6 Stat increases or feat picks up to level 17. You pick:

  • Strength Increase x 2 for Strength 20
  • Mounted Combatant
  • Great Weapon Master
  • Magic Initiate (pick Hex)
  • Lucky

Pick a greatsword as your weapon, and ride a warhorse.

How many attacks do you have? You attack 6 times, as a full attack action with 1 Attack, 2 Extra attacks, repeated once with your Action Surge. You have two action surges, but only can use one per round.

How much damage does an attack that connects deal? Your attacks on average deal a total of 26.83 damage.

  • 2d6, reroll 1s or 2s (8.33, due to Great Weapon Fighting)
  • +5 from Strength bonus
  • +10 from Great Weapon Master
  • +d6 (3.5) from Hex cast as a bonus action before attacks

Critials: You get an extra d6 on these from Savage Attacker. You roll a total of 15 d20 (12 attacks with advantage, 3 Lucky dice), and have 1/20th on each to crit, so you add 15/20 * 4d6 from critical damage, or about 15.3 points (with Great Weapon Fighting style).

How likely are you to hit? You are riding a warhorse, and we opt our opponent to be medium sized, so you attack with advantage. You have 6 superiority dice, one to spend on each attack (pick Precision Attack) to add d10 to the roll. You get +11 (your Strength bonus of +5 added to your proficiency bonus of +6) and -5 (from using Great Weapon Master to add 10 damage) to your attack. According to AnyDice against AC 19 your chance to hit is 87.38%.

set "position order" to "lowest first"
output (2@2d20 +d10 +11 -5) > 18 named "advantage"

I think you can save the superiority dice in cases where you naturally roll high, to instead deal d10 extra damage, but I will ignore this for simplicity's sake.

You know what you have to hit, and you can opt to spend your Lucky dice whenever you miss after you see your rolls. I'm not quite sure how to handle this statistically, but I think it would salvage 67.5% of the failed rolls bringing the probability to 95.9%. You have three Lucky rolls, and on average miss less than one of the six attacks, so it might be higher.

Someone_Evil ran monte-carlo simulations for this build, simulating the use of lucky and precision attack only when relevant and then using a damage maneuver when precision wasn't used. That gave an estimate of 191.6 damage. Picking your battles matters. The observed hit rate was 94%.

Total expected damage: In theory 6 * 26.83 * 95.9% + 15.3 = 170 damage. From practical simulations: 192 damage.

Possible Improvements. It may be possible to eke out a few more points of optimization here and there, maybe by taking Archery for the +2 to hit vs Great Weapon Fighting for the +1.33 damage from die rolls, but then you would need another way go get adavantage on your attacks, as Mounted Combatant only works for melee.

As we only have one round, and there are few spells that can be cast as a bonus action, I do not see Arcane Knight being a better solution. The Champion also seems weaker, it is tripling the crit damage, adding 31 points, but losing the boost to hit from superiority dice, theoretically about 36 points, from simulation up to 58.

Going beyond core rules

The OP allows any published books. Using a Bugbear from Volo's Guide to Monsters for a possible 2d6 points from Surprise Attack would lose the Half-Orcs Savage Attacker and net 1d6 (you would need to surprise them, but we may have that with the first round acting first guaranteed). Another improvement from Shinn Ryusei is to pick Str 15, and trade one of the +2 stat increases for the Orcish Fury feat from XGE, for a one-time extra 1d6.

Goodguy5 reports that in the new Mordenkainen Presents, the once-a-turn limit has been lifted on the Bugbear's Surprise Attack. This makes a large difference: pick Bugbear instead of Half-Orc and add +2d6 to all six attacks for an extra 42 * 95.9% = 40.28. Replace 3.125 points on crits from 1d6 Savage Attacker, with 5.25 points from 2d6 Surpise Attack, for another 2.125 and a total of +42.4 damage over the Half-Orc. This on top of the 192 gets you to 234 expected damage.

Possible Improvements: Maybe there is another fighter subclass or combination in auxiliary books that is even better, and more books are being printed. I'm sure if there is or will be a way to improve on this damage, some clever min-maxer will add a better answer.

Wizard Baseline

The OP stated in the comments that the target is a build that deals more damage to than a Meteor Swarm.

To set a baseline for Meteor Swarm, enemies with Dex Save +5, against a 17th level caster with DC 19 have a 35% chance to make their save for half damage. The baseline damage is 40d6 * (65%*100% + 35%*50%) = 140 * 82.5% = 115 damage per target. Against two targets, the fighter must deal at least 230 damage in one turn to beat the wizard.

Note that the wizard in this case is in no way optimized to maximize his damage. For example, if they were an Evocation wizard, they would add 5 from Intelligence for a total of 120 damage per target.

Our build beats the wizard soundly for a single target, and just barely beats a vanilla wizard when adding a second target. It does not beat an Evoker on two targets, who deals 240.

The challenge is stacked against the fighter by introducing a second opponent so the big spell can deal damage twice, and by limiting it to only one round, which plays to the nova ability of the wizard.

You can easily see this is skewed: if we had to beat the wizards on three targets, we would fail by wide margin. For the maximal number of about 800 opponents that could be hit by Meteor Swarm (assuming each needs at least 5x5 foot of space) we'd be looking at more than 92,000 damage. It would be very likely impossible to do as much damage with the fighter in a single turn without preparation.

The strength of the fighter is that he can deal reliable damage every round. Even without Action Surge this fighter could deal about 60-70 damage each round (I did not do the exact calculation here, he's out of superiority dice after the first round). In spite of the class name, the fighter is not the best damage dealer in the game. Look here to see what multi-classed min-maxing can achieve.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've run some monte-carlo simulations for this build, actually sim.ing the use of lucky and precision attack only when relevant and then using a damage maneuver when precision wasn't used. That gave an estimate of 188.7 as average damage (191.6 when including half-orc's savage attacker). \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Feb 12, 2022 at 22:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil that sounds like super useful information - do you mind if I add it to the answer? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 12, 2022 at 22:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Go ahead. You might be pleased the average hit rate then ended up at 94% which is not far off your estimate \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Feb 12, 2022 at 22:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ just a small bonus but we can make the starting score 15 as a half orc and trade the +2 asi for the Orcish Fury feat and still get 20 str. this gives us an extra d6 of damage. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 12, 2022 at 23:39
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Note: I'm using the new rules for Bugbear from Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse. Primarily, this removes the once/turn resstriction.

Bugbear Champion gets ~189 damage to one target

I lot of this is in anydice and I'm going to need someone to triple check me; thanks to @Someone_Evil for the assist on the Great Weapon Fighting Dice.

The Character (Decisions)

  • Bugbear Fighter - Str 17, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 10
  • Level 1 Great Weapon Fighting style
  • Level 3 Champion Fighter
  • Level 4 +2 Str - Str 19
  • Level 6 +1 Str, +1 Dex - Str 20, Dex 14
  • Level 8 Mounted Combatant
  • Level 12 Great Weapon Master
  • Level 14 Lucky
  • Level 16 Whatever, more con or dex?

The Idea

Alright, I will admit that I couldn't reliably figure out the exact chance that you get zero crits and, thus, no 7th attack from Great Weapon Master, but I think it's around 10%, so I'll apply the entire total to a 10%/7 dummy-tax (about 2%) unless someone else can figure it out.

Mounted Combatant gives us advantage on every attack, and since we're going first in the initiative, we get an extra 2d6 from Bugbear's Surprise Attack. Those dice are added to the weapon damage, so they should benefit from Great Weapon Fighting Style, but there's an argument to be made that they don't. Use the bonus damage from Great Weapon Master on every attack.

The Calculations

I couldn't write a reliable program to trigger the Lucky feat on a failed roll, so I've configured the anydice program to simulate Lucky by doing three rolls at 'best of 3d20'.

Basically 7 attacks with a 25% chance to do 4d6+15, and a 15% chance to do 8d6+15 (the d6 all, of course, actually being GWF d6, 4.167 damage instead of 3.5).

That should bring us to 193.34 expected damage, and then the aforementioned dummy-tax brings us down to 189.47.

graph

summary

Feel free to take a look at the AnyDice.

Some other things to note

  • Hex is in another answer, but in my testing brought it slightly lower than getting a 7th attack. (hex damage exceeds the bonus attack at level 20)
  • It's worth noting level 20 (extra attack(3) bumps us over the Meteor Swarm benchmark - ~240 expected damage
  • Max Damage on the meteor swarm is 240/target and max damage for fighter is 441

Thing that would improve this answer

  • Get exact difference for the chance of not getting the 7th attack.
  • Improve Lucky "logic" from just being 3 rolls at best of 3d20
  • Find a good use for the last feat.
  • Martial Adept - Precision Attack potentially adding another hit
  • Savage Attacker, potentially increasing a poor damage roll
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