[RPG] the most DPR possible at level 1


My question is fairly straightforward: What is the combination of feats/race/class/etc that gives the most damage per round at level 1? I'd also be interested to see the maximum possible damage, but this is not the criterion for judgment–just a bonus.

I'm looking to create a level 1 character who is only concerned by doing as much damage as possible at level 1. I should note that there is no consideration for any level past 1 (albeit I am interested in your speculations about level progression). I'm also interested in the requirements for such a character (e.g. the minimum ability scores needed, DM approval, etc).

Here are the stipulations/settings that need to be known:

  • All Primary Source Books are available. Basically if it is RAW it is
  • No home-brewed rules. Starting amount of gold as per the
    default amount.
  • No exceptional magic items are available (only the
    common ones available anywhere).
  • All variants described in the rules
    are available (e.g. the variant human class).
  • Assume no situation
    modifications (e.g. terrain, advantage, etc).
  • Only assume
    modifications if they are *almost always available. This means we are only interested in DPR (Damage per round).
  • Assume no outside buffs from party members or
    other sources.
  • Any temporary buffs can be used as long as they last for the entire combat (or close to it). Rage, for instance, would count.

My research tells me that a Barbarian is likely the best choice for this offhand, I am wondering if anyone can come up with a better idea.

Best Answer

The short answer:

AC 0-5: Human Great Weapon Fighter with the Great Weapon Master feat wielding a Greatsword

AC 6-20: Raging Human Barbarian with the Polearm Master feat wielding a Polearm

AC 21-26: Half-Orc Two-Weapon Fighter

AC 27+: Human Great Weapon Fighter with the Great Weapon Master feat wielding a Greatsword, part II: the GWF returns.

The significantly longer answer is that here are some calculations I did for the options that seemed obvious to me. Interestingly enough, the Barbarian didn't make the top of the list in terms of pure damage, but it did make the top of the list once we added AC into the mix.

You can also add Caltrops to any of these builds (and you can afford a lot of caltrops) to add up to 1 dmg/r.

Other notes:

  • The only source material used for this was the PHB, as I do not have access to all of the adventure paths and supplements
  • Magic users need not apply: Cantrips are almost universally low-damage, and they never get to benefit from base stats to get those sweet, sweet flat bonus damage numbers. All other spells are too consumable to be considered, so they didn't make it to the number crunching stage.
  • Rogues were briefly considered, but sneak attack just isn't reliable enough when you can't count on nearby allies or advantage.
  • No cheese! I tried to stick to a purist approach here. There may be strategies that your GM approves like this but most reasonably GMs would ban that kind of build from their tables for being too OP. This list fits nicely within very vanilla RAW and RAI.
  • I gave all characters rolls of 18 for their stats, then added any racial strength bonus that applied. Point-buy only allows you to get to 16/17 instead of 19/20, and will lower your dmg/r across the board.
  • All damage is given in expected values, done by hand. It's possible I failed my Intelligence(Statistics) check, so if you see something say something
  • Humans used are Variant Humans, to take advantage of the bonus feat. Half-Orc is used otherwise as they're the only race I could find that can possibly add damage to their attacks through the Savagery feature, as well as giving a handy +2 Str.
  • No magic weapons are used, as they are out of the budget of level 1 characters even if they sell all of their possessions, max out their starting gold rolls, and take the Noble background
  • Using the point-buy system the half-orc takes a bigger hit than humans to both his to-hit values and his damage (the +2 doesn't get him to a higher Ability Modifier tier). This results in the Barbarian Polearm Master reigning supreme all the way to 24 AC, and the GWF picks up the slack at 25+, cutting the half-orc out of our equation completely.
  • You want numbers? Here's a Google Sheet with some numbers.

Without further ado, here is my list of damage-optimized level 1 characters (please refer to the above sheet for numbers with AC factored in).

Human Great Weapon Fighter with Great Weapon Master feat (22.75 dmg/r, +1 to hit)

  • +4 str bonus
  • +10 feat bonus (-5 to hit)
  • 2d6 (reroll 1,2) greatsword attack (22.333333 dmg/r)
  • 5% crit (.41666666 dmg)
  • Total damage on maximum Crit: 14+12+12 = 38 dmg

Human Barbarian with Polearm Master feat (20.3 dmg/r, +6 to hit)

  • +4 str bonus
  • +2 rag bonus
  • 1d10 polearm attack (11.5 dmg)
  • 1d4 bonus attack (8.5 dmg)
  • 5% crit (0.4 dmg)
  • Total damage on maximum Crit w/ both attacks: (6 + 10 + 10) + (6 + 4 + 4) = 38 dmg

Half-Orc Two Weapon Fighter (17.4 dmg/r, +7 to hit)

  • +5 str bonus
  • 1d6 shortsword attack (8.5 dmg)
  • 1d6 shortsword attack (8.5 dmg)
  • 5% crit including extra damage die from Savagery (0.7 dmg)
  • Total damage on maximum Crit w/ both attacks: (5 + 6 + 6 + 6) + (5 + 6 + 6 + 6) = 46

Human Two Weapon Fighter with Dual Wielder feat (17.2 dmg/r, +6 to hit)

  • +4 str bonus
  • 1d8 longsword attack (8.5 dmg)
  • 1d8 longsword attack (8.5 dmg)
  • 5% crit (.45 dmg)
  • Total damage on maximum Crit w/ both attacks: (4 + 8 + 8) + (4 + 8 + 8) = 40 Dmg