How to fix Great Weapon master 5e and make room for other feats

Great Weapon Master 5e

What is Great Weapon Master 5e

Great Weapon Master is a Feat

Feats are special abilities that players can get by foregoing an ability score increase. Most classes get them every four levels, except for the Fighter. Feats are optional rules but the vast majority of dungeon masters allow them.  Feats are great because they can differentiate characters that would otherwise be the same. We all love the customizability that Tabletop roleplaying games bring and feats are great at achieving this. Two half-elf swashbuckler rogues can be different because of their feat choices. 

The feat we are looking at today reads

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.
The first clause is super nice but most people take Great Weapon Master for the 2nd clause which gives you an insane power bonus.

Great Weapon Master is for Heavy Weapons

If you are unfamiliar with the terminology of DND it’s easy to skip over that the second line specifies heavy weapons. Heavy weapons are weapons with heavy property, confusing right?

This is important because Heavy weapons impose disadvantage to small creatures such as halflings or gnomes attacking with them. The most used heavy weapons are Greats words and Great axes. 

Great Weapon Master is for Strength-based character's

One of my big complaints about fifth edition’s balancing is that intelligence and strength really seem like worse stats. Dexterity has always been an amazing stat because it affects your damage, initiative, multiple ability scores, and armor class. Great Weapon Master uses heavy weapons which don’t have the finesse property meaning you can’t use your dexterity for them. I really like that Great Weapon Master is something that gives you a reason to use strength-based characters.

Unfortunately, sharpshooter which is a ranged version of great weapon master exists. Sharpshooter has the same “power attack” mechanic letting you sacrifice accuracy for power while also using dexterity.

Great Weapon Master is high risk high reward

Sacrificing Power for accuracy is a great concept. It’s super rewarding to land that big hit with your giant weapon. It also combines really nicely with the fundamental concepts of dungeons and dragons such as the advantage system. The characters with great weapon masters will want to engineer systems where they have an advantage in order to compensate for the accuracy lost by using Great Weapon Master.

 It also encourages teamwork as the party wants to buff the accuracy of the one who has a great weapon master. Having the ability to choose whether you want to have a risky attack is super fun.

Roulette Wheel

The Problem with Great Weapon Master 5e

It gets rid of variety

It seems so far that I have only sung the praises of this feat. In fact, I would recommend anyone to take Great Weapon Master or Sharpshooter as their level four feat if they can. It seems too good to pass up. I stated earlier that “Feats are great because they differentiate characters that would otherwise be the same”. In my first campaign of Dnd, one of my friends was by far dealing the most damage because of having Sharpshooter, I simply felt like I was missing out. Having a feat so good that it feels like you’re missing out if you don’t take it removes the purpose of a customizable system. Players have to make a choice between suboptimality and customizability and that can’t be good for the health of the game. So am I saying that all feats have to be equally balanced? That would be impossible or extremely boring.

For example Languages in DND are pretty equal. There is no best language to take. This makes the character’s choices flavorful and unique. They usually take different languages to cover the bases. Unfortunately, Language has the problem of not having mechanics tied to it. Most Dungeon Masters don’t use language because translating is an unfun part of the game and common exists. If you want to know how to make Language exciting check out my article on it here.


 So what is the problem with these two?

It effects Damage

Out of everything, damage is one of the most sensitive parts of the game. The fact that Great Weapon Master and Sharpshooter boost your damage is very uncommon for a feat. The fact that these affect your damage so strongly makes them very attractive and hard to refuse. A player can have an extremely high score for a skill check without breaking the game, looking at you rogue. A player having extremely high damage does however break the game. Not everyone has to contribute to a skill check but everyone should feel like they are contributing to combat. This is why throughout the game very few things effect your damage output.

Potential Solutions

There are many possible ideas to resolve this issue and I personally can’t say which is definitively the best. I will however layout a few options for you that I have come across.

Making Power Attacks an option always.

I talked about how much I love power attacks, the flavor, how it combines with mechanics, and how it helps martial characters stand out compared to their spellcasting counterparts. I personally don’t believe that a great weapon master is too good, just that it is too good compared to other feats. Letting characters with heavy weapons power attack solves both of the issues. 

The drawback of this is that it will make the player’s characters stronger. You can adjust the strength of monsters to compensate if this trivializes your encounters however, I don’t recommend this fix to new dungeon masters.

Banning Great Weapon Master and Sharpshooter

If you are willing to part with the benefits I detailed when talking about Great weapon Master I recommend just banning the feat. I truly don’t think this will be a slippery slope where a new feat takes the vacant top spot. In fact, Ability score increases will probably be the next best option. That is okay though as feats are supposed to be worse than Ability score increases. Hopefully, it creates a flavorful party who lean into their feat choices for roleplay.


Great Weapon Master and Sharpshooter are very good feats in terms of fun and numbers. Perhaps they are too good in comparison to other feats. In an effort to balance the game and make other feats relevant, you can ban great weapon master or make power attacks a thing characters can do. There’s a lot we can do to polish up the fifth edition and there’s a lot to being a dungeon master. That is precisely why I would highly encourage you to follow our newsletter and get more Dungeon Master tips that come from a truly passionate member of the community. I also hope you use this knowledge in your games to make them better. Thank you for Reading!

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