Defensive Duelist 5e

Published on May 25, 2022, Last modified on June 10th, 2022

Have you ever wanted to enter the fray with a rapier and parry even the strongest creatures wielding massive weapons? Defensive Duelist might be for you.

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What Is Defensive Duelist 5e?

One of the funniest quotes in Game of Thrones is when Jon Snow explains how to use a sword to his sister, Arya. “Stick them with the pointy end,” he says, and they have a giggle. Yet, one of the essential factors Arya learns from her sword-fighting teacher is that a good defense beats all.

Within Dungeons and Dragons 5e comes a feat that, on paper, sounds great for a swordfighter’s defense: Defensive Duelist.

How Does Defensive Duelist Work?

If you have this feat, whenever you are wielding a finesse weapon and are hit by a melee attack, you may use your reaction to add your proficiency bonus to your AC.

This works best with any class that wants to use finesse weapons, so mainly Dexterity-based builds, such as rogues, bards, fighters, and rangers. Those in melee range will typically benefit the most from this as they are getting hit more often than your party members that prefer to stay at a distance.

Is Defensive Duelist Good?

We gave Defensive Duelist a C Tier rating In our 5e Feats Tier List, making it a below-average feat in D&D 5e.

Being able to add your proficiency bonus to your AC is a great use of your reaction. This is a solid trait for finesse builds that don’t have access to spells like shield or some other defensive reaction. Unfortunately for Defensive Duelist, several classes already offer better defensive abilities, some that don’t even need a reaction. Even still, Defensive Duelist isn’t outright bad and can contribute to the survivability of a DEX-based martial character.

Defensive Duelist 5e Interactions

While this feat is pretty simple, there are a few interactions that you might come across, such as:

  • Monk’s unarmed strikes are not finesse weapons, so they can’t be used for this feat.
  • When you decide to use this feat, you must declare your reaction after you’re hit but before the damage is rolled.
  • This AC boost only lasts for a single attack, unlike the shield spell which lasts the whole round.

Which 5e Classes Make the Most of Defensive Duelist?

The color code below has been implemented to help you identify, at a glance, how good the Defensive Duelist 5e feat is for a specific class/subclass.

  • 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

Defensive Duelist is best on builds that:

  • Prefer finesse weapons, like daggers, rapiers, and short swords.
  • Don’t have a class ability for damage avoidance as a reaction.
  • Plan to reach level 12 or higher, as the feat scales much better at later levels.

Several classes and subclasses already have similar effects to Defensive Duelist as a class ability, so this feat usually competes with those. Since the feat requires finesse weapons, the characters looking to get Defensive Duelist will typically be DEX-based.

Artificer: Artificers aren’t going to have a lot of DEX outside of what they need for AC. Most artificers in melee range benefit more from their spellcasting modifier (INT) than DEX.

Barbarian: Almost all barbarian subclasses don’t offer any defensive reactions, so this isn’t a terrible choice. However, DEX barbarians aren’t particularly potent, so it's not worth it in the end.

Bard: Not a bad choice, especially for melee bards. College of Valor and Swords will allow you to benefit from this feat.

Cleric: No clerics are outright designed with DEX in mind, but something like the Trickery Domain could work.

Druid: For druids, DEX is only for AC and initiative rolls. Melee druids will either be in wild shaped or using their WIS modifier for attacks because of shillelagh, and won’t benefit from this feat.

Fighter: If you’re going for a DEX build, this feat is pretty good. While it only works for one attack per turn, it can save your bacon. However, Eldritch Knights and Battle Masters are better off keeping their reactions for other abilities.

Monk: This feat isn't terrible if your build already includes a finesse weapon. Your other option for reactions is catching missiles, so it works. However, it does lock you into using shortswords or choosing the Way of the Kensei.

Paladin: DEX paladins do exist, so it's not a terrible idea. However, there are so many better feats for Paladins to get. It gets lost in the crowd, but it becomes a better option at level 12 and beyond when it scales up.

Ranger: Most rangers focus on DEX, so this feat is an option. However, most ranger subclasses offer a defensive option that is usually much better for them than this feat.

Rogue: Rogues already have one of the best defensive reactions in the game with Uncanny Dodge, making this feat redundant in most scenarios.

Sorcerer: You have no business being in melee range, so you don’t want this feat at all.

Warlock: Again, no need to be in melee range too often. However, Hexblades can work well as a DEX build, which can benefit from this feat.

Wizard: Like sorcerers, you have no reason to be in melee range, unless you are a Bladesinger. Shield is a much better spell than this feat.

Defensive Duelist 5e FAQs

Can I apply Defensive Duelist to an unarmed strike?

Sadly, no. Despite being attached to your body, your limbs do not have the finesse property for this feat to trigger.

Can monks use Defensive Duelist?

Yes and no. As mentioned above, unarmed strikes don’t count as finesse weapons. However, Way of the Kensei monks can pick up a finesse weapon and benefit from this feat without any issues.

Can you stack Parry with Defensive Duelist?

No you cannot. Each of those abilities requires a reaction, and you only get one reaction per round.

Do I know the dice roll for Defensive Duelist?

This depends entirely on your Dungeon Master. If they make public rolls, then yes. Otherwise, you will never know the result until you decide to use it.

Conclusion

Defensive Duelist on paper sounds like a stellar feat, but in reality, it falls flat in many scenarios. Several classes already offer better defensive abilities, some that don’t even need a reaction. Even still, Defensive Duelist isn’t outright bad and can contribute to the survivability of a DEX-based martial character.

How do you feel about Defensive Duelist? Let us know in the comments about any builds that can make this feat shine!

Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. Outside of writing for Arcane Eye, Mike spends most of his time playing games, hiking with his girlfriend, and tending the veritable jungle of houseplants that have invaded his house. He is the author of Escape from Mt. Balefor and The Heroes of Karatheon. Mike specializes in character creation guides for players, homebrewed mechanics and tips for DMs, and one-shots with unique settings and scenarios. Follow Mike on Twitter.

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