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(original title: "How to artfully min-max the hell out of this verstatile fighting style and feat?")

So, given all the answers to my previous question, we have come up with what we think hope is a balance fighting style, and an accompanying feat, for fighting with versatile weapons.

Note from the chat:
I would like to know if the combination of this fighting style and feat is balanced in general; not if it balanced for specific builds. Just like Two-weapon fighting was not written for a specific build: it is a generally available fighting style, that can be used by different builds. The same goes for Dueling, and Great Weapon Fighting.
I asked the question in this same light.

Background

Because we feel fighting with a versatile weapon, seamlessly switching between one- and two-handed wielding, is an iconic style of fighting, that is under-represented in D&D. This is because the rules favour either sword-and-board or great-sword wielding brutes. Yes, you can wield a longsword with either Great Weapon Fighting or Dueling, but we feel that both fall short on the versatile-part.

So, we intend this fighting style to be an alternative to the existing melee fighting styles (Two-Weapon Fighting, Dueling, and Great Weapon Fighting), that it provides flavourful option, to those character that it appeal to, without disrupting the balance of the existing rules.

Fighting style

Versatile Fighting

When you are wielding a versatile weapon with which you are proficient, and no other weapons or shield, you gain the following benefits:

  • You gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls1).
  • When another creature hits you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to add your proficiency bonus to your AC for that attack, potentially causing the attack to miss you.

Feat

Versatile Mastery

When you are wielding a versatile weapon with which you are proficient, and no other weapons or shield, you gain the following benefits:

  • When you wield your weapon with one hand, your weapon has the reach property.
  • Before you make a melee attack, you can choose to take a -3 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, you can make an additional melee weapon attack, with the same weapon, as a bonus action.

Design intentions

We wanted a set of rules that are easy to understand, and easy use. The rules should provide an interesting option to character classes with access to fighting styles, that is different enough in flavour to merit its existence. It should be strong enough to be a valid, competitive choice, while at the same time not so strong that it overpowers the existing fighting styles.

However, D&D has many rules that seem balanced enough on their own, but, when artfully min-maxed, can be turned into a game-breaking monster.


We feel relatively confident about the Versatile Fighting fighting style on its own being fairly balanced, and less certain when the Versatile Mastery feats comes into play.

So, my questions are:
  • Is this fighting style, and the accompanying feat balanced?
  • Can these rules, when combined with other rules, become too strong?



Appendix I: Average Damage per Round, formula

The Average Damage per Round without the Versatile Mastery feat is rather straight forward, so I'll not explain it here. The Average Damage per Round with the Versatile Mastery feat is rather more complicated, and can be calculated as described below.

Please refer to MannerPots's answer, for a complete explanation of the math involved. What follows here is a slightly adapted version of the formula given in his answer:

Let \$n\$ be the number of regular attacks, \$p_n\$ be your chance to hit, \$p_p\$ be your chance to hit with -3 penalty, \$p_c\$ be your chance to crit, \$d_n\$ be your damage on a normal hit and \$d_c\$ be your extra damage on a crit.

Then the expected damage of a normal attack is \${p_n}d_n + {p_c}d_c\$.
The expected damage of an attack with a -3 penalty is \${p_p}d_n + {p_c}d_c\$.

Then the total Average Damage per Round is:

$$\sum_{i=0}^{n-1}(1-p_p)^{i} \left({p_c}d_c + p_pd_n + p_p(n-i)({p_n}d_n + {p_c}d_c) \right)$$


Appendix II: Average Damage per Round, pre-calculated

Table 01: Versatile Fighting (1d10)
Hit probability 1 attack 2 attacks 3 attacks 4 attacks 5 attacks
5% 0.850 hp 1.700 hp 2.550 hp 3.400 hp 4.250 hp
10% 1.425 hp 2.850 hp 4.275 hp 5.700 hp 7.125 hp
15% 2.000 hp 4.000 hp 6.000 hp 8.000 hp 10.000 hp
20% 2.575 hp 5.150 hp 7.725 hp 10.300 hp 12.875 hp
25% 3.150 hp 6.300 hp 9.450 hp 12.600 hp 15.750 hp
30% 3.725 hp 7.450 hp 11.175 hp 14.900 hp 18.625 hp
35% 4.300 hp 8.600 hp 12.900 hp 17.200 hp 21.500 hp
40% 4.875 hp 9.750 hp 14.625 hp 19.500 hp 24.375 hp
45% 5.450 hp 10.900 hp 16.350 hp 21.800 hp 27.250 hp
50% 6.025 hp 12.050 hp 18.075 hp 24.100 hp 30.125 hp
55% 6.600 hp 13.200 hp 19.800 hp 26.400 hp 33.000 hp
60% 7.175 hp 14.350 hp 21.525 hp 28.700 hp 35.875 hp
65% 7.750 hp 15.500 hp 23.250 hp 31.000 hp 38.750 hp
70% 8.325 hp 16.650 hp 24.975 hp 33.300 hp 41.625 hp
75% 8.900 hp 17.800 hp 26.700 hp 35.600 hp 44.500 hp
80% 9.475 hp 18.950 hp 28.425 hp 37.900 hp 47.375 hp
85% 10.050 hp 20.100 hp 30.150 hp 40.200 hp 50.250 hp
90% 10.625 hp 21.250 hp 31.875 hp 42.500 hp 53.125 hp
95% 11.200 hp 22.400 hp 33.600 hp 44.800 hp 56.000 hp
Table 02: Versatile Fighting (1d10), with Versatile Mastery
Hit probability 1 attack 2 attacks 3 attacks 4 attacks 5 attacks
5% - 45% 2) ... ... ... ... ...
50% 6.409 hp 12.683 hp 18.870 hp 25.001 hp 31.094 hp
55% 7.515 hp 14.664 hp 21.593 hp 28.391 hp 35.110 hp
60% 8.679 hp 16.681 hp 24.311 hp 31.736 hp 39.048 hp
65% 9.900 hp 18.725 hp 27.013 hp 35.031 hp 42.916 hp
70% 11.179 hp 20.788 hp 29.691 hp 38.276 hp 46.718 hp
75% 12.515 hp 22.861 hp 32.339 hp 41.471 hp 50.463 hp
80% 13.909 hp 24.936 hp 34.954 hp 44.619 hp 54.160 hp
85% 15.360 hp 27.003 hp 37.531 hp 47.724 hp 57.817 hp
90% 16.869 hp 29.055 hp 40.070 hp 50.792 hp 61.442 hp
95% 18.435 hp 31.082 hp 42.571 hp 53.829 hp 65.041 hp



1) To avoid confusion, I will not change the wording of the question. However, as stevenjackson121 already suggested, this bonus is intended to only apply to the versatile weapon in question. So this bullet point should read: "You gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls with that weapon."

2) It only makes sense to attempt to trigger the bonus attack, for a hit probability of \$50\%\$ or higher.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Then I'm a bit confused. Your question asks for help in min-maxing, so what are you asking for help in? Is it further development of the feat and style? If so, we don't really do that in the stack - what we do is review your work. If you want to work on it with Stackizens, I can recommend our very own Role-playing Games Chat, but it isn't as busy as it used to be for this sort of thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 17:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you balancing against something like GWF, which is unbalanced compared to other combos, or against TWF and dueling? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NotArch ? the answer to your last comment is in the question? "So, we intend this fighting style to be an alternative to the existing melee fighting styles (Two-Weapon Fighting, Dueling, and Great Weapon Fighting)" ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jacco
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 17:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ My point was that GWF isn't balanced against those other two, so are you looking to balance against GWF or against the others? I/m also not sure why you added back the min/max line. YOu aren't min maxing, you are looking for a balance review. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Doesn't this allow Paladins to hit an extra divine smite per turn in exchange for no shield and -3 to hit? This may or may not be a good tradeoff, I just want to make sure I'm reading it right \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 18:54

3 Answers 3

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There is at least one Exploitable Edge Case

There are several minor, but important differences in the wording of your fighting style and the accompanying feat compared to official options that seem exploitable. I recommend going over the language used in official feats and trying to match it as closely as possible to prevent cheese unique to your new fighting style and feat.

Versatile Fighting For Monks and Spellcasters

Dueling says

When you are wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other weapons, you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls with that weapon.

While Versatile Fighting says

When you are wielding a versatile weapon with which you are proficient, and no other weapons or shield [...] you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls.

As written, this would apply to a monks unarmed strikes made with the free hand or another body part, or spells/cantrips. Both can make multiple attacks per round (Scorching Ray, Eldritch Blast, Flurry of Blows, etc.) that would provide a larger benefit than intended.

This is especially important because Monks and Gish characters are probably going to be attracted to the feat in the first place (the ability to gain defensive benefits without a shield is good for both, and being able to switch between "focus + sword" or "2h grip on sword" is a possible gish option).

Versatile Mastery For Glass Cannons/Gishes

This isn't necessarily an exploit, but this feat will probably not support the playstyle you intend. Characters will not likely utilize both 1 handed and 2 handed options against the same opponent (either it's an opponent they're fine duking it out with using 2h from 5 ft., or they're an opponent that needs to be kited and killed with only 1h).

This may even be attractive for characters who never intend to use the 2h option. Reach is usually only available on martial weapons, and even among those only the Lance (which has its own drawbacks), Whip (which has terrible damage), or weapons with both the two-handed and heavy property have Reach. Introducing a way to get Reach on simple melee weapons wielded in one hand makes the trait vastly more accessible, and may be worth a feat for certain builds.

A Rogue would strongly benefit from the ability to use the Sun Blade for example, which has both Finesse and Versatile, to reliably sneak attack from 10 ft away and then retreat while reserving their bonus action for Steady Aim (If mounted), or a subclass feature (like Use an Object for Thief).

Outside of reach, BladeSingers (as one example) can use versatile weapons but can never attack with 2h or use shields, and may just always hold a focus in the off hand. This feat might still be worthwhile to pick up just for reach.

Different Enough to Merit Existence?

Great Weapon Master gives the opportunity to earn a bonus action attack on your turn, and also gives the opportunity to sacrifice hit chance for damage. The current 2nd bullet of Versatile Mastery basically rehashes this same tradeoff.

Similar to Great Weapon Master, the feature will only be useful against enemies you already need a 20 to hit (extremely high AC) or enemies that are very easy to hit (low AC) and poor in the middle.

I recommend trying to give a bonus that currently doesn't exist in melee, such as the to-hit bonus present in Archery Fighting Style, which is much more effective against mid-range ACs and least effective against extremely high ACs (which can only be hit with a 20 regardless) and very easy ACs (going from 80% to 90% changes DPR by a much smaller percentage than going from 25% to 35% chance to hit).

Tying this bonus to explicitly changing stances will help it remain a flavorful option for a specific playstyle, rather than being a feat pure 1h characters take to get a unique benefit more than actual versatile characters.

Recommendation

Clean up the language for the fighting style so the damage bonus only applies to the weapon in question.

For the feat: at minimum, add a bonus for either switching or add a bonus that's only accessible when attacking with 2h. Maybe the initial hit in the second bullet must be made with 2h to get the bonus action attack, or maybe you don't provoke opportunity attacks from enemies you attack with 2h.

I'd consider a full rework more along the lines of:

Versatile Mastery

When you are wielding a versatile weapon with which you are proficient, and no other weapons or shield, you gain the following benefits:

  • When you make a melee attack using 1h, subsequent melee attacks with the same weapon on this turn using 2h have +2 damage for the rest of the turn.
  • When you make a melee attack using 2h, subsequent melee attacks with the same weapon on this turn using 1h have +2 to hit for the rest of the turn.
  • If you miss a melee weapon attack, you can make an additional melee weapon attack with the same weapon, as a bonus action.

The "bonus attack on miss" helps make damage output more consistent (contrasted with the swingy all or nothing nature of GWM damage output) and ensures the first 2 bullet points can occasionally be used by any character even before extra attack. Misses will happen frequently against tough opponents from level 1 all the way through level 20, especially for martials who make a high number of attacks.

The first 2 bullets offer two ways to structure your turn, roughly: a higher damage mode for easy to hit opponents, or a higher hit chance mode for other opponents. The +2 to hit is likely to be stronger most of the time, and that's good because that differentiates the feat most from other melee options (and even from sharpshooter) by prioritizing consistency. The +2 damage is more of a flavorful addition and to add versatility.

Ensuring the benefits are tied to stance changes also ensures edge cases involving pure 1h characters or pure 2h characters abusing the feat are prevented entirely.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, this is the type of answer I was hoping for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jacco
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 20:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I like the your suggested Versatile Mastery edition, when you do the math, it turns out to be so strong, it overpowers the existing fighting styles by quite a margin. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jacco
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 20:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ If I switch the +2 to damage to a +2 to hit instead, it performance is near equal to Polearm Master, without taking the latter's opportunity attack that is triggered when enemies enter your reach, into account. It would also - as you already described - give a more consistent damage output, especially at lower hit probabilities (there are too many thoughts to discuss them all in comments though). I feel it would indeed be nice to differentiate between 1 and 2-handed use, so maybe switching between +2 to damage/+2 to hit could be a nice, simple to use, method. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jacco
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 20:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ +2 bonus to damage rolls would also apply to AoEs like Burning Hands or Fireball. Arguably to every missile of magic missile, so that's even more exploitable. For a gish, also the both halves of green flame blade once you're high enough level to roll dice for both. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 21:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jacco: I saw that so I knew my comment was kind of off-topic and was about an issue you were already planning to address. I just thought it was interesting to point out just how broadly the existing wording applied. (And another avenue of exploitation to consider for any future readers working on balancing something that did intentionally give a flat bonus to all damage rolls, vs. just attacks, vs. just attacks with that weapon.) I was addressing stevenjackson with my comment, as a suggestion to mention an AoE spell in their list of exploits. (And maybe Hunter volley / whirlwind) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 22:03
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It seems a little strong, but not outright broken, but you won't really know without playtesting.

Starting with the fighting style, the damage bonus is the same as dueling, disallows the use of a shield, but allows a stronger AC bump via reaction. This scales pretty strongly too, eventually increasing AC by more than the Shield spell without the spell slot cost, though only for a single attack. Scaling AC bumps this way is overpowered with bounded accuracy.

The feat is on par with PAM and GWM probably, but may be introducing some power creep. The BA attack is stronger than PAM and more reliable than GWM. The to hit penalty is more forgiving than GWM/sharpshooter, and damage would probably be comparable in cases where you'd use it. The reach bit seems strong, especially if built for.

I think the bigger issue is that they're too similar to existing options. The disallowing of using a shield makes it effectively 2 handed use only.

Perhaps a better approach would be to lean into versatile. Have the fighting style allow you to use the higher die one handed, and maybe a +2 to hit when used 2 handed making it not quite as good as dueling when using a shield, and more accurate at the cost of defense.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My thought was that the cost of the reaction offset the higher AC bonus, because you only have a single reaction (while the shield is 'active' against all attacks)? or do you think I overestimate this effect? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jacco
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 20:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jacco: I think that seems reasonable. At high lvls where your prof. bonus is +6, level-appropriate enemies tend to have huge +hit bonuses like +14 to +17 for ancient chromatic dragons, so you're rarely going to make them miss unless this AC boost is stacking with something else (like battlemaster bait & switch or partial cover). You can't get this AC boost if wielding a normal shield to start with, so your AC is already down by 2 (or 5 with a +3 magic shield) vs. characters that push the limits of AC. At low levels it's a lot weaker than Shield (1st), only 2 or 3 AC, but no spell slot. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 22:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes I don't have a chart for average +to hit by CR, so going off a random googled one, at CR 20 it would be about a +10. Skipping math for space, targeted twice against AC 18 is 1.2 hits. With reaction it's .7 hits. With shield and defense fighting style it's .9 hits. At +14 to hit, 1.7 base, 1.2 with this, 1.4 with shield and defensive FS. At +17 to hit, 1.9 base, 1.4 with this, 1.7 with shield and defensive FS. Strictly defensivelythis is better than a shield and the defensive fighting style \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 23:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanielTose: +10 is low for the existing CR20 monsters, only the Drow Matron Mother is that low. A CR17 Goristro has +13, a CR17 Death Knight has +11. CR16 Planetar has +12, CR16 Marilith has +9 (but seven attacks per round). Powerful enemies usually have multiattack. They're likely to try again on the same target, especially If they miss the first time. Sometimes you'd only use Shield on the last attack anyway, if the earlier ones were so high that there'd be no point, but other times you'd make multiple attacks miss. Unlike this fighting style which only works for one attack. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 0:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes yes, as I said, I don't have my own average so I just took a random google result. However, the same pattern holds for +14 and +17 to hit. It would eventually fall behind a shield and defensive fighting style with additional attack in a single round, I think at 4+ attacks. The +6 for 1 attack of this is actually better than Shield spell for 2 attacks in a round, but falls behind at # or more attacks. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 0:18
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At least the fighting style is certainly overpowered

  • It confers basically the benefit of the Defensive Duelist feat (with the minor difference of holding a versatile instead of a finesse weapon) but does not require 13+ Dexterity to work. The feat itself is not overpowered, still this bonus seems to be powerful.
  • It has an additional benefit similar to the benefit of the Dueling fighting style. If, as it was pointed in @stevenjackson121's response, this is a flat +2 damage from all sources, then it is even stronger. Even if we read the +2 damage being added only to the attacks with the versatile weapon, it is still only slightly weaker then the Dueling variant.

A fighting style giving both a close eqiuvalent of another fighting style plus an okay feat on top is much stronger than the average.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you think Defensive Duelist and Dueling are overpowered to a point where giving them is more too much? Or do you think that empowering them would bring them in line with GWM/GWF/SS? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 15:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you think adding the '13+ Dexterity requirement' to the feat would bring it more in line with existing feats? or do you think it is overpowered in any case? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jacco
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ (oh, and the +2 damage is intended to be for the versatile weapon only; I've added a footnote to the question) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jacco
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 20:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NotArch not overpowered compared to Elven Accuracy or GWM, no. But stronger than other fighting styles (maybe except Archery). \$\endgroup\$
    – FortTell
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 4:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jacco I think this requirement is not necessary. All other fighting styles give you their benefits without any conditions. And DEX is already more generally useful than STR, do not penalize STR martials again. It would be better to find a different way to balance the fighting style. \$\endgroup\$
    – FortTell
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 4:44

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