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I recently ran Cloud Giant's Bargain in an AL setting. One of the players had a heavily optimized fighter with the Sharpshooter feat, and was dealing an average of 20 HP of damage with every successful attack. This meant that the sharpshooter was overshadowing the rest of the group.

It is around a combined 30-40 HP of damage, because he is attacking 2/round. With his action surge, he dealt 75 HP of damage in a single round. At that point, I realized that, from a quality of play perspective, I had an issue.

I'm interested in a summary of ways to reduce the impact of this feat in an AL organized play setting. I'm not opposed to letting this type of character have moments to shine, but as DM I need to be able to deal with this scenario using RAW (due to the Adventurers League).

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I play this character. My GM and I discussed the build extensively before starting Storm King's Thunder because I was worried about this. Both from pre-planning and from experience, here're the things we've come up with:

0. Discuss this with your player.

Be open and tell the player that you're struggling to engage all of the party while allowing their character to shine when in its element. Ask them for the limitations they see to the character: any you invoke that came from their mouth will seem inherently "fairer" than those you invoke on your own. Some would call this metagaming, I call it being explicit about the social contract. "We all cleared our schedules, so let's try and make it fun for all to play."

1. Sightlines.

That 600' range (I'm assuming a longbow in this part) can let a sharpshooter get off four or five "free" shots before a foe has a chance to respond. If they have a sightline. Yes, the sharpshooter ignores 1/2 and 3/4 cover. But they don't ignore total cover, which is what's granted by an interposed building, hill, &c. And at 600' off, moving laterally to "see around" a small hill is going to take your sharpshooter some time.

Real-play example: on the road my party encountered some giants wrecking a small keep. I got one shot in, and the giants circled to the other side of the building. While I was circling around to get a look at them the rest of the party snuck into their effective ranges, and the encounter basically started off with giants and rest-of-party at 100', me at standoff range. Only got one "free" shot.

2. Numbers.

That sharpshooter's great at delivering a big punch at a low-AC target. But 25 damage vs. 15 damage is moot to a 10hp target. I understand you can't play too much with encounters' composition (because of AL), but you can play a lot with monster tactics. If the encounter has a mix of big-target and small-target foes your sharpshooter would much rather be swinging for the fences against the big target. So rush them with little targets.

Real-play example: a giant was coming through the forest, but just as we started to see his head a group of I-forget-whats came out 100' ahead of us. I could take my shots at the giant, but a dozen magmin were bearing down on us....

3. Focus on party-mates.

The nice thing about being the sniper is that you stay relatively safe, raining death from a minute's sprint away. The not-nice thing about having a sniper is that the damage your opponents are dealing tends to be concentrated on \$N-1\$ party members rather than on \$N\$ party members. That sniper can't stabilize an ally or drag away a body. It doesn't take too many times choosing to stay safe before you'll see a mate drop and there be nothing to do about it. Choosing to stay at standoff range also chooses to write oneself out of a lot of interactions.

4. Size of strike.

So far these have all focused on the range-portion of Sharpshooter. But what about the size of that strike? I'd claim it's not actually that large, as compared to other characters built to deal single-target damage. For example:

  • A Sharpshooter (feat) archery (fighting style) Ftr4 can expect +3 to hit & 19.5 expected damage (d10 weapon damage, assuming Heavy Crossbow + 4 DEX + 10 sharpshooter).

  • A dueling (fighting style) Ftr1/Ro3 can expect +6 to hit & 17.5 expected damage (d8 weapon damage + 2 dueling + 4 STR + 7 sneak attack). (And we haven't even piled a feat onto there.)

  • A Dual Wielder (feat) two-weapon (fighting style) Ftr4 can expect +6 to hit & 17 expected damage (4.5 weapon damage + 4 DEX, twice).

Now the expected damage per attack between those two will depend on AC, but for many ACs the duelist fighter/rogue or two-weapon fighter is delivering a bigger punch, just as sustainably. In effect, with a sharpshooter you're trading a bit lower damage for safety (from range).

You mentioned how large the damage gets once your sharpshooter grabs second attack and piles on an action surge for a third, but that's. frankly, a red herring. Any fighter build is going to have that "problem"--it's a class feature, having nothing to do with Sharpshooter.

5. And sometimes, let them shine.

Sometimes you'll be fighting a crowd of kobolds in their warren of tunnels, and the sharpshooter'll effectively be mooted. And they'll bemoan the opportunity cost of not taking Sentinel or Polearm Master instead of Sharpshooter.

But every once in a while they'll be standing on a battlement on a sunny day with a clear view to the forest's edge a half-mile out and three giants approaching. With a smile, they'll turn to the party and say "don't worry, I got this. [Aside] 'I love it when a plan comes together.'"

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The problem is, as it applies to AL play, the character is doing nothing that you CAN reduce the impact of directly since you can not alter the encounters drastically or use homebrewed rules. Every character made thier choice of feats and fighting styles and spells using the allowed strict rules of Adventure League Play. An Archery Fighting Style Fighter with Sharpshooter is deadly. The important part is they are deadly only at range and against no more than a small group of targets.

A spellcaster with Fireball has the chance of obliterating a large swath of low HP minions. A monk with enough Ki and movement and the Mobile Feat could equally kill a small group or heavily damage a high HP tank without risking opportunity attacks. A rogue with poison and advantage and the Skulker Feat is equally deadly with a set of hand crossbows.

My point, when optimized, every class style has a job. Your Archery Fighter is doing his. He is just able to do his job really efficiently at the moment because the module and its encounters are allowing him to. Being optimized to tack +10 damage on to a ranged attack for only -3 to hit is deadly, no matter what other abilities or Features you add to the equation. Colossus Slayer, Extra Attack, Action Surge, +4 Favored Enemy damage... these are secondary additions that contribute to, but do not cause, your main concern.

So how do you counter Sharpshooter while playing by AL the rules?

Use the terrain, environment, and tactics efficiently.

The higher the AC of the target the more likely they are to miss...and misses will happen occasionally, especially if they have disadvantage. Force them in to melee or tight fighting spaces where they can't attack at range. An Archer needs a clear line of sight so use cover often when you can. Send your melee units after them. To put their ranged attacks at disadvantage and force opportunity attacks. Any moment where they can't attack at range is a moment a different player can shine. Otherwise this archer is doing its job by playing by the rules.

An example? The AL Module Lost Mines of Phandelver puts the players in Wave Echo Cave for the last sprawling dungeon with several encounters. Most of the mine is narrow, with small rooms and only a small handful of open rooms where encounters take place. Even the fight with the primary antagonist gives pillars and obstructions to take full cover behind. This entire final dungeon shut down my own player using a heavily optimized Sharpshooter Hunter Ranger almost completely; forcing him to pull out those short swords and go melee. It was fun and engaging to watch him have to change tactics to suit the environment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer would be improved by pointing out that the archer is deadly... to one target. They've traded a big punch for the ability to choose to distribute damage like, say, a Polearm Master or a two-weapon fighter or a caster with AoE would be able to. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 9 '16 at 17:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60, they can spread it out as much as a two weapon fighter or Polearm Master, but why would they, as focus fire is better? \$\endgroup\$ – András Oct 9 '16 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm saying that having the choice of 2x10 dmg (which could be applied to the same target) is better than 1x20 dmg, with no choice. Focused fire is better, but dealing 20 dmg to 1 target and finishing it offwhen 10 would have sufficed is inferior to dealing 10 to that target and having a choice for the next 10. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 9 '16 at 18:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I understand now, and agree completely \$\endgroup\$ – András Oct 9 '16 at 18:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @András, prior to level 5, a Sharpshooter Archer can only damage 1 target per round, as archery does not give them a bonus attack. The two-weapon fighter and the polearm master can both damage two targets in a round. \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Oct 9 '16 at 23:10
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Don't worry about it, they probably just had a lucky night.

To start let's assume a pretty basic middle levels Ranger build with 18 dex, Archery fighting style for the +2 attack, Colossus Slayer for the 1d8 (once per turn, an often forgotten bit), and a standard issue 1d8 longbow. This gives our Ranger +9 to hit and an average unbuffed damage of 8.5 or 13 depending on if the enemy is already damaged/if they've already hit once this turn. These numbers aren't out of line with the unbuffed average damage numbers for other classes.

Next let's see what sharpshooter is doing for them. There was a really good question about this already that we can get some answers from. Unfortunately I don't have access to the Cloud Giant's Bargain so I can't do calculations based on the actual adventure AC's however from highly scientific random picks out of the monster manual AC's cluster around 13-16. Breaking down our two cases we get

8.5 average damage

Maximum AC where -5/+10 adds average damage: 21

On average +0.5~ damage per point of AC below 21.

Average bonus damage against AC 13-16 ranges from 3.5~ to 2~

Chance to hit goes from 85-70% to 60-45%

13 average damage

Maximum AC where -5/+10 adds average damage: 18

On average +0.5~ damage per point of AC below 18.

Average bonus damage against AC 13-16 ranges from 2.5~ to 1~

Chance to hit goes from 85-70% to 60-45%

So most of the time using Sharpshooter is only adding 1 or 2 more average damage than simply taking a stat boost (+1 damage AND +1 attack) would have done. This is a tiny effect that is really not that big a problem.

What likely happened here is that this ranger had an unusually lucky night. +10 damage is great and feels huge when it does it hit so it's easy to only remember those times and feel like this feat is making a character a godlike-tier 1-3.5e druid superbeing. And that's good! That's why people obviously love this feat so much. But as the DM just remember that the dice are fickle and for every glorious +10 alpha strike there's some lost opportunity to do a nice reliable 1d8+5.

Also don't forget that Colossus Slayer is once per round. That crap is huuuuuge.

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