Great Weapon Master 5E: DnD Feat Guide

Great weapon master is one of the feats that comes to mind instantly when it comes to building a powerful melee character who can hit. Often mentioned in the same breath as Sharpshooter, both have a popular -5 to hit/+10 damage mechanic that really add some OOMPH to melee attacks in the early game.

Great weapon master is consistently mentioned as one of the strongest feats in 5th Edition D&D, although there has been some further debate on this point in recent years.

Great weapon master is a good powerful feat in 5E that is seen as a necessity for barbarians and is a favorite for many melee builds due to the ability to add +10 damage to any hit that overcomes a -5 to hit. This feat is considered absolutely deadly on attacks where the player can roll with advantage.

So is 5E’s great weapon master feat as good as advertised? Are there reasons to doubt? Let’s dive into a full breakdown of this popular yet somehow occasionally controversial feat.

viking axman great weapon master
Barbarians tend to really like this feat for obvious reasons.

Breaking Down the Great Weapon Master Feat

Some consider this basically the melee version of the 5E Sharpshooter feat mostly because both have the -5 to hit/+10 damage mechanic. However, these are very different feats.

Directly from the Player’s Handbook:

You’ve learned to put the weight of a weapon to your advantage, letting its momentum empower your strikes. You gain the following benefits:

  • On your turn, when you score a critical hit with a melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with one, you can make one melee weapon attack as a bonus action.
  • Before you make a melee attack with a heavy 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.

Player’s Handbook p. 167

This is really interesting because one half of the feat applies to all melee weapons, while the other half of the feat ONLY applies to heavy weapons. So let’s break down the benefits and see what this difference means.

Benefit #1: When you score a critical hit or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with a melee weapon attack, you can make a single melee weapon attack as a bonus action.

I’m actually a bigger fan of this than the second benefit that gains a lot more attention. Any critical hit gives you an extra attack using the bonus action. Any time you reduce a creature to 0 you also get a melee attack as a bonus action. I really like this and it can make a great weapon master melee fighter at low levels jump to the next level as a good hit or crit can one shot really low level enemies, allowing them to turn and then take out another one.

This is also a benefit that applies to ALL melee weapons. A

Important Point: Why use the term “reduce a creature to 0 hit points” as opposed to “kill?” Because Half-Orc rage and zombies. You can reduce them to zero but they’re still back up for one more turn or until they fail a save, respectively. In those situations the player with a free bonus action would get that extra attack.

Benefit #2: Before making a heavy weapon attack you can take a -5 penalty to the attack roll in exchange for +10 damage on a hit.

What’s interesting here is that this does NOT apply to all melee weapons, but only to heavy weapons that you are proficient with. And yes, that means there are builds that take this feat just for the first benefit.

The -5 to hit, +10 can be damage. From pure statistics on a long enough timeline, the math works out to this being a good exchange in the long run up to an AC of 19, however as someone points out, since there’s no spillover damage if a hit kills an opponent, that extra damage is just gone which means the real in-game implications argue that this is only good up to an AC 18 or even AC 17 depending on campaign and situation.

However, +10 damage will straight out kill many low level enemies and still seriously wreck mid-level enemies. This is a way to up the damage on a melee based PC who is trying to keep up with spellcasters, sneaky rogues, and experienced sharpshooter rangers.

It’s a good mechanic that is more effective in some situations than others.

Heavy weapons as defined in the PHB for 5th Edition include:

  • Glaive
  • Greataxe
  • Greatsword
  • Halberd
  • Lance*
  • Maul
  • Pike

*Lance is listed as two handed when not mounted, but not heavy though most DMs will make the ruling that the 2 handed feature means this almost never used weapon would fall under the heavy requirement for the GWM feat.

5E Classes That Should Take the Great Weapon Master Feat

There are two classes that should pretty much take the great master feat with virtually ever single build. To no one’s surprise those classes are the barbarian and fighter. These are two melee classes that are designed to tank and fight and don’t have to worry about healing, support, or the other roles that classes like paladin and cleric need to worry about.

Neither of these classes have an abundance of bonus actions, or they get used once to rage, and then sit there. So the ability to get that extra attack from a critical hit or taking down an enemy is a very useful bonus. Extra attacks from front line melee is always good. The barbarian’s ability to get crits off a 19 means this comes into effect more often, which pairs perfectly with this feat.

The fighter at high levels gets an insane number of attacks which is all the more times they can connect a hit for that bonus action attack. Add in the sheer number of ability score improvements that lead to extra feats (even before considering the 60%+ fighters who are human variant to start with an extra feat) and there’s no reason for a fighter to not take the bonuses offered here.

At low levels this feat makes barbarians and fighters absolute killing machines, and the extra attacks are beneficial even at higher levels when the -5/+10 mechanic often becomes more of a detriment.

5th Ed Classes that should always take the Great Weapon Master Feat

  • Barbarian
  • Fighter

5E Classes That Should Consider Taking the Great Weapon Master Feat

The three melee classes that should at least consider the great weapon master feat are the cleric, paladin, and ranger melee builds. They have the HP and AC options to make use of many of the features. Clerics and Paladins are often right up there with the barbarian and fighter, able to tank insane amounts of hits and deal the damage back out.

Most of the best builds I’ve seen involve shields with the build, or the classic Cleric polearm master + sentinel feat combo that is so overpowered…especially after casting spirit guardians and spiritual weapon. Freaking blender. Paladins using a war hammer might want to consider the crusher feat, or others that give advantage to their fighting style.

However, if they want to forego the shield and go two-handed then the great weapon master feat could be a viable choice. It feels more so for the Paladin than most Clerics, but Clerics have a LOT of viable builds so that’s not a hard and fast rule.

While it is possible to use this feat with the melee build of ranger, I don’t recommend it. Rangers can use bonus actions, and often find better results out of feats like Piercer, Fey Touched, or others that don’t require the use of heavy weapons. Squeezing in GWM is possible but I question its usefulness for this build.

Why not warlock or wizard melee builds? Simply put: hit dice. The comment of “Why are monks always the ones who die?” has come up multiple times and it’s because they’re melee with a d8. The d8 of the warlock and d6 of a wizard aren’t enough. Doing a good Battle Wizard, Blade Singer, Pact of the Blade Warlock, or Hexblade build requires high ability scores and other feats first.

They basically run out of space before any time when the GWM feat would be useful. They also have common uses for the bonus action, making the first part of 5E’s great weapon master feat less useful. They also need all the AC they can get, and tend not to have heavy weapon proficiency, making the second part of the feat less useful or straight up unusable.

For that reason as written the great weapon master feat in 5th edition D&D is not a good option for those melee class builds.

5th Ed Classes that should consider taking the Great Weapon Master Feat

  • Cleric
  • Paladin
  • Ranger (melee build)

5E Classes That Should NEVER Take the Great Weapon Master Feat

This is clearly a feat meant for melee, and works even better for those melee fighters willing to give up a little bit of AC to do more damage with a heavy weapon. For classes that have a wide array of uses for their bonus action, this feat is also less useful.

While the giant list of classes that should never take the GMW feat might make you think it isn’t a good feat, the truth is that just because it is narrowly focused doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful. This is a very, very strong feat – but it’s clearly meant to give pure melee characters more of an ability to dominate early and hang around late.

So here’s the full list of classes who should look elsewhere for a feat or who should just take another ability score improvement.

5th Ed classes that should never take the Great Weapon Master Feat

  • Artificer
  • Bard
  • Druid
  • Monk
  • Ranger (conventional build)
  • Rogue
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock
  • Wizard
5E Great Weapon Master feat best worst classes table
Table showing best classes for Great Weapon Master feat – feel free to copy this table, just please link back to the original post here. Thanks!

Final Feat Grade for 5E Great Weapon Master

Great Weapon Master Feat Grade: A-

Is the 5E Great Weapon Master Feat Worth It?

My short take is that this is an excellent melee feat, but it is not overpowering the way some people tend to lift it up. People who have it as equal to Sharpshooter are overstating its power. People arguing it isn’t that good are going too far in the other direction. Great weapon master feat is powerful and any melee class with the full d10 HP dice that are going to abandon the shield to go all out on attacks with heavy weapons should be grabbing this feat.

While some might be surprised at the high grade because there are so many classes that don’t use it – I’ll point to the same thing for Sharpshooter and for the most popular spell feats. For the classes that can use great weapon master, it can be a great feat and is mandatory for the barbarian who gets to crit a lot to up those percentages when this comes into play even more or the fighter with so many attacks and so few uses of a bonus action.

Great Weapon Master Feat FAQ

Should I always use great weapon master?

Actually know. The extremely mathematically inclined DMs have run the numbers and they show that past a certain AC, it actually makes more statistical sense NOT to use great weapon master’s -5/+10 feature. It is worth it on enemies with an AC 19 or lower with the benefit much higher on weaker enemies than stronger ones.

Why is great weapon master so good?

Great weapon master can make fighters, barbarians, and other melee classes absolute beasts against low level enemies by providing the opportunity to do enough damage to often kill in one hit, and grants another attack with every crit or enemy killed via bonus action which is huge. At higher levels the feat is much less useful, but it helps give melee characters more power in early to mid game.

Can you use great weapon master with a glaive?

Absolutely. In fact, to use the second half of the great master feat you need to be wielding a heavy weapon, which a glaive counts as.

Does great weapon master damage apply to crits?

The +10 damage from a great master weapon feat does NOT double. This is because only damage coming from dice are doubled on a critical hit. Since the +10 is just added on, it remains +10 whether the hit is a critical hit or not.

Does great weapon master work with versatile weapons?

The great master feat can work well with versatile weapons but it’s not optimal.. The first benefit applies to all melee weapons, so the extra attacks from crits or cutting down an enemy apply. However, at least as of now there is no applying the +10 Damage option to a versatile weapon even when using two hands. There are many DMs who will home rule that, so it is worth asking since that would make using this feat much more valuable to a PC with a versatile weapon.

Do I need to use a heavy weapon for the great weapon master feat in 5th Ed?

The first part of the great weapon feat applies to ALL melee weapons. However, the -5 to hit/+10 damage mechanic can only be used with heavy weapons.

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this feat guide!

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