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[D&D 3.5] The Big Five and Melee

Are there any non-ToB non-spellcasting classes that can even partway match up to a spellcaster? This has more to do with high-level damage and versatility, 'cause spells still provide incredibly powerful damage-dealers at high levels and it doesn't seem as though melee has anything to counter that.

Also, would perhaps taking some of the "rockets" out of spell lists be a good idea? It seems like it would force spellcasters to rely more heavily on their melee damage dealers.

Originally Posted by Templebuilder View Post
Are there any non-ToB non-spellcasting classes that can even partway match up to a spellcaster? This has more to do with high-level damage and versatility, 'cause spells still provide incredibly powerful damage-dealers at high levels and it doesn't seem as though melee has anything to counter that.

Also, would perhaps taking some of the "rockets" out of spell lists be a good idea? It seems like it would force spellcasters to rely more heavily on their melee damage dealers.
An assortment of classes and prestige classes aimed towards getting the highest possible damage output from Power Attack
Ranger/Scout with the Swift Hunter feat and some way in which to get a full-round attack after 30ft. movement
Swift Hunter,
Preferably with a 3 level Swashbuckler dip and the Daring Outlaw feat
Two-Weapon Rogue, as well as the Incarnate and Totemist from Magic of Incarnum all provide damage dealing alternatives that don’t succumb to the menial janitorial occupation of spellcaster sidekick, at least not until very late, and even then they're still capable of doing something independently, if they get the chance.

The problem however is that so far they’re only dealing damage, they haven’t gotten utility that can match that of a spellcaster.

Y'all've discussed why casters in general are powerful, but not so much why standard melee is screwed or (directly) why the Big 5 are so far out there.

First off, what separates the Big 5 (and their honorary psionic sixth ranger, Erudite) from everyone else? This is more than just caster versus non-caster, as the Big 5 pull away from even other casters. The Wizard is on another plane from a Sorcerer, after all.

The main problem is the Big 5 automatically (or almost automatically) gain access to every spell, form, item, and power from every book in the entire game at little to no cost. A Cleric has access to every divine spell in every book automatically, without expending additional resources, and is capable of doing everything each of those spells enables by default with no additional resources spent. Druids can Wild Shape to any form in any allowed monster manual that meets their normal Wild Shape prerequisites. Wizards and Archivists need only spend a nominal cost to acquire huge numbers of new spells, to the point where they effectively have them all.

Now, if you look at a normal party, the traditional Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard combo, the theoretical roles are seen along the lines of Beater, Sneak, Medic, and Artillery. Everyone brings something to the table and they come together to form a solid team.

What ends up happening is that the Cleric's buffs make him an infinitely better melee presence than the Fighter while the Fighter can't do the job in the first place, meaning the Cleric takes the job of beater if he cares, and the Wizard's spells often circumvent the checks Rogues are there to make entirely. And if the Wizard wants it, he actually has real defensive buffs and can polymorph into a real combat form, so he can melee better than the Fighter, too.

What's more, pretty much every encounter has an easy button. The most infamous is casting Fly when facing the Tarrasque. Tarrasques don't have any means of countering flying foes, so it's an instant win. This gives the Big 5 another edge, beyond just stealing others' jobs. They have every possible option available to them, which means they have every encounter's easy button. Wizards are nicknamed the Goddamn Batman for this very reason- they always have the right spell for the job.

So, where everyone is supposed to bring something to the table, you have these five (six) classes that bring everything to the table and more, which is inappropriate and exacerbated by the fact that a lot of the noncasters can't even do their own jobs.

Meanwhile, if you look at some of the other casting classes, you have things like the Sorcerer and Favored Soul, who have tight limits on their spells known. They can bring something to the table, maybe even bring a lot to the table, without bringing everything to the table. Then there are the more focused classes like Warmage, Beguiler, and Dread Necromancer, which have a single, clearly defined contribution that they focus on and do fairly well. There are enough of these alternate casters running around that you can outright ban the Big 5 and not have most character concepts scrapped, though the Artificer is pretty tough to replace.

Now, there's the question of what's actually wrong with melee. While casters get a lot of options, with tricks and toys for every occasion, melee types... don't. Melee PCs get the same full attack, trip, charge, sunder, disarm, bull rush, overrun, etc. that everyone gets by default. What's more, even if those tricks did work, most of them are still pretty useless. So, melee is locked in direct conflict with monsters using the exact same tricks. They're pitting their AB, AC, HP, and damage against the monsters', and quite directly.

However, they can't win. Monsters get better numbers. A level-appropriate monster tends to be bigger (getting size bonuses to strength, damage, and all those useless maneuvers that make up most of melee's options), with vastly superior strength and constitution (meaning lots more AB and HP), and far more hit dice than the PCs (meaning more BAB and thus AB, to the point where AC becomes useless, and more HP compounded with the high Con).

So, melee is stuck in a numbers duel with creatures possessing numbers far beyond anything they can hope to achieve within their own class features, and no way to break out, no options worth mentioning, and no way to win without a caster smiling on them or a few niche cases of twinkery.

So, what melee really needs are meaningful options that can allow them to actually win. That's what Tome of Battle does.

Which is why I say, without any houserules, you can pretty much fix the game by banning the Big 5 and allowing Tome of Battle.

As far as the rogue's non-combat abilities... Well, I'm going to offer a dissenting opinion. While the big five can render the rogue obsolete, in practice they don't do it all that often, provided there is a rogue in the party. While a wizard or archivist can do what the rogue's there for, it's a better use of his spell slots to prepare other spells. So that's not really the problem.

The problem is that when the rogue is doing his thing, no one else is doing anything. No one else is contributing. When the combat rolls around, the rogue is the one who isn't doing a whole lot worthwhile (at least at higher levels; at low-to-moderate levels a two-weapon rogue is fairly competitive). This is part of the problem with the rogue design and skills in general in 3.5. A skill-based encounter typically only involves one or two players, and the rest stand around. This is one reason a lot of DMs prefer to ignore the social skills and just roleplay it (along with several other, even bigger reasons).

This ties into what I call the Rogue Problem. Until melee stops mattering at high levels, they do decent in melee with two-weapon fighting. Unless you fight undead or constructs. Constructs aren't quite as big a problem, since you don't fight a huge number of them, but undead often form the center of a campaign. The rogue's inability to fight them becomes a huge problem then. He goes from valued party member to glorified locksmith. Rangers have a similar problem when facing creatures outside their favored enemy types. Abilities like these aren't bad if they're occasional bonuses, but it's a problem when the class is based around that ability.

This is why so many of the classes made later had more skill points and more diverse class skills than previous classes, and have much less situational abilities. This is going to have to be a big part of any class reform. You want to eliminate dead time for classes. Try to shorten the amount of time that a player spends on the sidelines, watching other people having fun.

Ah, but you forget the new weapon crystals, which bring the rogue back into play during construct undead fights.

The other thing is that damage doesn't matter if it doesn't kill the target. Seriously. If you deal 999 damage to a critter that has 1000 hp, it's still up and ready to hit you with a dominate person. Eventually iterative probability bends you over and has its way: you're an NPC's slave.

Originally Posted by Rodrigo View Post
Despite their frequent mention, you might want to read some dissenting opinions.
This needs more emphasis around here.

Originally Posted by Templebuilder View Post
I'm interested in game design, so the frequent mentions of the Big Five and melee's ineffectiveness at higher levels has piqued my interest. I think I'll have to figure out an exact solution to this myself, but I'm wondering if people could shed more light on the nature of this. Why does it happen? I kind of get that melee damage doesn't build too much over time, but is there more to it than that?
Yes. A lot more. First I'm going to cover some side points.

1: It pleases me to see others are adopting my terminology for the problem.
2: Most melee classes don't have many abilities or much effectiveness. The ones that do have a fair number of abilities tend towards Epic Fail (see: Monk and Swashbuckler for the worst offenders, many others exist) far more often than usable class (ToB, Psychic Warrior, Duskblade...)
3: The Big Five are all at about the same power because they all steal each other's tricks. Further, the two non core members rank where they do entirely for this reason. As most of these tricks are core, this means that among many other things this fact puts a rocket through any theory of core = balanced, splat = imbalanced.
4: Knock? Seriously? What a waste of a spell slot or cash. Here is the real Knock problem:
A: Lock DCs are incredibly high. 150 gold for a DC 40 lock means there is absolutely no reason the best lock will not be on anything valuable... which is to say almost everything from level 3 on. Too bad you can't reliably pick it until 15-20... meaning it takes extreme coddling just to have ANY success rate. Also, Disable Device does let you open locks... at a much lower DC, and also does other stuff.
B: Knock bypasses this, and saves time, but still uses resources.
C: Adamantine bolt = pick any lock at will and without fail.
= No smart Rogue will bother with OL, no smart anyone will bother with Knock, and doors are not meant to be real obstacles so don't expect them to be.
5: Damage spells = fail. However just about any other type = win. If blasting is doing more damage than the beatstick, a complete character rebuild is in order. The issue here is:
A: Blasting spell damage is trivial at best.
B: Even doing more, or even several times more than this still doesn't result in good damage.
C: HP damage does absolutely nothing to impede combat effectiveness until it KOs or kills the target.

The first is a throwback to early editions, where 1d6 a level was actually pretty damn good. You could try jacking the damage up, but it won't do any good unless you massively improved it... not recommended.

The second is due to massively inflating HP. 1d6 a level gets you 70 at level 20 under the best case situation you aren't getting. You need to plow through 400, 500, or even more. Even if you do 200 a round, you still need about 3 rounds... which is 1-2 more than you'll get. Barring complete system revamps, this is unfixable.

The third has always been as it is, and fixing it is going to bone the beatsticks much harder than any monster, nerfing them further as a direct and immediate result.
6: The 'rockets' are currently the only things keeping the beatsticks alive. See, the beatsticks are currently serving in the role of Camp Follower. This means they follow the real characters around, only enter fights when the enemies have been crippled by said real characters, then slit their (the enemies) throats and steal the loot. They have no chance in a real fight. The rockets are what does that crippling. Which means you remove the rockets, and the beatsticks start dying all over the place to every auto attack, just like you'd expect when civilian opportunists enter a battlefield during war time. Those builds he mentioned due decent enough damage, but still have no chance against anything remotely resembling level appropriate, non crippled opposition.

Now, to wrap it all together.

As VV has already said, melee is a pure stat contest, and the enemies have better stats. So it's either casters win (cripple the enemy, so you can auto attack it to death) or you lose (rockets aren't used/don't work/whatever) and you die. In addition to the enemies having the advantage of numbers, options, or both depending on whether or not they are a beatstick or something better, the maneuvers you have don't do a whole lot even when they do work.

Your best one is trip to get +4 on follow up attacks and an AoO when they get up as a move action. If you could get this to work against another beatstick it's actually fairly decent as it means the only one attack = automatic irrelevancy rule of beatsticking is working in your favor for once. It doesn't do a whole lot against the other types of enemies, even when it works as they do their relevant things as a Standard, so you don't interfere with their Action Economy.

The second best is bull rushing ONLY if you are a Dungeoncrasher with Knockback. However this one, in addition to the whole big/four legs/high strength thing is negated by simply fighting outdoors or in an otherwise open area as there is nothing to knock them into. Also you pretty much have to pin them to a wall, or be flying (so you can knock them into the floor with your auto attacks) for this to be good. Otherwise you just hit them once, they fly into a wall, then they charge back at you... funny mental image, not that effect. If you don't have those things (which requires you to be a Goliath, Half Ogre, or anything else that's Large or has Powerful Build) this one is either useless (you push them back a few feet, whoop de do) or an active liability (pushing him into holes and such sounds good, until you remember this destroys the loot you were about to steal).

The rest are at best laughable. Disarm only works on beatstick humanoid NPCs, which aren't a threat anyways. The natural attacks you'd actually want to remove? Can't do jack.

Sunder destroys your own treasure. You are a highly treasure dependent class. Nuff said.

Grapple? Ignoring the bigger and stronger bit again, you can't do jack while grappling, but are wide open to other enemies attacking you. Meanwhile they have natural attacks and don't care much.

Charge is not considered a maneuver in my book. It either replaces your auto attacks if a Pouncer, or falls under the one attack = automatic irrelevancy clause if not.

For the record, the clause is that since you need a full attack to have any hope of dealing damage that matters, only getting to attack once means you're barely doing anything. And since you cannot move more than 5 feet and still full attack barring Pounce or Hustle or whatever... This means you're either more or less rooted in place, or are automatically irrelevant this round. Move faster than 0.568 MPH and you can outrun the beatstick all day. Your normal walking speed is four times faster than him. Walk briskly now indeed. Anyone that has any issue with Pounce, spell this out for them, then ask them to visualize someone calmly sauntering around the battlefield as if taking a morning stroll, yet auto negating the beatstick. He'll allow Pounce, if for no other reason than so he can use it on you every fight that features melee types to try to 'correct' your utter disrespect for them.

Need more?

Originally Posted by NineInchNall View Post
The other thing is that damage doesn't matter if it doesn't kill the target. Seriously. If you deal 999 damage to a critter that has 1000 hp, it's still up and ready to hit you with a dominate person. Eventually iterative probability bends you over and has its way: you're an NPC's slave.
This too. I knew I was forgetting something.

Anything luck based favors the monsters. Attacks of the auto variety count, but no one really cares. Attacks of the other sorts on the other hand like save or loses...

Though this is only connected in an indirect way. You need extremely high saves to avoid getting sodomized by iterative probability. The beatstick types only get average saves at best, and often bad will saves. Which means in many cases it doesn't even have to get iterative. You just lose on round 1. You optimize for saves and you'll get average, or even good saves, at which point iterative probability kicks in. This requires resources of course, and since beatsticks are strapped for those to begin with...

One idea I've toyed with is having loss of HP actually reduce the effectiveness of monsters. If they lost half their HP, say, their saves and attack bonus go down. However, this would probably affect PCs as well, and doesn't address the fact that monsters remain better at lowering HP than PC classes.


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