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

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
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.
your message here is "don't focus only on the mechanics, think roleplay and problem solving" and I completely agree with you. But I already had a "let me tell you about my character" thread :p
 

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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.
In the case of the psi warrior, it really depends on ability scores. If they have only a mediocre Int (+1 or +2), then it's about the equivalent to a cantrip (1d8-1d10), making it worth it levels 3-4. Once you get to level 5, however, it's going to fall behind most cantrips and still be weaker than most attacks. Optimal determination is going to be based on the value of the group's average damage per attack, using it for offensive if it's only a point or three less than a regular attack, or defense if it's more than that. If the DM lets the players know enemy HP, then you can figure if the odds of the extra damage causing a kill, allowing even better optimization.

Riders throw things off, since the benefit of the rider is going to be situational. I've seen a battlemaster use intimidating strike on an already feared enemy, simply for the extra damage. Good riders can make or break an encounter though, making the damage much less important. For example, vicious mockery's disadvantage against a single brute (like an ogre) is far more important than the d4 damage, since it almost negates the enemy's one attack.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So it's unclear to me if one is clearly better than the other, or if it's situational, or roughly equivalent.

Any time you ask "Is X better than Y?" it pays to realize that is only half the question.

The full question is, "Is X better than Y for achieving <purpose>?"

Why are you in this fight? Who are you fighting? What are your goals? In Murdurhobo D&D, you are in the fight to kill all the enemies and take their stuff.. So, yes, there's going to be a bias toward spending resources to kill the enemy.

But, what if your goal isn't to kill the enemy? What if you want to pluck the Eye of Argon from the statue's face, with a side goal of trying to not kill too many people? Then, the answer will be different.
 

Kurotowa

Legend
Why are you in this fight? Who are you fighting? What are your goals? In Murdurhobo D&D, you are in the fight to kill all the enemies and take their stuff.. So, yes, there's going to be a bias toward spending resources to kill the enemy.

Here's another one to ask. How tactically clever does your DM run the NPCs? Some DMs will have bandits and beasts throw themselves at the big dangerous looking warrior taking point, and others will have then skirmish around the flanks and try to gank the squishies. Damage prevention becomes a lot more valuable in the latter case.
 


Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
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.
This is an aside, but have you been in a party with a twilight cleric? OMG the temp hp... with a radius of 30 feet and not having to use concentration it's phenomenal. The artillerist has to give up the pew pew cannon, the twilight cleric gets it almost for free...
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
This is an aside, but have you been in a party with a twilight cleric? OMG the temp hp... with a radius of 30 feet and not having to use concentration it's phenomenal. The artillerist has to give up the pew pew cannon, the twilight cleric gets it almost for free...
Well... I mean... It's 1d6+Wis or 1d8+Int, one minute versus one hour, and once per short rest for Clerics or once per day (plus once per spell slot) for Artificers.

So just make an Artificer with 1 level of Warlock and it's practically the same!

It does mean you'll be using your bonus action every turn on that little cannon, but it also doesn't use concentration.

The on-top benefit for clerics is the Charm/Fear ending which is just -lovely-.

I dunno. I feel like they're really close. Though the Cleric wins out on overall flexibility of spellcasting compared to an Artificer, obviously. Plus armor and stuff and spells without concentration and with concentration to stack on top of it.
 



Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Well... I mean... It's 1d6+Wis or 1d8+Int, one minute versus one hour, and once per short rest for Clerics or once per day (plus once per spell slot) for Artificers.

So just make an Artificer with 1 level of Warlock and it's practically the same!

It does mean you'll be using your bonus action every turn on that little cannon, but it also doesn't use concentration.

The on-top benefit for clerics is the Charm/Fear ending which is just -lovely-.

I dunno. I feel like they're really close. Though the Cleric wins out on overall flexibility of spellcasting compared to an Artificer, obviously. Plus armor and stuff and spells without concentration and with concentration to stack on top of it.
the real difference is range. The cleric is 30 foot radius, not 10. And as you mentioned, the charm/fear ender...

We played an adventure with a cleric and a shepherd druid - ie a "summoner" - those summoned creatures got really tough.
 


squibbles

Explorer
[...] 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.
Generally, in 5e it's more efficient to prevent damage than deal damage if the numbers are equal.

Monsters have lots of hit points and don't do that much damage. PCs have relatively fewer hit points and do lots of damage. If you have your PC mitigate a monster's damage with 1d8+Int, you are, on average, gonna get more bang for your buck than if you add 1d8+Int to your damage.

This is one of the reasons why the 1st level spell cure wounds heals a single creature for 1d8+mod, while 1st level spells that damage a single creature do 3d4+3, 3d8, 4d6, 3d10, etc.

But--as many others have already pointed out--efficiency isn't that important, context will dictate which option is better.

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 [...]
The X HP is very likely going to be less than the Y HP, and Y decreases at a faster rate than X, which makes adding to X more efficient.

But again, context is more important than efficiency.
 


Generally, in 5e it's more efficient to prevent damage than deal damage if the numbers are equal.

I disagree, due to 5e's whack-a-mole healing system. Healing is most efficient if you let a player drop, because any damage that would take you past 0 is ignored. It can cost a lot to block or heal 1d8 or damage, or when you're at 1HP you can ignore 3d8 of damage except for that pesky first step. Also, dropping to 0 and below was much more serious in earlier editions.
 


squibbles

Explorer
I disagree, due to 5e's whack-a-mole healing system. Healing is most efficient if you let a player drop, because any damage that would take you past 0 is ignored. It can cost a lot to block or heal 1d8 or damage, or when you're at 1HP you can ignore 3d8 of damage except for that pesky first step. Also, dropping to 0 and below was much more serious in earlier editions.
Damage prevention is more mathematically efficient, point for point, than inflicting damage (for PCs... usually) but there are plenty of cases where leveraging the death rules--assuming that no variant death and dying rules are in play--would be a more efficient use of resources over the course of an encounter or an adventuring day.

Do note, though, that the 3rd level psi-warrior feature that @Ancalagon is asking about doesn't heal damage and can't bring a PC up if he/she drops, it only prevents damage.

But we're getting into a lot of incomparables, so let me restate my (near uselessly wishy-washy) intended takeaway:
context is more important than efficiency.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Damage prevention is more mathematically efficient, point for point, than inflicting damage (for PCs... usually) but there are plenty of cases where leveraging the death rules--assuming that no variant death and dying rules are in play--would be a more efficient use of resources over the course of an encounter or an adventuring day.

Do note, though, that the 3rd level psi-warrior feature that @Ancalagon is asking about doesn't heal damage and can't bring a PC up if he/she drops, it only prevents damage.

But we're getting into a lot of incomparables, so let me restate my (near uselessly wishy-washy) intended takeaway:
It's not a 1:1 thing though. If something drops bob it's statistically almost certain that some fraction of the damage will simply go away when bob gets healed. Often a significant fraction to boot. Doing otherwise would require bob to have exactly as many current hp as the attacker dealt in damage.

Even if the healer does less damage than bob it's still better to attack & let him drop until he actually drops. Healing abilities tend to be made to exploit the damage beyond zero & death save rules rather than being significant enough to counter damage. the artillerist heal turret might be the only exception.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
There seems to be a broad agreement that "timing matters" - there really are moments where it's very clear that one or the other is "the thing to do" at that moment.

But what about when there is no pressing "need" to do more/prevent more damage? (round 1 is a good example).
 

It's not a 1:1 thing though. If something drops bob it's statistically almost certain that some fraction of the damage will simply go away when bob gets healed. Often a significant fraction to boot. Doing otherwise would require bob to have exactly as many current hp as the attacker dealt in damage.
Conversely, damage beyond the creature's HP is just as wasted. While you can meta-game healing, you can't with damage unless the DM tells you their HP. Reducing damage by 8 will always save 8 HP, but adding 8 damage might only amount to 1 point of damage (or even 0 if the attack would drop the creature anyway).

While off point (which is damage reduction vs extra damage), healing downed companions can be less efficient, since the companion might lose an action as a result. Gaining even 10 extra HP isn't worth losing out on a round of attacks or spellcasting, not to mention losing Concentration or other active abilities like Rage.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
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.
Perhaps the better question isn't are they roughly equivalent but rather, when is one better than the other.
 

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