Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, November 06, 2018
Two-weapon fighting paladin

A year and a half ago, I played a dragonborn paladin in Dungeons & Dragons. I had gone with a traditional build and role, acting as tank / healer for my group. The paladin died at level 3 due to rolling a 1 on the second death save, but by that time I already wasn't very fond of him any more, and so I didn't mind. What I had learned was that a high armor class isn't protecting you as much as you would think, not if several monsters are hitting you at once. And that a front-line caster whose spells are mostly concentration-based is far from ideal. I also noticed that the "Smite" spells of the paladin are weirdly useless: Why would you want to cast as a bonus action a concentration spell that gives you up to 2d6 extra damage on your next hit, if you have Divine Smite, and can use that same spell slot *after* you know you hit, and without using a bonus action, to deal 2d8 of extra damage? And then of course it turns out that Divine Smite gets really strong if you wait until you land a critical hit and then double the number of dice rolled both for the regular damage and the extra damage.

This weekend I started in a Tomb of Annihilation campaign with a level 1 paladin. He survived the first session in the Cellar of Death and is now level 2. But this time I made a very different build, based on what I had learned with the first paladin. And with what I had learned from other characters I had played in between. One of those other things was that in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, everybody can fight with two weapons if they want. The weapons just have to be light, which means that they usually do 1d6 instead of 1d8 damage (unless you have the Dual Wielder feat). And without the two-weapon fighting style, the second weapon doesn't get the damage bonus from your fighting stat. In pure mathematical terms that isn't all that powerful, as you deal 1 point of damage less on average with your main hand, and then it costs you your bonus action to maybe deal 1d6 damage with your off hand. However in real life the possibility to roll more dice is fun, especially before level 5, when nobody else has multiple attacks. After level 5 the off-hand weapon attack becomes less noticeable, because you can hit twice with your main weapon, but only once with your second weapon.

While two-weapon fighting is a viable option for several classes (I have a dual-wielding bard who is also a lot of fun), for the paladin there is an extra element: If you attack twice, your chance to roll a critical hit doubles. And if you decided anyway that you'd best spend your spell slots on Divine Smite criticals, doubling your chance to crit becomes awesome. Which means that my tabaxi paladin is less tanky than his predecessor, because he doesn't have a shield any more, but is more of a damage dealer. Having made a build based on dexterity instead of strength I have AC 17 at level 2 with the defense fighting style and studded leather armor, which isn't bad (the previous paladin had AC 18 at that level with chainmail and shield, before he found a plate armor and a magical shield at level 3). The dexterity also gives me a good initiative, and I can shoot a longbow well. So now that I got Divine Smite at level 2, I am looking forward to seeing whether I can land some crits with my two-weapon strategy.

At level 3 I will most certainly take the Oath of Vengeance. In a boss fight I can put my vow of enmity on him and get advantage on all of my attacks, further increasing my chance to crit. If all else fails, I could also use Divine Smite twice in one turn, if I hit with both weapons. That blows through my spell slots quickly, but I'm not really planning on casting much. The only spell that I am considering for combat is also from the Oath of Vengeance, which gives me Hunter's Mark. As I said earlier, concentration spells aren't great for melee fighters; but it adds 1d6 to *each* of my attacks, so it works well with two-weapon fighting. And if I don't get hit right away, or succeed my constitution saving throws for concentration, that Hunter's Mark could end up dealing serious damage for a level 1 spell. I did take other spells, like Cure Wounds, but in combat I might prefer Lay on Hands. The most effective healing is just spending 1 point on anyone unconscious to get him back into the fight. Giving him 1d8+3 instead usually doesn't make a difference, he'll be down from the next hit anyway.

If I really wanted to push the "critical Divine Smite" strategy over the top, I could switch to fighter class after reaching level 5 in paladin. At level 2 in fighter I'd gain Action Surge for two more attacks, and at level 3 I could choose the champion subclass to crit on a roll of 19. On the other hand, if the two-weapon fighting doesn't work out, I can at any time take a shield instead of the second weapon and trade that extra attack for +2 AC.


I suspect you know this and are just approximating, but your math is a slightly sketchy. If you roll 2x your chance of rolling a critical doesn't actually double. This is easiest to see if, say you have a 60% chance of rolling a crit when rolling once, it obviously doesn't double to 120% if you roll 2x.

So, if you have a 5% chance of rolling a crit on any turn when rolling 1 die, when rolling 2 independant die, you have a 9.75% chance of critting (1 - 0.95^2). And if you have a 10% (roll a crit on 19) you only have a 19% chance of critting on any turn.
You have a 9.75% chance of rolling at least 1 crit. You also have a 0.25% chance of rolling 2 crits. I know that this isn’t strictly additive, but if you multiply the probability with the extra damage, you end up getting the same extra damage as with a 10% chance for a single crit.
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