Battle Master 5e Guide
Published on May 24, 2021, Last modified on May 19th, 2022
In this post, we will be examining the Battle Master’s class features and how you can optimize your Battle Master through choosing your race, background, ability scores, and feats.
Matt Stewart - Wizards of the Coast - Basri's Lieutenant
What is this guide?
This guide is meant as a deep dive into the fighter subclass, the Battle Master.
For our full class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:
- Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
- Orange is an OK option
- Green is a good option
- Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
- Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized
For our subclass guides, we focus mainly on the Blue and Sky Blue options, because the other options are discussed in the parent guide or other subclass guides. We also discuss options that normally would be good for a typical build, but underperform when used in a subclass.
Did you know?
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What is a Battle Master?
The Battle Master is a fighter subclass that relies on superiority dice to manipulate the battlefield in strategic ways. The Battle Master’s maneuvers provide ways to gain advantage on attacks, frighten targets, parry attacks, strike foes when they miss, and many other combat tactics.
Interestingly enough, the Battle Master’s maneuvers were meant to be a fighter class feature but they didn’t go over well with the playtesters so the maneuvers were locked behind this unique subclass.
The sheer variety of the Battle Master’s maneuvers gives this class more variability in combat than a standard fighter. Instead of starting your turn, rolling your attack rolls, then ending your turn, you are able to decide from a number of options to enhance your attacks. This variability will reward creative thinking and present players who want to play non-linear melee builds more options.
The amount of superiority dice given to Battle Masters is quite fair. Four dice from 1st to 6th level, five dice from 7th to 14th level, and six dice from 15th to 20th level gives Battle Masters a fair bit of usage of their primary class feature. This is compounded by the fact that superiority dice recharge on a short rests and long rests.
The downside of the Battle Master is tied to their upside, they are all about their maneuvers. Four out of their six features revolve around maneuvers and you only get a maximum of six maneuvers per short/long rest (unless your supplement the maneuvers with feats, Fighting Styles, or the Battle Master’s Relentless feature). While that may seem like a fair amount, it’s easy to burn through these maneuvers and once they are used up you are essentially a baseline fighter with no subclass.
The utility of the Player Handbook’s Battle Master’s maneuvers may make combat more varied, but it doesn’t help the fact that fighters struggle when they aren’t swinging their sword at things. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything helps fix this by providing maneuvers where you can expend a superiority die to improve various ability checks.
Before You Start
Battle Masters can be effective in the full range of martial builds, STR-based, DEX-based, and ranged. In fact, because DEX builds are typically more SAD (single-ability dependent), they are usually more well-rounded, versatile builds than the typical STR builds. That being said, STR-based builds are usually going to be putting out the heaviest damage.
Dragonborn: Bonuses to +2 STR, damage resistance, and a breath weapon is a solid starting point for Battle Masters.
Mountain Dwarf: The Dwarf race has a lot of fluff attached to it in the form of Dwarven Weapon/Armor Training, especially for the fighter that gains access to proficiency for all weapons and armor. That being said, there are no other races that will start you off with two +2 bonuses to your most important abilities, STR and CON. For a STR-based fighter, you can’t get much better than this.
Wood Elf: Elves get a bonus to DEX, free Perception proficiency, and Darkvision, all of which are very welcome to DEX-based and ranged Battle Masters. The Wood Elf subrace also offers additional movement speed and the ability to hide in light cover.
Half-Orc: Another awesome choice for the STR-based Battle Master. Half Orc’s get you an +2 STR and +1 CON bonus, both of which are perfect for getting up in your opponent’s face. Darkvision is nice, proficiency in Intimidation will help you flex on other people, Relentless Endurance is a nice bonus, and Savage Attacks is just plain savage.
Stout Halfling: Stout Halflings get a +2 to DEX, +1 to CON, advantage on saving throws against Frightened and Poisoned, resistance to poison, the ability to move through the battlefield more readily, and last but certainly not least, Lucky. Lucky on its own is an amazing race feature, but when combined with the aforementioned bonuses the Stout Halfling certainly makes a tempting choice for DEX-based and ranged Battle Master.
Variant Human: Variant Humans are usually a solid race and they are no different here. V. Humans get a bonus to two ability scores of their choice and an extra feat, both of which are wicked for Battle Masters.
Refer to the 5e fighter Guide.
Ability Score Increases (ASI): 4th, 6th, 8th, 12th, 14th, 16th, and 19th level. fighters get the most ASIs out of any class which allows for plenty of room to max crucial abilities and pick up some feats along the way.
Battle Masters can be built in many ways. STR-based Battle Masters are the most straightforward build and, when combined with a couple of feats, are certainly the biggest damage dealers. However, because of the large investment in STR for damage, CON for HP, and feats for optimization, they don’t provide much utility outside of combat. DEX-based and ranged Battle Masters, on the other hand, only need to invest in DEX for AC, attack rolls, damage, DEX saves, Stealth, Sleight of Hand, etc. This means that they have ASI to invest in secondary ability scores such as WIS for Perception, or CHA for social situations.
STR: As STR affects your attack rolls, damage, and heavy armor, STR-based Battle Masters need STR above anything else. DEX-based Battle Masters can dump this stat.
DEX: DEX will be crucial for DEX-based Battle Masters as this will contribute to their AC and attack/damage roll. STR-based Battle Masters don’t necessarily need DEX, but it is always a worthwhile ability to have because of stealth and DEX saving throws.
CON: Because Battle Masters need to be up close and personal to be effective, they will also need CON to help with survivability.
INT: Even though one would assume a master of battle to be intelligent, INT is likely the first ability score you want to dump as it doesn’t provide a whole lot of usefulness.
WIS: WIS is helpful for Perception (the most important skill in the game) and will be particularly useful for a DEX-based Battle Master that will help scout with the Rogue or Ranger of the party.
CHA: If you want your Battle Master to be of use in social situations, pumping CHA isn’t always necessary. If your DM calls for social checks often, this is a good one to pump. If your DM relies mainly on roleplay to resolve situations you can get by without it.
Battle Master Class Progression
Hit Points and Hit Dice: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Saves: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Proficiencies: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Skills: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Fighting Style: One of the fighter’s iconic abilities, and a great reason to multiclass into fighter.
- Archery: +2 to attack rolls with a ranged weapon is an amazing boost because of 5th Edition’s bounded accuracy. This combined with the Precision Strike maneuver and the Sharpshooter feat makes for a very effective ranged Battle Master build.
- Defense: +1 to AC isn’t overly exciting but seeing as AC is hard to scale it can make a difference in both early and late game. This is great for DEX and STR-based Battle Master builds.
- Dueling: Being able to wear a shield while dealing close to two-handed weapon damage is a very, very tempting option. Typically, DEX-based Battle Master builds will go for this option in order to mitigate the downside of not using a two-handed weapon.
- Great Weapon Fighting: Great Weapon Fighting is a hotly debated Fighting Style. When using a Great Sword, GWF averages out to an extra 1.33 damage per attack which is nearly a 20% improvement. While it still doesn’t make as big of an impact as the +1 to AC that Defense provides, it is hardly a “bad” choice.
- Protection: The Battle Master’s maneuvers provide additional things to do with your reaction slot, which makes this Fighting Style less appealing.
- Two-Weapon Fighting: While Two-Weapon Fightingcan make you hit a lot easier with your offhand weapon, there are some disadvantages to being a dual-wielding Battle Master. Mainly, the fact that attacking with your offhand takes your bonus action. This means your offhand attacks won’t scale with your extra attacks. This will cause the damage you output with dual-wielding to quickly fall behind the output of the Great Weapon Fighting or taking the Dueling fighting style. Also, the Battle Master’s Maneuvers provide additional uses for its Bonus Action slot, which could get in the way of using your offhand attack.
Optional Class Feature: Fighting Style Options:Source: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
This optional class feature adds to the list of available fighting style options:
- Blind Fighting: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
- Interception: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
- Superior Technique: Getting access to another maneuver is a really good feature and will likely benefit the Battle Master subclass more than any other fighter subclass. That being said, the Martial Adept feat does a better job with this.
- Thrown Weapon Fighting: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
- Unarmed Fighting: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Second Wind: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Action Surge: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Martial Archetype: Battle Master
Source: Player’s Handbook
Combat Superiority: The maneuvers granted by Combat Superiority make up the foundation of the Battle Master subclass. While these maneuvers provide tons of utility in combat for STR-based and DEX-based builds, Ranged Battle Masters will eventually run out of beneficial maneuvers as they level up. Ranged Battle Masters will likely want to carry a DEX weapon to make the most out of the wide range of melee-specific maneuvers.
- TCoE Ambush: Adding a bonus to your Initiative and Stealth checks will be very beneficial, especially if you’re going to be a DEX-based build that will sneak ahead of the party with the Ranger or Rogue. Going before your opponents can mean the difference between life and death.
- TCoE Bait and Switch: Movement that doesn’t provoke an opportunity attack and a bonus to AC makes this maneuver a very useful, strategic tactic when one of your less tanky party members is getting wailed on.
- TCoE Brace: Being able to attack enemies that move into your range will provide constant use for your reaction. More attacks mean more damage, more damage means more dead bad guys. This is a great ability, and is very similar to the amazing feat, Polearm Master, but doesn’t necessitate the use of a glaive, halberd, quarterstaff, or spear. That said, this maneuver is certainly more beneficial when using a Reach weapon. Keep in mind that this maneuver does not activate the Sentinel feat’s ability because this attack isn’t necessarily an opportunity attack.
- Commander’s Strike: Typically, the fighter in the group will be hitting the hardest, so it doesn’t make sense to pass an attack off. This situation changes to a Sky Blue if you have a Rogue that can sneak attack or a Paladin that can smite.
- TCoE Commanding Presence: Seeing as the Battle Master’s superiority die scales with their level, adding it to a CHA check will be beneficial at any level. If you’ve dumped CHA, this can help make up for the lack of proficiencies. If you pumped your CHA, this can make sure you nail your checks when the moment is dire.
- Disarming Attack: Disarming a target isn’t a great option unless it is holding something you want. Picking up a weapon is a Free Action as determined on page 190 of the PHB, so unless you can get the enemy’s weapon out of their reach they will be able to pick it up without wasting any actions.
- Distracting Strike: Useful when trying to focus fire on an enemy, especially one with higher AC. A great option if your party has a Rogue or Paladin.
- Evasive Footwork: Nice in a pinch if you have to get out of a combat situation.
- Feinting Attack: Eats up your bonus action but grants advantage on your attack plus damage.
- Goading Attack: Typically if you are in melee combat with a creature, they will be attacking you anyways. A good option in case you want to direct damage away from a less tanky party member.
- TCoE Grappling Strike: Grappling is unfortunately not beneficial enough in 5e to rationalize spending a maneuver slot on this.
- Lunging Attack: Just not a great option. The extra 5ft of reach isn’t important enough for a Superiority Die.
- Maneuvering Attack: More useful than Goading Attack at protecting fellow teammates.
- Menacing Attack: A very good option for controlling the battlefield. Frightened is a strong status effect.
- Parry: Alright option if you are a STR-based fighter but it’s limited in its effectiveness if you dumped DEX. This is one of, if not the most important maneuver for DEX-based Battle Masters.
- Precision Attack: Really useful to turn near-misses into hits, especially because you can use it after the attack roll. This maneuver is great for offsetting the -5 to attack that comes with using the Great Weapon Fighting and Sharpshooter feats and can help put out consistent massive damage.
- Pushing Attack: It works if you are looking to disengage or if the enemy is by a ledge. Situational at best.
- TCoE Quick Toss: Despite the seemingly innocent nature of this maneuver, it’s quite mechanically complex. Builds that will be dual-wielding weapons don’t need to read much farther into this maneuver other than “you can skip it”. Sword and Board builds can find usefulness in this feat if they stock up on throwable weapons (darts/daggers/nets). In order to use this maneuver, S&B builds will need to skirt around 5e’s drawing/stowing actions by dropping their weapon, making their Quick Toss attack, then picking their weapon back up. Some DMs may be alright with this (it is RAW after all) but some may not be particularly pleased. The build that will make the most use of this maneuver are two-handed weapon builds as there are no weird rule interactions that interfere with making a thrown weapon attack. This maneuver is the lifeblood of gladitor-style builds that want to use a polearm and net to restrain enemies and attack with advantage. In order for these builds to really work, they will need Sharpshooter to increase the range of their net throw but once that condition is met, they will be able to use their bonus action first, potentially restrain their target, then close and make their attacks with advantage. Not a bad combo.
- Rally: Because the Battle Master’s Superiority Dice scales with level, this will almost always result in a reasonable amount of healing. It’s a shame temp hitpoints can’t revive unconscious creatures or this would be one of the best maneuvers out there.
- Riposte: Great option to get extra attacks in. Eats your reaction but if you’re not a Defender build this is works really well.
- Sweeping Attack: The average damage from each of the superiority die’s tiers makes this a decent pick. This maneuver is at its best against hordes when you know the attack that hit your primary target will hit the secondary target.
- TCoE Tactical Assessment: The last and unfortunately worst of Tasha’s ability-focused maneuvers. Intelligence is usually a hard dump for fighters and all three of these checks will come up a lot less than the CHA or DEX-based ones.
- Trip Attack: Allows the target a STR save but if you can get them prone they are going to have a super bad time with all of your attacks with advantage. While this can be used at range, keep in mind that attacking prone creatures with ranged attacks provides disadvantage to the attack.
Student of War: Artisans tools probably won’t matter to the game.
Extra Attack: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Know Your Enemy: Provides some awesome information about a BBEG if you can get them talking. Really flavorful and pretty useful. This feature works particularly well for DEX-based Battle Masters, as you may be able to sneak in and observe the enemy unseen for the required time.
Indomitable: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Improved Combat Superiority: Nice damage boost on your most important class features.
Extra Attack (3rd): Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Indomitable (2nd): Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Relentless: Always having a Superiority Die at the beginning of combat is nice, but this is really a last resort. As a Battle Master, you want to make sure to short rest as much as you can so you can have access to use your class-defining feature.
Indomitable (3rd): Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
Improved Combat Superiority (2nd): Bumping your superiority dice to d12 feels extremely nice. Getting greataxe-adjacent bonus damage when you use your maneuvers helps keep them feeling relevant as enemies get stronger.
Extra Attack (4th): Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.
We cover a lot of feats for fighters in our 5e Fighter Guide, these are the options that are radically different for the Battle Master.
- Crossbow Expert: The Crossbow Expert feat allows Battle Masters to switch flawlessly between ranged and melee attacks, which will allow them to influence the battlefield more effectively with their maneuvers.
- Defensive Duelist: This is essentially an unlimited supply of the Parry maneuver. If you want the additional slot for a maneuver, take this feat over the maneuver. If you want to free up your ASI/feat choice pick up Parry.
- Elven Accuracy: A DEX-based Battle Master has numerous ways to give themselves advantage. Getting “super” advantage from Elven Accuracy will result in way fewer misses and some more crits.
- Great Weapon Master: This is good on any fighter build, but Battle Masters have way more ways of getting themselves advantage. If you’re wielding a heavy weapon, you want this feat.
- Martial Adept: Getting two extra maneuvers and one superiority die really helps stretch the Battle Master’s cornerstone feature. This is especially good for Battle Masters because the die matches your current superiority die.
- Polearm Master: If you take the Brace maneuver, you can save the need to take the Polearm Master feat. Also, the Brace maneuver doesn’t lock you into the reach weapon. That said, the Polearm Master feat is extremely conducive to the Battle Master’s playstyle. Choosing the Polearm Master feat over the Brace maneuver also unlocks some amazing synergy with Sentinel. You will likely want either Brace or Polearm Master as part of your Battle Master build, choose the one that better suits your intended playstyle.
- Sentinel: Amazing pickup for Defender builds, doubly so if you pick up Polearm Master.
- Sharpshooter: The combination of the Archery fighting style and the Precision Attack maneuver can completely negate the -5 that comes from using the Sharpshooter feat.
Example Battle Master Build
This build seeks to get the most out of the Battle Master’s core feature, maneuvers. Getting up close and personal in melee will allow your Battle Master to utilize their maneuvers to the best of their abilities, while the heavy armor and CON focus will provide enough hitpoints and AC to survive a beating. This build will also make the most of the beneficial feats available for martial builds because of the fighters numerous ASIs.
- Race: Mountain Dwarf
- Background: Soldier
- Ability Scores (Point Buy): STR 17 (+3), DEX 13 (+1), CON 17 (+3), INT 8 (-1), WIS 11 (+0), CHA 11 (+0)
- Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Perception, Persuasion, Intimidation
- Tool Proficiencies: Vehicles, Smith’s tools, Dice set
- Equipment: Chain mail, two martial weapons, two handaxes, an explorer’s pack, a dagger, a set of bone dice
- Fighting Style: Defense
- Second Wind
- Action Surge
- Fighter Archetype: Battle Master
- Student of War: Your pick
- Trip Attack
- Feat: Great Weapon Master
- Extra Attack
- ASI: STR +1, CON +1 (STR 18, CON 18)
- Know Your Enemy
- Precision Attack
- Menacing Attack
- ASI: +2 STR (STR 20)
- Improved Combat Superiority
- Maneuvering attack
- Feinting Attack
- Extra Attack
- Feat: Fighting Initiate (Great Weapon Fighting)
- 2nd Indomitable
- ASI: +2 CON (CON 20)
- Bait and Switch
- Distracting Strike
- Feat: Lucky
- 3rd Indomitable
- Improved Combat Superiority
- Feat: Alert
- Extra Attack
Other Fighter Subclass Guides
Sources Used in This Guide
- Basic Rules
- Eberron: Rising from the Last War
- Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
- Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
- Fizban's Treasury of Dragon
- Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica
- Monsters of the Multiverse
- Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
- Mythic Odyessys of Theros
- Player's Handbook
- Spelljammer: Adventures in Space
- Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
- Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
- Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
- The Tortle Package
- The Wild Beyond The Witchlight
- Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft
- Volo's Guide to Monsters
- Xanathar’s Guide to Everything