Friday, February 1, 2019

Want To Do A Lot of Damage? Stack Your Dice, Your Bonuses, or Both!

One of the first questions players in RPGs often ask is how they can do a lot of damage. After all, there are few things as satisfying as the one-shot-kill.

Boom! Head shot.
There are generally two choices you have when it comes to finding a solution to this problem, and if you approach the game and all of its associated material with these things in mind you'll do fine. You either need to stack a lot of bonuses on your side (which ensures you always do a respectable amount of damage regardless of your damage rolls), or you need to make sure you're rolling a lot of dice when you actually hit (to be sure the sheer weight of the roll averages out to a big hit).

The Bonus Approach

Here comes the pain train!
Bonuses to your damage are reliable, and they help ensure that when you hit you always hit hard. Not only that, but you already recognize how this mechanic works, so the pattern is easy to spot.

For example, in a lot of games your Strength modifier is added to the damage you deal with melee attacks as a bonus. So if you want to make sure your target feels it when you hit them, you naturally want the highest Strength score you can get. And some games will even allow you to add 1.5 times your Strength score if you're two-handing your weapon. This means you can't wield a shield, but if maximum damage output is your goal, then that's a sacrifice you make.

If you look at your class options, you'll often find bonuses there, too. In Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, barbarians gain a straight bonus to melee damage when they're raging. In Pathfinder, fighters can pick different subgroups of weapons to specialize in, giving them bonuses to hit as well as bonuses to damage when wielding those weapons. Evokers get a bonus to damage with evocation spells in Pathfinder, as well, based on their level, and paladins also get to add their level to the damage dealt to subjects of their smite. Many cavalier orders also grant you bonus damage when you use your challenge on a particular foe.

Then there are the bonuses from your gear, from your feats, and from spells or special abilities. For example, a Belt of Giant's Strength increases your Strength (at least in theory), and therefore your damage output with melee attacks. A magic weapon adds the "+" modifier to your attack and damage. In Pathfinder feats like Weapon Specialization automatically add +2 damage to strikes made with specific weapons, and Power Attack and Deadly Aim allow you to deal bonus damage while taking penalties to your attack roll. 5th Edition has feats like Charger, which gives you +5 damage if you move at least 10 feet in a straight line while taking the Dash action before slamming into your target. Then there are class features like bardic music, or spells like Deadly Juggernaut which improve your attack and damage.

The key is to stack as many of these in your favor as possible so that no matter what the damage die for your weapon rolls, the sheer amount of bonuses you're adding makes you a viable threat. Because sure, you rolled a 1 for the damage. But between a high Strength modifier, the right class features, ongoing spells, magic items, and feats, you could still deal more than 20 damage with that minimal strike.

The Swimming Pool of Dice Approach

Someone's gonna get it...
If you roll one die, you might get a bad result. But if you roll all of your dice, then the sheer amount of damage is going to add up. Or that's the basic theory, at least.

This method requires a little more deviousness, but is no less effective. For example, let's go back to that Pathfinder evoker. Now take a spell like fireball; it deals 1d6 for every caster level you have. Normally that's going to be your character level if you're a straight wizard, but you can bump that up with feats like Varisian Tattoo, adding even more dice to that pool by increasing your caster level for certain schools of magic. There are also metamagic feats that let you increase how much damage that spell could do over and above its normal cap, letting you throw 15 or more d6s onto the table instead of the usual maximum of 10.

There are also options like taking rogue levels to add sneak attack dice onto your attack. Because you might need to meet some specific circumstances in order for those dice to count, but when they do your short sword's 1d6 suddenly has 6 or 7 friends who want to come and play. This is also the idea behind paladin smite in 5th Edition; you blow a spell slot to supercharge your strike, adding bonus d8s based on the level of the spell slot you used, and on whether the target is undead or a fiend.

In addition to class features and feats, gear is often used as a way to grab bonus dice for non-spellcasters. Because a regular longsword deals a d8 of damage, but a flaming greatsword deals an addition d6 of fire damage. You could add shocking to that to stack a d6 of electricity damage, too, and so on and so forth.

Adding more dice also increases your minimum possible damage. After all, if you're rolling 6 dice, then your new minimum damage is 6. But the maximum goes up, too.

Of Course, You Can Combine The Two Approaches

If you want to really dole out the harshness, then you should look for ways you can combine these two philosophies in your character. For example, say you're playing 5th Edition. Give your rogue a single level dip in barbarian, and max out their Strength score. Then give them the Charger feat. If you Dash into battle and hit an enemy with advantage (or if they're being threatened by one of your allies), then you get to roll the damage die for your weapon, and your sneak attack damage, but on top of that you get to add your Strength modifier, as well as the bonus damage from your Rage, and the +5 from charging into the fray.

And that is something your target is going to notice.

Just hope it takes them out before they respond in kind.
Every game is going to be different, but as long as you keep these two approaches in mind when you examine how to put a hurt on your enemies, chances are good that you'll do just fine.

That's all for this week's Crunch installment! If you'd like to see more of my work, then check out my Vocal and Gamers archive, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or, if you'd prefer to see some of my fiction, stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

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