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With the release of the PHB we have the Eldritch Knight fighter archetype as an innate, class-driven way for the fighter to compete with the wizard in the AoE department. This prompted a discussion about which would be more effective: simply leveling up an Eldritch Knight to level 20 vs. taking 10 levels in Fighter and 10 levels in Wizard. Effectiveness for the purpose of this question is defined as damage dealt and sustainability in combat.

Which:

  • Deals more single-target damage?

  • Deals more AoE/multi-target damage?

  • Is more durable (HP, hit-dice, defenses)?

For full comparison, Eldtrich Knight should be compared to a Fighter (Champion) 10 / Wizard (Evocation) 10 as well as a Fighter (Champion) 10 / Wizard (Abjuration) 10.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to note that Fighter 11 / Wizard 9 still grants 5th level spell casting, but gains Extra Attack (2), at the cost of the wizards 10th level tradition feature. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Feb 7 at 15:41
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While the question you ask is theoretically simple, there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account when dealing with this. The difference between the two builds isn't just "Oh, I'm going to change out a couple of levels and have basically the same character!" There's a lot of differences, and there can be a lot of things that change between the characters. For simplicity, all of the characters will share the same race and ability scores. This means that I can calculate the same attribute bonuses how I like, and basically make the character have the skills we need.

The first decision is to assume we are going a strength-based character. We could do a bow Fighter, and it would work well especially with the long-range of the bow, but I am still trying to max out the Champion aspect of the Fighter/Wizard, and using a Str-Based character with a Greatsword means that the critrange of 19-20 is helped out that much more by 2d6 melee over 1d8 ranged damage from a Longbow.

The goal for the Knight is to get to basically max Str/Int for damage purposes, and then either 18 Con + Tough for max HP, or 20 Con for 25 less HP than the tough mode and gain +1 Con Mod.

For the Fighter/Wizard, we want to maximize damage. While this class should still have a fair bit of melee ability, we need to maximize the offensive abilities best we can. Trying to max out Str/Int first is good, and then having the rest of the ability score increases (which there are only 5 of) to round out the HP gives the Fighter/Wizard a significantly worse HP.

We are going to use a Mountain Dwarf. Since we only need Int, Str, and Con as our stats to max now, since Wis, Cha, and Dex don't matter, we want to maximize those values. Mountain Dwarf gives +2 to Str and +2 to Con, so we can start out with a 17/8/17/15/8/8 character. With the Eldritch Knight, it's impossibly easy to get 11 points of Attributes out of the 7 attribute increases.

Itemization will be the same. They will both have 2 +1 Longswords/Shortswords and +1 Full Plate (for defensive purposes). This will give them max AC and max damage for now.

The target will be an Ancient Red Dragon. It has 22 AC, which to my knowledge is the hardest thing to hit at the moment.

From there, it becomes a simple measure of planning and building the characters.

Elder Rich Level 20 Mountain Dwarf Fighter (Eldrith Knight)

  • Max HP: 244 (10 + 19*6 + 20 * 4 + 20 * 2)
  • Proficiency: +6
  • Strength: 20 (+5)
  • Dexterity: 8 (-1)
  • Constitution: 18 (+4)
  • Intelligence: 20 (+5)
  • Wisdom: 8 (-1)
  • Charisma: 8 (-1)

  • Start: 17/8/17/15/8/8

  • 4th: Dual Wielding
  • 6th: Heavy Armor Master (Str to 18 (18/8/17/15/8/8))
  • 8th: Tough
  • 12th: Str to 20 (20/8/17/15/8/8)
  • 14th: Con to 18, Int to 16 (20/8/18/16/8/8)
  • 16th: Int to 18 (20/8/18/18/8/8)
  • 19th: Int to 20 (20/8/18/20/8/8)

Features: Two Weapon Fighting (Fighting Style), Second Wind, Action Surge (Two Uses), Weapon Bond, Extra Attack (3), Indomitable (three uses), Weapon Bond (Eldritch Knight), Improved War Magic (Eldritch Knight), Eldritch Strike (Eldritch Knight), Arcane Charge (Eldritch Knight)

  • Spell Slots: 4/3/3/1
  • Feats: Tough, Dual Wielding, Heavy Armor Master

  • Main Hand: +1 Longsword (+12 Attack, 1d8 + 12 Damage (16.5 Avg. Dmg.), 2d8 + 12 Crit (21 Avg. Dmg. Crit))

  • Off Hand: +1 Longsword (+12 Attack, 1d8 + 6 Damage (10.5 Avg. Dmg.), 2d8 + 6 Crit (15 Avg. Dmg. Crit)) AC: 20 (+1 Full Plate, Dual Wielding)

Rich is probably going to be able to deal a fair bit of damage. Each single Main Hand Longsword strike will deal an average of 16.5 Damage on a hit. Against a Red Dragon, that's a 55% chance to hit (and 5% to crit), so 9.3 damage per swing accounting for accuracy (and crit). The offhand is 10.5 damage on average, so a 6 damage per swing accounting for accuracy (and crit). That means every attack action is going to be 15.3 damage per swing. Considering that Rich will get 4 attacks per turn, this is 61.2 DPR on just a basic set of attacks. With an Action Surge, that damage jumps to 122.4, which is approximately 22% of an Ancient Red Dragon's max HP. Two turns right after each other, Rich Alone could easily bloody the Dragon with slightly lucky rolls.

The main hand weapon used to be a +1 Greatsword. Compared to the current build, it did less damage on Rich's turn (10.8 damage per Attack action, 43.2 damage per turn vs. 15.3 per Attack Action, 61.2 per turn), but had a higher reaction -> opportunity attack damage. This is because it had an average damage of 19 Damage (Crit 26). These extra points of damage could stack up well, but to be honest, the lack of 2.5-5 points of damage on the 1 reaction per round loses out to the heavily increase DPR thanks to the dual wielding. The Greatsword also had a higher Improved War Magic damage, thanks to being able to attack only with your main-hand weapon. Again, while the loss of 2-5 damage per Spell -> Attack is known, the heavy increase in overall DPR from the multiattack functionality of Fighters is much more useful.

Fig Tier Wiz Level 20 Mountain Dwarf Fighter (10)/Wizard (10)

  • Max HP: 184 (10 + 9*6 + 10*4 + 20*4)
  • Proficiency: +6
  • Strength: 20 (+5)
  • Dexterity: 10 (+1)
  • Constitution: 18 (+4)
  • Intelligence: 20 (+5)
  • Wisdom: 8 (-1)
  • Charisma: 8 (-1)

  • Start: 17/8/17/15/8/8

  • 4th: Heavy Armor Master (Str to 18 (18/8/17/15/8/8))
  • 6th: Str to 20 (20/8/17/15/8/8)
  • 8th: Int to 17 (20/8/17/17/8/8)
  • 14th: Int to 19 (20/8/17/19/8/8)
  • 18th: Con to 18, Int to 20 (20/8/18/20/8/8)

Features: , Second Wind, Action Surge (One Use), Improved Critical, Extra Attack, Remarkable Athlete, Indomitable (one use), Great Weapon Fighting (Additional Fighting Style); Arcane Recovery, Arcane Tradition, X Savant, 3 Arcane Tradition Features (Arcane Ward, Projected War, Improved Abjuration || Sculpt Spell, Potent Cantrip, Empwered Evocation)

  • Spell Slots: 4/3/3/3/2
  • Feats: Heavy Armor Master

OPTION 1:

  • Main Hand: +1 Greatsword (+12 Attack, 2d6 + 12 Damage (19 Avg. Dmg.), 4d6 + 12 Crit (26 Avg. Dmg. Crit))
  • Feature: Defense (Fighting Style)
  • AC: 20 (+1 Full Plate, Defense)

OR

OPTION 2:

  • Main Hand: +1 Shortsword (+12 Attack, 1d6 + 12 Damage (15.5 Avg. Dmg), 2d6 + 12 Crit (19 Avg. Dmg. Crit))
  • Off Hand: +1 Shortsword (+12 Attack, 1d6 + 6 Damage (9.5 Avg. Dmg), 2d6 + 6 Crit (13 Avg. Dmg. Crit))
  • Feature: Two Weapon Fighting (Fighting Style)
  • AC: 19 (+1 Full Plate)

So here I've given out 2 builds for Fig that both can work. We only have 5 Ability Score increases, so it is much more difficult to max out Str and Int and get a high Con score. Technically, Heavy Armor Master can be exchanged for any feat that gives +1 Str, Con, or Int, but the DR 3 on non-magic weapons seems like a huge deal.

Option 1 is what I had originally come up with for Fig and Rich. The idea is to max out damage thanks to Str and Int, and use a Greatsword for combat. Because of that, you can take the Defense Fighting Style for +1 AC. The damage for this character is 10.8 Damage per attack accounting for accuracy against an Ancient red Dragon, and therefore a 43.2 Damage per turn.

Option 2 is more like Rich, wanting to use two weapons. The best/only options for max 1-handed light damage is Shortsword basically. As with Rich, the damage is greater over the course of a round than using the Greatsword because of the multiple hits you get in per attack, but you have a lower amount of damage on a reaction, by about 2 points (3.5 points on a hit, 7 points on a crit). This build sacrifices 1 AC to get an increase of damage at close range.

(As an aside, Option 2 could also possible use an 18/8/18/20/8/8 final ability score with 2 +1 Longswords and Dual Wielding. I checked the numbers, and while you do get +1 AC thanks to dual weilding, you actually lose damage overall. This is because while you do get to go from 1d6 weapons to 1d8, you lose +1 to your Attack Modifier and +1 to your damage. The mainhand would be +11 to attack, 1d8 + 11 Damage (15.5 Avg. Dmg), 2d8 + 11 Crit (20 Avg. Dmg. Crit)). As you can see, the main hand would basically lose 5% on normal attacks, while the Average Crit damage increases by 1. This is the same for the off hand. The only difference is basically that you lose 5% to-hit to gain a marginal benefit when you crit.)

So right off the bat we see that Fig is lacking in a couple of areas compared to Rich. He's already at a much lower HP thanks to the levels in Wizard only giving +4 to HP per level instead of +6. In addition, the lack of ability score increases means that hitting 18 Con + Tough or 20 Con is almost impossible without sacrificing damage. With 60 HP less than Rich, it's a fair bit of damage that is not turned lethal.

Second, the lack of Action Surges and Extra Attacks means that Fig won't be able to attack more than twice a turn. This is huge when you compare the two characters. The lack of Dual Weilding for Fig means no "natural" dual wield longsword, and therefore a fair bit of loss of damage. On top of that, you can only deal ~28.2 damage per turn, ~56.4 with your single Action Surge. The damage that Fig is going to be putting out is on the level of a 10th level fighter, not a 20th Level Fighter/Wizard.

Speaking of the Wizard side, you are still not a super-powerful spellcaster when it comes to spells. What you give up from the Wizard Side to "splash" 10 levels in Figher means that you only have access to 5th level spells. While not an issue for the most part, 5th levels spells will need to greatly make up for the damage deficit that the lack of extra attacks the fighter should have incurs. You also "only" have 2 5th level slots and 2 4th level slots over the Knight. I put "only" in quotes because while I can attempt to downplay those slots, they represent a level of power the Knight cannot achieve. If we are talking about pure damage, the Knight can cast 1 4th level spell, but will probably want to prefer to use his spells as support spells to further lock-down his targets while he beats the heck out of them. The Wizard can use those 4 extra slots to provide a lot of utility to the party.

For comparison of the spell casting abilities, we need to look at the damage between the classes. Because spell damage is only based onthe spell, not your For now, I think the best option to check for spell damage is going to be the Spell Damage Comparison Chart put out by Rhaegar83 on /r/dndnext.

Looking at the spells, it's clear that no 5th level spell can match the single-turn damage of a 20th Level Eldritch Knight attacking the crap out of a single target. While you do get access to some nice 5th level AoE spells like Cone of Cold and Flame Strike, the Eldritch Knight can easily hit 2 targets for similar Damage if he is able to get between the two using his move.

The end result is that Rich, the Eldritch Knight is going to end up tankier (HP and AC) and able to deal more single-target damage thanks to his quad-attack. Fig is going to be able to deal more AoE damage, single by virtue of having access to 5th level spells, as well as 2 more 4th level spells slots. Fig is also going to be able to be more of a controlling presence on the battlefield, if he is going to take at least some support/control-y spells.

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    \$\begingroup\$ just one thought quickly, a dex penalty doesn't do anything to you if you're wearing heavy armor. I'll read the rest tomorrow \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 29 '14 at 4:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Very well detailed answer. One question, though: Are you adding the proficiency bonus to the damage of weapon attacks? If not, how are you getting +12 damage? I can see +6 happening (+5 ability mod, +1 for weapon), but you're not supposed to add you proficiency bonus to damage rolls. This could drastically change the damage calculations. \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Apr 13 '15 at 9:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Answers on SE should always reflect their best possible form. This answer includes strike-through, edit callouts, and other signs that it is not complete. It strikes me as randomly meandering gibberish. It needs serious clean-up. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Apr 12 '18 at 14:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Paul Fighters get an extra ASI at 6th level. fighter4,6,8 and wizard4,8. 5 is correct. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Feb 7 at 13:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ And despite the problems with this answer (such as +12 damage), I believe it is stil the correct answer. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Feb 7 at 13:50
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This comparison focuses on offense only and is of little worth in my opinion. It doesn't take into account the utility and defensive capabilities of a fighter/wizard compared to an eldritch knight, or how they scale from the ground up. F/W have access to FAR more spells and are able to cast much MORE of them, where EK's spell list is severely limited.

Also regarding offensive capabilities the F/W would easily be able to cast haste several times a day at 6th level (fighter 1/wizard 5) onwards if they so wish (EK has to wait till level 14 till they can cast haste* - FOURTEEN - that's 8 levels later!). Haste allows the character to take the attack action twice for a solid minute, OR allow them to take the attack action and cast a spell in one round whilst pumping AC by +2 and doubling movement. At level 7 the F/W could also haste+action surge to take 4 attacks in one round, or 4 attacks + 2 bonus actions (with either a polearm or offhand). At level 10 the F/W (fighter 5/wizard 5) with H+AS could be potentially pumping out 10 attacks if they want to nova. That's compared to the EK who takes 4 attacks (potentially 6) at level 10 (though this will increase to 8 attacks at level 11).

*If they don't sacrifice haste for fly, another spell that the F/W can have in addition to haste at level 6.

If the fighter is a battlemaster instead of a champion, the F/W could trip the enemy on the first attack and then gain advantage on all attacks for the rest of the round. Sure the EK could do this in the form of a shove, but they won't be adding their damage and superiority dice roll to that attack like the F/W will be. The F/W also has access to other control effects like pushing, disarming, fear etc through their maneuvers.

The EK is pretty much immune to disarming, but now that picking up a weapon no longer constitutes an opportunity attack (like 3.5e) this seems another pretty meh reason to take it.

If the wizard is an abjuration spec, then each time they cast an abjuration spell, say shield - which as a reaction grants +5 to AC till their next go -, their arcane ward recharges a little. The ward has hitpoints equal to wizard level x2 + INT mod. With 16 int at level 6 (w5/f1) that's 13hp additional hp that recharges each time you cast an abjuration spell. At 20th level (w9/f11) with INT 20 that's 23 extra hp (which can also be put on someone else as your reaction). This could also be buffed up to max charge between fights by casting bladeward multiple times

The arcane ward also protects against all damage types, and at 6th level of wizard and beyond can be placed upon someone else as a reaction. These calculation have also not included other abjuration spells beyond shield that could be used to charge the ward.

In a very ironic way, the F/W could cast dispel magic on the EK to remove what little buffs they had going. Bye-bye fly/haste/blur/mirror image etc

I admit that the calculations above are hypothetical, haven't explored all avenues, and may not work as straightforward as this in actual play. However I also haven't even mentioned other spells such as Stoneskin/ Bigby's Hand / Mirror Image / Invisibility / Blur / Slow (hello useless horde of enemies) etc that the F/W would have access to, and the EK wouldn't.

In my experience utility and versatility outclasses doing one thing really well any day of the week, and I think this is particularly evident with FW vs EK

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  • \$\begingroup\$ do you think durability is an offensive ability? \$\endgroup\$ – Voromir Kadien Jan 20 '18 at 9:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Arcane Ward only works with spells of 1st level or higher, so casting blade ward (cantrip) would not buff up the ward. \$\endgroup\$ – RonV Apr 13 '18 at 18:07

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