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Attack bonus advice

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Attack bonus (AB) is one of the two most important statistics for a character engaged in combat, with the other being armor class (AC). With an insufficient AB, a character will hit only 1 time in 20, while an exceptional AB could allow a character to hit 19 times in 20. (However, being at the latter extreme is rare if fighting level-suitable opponents.) What constitutes "insufficient" and "exceptional" in this context depends on the opponent being fought; an AB that is 20 less than the opponent's AC (or lower) is insufficient, while and AB that is 2 less than the opponent's AC (or higher) is exceptional. Furthermore, the term "insufficient" should not be taken too harshly, as a character with a quite adequate attack bonus and multiple attacks per round might find the later attacks in a round being "insufficient" in this context, and this is often not really problematic.

There are six areas a player can concentrate on when seeking to increase the attack bonus. First is base attack, which depends on levels and classes. Increasing this is a long-term strategy for the development of the character. Second are the feats that grant bonuses to AB for an unlimited duration. This is another long-term strategy, unless there are items available that grant these feats. Third is the ability modifier that will affect AB. Increasing an ability is partially long-term and partially short-term. Fourth is the attack or enhancement bonus on the weapon being used, and fifth are the various spells and activated feats that grant temporary attack bonuses to the character. Sixth are the various circumstantial bonuses that can be used to gain an advantage. In addition to these six methods, a character can effectively gain a bonus to AB by reducing an opponent's AC.

The six areas Edit

Optimizing base attack for a character revolves around the classes taken by character level 20, as at higher levels, base attack increases independent of the classes chosen. The highest possible base attack at level 20 is 20, achieved by taking only combat-oriented classes to that point. However, this is not always desirable. For non-combat classes (+1/2 levels), the optimal base attack is achieved by having an even level in these classes at character level 20. For the middle classes (+3/4 levels), the optimal base attack is achieved by having class levels that are a multiple of 4 at character level 20. In both of these cases, however, if the levels are being "traded" for combat-oriented class levels, then an increased base attack is only seen by decreasing the lower-base attack class, not from increasing it. (For example, a 10/10 fighter/ rogue has the same base attack as an 8/12 fighter/rogue, but lower than a 12/8 fighter/rogue.)

The feats that add to attack bonus with no time limit stack with all other modifiers, with no limit. However, most of these apply only under particular circumstances (which effectively makes some of these mutually exclusive). These feats are ambidexterity (if dual-wielding), bane of enemies (if attacking a favored enemy), battle training vs. goblins, battle training vs. orcs, battle training vs. reptilians, enchant arrow (if using a bow), epic prowess, epic superior weapon focus (if using a weapon of choice), epic weapon focus (if using the chosen weapon), good aim (if using a thrown weapon), nature sense (if fighting in wilderness), opportunist (if making an attack of opportunity), point blank shot (if making a ranged attack at close range), superior weapon focus (if using a weapon of choice), two-weapon fighting (if dual-wielding), and weapon focus (if using the chosen weapon). In addition, there are feats that apply a penalty to AB, and these should be factored in if a character intends to use them.

The abilities relevant to attack bonus are strength (melee attacks), dexterity (ranged attacks and some melee attacks with weapon finesse), and wisdom (ranged attacks with zen archery). Abilities (and consequentially their modifiers) can be increased every four levels, and in epic levels they can be increased with the "great ability" feats (e.g. great dexterity). They are also increased by dragon abilities. Shorter term gains can be obtained though various spells, most commonly the second-level sextet that includes bull's strength, cat's grace, and owl's wisdom. The other spells that increase (AB-relevant) abilities are aura of vitality, blood frenzy, divine power, and owl's insight. In addition, the barbarian's rage and mighty rage increase strength, as does the strength domain power, while the war domain power increases dexterity. These short-term benefits are capped at +12 to the ability, which means at most +6 to attack bonus. This same cap includes ability increases from items, which tend to overshadow the spells at higher levels. The maximum ability modifier comes from +4 (character creation) +1 (racial modifier) +5 (level-up) +6 (magic) +7 (great strength and dragon abilities), for a total modifier of +23. However, this maximum is excluding polymorphs which can be used to override a character's abilities for the duration of the polymorph. As an exceptional case, charisma is added on top of the usual ability modifier when smite evil or smite good is used. (The spells that increase charisma are eagle's splendor and aura of glory.)

Bonuses on a weapon are sometimes intrinsic to the weapon, and other times added temporarily via spells. At lower levels, the spells may be more significant if magical weapons are hard to come by. However, spells are limited to adding a +5 enhancement bonus, so they lose their appeal when weapons with a higher bonus become available. Weapon bonuses do not stack with each other, regardless of the source; in particular a weapon with a +1 attack bonus vs. evil and a +1 attack bonus (not restricted) is just as effective as a weapon with just a +1 attack bonus. Thus in some respects, this is the simplest aspect of AB to consider. On the other hand, if facing a foe with damage reduction, this may be the most important aspect, as, with only one exception, it is the weapon bonus that determines if the damage reduction is pierced. (The one exception is enchant arrow.) The spells that directly enhance a weapon are blackstaff, blade thirst, bless weapon, deafening clang, greater magic weapon, holy sword, and magic weapon.

The spells and activated feats that grant temporary attack bonuses to the character generally stack with each other (but not with themselves), and after being added to the weapon bonus, they are subject to a +20 cap. The spells that grant an attack bonus to a character are aid, battletide, bless, divine favor, divine power, prayer, Tenser's transformation, true strike, and war cry. In addition, bard song and the war domain power also grant an attack bonus to the character.

Circumstantial bonuses can come from the target being prone (in melee combat), flanked, blind, or stunned. Getting an opponent prone is often accomplished with a knockdown, although a successful hit has to be made for the knockdown itself. Getting an opponent flanked is perhaps the easiest of these to accomplish, as it often requires simply working with an associate or another player. An attacker can also get a bonus for being invisible (which only applies to the first flurry of combat unless the invisibility is re-instated) and for being small (that is, a gnome or halfling unless changed by a polymorph).

Methods for effectively increasing AB by reducing an opponent's AC include curse song, taunt, and catching an opponent flat-footed. In addition, bestow curse and called shot can lower an opponent's dexterity (and wisdom), which might indirectly lower AC, hence effectively increasing AB. Of these, taunting is perhaps the simplest to make more effective, as it can be enhanced by increasing charisma as well as and by direct bonuses to the skill, such as that obtained from bard song. Furthermore, rangers get a bonus to taunts against their favored enemy (but do not have taunt as a class skill).

Class specifics Edit

The various base classes have different means available for increasing their attack bonus. These are listed below, divided into four headings.

Direct 
This includes both general bonuses (applied to the character, so usually stack) and weapon bonuses (applied to the weapon, so will not stack). These are the bonuses subject to the +20 cap.
Ability 
This includes indirect bonuses to attack derived from increasing an ability. These are subject to an implied cap of +6 (implied from the +12 cap to ability bonuses), and will only count if they modify the particular ability contributing to a specific attack.
AC reduction 
This encompasses the ways of lowering an opponent's armor class.
Specials 
This is the heading for notable features that do not fit into the other categories, such as the ability of fighters to choose more attack-increasing feats or the easier time summoners have in getting the +2 flanking bonus.

The numbers in parentheses are the modifications to AB or AC. These numbers are sometimes derived, and empower spell may be necessary to achieve the highest possible bonus in some cases. (Polymorphs do not have numbers attached, as they set abilities to a fixed amount, so the change in attack bonus depends on the character's natural abilities.)

Class Direct Ability AC reduction Specials
High (+1/1) base attack classes
Barbarian barbarian rage (+2-3)
mighty rage (+4)
taunt class skill
Fighter bonus feats
Paladin
General

aid (+1)
bless (+1)
divine favor (+1-5)
prayer (+1)

Weapon

bless weapon (+1)
deafening clang (+1)
magic weapon (+1)
greater magic weapon (+1-5)
holy sword (+5)

aura of glory
  (+2 on smites)
bull's strength (+1-4)
eagle's splendor
  (+1-4 on smites)
taunt class skill smite evil
  (+charisma modifier)
Ranger
General

aid (+1)

Weapon

Blade thirst (+3)

cat's grace (+1-4) bane of enemies (+2)
summoner
Mid (+3/4) base attack classes
Bard
General

bard song (+1-2)
war cry (+2)

Weapon

magic weapon (+1)
greater magic weapon (+1-5)

bull's strength (+1-4)
cat's grace (+1-4)
owl's wisdom (+1-4)
curse song (-0-7)
bestow curse (-1)
slow (-2)
taunt class skill
summoner
Cleric
General

aid (+1)
battle mastery (+1-9)
battletide (+2)
bless (+1)
divine favor (+1-5)
divine power (+0-11)
prayer (+1)

Weapon

magic weapon (+1)
greater magic weapon (+1-5)

aura of vitality (+2)
battle mastery (+1-5)
bull's strength (+1-4)
cat's grace (+1-4)
divine power (special)
divine strength (+1-6)
owl's wisdom (+1-4)
bestow curse (-1)
slow (-2)
summoner
Druid aura of vitality (+2)
blood frenzy (+1)
bull's strength (+1-4)
owl's insight (+2-6)
dragon shape
elemental shape
wild shape
nature sense (+2)
summoner
Monk UBAB
Rogue opportunist (+4)
Low (+1/2) base attack classes
Sorcerer
General

Tenser's transformation (+5-20)
true strike (+20)

Weapon

blackstaff (+4)
magic weapon (+1)
greater magic weapon (+1-5)

bull's strength (+1-4)
cat's grace (+1-4)
Tenser's transformation
owl's wisdom (+1-4)
bestow curse (-1)
slow (-2)
summoner
Wizard

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