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I'm playing in a 5E campaign based on the Grim Hollow guide. My character is Level 3 Rogue Assassin multiclassed with Level 3 Ranger Gloom Stalker, with all future levels going into Rogue.

I had originally envisioned my character as being a mix of melee and ranged and that's how I played him for the first several months, however I've fallen into a purely ranged role. Grim Hollow has a Primordial transformation ability which grants Advantage on any ranged weapon attack once per turn. That means I can either attack in melee where I roll 1d20 with +7 modifier and can maybe use my Sneak Attack damage (depending on the circumstances), or I can attack from range where I roll with Advantage, have a +9 modifier to hit, and can always apply my Sneak Attack (thanks to rolling with Advantage). As you can see, ranged attacks are a much smarter option.

Our party of 4 now only has 1 melee combatant and 3 ranged, which really throws off the balance of the group and makes a huge target of the 1 melee guy. Plus being purely ranged isn't how I want my character to fight.

So my problem is, what can I introduce into the game for my character that will make melee attacks as enticing an option as ranged and restore that balance?

I've discussed my concern with my GM who agrees with me and is happy to look at options, but we don't have any good ideas. An obvious answer would be for the GM to gift my character with an awesome melee magic weapon, but that seems like a weak solution. Maybe there are some ideas for a homebrew ability or rule adjustment?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You seem to have already identified a virtue of going into melee, that you help distract attention away from your party's other front-liner. Is that not enough? \$\endgroup\$
    – Blckknght
    Jul 20 at 2:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Blckknght I understand your point. Whilst going into melee may make things easier for the other front-liner, I can contribute more to the party by attacking from range with a very high probability to hit and guarantee to add my Sneak Attack, rather than attacking from melee with a lower chance to hit and chance that Sneak Attack doesn't apply. I don't think the trade off of being a secondary melee target is enough to make up for the loss of damage. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20 at 2:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ How is your DM handling combat to allow one single character to hold off all enemies while the remainder of the party attack from range? Unless every battle is in narrow corridors I don't see why your enemies wouldn't circle around and attack. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20 at 4:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't see if you're using flanking rule. If not just use it. That way you can pretty much guaranteed sneak attack in melee so you will be more drawn into melee combat. Roleplay will do the rest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Maxxer
    Jul 20 at 11:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Maxxer The Sneak Attack feature includes this clause: "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." So if the rogue and another melee character are in position that would be considered flanking, that already qualifies for sneak attack. \$\endgroup\$
    – smbailey
    Jul 20 at 19:04

8 Answers 8

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Agree with your DM to grant advantage to melee attacks instead

Maybe the best solution here would be to home brew something together with the DM: remove the Primordial Transformation for a similar feature that gives you advantage once a turn for melee attacks, instead of ranged attacks, as it is now. That will at the same time strengthen your melee, and weaken the overpowered ranged attack. It also will encourage you to get into melee to be able to Sneak Attack with Advantage.

I’d not normally suggest home-brew like this, so the rest of my answer is to provide my perspective of why I believe there is no viable or good by-the-book solution.

Ranged combat in 5e

Unfortunately, ranged combat is very strong in 5e. It has all of this in its favor

  • +2 to hit from Archery fighting style, the only Bonus to attacks from fighting style that large; also helps to offset the downside from the extremely strong Sharpshooter feat
  • No risk of suffering opportunity attacks while moving towards your target
  • Not losing time moving to close with your target, you can attack right away
  • Able to hit your target wherever it is, even flying targets or targets on high ledges, behind a lava stream etc.
  • If the opponents have no ranged counterattacks and you can keep distance, effectively infinite AC

In exchange, the only real downsides are that

  • You make attacks in melee (“within 5 feet of a hostile creature that can see you and is not incapacitated”) with Disadvantage
  • Opponents enjoy +2 to AC from soft cover if other creatures like your team are standing in the way —- but this is removed by Sharpshooter
  • You have disadvantage on long range (or against prone targets) —- but unless outdoors, typically short range is all you need, especially with a longbow and the range penaltly also is removed by Sharpshooter.

With Sharpshooter removing to of those, the single minor downside really is Disadvantage when you are stuck in melee. I believe ranged combat is mechanically strictly better than melee.

Ranger / Rogue

As a Rogue you get bonus action disengage or dash, so it will be very difficult to pin you down in a melee situation, negating that one, too. (And if you ever get stuck in melee, drop your bow, and draw a Rapier as a free object interaction and continue without penalty.)

In your case the superiority of Ranged attacks is even more pronounced with Advantage once a turn, which is worth another +4 to hit against typical ACs of level-appropriate foes and unlocks Sneak Attack. (And I think even before that that Gloom Stalker/Rogue is one of the most effective ways to build a ranged attacker; we have one in our group and it feels borderline broken).

Alternative fixes

You are asking what you can do to shift the balance. You can opt to not further optimize the ranged build, but rather pick - likely weaker - options as feats that help more with melee. If you don’t have Sharpshooter yet, don’t pick that. Instead pick feats that could help in melee, like Sentinel. But an Assassin rogue is not a typical frontline fighter, and many if these choices will not play to your strengths.

On the other side of the table your DM can try to help by playing opponents to take advantage of your weak frontline and swarm you, creating problems for the team overall. He also can have your opponents target you primarily, as you likely have no super-high AC and deal a lot of damage, or introduce opponents with faster movement and longer range ranged attacks. Our DM did all those to deal with our Gloom Stalker, but frankly, it feels very antagonistic and has made the game unfun for the player, so it is not a good solution.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The analysis is great and accurate, but getting the DM to homebrew something is just a buff because they are still retaining all that good ranged power. Other players will wonder why they don't get homebrew buffs to work around their weak points. For example maybe the wizard also wants to go into melee. Slippery slope I think in this particular situation. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 20 at 8:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri My understanding from the question is that currently “ Primordial transformation ability (…) grants Advantage on any ranged weapon attack once per turn.” I don’t see how moving this from ranged to melee would retain the ranged power or adds power - they will lose getting advantage on ranged attacks. It’s not really a buff, you are just shifting it to melee \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20 at 9:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I agree with you. As someone who primarily plays rogues, my first thought was that this makes the class much stronger overall. The two easiest ways for a rogue to get advantage on an attack is either by Hiding or Steady Aim. The first one you generally can't do in melee at all and the second is a poor choice when you're up close with the enemies. So this is essentially a buff to a character and opens you up to accusation of favouritism from other players. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Jul 20 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ "If you don’t have Sharpshooter yet (unlikely but possible)": I'd say it's more unlikely that they have Sharpshooter. As a Rogue 3 / Ranger 3 they have not had an ASI yet, so they've had no chance to pick up a feat unless they got one on character creation. And since they didn't mention it, I'd say it's likely they don't have it. \$\endgroup\$
    – smbailey
    Jul 20 at 14:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks everyone for your contribution. In the end, I went with the idea of modifying the Primordial transformation ability. Instead of ADV on any ranged attack once per turn, my GM and I have agreed to make it ADV on any ranged or melee attack but limited its uses to a number of times equal to proficiency modifier per short/long rest. This makes the ability just as useful in melee versus ranged, thus restoring the balance. And the limited number of uses means I can't spam it every single turn. We're both happy with the outcome. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 23 at 22:39
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Introduce roleplaying

You said your character wants to do a bit of both, so just have them do it because that is who they are and what they enjoy doing. Yes ranged is better, and you aren't likely to get away from that, but your character prefers to look them in the eyes.

You don't always need to pick the mechanically best option.

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    \$\begingroup\$ True, but if the party is going against a tough enemy, I want to deal as much damage as I can to take them down. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 21 at 6:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you want to do as much damage as possible, or does your character? And for single tough enemies that is exactly when you should be staying at range, you head I to melee against the minions \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 21 at 6:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also for what it is worth, depending on the group there is usually an option better than 'doing max damage'. I play with a rogue that always wants to do max damage and he really annoys me because he never looks at the other options and it is detrimental to the rest of the group, but at least he can always say 'i was MVP because I did x more damage than you' as if that matters. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 21 at 6:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ My character has a soldier background and I play him as someone who wants to eliminate the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible. So it's definitely a combination of character and player wanting to maximise damage. I'm definitely not the highest damage dealer in the group though so it's not an ego thing either. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 21 at 6:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Downvoter here, just to explain the reasonning : "You don't always need to pick the mechanically best option." I completely disagree with this statement in this context (being combat). There's a case to be made for not solely playing to optimize damage (as mentionned in previous comments). There's also a case to be made for melee being preferable in some circumstances. I think this answer highlights neither and that Daniel is right in noticing that the game gives him no reason at all to go melee. That's a 5e problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Jul 22 at 16:33
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Have the DM take away the choice

In the circumstances that you have described it doesn't really make sense for a character to rush into the melee. Sniping from away is safer, you can do more damage and apparently the single melee character can hold back the enemies just fine. So ask your DM to change it. There are plenty of circumstances that can be used to make melee either unavoidable or at least the logical choice. Here are some examples:

Playing the enemies intelligently

Apart from monsters like (certain) undead, some constructs and perhaps the most stupidest of beasts, your enemies won't just conveniently swarm around the frontliner in a heavy plate armour. They will run around them and go for the squishy snipers and casters pelting them with attacks from afar. Sure, as a Rogue you can disengage easily, run away and continue shooting. But are you going to leave the wizard for the enemies? Suddenly it becomes much more plausible for a predominantly ranged character to be in the melee.

Ambushers attacking from several directions

The party wakes up in the middle of long rest to find their camp surrounded by monsters that have crept up upon you as you slept. Running away from one cluster of enemies just puts you closer to the other one attacking from the other side, depending on how much time they had before they were noticed they might have laid traps around the place, there might be more of them hidden around that a lone sniper might stumble at.

Environmental conditions

Blizzards, storms and similar conditions impose Disadvantage on ranged weapon attacks and you cannot score a Sneak Attack with Disadvantage. Advantage will cancel out and leave you attacking as normal - at this point you have the same opportunity for Sneak Attack at range or at melee. Might as well attack in melee, where there is no Disadvantage and Flank with another party member to give Advantage to the both of you. This makes being in melee specifically the superior choice over attacking from distance.

Ammunition limits

I preface this by admitting that I am not a fan of ammunition tracking rules, most times they just add unnecessary bookkeeping to the game. But they can be used to balance the strengths of ranged combat somewhat. You can only carry a limited amount of arrows with you and it can be difficult to resupply deep in a dungeon or in the middle of jungle, days away from the nearest settlement.

Goals that require you to engage in melee

Finally, there are some tasks that will just fail if you move away from the enemies to a ranged distance, those are generally the situations where you have to protect someone/something/some place until something happens (reinforcements arrive, the wizard completes the ritual, etc.). For them you need to physically be between the enemies and what you are trying to protect, otherwise they will just run for it, you will maybe kill one or two with your bow but the rest makes it unimpeded and your party fails.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the suggestions. Ambushing, environmental conditions and the last point about goals are fairly situational and might be difficult to achieve.I really liked your first point about playing the enemies intelligently. Given my GM is very open to suggestions and has agreed to help me with this issue, I'll give him your suggestion and see if he can start to incorporate that when controlling the enemy. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 21 at 6:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also loved your suggestion about ammunition limits. That's not something we bother tracking right now, but maybe if I self-impose a maximum number of arrows I can carry at any time, it will make me more selective of when to use them. Will just need to ignore the Bag of Holding we have that can carry dozens of arrows. ;) \$\endgroup\$ Jul 21 at 6:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you have a bag of holding, carrying literally 100s of arrows is not an issue (our Doom Stalker does exactly that). You can self-impose how man you carry, of course. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 21 at 9:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Bag of holding does have a limit though, it's not bottomless. Also removing things from it costs an action so not that great an option if you run out during combat, depending on who's keeping it you will also have to run up to them to retrieve your arrows \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Jul 21 at 9:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Adding to the point about bag of holding, carrying 100s of arrows in it might not be an issue but buying this amount might be difficult anywhere but in the biggest, most developed cities. A blacksmith in a tiny village, assuming there even is one there, won’t have hundreds and hundreds of arrows in stock, they’ll have a few bunches and that’s it, making more of them is going to take time. Depending on the setting of your campaign, wood (or some other component) might be scarce, e.g. in the desert, arctic wilderness, the Underdark etc., that might limit the availability further. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Jul 21 at 17:10
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Environmental conditions like rain or fog. Limited visibility. Terrain with tight spaces or limited fields of fire.

Think Stalingrad or the hive in Aliens. Long range weapons less useful.

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Your options are limited because you picked the wrong character

I already have an answer that ignores mechanics, and is my preferred option for you, but from various comments I get the impression that you are looking for a way where melee combat is as mechanically useful as ranged combat.

The problem you have is that you picked a Rogue, and Rogues are best at ranged. They just are. On top of that you have multi-classed into Ranger and got even better at ranged combat.

Ranged has many advantages, but from a damage perspective once you get fighting styles (which you got from Ranger) that +2 to hit is a very powerful buff, especially for a Rogue who only attacks once and really needs to hit. From range you almost always qualify for sneak attack even without the primordial homebrew buff you have - hide or aim cost your bonus action, but you don't have much else to do with it unless you take crossbow expert, but then that swings the scales even more to ranged combat.

Even if you balance the scales on damage through some homebrew mechanism you are either heading into melee for a single attack and then using your bonus action to leave, or you are staying in melee combat and using your bonus action for a second attack, but Rogues simply aren't well suited towards because you won't have a massive armour class or stacks of hit points / mitigation. Your second attack won't benefit from sneak attack so the main purpose of getting 2 attacks on a Rogue is to improve your chances of landing a sneak attack.

What I am trying to say is that if you want a character that does both you have to plan from the start and create a character that is equally good at both.

So what can you do?

Option 1: Ask your DM to let you swap subclasses. Pick something that benefits melee rather than range. I wouldn't go for this option because a Rogue doesn't belong in melee, but if you really want to, then this is your best bet. I think Swashbuckler is designed for this.

Option 2: Be a Hexblade Warlock. Yes this involves a pretty significant change, but you have the best attack cantrip in the game, good survivability and 2 attacks in melee once you reach the right level and pay the evocation taxes. This type of class is the only one off the top of my head that can actively do either. You can do this any way from leaving the group, dying heroically, to just saying 'I have always been a Warlock, no idea why you ever thought I was a Rogue'.

Option 3: Work better as a team. You mentioned your wizard is doing the most damage, but actually your wizard would be better using control spells which would mitigate incoming damage for you and the team, grant you advantage on those controlled enemies and allow you to stay in melee much better. A good hypnotic pattern will let the wizard feel useful but also allow you to perform better, whereas a fireball just massages the wizards ego (if it doesn't kill the targets then it didn't do anything, because only controlled enemies or dead enemies stop fighting back. Taking damage costs you spells and resources to heal and critically hit dice during short rests. Hit dice are the only resource that don't fully regen on a long rest and the most precious resource in a properly ran game). You can work with your wizard and shout things like 'cover me' which will be the hint that you are moving in and you want the wizard to stop blasting and be useful help control the enemies.

Option 4: Give the DM more work. DM's already have a hard job, but if you really want to give them extra work to help you out you can ask them to change how they design terrain, how they design encounters, how they run the enemy AI etc to force you into melee more. I would ask here though, instead of making the DM force you into melee, why don't you just get into melee? It has the same effect, but one is in your control, the other puts the onus on someone else. I say this flippantly, because 'I want' problems should be solved on your own.

Option 5: Add another multiclass to improve melee. Again I don't feel this is the kind of option you are looking for, but 5 levels of College of Swords Bard gives you 2 attacks and (depending on your charisma) up to 5d6 per short rest that can be used to increase both your damage and your armour class. This grants survivability and works with your Rogue skills better than any other class I can think of, but is a large sacrifice. Obviously there are other classes you can pick which will have the same effect. Warlock comes to mind again, as does Paladin which gets you a few slots to smite with on the occasions you do get into melee.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your input, but I'm going to politely disagree with you. The balance between ranged and melee only became a problem when I gained the Primordial transformation ability (which happened a few levels into the campaign). Prior to that, I had a really good balance between melee and ranged. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 21 at 23:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanielIwasiw that does come as a surprise, but I guess it also answers your question for you. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 22 at 6:32
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Use tactics & goals in combat that go beyond doing damage

In addition to role-playing your character as preferring to use melee at times, there are goals and tactics your PC can attempt that depend on melee.

Knock-outs

Perhaps you single out an enemy for capture and (later) interrogation. This might be very impactful in moving a plot forward. You can attempt to "knock out" against your target for this purpose, which RAW must be a melee attack.

Sometimes an attacker wants to incapacitate a foe, rather than deal a killing blow. When an attacker reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, the attacker can knock the creature out. The attacker can make this choice the instant the damage is dealt. The creature falls unconscious and is stable. (Combat rules)

Grapple and Shove

These attack actions are situational, and their success rate depends on character build choices and context. They can be attempted by any creature, and since they are potentially very impactful (look for synergy with other party members, area of effects, or terrain) it can be a "better" option even if your PC is most skilled at ranged attacks.

Disarm

The stock rules are vague on disarming, so consider adding this to your discussion with your DM. There is a variant disarm rule (and homebrews) -- it makes sense to me to have this be the purview of melee-range attempts.

A creature can use a weapon attack to knock a weapon or another item from a target's grasp. The attacker makes an attack roll contested by the target's Strength (Athletics) check or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If the attacker wins the contest, the attack causes no damage or other ill effect, but the defender drops the item.

The attacker has disadvantage on its attack roll if the target is holding the item with two or more hands. The target has advantage on its ability check if it is larger than the attacking creature, or disadvantage if it is smaller. (DMG p.271)

Improvised Action

This is another option available at most tables, but it is of course up to your DM. Use your imagination here, and pitch it. It very well might be that pickpocketing a scroll or spell component from an enemy wizard or stealing documents from a creature is more impactful than doing damage, unless your main goal is to be a murder hobo!

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The big issue that you're facing with your character is that the Primordial transformation your character is undergoing is unbalanced. Unconditional advantage on ranged attacks is so powerful that it's warping all the other choices you make in combat around it. And that's making the game less fun for you.

You should chat with your DM about changing the effects of the transformation, or just doing away with it entirely. I've not played a full Grim Hollow campaign, but I was in a game that used a few bits and pieces of it and on the whole it seemed really unbalanced. A lot of the features in the book gave huge benefits to one character with a cost attached that had to be born by the whole party (like the party member turning into a murderous psychopath over time, or going into a rage whenever the moon was full). The issue you're having is not exactly the same, but it reflects the same general issue.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In the end my GM and I did decide to change the transformation ability. Things would have been very different if the transformation was happening to our Paladin tank who hits things with a big hammer and rarely uses ranged attacks - to him, the ability would have been completely useless. But to any of the other party members who focus on range (or at least have it as a viable option) it becomes too great a boon and unbalances the character. It definitely needs some work by the Grim Hollow designers. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 25 at 1:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ it's not really that unbalanced on a rogue, getting advantage on a ranged attack is dead easy already for a rogue so in a lot of cases the transformation will just be wasted. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Jul 25 at 9:34
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For me the simplest fix is that you dont carry as much ammo. If ranged combat is only supplementary to your character then only bring 10 arrows. A small amount that can be hidden on you and not to cumbersome to reduce agility when moving.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Sean, welcome to RPG.se! Take the tour and visit the help center to learn about our site. This is a decent first answer but you could improve it by expanding on your experience with implementing it and how it is the best solution to OPs problem. Good luck and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Jul 22 at 1:34

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