Many DMs institute a set of “house rules”, custom game rules intended to enhance the game, which can occasionally go wrong. Previously I’ve discussed why double-rolling hit dice and “realistic” sneak attack are bad ideas. My topic today is Power Attack, where a DM I spoke to denies two-handed weapon users the double Power Attack damage that they gained in the 3.5 revision. Good change, or bad?
Lets take a sample character, Stush the Manticore Hunter. He’s a level 5 fighter, with a Strength of 18 and an attack bonus (including equipment) of +11. Stush deals 1d8+5 damage with a longsword and 2d6+7 with a greatsword. He’s also a big fan of Power Attack.
Stush fights a manticore, AC17, a 75% chance to hit. First, consider the longsword. Our hero deals an average of 7.125 damage per round, which raises to 7.5 if we Power Attack for 3, the optimal amount. With the greatsword our average per round is 10.5. Without the double damage, Power Attack actually lowers the average slightly, dropping to 9.5 with full Power Attack of 5. Including the double, however, we see a peak of 12.1 average damage at Power Attack 4.
The reason for the 3.5 double-handed Power Attack rule is that Power Attack isn’t simply free damage. When you increase your chance of missing altogether, you risk losing all of your damage. The result is that Power Attack actually becomes weaker when you use a two-handed weapon, because you’re throwing away more damage than normal. This is why the double is necessary, especially since two-handed weapon users are the ones who should be using Power Attack the most.
If you’d like to read more about damage, check out the article “Optimizing Power Attack” in the current issue of Kobold Quarterly.