This time we will be system-specific and look into a valuable formula for D&D 5e, chance to hit. This formula will allow you to make an educated guess for how likely you are to hit your target with your spell or weapon attack. The best part is that the math is even easier than our previous article which was calculating the average dice roll! Let’s get to it.
The chance for a specific outcome to happen. When you see the word “chance” in mathematics, it’s safe to assume probability is involved.
Chance to Hit
The likelihood of landing a successful attack on your target. This is calculated as a percentage.
Chance to Hit Formula
Chance to Hit = ( ( 21 – ( Target’s AC – Player’s Attack Bonus ) / 20 ) * 100
This is an extremely simple formula as we merely have to add all the numbers in the numerator together and then divide by 20. Next, we will multiply the decimal value by 100 to put it into the proper percentage format.
Why do we have a 21 in the numerator when we only have a 20-sided die? You will always have at least a 5% chance to hit any target in D&D 5e as rolling a 20 is an automatic hit. Conversely, you will never have a greater chance than 95% to hit as a 1 is an automatic miss.
Fighter vs. Dragon
For our first example, we will be a fighter with a +9 to hit. Its target is an Adult Bronze Dragon with an AC of 19. This is going to be a tough fight. What’re our chances of dealing some damage?
1) Chance to Hit = ( ( 21 – ( 19 – 9) / 20 ) * 100
2) Chance to Hit = ( ( 21 – 10) / 20 ) * 100
3) Chance to Hit = ( 11 / 20 ) * 100
4) Chance to Hit = 55%
55% is certainly not the best odds, but worth a shot. This is a situation where you have found yourself swinging above your weight class.
Sorcerer vs. Ogre
1) Chance to Hit = ( ( 21 – ( 11 – 7 ) / 20 ) * 100
2) Chance to Hit = ( ( 21 – 4 ) / 20 ) * 100
3) Chance to Hit = ( 17 / 20 ) * 100
4) Chance to Hit = 85%
85% are some great odds! However, this is only the chance for a single ray to hit. What if we wanted to know what the likelihood of all 3 rays hitting was?
While it’s a bit more tricky, all you’ll have to do is take the value of your chance to hit and raise it to the power of attack rolls you are making. In our case, we have 3 rays so we will take 0.85³ which is 0.614125. This is roughly 61.4%. We have an above-average chance at hitting with all 3 of our rays which is pretty rare.
The obvious use case for this formula is to calculate our chance to hit an enemy. However, we can also use it to determine our likelihood of success on ability checks and saving throws in D&D, given that we know the DC. Simply change the formula to the following:
Chance to Succeed = ( ( 20 – ( DC of the check – Ability Score – Proficiency) / 20 ) * 100
Did you notice that we are using 20 instead of 21? Although it is a popular house rule, a natural 20 is not an automatic success on saving throws and ability checks. Likewise, a natural 1 is not an automatic failure. Therefore, our maximum chance to hit with this formula is 100% and our minimum chance to hit is 0%.
Knowing how to use this formula can grant you many advantages in D&D. There are many situations in which missing an attack or failing a check is worse than attempting the action. Having the ability to know when to avoid these checks can be the difference between life and death.
My intentions for this semi-regular series is not to have a lot of D&D 5e-specific formulas. However, I felt that this formula is a great introduction to calculating basic probabilities. Having an understanding of probability will be helpful for the more complex formulas in RPGs! I’ve written a different article on calculating probability before as well.
It is possible to calculate your chance to hit with advantage and disadvantage. However, I will save that for another post where I can go into much more detail on the math as it is much more complicated. I also intend to write an entire post on advantage and disadvantage beforehand.
Depending on the system you are playing this formula could be tweaked based on how your dice rolls, bonuses, and enemy armor works in another system. So long as you have all 3 of these components, you can make a chance to hit formula for that system.
If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!
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