It's not obvious until you dig around 'optimal builds' for a bit, but there is a problem with ranged damage in 5e. Specifically, it's too strong - it gives the highest damage output, and lacks any tradeoff for it. And the reason for that is pretty clear: the Sharpshooter feat. I'm particularly interested in adapting this feat because it's very limiting to archery archetypes; any archery archetype that gets improved ranged damage is automatically too good. Zen Archer and Arcane Archer are both traditional archery builds that are incredibly difficult to balance in the context of the Sharpshooter feat.
In case you haven't built a ranged character before, I'll drop the feat as it is written here:
You have mastered ranged weapons and can make shots that others find impossible. You gain the following benefits:
At first glance, it seems like a pretty strong feat - it provides three meaningful benefits, and the last one seems like a damage boost with a tradeoff, which is good design. Unfortunately, the tradeoff scales differently from the boost, and that's not obvious until you do some math, or play an archer with some magical equipment.
Let's make a basically optimized level 9 Fighter with Archery style, a +2 bow, and 20 Dexterity,
against a typical AC of 17. He has +13 to hit, so he'll hit on a 4 or higher, dealing an average
of 11.5 damage on a hit, for a net average attack of
0.85 * 11.5 = 9.78 damage. If he drops five,
he'll have +8 to hit, and do an average of 21.5 damage on a hit; thats
0.6 * 21.5 = 12.9 damage,
a 32% increase. Of course, for a Sharpshooter, you chase down advantage however possible - that
changes the math to
(1 - 0.15 * 0.15) * 9.78 = 9.56, vs
(1 - 0.4 * 0.4) * 21.5 = 18.06. If we
can get advantage (Greater Invisibility, Faerie Fire, surprise), sharpshooting doubles our damage.
It's all napkin math of course - criticals, hex/mark, and various magical items change the equation somewhat. But at the end of the day, Sharpshooter is giving us a massive damage increase at the relatively minor cost of 'volatility'.
So let's fix it! If we make the third benefit nothing, the feat would still be competitive - people pick up Spell Sniper, after all. That tells me that we ought to make the third benefit substantially weaker, or more situational. Also, the benefit as it was was anti-thematic: rather than representing an increased precision, it amounts to a dramatic decrease in accuracy in exchange for harder-hitting attacks. Let's look at a few potential replacements, and consider their issues and advantages.
As a bonus action, you may carefully aim your next ranged weapon attack - your preparation remains in effect until you move, or become unable to see your target. You have advantage on that attack, and deal 1d6 extra damage if it succeeds.
This would be a solid choice - it's thematic, and it's comparable to "have a bonus action attack" (though slightly weaker). It might be a bit too strong for rogues, since at-will advantage means that ranged rogues will never fail to sneak-attack, but rogues are balanced around usually having sneak dice active. It's a bit stronger for the Assassin, but that seems thematic and appropriate.
It's definitely weaker than crossbow-mastery for most classes - two attacks is strictly better than one attack with advantage, and 1d6 extra damage isn't enough to offset that. But crossbow mastery is probably a bit too strong too, and the way it previously stacked with sharpshooter was a core part part of the problem we're trying to solve here.
Before you make an attack with a ranged weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, you add +10 to the attack's damage. You may choose to take this penalty a number of times equal to your Dexterity modifier; you regain all uses of this ability when you finish a short or long rest.
This is the existing feat, but with a sharp limit on how often the damage tradeoff can be made. The obvious effect is that it is weaker, but there's a subtler impact - since it's now a resource, we will generally want to save it for the times when it is most effective, which are when you have advantage somehow. It doesn't address the thematic issue at all though.
As an action, you may carefully aim your next shot. Until you or your target moves at least 5 feet, you gain the following benefits on your next ranged weapon attack: you have advantage on the attack, and any hit is automatically considered critical. You may additionally use this ability as a *bonus* action - you may only use the ability in this way once until you finish a short or long rest.
This makes the core ability mostly useless in combat, aside from an occasional burst round - now it's a utility ability, which is intended for ambushes and readied attacks (these come up surprisingly often). The biggest advantage is that there is no real way to consistently abuse this ability - it definitely does not amount to a DPR increase for any build.
I will be adopting the last approach myself - since I also give my players a free feat at the start
of each tier, archery needs the nerf this represents. I'll probably target Eldritch Blasters next -
they get even higher DPR with even less investment (and my warlock a la carte feats allow for some
further inflation, like Arcana Cleric EBs at
tier * (1d10 + 1d6 + Wis + Cha)