Game Mobalytics

When to Use Great Weapon Master in 5e

My Favorite Feat in the Game

Is there a feat in the game of 5e that is so powerful, it’s considered broken and potentially ban-worthy? Yes, there is. It’s called Great Weapon Master. This feat has gained a reputation among Dungeons and Dragons players for its immense power. But the question remains – when is the best time to use it? Should you use it against a monster with a high AC? Let’s explore the factors that determine when to use Great Weapon Master and delve into the results.

What is Great Weapon Master in 5e?

Before we dive into the details, let’s make sure we understand what Great Weapon Master is. GWM is a feat found on page 167 of the Player’s Handbook. It allows you to make an additional attack with your bonus action when attacking with a heavy weapon, killing a creature, or landing a critical hit. Moreover, if you take a -5 penalty to your attack roll, you deal +10 damage if you hit.

This feat is favored by those who prefer damage over defense, opting for weapons such as greatswords or greataxes. The additional attack is useful, but the bonus to damage is what makes this feat truly powerful. Even at level 1, when the average monster has only 24 hit points, you can potentially one-shot them. It’s a feat that makes you a formidable threat.

Great Weapon Master: Barbarian vs Fighter

Now, let’s compare how Barbarians and Fighters fare with Great Weapon Master. The answer is clear – Barbarians dominate the field. At every level, Barbarians outperform Fighters when it comes to GWM damage output. This is due to factors such as Barbarian’s rage bonus, advantage from reckless attack, and the average monster’s AC at each level.

On average, a Barbarian with GWM deals 36.61 points of damage in a round, while a Fighter’s damage per round (DPR) with GWM is 31.53 points. This means that, on average, a Barbarian deals 5 more points of damage per round than a Fighter. It’s important to note that these averages do not factor in magic weapons, as their availability varies from campaign to campaign.

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If a Fighter has consistent advantage, they will still underperform compared to a Barbarian until level 11, where the Fighter’s DPR rises to 46.47 points. In general, a Barbarian’s class abilities synergize better with GWM, making them the ultimate Great Weapon Fighter. However, if a Fighter can consistently gain advantage and attack three or more times, they can surpass the Barbarian’s damage output by a significant margin.

Barbarian with Great Weapon Master


Now, let’s explore how every adventurer can benefit from Great Weapon Master. On average, a Fighter will see a 31.43% increase in DPR with GWM. This percentage is skewed by the tremendous 93% increase at level 20, thanks to 4 attacks. Excluding level 20, the average DPR increase is 28%. In simpler terms, from levels 1 to 19, you can expect to deal 28% more damage with GWM compared to without it.

Barbarians, on the other hand, experience a lower DPR increase with GWM in 5e. Throughout levels 1 to 20, their DPR increase is only 3.95%. Surprisingly, Barbarians even have negative DPR returns for 5 of their 20 levels. This is a unique case among classes using GWM. However, considering Barbarians’ bonus rage damage, their damage output without GWM is nearly on par with it. This makes Barbarians a force to be reckoned with.

Other classes that attack twice or once see different levels of DPR increase with GWM. Two-attack classes experience a 14.22% increase, while one-attack classes have a 16.10% increase. Although the percentage increase may favor one-attack classes, two-attack classes generally have a higher average DPR. Therefore, they are considered better for utilizing GWM. Here’s a handy chart that shows the DPR increase for each class, which you can use for your games.

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GWM: Advantage

Using Great Weapon Master with advantage is generally recommended for maximizing damage output. On average, if you have advantage while using GWM in 5e, you can expect a 35-41% increase in damage, except for Barbarians who see a 20-35% increase.

Let’s look at some specific numbers. A Fighter without advantage will deal an average of 22.78 damage per turn with GWM. However, a Fighter with consistent advantage will see an increase of 11 points, dealing 33.31 points of damage per turn. This significant boost greatly enhances your character’s ability to eliminate enemies.

For Barbarians, their rage bonus heavily influences their DPR increase with GWM. If a Barbarian doesn’t have advantage, they should reconsider using GWM altogether. Without advantage, a Barbarian will still see an increase of roughly 26.35%. In other words, they deal 6 more points of damage per round. However, if a Barbarian has both advantage and GWM, they can consistently deal 29 points of damage per turn. This makes them a brutal force in combat.

GWM: Disadvantage

Now, let’s address the issue of attacking with disadvantage while using Great Weapon Master. The general rule of thumb is to never attack with disadvantage when using GWM. Doing so can result in a significant decrease in damage, ranging from 30% to 40%. This percentage drop assumes that you already have disadvantage on the attack.

To put it into perspective, if you compare the damage difference between using GWM with advantage versus using GWM with disadvantage, the drop is over 73.2%. This means that if you had advantage on your first round of attacks but disadvantage on your second round, you would see a 73% decrease in damage compared to your first round. This drop is substantial.

Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation where you must attack with disadvantage, it’s advisable not to use Great Weapon Master. On average, a Barbarian will deal 7.88 points of damage, while a Fighter will deal slightly more due to their ability to attack three times, resulting in 8.9 points of damage. These numbers are significantly lower than attacking without disadvantage while not using GWM.

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Barbarian with Great Weapon Master

GWM: What AC to Attack

Now, let’s address the question of at what AC you should use Great Weapon Master. I’ve compiled the information using a simple algebra formula found on Giant Tip. I’ve considered the average AC you can expect at each level, factoring in advantages and disadvantages. The result is a chart that shows the appropriate AC range for using Great Weapon Master.

As you can see, Great Weapon Master in 5e is most effective against enemies with an AC of 16 or lower, especially at lower levels. However, by level 20, you should consider using it against enemies with an AC of 21 or lower. The increase in DPR at this level makes it worthwhile. Keep in mind that situational factors may also influence your decision. For example, if a boss is on their last legs and simply needs to be hit, it’s better to attack without using Great Weapon Master.

What’s most interesting is the steep drop in AC range from 14-15 or lower. This means that, from level 5 onwards, it’s highly recommended not to attack with disadvantage while using Great Weapon Master.

Great Weapon Master in 5e: Conclusion

There you have it – when to use Great Weapon Master and which class is the best Great Weapon Fighter. Armed with this knowledge, you can now make informed decisions about your damage output when utilizing Great Weapon Master. Additionally, I’ve provided you with a handy chart to determine the appropriate AC range for attacking with GWM.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll love my post on Bless as well. It explores the hit chances with Great Weapon Master and how it improves your DPR and to-hit chances.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and want to analyze your own spells, monsters, and encounters, I highly recommend downloading my D&D calculator. It’s a tool that allows you to calculate true DPR for spells and monsters in your campaigns. Don’t just take my word for it – check out the review I made and see all the nifty abilities it offers!

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