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How can I build the highest damage per round martial ranged character following these requirements?

  • Muticlass is allowed.
  • Level 15.
  • Any race other than human.
  • DMG, EE companion, SCAG and some Unearthed Arcana are allowed. (see below).
  • Psionics, favored soul, alternative ranger or rune magic ARE NOT allowed.
  • No magical items being considered.
  • Point buy.
  • Evil. No good favored combinations (e.g. Aasimar Paladin oath of devotion).
  • Classic dungeon crawl scenario (No room for aarakocra flying ability, etc).
  • Do not consider other party members.
  • All feats allowed
  • Use Martial Ranged Weapons

What I mean by survival: Good AC plus tricks/spells/mechanics to avoid damage and keep distance.

The adventure will be a one-shot. So basically no long rests and one or two short rests, top. The idea is to build the ideal between high DPR and staying alive while at distance. I don't mind the dip into caster classes, but the damage must come most from ranged attacks, so I guess fighter, rogue and ranger are the way to go. I never made any character that uses ranged weapons, so I'm a bit in the dark here trying to min-max it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be best to confine this question to martial, caster, or hybrid. Are feats allowed or not? Also, do you have an idea for how many encounters/rests per adventure day the players will face/have to work with? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14 '16 at 21:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was following this meta on what makes for a good charop question and thought it was good enough as I'm asking firstly for some directions. I'll see what I can do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Korashar86
    Mar 14 '16 at 22:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Korashar86 I think what makes this difficult is you've constrained it to "How can I build the highest damage per round...character" while also asking for general directions. Any answer will have to give you the highest damage per round (there is likely only one build that fits since you've given a superlative). Without building out potentially dozens if not hundreds of characters, there is no way to know what build will have the absolute highest damage output. Too broad, indeed. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14 '16 at 23:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ It would be OK to ask three separate questions. 1 mostly martial, one caster, one hybrid. That would allow more specific criteria, and make for a more answerable question under the SE format. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15 '16 at 1:35
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Prioritize number of attacks and Feat combinations

Ok, a quick addendum before we go any further. There is no such thing as one perfect build for every situation. The environment you'll be fighting in, the type and number of opponents, and even the nature of the story you're engaged in can all change which characters are "best" suited. For example, a character who hits once but hits extremely hard (like a rogue) may have higher DPR (damage per round) than another, but against a horde of weak enemies (e.g. Goblins) they may find themselves less useful than their DPR would suggest they would be, since a large amount of their damage each round is wasted hurting an already dead enemy.

All that being said, I've done a bit of research and found that at this particular level, there is a build that will work very well in a lot of scenarios, and meets the criteria you've set (survivability and DPR without any other players' help) in a measurable way. So enough hedging: let's look at the details.

The Build

Stout Halfling (counterintuitive, but hear me out), Eldritch Knight Fighter 13, Rogue (or Wizard) 2

Str: 8 Dex: 20 Con: 16 Int: 14 Wis: 12 Cha: 8 AC: 18, 20 with Haste, up to 25 with cover

Feats: Sharpshooter, Crossbow Expert

Favored weapon: Hand crossbow

Favored Spells (in order of importance): Haste, Mage Armor, Shield, Find Familiar (or another 1st level Wizard spell), 7 more evocation or abjuration wizard spells of your choice (you'll rarely be casting them).

Rationale

In descending order of importance, the three factors you need for maximum ranged weapon damage dealing are:

  • Multiple attacks
  • Accuracy & Damage Bonus (about equal: both come from Dex)
  • Base Damage (weapon's dice)

Multiple attacks are almost always the most important feature. A typical enemy in DnD will have an AC which can be hit on a natural 8 or better. So usually, an increase an increase in accuracy (say, the 2 point increase from the fighter's "archery" style) will grant you about a 16.666% overall boost in expected damage (hitting on 14/20 attacks rather than 12/20), while a boost in number of attacks will grant you at least a 20% boost in damage (going from 5 attacks to 6, which usually can only happen at 20th level anyway). Although enemies with particularly high AC may alter this math, on average multiple attacks will be of more benefit. That being said, we're going to get both as high as possible.

With all that in mind, you're going to want the following build:

  • 13 levels in Eldritch Knight: 11 for 3 standard attacks. At level 13, trade in the spell you gained at 8th level for "Haste", and get another single weapon attack (4 per round total so far).
  • At level 4, take crossbow expert feat. Now, according to sage advice (http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/sageadvice_feats), you will be able to use your bonus action for another hand crossbow attack. Although the hand crossbow has the lowest damage dice of the martial ranged weapons, this feat makes it the most damaging in most circumstances. (5 attacks per round by level 15).
  • At level 6, take sharpshooter. Now, you can shoot your hand crossbow just as well up to 120 feet (and since most combat in a dungeon crawl happens within 100 feet, you're golden). Also, as long as your target's AC is less than 22, you always want to take the -5 to roll for +10 to damage (the average damage per round will be higher).

Your remaining two attribute increases should got to getting a 20 dexterity. So far we're up to: 5 attacks per round, expending nothing other than a 3rd level spell slot (2 per day available) and ammunition. Each attack does 1d6+15 damage, or 18.5 average damage per successful attack. That's (averaging out the rolls) a whopping 92.5 damage per round, without even using action surge! Even more amazingly, you could still be dealing an average 37 damage on a turn in which you are DODGING (haste action + bonus action attacks)! Even without haste, we still could be doing an average of 74 damage per round (assuming all attacks hit) with the hand crossbow, expending no resources other than bolts.

For the final two levels, there are a couple of options; but probably the best one is to take two levels of Rogue. You'll get an extra 1d6 per round from sneak attack, and cunning action (which, although it would lose one weapon attack, would allow you to disengage, dash, or hide as a bonus action: it'll give you considerable versatility on the battle field, and allow you to easily keep your distance). Also, you could get expertise in stealth and acrobatics, which will be a huge boon if you're hoping to scout or hide in combat, or avoid being grappled. Our damage total (without action surge) is now up to 96 damage per round. If you wanted to Haste more often rather than do a bit more damage (and losing some battlefield mobility), you could take 2 levels in Wizard instead, allowing you 3 castings of haste automatically, and an Arcane Tradition (War Magic could fit nicely here, or Bladesinger if your DM allows it for a non-elven character. Warning: a DM may consider an attack with a hand crossbow to be using "two hands to attack with a weapon", which ends the bladesong. Check with them before choosing a subclass).

The Halfling's bonus to dexterity is essential, but you could get this from other races. A real benefit is the +1 bonus to constitution. It may not look like much, but this build is very much about maintaining the Haste, and has no attribute boosts to spare. If you take this build, DC 10 concentration saves (which is what most attacks will incur if they hit you; only attacks dealing 22 or more damage will up this difficulty) will only fail on a natural 1: and because of Halfling's "Lucky" trait, this means the standard concentration save will only fail 1 in 400 times. Also, the Halfling ability to move through the space of medium hostile creatures makes this build insanely mobile. If you went with 2 levels of Rogue, even if your character was completely surrounded by (medium sized) guards, you could Disengage (cunning action), Dash 45 feet (Haste dash action, speed doubled, five feet of difficult terrain for moving through an enemy's space), make three attacks (action), then move up to 50 feet more, all without incurring any opportunity attacks.

For your non-abjuration/evocation first level spell gained at level 3, I'd suggest Find Familiar (an Owl using the Help action in combat can be very useful). You should pick up Mage Armor right away at level 3. With mage armor and Haste activated, you'll have an AC of 20 (13+5 from dex+2 from Haste), before you even take cover (which you should be doing as much as possible as a ranged character). This will make your standard AC between 22 and 25. If you pick up Shield at level 5, you can even bring this up to 30 for a round, in REACTION to being hit (which could cancel the hit in question) at the expense of a first level spell slot.

There are other options that make for powerful ranged damage dealers at this level (Level 10 bard with swift quiver and heavy crossbows will fire 4 times per round, and ranger5/rogue* beats out fighter at most levels). But this build has a slight (or major) numerical advantage over all of them I've been able to calculate at precisely level 15. One last consideration: if you went Fighter 14, Rogue 1, you'd get the same max damage, lose the cunning action, and get access to one 3rd, 2nd, or 1st level Wizard spell of your choice. Mirror image alone might be worth this: but it all depends on how much flexibility you want on your turn. Personally, I'd go Rogue 2 (cunning action is fun and useful).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While I do like the idea of Haste, I find the 2x day fairly limiting. With an expectation of between 6 and 8 encounters during that day, it will only be available once every 3 or 4 encounters. Given that most of the damage seems to come Fighter + Hand-crossbow + Feats, it leaves me feeling that Eldritch Knight may not bring enough to the table compared to a Battle Master, or at least that maybe cutting EK at 11 may be better. EK 12/Rogue 3 may have some more consistent DPR, for example, trading Haste for a Rogue Archetype (such as Assassin). \$\endgroup\$ Aug 3 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Totally an option! How many fights you're likely to have in a day and what kind of environment you're in will change some considerations too. If you're concerned about DPR between uses of Haste, you might want to consider 2 levels of Ranger rather than Rogue (you'd need to switch Wisdom and Intelligence, which would be unideal in some situations). This would give you access to Hunter's Mark. A high level Assassin Rogue can get great benefit from their surprise auto-crits, but a Fighter 12 Rogue 3 is rolling much fewer dice per attack. Getting an extra 1d6 per attack is quite nice. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 3 at 18:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Misty Step is a 2nd level spell \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Aug 4 at 7:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice answer, but this: 'an increase in accuracy (say, the 2 point increase from the fighter's "archery" style) will grant you at best a 10% overall boost in damage' is surely wrong. It means that at best 10% more attack rolls will hit, but if you were only hitting on 50% of attack rolls before that's a 20% damage increase, if you were hitting on 20% of rolls that's a 50% damage increase, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vigil
    Aug 6 at 8:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Vigil Excellent point. I'm actually embarrassed that I put it that way. I will revise. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 6 at 16:42
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So, first up, the basic concept of the build:

  • At least 11 levels of Fighter for 3 attacks
  • Dexterity of 20
  • The Sharpshooter feat

These 3 things in combination give us 3 attacks dealing 1d8 + 15 each, for an average of 58.5 damage per round, no resources required.

This is a pretty tough benchmark to beat - for example, a level 15 Rogue can deal 1d8 + 8d6 + 15 on their attack, for an average of 47.5 - close, but no cigar.

On the other hand, combining the two can lead to interesting results (assuming you can trigger Sneak Attack, of course, but that's not too difficult):

  • 12 Fighter/3 Rogue, or 11 Fighter/4 Rogue gets 1 attack dealing 1d8 + 2d6 + 15, and 2 attacks dealing 1d8 + 15, for an average of 65.5

  • 5 Fighter/10 Rogue, or 6 Fighter/9 Rogue gets 1 attack dealing 1d8 + 5d6 + 15, and 1 attack dealing 1d8 + 15, for an average of 56.5 (Included for comparison, the former is better.)

As far as other classes are concerned, the Barbarian's, Monk's, and Paladin's damage-boosting class features don't work with ranged attacks, and the Ranger's damage-boosting class features are either extremely conditional or require highly limited resources.

Now that we've got our basic plan, it's time to look at specifics.

For race, it honestly doesn't matter all that much. A race that gives a bonus to Dexterity will allow you to take 2 feats instead of 1, and you don't want to be small, since small characters can't use the longbow. After that, it's mostly up to you - I'd personally recommend the Eladrin, from the DMG, since even at 1/day Misty Step is just incredible.

Now, on to your Fighter levels. For your Fighting Style, Archery is an obvious must-have. For Martial Archetype, Battlemaster is the best - it adds 5 instances of 1d10 damage plus additional special effects every short rest. You have plenty of options to choose from with regards to manuevers, since most of them add the 1d10 damage and most of them work with ranged attacks, so it's just a matter of deciding which special effect you prefer.

For your Rogue levels, you definitely want to go with the Assassin archetype - while it won't work all the time, it's a huge boost to your damage when you can trigger it. Note that a critical will double the damage dice from your longbow, your Sneak Attack, and your superiority dice.

As for ability score increases, it'll take 2 to max out your Dexterity, leaving 2 for feats. Sharpshooter is a must, but after that, you have some options. Crossbow Expert is nice, since it'll let you fight effectively if you get stuck in melee. Lucky is great for anyone, and you're no exception. Mobile gives you an extra 10 feet of movement, handy for kiting and staying out of your enemies' reach. Alert has great synergy with the Assassin archetype, as well as just generally giving nice benefits.

As a final note, for skills: You want Stealth. It's great for getting the drop on people to trigger Assassinate. Your Rogue levels let you Hide as a bonus action, which is great for gaining advantage on attacks, making them more accurate as well as triggering Sneak Attack without needing allies. Other than that, Acrobatics is required to avoid being grappled or proned, as well as a variety of other nasty effects.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I can at least tell you that when balancing monsters and such, you always assume that every attack hits. That's probably why it is the same for charop stuff? \$\endgroup\$
    – Patta
    Jul 14 '16 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Honestly, in 5e, at level 15, it's pretty safe to assume every attack will hit. To-hit bonuses drastically outscale AC. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Jul 14 '16 at 23:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ With Sharpshooter you benefit more from the Precision Attack maneuver than from anything that just adds to damage. \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Aug 4 at 7:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman No, it isn't safe to assume that - at level 15, it's pretty safe to assume every attack will hit Our TIer 3 campaign had plenty of 'swing and a miss' instances when we were in the Against the Giants adventure. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 6 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast True. But it's also worth noting that with this build (Fighter 12, Rogue 3), the expected damage per attack on a "resource free" attack (no superiority dice) is higher when you go for the +10 to damage unless the enemy's AC is 20 or above. So the higher damage estimates presented here do have some value, although in reality you'll often be doing less damage than that per round. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 6 at 17:21

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