Sharpshooters Are the Worst Thing in D&D, but That Speaks Well of Fifth Edition

What would you think of Dungeons & Dragons feats that gave these benefits?

  • You gain immunity to all melee attacks.

  • Before making a melee attack, you can teleport to within melee attack range of your target, attack, and then teleport back to your original position.

Overpowered? Absolutely. I’m not competing for worst D&D designer. My broken feat designs make a provocative way to show the big advantages of attacking from range.

When you attack from a distance, melee attackers can’t hit you. You can fire past obstacles that hamper movement. You can switch targets without having to move. No wonder melee attackers tend to be barbarians and paladins; no sensible person would opt for such inefficiency and risk.

Ranged attacks suffer drawbacks: Targets can gain cover. If foes move next to you, then your attacks suffer disadvantage and you stop being immune to their melee attacks.

Fortunately for ranged attackers, the game’s two most broken feats dismantle all these disadvantages. With Sharpshooter, you ignore cover. With Crossbow Expert, you can make ranged attacks while within 5 feet of enemies without suffering disadvantage. With these feats, melee attacks no longer endanger you because you inflict such massive damage that by the time a foe reaches you, it’s dead.

D&D’s designers seem to think ranged and melee attacks represent two different, but mostly equal styles, when really, ranged attacks offer massive intrinsic advantages. Why else would the game’s design so often reward ranged attackers with extra benefits that surpass anything melee combatants get?

Exhibit A: Ranged rogues can hide and then pop up to attack from hiding, gaining advantage and a sneak attack. Melee rogues almost never get to attack while hidden, but at least backstabbers can sneak attack without advantage when an ally stands next to a target. If that edge only applied to melee rogues, then the game would offer different but comparable boosts to archers and backstabbers. But archers benefit from adjacent allies too. Remember backstabbing? Now it rates as a strategy for players seeking the roleplaying challenge of playing an inferior character.

Exhibit B: The Sharpshooter feat offers more proof that D&D’s design favors ranged attackers. Compare Sharpshooter to its melee counterpart, Great Weapon Master. Both feats let characters exchange -5 to hit for +10 damage. But rangers and fighters—the classes most likely to take Sharpshooter—can also opt for the Archery fighting style, which grants a +2 bonus to attack rolls with ranged weapons. In practice, sharpshooters gain 10 damage for a mere -3 attack penalty. Great weapon fighters get no such boost to accuracy.

Also, great weapon masters must stand in harm’s way.

Also, great weapon masters usually must move to attack and to switch targets—so inefficient.

Sharpshooter rates as the strongest feat in the game, but the Crossbow Expert feat multiplies the power. Crossbow Expert nullifies the biggest weakness of ranged attackers—the disadvantage of attacking with an adjacent foe. Plus, by using a hand crossbow, the feat allows an additional attack. Sure, a hand crossbow averages a point less damage than, say, a longbow, but when each hit still deals 13-15 points of fixed damage, the damage die is just gravy.

On the occasional critical hit, great weapon masters get an extra attack. Crossbow experts get one every damn turn.

My exhibit C further proves the D&D designers’ brazen favoritism toward ranged attackers. Fifth edition drops the spell Protection from Normal Missiles, a spell that dates to the original little, brown books. The prosecution rests.

What makes sharpshooters the worst thing in D&D?

Before I explain, understand that by labeling sharpshooters as the worst, I’m aiming a backhanded compliment at the strength of the edition. In any other edition of D&D, a feat as overpowered as Sharpshooter would not even rate on a list of the system’s flaws. Old editions suffered cracks at the foundation. Fifth edition suffers from an absurd feat.

When compared to other character types focused on dealing damage, sharpshooters overshadow other characters. DM Thomas Christy has hosted as many online D&D games for strangers as anyone. He says, “I have actually had players complain in game and out about how it seemed like they did not need to be there.” In a Todd Talks episode, Jen Kretchmer tells about asking a player to rebuild a crossbow expert. “The character was a nightmare of doing way more damage off the top, and no one else could get a hit in.” Pity the poor players who thought playing a hulking barbarian swinging a 2-handed great sword seemed like a recipe for maximum damage. Every turn, they’ll be embarrassed by a pip-squeak who reaps monsters with a toy crossbow.

I don’t aim to slam archers. They make an evocative archetype. And if you want to play an archer, play a sharpshooter. Next week, I’ll explain how to build a good one. I rarely want my players to feel obliged to build weakened characters. Dungeon masters can adapt to make sharpshooters a little less dominant.

By including overpowered feats that erase all the disadvantages of ranged attacks, the D&D design collapses the options for martial characters to two: (1) pick Sharpshooter or (2) pick something plainly weaker. Anything another build can do, a sharpshooter does better. Crossbow Expert enables fighters to gain all the out-sized benefits of Sharpshooter while attacking from melee and sporting enough hit points and armor to serve as a front-line tank.

Sharpshooters deal damage so efficiently that they throw D&D’s encounter math in the trash. Potentially interesting encounters against low-hit-point foes like spellcasters resemble an execution by firing squad. The evil wizard never acts. Unless DMs want every encounter to become a romp, they need to toughen the monsters and adopt tactics that slow ranged attackers. Dungeon masters: Do both.

Toughen the monsters. Before encounters, use your prerogative as a DM to boost the monsters’ hit points. The hit point totals in the creatures’ stat blocks just represents an average. Giving the monsters an increase within the die formula falls within the D&D rules.

Slow ranged attackers. Setting up encounters to slow sharpshooters isn’t about thwarting them. It creates situations more tactically interesting, situations that give other characters more chances to shine.

Start by adding total cover to your encounters, and then play creatures with the good sense to duck between their turns. This hardly counts as high strategy. If you throw a rock at a rat, it runs for cover. Faced with melee and ranged attacks, many foes will stay out of sight and let intruders come into reach. That usually works. By reputation, treasure hunters are bloodthirsty and undisciplined.

Such tactics encourage characters to move to engage. Melee fighters get more to do. They deserve to shine.

Total cover takes just a few columns or stalagmites.

One caution: Newer players can find foes that duck behind total cover frustrating. You may need to dial down the tactic or explain the rules for readying actions.

Start some monsters out of sight—especially the boss.

In the typical D&D battle, all the party’s foes start in plain sight. This makes the strongest monster an easy target for focused fire. Too often the evil mastermind dies before acting, or even before mocking the foolish do-gooders who dare to oppose them. The players never learn of the fiendish plan that will end their pitiful lives. Start that climactic battle with the main foe positioned somewhere the players cannot see. Let the characters spread out to attack the guards and lieutenants, and then have the biggest threat move into view on its turn. In D&D, villains must fight and monologue at the same time.

When some enemies begin out of sight, fights benefit. First, this gives some total cover. Plus, the battle feels more fluid; the situation more uncertain. As characters move into the room, they spot unseen foes. As monsters emerge, the players wonder what other surprises wait.

Battles with movement and cover tend to play to the strengths of melee characters. The monk finally gets to flaunt her speed! That hopeless, sub-optimal backstabber gains places to dash, disengage, and reasons to engage. The paladin can drive foes from hiding. Sure, these sorts of encounters may frustrate and threaten sharpshooters, but that just adds an extra benefit.

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93 Responses to Sharpshooters Are the Worst Thing in D&D, but That Speaks Well of Fifth Edition

  1. Oniguma says:

    I’ve found one little, often overlooked spell that does wonders to diminish the potential of ranged attackers: slow

    • Sapphire Crook says:

      Slow is a rare spell that doesn’t require sight. You just pick six targets in a pretty large cube, and they have to pick a god and pray. Fireball can kill, but Slow can save lives.

  2. Eric Bohm says:

    Wind Wall – “Arrows, bolts, and other ordinary projectiles launched at targets behind the wall automatically miss.” I don’t like using it because it is such a hard shut down, but it is useful for letting the rest of the party contribute while the sharpshooter is closing the distance.

    My other problem with these builds is that they tend to get paired with edge lord personas that offer little to no engagement outside of combat.

  3. Forodin says:

    too much like “paper, scissors, rock” to me….the game is devolving while pretending to evolve

  4. Akumetsu says:

    I’ll be honest, when I saw the start bit about teleporting into and out of combat, I thought this would be about the absurd Mobile+Charger feat combo, which lets you do just that while also giving you +5 damage for free.

  5. LordJasper says:

    There’s another idea that might help somewhat: start enforcing ammunition tracking. A lot of DMs let players get away with “forgetting” to track their arrows and crossbow bolts. Make archers keep track of every bolt they fire, and make them constantly have to buy new ones. And maybe this small village doesn’t sell crossbow bolts. Introducing scarcity could help people remember the downside of relying on ammo.

    • Aboo says:

      This. Is encumbrance still a thing? Because more than 2 dozen arrows would inhibit movement in combat. Imagine fighting with a laundry hamper strapped to your back.

      • Joshua Williams says:

        You might want to look that up. From what I have seen about actual archery, 40 to 50 arrows in a single quiver is not a stretch, and not a laundry hamper either.

        • John R Sowerby says:

          If you want reality, then yes, English longbowmen would have bunches of arrows, but they wouldn’t have them in a quiver when fighting. They would have them in the ground, easily to hand. The quiver (more an arrow bag) was a way of transporting a dozen at most, with the rest distributed before a battle from supplies in the wagon train

        • Jason Oldham says:

          This is where game mechanics poorly reflecta reality. An average quiver MIGHT hold 20 arrows. (Drawing on personal experience) They are bulky and need to be packaged with at least some consideration for the delicate bits. Bolts are slightly more accommodating but only slightly. I personally enforce some rather strict house rules as far as how much a player can pack around and how readibly accesible equipment may be… But thats just me, I like to make my players suffer just a little bit.

    • 1. Given how little there is to spend gold on in 5e, that’s not going to be a real limitation once this build gets into high gear.
      2. Every time a DM I’ve played with started enforcing ammunition restrictions (and occasionally when the DM didn’t), the archers started picking up Craft skills.

  6. Jeff says:

    Ranged attacks can also use darkness to gain advantage. You can be 200 feet away in the dark and if you target is lit, say by the sucker members of you party in Melee, you get advantage.

    Counting ammo can limit the effectiveness of ranged attacks. Longbow arrows are bulky. But players will argue they can carry hundreds of arrows based on the encumbrances rules, don’t let them.

    Realistically I think cleric cantrips are the worst part of 5e but I’m probably in a minority.

    I’m all for a 5.5e to fix little things like sharpshooter, update the errata, maybe add spelless rangers, etc.

    • Sapphire Crook says:

      Pretty sure the 5e crew already made a hard ‘no backsies’ rule.
      So no updated Rangers that aren’t these weird things.

    • As someone whose cleric hardly contributes to combat aside from stopping people from bleeding out specifically because of how bad cleric combat cantrips are, I think that’s fine. Not every class can do everything.

  7. Symon says:

    You seem to not take into account the wearher effects in your scenarios, as a real life user of a bow sharpshooter can be hindered by wind , rain, humidity and even cold. Indoors is easy also since castles have murder holes and very thick doors. While sharpshooter and crossbow expert seem to “break” the game careful planning can indeed even challenge that combo. Besides this also works for the bad guys😎

    • And the rules for that are…?

      • Gerigk says:

        In strong winds ranged attacks suffer disadvantage (DMG, p110), PCs gain exhaustion from extreme cold and are in lightly obscured areas due to rainfalls.

        • Aside from strong winds, that affects everyone equally. They’re not a check on archers so much as a general debuff.
          To say nothing of how much you’d strain suspension of disbelief to have strong winds as anything other than an occasional gimmick. Especially if an adventure takes place largely indoors or underground…which most do, because the game isn’t called Drylands & Dragons.

  8. Rob says:

    If you truly think am easily overcome advantage like range is the worst thing in 5E you really don’t understand the game at all.

    • Bolas says:

      To expand on this comment:
      Fighting in a cave, indoors, or underground really limits engagement distances. If you’re fighting in an open plain the archer should be useful. That’s literally their best case scenario.

      Also, as a reminder: everyone needs a ranged weapon. If you think you don’t, you are wrong.

      • On the other hand, most of those confined spaces also make it easy for melee-focused allies to stop enemies from getting to you, especially if said enemies are big (which most are, once you get past the goblins-and-wolves phase).
        And just because everyone needs a ranged weapon doesn’t mean every monster has one. Humanoids usually do; magical creatures sometimes get something; other than that, they’re probably SOL. (And the ranged options are usually weaker than the melee ones for anything not specialized in ranged attacks.)

  9. Steve says:

    Reintroduce Protection from Normal Missiles into your game or any other spells that will help.

    • Todd Ward says:

      Half damage vs ranged attacks for concentration?..

      • Reginald C Greene says:

        To me to be a sharpshooter you must have specialized training that doesn’t involve a party. Most sharpshooters are stand alone characters. They are trained in taking out large number quickly due to being a single defender. A party hampers the skills of the sharpshooter unless the party is say in melee with the foes prior to the sharpshooters attack. They are like snipers. Snipers dont run in a pack of 3 to 7 party members. Its for good reason. For one they have to place themselves in a probe position to be extra accurate. Even behind cover they are prone once they attack making it a sure counter attack against them. When foes scatter for cover after a sharpshooter attacks…the sharp shooter must find new cover or be prone to counter attacks that can lay waste to a sharpshooter.

      • Lcsulla says:

        I have an aarakocra ranger T lvl 15 that does great dmg at range but almost got 1shot by a hell knight. He has no real defense against magic. Was in a 60ft cube of a room and was useless. Got held then bruised. They found another and left him back so he would live. Again melee fighter on an open field he is nearly invonconle. But how many encounter happen outside on an open field.

  10. Mr. No Thank You says:

    Does it really speak well of 5E, really though? Poor game balance is pretty damning in what is currently the most popular RPG by far at the moment and the introduction to the genre of tabletop to most newcomers.

    It’s strange how intuitive and brilliant the core game mechanic is compared to how half-baked and wildly disparate the other subsystems are in 5E, like spells and monsters/CR.

    I’m interested to see if Pathfinder 2E can get both right (balance and streamlined, intuitive gameplay). At the moment I’m not optimistic, and even if PF2E is leaps and bounds better than 5E they’ll never catch up in popularity.

    For what it’s worth, I have a sharpshooter crossbow expert in one of my games who absolutely wrecks encounters designed for a party of seven.

    • falconloft says:

      Check out 13th Age. It’s been out a while and is at the top of all the d20 games as far as both balance (all classes – both simple and complex – contribute equally, but they do it in a way that is unique to that class) and streamlining (the actual ruleset is quite brief, and combat is harder hitting and faster, rarely lasting more than three or four rounds).

      • Jeff Loftin says:

        This, so much this. I love 13th Age, it’s my favorite d20 variant system. that said, it is very much a “big hero” system where you feel very powerful so not for everyone.

    • carlosmoya79 says:

      Well it does paint 5E as *better* than previous editions if ranged combat and a grand total of two broken feats are the most unbalanced it has.

      That said, it does not paint AD&D 5E as “good”. Only as “better than other editions of AD&D (especially 3E and 4E)”. Which is not unlike describing something as having “a more coherent plot than Plan 9 from Outer Space” or “a better romance than Twilight”. Faint praise is a legitimate way to insult a work.

  11. Me says:

    I feel like your making ranged seem more powerful then it is. The fact is Ranged have a lot of limitations (Ammo, Shield of Arrow Catching, Etc) but the biggest thing your forgetting is that magic exsists. Where a paladin has far better hit points then a ranger (where a melee character invests in con where a ranger invests in wisdom and dex) and Barbarians laugh at spell damage, a ranger really has to hope it doesn’t get hit by that spell (They might be fine against a fireball but a simple Eldritch blast against their leather armor could kill, and has much better range). And where a melee character gats Mage Slayer, rangers get nothing, and the mages can still turn invisible, fly or just make you fall over dead. Rangers aren’t a free win their is a lot that goes into making a good one. Of anything is overpowered it’s wizards, and other mages but there offset by being useless early on, where even gold for arrows is scarce.

    Also, it’s not like melees are useless against rangers, if they take a turn getting close (using a dash) then their screwed. If you have this problem just get sentinel and get within 5 feet. They can’t run and they’re dead (they’re 2 greataxes with mega crits vs your bow with two shots and disadvantageor crossbow with one shot.

    • When was the last time any DM enforced ammunition limitations? When was the last time any of them kept enforcing ammo limits after a player pointed out any sufficiently-woodsy character could make new arrows in their spare time? At the end of the day, ammunition is just an irritation, not a nerf.
      Specific countermeasures only meaningfully impact balance if they’re common. One specific magic item doesn’t count.
      And fighters can choose ranged feats, too. Rangers being weak doesn’t make bows weaker.

  12. curtis brown says:

    There are plenty of other busted combo’s. This is relatively tame. Oh geez the ranged characters are playing at range and thats just BROKEN. Uhm ok.. use fast monsters that close the distance?? Allot of dungeons tend not to be exceptionally spacious so if your doing any dungeon delving in dnd you should be getting into cqc. Wind wall and slow exist. Using cover also works.. there are plenty of more annoying combo’s in dnd tbh. Try a warforged wizard with his 1st level in fighter. Suddenly the wizard is the tankiest guy in the party with a shield and then adding on spells like blur or mirror image to sweeten the deal. Double annoying if you make him a necromancer with undead body guards.. and you could always go for a 2nd level in fighter for action surge or a 1st level cleric for shield of faith aswell..

  13. Jeff Allen says:

    What the author has highlighted are exactly the reasons that ranged weapons replaced melee in the real world. Missile fire works without risk to the attacker if their opponent is not similarly armed.

    As others up thread have pointed out, there are lots of remedies in DnD that the real world doesn’t have. The archers advantage doesn’t bother me.

  14. Cory Chambers says:

    You spelled paladin wrong

  15. Ryan says:

    Sharpshooter has the same problem as paladin aura, you have to build the entire encounter around it or it just wins. Cover no longer matters, distance doesn’t either, you basically need to start every fight as an ambush. And it becomes a bigger problem when you have two ranged players, one sharpshooter and one not. The sharpshooter one just shows up the other in every combat scenerio. Its a centralizing feat.
    Crossbow expert by itself is not nearly as centralizing. A bonus action hand crossbow attack is the same as two weapon fighting style without duel wielder, d6+Dex. More importantly, it can’t be done consistently unless you are only using a hand crossbow, you need a free hand to reload due to the Ammunition property. And no disadvantage in melee is good, but by itself isn’t gamebreaking. Most crossbow experts dont want to be in melee for other reasons beside disadvantage.

  16. SyCry says:

    As a seasoned DM, the hide after every attack thing for rogues is beyond stale and I require them to explain how and where they logically hide, and if it’s the same thing twice, I give them no advantage because the enemy is expecting you (unless you stealthy move away first and reposition). Also, the balance is that Melle classes have higher health pools to take the hits while they close in on a target. Yeah, rnaged attackers have nice burst but are situational in that they create situations. A smart DM will have enemies go behind full cover nullifying basic ranged attacks, or and flank ranged characters. That or do what I do and have something like a tower shield which impedes movement and is cumbersome but allows for a melee char to have full cover while hiding behind it and marching forward. In the 6 years I’ve dm’d the stronger classes tend to be wizards, paladins, and melee rouges, Rangers are simply better sustain.

    • Honestly, rogues are so underpowered in combat, I let them get away with it. Sure, it makes them really hard to hit, but they do so little damage even with advantage and sneak attack, that I’m just not that worried about them causing a problem. And you explicitly can’t combine crossbow expert with the bonus hide action anyway.

    • Ilbranteloth says:

      Because it’s not hiding that gives them any advantage. It’s the fact that they are unseen.

      It’s not too far removed from whack-a-mole. It’s not that you don’t know where they are, but in combat your attention is constantly shifting among potential threats/targets.

      If you want to focus on the hiding creature, then ready an action. I’d also give advantage on your Passive Perception (or Investigation) after the first time or two, even when not readying an action.

      If you follow the rules for this it actually works pretty well and makes sense.

  17. Tom Frickanisce Jr says:

    So and so “class is broken!”

    One can make this argument about every class, depending on the encounter and terrain.

    The perception in the group I currently DM is that the Barbarian is broken – not the Ranger/ archer.

    I take a lot of responsibility for that unfortunate perception, as I create and manage the encounters. I am adjusting, but there is a learning curve.

    Bottomline, all of the 5e classes have pluses and minuses. They compliment each other well, and when played by a Player, who has thought through their strategy, they will each shine under the roght circumstances.

    So drop the “woe is me….”

  18. Lord of Dice says:

    Honestly, I think if something as simple as this is enough to screw with you as a DM and you are unable to balance the game and provide a challenge for the players still, you kind of need to reevaluate the way you run the game. I mean, just hit the player with a hold person spell and all those feats are useless lol

    • Jeff Loftin says:

      I think there is a ton of value in strategizing battles and fights, even skirmishes. The enemy should have tactics and if this is a campaign then word tends to get around about a group of 3/4/5/6 guys destroying everything in their path. Wizards bend reality, Paladins smite the world to ash, ranged fighters/rangers/whatever use arrows to rain hell upon the enemies. If you just throw numbers on a battlefield as a DM then it’s your own fault. Use terrain, a variety of enemies with a variety of abilities, and for goodness sakes if one guy is destroying every battle then yes, the enemy will target them over and over again. That’s not punishing a player, that’s strategy by the enemy. Don’t go out of your way to make wizards with only spells that target the one character but definitely be prepared. Spread enemies out (oh and monks that can stun are killer against a party that likes to pick people off from range).

  19. I am a little surprised you didn’t mention Polearm Master, which is the sister feat of Crossbow Expert, and arguably the more powerful feat overall. Don’t get me wrong, if you allow Human Variants, both feats are pretty overpowered at level 1, but Polearm Master really shines mostly due to inherent advantages of melee I don’t think you are truly taking account of.

    Here are some comparisons using both feats:

    -Damage: Both feats give an extra attack with full damage bonus, but you’re going to be dishing out more damage with Polearm Master because base damage of Halberd beats Hand Crossbow (though obviously the bonus attack is a d4) and you are likely to get some extra attacks over the course of the battle from the Polearm Master ability

    -Stickiness: Honestly, the best reason to melee is to gum up fights. Someone with Polearm Master is exceptionally good at doing that, especially combined with Sentinel (which stops enemies from moving when they are hit), whereas the someone using Crossbow Expert has virtually no ability to control enemy movement, as they can’t even make opportunity attacks.

    -Class Abilities: A lot of class abilities focus primarily on melee. For example, a Battlemaster Fighter gets Riposte, which is one of their most efficient maneuvers in terms of damage output. And obviously a Barbarian can benefit from Polearm Master way more than Crossbow Expert

    -Flexibility of Targets: Ranged tends to win out here, but having 10 foot reach helps mitigate this quite a bit.

    -Mobility: Obviously, if you’re goal is to avoid being hit, Crossbow Expert tends to be the better fit, as you can fight from a distance while still doing decent damage.

    While I think Crossbow Expert is a powerful option that frankly helps make up for the weakness of a lot of builds (such as Rogues), I have not seen it be much of a problem in my games aside from very early levels, where any bonus attack is a huge factor (and honestly, I think the real offender is Variant Humans, which are a bit overpowered compared to other racial options).

    Spellcasters are WAY more problematic in D&D. In particular, Fireball is a catch all room clearer that is clearly powered up relative to its level. It’s counterpoint is Wall of Force (which granted doesn’t come into play until level 9), which locks down an enemy with no save. Spells like these give me headaches as a DM where I have to devise special cocktails of encounters that won’t be easily defeated by massive area spells or removing a key enemy from the battle. In contrast, if someone wants to chip in for extra damage and avoid being attacked in battle, that’s fine. I have plenty of other targets for my monsters to focus on.

    • Jason Embree says:

      Are v humans op because of the bonus feat? I still find half elves more op but that’s just me.

      • So at really low levels I think Human Variant are overpowered because accessing a feat opens up a lot of crazy options, such as Crossbow Expert, Polearm Master, or Lucky. And you don’t face the difficult choice between increasing your best stat and taking a feat.

        Overall, half elves ARE really powerful and one of the few races that are competitive with variant human. In short, if you value the charisma bonus, the pure stats probably make them a good choice. And then they get a bunch of extra stuff ontop that is kind of icing on the cake.

        There are a few other races that hit the level of variant human and half elf, but they aren’t part of the core game and exist in supplements or unearthed arcana, so definitely less official. A couple races give fly speeds, for example, and that’s just kind of bananas, especially if you do silly builds around it (and this is an area where I do think ranged attacks can get a little silly).

  20. Huntersyeetbullets says:

    This seems like crying for the sake of crying. These guys do tons of damage but my god that’s not the worst thing ever. Monsters can deal damage at range too. Heck, they may even be able to surprise the party and surround them. You could even throw a fight at the party where tons of little guys keep streaming out of walls or appear from the shadows. All that damage isnt needed against tons of weak guys who are constantly swarming in as reinforcements.There are so many ways to make fights interesting and hey, if the dude wants to do lots of damage, sometimes it’s fun to let him.

  21. crudbasher says:

    I’m at level 9 now with my Ranger and yes I built him around Sharpshooter. It tells you something when I rarely use any of my offensive spells because I’d much rather be just rocking massive consistent damage every round. It does get boring after a while I guess.

    • Coidzor says:

      To be fair, your offensive spells as a Ranger are Hunter’s Mark, Hail of Thorns, Spike Growth, Flame Arrows, Lightning Arrow, Conjure Barrage, and Conjure Animals. Most of your offensive spells are just not that good.

      Conjure Animals is really good as long as the enemy isn’t ridiculously tanky or immune to non-magical weapon damage.

      Conjure Barrage and Lightning Arrow are fairly weak AoE blasts. Hail of Thorns is both a weak AoE blast and a small AoE.

      Spike Growth requires the enemy to move and can be very difficult to place without friendly fire unless you’re in a flat, featureless plane and see the enemy coming from far enough away that you could all just kite them to death by moving away and making ranged attacks anyway.

      Flame Arrows is a worse duration, shareable, fire-based version of Hunter’s Mark. Hunter’s Mark is a free 1d6 of damage that sticks around for hours if you don’t lose concentration due to having to use it for something else or want to cast Healing Spirit after a fight.

  22. Aboo says:

    I had a character like that back in AD&D (1e). A ranger double specialized in longbow. He mostly stood behind a heavily armoured dwarf.

  23. Pseudonym MacFakename says:

    This is monstrously stupid.

  24. Cole Jenkins says:

    It won’t matter if, as in one game I am trying to play an archer in, the DM always has some enemies appear at melee range and rush you. 🙁

  25. rhaegarthebard says:

    This article is really overhyping the power of Sharpshooter and making melee seem completely impossible to play.

    Yes, Sharpshooter is strong. But, you bring up CBE allowing users to be a ‘front-line tank’ when that’s completely wrong. Look at PAM + Sentinel. Or, even Sentinel in general allows melee to be an extremely powerful /actual/ front-line tank by disallowing enemy movement towards backline by with their 10f threat range.

    Paladins with Armored or Dueling fighting style — or heavens forbid they allow Tunnel Fighter — using a whip, shield, and sentinel are complete monsters on the battlefield. Really if you mix in some hexblade to allow your threat range to be 19-20 and you’re salivating for the a crit to Eldritch Smite + Divine Smite.

    Barbarians with PAM + Sentinel can dish out equally amounts of absurd damage due with the -3 to -5 difference from Archery being so insignificant it’s not worth bringing up due to Barbarians always having the option to swing at advantage. Or, even just yeet people to the ground to negate Reckless Attack. And don’t even get me started on the DPR of someone with this build if they’re a Zealot Barbarian, lol.

    And you also complain that DMs have to look at encounters and build them around the party when that’s you expected job already. You should know your parties average DPR. You should be building encounters around knowing the rangers have sharpshooters. If players are feeling like one player is diminishing their characters worth in counters, it’s a failing of the DM – not the system – making their encounters challenging.

    Your evil wizard was stupid enough not to cast darkness on the archers’s armor, or even his bow. They were stupid enough not to have shield on their spell book. They were dumb enough not to have allies to force the fighter to the ground or disarm them.

    • Ilbranteloth says:

      I’d rather build my encounters based on the setting and circumstance, rather than compensate for a (somewhat) poorly designed system.

  26. Shadowspawn says:

    It’s more a failing of the DM than the player…if a player can do it, what’s keeping the DM from doing the exact same thing? Ranged classes also tend to be a lot squishier (it balances out the threat at range), so use it against them…narrow passages (unless they’re in the front…but then your ranged creatures can whack on them), mobile enemies, spellcasters. Each class and enemy has a weakness (unless you’re an ass…or it’s an old-school tarrasque)…a large part of the game is either overcoming the odds (player point of view) or challenging the players (DM point of view); it’s up to the DM to balance things and, if needs must, change the plan on the fly.

    I had experience from the player side of things for that last point…a game in which I was a member (3.5, Gnome Druid…you wanna talk about interesting build) had our party facing a dragon on the wing while we were shipbound and dead in the water (captain was picked off and the crew failed the saves). While the other members ducked for cover, I strolled my happy ass out onto the deck andgoaded the dragon; as it got close, I chucked a flask of alchemist’s fire at it and torched its wing, sending it crashing to the deck.

  27. R0GUE says:

    If ranged characters were truly OP, Percy or Vex would have been the most powerful character on Season 1 of Critical Role. But neither of them were. There’s also plenty of ranged spellcaster classes. This feels like much Ado about nothing. DMs can always flank ranged characters, use teleportation, have monsters sneak up on them, etc.

  28. Clark says:

    Sharpshooter isn’t the problem, DMs not taking the feat into account or not tailoring encounters to the party they are working with is.

    Combat is only one aspect of the game. Throw nothing but basic encounters with evenly spaced enemies who all start 50 feet away from your sharpshooter with the only resolving condition being all enemies must die, and yeah the sharpshooter takes the spotlight…

    Create interesting encounters, place more emphasis on those other pillars of the game, exploration and roleplaying and see if the other party members have any kind of specializations outside of combat so you can work out scenarios that can make those abilities shine.

    In one campaign I played a barbarian grappler in a party with a halfling fighter with crossbow expertise and sharpshooter. My job wasn’t to do lots of damage, but to keep my little buddy safe while he shot everyone in the face. It worked out great. I also got to punch a dragon in the snout and then took 0 damage from the resulting breath attack thanks to the shield master feat, so life was good.

    My little halfling buddy would not have been able to withstand that kind of punishment, but I was glad he was around to help ward off the dragon once it stayed flying around. We each had our specializations.

    Sharpshooter makes characters really good at doing single target damage… that’s it. This game, more than any other, can be so much more than simple damage calculations. This is hardly a detriment, provided the DMs don’t fall for the trap of only feeding the party one style of problem, one best resolved with an arrow to the face.

  29. Kaden Burkhardt says:

    As someone who plays a ranger with Sharpshooter, I can say the biggest setback is the typically low damage dealt with a bow. Unless I throw in Hunter’s Mark, Lightning Arrow, or use Oathbow’s ability, I’m not doing a whole lot of damage to one single enemy. With Hoard Breaker and Volley, I serve my party best by doing a small amount of damage to multiple enemies at a time, but it’s usually one of our spellcasters doing the heavy damage. Every now and then I’m able to combo the above spells/abilities and do massive damage in one blow, but with a very limited number of spell slots, and the fact that I can only use Sworn Enemy once a day, I have to be very selective about it.

  30. Todd Ellner says:

    Think about it in the real world. The horse nomads of Central Asia from the Scythians to the Mongols pretty much swept all before them and replaced the style of warfare wherever they went. The life of the samurai wasn’t “The Way of the Sword.” It was “The way of the Horse and Now.” Once repeating firearms were invented every other type of combat was replaced except for very rare things.

    Yeah. Missile weapons are that much of a game-changer

  31. Steve says:

    Playing with the optional flanking rule will always provide a huge buff to all melee pcs but does nothing for ranged attacks. Typically, because feats are optional, if you use both optional rulings, the fights should even out. Also remember, if your pcs are taking feats, a monster may have one as well.

  32. Shinigami Raptor says:

    A couple ideas to buff up Melee users.
    1) Give all melee classes a cantrip of a moving attack (AKA moving and striking) and possibly a pulling move
    2) Bolster the range of a Melee attacker depending on weapon (So a Halberd or Greatsword might hit 5 squares around or 2 squares forward, etc)

  33. Kote says:

    1. Monks can snag arrows and other projectiles.
    2. While barbarians are usually melee attackers they can carry a sigifigant number of javilins on their back.
    3. Palidins can cast hold person as well as clerics.
    4. Magic useres can use invisibility and illusions to prevent ranged attacks.
    5. Melee classes usualy have a higher ac
    6. Limited number of shots so you would lose a war of attrition.
    7. Stealth dash sneak attack repeat untill rouge engages melee provoking repeated oportunity attacks if enemy continues to flee.
    8. Mounts used to cover distance
    9. Dragonborn breath attacks
    10. Elves fey walk
    11. Numerus magical items granting resistance to pircing damage or the ability to out right stop arrows

  34. Apprentice Drsgonslayer says:

    I can’t believe you are defending 5E’s rampant character imbalance. I’d love to hear how these power swings are less of a problem than any issues with the 2E core rules

  35. KMR says:

    As someone who played a Sharpshooter Gunslinger, I completely agree. Entire encounters were practically ended when my turn came, so much so that I ended up just not using the benefits of the feat most of the time. For those of you who thought Percival de Rolo’s combat dominance was some kind of fluke, it wasn’t. Sharpshooter is a nasty feat.

  36. Matthew Cmiel says:

    The thing that REALLY breaks the game for me is sharpshooter + gloomstalker ranger. Gloom stalker gets an extra attack the first round of every combat, and an extra d8 damage as well. I had a player with a +5 dex, that meant that the first round of every combat from his longbow was essentially
    4d8 +15 (from dex) +30 (from sharpshooter). That’s a LOT of damage at level 4…. Sure after the first round it goes down to 2d8 +10 +20, but STILL.. that’s a LOT of damage.

  37. Bleh says:

    It’s not even busted. It’s two feat in exchange for stat adjustments. So you lost 2 hit and damage bonus while monsters keep on scaling. There’s a chart at rpgbot that shows how much of a combat effectiveness you lose by taking feats. Unless you have a stable accuracy support the feat combination is hardly busted.

  38. Telgore says:

    I think you fail to realize that ranged attacks have always and will always be better than melee both in d&d and real life

  39. vowc says:

    This article leads me to believe you have never played 5th edition above 11th level with any casters in your party.

  40. The Killer GM says:

    Cool story. Your sharpshooter forgot to silver all his bolts and now a lycanthrope is eating his face. Seriously, of the complaints I have about 5e, ranged martials is not even close.

  41. David Rahl says:

    You’ve got the math a bit wrong. First, in order to take both feats, you have to burn two ability score increases. Which means you’re going to be into level 8 (and well into higher-HP monsters) before you can take them both. Ok, so take Sharpshooter first? Fine, you need to be a Race that gets a Feat at first level, or wait until level 4. Basically, your ranged formula is completely discounting how long it takes to do the awesome, which is something worked into EVERY class. Secondly, you’ve got the bit about Rogues wrong. Rogue is actually my favorite character to play because they are versatile AF, and melee Rogues are NASTY characters. First, buff your Dex as high as you can get it. Second, pump whatever else you’ve got into Charisma (i’ll explain why later). Pick LIGHT, finesse weapons (specifically shortsword and daggers). Dual-wield your shortswords in melee. You gain your sneak attack bonus if an ally is within 5′ of your target, so flank like a b*tch. If you do, you’re rolling two attacks (at advantage), plus sneak attack, plus dex at first level. Using a standard array, that’s a range of 6-21 damage at FIRST LEVEL. 5-15 without sneak attack.

    Ok, let’s mix it up, now. At level 3, take the Swashbuckler path. Now you can use your sneak attack if you and the baddy are duking it out alone. Without burning a feat to do it! Oh, and when you attack something (not hit, attack), it can’t take opportunity attacks against you for the rest of the turn. So, you know…move around spread and spread the damage out a bit! Oh, and your sneak attack just went up a die (two attacks, for a total of 4d6+Dex damage (7-27 damage). And you now add your Charisma to your initiative bonus.

    Now, let’s get nastier. At 4th level, don’t take a feat or ability increase…multi-class into Fighter and take the Two-Weapon Fighting style. Now you’re adding your Dex bonus to the second attack, you just gained a Fighter’s level of HP, and you have access to Second Wind in combat. And you’re now dealing 10-30 damage per turn. And you have a d10 hit die available.

    Oh, and since you’re Dex-based, grab a bow, just in case you ever need to pop off a ranged shot. Or, you know…use your daggers (because you can dual wield those, and throw two in a turn).

    As a final thought, for ultra min-max, take the Variant Human Race, and use the Feat for Defensive Duelist. Now you get to add your Proficiency bonus to your AC as a Reaction when you are hit in melee. Proficiency goes up as you level up, right? 😈

    Know what the best part of being a dual-wielding melee character is? If I miss one attack roll, I didn’t waste my entire turn…because I have a second attack. And sneak attack only applies if you hit, so as long as you hit with one of the attacks…

    Sharpshooter, my @$$.

  42. chacochicken says:

    D&D comment sections are often a tedious serious of spurious anecdotes at the best of times but wow, it’s like many of you decided “I’d like to completely miss the point of the post and fundamentally misunderstand the role of the DM” all in one.

  43. Another DM Dave says:

    Hey Dave. I just want to say that I really love and appreciate all your work with DM Dave (I am a “DM Dave” too!). And I can’t wait until the magazine launches (I am a Kickstarter supporter). I’ve been playing since Basic/Expert and currently play and DM 5e. I find your thoughts interesting and thought-provoking. What aggravates me are the insulting comments above. I guess that’s what I hate about the internet in general. An interesting conversation is when people can agree or disagree and discuss civilly their thoughts. So for all of you that disagree with a thought or idea: fine! Just be kind about it. Be constructive. Otherwise, you are making the world a lousy place. Clearly, we all love RPG’s and D&D specifically. Let’s start there and discuss ideas. Many of you were not around (read; alive) when D&D was a VERY small club. And we stuck together. Don’t get me wrong, most of the comments above are thoughtful and respectful and lively! It takes a lot of time and effort to do what DM Dave does. Let’s all remember that.

  44. Ilbranteloth says:

    I agree to some degree here, but largely because I don’t like the way the rules currently simulate archery. Our house rules are much closer to AD&D (and reality), and eliminate the issues I see others complain about ranged attacks being too powerful.

    I like that ranged attacks are powerful…at short range. Because they should be. Cover and closing for melee (especially charging), and simply moving are the two biggest strategies against ranged attackers.

    But beyond short range and against moving targets, accuracy drops significantly and is most useful in a group (or shooting against a group).

    Also, I’m not a fan of “ranged builds” or really characters built around a single combat-focused concept. To me, every smart combatant will have a ranged weapon, and then that weapon is dropped for melee when one or the other opponent closes. Against a charging target, the ranged attacker has two choices: try to get that extra shot off, but be unarmed and at a serious disadvantage if they don’t drop the charging opponent, or drop their weapon and draw a melee weapon against the charging creature.

    So we adjust the rules to accommodate things like that. So it doesn’t matter to me if under certain circumstances archery is more powerful. But in their quest for “fun” I do think the design is off from what we prefer. Of course, that’s the beauty of D&D, you can make it what you like. But unfortunately that doesn’t apply in quite the same way to organized play, and I can see where this would particularly be a problem in AL when one over-optimized character upsets the balance at the table.

  45. Dave Barton says:

    Archer types aren’t overpowered for staying out of melee. Spellcasters can target them every single round, either directly or via AOE attacks. Even a heavily armored ranged attacker, their AC means nothing when they’re making saving throws and taking half damage at best or suffering conditions from the attacks.

    Seriously, everything has its pros and cons in 5e.

  46. Vorpal says:

    I just banned sharpshooter in my campaign. It isn’t fun. Also, even in your example, WotC made a ranger thst can do that – The Horizon Walker.

  47. Mylan Giberson says:

    I feel like Dungeon Masters are doing a poor job if this is the case… The game is called DUNGEONS and Dragons. Dungeons should significantly reduce the capabilities of ranged combatants. Traps, corners, secret doors, etc can all be used to punish characters who hang back too much.

    Not to mention that limited ammo is a factor. An archer can only make so many shots before they run out. This goes double for enemies immune/resistant to non-magic. Many archers in my game have wasted shots by playing conservative with their magical ammunition

  48. whatman says:

    The idea that this article starts with anything but “playing a spellcaster is better than anyone else, except sometimes a paladin” is laughable.

    4e fixed the problem, and 5e brought it back for the babies that thought it was a bad thing that nonspellcasters were just as fun and tactically interesting to play.

  49. Jason Oldham says:

    Weak argument. Any DM worht their dice should be able to adapt to simple power struggles like this. If one crossbow is really eliminating all of the enemies all on its own is it the fault of the player ot the DM? Plus how likely is a group of ANY creature going to stand around and just get picked off, most will flee and need to be perused.
    Alternatively, how hard is it to simply add more opponents? Perhaps with ranged attacks of their own? Even a creature as dumb as a goblin can spend half their life hunting with a bow, attaining significant skill without the need for intelligence.
    Also remember that firing a ranged weapon within range of a melee attack will provoke an attack of opportunity and if you really feel the need to nerf your palyers have that attack land on the crossbow… oops hope you have a spair bowstring on your inventory list. You could also make the player account for each bolt they fire and force them collect them up or run out. Being chased? Havent cleared the battle field? Then there was no opportunity to retrieve your spent amunition.

  50. BadAzBill says:

    “Plus, by using a hand crossbow, the feat allows an additional attack.”

    Can anyone help me with this part of the above writing? Is this saying that if you have Crossbow Expert as a feat and you use a hand crossbow as your primary attack then you get a bonus action to attack with the same hand crossbow. I believe that can’t happen, because Crossbow Expert says that the bonus action is an attack with a LOADED hand crossbow. If your primary attack was the hand crossbow then your crossbow is UNLOADED.

    Not sure if that is what the author of the writing above meant. Can someone help in my confusion. Thanks

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  55. J Ink says:

    In a normal scaling game you won’t use the -5 to hit/+10 to dmg on any threating enemies (so higher AC ones) after, let’s say, level 8 or maybe even earlier, as it is actually worse at that point. Take Colossus slayer on a Ranger and that point comes even further.
    The other problems you mention are quite fabricated. Yes, there are scenarios where ranged attackers plainly win. That is large, open areas where they can attack the enemies before they are attacked. If that is your average scenario in D&D, then yes, you just made a campaign that favors sharpshooters. They will still have a power spike after picked up Sharpshooter, but that will wear off pretty soon.

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