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My group (4 players + GM, all new to D&D 5e,) is going to organize a campaign where the characters are based on famous sports players from our world. They asked me to play the ranged striker. I immediately thought of Phil Taylor, the English darts champion nicknamed "The Power". With his 16 world championship titles in 24 years, it should be somewhat doable. However, I'm not yet familiar enough with D&D 5e to figure out what the different classes, backgrounds, feats, races and archetypes can bring to the table for a player specialized in using darts.

I also checked Google, and the forum post Analysis of D&D Next Weapons said that Darts are a below-average weapon. I hope I can counteract this somewhat with a specialized build.

TL;DR: I want to play a ranged striker who specializes in using darts as a combat throwing weapon in 5e, but I'm not familiar enough with the different options. How can I make this work?

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While Darts are only a 1d4, you can still make this work my optimizing damage modifiers and extra damage. The difference in expected damage between a 1d4 (darts) and 1d10 (heavy crossbow) is 3 damage.

Basically, you need to compensate for your lower damage with having more opportunities to hit/crit, and having more damage dice to roll, or damage modifiers. Sadly, most of the abilities that increase static damage are focused on Melee weapons. A shame you can't use a thrown spear instead of a dart.

To start, I would take 6 levels of Fighter as a human variant, and then continue on as a Rogue Assassin. With this you can take the following:

  • Extra starting feat: Sharpshooter, extends your range, ignore cover, and can convert -5 to hit to +10 damage (helping negate the low damage of the darts)
  • Fighter options:
    • level 1 : Archery for a +2 to your thrown weapons.
    • level 2 : Action surge - for extra throws.
    • level 3 : Champion for increased Crit to roll twice your damage dice.
    • level 4 : Extra feet - Skulker to prepare you for Rogue/Assasin
    • level 5 : Extra attack - more throws.
    • level 6 : Ability score improvement - 18 dex.

Then at level 7, take rogue and keep on going with the Assassin path. This will give you sneak attack damage dice, to compensate for your lack of good damage dice on your weapon. You miss out on one last ability score improvement/feat but you won't be needing it.

A few important things you need to do.

  1. Put your highest stat in Dex to maximize your accuracy so you can feel confident in adding your +10 to damage.
  2. At levels, 10 increase dex to 20 and then level 14 take the Alert feat, then at 16 and 18 you can take any feat you like, or improve other stats such as CON
  3. Always use your bonus action to throw two darts if you aren't using it for something else.

The Assassin will allow you to make more critical strikes compensating for the lower weapon damage die. Your d4 won't even be noticed under the mountains of d6s you will be rolling.

For completeness sake, here is the average damage per round at level 20 for comparison of different builds using the same feats but different weapons:

  • Phil Taylor: 12.5 (5d4 weapons + Action surge) + 28 (8d6 sneak attack) + 4 (crit * 10%) + 10 (dex mod) = 54 or 64 damage.
  • Rogue Assasin: 7 (2d6 weapons) + 35 (10d6 sneak attack) + 1.8 (crit * 5%) + 5 (dex mod) = 48.8 or 58.8 damage.
  • 2 handed Fighter: 7 (2d6 weapons ) * 8 (Action surge) + 5.6 (critical* 10%) + 5(str mod) = 61 or 71 damage
  • Phil Taylor with Homebrew Feat: 14 (4d6 weapons + Action surge) + 28 (8d6 sneak attack) + 4.2 (crit * 10%) + 20 (dex mod) = 66.2 or 76.2 damage

House rules: You might want to ask your DM to convert Crossbow Expert to Dart Expert giving you the same benefits, but uping the damage of the dart to a 1d6 rather than ignoring the loading property, and allowing your bonus action to be used to throw a second dart. Such a house rule might allow you to go pure rogue assassin or maybe just 1 level dip in fighter for the bonus accuracy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 especially for the house rules comment. I think something like that is really the best way to go and seems in the spirit of the campaign described. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Sep 9 '14 at 15:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would of course check with the DM before using this. Some DMs are of the opinion that assassin = evil and evil = not allowed. \$\endgroup\$ – Hassassin Sep 10 '14 at 6:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Hassassin There are no alignment restrictions or expectations on classes in 5e. See here: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/46363/… \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Sep 10 '14 at 6:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ It was a design principle that with more risk, you should get more reward. This is the reason two-handed weapons do more damage than ranged weapons. If you outdamage a melee Fighter with your homebrew feat, that feat is overpowered. \$\endgroup\$ – András Sep 10 '14 at 9:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Andras It does the same damage as the Crossbow Expert feat. \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Sep 10 '14 at 13:19
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You can make a passable character with darts, but not an efficient one.

GMNoob lists good ways to optimize, the problem is you can use all of them on a crossbow as well. So with the effort to make darts barely acceptable, you could make a crossbow great.
That +3 points of damage difference is around 50% of your total damage at the beginning. It gets better as you level up, but even on level 20 it is more than 30%.

You are lucky to have a Dex 16 at level 1, so with darts you do 1d4+3 = 5.5 damage. With a crossbow it is 1d10+3 = 8.5.
8.5/5.5 = 1.54 -> 54% increase with a crossbow.

At level 8, you have Dex 20 with darts but Dex 18 with the Crossbow Expert feat. 1d4+5 = 7.5 vs 1d10+4 = 9.5.
9.5/7.5 = 1.27 -> 27%

At level 12, you have Dex 20 with both builds, and probably a magic item. 1d4+5+1 = 8.5 vs 1d10+5+1 = 11.5.
11.5/8.5 = 1.35 -> 35%

A crossbow (or a bow) will always be significantly ahead

There are several less mathematical arguments against darts too. Bows and crossbows have much better range. It is way easier to find a magical one of those.

I would suggest you to refluff it: mechanically you use a crossbow or bow, but when you describe your actions, you talk about darts.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you explain how you get your 50% and 30% numbers? \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Sep 9 '14 at 15:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMNoob Calculation added, now it is even worse. Do not play with darts outside of a pub :) \$\endgroup\$ – András Sep 10 '14 at 8:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can throw two darts, but only shoot one crossbow bolt. With the Loading property, you also can't shoot more than once per turn even when you have extra attacks. You are also ignoring sneak attack damage, or crit damage. :( \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Sep 10 '14 at 8:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMNoob crossbow expert fixes that, neither here nor there. But yeah, sneak attack means the weapon die basically doesn't matter. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Sep 10 '14 at 10:23
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My assumptions:

  • You want darts to be your primary mode of attack
  • You don't want to rely heavily on magic. Phil Taylor didn't need help, and neither did you.

With that in mind, I would suggest playing an assassin rogue. As an assassin, the vast majority of your damage is going to come in the form of a sneak attack, so the lower damage die of the dart doesn't heavily affect you. Thematically applying poisons to a dart makes sense.

Key Skills:

  • Stealth - Gaining surprise rounds will significantly up your damage as an assassin

Key Feats (If you so choose):

  • Skulker - Get sneak attacks significantly more often
  • Sharpshooter - By enhancing your range and ignoring cover, you bring your abilities more on point with a crossbow.
  • Alert - Being alert means you'll go first much more often, synergizing with the assassin ability

Flavor:

  • Tavern Brawler (Feat) - After playing darts for years, you'll have picked up a few tricks of the trade

Unfortunately, no matter what options you chose, they will likely be worse than picking a better weapon. That said, the above guide will do an alright amount of damage, such that you shouldn't feel particularly gimped compared to the others. I'd suggest talking to your DM and seeing if you can get an extra feat, as starting off with Alert or Sharpshooter will make you much more effective. I'd also suggest running the human variant to gain one of these feats right away.

Another alternative might be a bard who honed his skill of darts in taverns, but I will leave that up to someone else, as it would introduce magic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem here is that that build would be so much better with any other weapon. There's nothing there that's dart specific. Hell, there's nothing in the game that's dart specific. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Sep 9 '14 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman I definitely agree, I think there's no way to make it a very successful character. Just suggesting something that wouldn't get completely outclassed. That said, GM Noob's answer appears to be much better. \$\endgroup\$ – SurrealAnalysis Sep 9 '14 at 14:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does a character have to be "the best" to be "very successful"? I'd contend not. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Sep 10 '14 at 15:58
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Try battle master ranged fighter, you can trip someone from distance, multiple times after you get your extra attacks, and still be as tough as melee fighter.

This will make you a ranged "controller" so to speak, so damage is an aftertought. This build is bes used by crossbow wielding fighter though, you can pin or trip a flying dragon from afar

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Relying on sneak attack is a trap - you are likely to only get one sneak attack at range unless you also build around hiding every round which isn't want you probably want.

If the only problem people have is damage, look at the monk. Throw daggers which are simple weapons and therefore utilize monk damage instead of 1d4. From there you can pick all your normal feats (sharpshooter, house feat). The extra unarmed attack could come in handy, though remember you can throw weapons in melee without any issues so don't be afraid of going toe to toe.

The only problem I could see with this is the perceived 'baggage' that comes with the monk (a 'path', being skilled without armor, wisdom). I don't know anything about the athlete, but you could figure your way through in multiple ways:

  • he spent a full year honing his skills from 'a master thrower on a hill'

  • make him a drunken master who moved into bar game mastery (no armor, brawling, etc.)

  • retired ninja (path of shadow) who needed a steady stream of money

  • a 'natural born monk' with no training but a knack for OCD-like perfection

Be careful of relying too much on optional rules in general before you talk to the DM. If everything hinges on a modified feat or the like you want to be sure before running with it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This question is specifically about optimizing dart throwing. Also, giving yourself disadvantage when throwing in melee isn't exactly optimal. I don't think Monk is a good choice here at all. Rogue with SA is better as they have plenty of options to get advantage, and better yet, SA goes off if they toss at someone locked in melee with their buddies. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Sep 11 '14 at 13:41

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