Or, So You Want to Be a Melee
Perhaps you’re new to Dungeons & Dragons Online. Perhaps you come from a long line of spellcasters and are just now branching out into your melee lives. Perhaps you’re just really bored and are reading this article in the bathroom at work on your phone. Whatever your reason for being here, thanks!
The purpose of this article is to provide a basic understanding of the mechanics that go behind the angle of the game I do best: hitting things with large objects.
So without further ado, let’s get down to the three core fundamentals of melee smacking: Attacking, Damage, and Fighting Styles. Originally, this was going to be a single article, but by the time I had finished Attacking, it needed to be split into three!
or, How to Actually Hit Your Opponent
Before you can crack open the skull of that orc with your five-megaton hammer, you have to actually hit the orc. That’s right, the orc isn’t going to just stand there and let your weapon of skull devastation obliterate his face-meat into a thousand tiny pieces. This is where attacking comes into play.
The high-level number you’re looking at (if you’re not in combat) is the one ambiguously labeled “bonus” in the Details pane of your Inventory screen:
The short summary of this number is, as with most numbers in MMO games, “the higher the better.” More accuracy = more hits landed = more long-term damage (some considerations outlined later). So, how do we get this number bigger? What makes up this attack bonus? And why do vets giggle when they accidentally call it THAC0?
Let’s start at the beginning.
Base Attack Bonus (BAB)
The primary source of your attack bonus (also called a to-hit bonus) for Heroic toons is your class breakdown, which provides your Base Attack Bonus. This is exactly what it sounds like, the base, to which everything is added. Your BAB determines several other factors in how smackery you’ll be, from the number of attack animations in your attack sequence to a behind-the-scenes attack speed increase.
Full Base Attack Bonus: This means your character receives 1 point of BAB per character level, and applies to the traditional smacky classes of Fighter, Barbarian, Paladin, and Ranger. A level 20 character receiving Full BAB has a +20 BAB.
Three-Quarters Base Attack Bonus: This means your character receives 0.75 points of BAB per character level, only in whole numbers, and applies to your “mostly smacky” classes of Artificer, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Favored Soul, Monk*, Rogue, and Warlock. It should be pointed out that the Monk, while only receiving three-quarters BAB for the purposes of feat qualification, has full BAB for combat rolls while they remain centered. A level 20 character receiving Three-Quarters BAB has a +15 BAB.
Half Base Attack Bonus: This means your character receives 0.5 points of BAB per character level, again only in whole numbers, and applies to your “not smacky” classes of Wizard and Sorcerer. A level 20 character receiving Half BAB has a +10 BAB.
An Important Note for Multi-Class Junkies (and Math Nerds): There is a flooring in the formula when it comes to calculating your BAB for both classes and for levels. They are calculated independently of each other. For example, a level 2 Cleric has a BAB of 1 (0.75*2=1.5 floored to 1), a level 3 Cleric has a BAB of 2 (0.75*3 = 2.25), and a level 4 Cleric has a BAB of 3 (0.75*4=3). However, a level 2 Cleric/level 2 Bard, both receiving Three-Quarters BAB, is not +3, as it is calculated as follows:
(Cleric = 0.75*2 = 1.5 = floored to 1) + (Bard = 0.75*2 = 1.5 = floored to 1) = +2
This can become critically important in some builds’ leveling orders for feat qualifications. This is also important to note that it is not rounding, as it will never round up.
You may notice two numbers on your Character Sheet for your BAB. The first number is your “real” BAB – the one with which you qualify for feats and the like – and the second is your “effective” BAB. This comes into play with Monks and some class/spell abilities, such as Divine Might, Tenser’s Transformation, being in the Divine Crusader Epic Destiny, et cetera. This “effective” BAB works towards your attack roll, but doesn’t qualify for any feats, affect your attack sequence, or improve your attack speed. Just like with Ability Scores, “real” numbers are better than “effective” numbers, but “effective” numbers are better than nothing.
If you’re going to smack something, it’s a good idea to not turn your primary combat attribute into a dump stat. Every melee weapon has a primary attribute that provides attack and damage bonuses to it. Traditionally, this was pretty much reserved for Strength and Dexterity, however, updates to the game have made it so you can turn pretty much any statistic into an attack/damage modifier, though they may need some additional requirements and hoops be jumped through to maintain it. In general, the bigger you can get your combat attribute, the better, for both to-hit and damage.
Remember that hefty drop from Vulkoor’s Edge down to Emerald Twilight listed above? That’s due in part to differences in Fighter Kensei class enhancements and item Weapon Enhancements, but primarily, it’s the loss of the Intelligence-to-Hit ability from Harper Agent’s Know the Angles.
While historically, these weren’t that big of a deal, they’ve lately become quite sought after with the scaling brought on by Reaper and Legendary difficulties. Accuracy items provide a Competence bonus to the character’s attack (to-hit) rolls, but not to damage. However, unlike Weapon Enhancements, Accuracy items scale to much larger values, often going over +20 in higher levels, and likewise, their Insightful and Quality counterparts are also much larger.
Another major source of your to-hit number is the enhancement bonus of your weapon. Commonly just referred to as the “plus” or the “bonus” of a weapon, it refers to – well, for lack of an overly technical definition, the plus at the beginning. For example, the enhancement bonus of a +4 Flaming 2 Longsword of Taco Bane 3 is +4. (It’s also listed as such in the item details page.) The key differences between Weapon Enhancements and Accuracy is that a) it is an Enhancement bonus, which stacks; and b) Weapon Enhancement bonuses apply to damage, as well.
Class Enhancements and Feats
Don’t make the mistake of overlooking the class enhancements for to-hit bonuses. They may not seem like much on an individual basis, but as nearly every class enhancement and feat that provides a to-hit bonus stacks, they can add up to quite a significant number over time, much like the power of Past Lives.
Common sources of to-hit modifiers in past lives include Fighter Heroic past lives (up to a +3 attack bonus) and the Arcane Epic Past Life feat Enchant Weapon, which adds up to a stacking +3 Weapon Enhancement bonus to your equipped weapon.
Each attack doesn’t have the same bonus when fired off in rapid succession, called an attack sequence and noted by the animations changing per attack in a specified order. Generally speaking, the sequence increases in number of hits the higher your BAB goes, and starting with the third hit, gains a bonus to the attack roll. Your standard, standing-still attack sequence (once all animations are unlocked at BAB +3) goes (BAB)/(BAB)/(BAB+5)/(BAB+10). So, for a 20th level pure fighter, their attack sequence is +20/+20/+25/+30, repeat.
In short, a Proficiency dictates whether you know how to bloody use the sodding weapon. Generally speaking, smacky classes have more proficiencies than non-smacky classes. Whenever you’re researching a build, or coming up with your own, you tend to pick a weapon style, such as “single-weapon fighting rapier with rune arm” or “two-handed greatclub” or whatever. Whenever this happens, it’s a good idea to ensure that the build you’re intending to use is actually proficient with the weapon – being non-proficient results in a -4 penalty to hit for weapons, and much more severe penalties for armor and shields. In short, be proficient with your kill-stick.
Situational Bonuses (and One Major Penalty)
I won’t go into explicit detail for every single situational bonus here, such as Sneak Attack and Flanking, or Exhausted and Cursed, or any of the myriad other effects. However, I will go into explicit detail about a penalty that is frequently forgotten by panicking players: Movement! If your character is moving while attacking – and this includes frantic kiting to avoid death – you suffer a -4 penalty to your to-hit rolls. While this may not seem like much, at extremely low and extremely high levels, that can be just enough to nudge you into lousy territory. Sometimes it’s best to just drag it over by the tank and bawl for help. Even your attack style (two weapon vs. two handed, for example) can change your attack bonus – but only while those weapon(s) are equipped.)
The Attack Roll
or, Spinning That d20 Like a DJ
So what does this mean to you, the aspiring smacky-person? Well, in the example we started pages ago, in before you crack that orc’s skull in with your five-megaton hammer, you have to actually hit him. That orc, just like you, the player character, has an Armor Class. You know, that number you might have largely ignored while being a caster? Yeah, that one. He has one, too. Or she. Or they. I’m not going to assume this fictional orc’s pronouns.
The basics of the attack roll are very similar to what they were in 3.5E, at least from a mechanics perspective. The summary of method is as follows:
If a d20 roll + total attack modifiers >= target’s AC, the attack hits.
DDO does all the adding of attack modifiers behind the scenes – remember that “Bonus” number on the inventory screen I pointed out a while ago? Yeah, that – so that’s your baseline. Any number of the above modifiers can affect it, though. So about those allegedly abstract numbers on your weapon die…
Putting It All Together
or, Why Those Seemingly Random Bonuses Aren’t Random at All
We will illustrate this first with a very simple example:
- First Life Level 10 Fighter (BAB +10)
- 30 Strength (+10 attribute modifier)
- +5 Light Hammer (nicknamed Five Megaton, because irony)
- Hasn’t spent any Action Points because I’m too lazy to explain all that mess
- Likewise, hasn’t taken any melee-related feats because I’m too lazy to explain that in this example, too
- Has no additional Accuracy-related equipment
This combination of events would result in a Bonus on the Inventory screen of:
10 + 10 + 5 = +25
Now, remember how I said that was a “high level” overview? This single +25 attack bonus can result in a large number of actual roll bonuses showing up under the die without being as born from the madness of Xoriat as you might first assume. Let’s dive in and check out a few examples!
Six Interpretations of a Basic Attack Sequence
- Standing Still, Target Facing Attacker: +25 / +25 / +30 / +35
- Moving, Target Facing Attacker: +21 / +21 / +26 / +31
- Standing Still, Half Flanking (side of target): +26 / +26 / +31 / +36
- Moving, Half Flanking (side of target): +22 / +22 / +27 / +32
- Standing Still, Full Flanking (rear of target): +27 / +27 / +32 / +37
- Moving, Full Flanking (rear of target): +23 / +23 / +28 / +33
Bear in mind the above examples included no sneak attacks, no buffs, no special class traits, no enhancements, no weapon effects, no debuffs… you get the idea. These are the six most frequent permutations of straightforward smacking – just you, the target, and the attack button, and it still wound up with 14 different attack rolls derived from that one Bonus value on the inventory page. And of course, you aren’t guaranteed to complete one sequence before moving to the next one! If you face the person, get two hits off, then someone else pulls aggro, and you are now at their rear, you may have just gone +25 (still, facing) / +25 (still, facing) / +32 (still, full flank) / +37 (still, full flank).
That’s All Well and Good, But I Still Can’t Hit Stuff. Now What?
or, I May Have Made an Oopsie
Well, now you (hopefully) have a (slightly) better understanding of the various factors that comprise that single, simple number which drives everything on your melee attacks. On the other hand, what do you do – aside from roll your eyes at folks whose advice is “you shouldn’t have done that” – if you’re currently leveling a build, have difficulty landing hits, and don’t have a Lesser Heart of Wood to respec things? How do you fix swinging a heavy pick around like it’s a soggy pool noodle?
Here’s some basic suggestions that don’t require Hearts of Wood:
- Pile on the Accuracy items! You can either craft or find an Accuracy item with relative ease on most servers’ Auction Houses (trust me, I’ve been shopping and posting on them all lately, with #Shroudpalooza2018 approaching!). Insightful accuracy can be found, too, but is more easily crafted. If you have the crafting levels, you can slap both on a trinket. Otherwise, you’re looking at Goggles, Helms, Trinkets for up to +23 Accuracy and Gloves, Trinkets for up to +11 Insightful Accuracy. Do not underestimate the massive change a one-slot upgrade of +34 to-hit can make. If you don’t have the crafting levels and the Auction House seems to be dry, look for named items such as the Ring of Prowess (or its Legendary counterpart) for a major boost. You can also check the Category:Accuracy items page for a list of named alternatives. The Nicked Scimitar is a wonderful one-handed weapon (with +5 Accuracy and expanded damage dice for a scimi!) with a Minimum Level of 2 and is easily acquired from the Sharn Syndicate quest line if you’re already suffering at low levels.
- Crank your Primary Melee Attribute. If you’re Strength based, spend a few minutes on DDOwiki and figure out every single point you can sink into your primary weapon stat. Look at your Enhancements and see if you can rearrange some points to get a few more without crippling your build elsewhere. Every point counts in the long run! Some shortcuts to pertinent categories:
- Look for Combat Enhancements. This is especially true if you have “Primary Smacky” classes in your build – the ones which receive Full Base Attack Bonus. The enhancement trees there – and in many other classes, too! – can be riddled with seemingly innocuous +1 to-hits here and there. Believe me, they all add up.
- Consider adding a few Fighter levels. Not only do they come with a plethora of free feats, the low-level Fighter enhancement trees can provide a sizeable boost to your melee output – both accuracy and damage-wise – without a whole lot of investment. While you may derail your original plans, somewhat, sometimes an “emergency replanning session” is exactly what is needed to make an otherwise agonizing leveling experience more tolerable. And trust me – there are plenty of veteran players who have been there before. You are not alone and don’t be afraid to talk about it. You might be pleasantly surprised at the number of veterans who will happy to help with an LFM that says “Help! This build didn’t turn out quite right.” Most of us have already limped down that road (and probably several times, too).
Well that about wraps it up for the moment. Bear in mind there are plenty of topics that affect attack rolls that haven’t been addressed here – Legendary difficulty and its non-linear scaling, for one – but this should, hopefully, provide a better understanding of the whats, hows, and whys of whether or not your Nine Megaton Light Hammer actually smacked that orc in the head.
When next we meet, we’ll take a look at the basics of Damage!