Power Attack - when to use


Advice


Hi,

I thought I'd share with you the modeling I did. I was curious when it made sense to use Power Attack and when it didn't. For example, is the plus to damage worth the fact that you are giving up successful hits? When? What Armor Classes? As I wrote months ago, I created a massive (more than a 32000 row spreadsheet) simulating 400 combats per sheet using the random macro in excel to do actual combats....taking into account multiple swings (if I wanted), critical hits, AC etc to see how combats would be affected. I picked a fighter stat and had him fight himself. One copy of him had Power Attack turned on and the other didn't. Then it would be easy to see when the PA copy of him won combat and when did he start losing combats because PA started to harm his chance of victory.

One test I ran was for 14th level fighter (+30/+25/+20/+30 .... 4th attack hasted attack) 180 HP each, +18 to damage, AC33, keen longsword, so critting on a 17). fighting himself with PA would mean the other copy of him was +26/21/16/26 but a +26 to damage).

Before reading the answer below....think about it. When would you use PA? All of the time? If not, how high of an opponent AC before you would say....um now....I have too poor of a chance to hit?

The break even was ~AC32. Surprising I'm sure. The benefit of the extra +8 is dampened by losing the +18 etc.

I ran a second test for a 7th level fighter. Basically the same thing. Greater than +2 above his base (best) ToHit, and he starts to give up victory (fighting himself). It starts to slope down quickly too FYI.

So - consider this your tip for the day all of you fighter types. Now, your mileage may vary. The lower your base damage (as compared to the Power Attack damage) and the results above would be changed too. For example, and I didn't do this, but if you were only a +2 to damage and your PA gave you +8 more, then of course, that rule of thumb above would be different, but I'm not worried about the outlier conditions of some no strength fighter using PA, so I didn't model that.

Enjoy.

Jeff

PS: Just like last time, someone asked for me to send them this spreadsheet. This thing is so complicated, many many long formulas in each cell, that it would be nearly unusable by someone, even if they were proficient in excel. For example, here is one of my cell contents:

=IF($B$5>$C$5,IF(AND(C11>1,OR(C11=20,D11>=O_AC-O_dex)),"hit","miss "),IF(AND(C11>1,OR(C11=20,D11>=O_AC)),"hit","miss"))

I'm not sending it to anyone.


The first problem I see is your basing this on the fighter being in combat against something with his AC. This sort of calculation is usually performed by calculating the average AC of creatures in the bestiary at the appropriate CR. So, a 14th level fighter's attack should be gauged against the average AC of CR14 creatures.


When do you know what the armor class of an encounter is?

Realistically, you don't use power attack when half your attacks are missing. There's no need to try and draw mathematics into it because you're not attacking a foe with armor class X+2 wherein X is the player's to-hit bonus, but rather armor class Y, where Y could be higher or lower than X (or equal to). And you won't know what it is until the first couple of rolls!

Scarab Sages

Ya, this is only relevant if the GM gives you the numbers. Which he won't, usually. So chances are good that all that work won't help most people. :(


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If I can't make a character with enough attack bonus to routinely hit despite power attack, I feel like I'm doing it wrong. As such, I power attack basically all the time--the only time I wouldn't is if I'm sure my non-Power Attack damage will kill the enemy.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32

I'd be very interested to see how furious focus effects the numbers. Although, I'm guessing that it would be a very minor bump in damage output at 14th level.


Threemilechild has a Google Spreadsheet which can be quite useful for calculating which combat options do or don't make mathematical sense. I've dubbed it "The Depressing Spreadsheet" because it generally dashes my Power Attack dreams when she calculates my projected DPR with and without Power Attack against APL and higher foes with "average" AC.

I think Power Attack can be fun even when its not particularly effective though. For instance, I think folks are more likely to remember for years that the Barbarian scored a crit for 127 damage on some BBEG than that the Barbrian often missed by 1 or 2 because of Power Attack.

@Claxon - The PRD page on Creating Monsters lists a recommended AC for CR14 as AC29. That sounds like it falls within the OP's range where PA is beneficial, but I wonder just how much average DPR you're gaining from the feat. Of course monster AC can vary a bit, and you could reasonably encounter stuff a few CR higher or lower than your APL.


Hmmm. I think that, in the end, you'll pa if you can hit with 14 or so, about 1/3 of the times. However if you see that the party is safe, you can pa even on a 17.... so of all that math I'll go with devilkiller: it's too funny to not use every time you can.


I kinda have to ask is this sword and board or not? Cause if not why is he not using two hands on the longsword and making it a +30 to damage versus the +18. If he is, then he's high enough level to be dual wielding sword and board at no TWF penalties and that means all his attacks get the +8, off hand and main hand


basically you should power attack with a fighter all the freaking time.

Because if you understand the rules at all and have built your character in even a remotely satisfactory way (I'm not saying remotely optimized. I'm saying not downright terrible) than your hit mods will be such that power attack is always worth it. Ditto for barbarians and rangers.

It does get a bit more interesting if you try to think about 3/4 classes using it.


@Thomas Long 175 - A Fighter might attack one-handed with a longsword if he took certain archetypes or perhaps wanted to use Crane Wing. He'd certainly have enough feats for it.

@awp832 - I have a lot of reduced BAB characters and pets, so the trends I've seen might not be entirely accurate for full BAB characters. We'll check it out in the spreadsheet and provide some analysis of a reasonably optimized Fighter at a few levels against "typical" AC.

Of course AC is one of the things which often goes up sharply when a DM wants to increase the challenge level a bit. In my experience many DMs add the advanced template to many or even most monsters in an AP, and that's +4 AC right there.

Liberty's Edge

awp832 wrote:

basically you should power attack with a fighter all the freaking time.

Because if you understand the rules at all and have built your character in even a remotely satisfactory way (I'm not saying remotely optimized. I'm saying not downright terrible) than your hit mods will be such that power attack is always worth it. Ditto for barbarians and rangers.

It does get a bit more interesting if you try to think about 3/4 classes using it.

Nah, there are situations where using Power Attack is less effective. It depends on the BAB of the attacker, the AC of the target, and whether there are any other To Hit penalties or benefits.

For example, if your GM tells you your target is staggering about, you don't need to use Power Attack to put him down.

At one point, I had a 7th level dwarf fighter and I was deciding if I should go two-handed fighting, Axe and shield, or two-weapon. I made a chart in excel to look at various setups involving level progression, the different styles, and power attack against AC 20. What I found was that at BAB +7, it was better to power attack regardless of the fighting style used...but at BAB +8, it was no longer as effective. Of course, Power Attack should pretty much always be used against low AC opponents (since you are able to hit often) and high AC opponents (since a 20 always hits).


Upon cursory analysis it looks like an "average" 20th level Fighter with a +5 weapon who takes all the appropriate feats and Weapon Mastery would probably do about 17% more damage with Power Attack (say 136 vs 116) when attacking a "typical" CR20 AC of 36. Lower levels seem to be reasonably similar, but if you go with something other than "plusses" on the weapon the advantage decays pretty quickly.

I'd like to come up with a rule of thumb like "If the opponent's AC is less than your level plus 20 then Power Attack". Your base damage and attack bonus play into it a lot though. Stuff like flanking and charging also encourage Power Attack. If I have bonuses to hit I'll usually Power Attack even with lower BAB characters or pets. My sword and board Bard/Paladin hasn't bothered to take the feat so far though since The Depressing Spreadsheet shows it would have minimal effect against challenging foes. He'd be able to mop up mooks a little better, but he's a noble warrior who smites the greatest evil present, not a mook mopper. We have a Sorcerer and Druid for that.


Having a 2H fighter would skew the break even point significantly since he gets +3 dmg per -1 to hit and would have significantly lower AC then a S&B type plus a bigger base damage dice.

Liberty's Edge

Like many others have said, if I'm playing a full BAB character with Power Attack, I always use it. It's hard wired into the attack rolls. I just tell the DM up fromt that I'm not going to bother woth declaring I'm using it each round because I'm never going to NOT use it.


So I read this thread 10 minutes after it was posted and decided I'd make an Excel sheet to let everyone figure it out for themselves, since it's pretty much impossible to give hard rules... Here we are almost 8 hours later, and I'm done with it, lol.

The file can be found by clicking THIS LINK and then using the password paizo.

If you want to talk more about this Excel file or have suggestions, head to the thread I made for it found here.

Edit: Changed the link, since I changed the title of my thread.


Devilkiller wrote:

@Thomas Long 175 - A Fighter might attack one-handed with a longsword if he took certain archetypes or perhaps wanted to use Crane Wing. He'd certainly have enough feats for it.

@awp832 - I have a lot of reduced BAB characters and pets, so the trends I've seen might not be entirely accurate for full BAB characters. We'll check it out in the spreadsheet and provide some analysis of a reasonably optimized Fighter at a few levels against "typical" AC.

Of course AC is one of the things which often goes up sharply when a DM wants to increase the challenge level a bit. In my experience many DMs add the advanced template to many or even most monsters in an AP, and that's +4 AC right there.

DevilKiller. I can't find any such archetype unless you were going to go into duelist prestige class which really isn't that great to begin with.

As for crane wing. 2 hand long sword. Free action to ungrip with one hand at end of turn. Free action to regrip with both hands at beginning of next turn. Completely legal, allows two handing of sword and allows crane wing.


@Thomas Long 175 - I believe that there's a free hand fighter archetype. I can't say what it does or if it is worth using, but I'd hope that it involves having 1 hand free.

I hadn't really reflected on Crane Wing with Fighters much, but I guess that would work. It would be funny if enemies began readying an action to hit you when you have both hands on your sword.


Devilkiller wrote:

@Thomas Long 175 - I believe that there's a free hand fighter archetype. I can't say what it does or if it is worth using, but I'd hope that it involves having 1 hand free.

I hadn't really reflected on Crane Wing with Fighters much, but I guess that would work. It would be funny if enemies began readying an action to hit you when you have both hands on your sword.

It does, but its truly one of the worst archetypes.

It specializes in feinting, when most enemies get most of their AC from armor and natural armor, and disarms, which can be ignored per a 15 gold mundane item.

It replaces weapon training, but doesn't call out the new one as a selection of weapon training, so per the FAQ you can't use gloves of dueling with it.

It trades out all forms of armor training for a +1 Dodge bonus to AC that eventually rises (every 4 levels beyond 2nd) to +5 and doesn't work in higher than light armor.

You get the ability to trip or disarm but as a move action, aka no full attacks, to make them flat footed, and it lasts until they take damage from a form of attack.

It trades out Armory Mastery, aka DR 5/- for the ability to disarm as an immediate action when he's melee'd and force a single attack against whomever he used the disarm against. Personally i'd take the DR just because disarm is so bad.

Edit: and yes they could do that against crane wing, but then you're forcing every enemy who attacks you to give up full attacks. That's definitely worth giving up deflecting one attack per turn.


i don't know that your calculations are correct or that i even understand what your conclusion was, but i just wanted to say that i support your enthusiasm in attempting to out-uber-nerd the uber-nerdy game.


@Celanian The math I gave devilkiller to report earlier assumed a fighter two-handing his weapon. It was my best attempt to totally maximize the benefit of Power Attack.

@Marc Radle Remember that you still need a non-power attack line, for if you end up making an AOO when you haven't attacked that round. (Taking into account Furious Focus, if you use that.

If you run the math for most PCs, you'll find that they should Power Attack if they can hit easily OR if they're having trouble hitting. How wide the band of "don't power attack" is for any character is dependent on how much damage they get from other sources, as packerfanjeff points out. It is also dependent on whether you expect to get many full attacks with iteratives (or secondary natural weapons), especially if you have Furious Focus.

Generally, classes and abilities that give you equal plus to hit and damage (fighter weapon training, ranger favored enemy, +5 enchanted weapons) favor Power Attack builds more than ones that pump damage more (most paladins' smite, barbarian rage, +1 holy flaming shocking weapons).

Since, as Devilkiller posted above, we tend towards less than full base attack PCs, I was actually surprised at the effectiveness of Power Attack in a full fighter build.


When to use Power Attack (simplified):
Full BAB (preferred); 3/4 BAB (not as good; less powerful)
Strength Modifier > penalty to attack roll

Liberty's Edge

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'til armor and bones combined into nutritious paste.


sorry - was away for a few days.

I had the fighter fight himself, so that all other variables were eliminated. I admit that this is not realistic from a "what would you really face" standpoint.

regarding a post a few posts above where it's hardwired in. Mathematically, that is not how you maximize your damage, but to each his own. [DEPENDING UPON the ratio of your base damage versus the extra damage from power attack]

Why do I say this? Think of it this way. Yes - you'll do more damage with your first swing. However, the reason your total damage is less is because you end up missing more on your 2nd or 3rd swings.

So - let's say your base damage is +18...and PA adds a +8. So on your first hit, assuming you hit, you are doing a +26 instead of +18 (assuming no crit). Now, if you drop from a 20% change to hit on your 3rd attack to needing a nat20, over all, you are doing less damage (if you were to run this combat over and over again).

My simulation I ran did 5,000 combats (and I could do more, but that's where I stopped), so by increasing the opponent AC by 1 each time, I was able to see where the winrate peaked, which is how I was evaluating this.

note: if your base damage is low compared to the PA extra damage, then of course that changes things, but I tried to pick realistic base damage for the level of fighter I was simulating.

Jeff


As a general rule of thumb I tend to just power attack all the time with my big two-handed weapon of doom. If I am built to kill everything asap then the party should be buffing me or debuffing the opponents to make it so I can hit.
Power attack damage is increased by 50% when two-handing, so having stupidly high STR as well as good BAB to ensure you get the damage increases should translate to you not having a great deal of problems hitting enemies.

Just have someone flank, have a STR buff cast on you, and if you are in real dire straits then have the caster hit you with True-strike a lot.

Bonus points if you go Two-handed fighter in the quest to force mass damage rolls after you take all the elemental damage enchants.


Has anyone used Excel to check out the DPR for a Power Attack + Great Cleave/Improved Cleaving Finish? I realize that Power Attack on a full attack makes you more likely to miss on the iterative attacks... But using the higher-end of the Cleave tree (particularly as a dwarf with a reach weapon and a secondary wep like Boulder Helmet or Armor Spikes), what are the returns on that?


Artemis Moonstar wrote:
Has anyone used Excel to check out the DPR for a Power Attack + Great Cleave/Improved Cleaving Finish? I realize that Power Attack on a full attack makes you more likely to miss on the iterative attacks... But using the higher-end of the Cleave tree (particularly as a dwarf with a reach weapon and a secondary wep like Boulder Helmet or Armor Spikes), what are the returns on that?

Oh man, that . . .

. . . -1 for 2(3) damage at bab 1
. . . -2 for 4(6) damage at bab 4
. . . -3 for 6(9) damage at bab 8
. . . -4 for 8(12) damage at bab 12
. . . -5 for 10(15) damage at bab 16
. . . -6 for 12(18) damage at bab 20

Yes, you are getting a penalty but this is more or less just keeping up with your masterwork weapon at low levels, and then it is just keeping up with your enchants so you just do more damage.

Gold Great Wyrm dragons have AC 40, so any fighter worth his weight should have weapon focus and greater weapon focus with his chosen weapon, add weapon training with the weapon he specializes in as well as stacked STR stuff and everything that will give him the best possible chance to hit when he swings since that is what he does.

So -6(PA at 20), +2(GWF, WF), +4(Weap training), +5(enchant), 20(bab) should bring his chance to hit to
25, so a fighter with a STR of 10 should hit 25% of the time, but if his STR is more around 25 at least then it will be more like he will hit 75% of the time for a ton of damage.

Yes, his previous attacks will have a higher miss chance, but that is the catch 22 of these attacks, but with the proper feats it is negated by the fighter class's options.

Hell, fighters really only have one job: beat things to death with big 2-handed weapons or 1-handed weapons.

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