Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Battle is chaotic. Because combat at the table unfolds slowly, with players deliberating over their turns, which spells to use, which enemies to attack, I think people tend to under-appreciate just how chaotic combat is.
Each round lasts about ten seconds, and the average combat rarely lasts longer than four rounds.
That means that most fights – including wizards hurling spells, rogues striking from the shadows, monks running up walls to execute a spinning roundhouse kick as they catch a passing arrow with their bare hands – take place in well under a minute.
If combat is going to take less time than it takes to toast a Pop Tart, you’d better figure out how to dish out the most carnage in as few rounds as possible.
Embrace the chaos. Become a whirlwind of death. If this is your goal, there’s no better option than to grab a long-handled weapon and choose the Polearm Master Feat.
Whether you want to play a defensive bulwark who can stop a charging enemy in their tracks or a whirling dervish of pain who brings the fight to their foes, the Polearm Master Feat is, well…Crazy good.
What Does the Polearm Master Feat Do?
The Polearm Master Feat strikes a great balance between defence, control, and damage, allowing you to capitalize on the size and reach of long weapons, including glaives, halberds, quarterstaffs, and spears.
When you take the Polearm Master Feat, you gain the following benefits…
You can keep your enemies at bay with reach weapons.
When you take the Attack action and attack with only a glaive, halberd, quarterstaff, or spear, you can use a bonus action to make a melee attack with the opposite end of the weapon.
This attack uses the same ability modifier as the primary attack. The weapon’s damage die for this attack is a d4, and it deals bludgeoning damage.
While you are wielding a glaive, halberd, pike, quarterstaff, or spear, other creatures provoke an opportunity attack from you when they enter your reach.
First, the ability to use your bonus action to make an off-hand attack that applies your ability modifier to the attack roll and damage is huge.
It effectively gives you the two-weapon fighting style without having to pick the fighting style – allowing you to grab something else, like Defense or Great Weapon Fighting – a style that lets you reroll 1’s and 2s on damage rolls with two-handed weapons, meaning that your 1d4 damage off-hand attack is guaranteed to inflict 3-4 bludgeoning damage + your ability modifier.
Let’s talk about defense and control. The Polearm Master Feat lets you use your opportunity attack to strike any enemy that comes within reach of your weapon.
Because you’re using a weapon like a Halberd or Spear with the Reach property, you’ll be able to use your reaction to hit any foe 10ft away, likely before they can get into range to hit you.
At face value, this is a great way to use your reaction to increase your damage output per round. When you start to look at how this feature synergizes with other Feats and abilities, however, that’s when the Polearm Master Feat goes from good to DM’s-lovingly-planned-encounter-ruining-ly great.
Best Builds for the Polearm Master Feat
Because the Polearm Master Feat is all about characters improving their abilities in melee combat, builds that focus on spellcasting (yes, a wizard with a quarterstaff could benefit from this Feat, but there are other things you’re going to want to prioritize as a caster) aren’t going to be great candidates for Polearm Master.
It’s the martial classes looking to wade into a melee, or plant themselves between the enemies and their party’s squishy back line, that are going to be able to capitalize most effectively.
Feat Synergies: Sentinel, Great Weapon Master, Maneuvers
The Polearm Master Feat is perfectly good by itself, but when you combine it with one or two other Feats or abilities, the results are staggeringly good.
This is the quintessential (and, I might argue, essential) pairing for the Polearm Master Feat. Sentinel means any creature you hit with an opportunity attack has its speed reduced to 0 for the remainder of its turn.
Combine this with the 10-foot reach of a polearm, and you can hit a creature with an opportunity attack as it tries to close with you, stopping it dead in its tracks before it can get into melee range.
Then, you move 5 feet back, forcing it to proc the effect again on its next turn. This combo makes you into a near god-tier controller, capable of kiting a single enemy around the battlefield indefinitely.
I say it a lot but there is literally no build that can’t benefit from the three rerolls per day granted by the Lucky Feat. You either give yourself an advantage on an attack, skill check, or saving throw or impose disadvantage on an enemy making an attack against you. If you want to make doubly sure your enemies can’t get within range to hit you, this is another great Feat.
Great Weapon Master
There’s some overlap between the Great Weapon Master Feat and Polearm Master, as both can use up your Bonus Action. However, one of the “drawbacks” of the off-hand bonus attack you can make with your Polearm Master Feat is that it only does 1d4 of damage.
Being able to gamble a less likely hit in exchange for a whopping 10 points of extra damage is a great way to boost your damage output without putting the success of your main weapon attack on the line.
Superior Technique/Battlemaster Maneuvers
The Battlemaster Fighter is an absolutely fantastic build to twin with Polearm Master. If you’re not playing a Battlemaster and have access to a Fighting Style, you can grab Superior Technique for a few superiority dice and a couple of Maneuvers anyway.
Maneuvers can do everything from give allies an extra attack to disarm your opponents – a particularly good shout if you want to really take being a battlefield controller to the extreme.
Build: The Battlefield Controller
If you want to make sure that the BBEG never gets a moment’s peace, and ends up spending the whole combat desperately trying to hit your unhittable ass while the rest of the party pelts them with arrows and magical attacks, grab the Polearm Master Feat and follow these basic steps.
- Pick a Fighter or Paladin for your class; something decidedly beefy that can dish and take damage for days – I suppose a Barbarian could also work too.
- Grab the Defense or Superior Technique Fighting Style; you’re going to be trying to put yourself in harm’s way as much as possible, so Defense can get your AC up even though your hands are too full to use a shield, or you can use your Maneuvers to disarm or temporarily boost your AC in sticky situations.
- Grab Sentinel as soon as possible; the ability to use an opportunity attack to reduce an enemy’s speed to 0, move away, rinse and repeat is the heart and soul of this build.
This build can control and frustrate solo enemies to no end. Bonus points if you’re playing a Paladin and pick up Compelled Duel, or a Battlemaster with Goading Strike, to ensure that your foe can’t turn their attention elsewhere.
This build is hugely evocative of Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones, dancing around an enemy, wearing them down with a thousand spear thrusts as they try and fail to get close enough to actually land a blow.
Build: The Whirlwind of Death
This build actually reminds me of another Dornish Polearm Master from GoT: Areo Hotah, the Captain of the Martell Guard, and one of the most underused characters in the series.
If you want to play a terrifying, glaive-twirling death dealer, then choose the Polearm Master Feat ASAP (play a Variant Human or choose the Custom Lineage option from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything to get a Feat at 1st level) and follow these steps.
- Pick a Fighter and then take the Samurai subclass at 3rd level; you can give yourself advantage on all weapon attacks for an entire round as a bonus action three times per long rest. Also, use your Action Surge ability on the same round you proc this feature for even more attacks.
- Take the Great Weapon Master Feat; apply the -5 to-hit modifier to your bonus attack while you have advantage (see above) to dramatically increase your chances of a juicy 10 points of extra damage.
- Also, use a Spear because – as confirmed by Jeremy Crawford – the Polearm Master Feat doesn’t require you to wield your weapon with two hands. Now, you can take a shield as well for some much needed AC (and Spartan flavor), or add the Dueling Fighting Style for a guaranteed +2 damage on all melee weapon attacks with that one weapon.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.