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D&D 5E Is it better to prevent or inflict damage? (psi warrior, battle master, others)

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Hello

There are a number of classes that can spend a resource to inflict damage, or spend the same resource to prevent damage. A very clear example of this is the Psi Warrior, who can use a resource (psi dice) to either hit harder or shield someone from damage. There are several other classes with this dilema (the battle master can use a maneuver dice to parry for example), but the psi warrior has a very direct equivalence - spend a psi die to do/prevent 1d8+int bonus damage, so I'm going to use this one since it's so clear.

If the damage prevention can stop someone from going down, that is a very good use of the psi point.... but you could also make the example of making more damage that is sufficient to take down a foe. So it's unclear to me if one is clearly better than the other, or if it's situational, or roughly equivalent.
 

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ph0rk

Friendship is Magic, and Magic is Heresy.
Dead enemies inflict no damage. Unless you or an ally is at death's door, use resources to kill.

And even in the latter case, I'd make the call based on the scenario - if they are just gonna get downed on the next creature in the initiative order's turn, don't bother.
 

jgsugden

Legend
The truth is that it is highly dependent upon the style of game, your allies, etc... To that end, you're better served deciding what fits your character and going with it.

You may get the "offense is the best defense" line of thinking a lot, where taking down the enemy faster also prevents monster attacks, but that ignores the selective nature of damage. The party has to rest when one PC is unable to continue, and if you can prevent the damage to the most at risk PC, you may be extending the PC capability a lot - especially if that PC is your group healer.

You are far better off, as a player, makingt he choice that best suits the PC's personality.
 

Tactics, schmactics. I think it is more heroic and story-generating (and, thus, fun) in most scenarios to use the Psi power ability to prevent a low HP ally from going down.
 

From a purely mechanical perspective, it's in large part about positioning and initiative order, as well as who else is in the party. It also matters as to whether people are attacking downed targets.

For example, if a Warlock is about to go down, and his turn was coming up soon (before, say, the Cleric), then if you don't prevent the damage, you miss a round of damage that he could have done, because even if the Cleric then gets him back up, he's not up until his next turn, having missed one.

If a Fighter is in combat and goes down, and the enemies get to go, you have a couple of problems - firstly, they can now safely move away from him with no threat of Opportunity Attack. Secondly, they can attack him if he's downed, with Advantage (weirdly RAW in 5E I think you keep your DEX bonus whilst unconscious lol), and get auto-crits (so two death saves removed - thus two hits kills him). Even if the Cleric gets him back up before its his turn, if the monsters have moved away, he has to spend his move getting up from prone, so won't be able to go after them, so you likely lose his DPR this round.

There will be some corner-case situations where it would be better to let someone go down and just do the extra damage (particularly if there is only a single opponent left), but I think if you are looking at it in terms of 5E mechanics, the general rule-of-thumb would be - prevent people getting downed wherever possible, because the odds are good it'll get you at least an extra round of DPR out of them, and you may even save their life (esp. if they're melees).
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
In the end? It doesn't matter. Your side has X HP and your enemy has Y HP. It's a race to see which side hits 0 first.

If you can add 10 to your side or subtract 10 from theirs, the equation is the same. One side or the other will hit 0. By keeping your side in the higher numbers, though, or at least from falling, you maintain uptime on your damage output, which is useful.

Of course that only matters in straight up fights. If you're doing a hit and run maneuver, healing is 100% more effective because you don't want to leave someone behind. Similarly, a delaying action will make better use of healing than of hitting an implacable foe.
 

If you can add 10 to your side or subtract 10 from theirs, the equation is the same.
Absolutely not.

Sorry but it really is absolutely not true at all.

Not even in "straight up" fights is that true, because the HP aren't a giant unified pool everyone draws from (unless you have some very wacky house rules). Stopping a PC going down may well buy you an extra round or more of DPR from that PC. That is likely to be significantly more than the bonus damage you'd have done.

Unless your bonus damage is so large it's larger than an entire round of DPR from that PC, the rule of thumb has got to be "keep them up". It is simply not mechanically correct to claim that it's functionally equal. Think about turn orders, think about missed rounds. Hell, keeping someone up might give you multiple rounds of DPR from them if the situation changes. The only time it's definitely not going to be worth it is if they protection you can do isn't going to be enough to keep them up.
 

MarkB

Legend
If the damage prevention can stop someone from going down, that is a very good use of the psi point.... but you could also make the example of making more damage that is sufficient to take down a foe. So it's unclear to me if one is clearly better than the other, or if it's situational, or roughly equivalent.
Depending upon table style, you're often likely to have a better idea of whether you'll be able to prevent an ally from dropping than whether your extra bit of damage is enough to finish off a foe.

That said, either option is pretty useful, and you've only got one reaction, so basically just do the first one that comes up during the round.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Absolutely not.

Sorry but it really is absolutely not true at all.

Not even in "straight up" fights is that true, because the HP aren't a giant unified pool everyone draws from (unless you have some very wacky house rules). Stopping a PC going down may well buy you an extra round or more of DPR from that PC. That is likely to be significantly more than the bonus damage you'd have done.

Unless your bonus damage is so large it's larger than an entire round of DPR from that PC, the rule of thumb has got to be "keep them up". It is simply not mechanically correct to claim that it's functionally equal. Think about turn orders, think about missed rounds. Hell, keeping someone up might give you multiple rounds of DPR from them if the situation changes. The only time it's definitely not going to be worth it is if they protection you can do isn't going to be enough to keep them up.
If someone is on the edge of dropping? Yes.

If someone isn't on the edge of dropping? No.

Healing doesn't -have- to wait 'til the last second, though I know a lot of parties prefer to play it that way. It's generally better to keep everyone at least one crit away from the ground. But more is always better.

Which is why the rest of the paragraph specifically notes "Or at least from falling" which you cut out of the context.
 

If someone is on the edge of dropping? Yes.

If someone isn't on the edge of dropping? No.

Healing doesn't -have- to wait 'til the last second, though I know a lot of parties prefer to play it that way. It's generally better to keep everyone at least one crit away from the ground. But more is always better.
I mean, whether they're about to drop or not it actually can be helpful. It's just if they're not you're guessing at the future. If someone seems likely to take more damage, then yeah shielding them is likely to be better. If they're about to drop you can be pretty much sure it's better - so that just removes the guesswork.

As for keeping PCs "at least one crit away from the ground", I don't think that's even physically possible until like, what level 5 or 6 or something, given how big some low-level monsters can crit. Even then it largely means keeping people topped up until like what level 8? Obviously some PCs have waaaaaaaaaaay more HP so will meet this threshold sooner.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
I mean, whether they're about to drop or not it actually can be helpful. It's just if they're not you're guessing at the future. If someone seems likely to take more damage, then yeah shielding them is likely to be better. If they're about to drop you can be pretty much sure it's better - so that just removes the guesswork.

As for keeping PCs "at least one crit away from the ground", I don't think that's even physically possible until like, what level 5 or 6 or something, given how big some low-level monsters can crit. Even then it largely means keeping people topped up until like what level 8? Obviously some PCs have waaaaaaaaaaay more HP so will meet this threshold sooner.
Artillerist Artificers are amazing at it, honestly.

Drop down a protection cannon and use your bonus action to make it pulse every turn for 1d8+int Temp HP every turn for an hour. Or keep it on your person, however you prefer to handle it.

You can keep the whole party bathed in a lovely glow of Temp HP!

So, y'know. It's gonna depend on the class, really. Some are great at it, some are okay at it. Some of them are better at last minute saves, like the Psionic Knight.
 

Artillerist Artificers are amazing at it, honestly.

Drop down a protection cannon and use your bonus action to make it pulse every turn for 1d8+int Temp HP every turn for a minute. Or keep it on your person, however you prefer to handle it.

You can keep the whole party bathed in a lovely glow of Temp HP!

So, y'know. It's gonna depend on the class, really. Some are great at it, some are okay at it. Some of them are better at last minute saves, like the Psionic Knight.
Yeah if you've got AOE THP you're basically a god-maker in 5E lol, Twilight Clerics have a very similar effect. Psi Knight is definitely best saving his stuff for saves (not necessarily "last hit", but "low health" certainly) if it's going to be needed.
 

Kurotowa

Legend
The choice between healing and damage depends on a lot of things. Resource efficiency, action economy, if you're fighting a single boss or a gang of lesser targets, and the precise tactical situation of the moment.

You bring up the Psi Warrior as your example, but that's actually fairly anomalous. The psionic energy die is worth the same on offense or defense and neither takes up a full action to activate. The more common option is an up-casted Cure Wounds or False Life, where it costs your main action and usually scales terribly compared to using the spell slot on a more offensive spell.

Tasha's Cauldron tries to offer up some better new damage prevention options with the Psi Warrior subclass and Interception fighting style, and the book is still new enough that I don't think there's any real community consensus on them yet. However my gut is that they'd be fairly good at low level, where they can often negate an entire hit, but will scale poorly at high levels when hits do far more damage and the damage prevented has barely gone up.

The rule of thumb is that offense is king because removing enemies from combat shifts the action economy in your side's favor, and reducing a target's HP to zero is the most reliable way to do that. Being able to efficiently preserve the party's HP levels is a strategic level concern. It's important if you're doing an old school long dungeon crawl where slow resource depletion is a major concern, but that style of play isn't too popular these days.
 


Mathematically, unless the bonus damage is equal to one attack, I'm pretty sure it's better to prevent damage than use it for offense. While a dead enemy deals no damage, this only matters if the bonus damage makes the difference in the kill. A lot of damage is "lost" against each enemy, since anything beyond 0 HP is irrelevant, so the odds of this happening is pretty low. Conversely, it's worth it if the bonus damage is equivalent to an attack, as that reduces the number of overall attacks required against that enemy.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Defensive abilities tend to create a more controlled but slower encounter. We can imagine a healer in some game that can heal any damage thrown at the party, such that they're virtually guaranteed to win unless they get one shot.

Offensive abilities tend to create a faster and more tense encounter. I think the classic example would be rocket tag. He who strikes first wins.

Obviously, those extremes are merely meant to illustrate the idea.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
The best offense is a good defense, I've always heard.

Or something like that anyway.

But seriously, if you can prevent your opponent from even getting a turn, you win. So whether you do that by stunning them or knocking them out or whatever doesn't really matter, but the smart money is always on the fast and hard offense as the best policy in combat.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Games where healing outpaces damage are boring. So no sustainable source of healing can be a good plan; either it sucks compared to damage, or it makes the game boring.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Mathematically, unless the bonus damage is equal to one attack, I'm pretty sure it's better to prevent damage than use it for offense. While a dead enemy deals no damage, this only matters if the bonus damage makes the difference in the kill. A lot of damage is "lost" against each enemy, since anything beyond 0 HP is irrelevant, so the odds of this happening is pretty low. Conversely, it's worth it if the bonus damage is equivalent to an attack, as that reduces the number of overall attacks required against that enemy.
For the psi's warrior's example, the damage is 1d6+int bonus (then climbs to 1d8 etc) so it's the equivalent of an attack, but not a particularly strong one.

Battlemaster is different, because parry dice is + stat, while the extra damage dice is only one dice ... but it usually carries a "rider" effect, like knocking people prone.

The Psi Warrior can also get such a rider, for free, but only at level 7. At that point, the amount of damage prevented becomes a bit less significant, while trying to knock or move enemies for free as part of an attack and extra damage looks more like a better deal.
 

Damage is irrelevant when craftsmen in your fledgling barony complain your tax collector charged them double, and your investigation yields that he skimmed a few coins in the past, gave breaks to a few poor folk who had a bad harvest before winter, and made up the difference with what he perceived as the richest people in town. The tax collector thought he was doing right by the people, which is what he emulated your party's leadership doing, but if you fail to act, you won't have anyone to build your Temple (which you promised you would to the Church since they loaned you a significant amount of resources to found your town).

I digress. This is a thread about combat, and in D&D, a good offense is the best defense. It's been that way since Day 1, but really, it shouldn't have one iota of impact on what you play.
 

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