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Sharpshooter Feat: Not On My Watch!

Things I like about Sharpshooter feat:

Things I don’t like about Sharpshooter:

  • Everything else.

It feels like a while since I’ve had a good old moan about one of 5e’s little foibles, and if nothing else my negative posts on Divine Smite, Lucky feat, Hypnotic Pattern, Wild Shape and Great Weapon Master offer readers a fantastic opportunity to call me a bad DM, a D&D hater and the worst kind of homebrewer – among other choice insults. (Rather suspiciously, most of the haters seem to be players… anyone might think they don’t want their powers tuned down!).

So anyway, let’s take a look under the hood to see why this feat is so reprehensible.

Sharpshooter

You have mastered ranged weapons and can make shots that others find impossible. You gain the following benefits:

Attacking at long range doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged weapon attack rolls.

Your ranged weapon attacks ignore half cover and three-quarters cover.

Before you make a ranged attack with a ranged weapon with which you are proficient, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If you do so and the attack hits, it deals +10 damage.

At first glance it looks pretty bonkers… and at second glance it looks pretty bonkers.

The first feature is both a ridiculous advantage in combat, and a slap in the face of realism – and that’s a slap with a spiked baseball bat. No matter how great you are with a bow, firing at a target 600 feet away should be harder than firing at one that is 10 feet away. You can’t just make distance disappear like that when you’re designing mechanics, even using ‘the rule of cool’, and, as written, the way it combines with the likes of Sneak Attack is plain dumb.

The second feature I do actually like: it offers a powerful but situational benefit that fits the name ‘sharpshooter’. However, when overlaid with the feat’s first boon it creates an even more blood-boilingly infuriating combination. Now we’re allowing players to aim at a quarter of a target, at up to 600 feet, with a longbow, without even a single penalty? Are these sharp shooters firing arrows or heat-seeking missiles?

The third power, essentially the same as with Great Weapon Master, is guilty of throwing weapon damage way off balance, and is ugly and time consuming to boot. I suppose we are to assume that the -5 penalty represents the difficulty of trying to hit the target in a vulnerable spot, while the +10 represents the pay off of pulling the shot off. That flies in the face of the logic we often here from the designers that says “assume the players are always trying to hit monsters in a vulnerable spot” while also feeling like a ‘called shot’ mechanic that anyone should be able to attempt, with or without this feat. It also feels like something that should take extra time, and therefore not be leveraged on every attack.

Criminally, this third aspect of the feat can also really slow down the game, as players are faced with the dilemma on every single attack on whether to take the penalty or not in the hope of landing a killer blow. Meanwhile, the +10 damage just feels wrong. It’s too high for a start. Offer a bonus sure, but how come this arrow now does the damage of more than three normal arrows? Thanks to the overkill on this feat, bog standard hits start to feel disappointing and trifling by comparison (no one should be made to feel crap because their own hits stop being significant). Additionally, a flat +10 is simple boring, and too reliable. We use dice in D&D for a reason.

Given that pussies ranged character builds already benefit from being able to attack safely from distance, attack from behind cover (or even easily disappear behind total cover between attacks), can regularly benefit from being a hidden attacker (gaining advantage on their attack rolls) and can benefit from sneak attack damage, or the archery fighting style + use superiority dice as if they were in melee, this feat makes even less sense. It’s adding a massive boon to one of the builds that needs it the least.

Yep, as written, this feat can f@ck right off my table.

But maybe, IF I get behind my turntables (ok, keyboard), like the DM equivalent of DJ Zinc remixing rare grooves and gangsta rap into floor-stomping, speaker-shakin’ d’n’b anthems, I might yet be able to bang out an acceptable tune from this intensely irritating feat…

Sharpshooter: Hipster Remix

Let’s try this… at least until someone in the comments section comes up with something better.

Sharpshooter

You have mastered ranged weapons and can make shots that others find impossible. You gain the following benefits:

Your ranged weapon attacks ignore half cover and three-quarters cover at short range.

As a bonus action, you can focus on your next shot. If you hit with your next ranged attack roll on the current turn, you double your weapon’s damage die. Additionally, on that shot you score a critical hit with a roll of 19 or 20.

There you go… pretty happy with that actually. You can no longer just deal death from long range with impunity, as with the original, highly dubious, version of the feat, however you have a pretty reliable – and very fun – way of doing extra damage if and when you can spare the bonus action. How does this remixed feat vibe with the new ‘Aim’ capability of the Rogue’s Cunning Action from Tasha’s Guide to Everything? Pretty well actually… a Rogue firing from range will often get advantage from being hidden anyway, so now they can use this feat’s bonus action ability instead whenever they are hidden. Do note: the feat only doubles the weapon’s damage die (not all dice), which is effectively a +3.5 or +4.5 to damage on a hit (but without the -5 penalty to hit and the dilemma of whether to take it). Unless the crit comes up of course, which is when when things get tasty…

If you want to tone the feat down a little you could also implement the same restriction that binds the Rogue’s Aim feature:

You can use this bonus action only if you haven’t moved during this turn, and after you use the bonus action, your speed is 0 until the end of the current turn.

So there you go… there’s only really one way to sign off this post. (Warning the follow record may not make sense if you’re not a mid-90s junglist from the UK… track best served in a smoky basement at 5am in an East London warehouse).

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11 Comments

  1. HaroldB

    It’s not OP when you look at the math vs ASI and most battle maps are 24×36, so we’ll within the normal range of a longbow. Most combats start within 60 feet in my experience anyway.

    • duncan

      I looked at the maths and the maths said ‘this is OP’ed’. You have to bear in mind you don’t have to use SS on any given attack. You use it when it makes sense, ie. when the maths favour you. With billions of ways to get positive modifiers and advantage on attack rolls, the maths will favour using it more often than not and you are going to do A LOT more damage with this feat than taking a +2 to your Dex (at any rate Dex maxes out at 20).

      Anyway, I think it’s a badly designed feat for all the points I raise in the article… as much as the extra damage.

      Regarding range: tricky one, personally I play in a lot of combats that start at longer range than 60 feet, or at the very least where one can manoeuvre further away. I don’t play or DM many dungeon crawls though….

      • Wylie

        Starting combats further than 60 feet away… that sounds like an article topic to me!

        • duncan

          You might be right! I recently published an arena adventure (Dragonbowl) where the two gladiatorial teams started 90 feet apart, but had to change it to 60 feet when playtesting revealed 90 feet just gave the players an opportunity to beat on the opposition using their always superior magic and range attacks. Any distance tends to be a massive advantage to players. However in the open it’s often not realistic to notice monsters at only 20 yards away.

  2. Stibbons

    As a general rule of psychology, people experience the loss of something more keenly than they do an equivalent gain. In Dnd terms, people react to nerfs far more negatively than they do buffs. You may find your comments section more agreeable if you instead spend your time brining some of the eternal trap options of 5e, like two weapon fighting or high level blast spells up to par instead of going around chopping of poppy heads of any above-par options. Sometimes it is necessary to nerf things that make an absolute mockery of the game, like summoning pixies to mass cast polymorph, but rather than nerfing a player’s choices to bring them into line, offer the underperforming characters some love

    • duncan

      You’re absolutely right about psychological reactions to nerfs…

      However, one point of nerfing something above par is to bring online other options that would otherwise appear lacklustre.

      Not sure that spellcasters need any extra tools tbh, but a helping hand for two handed weapon fighting might be something interesting to ponder. One of the reason it looks bad is because Polearm Master is probably too good… (hence my mild nerfing of it, so as to make it less of an essential choice… https://www.hipstersanddragons.com/polearm-master-feat-5e-dnd/), as is Great Weapon Master. Without feats there’s nothing too wrong with two handed fighting.

  3. Jess

    You’re arguing iver the wrong stat 8n this article. You seem to be upset that this feat takes away the difficulty if firing a bow 600 feet accurately. You should be upset that the stats even allow you to fire 600 feet. That’s 3 football fields, rifles become difficult at that range. You argue its not realistic on that I agree. That’s why in medieval times when they fired arrows at that distance they fired hundreds of arrows because there is no accuracy at that range. The feat its self 8s fine, it is implying you have master the bow and are extremely accurate at long ranges where others aren’t. That is perfectly acceptable because it is realistic. A novice archer struggles to hit a target at all from only 20 feet, but master archers can accurately hit a target center mass from 150 feet. Heck, samurai from feudal Japan were such masters they would tie a dog 9n a 20 foot leash to a stake in the ground and hit that dog with blunted arrows from horse back at a full gallop frome distances of up yo 100 feet. So again what the feat implies is perfect, the range stats for bows are what’s wrong.

  4. Nathan

    I prefer it being a feat that can apply to multiple styles of play and benefit different archetypes over it being something a particular sub class is slapped with as a specific feature that labels them as the ‘meta’ choice.

    Giving players something to consider isn’t a bad thing in a fight. If they’re decisive it can result in some crazy moments of incredible clutch damage or a heartbreaking near miss that results in disaster, versus them just auto completing a turn. It’s just another dimension to consider. Though I know this feat and great weapon master have a tendency to drown out other feats and as a result a good chunk of the more entertaining one’s go unused by martial players especially the newer hyper specialized weapon type specific feats like piercer.

    The solution for me isn’t to toss these and other feats off the table. I instead have categorized the feats as lesser and greater for my game and have given them additional points in their progression where they’re able to pick up a lesser feat of their choice. Just slapped the 3.5 feat progression onto the 5e progression. 3.5 feat levels net you a lesser feat and 5e progression points net you the choice of a greater feat or ability score improvement.

  5. RX9

    You mention how firing a bow ‘should’ be harder to do at a target @ 600ft (~180m) than one @ 10ft (~3m), that’s quite the opposite, most of your bow (drawn) would be in the way and it’d be clumsy as hell to use if you’re trying to fire it in what is essentially melee range. Most bows would easily reach the vicinity of 600ft, crossbows and composites included, longbows don’t even need debating on because they’re MADE for the extended range. So sharpshooter is less of a boost in the manner of “You’re wicked sick and can pull off amazing trick shots” than it is “you’re now effective at using a bow efficiently”

    • duncan

      I’ve used a bow a handful of times and I don’t feel that firing at a target 3 metres away would be at all difficult.

      Meanwhile I’d give myself 0 percent chance of hitting a human sized target 180 metres away.

      I understand there’s a difference between myself and a trained archer, but there’s no way you will convince me that an archer would prefer to stake their money / life / reputation on a 600 feet shot than a 10 feet one. Unless you have some compelling video evidence!

      This bow fanatic takes three shots to hit a large, stationary target, with no armour, at just 300 feet range, with clear view. Taking about 10-15 seconds to aim each shot.

  6. Ray

    Very late to this fun. Though will say I will come back quite fun to read your thoughts in the way you present them even if I disagree. Before I get there I will say, yeah maybe I don’t try to snipe something from 600. But have the feat increase the shortbows short range to the of the long bow. And maybe keep the whole snipe at 600 feet thing but every 50 feet beyond max range gives you a -2 to hit rather then disadvantage. Don’t ignore cover though.

    So onto criticism of the rework. Main thing is that you seem to be focusing way to hard on the rouge as an archer in your article. Given the way you changed it, and the only reference was made to that class not the ranger and fighter. Which brings in the fact that not everyone using the feat will be sniping from a counselled position once a turn.

    Because of this the revision not only has an action cost (bonus action) but it also only applies to one attack which hurts the ranger a bit and guts the fighters damage. In compensation they get a single attack that has a 10% chance to crit and at best does 2 less damage then sharpshooter at current. I assume that the fighter-champion improved critical is meant to stack if not then that is another issue. On crit the extra die does bump the average up to 9 but can max out at 16, so not much problem there.

    Just so I am not throwing out criticism without exposing my own thoughts I present
    Sharpshooter:
    – Your ranged attacks ignore half and three-quarters cover
    – Shortbow attacks now have the same short range as the longbow
    – Attacks made with a shortbow or longbow can shoot beyond their short range but for every 50 feet beyond you take a -2 to hit (151-200 -2 to hit, 201-250, -4 to hit) until 400 feet where you are imposed the normal disadvantage.

    Only one of the following can chosen per attack action (both actions can only be taken with a short or longbow):
    – You may nock a second arrow, adding a +3 to hit, if your hit roll is 3 above the targets ac both arrows hit and you roll the damage die twice, if it is equal to or two higher then the targets ac only one arrow connects and does damage as normal

    – You put more draw weight into your shot at the cost of accuracy, you can take a -2 to hit for 6 additional damage

    First thing is my thought process was to try and remove the synergy with crossbow expert as you could apply the damage bonus to the extra shot that feat provided. Next was to give you a second option that would allow players to flavor there action so they don’t just slap the affect on everything as you would against enemies with certain AC.

    Giving them an accuracy boost that only boost damage if the attack would have hit without it give players who believe the dice are against them an action to take that will average to 4.5 more damage if hit. While players who want to try the old sharpshooter still can. It does have a higher ratio between hit and damage being 1:3 as opposed to 1:2 but the major problem with the official sharpshooter in my opinion was how big the flat damage was not how bad the penalty was. A +10 to damage is a whole point higher than 2d8. And three damage higher then 2d6 damage avrage. Now plus six is higher then the 4.5 average of one extra d8, assuming longbow, but that action gives you a hit bonus and has a fail safe in the form of the second arrow hitting and still doing damage.

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