How to Make the Ultimate Polearm Fighter | 5e Dungeons & Dragons

While you can have a great time playing any 5e Dungeons & Dragons fighter archetype, the battlemaster fighter is probably one of the more interesting options you could take. “Interesting options” doesn’t mean you skimp on the ability to dish-out damage either and for that purpose, let me introduce you to my friend the ultimate polearm fighter.

 

5e Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t place nearly the emphasis on feats or the proliferation of “feat trees” that 3rd ed. D&D once did, but even so, there are a couple of feats that have incredible synergy. The strength of this build is in how well it utilizes 5e’s action-economy; on your turn in a round you have an action, bonus action, and movement action, but not all classes and builds are created equally when it comes to action economy usage.

 

Additionally, once per round you also have a reaction… if an opponent’s action triggers it... but here’s a spoiler alert: with this build, there’s many instances that will!


For the purposes of this build your optimal options would be to either choose variant human for the feat or half-orc for the additional damage die on critical hits from Savage Attacks and their capacity to not lie-down on the job the first time they take a hard hit thanks to Relentless Endurance.

 

Depending on the game world’s history, type of game your group wants to have, and personal preferences, either choice is fine, but I’m a little partial to choosing half-orc for this melee fighter build since it’s often helpful to have access to dark vision in many a circumstance and due to the volume of attacks this you’ll be taking, I have to believe that Savage Attacks will also see fair amount of use.




Ability Score Placement

Half-Orc

Human

Str

16

16

Dex

12

12

Con

16

14

Int

10

10

Wis

13

14

Cha

8

8




Placing Ability Scores

I’m using the 5e standard array of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, which aptly suits our needs. While you can noodle with the configurations to your taste, a heavy-weapon fighter’s going to require a high strength and since you’ll be up in the thick of melee combat, a high constitution score is also important (not to mention among Monster Manual monsters, it’s one of the highest represented saving throws).

 

Next you want a reasonably high dexterity and wisdom. You could invert the numbers if you wanted to be more adept at dexterity saving throws versus wisdom, since dexterity is one of the most targeted spell saving throws, particularly for area of effect spells (and this build is going to predispose you toward being near party members), but on the other hand, failed wisdom saving throws could have you paralyzed, running away from the fight, or even worse, turning all of your combat effectiveness against your own party! Lastly placing your intelligence and charisma scores is in part a matter of role-playing and personal preference.

 

There are a handful of monster abilities and spells that target charisma and fewer still that target intelligence, but chiefly among intelligence saving throws are illusion effects. At the end of the day, I’d let this choice be determined if I wanted a character that knows how to present themselves and has more of a natural charm that other’s gravitate toward, but maybe isn’t sharpest tool in the shed or they’re bright, but lacking in social graces. You could even decide to place your 8 in dexterity and reason that your character had sustained an injury, is hulking, or just clumsy on their feet to explain their low dexterity if you’re willing to accept that you’re more likely to take full damage from fireballs and other nasty area of effect spells.


Fighter Battlemaster Maneuvers

When you take your 3rd level in fighter, you’ll gain access to the core feature of the battlemaster fighter archetype, maneuvers. Upon selecting this archetype you get to select 3 maneuvers, are able to choose 6 more as you gain levels, and since as a battlemaster you get the most out of superiority dice, you should strongly consider taking the Martial Adept feat for an additional 2 maneuvers and superiority die. All told, you will have access to 11 maneuvers to use under a range of circumstances by the time you reach 15th level.

 

Superiority dice are an additional d8 that are typical added to damage rolls, increase to d10 at 10th level, and d12 at 18th level when you use a battlemaster maneuver. Some choices depend on your party’s specific dynamic or Dungeon Master’s encounter building style- trading an attack and bonus action to allow an ally to make an attack as a reaction with commander’s strike generally is poor trade-off unless that ally can do substantially more damage such as a sneak attack or inflict a condition like the monk’s stunning fist ability. Pushing attack becomes infinitely more useful when there’s terrain to take advantage such as cliff’s or damaging elements or if you can herd an enemy into an ally’s harmful or hindering area of effect such as the web spell.

 

The most universally useful maneuvers for this build are going to be trip attack, riposte, and precision attack. When you successfully trip an enemy, all of your attacks against them have advantage, which will come in handy when you’re taking a -5 to attack to gain a +10 to damage while you’re using one of the benefits of the Great Weapon Master feat. And should the -5 penalty from Great Weapon Master cause you to miss, you can always expend a superiority die to roll a d8 (or higher) with the precision attack maneuver.

 

Taking the riposte maneuver gives us another way to ensure that we get to use our reaction during the round- someone attacks and misses, you get to make a counterattack on them and add your superiority die to the damage if you hit. Below is a list of 12 of the best maneuver options for this build and by the time you reach 15th level and take the Martial Adept feat, you will be able to select all but one of them- while being able to spend 7 superiority dice per short rest!


Recommended Battlemaster Maneuvers

Trip Attack

Riposte

Pushing Attack

Disarming Attack

Precision Attack

Goading Attack

Menacing Attack

Maneuvering Attack

Distracting Strike

*Lunging Attack

*Sweeping Attack

*Commander’s Strike

*Situationally useful


Polearm Fighter Feats


Polearm Master

Our polearm fighter’s obvious choice for a 1st level fighting style is going to be great weapon fighting, allowing us to reroll the first 1’s or 2’s that are rolled, which will greatly help increase the average damage output. Whether you chose half-orc or human as your race, your first feat choice that I’d recommend is the Polearm Master, the difference being whether you have access to this feat at 1st level as a human or 4th as a half-orc.

 

Polearm Master’s a strong pick because when you’re wielding a glaive or halberd, which has the second highest damage die in the game, a d10, it gives you a d4 bonus action attack that also does your strength modifier in damage and even better still, whenever an enemy enters your 10’ reach, it triggers an opportunity attack as a reaction. As a little added bonus, our additional d4+strength meets all the requirements for our great weapon fighting style, letting us typically eke out another 1-2 points of damage out of our bonus action attacks.


Sentinel

Polearm Master and Sentinel are two feats that go hand-and-hand. While Sentinel’s a great feat for any martial melee build, it’s practically a prerequisite to take alongside Polearm Master!

 

When you hit an enemy at 10’ reach with your glaive or halberd, Sentinel ensures they stop dead in their tracks- their movement becomes 0! And if you used a trip maneuver, this means that they don’t have the movement to be able to get up that turn and even if they can reach anyone to make a melee attack, those attacks are at disadvantage.

 

Then there’s the fact that if an enemy chooses to attack anyone other than you, you’ve another way to make them pay: when an enemy within 5’ of you attacks an ally, you get yet another way to use your reaction and can make an attack on them. The last benefit of this feat deprives foes of being able to take the Disengage action against you in combat, which often will cost their action to do.


Great Weapon Master

While Great Weapon Master’s ability to make an attack as a bonus action when you reduce an enemy to 0 hp or score a critical might feel redundant to Polearm Master’s benefit of an d4 attack, it’s the difference of occasionally being able to trade-in that d4 for a d10.

 

Then there’s the other massive benefit of this feat, opting to take a -5 to attack for an additional +10 to damage, which is still an option when you make your d4 attack, and if you miss by a narrow margin, the penalty can likely be mitigated by expending a superiority die to activate precision attack. Great Weapon Master, Polearm Master, and precision attack make for a devastating combination that can regularly have you dealing an additional 30-40 points of damage per round. And let’s not forget that we’ll be trying to use the trip maneuver early and often to make our attacks at advantage in the first place!



Feats

Level to Take

Polearm Master

Half-Orc 4th, Human 1st

Sentinel

Half-Orc 6th, Human 4th

Great Weapon Master

Half-Orc 8th, Human 6th

Resilient: Wisdom

Half-Orc 12th, Human 8th

Martial Adept

Half-Orc 14th, Human 12th

Lucky

Half-Orc 16th, Human 14th

Ability Score Increase: Strength

Half-Orc 19th, Human 16th and 19th


Resilient: Wisdom

By the mid tiers of play, your Dungeon Master will have likely noticed how devastating you are to their combat encounters and by this point, the likelihood that foes will have capabilities to turn your prowess for carnage against the party has gone up exponentially.

 

At this point, it might be wise to hedge your bets on this happening by becoming proficient in wisdom saving throws. A case can be made for also taking this feat for dexterity saves, but reducing the risk of being turned against the party is more beneficial. If you fail your typical dexterity saving throw, you take twice as much damage. Fail a wisdom saving throw against something that paralyzes you, you still automatically fail dexterity saves, and fail a wisdom saving throw against an effect that dominates you, and not only is your party down your beneficial capabilities, but they also have to suffer what you’re able to dish-out until the dominate effect is broken. One might also consider taking the Resilient feat for dexterity rather than an ability score increase.


Martial Adept

Taking this feat gives you even more access to maneuvers and an additional superiority die, which is the core feature of the battlemaster and will be a d10 by the time you select it. Having an additional 7d10 damage, in addition to some battlefield manipulation per short rest for half of a character’s levels is a neat trick to have up your sleeve! It also often makes a lot of sense to use a maneuver when you score a critical hit- 1d10 becomes 2d10 (or 3d10 if you also happen to be a half-orc)!


Lucky

Did you fail a saving throw and feel like it’s key that you succeed? Are you making an attack at disadvantage? The lucky feat is super handy to have in either circumstance. It can give you another shot at saving throws and if you’re making most d20 rolls at disadvantage, using the Lucky feat lets you pick the best result out of 3d20! Better still, if an enemy has advantage against you, you can spend a luck point and choose the worst result out of 3d20 for their attack. Lastly, this feat gives us yet another fail-safe to use in conjunction with Great Weapon Master’s -5 attack penalty.


Ability Score Increase

Due to the fact that this build utilizes a bunch of feats for optimal effect, you don’t get to allot many ability score increases and going the half-orc route only gets your fighter up to having an 18 strength and the human build only gaining a 20 strength at 19th level. You could choose to trade-out a feat or two for more ability score increases or delay taking a couple of feats to boost your strength earlier, but that only makes you 5-10% better at attacking and likewise the difference of maximizing your battlemaster maneuvers at a DC of 17 versus 19 will seldom make the difference.



The ability for this build to regularly make d4+str bonus action attacks and situationally make d10+str bonus action attacks combined with the 4 potential ways that an enemy may trigger an attack as a reaction means that it will be commonplace for you to be able to make 6 attacks per round at high-level play. Combine this with an early successful trip maneuver attempt and you have a fighter that effectively controls the battlefield while consistently dishing-out upwards of 80 points of damage per round! While some of your choices might need to be optimized for how your groups chemistry and play style, the basic build has a ton of utility for interesting combat encounters. Now just round it out by strapping on plate armor, carrying a few javelins, and a shield for those enemies you can’t get to just yet!

 

Author:  Ryan Friant

 

Ryan Friant is the former co-founder of Nerdarchy, writer, and visual artist. When Ryan Friant isn't sharing his thoughts on RPGs, he makes sculptures and illustrations that can be found at www.thedreamsyndarts.com or on Instagram at www.instagram.com/dream_synd

 

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