Gear Guide: The Greatsword in DnD 5e

Have you ever seen Conan’s sword? Or Braveheart’s claymore? Ever played Final Fantasy VII with Cloud’s Buster Sword or seen Zabuza’s Executioner’s Blade from Naruto? Beowulf’s Hrunting?

Those swords were iconic greatswords.

With gigantic blades nearly as tall as their wielders, greatswords require a great deal of strength to pick up and control, but their sheer mass makes them capable of shearing through armor and cleaving entire bodies in half.

While they were hell to carry in an infantry battle, greatswords were quite effective at enabling a foot soldier to unhorse or skewer a mounted soldier, and if all else failed, the sword was also big enough to wield against the horse. (Incidentally, greatswords are also called horse choppers in some circles.)

This post is all about greatswords: who can use them, who should use them, how to use them well, and magic versions of this favored weapon from the 1980’s fantasy film genre.

What Is a Greatsword in DnD 5e?

A greatsword is a heavy, two-handed martial weapon that deals 2d6 slashing damage.

Who Can Use a Greatsword in DnD 5e?

As a martial melee weapon, you will need proficiency with martial weapons in order to wield this big boy. That rules out everyone but the fighter, the ranger, the barbarian, the paladin, and the hexblade.

However, just because you can use a particular weapon doesn’t mean you should. To that end, let’s break into the stats of a greatsword before we decide who should be using the greatsword.

Greatsword Stat Block

  • Type: Martial Melee Weapon
  • Cost: 50 gp
  • Weight: 6 lbs.

Proficiency with a greatsword allows you to add your proficiency bonus to the attack roll for any attack you make with it.

At a hefty 50 gp, your 1st-level character will likely not start with a greatsword unless you are proficient with it. At that point, you are proficient with so many other weapons that if you end up with one of these, it is because you wanted to.

It has 2d6 slashing as its damage throw, which is just barely the highest throw for a standard weapon. Six pounds is fairly light, all things considered; and if you are strong enough to consider using a greatsword, then 6-pounds encumbrance shouldn’t bother you.

As a heavy weapon, you must be Medium or larger to use a greatsword. As a two-handed weapon, you must be using at least two hands to wield it, which means you can not be holding anything else in your other hand when you attack.

Who Should Use a Greatsword?

Greatswords are for those characters who aren’t overly concerned with protecting themselves or staying out of danger. They are sacrificing the ability to use a shield, cast a spell, or throw a ranged weapon in exchange for an oversized sword.

While not always true, this generally rules out paladins, rangers, and hexblades, thus leaving the fighters and barbarians as our primary greatsword wielders. And this is as it should be! Warlocks, rangers, and paladins have many abilities related to support and utility in addition to their martial ability.

Greatsword users know that the best thing to do with your free hand is to use it to do more damage.

You should use a greatsword if you are a martial character who enjoys getting the big damage and rolling a whole fistful of dice when it’s your turn to yell numbers at the DM.

1d12 vs. 2d6

There is a much-heated debate over whether the greatsword is better than the greataxe. While the difference really isn’t enough to matter, technically the greatsword is better for the numbers.

2d6 has a damage range of 2-12. 1d12 has a damage range of 1-12.

But that one point isn’t all. There are many feats and abilities that allow you to reroll one damage die on a low roll. If you are using a 1d12, you only have one die to reroll. If you are using a 2d6, you can choose to reroll one of those d6, which can significantly improve your damage.

If you roll sd6 and get a 5 and a 1, you can reroll the 1 to make your damage range 6-12.

If you are stuck with a 1d12, what you get is what you get.

What Other Weapons Are as Good as a Greatsword?

Regardless of which side of the 1d12 vs. 2d6 debate, the differences between greataxe, greatclub, and greatsword are mostly a matter of flavor. As heavy, two-handed weapons, they all function the same way, and their damage fluctuates within three points of each other.

While a greatsword does 2d6 + strength in damage, a longsword and shortsword combination does 1d8 and 1d6 plus your strength damage twice.

So, it isn’t all about damage! Some weapons open you up to other feats and abilities that a greatsword can not be used for, just like a greatsword gives you options that other weapons don’t.

In short, I’m not going to tell you what the best weapon in the game is here. If greatswords were the best, we would all be using them.

But for some characters, they are the best. The best way to decide what is best is simple. What looks the best?

If you want to be cool, you have to look cool, and for some characters, a big-ass sword is what does the job.

Improving the Greatsword

As you gain levels, you will want to consider how to best improve your greatsword.

The primary Class Ability that will improve one’s ability with the greatsword is the Fighting Style that fighters, rangers, and paladins get for two-handed weapons.

Great Weapon Fighting

When you roll a 1 or 2 on a damage die for an attack you make with a melee weapon that you are wielding with two hands, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll, even if the new roll is a 1 or a 2. The weapon must have the two-handed or versatile property for you to gain this benefit.

The other way to improve your skill with the greatsword is with the following official D&D feats.

Great Weapon Master

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.

Slasher

You’ve learned where to cut to have the greatest results, granting you the following benefits:

  • Increase your Strength or Dexterity by 1 to a maximum of 20.
  • Once per turn when you hit a creature with an attack that deals slashing damage, you can reduce the speed of the target by 10 feet until the start of your next turn.
  • When you score a critical hit that deals slashing damage to a creature, you grievously wound it. Until the start of your next turn, the target has disadvantage on all attack rolls.

Martial Adept

You have martial training that allows you to perform special combat maneuvers. You gain the following benefits:

  • You learn two maneuvers of your choice from among those available to the Battle Master archetype in the fighter class. If a maneuver you use requires your target to make a saving throw to resist the maneuver’s effects, the saving throw DC equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice).
  • You gain one superiority die, which is a d6 (this die is added to any superiority dice you have from another source). This die is used to fuel your maneuvers. A superiority die is expended when you use it. You regain your expended superiority dice when you finish a short or long rest.

The Best Battle Master Maneuvers for a Greatsword

Quick Toss will allow you to throw a weapon quickly and then use your free hand to grip the greatsword again.

Feinting Attack will give you advantage on your next attack which, when combined with Great Weapon Master, allows you to buff against the -5 you take in exchange for that big damage boost.

Evasive Footwork will support your AC to make up for your lack of shield.

May you always roll 20s, my friends.