My question is fairly straightforward: What is the combination of feats/race/class/etc that gives the most damage per round at level 1? I'd also be interested to see the maximum possible damage, but this is not the criterion for judgment--just a bonus.

I'm looking to create a level 1 character who is only concerned by doing as much damage as possible at level 1. I should note that there is no consideration for any level past 1 (albeit I am interested in your speculations about level progression). I'm also interested in the requirements for such a character (e.g. the minimum ability scores needed, DM approval, etc).

Here are the stipulations/settings that need to be known:

  • All Primary Source Books are available. Basically if it is RAW it is good.
  • No home-brewed rules. Starting amount of gold as per the default amount.
  • No exceptional magic items are available (only the common ones available anywhere).
  • All variants described in the rules are available (e.g. the variant human class).
  • Assume no situation modifications (e.g. terrain, advantage, etc).
  • Only assume modifications if they are *almost always available. This means we are only interested in DPR (Damage per round).
  • Assume no outside buffs from party members or other sources.
  • Any temporary buffs can be used as long as they last for the entire combat (or close to it). Rage, for instance, would count.

My research tells me that a Barbarian is likely the best choice for this offhand, I am wondering if anyone can come up with a better idea.


6 Answers 6


The short answer:

AC 0-5: Human Great Weapon Fighter with the Great Weapon Master feat wielding a Greatsword

AC 6-20: Raging Human Barbarian with the Polearm Master feat wielding a Polearm

AC 21-26: Half-Orc Two-Weapon Fighter

AC 27+: Human Great Weapon Fighter with the Great Weapon Master feat wielding a Greatsword, part II: the GWF returns.

The significantly longer answer is that here are some calculations I did for the options that seemed obvious to me. Interestingly enough, the Barbarian didn't make the top of the list in terms of pure damage, but it did make the top of the list once we added AC into the mix.

You can also add Caltrops to any of these builds (and you can afford a lot of caltrops) to add up to 1 dmg/r.

Other notes:

  • The only source material used for this was the PHB, as I do not have access to all of the adventure paths and supplements
  • Magic users need not apply: Cantrips are almost universally low-damage, and they never get to benefit from base stats to get those sweet, sweet flat bonus damage numbers. All other spells are too consumable to be considered, so they didn't make it to the number crunching stage.
  • Rogues were briefly considered, but sneak attack just isn't reliable enough when you can't count on nearby allies or advantage.
  • No cheese! I tried to stick to a purist approach here. There may be strategies that your GM approves like this but most reasonably GMs would ban that kind of build from their tables for being too OP. This list fits nicely within very vanilla RAW and RAI.
  • I gave all characters rolls of 18 for their stats, then added any racial strength bonus that applied. Point-buy only allows you to get to 16/17 instead of 19/20, and will lower your dmg/r across the board.
  • All damage is given in expected values, done by hand. It's possible I failed my Intelligence(Statistics) check, so if you see something say something
  • Humans used are Variant Humans, to take advantage of the bonus feat. Half-Orc is used otherwise as they're the only race I could find that can possibly add damage to their attacks through the Savagery feature, as well as giving a handy +2 Str.
  • No magic weapons are used, as they are out of the budget of level 1 characters even if they sell all of their possessions, max out their starting gold rolls, and take the Noble background
  • Using the point-buy system the half-orc takes a bigger hit than humans to both his to-hit values and his damage (the +2 doesn't get him to a higher Ability Modifier tier). This results in the Barbarian Polearm Master reigning supreme all the way to 24 AC, and the GWF picks up the slack at 25+, cutting the half-orc out of our equation completely.
  • You want numbers? Here's a Google Sheet with some numbers.

Without further ado, here is my list of damage-optimized level 1 characters (please refer to the above sheet for numbers with AC factored in).

Human Great Weapon Fighter with Great Weapon Master feat (22.75 dmg/r, +1 to hit)

  • +4 str bonus
  • +10 feat bonus (-5 to hit)
  • 2d6 (reroll 1,2) greatsword attack (22.333333 dmg/r)
  • 5% crit (.41666666 dmg)
  • Total damage on maximum Crit: 14+12+12 = 38 dmg

Human Barbarian with Polearm Master feat (20.3 dmg/r, +6 to hit)

  • +4 str bonus
  • +2 rag bonus
  • 1d10 polearm attack (11.5 dmg)
  • 1d4 bonus attack (8.5 dmg)
  • 5% crit (0.4 dmg)
  • Total damage on maximum Crit w/ both attacks: (6 + 10 + 10) + (6 + 4 + 4) = 38 dmg

Half-Orc Two Weapon Fighter (17.4 dmg/r, +7 to hit)

  • +5 str bonus
  • 1d6 shortsword attack (8.5 dmg)
  • 1d6 shortsword attack (8.5 dmg)
  • 5% crit including extra damage die from Savagery (0.7 dmg)
  • Total damage on maximum Crit w/ both attacks: (5 + 6 + 6 + 6) + (5 + 6 + 6 + 6) = 46

Human Two Weapon Fighter with Dual Wielder feat (17.2 dmg/r, +6 to hit)

  • +4 str bonus
  • 1d8 longsword attack (8.5 dmg)
  • 1d8 longsword attack (8.5 dmg)
  • 5% crit (.45 dmg)
  • Total damage on maximum Crit w/ both attacks: (4 + 8 + 8) + (4 + 8 + 8) = 40 Dmg
  • \$\begingroup\$ You missed the Charger feat - charge in bonus attack with +5 damage, run away (suffer AoO which is not relevant to OP question) and do it again next round. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Mar 23, 2016 at 7:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, good point. The only one of these builds it should impact is the GWF, as all of the others get more out of their bonus action attacks. I'll add numbers for it some time in the bearish future \$\endgroup\$
    – lithas
    Mar 23, 2016 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think its 0-4, 5-19 AC etc. It's showing the result on the die that has to beat the AC, not tie it. That's why it switches to the must crit result where it does (when the bonus cannot possibly hit on a 19 but could on a 20). Otherwise, the calculation would allow for 20 to hit without critting. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25, 2018 at 10:04

Human War Domain Cleric With Great Weapon Master Feat (42 dmg/r, +1 (+1d4) to hit)

  • +4 Str Bonus

  • +10 GWM Bonus

  • 2d6 Greatsword Attack (21 average With Bonuses)

  • War Priest Second Attack (42 Average With Bonuses)

  • Both Attacks Crits 52 DPR

(add 1d4 to your accuracy with bless, or add 1d4 to each of your attack's damage with Divine Favor)

  • dmg/r 47 With Divine Favor
  • Crits with Divine Favor 60

I tried this build in an Adventure's League setting (with slightly lower stats of course) and it did wonders on the battlefield, It's the best way to consistently dole out the best single target damage at 1st-4th level.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ While the build is interesting, you should take into account the AC from enemies, as it's currently misleading - the 42dmg/r is not actually dmg/r, it's dmg/r|hit. (i.e. "given that you hit") \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    May 30, 2018 at 22:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ The average attack roll is a 14 so it should hit most low-level enemies fairly consistently. It works wonders on Zombies but falls short on Skeletons. For higher Ac targets I would recommend not using the +10 damage and go for two smacks for a 22dpr, still better then the polearm master builds and with a higher hit ratio (Average roll of 19 compared to polearm barbarian's 16.5) generally at low levels it either has good Ac or good Hp, rarely both and this build cleaves either apart more effectively than it's fighter/barbarian counterparts. (at least at first level) \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2018 at 20:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fairly consistent is not 100%. Your actual damage/round is \$ 42 \cdot P(\textrm{hit}) \$ (actually we also need to consider 1s and 20s, but anyway) which will be stricly lower than 42. As I said, the answer is misleading. Optimization questions are mostly about math, so your answer needs to be more mathematically precise. \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    May 31, 2018 at 20:52
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I see where you are coming from now, is there a way to offset the damage calculations compared to an opponent's ac if we don't have the ac? I could run up the numbers for every ac from 4-24, or is there a better way to display? Could I just insert a dmg/r/hit? Thanks for your help I'm still new to these forums. \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2018 at 22:11

Fun cheese build

Human Monk with Magic Initiate Feat take Hex +1d6 to all attacks (22.7 dmg/r, +6 to hit)

+4 dex bonus

1d8+1d6+4 (avg 4.5 + 3.5 + 4) from spear attack + hex + dex bonus (12 dmg)

1d4+1d6+4 (avg 2.5 + 3.5 + 4) from unarmed attack + hex + dex bonus (10 dmg)

5% crit (0.7dmg) Total damage on maximum Crit w/ both attacks: (4 + 8 + 8 + 6 + 6) + (4 + 4 + 4 + 6 + 6) = 56 Dmg

This assumes a bonus action was spent on a previous round hexing the target, and that the hex is not lost due to failed concentration checks.

Also if you buy 17 dex & wis +1 to each as human variant you get 18 AC. The downside is that you have to cast the hex as a bonus action which costs you the unarmed attack for 1 round per target. Also it can be lost to con saves.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you explain how you buy +1 dex and +1 wis in a level 1 character? Standard Array doesn't set this up, point buy does not set this up, so rolling for those stats and being lucky does. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 17, 2017 at 17:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are right, you would need to roll stats to get the 18. In previous versions you could buy up to 18 though. So the plan was to buy 17 in two stats and get assign the two +1 scores for variant human. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shaolin
    Jan 18, 2017 at 2:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth pointing that out in your answer in terms of the roll for 17 +1 for two, or rolling 18. Rolling up is a valid way to generate a character per the rules. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 18, 2017 at 2:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your calculations appear to be adding Hex twice. Spear attack two-handed is 1d8 plus 1d6 hex averaged is 8 damage, not 12. unarmed attack is 1d4 plus 1d6 hex which is 6 damage, not 10. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 18, 2019 at 15:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Spear 1d8 for the weapon average is 4.5 + 1d6 Hex is 3.5 + dex mod 4 = 12, not 8. What am I missing? Same with unarmed. hex adds on each successful attack, so both attacks can use it. I don't see an overcount. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6, 2020 at 19:31

Not sure if this counts as it does require some set up:

Human variant hex blade warlock, with 2 rapiers (take dual wielder feat).

Turn 1: use action to cast hex and bonus action to cast hexblade curse.

Turn 2: attack with your rapiers one in each hand

  • Damage: Crit max damage: 72 (4d8 or 32 from rapiers, 4d6 or 12 from hex, 8 damage from hexblade curse, 8 damage from bonus to stats)
  • Damage: Max not crit: 44 (2d8 or 32, 2d6 or 12, 8,8
  • Damage: average: 32 (9+7+8+8)

This is assuming you have 18 in all stats if you are playing AL then subtract 4 from each total. Likely hood of max damage happening: (1% for rolling crits) (0.00024414062% for rolling max damage for the d8's) (0.00077160493% for rolling max damage on the d6's) If i've done my math right that means to roll max damage your odds are 1 in 530841600 or 1.88380112e-9% of the time

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ On your middle calculation I think you have a typo. Also I think your math isn't quite right. You're adding 8 from Hex Blade's Curse but the curse adds a character's proficiency bonus, not ability score bonus. For a level one character, that would be a combined +4 from both attacks, not +8. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rykara
    Jun 18, 2020 at 20:29

The best level 1 character I've ever made is a variant human with the sharpshooter feat. d8+3+10 is pretty good, averaging 17.5 damage with a longbow, or you could double a hand crossbow for 2d6+3+20 possible damage, averaging 30 damage (which is perfectly fair for this goblin fight, I swear).

As long as you have arrows, two arms, a bow, and a dream you can do this. Have fun, and remember to ask permission to use the Xanathar’s guide, because it doesn't work without it. Sharpshooter gives a -5 to hit so it isn't actually that broken, but when it works it's beautiful.

On a side note, you COULD theoretically do infinite damage with chaos bolt, but the chances are MUCH lower than getting a crit. For chaos bolt, you roll 2d8 and deal that damage, but if you get the same number, chaos bolt jumps to another target as long as that chaos bolt hasn't already hit the target that casting. With enough enemies, there isn't technically a limit, but it's spread out, and the spell isn't that powerful. Watch zee bashews video on infinite damage at level 1 for more info.

One more honorable mention, although it isn't that high damage, magic missile is the most consistent way of dealing damage in the game. The damage at level 1 from targeting 1 creature with all of the missiles 3d4+9 I believe, a minimum of 12 which is guaranteed. Not the highest, but it's worth mentioning since it's so great.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The question asks for average DPR, not damage possible with crit (and house rules). As such I'm not sure this answers the question, but I'm sure an edit to clearly address the question would convince me :) (btw, see the tour and help center as an intro to the site and why we want answers to clearly answer the question) \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Oct 6, 2020 at 18:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I added an edit, but I don't see where it says it needs to be average. If anything, the crit wouldn't apply because it's situational, but a lot of the answers involved crits. I might still be missing something though. I won't remove the edit, but I think that what I said applies, as it is per round, and can be done repeatedly, albeit with some rediculous luck. Sill, thanks for the feedback. P.s. I didn't realize that bonuses aren't doubled. My bad. \$\endgroup\$
    – The Slime.
    Oct 6, 2020 at 19:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I edited your post to incorporate your changes, feel free to edit them if I made a math mistake. I tried to fix the math, but I’m a little busy so it may be off. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6, 2020 at 20:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! I appreciate the help. I'll try to figure everything out. \$\endgroup\$
    – The Slime.
    Oct 6, 2020 at 20:59

Also you can play a half-orc war domain cleric and use both of your attacks to cast inflict wounds Max with crit: 140 (3d10 for each inflict wounds, double because of crit, add 1d10 for each attack because of half-orc)

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    \$\begingroup\$ You cannot cast spells with the attack from War Priest, Cast a Spell is its own action. The half-orc's Savage Attacks trait only applies to weapon attacks. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 29, 2020 at 18:48

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