Great Weapon Master 5e

Published on March 6, 2022, Last modified on April 6th, 2022

Great Weapon Master has become a notorious feat in D&D 5e for being the most powerful choice for melee builds that want to output tons of damage. If you’re barbarian, fighter, or paladin is charging into battle with a two-handed greatsword, you’ll want to pick up Great Weapon Master.

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What Is Great Weapon Master in 5e?

Anyone who enjoys colossal, Monster Hunter-esque weapons wants to bring those into the World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game, D&D 5e. While they already exist to a degree in the game, they aren’t quite the same as their video game counterparts. However, they do still share a penchant for massive, powerful hits.

In the current edition of Dungeons and Dragons, they opted to include a feat that helps those players who want to use these weapons and make them a better option. The Great Weapon Master feat brings some more flavor to the weapon type to differentiate them from the competition.

How does Great Weapon Master work?

Once you’ve picked up this feat, you gain two benefits:

  • If you make a weapon attack with a Heavy weapon that you are proficient with, you may choose to take a -5 penalty on your attack roll. If you succeed on the attack, you can add +10 to the damage roll.
  • During your turn, if you drop a creature’s hit points to zero or land a critical hit with any melee weapon, you can make an additional attack roll as a bonus action.

Basically, you’re incentivized to be using weapons with the Heavy property to inflict heaps of damage at the cost of accuracy. However, the second part of the feat does allow you to get a functional cleave (which doesn’t exist in 5e outside of an optional rule in the Dungeon Master’s Guide).

It’s important to note that not all classes can use weapons with the Heavy property. All of the weapons in the Player’s Handbook that have the Heavy property are martial weapons, which some classes don’t have access to without picking up the Weapon Master feat.

Is Great Weapon Master Good?

We gave Great Weapon Master an S Tier rating in our 5e Feats Tier List, making it among the most potent feats in D&D 5e.

Great Weapon Master is widely considered to be the best feat to take for great weapon melee builds. Because D&D 5e’s AC doesn’t scale with levels, taking a -5 to hit to get +10 damage is a no brainer at higher levels.

This in itself would be enough to get this feat into the A Tier, but getting a free attack as a bonus action whenever you drop a creature to 0 or score a crit pushes this ability into the S Tier.

Great Weapon Master Interactions

This feat adds a few clever interactions that might come up while monster slaying. Here are a few interesting interactions:

  • If you also have the Polearm Master feat, you can combine the two together and use the additional damage on your d4 die.
  • Using a weapon in any way that were to turn it into an improvised weapon (such as a melee attack with a longbow), means that it no longer has the Heavy property and will not benefit from this feat.
  • You are able to move after dropping a creature to zero hit points, but before using your bonus action if you choose to.
  • Those who have the Sentinel feat can use their bonus attack if they kill an enemy with the Sentinel reaction.
    • This is sort of DM-dependent. The rules of 5E don’t explicitly eliminate the possibility of getting a bonus action as part of a reaction, so it’s up to your table’s discretion.

Which classes make the most of Great Weapon Master?

The color code below has been implemented to help you identify, at a glance, how good the Great Weapon Master feat is for a specific class/subclass.

  • Black is typically ineffective or doesn’t work well with this feat.
  • Red is usually detrimental or entirely useless for a character build.
  • Orange is an OK option.
  • Green is a good option.
  • Blue is an excellent option, and you should probably pick up this feat if you choose this class.
  • Sky Blue is a fantastic option, and this is among the best choices if you want to make the most optimal build.

Artificer: Artificers can’t use Heavy weapons outside of the Battle Smith subclass. It’s not a terrible option for Battle Smiths though, as they can easily imbue their Heavy weapon with something even more powerful.

Barbarian: Probably the best feat for a barbarian using a two-handed weapon, regardless of build. Extra attacks from this feat will occur often when you're in the thick of things. The bonus damage at the cost of an attack roll penalty is risky and should be used sparingly until your attack roll bonus is quite high. That said, if you really want something dead you can Reckless Attack and take the -5 penalty. This is useful in situations where an enemy is looking hurt and you want to drop them to get an extra bonus action attack.

Bard: Bards cannot use Heavy weapons unless they are in the College of Valor subclass. Even then they will need a hand free to cast spells with their instrument, meaning this feat doesn’t work that well for them.

Cleric: Clerics who prefer to be more melee-focused, such as War Domain clerics, and want to output damage at the expense of defense can certainly make use of this feat. They can output a lot of damage and won’t be limited by spellcasting as they can wear their holy symbol. Keep in mind, that this is feat is only useable for subclasses that can use martial weapons.

Druid: Druids can’t learn to wield any Heavy weapons, and they would rather use Wild Shape if they want to get into melee range.

Fighter: GWM, combined with the fighter's ridiculous number of attacks will result in a lot of extra damage and, therefore, a lot of extra bonus action attacks.

Monk: Monks absolutely cannot use this feat without losing out on the entirety of their Martial Arts features. They also can’t equip Heavy weapons outside of taking the Weapon Master feat, but it’s still not worth it. Kensei monks cannot pick Heavy weapons for their kensei weapon, making it a useless option as well.

Paladin: Paladins will adore this feat. It can add tons of damage and works well for all of their subclasses, and they don’t need to compromise their spellcasting for a Heavy weapon. This paired with a Vengeance paladin for Vow of Enmity's advantage on attacks would create a near-perfect killing machine.

Ranger: Most rangers won’t get a lot out of this feat. Yes, they can use Heavy weapons, but they don’t have any incentive to do so. STR-based melee rangers using Heavy weapons will certainly see a substantial benefit from this feat, but they are quite uncommon.

Rogue: Rogues can’t use martial weapons, locking them out of this feat entirely.

Sorcerer: Sorcerers can’t wield Martial weapons either and are far too squishy to be up close and personal.

Warlock: Most warlocks want nothing to do with Great Weapon Master. Some melee Hexblade builds can make use of this feat, the details of which can be found on our Hexblade 5e Guide.

Wizard: Wizards can’t wield Martial weapons either and are far too squishy to be up close and personal.

Conclusion

Anyone who’s had pipe dreams of wading into battle with a big, meaty weapon Dark Souls style will absolutely love this feat. For better or worse, Great Weapon Master ends up as one of the best feats to pick up for anyone focusing on these mighty weapons.

How do you feel about Great Weapon Master? Do you have a special build that knocks this feat out of the park? Let us know in the comments below!

Jeff Nabors

Jeff Nabors has been playing D&D ever since he stumbled upon the 3.5E core books in his high school library. When he isn’t running a campaign or designing a game, you can find him on Twitch, writing about game design, or staring off into the endless abyss.

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