Deal The Most Damage

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 21, 2009

I’ve discovered the best possible combination of race, class and equipment to ensure that your character will deal more damage every round than any other character. These builds are 100% legal and by the book. I’ve followed all the rules and used only core books published by Wizards. I didn’t make the rules, but I’m sure as hell going to exploit them for my benefit. Keep reading to find out how.

You might think that all 1st level PCs have pretty much the same attack score and that it’s difficult for you to have a clear advantage over your companions. Wrong! There are a few choices that, if made carefully, can give you a huge leg up right out of the gate.

After examining over a dozen possible builds I’ve come up with the best choices for creating a character who can and will deal more damage than anyone else. These builds should appeal to anyone who wants their character to do lot of damage as often as possible. The trade off usually means a slightly lower AC, but if you’re still reading then I suspect that your idea of a good defense is a strong offense.

In order to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples, I’ve established three important guidelines.

  • Character must be 1st level
  • Melee attacks only
  • At-will powers only

So with these points in mind let’s review the top three contenders. All of the characters presented are equipped with regular items available to any 1st level character. The damage numbers do not factor in critical hits, just lucky rolls resulting in the highest possible outcomes.

Build #1

Barbarian
Dwarf
Level 1 PC
AC 15 (Hide Armor); Fortitude 16, Reflex 12, Will 12
Howling Strike (standard; at-will)
Execution Axe
+6 vs AC; 1d12 + 1d6 + 6 damage (brutal 2)
Feat Dwarven Weapon Training
Str 18 (+4) Dex 8 (-1) Wis 16 (+3)
Con 13 (+1) Int 10 (0) Cha 10 (0)

Number Crunching

  • Max damage: 24
  • Min damage: 10
  • Average damage: 17

Advantages

Build #1 offers the highest possible maximum damage of any 1st level PC with 24. By taking the Dwarven Weapon Training feat, this PC gains the proficiency bonus when using axes or hammers as well as the additional damage provided by the feat. The brutal 2 property of the weapon ensures that even with the worst possible rolls he’ll deal at least 10 points of damage. Alternatively, you could arm this character with a Mordenkrad. It has the same max and average damage, and its min damage is 11, 1 point higher than the Execution Axe. However, the Mordenkrad is not a high crit weapon.

Disadvantages

Build #1 only provides a +6 attack score which isn’t as good as the other options presented below. The Barbarian’s armor restrictions also leave him with a very low starting AC of only 15.

Build #2

Fighter
Dwarf
Level 1 PC
AC 17 (Scale Armor); Fortitude 16, Reflex 10, Will 11
Brash Strike (standard; at-will)
Mordenkrad
+9 vs AC; 2d6 + 9 damage (brutal 1)
Feat Dwarven Weapon Training
Str 18 (+4) Dex 8 (-1) Wis 13 (+1)
Con 16 (+3) Int 10 (0) Cha 10 (0)

Number Crunching

  • Max damage: 21
  • Min damage: 13
  • Average damage: 17

Advantages

Build #2 offers a maximum damage of 21, only slightly lower than the 24 point max presented in Build #1. The real benefit of Build #2 is that the average damage is 13, a full 3 points more than Build #1. Like with Build #1, selecting the Dwarven Weapon Training feat allows this PC to gain the full benefits of using an axe or hammer.

Disadvantages

In order to get such a high attack score and damage the PC needs to use the at-will power Brash Strike which results in the PC granting the target combat advantage until the start of his next turn. Not a big deal if you kill your opponent, more of a big deal if you’re surrounded by many opponents.

Note: A Dwarven Paladin with the same feat and the same weapon, attacking a marked opponent with Holy Strike deals exactly the same damage. However, his attack score is only +6. The Paladin build does offer a better AC, a much higher Will defense and a wider choice when selecting skills.

Build #3

Fighter
Human
Level 1 PC
AC 17 (Scale Armor); Fortitude 18, Reflex 11, Will 11
Brash Strike (standard; at-will)
Mordenkrad
+10 vs AC; 2d6 + 8 damage (brutal 1)
Feat Mordenkrad Proficiency
Feat Weapon Focus (Hammer)
Str 20 (+4) Dex 8 (-1) Wis 11 (0)
Con 14 (+3) Int 10 (0) Cha 10 (0)

Number Crunching

  • Max damage: 20
  • Min damage: 12
  • Average damage: 16

Advantages

Build #3 still has a respectable minimum, maximum and average damage, but it is the lowest of all three builds presented. This is offset with an attack score of +10, 1 higher than Build #2 and 4 higher than Build #1. So doing slightly less damage when you hit may not be so bad if you’re hitting more often. Build #3 also has a higher Fort defense, and as a Human he gains training in one addition skill.

Disadvantages

As with Build #2, in order to get the highest possible attack score and damage he has to use the at-will power Brash Strike. So as in the previous build if you’re ok with granting your opponent combat advantage then swing away.

The Best of the Rest

Before narrowing down the builds to the top three presented here, I spent time looking at various other combinations of races, classes, and one-handed and two-handed weapons. The other combinations that didn’t make the top three included Dwarven Paladin, Goliath Fighter, Human Paladin and Shifter Paladin.

If you’re able to come up with a character build, following my guidelines, that can dish out more damage than the builds I presented, please share them. Until then, wow the other PCs at your gaming table by dealing an incredible amount of damage every round.

Update

I forgot to mention in the original article that the PCs I’m looking at need to be able to deal the same amount of damage with every single attack. The strikers (Rogue, Ranger) will probably do more damage if their extra dice is included in their numbers. The problem is that these extra dice are dependent upon very specific conditions that may not be present every single time. Thanks to the readers who posted striker builds which do indeed have higher damage numbers but unfortunately rely on sneak dice or hunter’s quarry.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brody May 21, 2009 at 9:35 am

I know it isn’t 4th ed. but during my time with 3.5 ed. I had created a Dwarven Frenzied Berserker. At 4 Barbarian, 2 Fighter and 10 Frenzied Berserker, he would deal as much as 1d12 + 92, non Leap Attack, non crit.

2 mike May 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm

love the article. very min max but its fun to read min max, shows possibilities

mike’s last blog post..Game Day Preview: Chance, level 5 Tiefling, Warlord

3 Risan May 21, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Man, I thought this was a joke when I first read it. I didn’t think you were into min/maxing. The fun part of min/maxing is the funny backgrounds you can create to explain it. I know you can make up reasonable ones too, but having extremes just makes humorous backgrounds so easy.

4 Stankeye May 21, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Dwarf Ranger
AC 15 (Hide) Fort:15 Ref: 13 Will: 11
Twin Strike (std. At-Will)
Craghammers
+6 vs AC; 2d10+4 dmg (brutal 2) if they both hit.
Feat: Dwarven Weapon Training
Str: 18 (+4) Dex: 14 (+2) Wis 13 (+1)
Con: 12 (+1) Int: 10(+0) Cha: 8 (-1)

Numbers – Assuming Hunters quarry
Max: 30
Min: 6 (if only 1 weapon hit)
Avg: 18

The only thing I can present with this is a higher max number than your highest max possible character. The +6 to hit is fairly low as is your barbarian, AC low, and it hinges on getting 2 hits.

5 Chris May 21, 2009 at 8:01 pm

How about a human rogue?

Human Rogue
AC 17 (Leather) Fort:11 Ref: 18 Will: 13
Sly Flourish (std. At-Will)
Rapier: +8 vs AC; 1d8 + 7 dmg .
Feat: Rapier, Improved SA
Str: 10 (+0) Dex: 20 (+5) Wis 8 (-1)
Con: 11 (+0) Int: 10(+0) Cha: 14 (+2)

Numbers – Assuming Sneak Attack
Max: 31
Min: 10
Avg: 20

Better max damage, better average damage, slightly lower to hit, similar AC and slightly better defenses.

You could use piercing strike, which would do 2 less damage, but instead target reflex, making it much more precise.

6 Ameron May 21, 2009 at 9:51 pm

@Brody
Thanks for visiting Dungeon’s Master. 1d12+92, that’s awesome. I don’t think we’re likely to see that kind of output in 4e.

@mike
I have a bunch of min/max guys in my group so I need to know what kind of options I’m likely to face. Glad you enjoyed it.

@Riasn
I never gave much though to the kind of background these characters might have. It might be interesting to get the PCs to come up with something creative before the DM allows them to play this kind of power character.

@Stankeye
The problem with most striker builds is that their extra damage is conditional. You can’t rely on them to deal that extra every single time. That’s why the Rogue and Ranger didn’t make my short list. When you start taking the striker’s extra dice into consideration then the numbers get even higher, as you’ve demonstrated.

@Chris
Again, the striker will generally have much higher numbers IF they are in the proper situation to get the extra dice. The intent of this article was to show consistency that wasn’t dependent upon extra conditional modifiers. But that aside your build is definitely built for killing. Nice one.

7 greywulf May 22, 2009 at 10:59 am

My vote would be for a Drow Brutal Scoundrel Rogue with the Backstabber feat, DEX 20, STR 14 and Acrobatics Training. That’s a build capable of getting Combat Advantage every single round, and therefore Sneak Attack damage on every single hit.

Open the fight with an Acrobatic move. If that doesn’t grant your CA, use Darkfire to blind your opponents until the end of your next round. That’s two Sneak Attack hits right there (one this round, one the next). Use Acrobatics each following round and provided the GM is feeling in a good mood and you make a DC15 check, that’s 1d6+2d8+7 damage with a humble Short Sword, or use a Kukri (Brutal 1) or Repeating Crossbow (d8!!!) from the Adventurer’s Vault for added evil.

Now imagine the heroes entering an enclave of Drow Rogues, and you’ve a TPK in the making……..

8 Ameron May 22, 2009 at 12:04 pm

@greywulf
What a great build. You’ve inspired me. I know what I want to be the next time I play. And as a DM, well, I’m going to tell my PCs that you gave me this idea. Get ready for some strongly worded comments and emails from my players. You’ll recognize them immediately because the comments will all start with “so our entire party was killed by Drows…”

9 greywulf May 22, 2009 at 12:09 pm

@Ameron Thanks! I’ve already thrown a handful of Drow Rogues built like this at my players. They ran :D

10 Stankeye May 22, 2009 at 1:16 pm

I don’t see how Hunter’s Quarry can be considered conditional damage for a melee Ranger. I can see the problem with rogues and getting CA every time but I can’t think of too many conditions that would see a melee Ranger not using his Hunter’s Quarry on the target he was going to attack.

@Greywulf – I’m going to need to have a look at your Rogue there. It does seem a bit devious.

11 karolusb June 22, 2009 at 4:31 pm

While I prefer to avoid whacky builds as base damage contructs (granting combat advantage sounds cute but it won’t make for a great long term build).

Regardless your second build above run through my standard calculations (that do include crits rates, distribution of AC’s, hit chance etc. I assume 80% combat advantage for everyone, which a melee group should be able to maintain). Produces a 1st level DPR of 10.7. Which is good. Well behind the 12.2 that a (best) rogue will average assuming 80% combat advantage but well above above the 8.9 that a 1st level ranger produces, or the 8.8 that a reaping strike fighter would produce. Now your stat build is a bit more specialized than I assume (I assume an 16 plus race mod on all main stats). I don’t assume racial feats etc.

Now to run the same build at 8th (15.8) Thats worse than an avenger (16.4 kind of embarrasing), ranger (19.9), and much worse than a rogue (22.3). As fighter builds goes it beats out the reaping strike (14.5) but loses to the Tempest (17.7).

At 16th (22.0). Well out of the striker league now (except avengers, but they suck). Ranger (28.0) and Rogue (29.0) leave this well in the dust. As fighter builds go it beats Reaping strike (20.0) and edges out tempest (21.8).

Using my general build rules (aka 16 str over 18) it would fare less well, but would still look pretty good.

12 Ameron June 24, 2009 at 9:19 am

@Stankeye
Good point regarding Hunter’s Quarry. I guess since it’s a minor action to initially mark your target with HQ there is always the possibility that you may not be able to apply it right away.

@karolusb
WOW! Talk about an in-depth look at damage. Thanks for crunching the numbers. You’ve inspired me to look at this idea of dealing the most damage again by from a higher power level.

13 Brains July 4, 2009 at 12:27 am

Barbarians also have Devastating Strike at L1 which is 1[W] + 1d8 + str mod. That would put build #1 at 26 max damage and 18 average. If you went Goliath Barbarian with Goliath Greatweapon Prowess, you could use a Maul and squeak out one more damage point (at the cost of some AC or hps):

Max: 27
Min: 10
Average: 18.5

14 Ameron July 4, 2009 at 12:44 pm

@Brains
Very nice. Thanks for suggestion.

15 Andrew Parliment September 20, 2009 at 1:30 am

Elven Ranger, great bow, twin strike, 2d12 if both attacks hit, and your hunters quarry, total is 30 max, 3 min, 16.5 average, and at a range of 25/50. I don’t see anything more epic then that. There is not a whole lot you can do as far as damage bonuses though sadly. If you allow races from the monster manual, there is something epic you can do with minotaur dual wielding rangers, I don’t remember it off the top of my head.

16 Ameron September 21, 2009 at 12:26 am

@Andrew Parliment
This is a killer build. When I was putting this article together we were just looking at melee builds. Now that there are so many other classes available that do ranged attacks perhaps it’s time to do a follow-up article. If so I think this build will make the top 5.

17 Richard December 8, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Also consider a Bugbear Barbarian, the ability to use larger weapons. A large Execution Axe is 2d6 instead of a 1d12, hence getting a greater benefit from the Brutal 2. Your min roll for 2d6 Brutal 2 is 6 damage, this especially comes in handy later with Rage Strikes, really upping your min damage, a 5[W] Rage striker has a min roll of 30 damage + modifiers.

18 Ameron December 8, 2009 at 2:49 pm

@Richard
When I wrote this article I was limited to the PHB and MM. Since then more materials have become available and there are other great power builds, like the one you’ve shared. Maybe it’s time for me to revisit this idea.

19 striatic April 6, 2010 at 2:25 am

i came up with a slight addition to Andrew Parliment’s build, in advance of reading this post.

eleven archer beastmaster, with a raptor beast companion. getting hunter’s quarry at range is more difficult, but beastmasters can have their companion target the quarry. you send your raptor to hover two squares above the target like an artillery spotter, apply hunter’s quarry and then start firing away with the greatbow using twin strike.

once per encounter, shake things up with two-fanged strike, and add an additional 10 damage to the max, using elven accuracy to re-roll any misses.

20 striatic April 6, 2010 at 2:51 am

another build option is drow ranger beastmaster. same idea except instead of elven accuracy, you use darkfire to give yourself combat advantage and make yourself more likely to hit. makes your allies more likely to hit as well.

the human version of this build has higher defenses and can take an extra feat at first level, probably weapon expertise bow to increase the likelihood of hits, lethal hunter to milk hunter’s quarry for additional damage, or distant advantage to use the hovering beast companion and an ally to flank a twin-strike target and gain the flanking benefits at range for your twin-strike.

21 Seb Wiers April 26, 2011 at 11:46 pm

I know its post-necromancy, but the essentials ranger scout (not available when this was written) is rather sick. Take any race with a bonus to dex, and grab a 20 dex. For a feat, grab Axe Expertise. Use a battle axe and hand axe. Wear hide armor. The rest is up to you.

Your basic attack (Battle Axe) is +8 vs AC, doing d10(pseudo-brutal 1)+7. If that hits, you get to attack with the hand axe (once per round); +8 vs AC, d6(pseudo-brutal 1)+7.
If you take “Aspect of the Charging Ram”, you can almost certainly get +2 damage to each attack (you just need to make a charge, and your never provoke opportunity attack when charging), and of course get +1 to hit.
Your defenses are probably something like 18/12/16/12 – better than anything above, especially for AC.

So, you’ve got:
Max: 30 / 34 charge
Avg : 24 / 28 charge
Min : 18 / 22 charge

Mind you, this is using ONLY info form “Hero’s of the Forgotten Kingdoms”. You can do this in Encounters games!

22 Andrew Parliment November 6, 2011 at 3:46 pm

@Ameron Thanks, min damage is pretty low, but it is still a fun one. Bow expertise and Bow Mastery A Dwarf hybrid Ranger/Fighter can pack a punch with the dwarf weapon training to use a double axe, but it does not have amazing damage at level one, but I think it might be the most damage bonus you can get for a single character doing two attacks per turn. totaling up to +7/+6 on d10 weapons with double attack and an additional +2/+2 one encounter per day at level 8. That is max of 37, average of 28 and minimum of 15. the feats for that are:
Dwarven Weapon Training
Axe Expertise (HFL)
Hybrid Talent [tempest fighter]
Power Attack
Two Weapon fighting
Multiclass Barbarian (PH2)
Headsman’s Chop (PH3)
(which are in PH1 unless otherwise indicated)

Best ranged I can think of is an elf rogue with the treetop sniper feat using a greatbow max: 28 average: 19 Min: 9 using sly flourish with a sneak attack that deals a bonus equal to your str modifier. at level 4. This solves the ridiculous minimum damage of the ranger.

23 Leif F. March 7, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Bugbear barbarian
Str 20
Feat: Superior Weapon Proficiency Mordenkrad
Lvl 1 Devastating Strike with large-sized mordenkrad.
3d8+5 dmg
Max 29
Min 11

24 Ameron (Derek Myers) March 8, 2013 at 9:15 am

@Leif F.
Keep in mind when this article was posted we only had PHB1. Since then new races, classes and weapons have made the initial observations a bit stale. Keep suggesting alternatives because there are still power gamers out there who just want to do the most damage.

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