D&D General Is the "Heavy Hitter" archetype power-gaming?

Greenfield

Adventurer
I play 3.5 most of the time, but regardless of rules set, it's a simple question. Still, I'll spell it out.

The "Heavy Hitter" is typically a melee type with a two handed weapon (Great sword of great axe in 3.5), using the skills/feats/abilities to do a lot of melee damage.

The down side of the build is that the two handed weapon precludes the use of a shield, so they put out a lot of damage, but they take a lot of damage as well.

One player in my group has complained that this is "Power Gaming".

The more extreme version is a fighter/barbarian build: Fighters get more Feats, but Barbarians get Rage, which temporarily boosts both STRength and CONstitution (and thus hit-points).

A moderate example might be a Fighter with a STRength of 16, a Great Sword (2 D6 per blow), using Power Attack, Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization. In 3.5, this character will start off two AC points low, because of the lack of a shield. As they advance in levels that gap widens, as others start to get magic shields that would give a wider bonus. The HH build doesn't get it.

So at 10th level the build I described is +10 to hit from BAB, +3 from Strength, +1 from a Feat and maybe another +3 from magic. I'm seeing +17 or so to hit there.

If they Power Attack for +5, their attack bonus drops to +12, but their damage increases sharply: 2D6 (sword) +5 (STR from 2 handed weapon) +3 (Magic) + 10 for the Power Attack. Average damage is 25 per blow.

If they're using a Great Axe their average damage drops by 1.5 points, but they do triple damage on a Critical Hit. (Great Sword does double damage.)

Now, how often will they actually hit? That's the question.

Our general rule-of-thumb is that a critter's AC better be Level+14, at a minimum, to be in the fight at all. Let's presume a point higher, so a 10th level opponent will typically be AC 25.

Our power-attacking HH will hit on a 13 or better. Hits increase if they have a Bless, Prayer or Bard's Song on the field. As it is though, the fighter has about a 40% chance of hitting on the first blow, 15% on the second. It's a toss up whether you get those 25 points or not.

Without the power attack they hit on an 8 or better, and the 13 is for their second blow, but they do 10 points less damage, 15 per hit. So 65% 1st blow, 40% second, which means 15 per round, reliably.

Net-net, the power attack is a bad idea. Drop the enemy AC or add some buffs to the fighter and that changes.

But with or without the power attack, whether the enemy's AC is higher or lower, whether there are buffs on the field or not, the fighter's AC will be two or more points lower than their sword-and-board opponent, which translates as an average increase in the damage they take per round of 10%+.

We can observe that, in some versions of D&D, a 16 strength fighter at 10th level isn't simply "modest" or "moderate", he's downright wimpy. 3.* and Pathfinder both allow for stat increases as the characters level, so an 18 is more likely, and 20 + isn't out of reach, presuming a Giant's Strength item of some kind. That bumps not only the hit percentage, but also the damage per blow, which moves the tipping point in favor of the power-attacking fighter.

So, having looked at numbers, do you thing the "Heavy Hitter" is unbalanced?
 

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James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Oh no, not even close. Melee damage can be built to be very high, true, but it's also the easiest kind of character to shut down. First of all, being in melee means they will draw the ire of most monsters and be vulnerable to a great deal of damage. Without serious mitigation, they will go down very quickly in combat.

Not to mention, they can be foiled by difficult terrain, ranged opponents, flying opponents, and often trivial uses of magic. Most melee classes have terrible non-Fortitude saves, so such a character can be easily affected by hold person, web, slow, sleet storm, spike growth, spike stones, etc. etc..

Plus, the ultimate expression of such a character (in 3.5 at least) is the ubercharger, who uses things like the Shock Trooper Feat and Leap Attack to run in and do hundreds of points of damage. Joe Greatsword with Power Attack has nothing on such wild builds.
 
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cbwjm

Legend
It's as much power gaming as any other niche combat character. It is no more power gaming than a dedicated archer, a pyromancer, or a sneak-attacking rogue. They are all effective because D&D provides easy ways to make them effective.
Pretty much what I was going to say, the heavy hitter is a classic archetype and I think if they couldn't be done that DnD would be somehow missing out on a core character concept.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I have a magus who's a melee monster in a 1e pathfinder game, but if he can't find a way to close to a foe, he's in trouble.

The Magus could be said to be OP arguably because he has much more "tricks" up his sleeves than just hitting really hard, beings a 2/3 caster - mine has a dex built and is also an excellent scout and a strong de-buffer.

But "power gaming" is a very nebulous terms. I once was accused of power gaming because I made a dwarven fighter with a good con...
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
No archetype itself is power gaming outside of the archetype "Power Gaming"

Power gaming is a level of focus towards an archetype. Typically done to an excessive amount to the norm or to a point of noticeable additional detriment.

1 tier under Min Maxing, 2 tiers under Munchkining.
 


tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Back in 3.5 that kind of character was trivially easy to shut down & rife with vulnerabilities left open in order to fit a particular niche. I'll say that there is certainly a line where it goes from mere optimizing to powergaming somewhere but it doesn't sound like you are crossing it. In 5e things are a little different
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
In 5e in a way it's easier because you can move and get your full attack - but it's also harder because you are less "sticky" as a tank, and ranged DPS is just so good
 


Power gaming is in the eye of the beholder.

I run a game of Pathfinder 1e for my wife. (It's our little home game for when we want to game with just the two of us.)

She runs 3 PCs. Every battle starts with: the bard drops a Haste spell and a Bardic Song, (at their level bard song is just a move equivalent action) the cleric casts Prayer, and then the barbarian Rages. EVERY battle. And it's fine. As others have said, there's ways to mitigate the barbarian's damage output. And then there's the times the bugger rolls a crit and does 230-ish damage to my BBEG and I cry "Dammit!" Such is life and gaming, there's ups and downs. It's all good.

BTW. @Greenfield, I think you've miscalculated the damage in your example in the OP. I'm pretty sure (haven't looked at 3.5 in a loooonnnnnggg time) that the power attack bonus for a 2-h weapon is 3x the attack penalty. I only mention because I hate for your player to miss out on some good damage.
 



You’re playing 3.5 and getting complaints that a 2h fighter is power gaming? 🤣🤣🤣

No. Not even close. You can do some truly overpowered things in that edition, a fighter with a Greatsword or Greataxe and Power Attack doesn’t even begin to touch what 3.5e power gaming looks like.
Yeah, this.

Powergaming is not "playing a character with a powerful action." If it were, then literally every spellcaster (yes, including the weak ones) would be powergaming even without a single feat spent.

Powergaming is when you turn optimization into an effort to produce perfect solutions...and then find ways to ensure that those perfect solutions are always applicable to whatever situation you face. For example, in 4e, it is not powergaming to focus on developing your skill with Arcana, because that is a valid, focused thing to study. However, for reasons that escape me even to this day, Arcana got...a LOT of support. A ridiculous amount of it, in fact. Including stuff like the Arcane Mutterings power, which lets you replace any Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check with an Arcana check once per encounter. With enough investment, a character can turn Arcana into a mega-skill for short periods in any encounter...and then work to ensure that all they need is one or two uses. That's powergaming.

From there, min-maxing would be ensuring that you pay the absolute minimum effective cost (e.g. giving up stuff you don't care about) in order to get the maximum possible benefit in your chosen area of focus. A hyper-specialist Wizard focused on Transmutation or Conjuration in 3.5e is a good example here, where the extra spell slots are almost always worth giving up the very very small handful of good spells in other schools simply because of how versatile and potent conjuration and transmutation are.
 


James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I mean, that is less "powergaming" and more "openly exploiting stinky cheese." But yes.
Well to be honest, the idea behind DMM was fine on the face of it, in my opinion. Turn attempts weren't doing much, and many Clerics were best served initially by ignoring Charisma due to how wonky the mechanic was.

Divine Feats gave Turn Attempts something to do. I played one DMM Cleric (my last, in fact), and I focused on buffs that could affect the entire party. Such as Mass Conviction (+3 morale to saves for all allies in 20 ft.) and Recitation (The spell affects all allies within the spell's area at the moment you cast it. Your allies gain a +2 luck bonus to AC, on attack rolls, and on saving throws, or a +3 luck bonus if they worship the same deity as you- I tried to convert my allies to the worship of Lathander, but to no avail).

This worked out very well for the group, I certainly wasn't overpowered (my main action most turns was to use a Reserve Feat, Fiery Burst), and it gave everyone involved more latitude when it came to magic items (the DM didn't have to worry about making sure "the big six" were in play, and just used whatever treasure dropped from the adventures, and the players didn't have to pore over the books to try and find the right items to purchase, when the opportunity arose).

So IMO, DMM is a tool, like any other, and while it can be abused, it could be used responsibly.
 


So IMO, DMM is a tool, like any other, and while it can be abused, it could be used responsibly.
Ah, you were using it as intended, rather than the incredibly stinky cheese that the feat usually implies. I feel that. Did something similar once, some time ago, as a gestalt Druid/Wizard (that, by using a feat, was purely SAD, using Int alone), by taking the dreaded breaker-of-campaigns PrC...Planar Shepherd. But I used it primarily for flavor and to buff my allies. It made sense (effectively, I was a planar scholar-druid, with a healthy side of "actually also a priest for Totally Not Bahamut, We Swear.")

Most of the time though, both Planar Shepherd and DMM are not used that way, and invoke some absolutely stinky cheese, as noted. I assume you weren't using Nightsticks to get extra turning attempts?
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Ah, you were using it as intended, rather than the incredibly stinky cheese that the feat usually implies. I feel that. Did something similar once, some time ago, as a gestalt Druid/Wizard (that, by using a feat, was purely SAD, using Int alone), by taking the dreaded breaker-of-campaigns PrC...Planar Shepherd. But I used it primarily for flavor and to buff my allies. It made sense (effectively, I was a planar scholar-druid, with a healthy side of "actually also a priest for Totally Not Bahamut, We Swear.")

Most of the time though, both Planar Shepherd and DMM are not used that way, and invoke some absolutely stinky cheese, as noted. I assume you weren't using Nightsticks to get extra turning attempts?
Sadly, all I have left are my notes, I can't seem to find the sheet, so I don't know if I had gotten any Nightsticks or not. Not having access to someone able to make them and needing other magic items made them a little costly, so I was trying to acquire other sources of bonus Turn Attempts, since I could only Persist 2 spells by the time we stopped playing (at around 9th level). I know there was a magic holy symbol that granted two bonus turn attempts, and of course I had a high Charisma and Extra Turning. According to my notes, the party was saving up funds to get me a Staff of Healing, since we were going through Wands of Cure Light Wounds at a fairly insane rate. It was funny that even with my buffs, the published adventures the DM was using were really hard- the last one I recall involved us taking on a Yuan-Ti cult to rescue slaves, and of course, they were trying to revive some dead King or whatever, in a fight that tore us to shreds.
 

To join in the chorus, LOL, no, a greatweapon fighter isn't power gaming and especially not in 3.5. The greatweapon fighter is pretty good at one thing - killing enemies that get within five feet of them. The challenge is getting that close.

Indeed I'd go so far as to say that the heavy hitter is one of the archetypes the game is based around - and one of the simplest to benchmark. And what you've described is using only using PHB material; if he were complaining about a War Hulk/Hulking Hurler combo he might (but only might) have a point. You've done a good job of explaining the weaknesses of the build.

So what I suggest you do is sit down with the player complaining about powergaming and ask what they mean. Because the problem is either that that player isn't communicating properly (such as they don't enjoy having to heal up the heavy hitter with their own resources) or it's something else with that player.
 

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