Content of the article: "Reduction By Dominance, or How Certain Strategies Are Not Quite So Optional"
So your first question is probably, "What is 'reduction by dominance'?" And I'm glad you asked Timmy because I was going to tell you anyway.
So to summarize it, it's that when one strategy is just as good as any other, but it's also a lot more reliable, it becomes the go-to strategy for that player.
Players will tend to use the most simple and effective strategy during gameplay.
I'll give you a non-DND example: Darksiders.
Darksiders is a great game. I enjoyed every minute of it, every secret, every boss fight. But something rubbed me the wrong way about it: the gauntlet, the gun, the scythe tended to be almost… useless. Not useless on their own, but compared to the main weapon—the sword—there seemed to be zero reason to ever use the other weapons.
Sure, you could pull off some cool combos and effective moves with them, and they were required to beat certain parts of the game, but outside of those specific uses, they required twice as much effort to be just as good as the sword.
So using the sword became the dominant strategy because despite how cool everything else was, it was more effort for the same pay off.
Now what does any of this have to do with D&D? Well, at least in 5E, there are definitely dominate strategies that offer you the most pay off.
To give you the best example: The Ranger.
The Ranger has a plethora of interesting spells and abilities, but one spell shines above all: Hunter's Mark. Let's compare it to a few other Ranger spells to find out why this spell seems to be the only one anyone ever uses.
|Ensnaring Strike||Yes||Bonus Action||Weapon Attack, Possibly Restrained, extra 1d6 damage until effect ends|
|Hail of Thorns||Yes||Bonus Action||Weapon Attack, DEX save, extra 1d10 damage/half on success, one time|
|Hunter's Mark||Yes||Bonus Action||Weapon Attack, extra 1d6 damage until effect ends|
|Zephyr Strike||Yes||Bonus Action||Weapon Attack, extra 1d8 one time, extra mobility until effect ends|
So looking at this table, you can see all 4 cost the same thing: a 1st level spell slot, a bonus action, concentration, and require a successful weapon attack.
But what makes Hunter's Mark the dominant strategy is that it is the most simple and reliable spell, for the most pay off. Sure, you can use both, but then you're spending twice as many resources for more or less the same result.
Say you were a level 5 Ranger. Why would you cast Hail of Thorns on round 1, and then Hunter's Mark on round 2, when your total damage will be, more or less, the same but for twice the cost?
Not to mention Rangers are Spells Known. Even at 5th level, they only have 4 spells to choose from.
Even as we go higher up the levels, similar spells like Flame Arrows, Lightning Arrow, these all will do similar or less damage than Hunter's Mark, but at a higher cost. These are 3rd level spells with Hunter's Mark being only a 1st level spell.
|Flame Arrows||Yes||Action||Weapon Attack, extra 1d6 fire damage until effect ends (12 arrows)|
|Hunter's Mark||Yes||Bonus Action||Weapon Attack, extra 1d6 damage until effect ends (1 hour)|
|Lightning Arrow||Yes||Bonus Action||Weapon Attack, 4d8 lightning damage/half on miss, one time|
With regular attacks with Hunter's Mark -> 26 (2d8+2d6+10)
One regular attack, one with Lightning Arrow -> 32.5 (4d8+1d8+10)
One costs a single 1st level, the other costs a 3rd level, and over time Hunter's Mark will continue to do more damage. You could use both, sure, but then you're spending more resources for similar pay off. Even considering the AoE effect, I don't think Lightning Arrow is that much better of an option unless you've got 4-5 enemies all bunched up in a very tight space.
Lightning Arrow does have one perk that it still does damage on a miss. However is 3rd level spell slot worth doing 2d8+5 damage? You could just try two normal attacks for 1d8+1d6+5 without as high of a high cost.
Conjure Animals would be a contender but RAW you cannot choose the animals that you summon. Hunter's Mark really does not stop being the best strategy until about 13th level when Rangers have "Guardian of Nature" which is still only significantly better if used in conjunction with Great Weapon Master or Sharpshooter. Then, at 17th level, where Rangers can grab Swift Quiver.
So we can come to some possible conclusions: Hunter's Mark offers too much for so little, or perhaps the other spells offer too little for the same or higher cost.
The Warlock is my next example, but does not need as much explanation. Eldritch Blast is the dominant strategy because it is the most simple and effect option, with (almost) the same opportunity cost as any other cantrip, but offers four times as many chances to do damage, while doing significantly more damage overall.
So thank you for coming to my TED Talk. I hope this has been informative to you, and gives a lot of context about why every Ranger seems to use Hunter's Mark and why every Warlock uses Eldritch Blast. In short, it's because it's the most simple and effective strategy that has the best cost-effect ratio available to them.
Edit: Fixed the damage on Lightning Arrow for those of you who pointed it out to me.
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