© Wizards of the Coast by Winona Nelson

Defensive Duelist Feat 5e: Engarde! Most Effective Use of this Feat

Defensive Duelist is the ideal defensive feat for squishy damage dealers who wield finesse weapons. This feat provides an extra defense boost to finesse weapon wielders.

Monks, Rogues, and Bards, who will be frontline damage dealers who specialize in finesse weapons, will get a lot of mileage out of this feat. 

What Is Defensive Duelist?

Prerequisite: Dexterity 13 or higher

When you are wielding a finesse weapon with which you are proficient and another creature hits you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to add your proficiency bonus to your AC for that attack, potentially causing the attack to miss you.

Player’s Handbook

Defensive Duelist is a defensive feat for Dexterity heavy melee classes. It allows them to functionally increase their AC using their reaction and dodge powerful attacks.

Efficient use of the Defensive Duelist feat can be a lifesaving strategy that turns the tide of battle in your party’s favor.

Is Defensive Duelist Good?

Defensive Duelist is an excellent addition for melee-focused, Dexterity-heavy damage dealers who won’t be packing the same defensive stats as their Strength-heavy counterparts.

Strength-heavy martial classes will tend towards wearing armor and wielding non-finesse weapons and will see diminishing — if any — returns on this feat.

At higher levels, Defensive Duelist is essentially just an extra +6 to AC, which can be the difference between face-tanking a Gargantuan Demon’s greataxe and slipping to the side, unharmed.

Players get one reaction per round, so they’ll be able to use Defensive Duelist’s bonus, again and again, to move deftly around the battlefield.

What Classes Synergize with Defensive Duelist?

Bard

★★★★★

Bard is the finesse master with a strong disposition towards daggers, rapiers, scimitars, shortswords, and whips. Bards who want to go with the College of Swords will want to consider taking Defensive Duelist as a defensive bonus once they’ve reached their Dexterity and Charisma caps. 

Since Bards are primarily a caster class rather than a martial one, armor is pretty much out of the question.

This puts Swords Bards at a particular disadvantage when using their swords since they’re right in harm’s way, and as a damage dealer, they’re likely to be targeted. 

Defensive Duelist helps cover that weakness by allowing them to dodge attacks from mighty enemies using the AC boost.

Rogue

★★★★★

Rogues are another strong finesse class that will get a lot of use out of Defensive Duelist. Like the Bard, the Rogue has a strong disposition towards Finesse weapons as a Dexterity-heavy class, and they’re inclined to go without armor as a Stealth-focused class.

This combination of traits means they get full use out of Defensive Duelist’s boosts.

The modus operandi for a Rogue is different from a Bard. While Bards need to forego armor to cast effectively, Rogues forego armor so that they can utilize stealth options more effectively. Wearing armor would be a hindrance to their movement.

Defensive Duelist helps cover up the Rogue’s lack of Unarmored Defense and provides an alternate option to Uncanny Dodge that can allow you to take no damage rather than half damage.

Wizard – Bladesinger

★★★★★

This is a unique one since it only works for Bladesinger Wizards. However, Bladesingers get great use out of the Defensive Duelist.

Since Bladesingers get proficiency with a martial melee weapon of their choice, they can choose a finesse weapon and get the bonus from Defensive Duelist.

Their real power is in their ability to take Shield at level 1. While the Defensive Duelist and Shield spell are both reactions, Shield out scales Defensive Duelist until 13th level.

Then when the spell gets out-scaled at 13th level, they can swap over for Defensive Duelist when appropriate.

Monk

★★★★

The only real reason that Monk isn’t a 5-star Defensive Duelist class is that it doesn’t get full use out of finesse weapons. Monks rely on using “Monk Weapons.” Only two are finesse weapons: the dagger and the shortsword. 

This doesn’t mean Defensive Duelist is useless. Quite the contrary, Defensive Duelist is a solid option for Monks as it stacks with Unarmored Defense.

However, it locks the Monk into using either a dagger or a shortsword as their weapon. They cannot use any other weapons, or they lose their Defensive Duelist boost.

If being locked into a Shortsword or a Dagger doesn’t bother you as a Monk, Defensive Duelist is a good pickup for the class.

Does Defensive Duelist Have Synergy with Any Spells or Abilities?

Mage Armor

My supportive Wizards and Sorcerers will be able to bolster their allies’ AC with Mage Armor which then further stacks with Defensive Duelist. If your allies don’t have an excellent natural armor class, it can be a powerful boost for them defensively.

Shield of Faith

Shield of Faith’s bonus also stacks with Defensive Duelist. As a bonus, it also stacks with Mage Armor which can provide some big defensive stats to a usually squishy character like a Rogue or a Bard.

Shield

Shield will be a good one for Arcane Tricksters to use since Arcane Tricksters will get a higher return from using Shield until the 13th level when their Proficiency Bonus out scales Shield, and, in some cases, cases, Shield provides a better return even after 13th level. 

The biggest boon with using Shield and Defensive Duelist in conjunction is the flexibility of choosing how long you want to keep your AC bonus. Shield provides one fewer AC but allows you to keep that AC until the start of your next turn.

Defensive Duelist provides more AC and doesn’t consume a spell slot, but the AC bonus is only effective for one attack.

Does Defensive Duelist Protect Against Multiattacks?

As written, no, Defensive Duelist will not protect you against a foe who has a multiattack. Jeremy Crawford clarified on Twitter that Defensive Duelist only protects the user against one hit.

So when used against an opponent utilizing the Extra Attack feature or other Multiattacks, Defensive Duelist will only work against the hit that triggered it. You’ll still be hit by any subsequent attacks made against you that round.

Can You Dual Wield with Defensive Duelist?

Yes! Defensive Duelist stipulates only that at least one of the weapons you are holding be a finesse weapon. It doesn’t specify that you can’t be holding anything else, just that you must be holding a finesse weapon.

So there’s no reason you can’t dual wield so long as at least one of your weapons is a finesse weapon.

Dual wielding is a great option for Rogues with Defensive Duelist since they can output more damage. Bards will want to stop before they do because they’ll need one free hand to perform the somatic component of any spell that requires it.

So a dual-wielding Bard will need Warcaster as well if they want to cast while dual-wielding.

Can You Wield a Shield with Defensive Duelist?

Similar to dual wielding, yes! You can carry a shield while using Defensive Duelist. You only need to make sure that your weapon is a finesse weapon.

Conclusion

Defensive Duelist is an incredible feat for Dexterity classes that want to do heavy damage without losing too many defensive stats.

It’s an excellent option for squishier damage dealers who might need to cover their asses when it comes to no-holds-barred brawling with their party.

Of course, remember that efficiency is not the only metric characters should be judged on, and taking a feat just because it’s efficient isn’t for everyone.

As always, good luck, have fun, and happy questing!