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With a game that relies as heavily on rules as Dungeons & Dragons, it's obvious that some elements will be better than others, and more often than not, those are the less unique or interesting ones.


Spells and abilities

  • Magic Missile is one of the most basic arcane offensive spells, as well as one of the most practical...starting from 3rd edition. The damage it deals is sub-par — at its basic level, the spell is three darts of 1d4 + 1 force damage each. As a tradeoff, Magic Missile always hits. It ignores damage resistances and elemental resistances, ignores incorporeality, and does not allow a saving throw to reduce or negate its effects. The only things that can stop Magic Missile are spell resistance/immunity (uncommon at low-mid levels), a specific spell (Shield) or a specific consumable item (Brooch of Shielding). And as a 1st level spell, you'll always have plenty of spell slots available for it, and it becomes prime material for metamagic feats later in the game. In 4th Edition, Magic Missile is one of the few wizard powers that count as a ranged basic attack, meaning it gets bonuses from a lot of equipment and can be used for extra attacks granted by certain leader classes. In 5e, it retains much of its 3e strength.
    • In earlier editions — Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and BECMI, specifically — it's actually Awesome, but Impractical. Yes, it has the punching power outlined above... but wizards in these editions have a much smaller pool of spells, and have to individually memorize each spell the number of times they want to be able to use it, in contrast to the more flexible casting system seen in 4th or 5th edition. As a result, at low levels, Magic Missile essentially becomes a one-use, slightly stronger crossbow attack. Fans of the OSR movement instead advise players to take non-damaging utility spells like Grease, Sleep or Charm Person instead, which can affect a wider area and have much more potent effects in those editions.
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  • The humble Grease spell covers a 10-foot-by-10-foot section of the floor with slippery liquid. It's much less flashy than other 1st-level spells and harmless in and of itself, but the ability to make your enemies trip over themselves is invaluable in combat situations. Depending on edition, you may also be able to ignite the grease, effectively creating a cheap pseudo-Fireball. And in 5th edition it doesn't require concentration, allowing you to set down a grease slick (or three) while maintaining concentration on other spells.
  • The Sleep spell, at least in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and BECMI, is widely considered the best 1st level spell by masters of the game. It affects a really wide area, requires a fairly powerful saving throw that most low-level enemies are almost guaranteed to fail, and a sleeping target is all but helpless under the rules of the edition. It's essentially the punching power of a Fireball, but at a lower level — if anything, it's better than a Fireball, since there's no risk of killing your own allies if you catch them in the Sleep's area of effect.
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  • In 4th Edition, all classes have "at-will" powers (Magic Missile being one), which are all examples of this trope — they can be used as many times as desired without using a spell slot, where the flashier, more powerful abilities can only be used occasionally. As such, boosting the power of these abilities is a boring but practical way to make your character stronger.
  • For a 3rd Edition wizard, many of the most powerful spells are not flashy direct-damage spells like Fireball or Lightning Bolt, but spells that weaken the enemy, like Ray of Enfeeblement or Web, which can turn a potentially deadly fight into a cakewalk.
  • "Utility spells" such as Water Breathing, Rope Trick, and Stone to Mud aren't much use in combat, but they can save the party's life in a pinch and provide other extremely useful benefits outside of combat. Basic spells such as Light and Detect Magic are vital even at the highest levels.
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Classes

  • The 3rd Edition cleric lacks the finesse of the Rogue, the combat prowess of the Fighter, and the impressive offensive magic light show of the Wizard. Furthermore, it is expected to fill the thankless, inglorious task of healing and supporting the party. Most of the glory is vicarious, by allowing the party members to survive and do better at their respective jobs, but a party without a cleric is virtually hamstrung.
  • While they rarely are "boring", the Bard is actually one of the most practical characters in the game. They may not be able to fight as well as the Fighter or do damage like the Barbarian, but they are up there near the top. They may not have the ultra-powerful or flashy spells of the Wizard, Sorcerer, or Druid, but their spells are a much wider variety. They can cast both offensively and defensively, and they can heal as well. They have the second-most skill knowledge behind the Rogue, and their high Charisma score means the Game-Breaker skills of Bluff, Intimidate, and Diplomacy are going to have excellent bonuses. They also get abilities like Hideous Laughter and Uncontrollable Dance which incapacitate an enemy if they succeed, allowing everyone else to wail on them.
  • In D&D 5th edition, at level 2, the Rogue gets access to a class feature called Cunning Action, allowing them to use a bonus action to Dash, Disengage or Hide. Sounds lame, until you realize it lets you outrun many enemies, move to tactically advantageous positions (like, say, flanking) much more easily, as well as enabling Hit-and-Run Tactics against a group of enemy (standard action, shoot a bow. Move action, break line of sight. Bonus action, find a new sniping spot or Hide to gain advantage for sneak attack next turn).
  • Also from 5E, the Champion Fighter subclass, which is a throwback to the "classic" Fighters of past editions. No magic, no fiddly skills, just a big block of stats with a ton of passive bonuses to make for a deadly combatant and exceptional physical skills. Champions can get an expanded critical hit range, an additional fighting style and some really impressive damage output when you combine with their extra attacks and their Action Surge ability. And they get Regenerating Health when below half their maximum HP too.
  • Speaking of Tome of Battle, the Warblade's exclusive Martial Discipline, Iron Heart. There is nothing extremely flashy about it, just simply normal basics of sword fighting and will-power trained Up to Eleven until it hits Badass Normal levels. Why worry about what a foe may or may not be immune to, when you can just simply hit'em really hard with one attack, or wipe out a horde of enemies with maneuvers that are flat out better than a similar Feat which requires other feats to even use. Or even just simply parry the enemy's attack.
  • The "Horizon Tripper" build - Barbarian/Fighter/Ranger/Horizon Walker. As "optimized" builds go, it's not much more than a well-traveled guy with a pole weapon and a short-ranged teleport, and its craziest maneuver is simply tripping someone. But it's effective at basically all levels, has a decent amount of skill points to make it useful out of combat, and is unusually mobile for a combat character. And being made exclusively from core material and fairly basic in its lore, there's very few Dungeon Masters who wouldn't allow it.
  • Human Fighter is the most popular race/class in 5th edition, for good reason. As mentioned earlier, variant human is the single most versatile race in the game, thanks to having its stat bonuses not be locked to specific ability scores and getting a free feat, and figher, even without the Champion subclass, is extremely newbie-friendly and easy to outfit as you want. Even before getting into subclasses at level 3, a fighter can be designed for any style you'd want, ranging from ranged fighter, to dual-wielding, to sword-and-shield, to heavy weapons, to tanking, to grappling, etc. With subclasses you can also be a Magic Knight.
  • Sidekick Classes as printed in Tasha's. They are a simple way to beef up a lower CR creature, so that it can either be a better ally for a higher-leveled party to help them fight a dragon, or conversly, be a more dangerous threat when the setting dictates that a dragon wouldn't go after a thief that robbed a store in a city, but a well-trained guard would.

Races

  • In 3.X edition, playing as an ordinary human rather than an exotic fantasy race might sound boring, but it provides the best all-around game benefits: a bonus feat (giving you a jump-start on later, powerful feats), an extra skill point each level (which has more of an effect on skills than a one-time stat bonus) and allows more freedom from penalties while multiclassing (freeing up the player to create a more impressive character build).
  • The Human race. "Why play a human in a fantasy game?" is a question you will hear a lot, but depending on what version you play, you can get a +1 to every core stat (standard human) or a +1 to any two core stats, a free skill proficiency, and a free feat (variant human). Variant human is considered a top tier race pick for any class, one of the rare occassions that the Jack-of-All-Stats is high on a game's tier list.
  • In general, a race that can move its stat bonuses around. This allows them to be useful in multiple classes, possibly all of them, and not just those of a certain category, like martial, support, or spellcaster. For 5e, such flexible races include Changelings, Custom Lineage, most Half-Elf variants, Humans (especially Variant Human), Simic Hybrid, Feral Tiefling variant, Warforged, and a number of Unearthed Arcana races that have been put out since the release of Tasha's, which has the Custom Origins feature, which allows the player to move the character's stat bonuses around, with the Dungeon Master's permission of course.

Other

  • Also in 3.X, the Improved Initiative feat is valuable to almost every Character Class for the simple reason that it boosts your chances of acting before your enemy in combat. The Alert feat in 5th Edition performs the same function, with the added bonus that you also cannot be surprised.
  • The most important magic items in 3.5 are the ones that increases your stats. They take precedence over anything else that uses the same slot. Also, items that do cool or unusual things are often priced too high to be useful by the time you can get them.
  • There are a few Feats in 5E that definitely qualify. Alert gives a big boost to your Initiative and so you always have a good chance to go first when combat starts, it helps protect you from sneak attacks, and you can't be surprised. Observant gives you a big boost to passive Perception and Investigation, so you'll hardly ever miss any loot, traps, hidden enemies, or important clues. Tough gives you +2 HP with every level up. None of them do anything really flashy, but they definitely will save your bacon when it matters, especially early on when player characters are quite easily killed, especially the Squishy Wizard. Even more boring but even more practical? Foregoing Feats at all and just taking the Ability Score Increase. Two permanent, non-situational +1's to the core stats isn't as flashy as a new toy to play with, but increasing the number of successful ability checks over dozens (if not hundreds) of die rolls? Nothing beats it mathematically.
  • From 3.X, the Feat Power Attack. Take a -X Attack penalty, to get +X Damage bonus to melee attacks. However, with two-handed weapons, the damage bonus is doubled. This stacks on top of the x1.5 Strength bonus damage already given for wielding a non-light weapon with two hands. Practically, the most important feat any serious two-handed melee weapon user can pick up, as that damage quickly adds up, regardless if you're a very basic, core standard Fighter, or a Tome of Battle Warblade. It's also a gateway feat to a number of other important and useful combat feats, and a number of Prestige Classes. And it is almost always one of the very first feats anyone picks up on any melee specialist classes.
  • In general, having a character carry an Emergency Weapon, for those times when a wizard's magic spells do nothing, or can't be used, or when that sneaky rogue finds out that skeletons don't die easily to being backstabbed. In such cases, a wizard might want to use a crossbow, or perhaps some other Ranged Emergency Weapon, and rogues might want to grab a club to break that skeleton's bones. Even if a character lacks proficiency, having any backup weapon is better than relying upon their fists alone, unless they are a monk, have an inborn unarmed attack, picked up the Tavern Brawler feat, or took on the Unarmed Fighting Style.
  • A mule as a Beast of Burdon. In 5e, a mule costs 8 gold, and has a Carrying Capacity of 420 pounds, averaging out to 1 gold per 52.5 pounds, making it rather affordable to buy for most low-level, and cash-strapped, parties — in fact, most parties could get at least two mules, possibly more, depending on cost of feed of course. Also, with the release of Tasha's, it's possible to apply the Warrior Sidekick class to the mules, or any other CR 1/2 or lower mount, and make them decently effective tanks for the party, which is useful for a party full of spellcasters and others with low health and armor class and no dedicated tanks. In short, that mule can become one heck of a Bad Ass.
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