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I'm an old school D&D player returning to the game with a vengeance after an absence of a few years and trying to process all the new races, class features and options that are currently available in 2023. I've decided to start again with a Rogue and have selected Bugbear mostly for a new role-play flavour, but also to see what I can do with the Long-Limbed and Surprise Attack traits. I'm looking for community advice in terms of archetype and build strategy.

Here is a summary of the constraints for my build:

• Must be a bugbear

• Primary focus is melee damage output

• Archetype and build choices should take advantage of long-limbed and surprise attack traits

• Will never multiclass

• Must be Adventurers League legal

• Primary levels of interest are 1-10

So my question is: based on these constraints, which Roguish Archetypes would likely result in the highest melee damage output? Any additional coaching on build options would also be greatly appreciated!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you looking for max damage during a surprise? Or max consistent damage? Or some other variation? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 19:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the "Must be Adventurer's League legal" constraint due to your table's preferences, or are you intending to play in AL with different DMs and players through the campaign? If the latter, relying on surprise (which is party and DM dependent) is probably a risky option. To add another option to @NautArch-is-skeptical-about-SE 's question, are you interested in maximizing first round damage regardless of whether you have surprise or not (often that's a goal of bugbear builds)? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can feats be selected or only ASI? \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 20:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Senmurv: Seems like Adventurer's League is the base to aim for, and AL allows feats. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 1:15

1 Answer 1

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It depends on how often you get to surprise

If you play up to level 10, the features that dominate how useful a subclass is are those you gain on level 3. They will be with you for most of your campaign, while the features you gain on level 9 will impact play only for a short time, at the very end. So let's focus on the level 3 features1.

I'll assume you have maximized Dex with a +3 bonus from your ability score. I'll also assume that you hit your opponents on average with a 65% chance, so that advantage will add 22.75% to hit chance. In adventurers league, characters have access to a magic +1 item starting with tier 2 (thanks to @stevenjackson, who also provided valuable input on how to best calculate Sneak Attack), and the tables in the DMG and Xanathar's also suggest you might have one by then, which increases to hit to 70% and dampens advantage to 21%. Since this covers the bulk of the time spent with the subclass (5 out of 8 levels), I will assume you'll have that. Your sneak attack bonus over these levels ranges from 2d6 to 5d6, I'll use 3d6.

Overall if you have a group that often is able to surprise the opponents, Assassin with two-weapon fighting is the best option, and maximizes the effect of your Surprise Attack and Sneak Attack. Soulknife is a bit better for reliable damage output, if you have a hard time surprising opponents and have no access to magical weapons.

You can expect to deal 23 more damage in a typical fight with Assassin than with Soulknife if you get surprise and have a magic weapon, and only 6 less, if you don't have either. That is, if you expect to surprise your opponents in 1 of 5 fights or more often, then Assassin is your best choice.

(Details below)


Bugbear's Surprise Attack

You are taking bugbear for the flavor, but it also happens to be one of the races best suited for maximizing melee damage in a round, due to Surprise Attack, which adds +2d6 to each attack it the opponent has not taken a turn yet, and even works on multiple attacks.

However, be careful, because what counts is that you win initiative, not if creatures are surprised, no matter the feature's name. The effect of surprise is:

If you're surprised, you can't move or take an action on your first turn of the combat, and you can't take a reaction until that turn ends.

You still get to roll initiative and take your turn, you just cannot do anything with it. So if the creature wins initiative against the bugbear rogue, and then suffers through its inactive surprise round, it has taken a turn before the rogue, and the rogue will get no extra damage.

The average Dex of creatures up to CR10 is 13, so they will have +1 to initiative on average. You have between +3 and +5 (if you maximize Dex), so let's assume +4 on average. That means you'll win about 66% of your initiatives and be able to use the feature. The Swashbuckler Rogue has Rakish Audacity, which allows you to also add Charisma. Assuming you also have at least a +2 in Charisma, you could win 73.75% of those, for an extra roughly 8% of cases.

On average fights take 3 rounds (see also here), so if you can spring Surprise Attack that will affect 1/3 of your attacks. I think 8% of 1/3 of your attacks on just the Surprise Attack damage is not worth picking the subclass when you want to max damage.

If you manage to surprise a lot: Assassin

How often this works will depend on how your group plays -- do you have a wizard or druid that uses magical means to scout ahead, to help you maximize the chances to spy upon opponents and ambush them?

If you are ambushing a lot, then Assassin is the best choice. It's Assassinate feature gives you Advantage on attacks against any creature that has not taken a turn yet, matching perfectly to your Surprise Attack, and you automatically get criticals on creatures that are suprised, doubling your damage from the weapon, Surprise Attack and Sneak Attack dice.

First round. Raw Damage: 1d8 (Rapier) + 3 (Ability bonus) + 1 (weapon) + 1d8 (Assassinate) = 4.5 + 3 + 1 + 4.5 = 13 damage, to this you add (2d6 Surprise Attack + 2d6 Assassinate) x 66% = 9.24 from Surprise Attack, total 22.24 damage.

To this you add a two-weapon fighting attack with a dagger using your bonus action. You don't get your ability bonus on this so it is 1d4 (Dagger) + 1d4 (Assassinate) + 66% * 4d6 (Surprise Attack with Assassinate) = 2.5 + 2.5 + 9.24 = 14.24.

Your to hit chance is 70% + 66% * 21% (Advantage, wich you get when you won initiative) = 84% with your main weapon, 65% + 66% * 22.75% = 80% with the dagger.

Sneak Attack adds 6d6 with Assassinate, or 23 damage. Since you can hit on either attack, the chance to connect with it is 97%.

Adjusted expected damage: 84% * 22.23 (main) + 80% * 14.24 (dagger) + 97% * 23 (sneak) = 52 damage.

For subsequent rounds, you just get your normal attack of 1d8 + 3 + 1 = 8.5 on your main weapon, with 4.5 of it for criticals. You get 2.5 on your dagger, all good for crits. Your Sneak attack chance is unchanged but damage is half as you don't have Assassinate.

Adjusted expected damage: 70% * 8.5 + 5% * 4.5 (main) + 65% * 2.5 + 5% * 2.5 (dagger) + 97% * 11.5 + 5% * 11.5 (sneak)= 20 damage (19.6 to be exact).

Without magic weapon, this would reduce to 65% * 7.5 + 5% * 4.5 + 65% *2.5 + 5% * 2.5 + 96% * 11.5 + 5% * 11.5, or 18 damage.

Over three rounds you deal 52 + 20 + 20 = 92 damage. If you don't get to surprise, you only would deal 60 damage, and without a magic weapon, only 54.

Because winning initiative is strong here, taking a feat that boosts your initiative roll like Alert might be useful to max damage, but it is likely better for overall playability if you just maximize Dex to 20 with your ASIs and increase your to hit, damage, Dex skill checks, Dex saves and Initiative rolls .

For reliable damage: Soulknife

Soulknife has the Psychic Blades feature, which if you are empty handed allows you to make an attack with a base d6 damage, and an additional one with a base d4 damage as a bonus action, when you take the attack action. This effectively doubles the number of attacks you can make as a rogue, and unlike two-weapon fighting, it allows you to add your ability modifier to the damage both times. You cannot benefit from a magic weapon however. Your raw damage output per turn would be:

First Round Attacks: 1d6 (Psychic Blade) + 3 (Dex) = 3.5 + 3 = 6.5. Raw Bonus Action Attack: 1d4 (Psychic Blade) + 3 (Dex) = 2.5 + 3 = 5.5. For Sneak Attack you don't have a magical +1 to hit on the first attack and no Assassinate, for 96% * 11.5. Surprise Attack adds 2 x 2d6 or 14 damage in 66% of cases, or 9.24 damage.

Total Expected Damage: 65% * 6.5 + 5% * 3.5 (first) + 65% * 5.5 + 5% * 2.5 (second) + 96% * 11.5 + 5% * 11.5 (sneak attack) + 9.24 (surprise attack) = 29 total

The followup rounds 65% * 6.5 + 5% * 3.5 (first) + 65% * 5.5 + 5% * 2.5 (second) + 96% * 11.5 + 5% * 11.5 (sneak attack) = 20 total (19.6 to be exact).

You would deal in total for a 3-round fight 29 + 20 + 20 = 69 damage. If you don't get to surprise, you will deal about 60 damage.

Addendum: Maximizing Sneak Attack

One prominent feature for the rogue to add damage is Sneak Attack. There are many ways to get Sneak Attack, the simplest is when someone else threatens the creature by being within 5 feet of it while you have no disadvantage. For the calculations, I assumed you'll have such an ally, and will be able to get Sneak Attack, although that of course is not always the case. Independent of subclass, picking features that allow you to attack as a Reaction out of your turn allows you to get a second attack with Sneak Attack, and may help improve your damage output.2


1 Your damage output evolves over time, and Sneak Attack damage will make an increasing share compared to other sources. As baseline, I'll compare the result on level 3, when you gain the features.

2 One feat that allows you to do so is Sentinel, which you can pick up at level 4. It has other powerful benefits, such as stopping the creature if you hit it.

When a creature within 5 feet of you makes an attack against a target other than you (and that target doesn't have this feat), you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against the attacking creature.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The requirement of "must be Adventurers League legal" makes me think this character is well... for DDAL play. In my long experience with the format and how the adventures are typically written "manage to surprise a lot" is not going to happen. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 12:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems like you are only applying sneak attack damage on the first attack attempt in these calculations. If the first attack misses, the rogue can apply sneak attack on the second hit. Instead of adding 2d6 to the first hit, then multiplying by 65% chance to hit, then calculating second hit entirely without sneak attack, calculate both first and second attack without sneak attack, then multiply sneak attack damage by the odds either attack hits. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 12:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Using the averages from other questions that don’t actually apply to someone’s table is why I’ve downvoted. We’re solving their problem, not a theoretical in which averages matter. As well as rushing to get an answer up with so many issues that others need to find. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 14:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your calculations of the chance to win initiative seem to assume a single foe, whose one initiative you are attempting to beat. However, in the case of multiple foes, the chance that you will beat at least one of them increases for every opponent added. Thus the calculations should also depend on the range and variance in foe number. In contrast, the reliance on having an ally in melee to generate advantage for you depends on that ally beating your initiative so as to move into position before you, and also on their choosing to engage specifically a foe whose initiative you have beaten. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin one remaining issue is that AL players handbook guarantees all players access to a +1 magic item by level 5, so you should assume one for purposes of melee damage optimization. (They won't have it 2 levels at 3 or 4, but will for 6 levels from 5-10). I expect this will hurt the Soulknife (who currently seem to be the best according to this answer) relative to all other subclasses. See dnd.wizards.com/adventurers-league Players Guide v 13.0. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 1:01

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