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The Sharpshooter feat includes an interesting feature: you can choose to take -5 penalty to hit with a ranged weapon attack to increase its damage by 10. Normally, I'd dismiss the trade-off as too situational, but I've only just thought of combining it with the Archery fighting style (+2 to hit with ranged weapon attacks).

After building a sample character using these features, the end result looks quite effective. My questions are: Is this build valid? Have I interpreted the rules correctly? If so, how well does it compare against other damage-focused builds?

5th level variant Human Fighter:

  • Ability Scores (via point buy): Str 10, Dex 16, Con 16, Int 9, Wis 12, Cha 10
  • HP: 47, AC: 17 (or 18 with disadvantage on Stealth)
  • Weapons: Hand Crossbow x 2
  • Fighting Style: Archery
  • Martial Archetype: Battle Master (with the Precision Attack maneuver)
  • Feat (variant Human): Crossbow Expert
  • Feat (4th level ability score improvement): Sharpshooter

The end result is a fighter capable of hitting targets 120' away, behind 1/2 or 3/4 cover, or engaged in melee with him, all without penalty. Normally, he can make 3 such attacks per round (Attack action + Extra Attack + Crossbow Expert's bonus attack). Once per short rest he can make 5 attacks per round via Action Surge (Attack action 1 + Extra Attack, Attack action 2 + Extra Attack, Crossbow Expert's bonus attack).

His normal attack bonus is +8 (3 proficiency, 3 Dexterity, 2 Archery fighting style), and normal damage is 1d6+3. Not amazing damage, but nice accuracy and flexibility (attacks can be focused on one target, or spread around; works equally well in melee and ranged combat).

The real winner is his ability to take -5 on any of these attack rolls to increase the damage by 10, to an average of 16.5 per shot (excluding crits). If he lands his usual 3 attacks, that's ~47 damage; 5 attacks is ~83. While the -5 to hit seems imposing, he's still got superiority dice: he can increase his attack roll by 1d8 after seeing the result, up to 4 times per short rest. And even without the superiority dice, his attack bonus is still an acceptable +3; ok for hitting low AC targets, or those granting advantage on attack rolls (e.g. surprised or prone + adjacent).

With a decent AC, a Fighter's HP, and the Second Wind feature, he can also take a decent amount of damage. He'll also have decent Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution saving throws.

This build seems almost too well rounded. Unlike a blaster, he only requires short rests to recover his big hitters. Unlike a brawler, he can target just about anything on the field at a moment's notice. Have I missed any rules, or overlooked any drawbacks?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Loosely related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/46018/… \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Dec 22 '14 at 14:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please edit clarifications into the question, and please don't answer in comments. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Dec 23 '14 at 14:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ No reason to use two hand crossbows, Jeremy Crawford has confirmed your bonus attack from crossbow expert can be with the same crossbow that fired the initial attacks \$\endgroup\$ – user22660 Apr 30 '15 at 23:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ In fact, using two hand crossbows means that you get two attacks in total that round. No matter how many attacks you have, you still need a hand to load the ammunition (the ammunition trait on the weapons, not the loading). If you have two hand crossbows, you don't have a hand free, so you get two attacks that combat, unless you drop one of them so you can load the other. If you keep both of them in your hands the entire combat, you will never have a hand free to load them, so you never get more than two attacks that combat. \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Jul 22 '15 at 11:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's expensive, but eventually you could get your grubby mitts on a pair of these for ~500gp. Reloading is no longer an issue, and they would increase your DPR a bit as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Gavin42 Jul 23 '15 at 13:01
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Yes, this build works, and it is strong.

I ran the numbers, and the average damage using your build and the -5/+10 feature gives you an average at level 5 of 22.8 damage per round (dpr). By comparison, a Great Weapon Fighter build with either the Great Weapon Master or Polearm Master feat deals an average of 18.7 damage at the same level. This build maintains a significant lead over those builds all the way up to level 20, for a total of 42.5 dpr at level 20 compared to GWM's 34.3 dpr.

However, the real difference between the builds is how the weapons work. Your crossbow build has the benefit of range, but the other builds get their own benefits. A Polearm Master has incredible control over the battlefield with his increased reach and many possible opportunity attacks, and a Great Weapon Master can deal much more damage if he gets the chance to cleave through enemies and/or use opportunity attacks.

Compared to a caster, you'll probably beat them in raw damage, but casters can do a lot more than deal damage, so that's not saying much.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the thorough answer. This was my first look at optimization in 5ed, so when the build turned out more effective than expected, I figured I'd probably made a mistake somewhere. I'm glad to have been proven wrong :) \$\endgroup\$ – stphven Dec 24 '14 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @stphven Yeah, about the only real downside is that it's not especially reliable, since you have about a 50-50 shot of missing your attacks against most enemies. But given that you're making 3-5 attacks per round (depending on level) and the precision shot maneuver, that's probably not as big a deal as it might seem. \$\endgroup\$ – AgentPaper Dec 24 '14 at 23:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is no need for two hand crossbows. The wording of the feat and the properties of the hand crossbow itself (most notably light) allow it to work with a single hand crossbow. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jul 28 '17 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ As the other answer points out, hand crossbows require a free hand to load. Your answer doesn't seem to account for this fact. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 3 at 7:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that the free hand requirement is really worth considering. Yes, technically you can only do this by RAW if you have a single hand crossbow, but dual wielding crossbows is strictly worse mechanically. If someone likes the idea of wielding twin crossbows more than machine-gunning one hand crossbow, then I don't see any reason for a DM to not allow that. Now if a player tried to go for a hand crossbow and shield, that would be a different story. \$\endgroup\$ – AgentPaper Jun 4 at 8:01
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There's a flaw with this build - You require a free hand to load a crossbow.

From the PHB Errata:

Ammunition (p. 146).
Loading a onehanded weapon requires a free hand.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Look at this Question, you can draw/sheathe one weapon per turn, to do both requires the use of an additional action. You could start with 2, stow one crossbow after the first shot, and then use your now free hand to reload the remaining crossbow for the rest of the round, but you couldn't pull the first crossbow back out. \$\endgroup\$ – Nyoze Jul 23 '15 at 7:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nyoze so that would make the sequence: shoot right, shoot left, stow left, reload right, shoot right, reload right. OK. But then on the next turn is where it would get iffy because you don't have an extra hand to reload left, now your sequence on the next turn would be: shoot right, reload right, shoot right, reload right. Am I missing something? Maybe you could stow right and draw left but that's already two free actions. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jul 23 '15 at 10:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Gavin42 haha true! but let's talk non-homebrew first \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jul 23 '15 at 23:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Based on other comments, the build may work with a single crossbow (and not lose any attacks?) I don't have access to the PHB to check. \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Jul 24 '15 at 0:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is no need for two hand crossbows. The wording of the feat and the properties of the hand crossbow itself (most notably light) allow it to work with a single hand crossbow. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jul 28 '17 at 17:28

protected by Community Jun 18 '15 at 17:13

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