Reckless Champion: Critical Hit Maxing (5e Optimized Character Build)
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A gladiator stands in an arena, surrounded by three foes. The first charges just to be met with a slash of this warriors axe. When the second approaches they manage a stab, a mere flesh wound for this Half-orc lord of the arena. The third one attacks with desperation, split in half in one fell swoop. There is no skill, no dignity. There is simply power emanating from this monster of the blade.
This build is extremely simple, relying only on resources from the Player's Handbook, making it probably the easiest optimized build to play in an actual game. However, it is also extremely effective. The goal is to use the half-orcs "Savage Attack" and the Barbarians "brutal criticals" to drive up our damage, while using the Champions increased critical hit chance to increase the frequency of those critical hits.
This race is essential for this build to work, especially at early levels. It offers us a number of advantages
- Increasing our strength and consitution, neccessary for any barbarian
- Savage Attack trait increases critical hit damage
- Relentless Endurance can grant us one more round, one more chance to critically strike and destroy our foe.
- Darkvision: If you can't see, you have disadvantage, which more than halves your chance to crit. This is huge for keeping the damage up.
Levels 1-5 Barbarian: You're going to be using the berserker subclass. This subclass is the only barbarian class that will let you get a full attack using a greataxe. You also gain reckless attack, granting on-demand advantage that increases your critical hit chance. You need to reach level 5 for the important Extra Attack break point.
Levels 6-8 Fighter: This grants three major benefits: Great Weapon Fighting Style to increase your damage, Action surge to absolutely destroy an enemy with a sudden flurry of attacks, and the most important, The champion archetype that lets us critically hit on a 19-20.
Levels 9-20 Barbarian: You're going to make sure you get 17 levels in barbarian for one purpose: Maximizing brutal critical. At 17 levels of barbarian you rolling an extra 3 damage dice (a total of 5 weapon dice) whenever you critically hit.
Orchish Fury: This feat lets you gain 1 extra strength, perfect if you start your strength at 17. It also lets you add another weapon dice to an attack of your choice, doubled if you add it to a critical hit!
Great Weapon Master: What good dps build doesn't have this or sharpshooter? Since we are going to almost always be attacking with advantage, the accuracy penalty is not too severe. Also, if you're not in a frenzy rage this can let you attack a third time with your greataxe instead of wasting your bonus action doing nothing.
Sentinel: This is fantastic for builds that want to offer a bit of zoning for their allies. Makes it so once you get ontop of someone they are not getting away. While not the best, it is a very valid option.
Pole-arm master: if you like this build but want to use totem warrior or another subclass, this feat is a must. It helps you get your bonus action to work for you and add a large amount of damage to each of your turns.
Slasher (Unearthed Arcana): this feat makes sufferers of your critical hits have disadvantage on all attacks, quite useful for negating the effects of reckless attack.
Critical Hit Chance:First, lets look at our chance to even get a critical hit once we reach level 8, where we reach its peak. With reckless attack, you can always attack with advantage, rolling twice to see if either one is a critical hit. With a 19-20 being a critical hit, that is a 10% chance per dice, or a 19% for an advantage attack. However, you're not just doing one attack. Each turn you can attack twice, increasing the chance that one of the attacks is a critical hit to 34.4% each turn! If you're in a frenzy rage and can attack 3 times per turn, you have a 47% chance to crit each turn! On these three attack turns, you actually have a 17.5% chance to crit twice in one turn, a feat that is a death sentence for whoever it happens to.
Critical Hit Damage: Now that we know how often we are going to critically hit, lets see how much those critical hits hurt. With a greataxe, each crit is massively increased. You get 2d12 for your normal crit, another 1d12 from Savage attack, and another 3 from Brutal critical. That is 6d12 damage just from the attack. Each d12 averages 7 1/3 damage, meaning your normal critical hit is 44(Weapon)+5(Str)+10(GWM)+4(Rage)=63 damage! Not bad, except don't forget you have 2 other attacks as well, and this can be increased further with Action Surge or Orchish Fury.
The True Damage per Round: Each attack is a normal attack 81% of the time and a crit 19% of the time and you have the the Great Weapon Fighting Style allowing rerolls so that is an average of 33.3 per hit, with +6 and advantage on attack rolls. Assuming all attacks hit, a frenzy rage gives you 3 attacks averaging 100 damage and if you use retaliation or opportunity attack it becomes 133. Action surge doubles this.
However you don’t often deal around your average. You have a wide damage range with 53% of rounds you deal no crits, though at least you deal 20 damage each hit guaranteed. You also have a 0.7% of all 3 hits being a crit dealing an average of 189.
The calculation for the average is that the GWFS adds 5/6 damage on average to each d12 making it’s new average 7 1/3 so the damage is 7 1/3 * 0.81 + 44 * 0.19 + 19 per attack which is 33.3.
As for why GWFS adds 5/6 damage, it is because on a roll of 1 or 2 you can reroll. So basically you can think of it as making it when you roll 1 or 2, instead of it dealing 1 or 2 damage it deals the average damage of the dice. So for the d12, the average is 6.5 and you have 1/12 chance of rolling 1 or 2. The easiest way to find the new average is looking at how the damage is increased and what are the chances for that happening. So you gave 1/12 chance of rolling 1 and the damage will be increased by 5.5 on average so 5.5/12 and 2’s are similarly 4.5/12, added together is 10/12 or 5/6. The general formula for how much GWFS increase the average of a dice roll is (D-2)/D where D is the size of the dice.
Like all good builds, people come up with their own unique alternatives. The following are a list of some of these.
DPS Zoning Tank
Want to be nearly unkillable and deal ridiculous damage? Want to make sure no coward can flee fighting you to go attack you allies? Then this is for you! Wade into battle wielding a halberd coated in the blood of enemies with a combination of some of the above mentioned mechanics:
- Race: Half-orc - get 17 strength, 16 constitution
- Level 1-5 Barbarian: Take the Totem Warrior subclass, and get the Pole-Arm master feat
- Level 6-8 Champion: Get your critical chance up
- Level 9-20 Barbarian: At level 11 take Great Weapon Master. At level 15 Take the Sentinel Feat. Level 19 take the Orchish Fury feat (Str+1)
Your dps drops noticably since some of your crits are going to be the bonus action 1d4 from Pole arm Master. However, you're still ridiculously strong and with some RNG your damage might barely even be effected. Your extra ability to get easy Opportunity Attacks might even help you eclipse the normal version in some encounters. Totem Warrior Bear makes you borderline unkillable.
Want to rival dedicated burst damage characters while still having great dps and health? The All Crit Barbarian is for you! This variant will focus on using the above Crit maxing, with the guaranteed Crits from a Assassin Rogue's sneak attack.
- Race: Half-orc - Get 17-18 strength, and at least 13 dex (rogue requirement)
- Level 1-5 Barbarian Berserker: Frenzy, Great Weapon Master Feat
- Level 6-8 Fighter Champion: For the normal crits in combat. More importantly for this variant, Action Surge
- Level 9-11 Rogue Assassin: Expertise and Cunning action are nice, but Assassinate is why this variant exists. When an enemy is surprised, any hit you land is a crit.
- Level 12-20 Barbarian: You only need 13 Barbarian levels to get brutal critical 2, optional to exchange a level into fighter to get another ability score improvement instead of retaliation.
Your crit damage will suffer a bit and you won't get persistent rage because of the sacrificed Barbarian levels. The d12s make it all worth it. You must spend your action surge and surprise your opponent to launch your attack, but no preparation needed. Here's where it gets juicy, let's count d12s shall we?
1d12(normal)+1d12(base crit)+1d12(half orc)+2d12(brutal critical)=5d12 for every attack. With action surge, you have 5 attacks (doesn't affect Frenzy I believe). 5(Str)+10(GWM)+3(Rage)= +18 damage for every attack. Assuming everything hits (you do have advantage for surprise attacks), you will deal 25d12+90 damage, 99% chance of at least 213, average 252.5, and max 390.