Welcome to our guide to the Savage Attacker feat, a neat way to get the most out of your melee weapon attacks in Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
The dire bear paces back and forth, spittle and blood dripping from its maw. Crouching its hind legs, the beast – having already slaughtered one adventurer outright and downed another – prepares to launch its final assault.
Teeth clenched, knuckles white on the haft of her greataxe, the Barbarian stares down this walking nightmare, eyes probing for a weak point in the beast’s hide.
The dire bear’s fur is already badly singed down its flank, where the party’s late warlock struck it with her Burning Hands, and the unconscious rogue managed to lodge two of his daggers deep in its ribs before being thrown hard against a nearby tree.
The Barbarian, the last member of her party still on her feet, knows it: the beast is on its last legs.
Grimacing, she lowers her shoulder and puts everything she has into a final, desperate swing… 17. A hit!
The DM, lightly coated in the sweat of someone who regrets deeply that they rolled for random encounters on the way to the 1st level dungeon, breathes a sigh of relief.
The dire bear has 5 hit points left. The Barbarian’s axe does 1d12 + 3 slashing damage. There’s virtually no way she doesn’t kill-
“Ah beans. I rolled a 1. That’s 4 slashing damage. Does that kill it?”
Regretfully, the DM shakes her head. “No. And now it’s the bear’s turn. So, for its first multi-attack…”
* Record Scratch*. Freeze Frame. “Has this ever happened to you?”
The biggest issue with weapons that use big dice (and the reason by Greatswords, which deal 2d6 instead of 1d12, are the superior choice for martial characters) is that if your damage die dishes out damage between 1 and 12, sometimes you’re gonna roll a 1.
This is not only frustrating but, as you can see in my totally-not-super-contrived example above, it can be the difference between a memorable victory (not to mention enough dire bear jerky to open your own artisanal boutique) and a TPK.
This is why I humbly suggest that you should consider picking up the Savage Attacker feat.
What’s a Feat?
Feats are an optional, woefully underused feature of D&D 5e.
Whenever your character has the option to take an Ability Score Increase, you can instead opt to choose from an extensive list of feats – special abilities, buffs, and tweaks that have the potential to completely rework the way you play your character, or just provide a nice incremental buff.
What Does the Savage Attacker Feat Do?
The Savage Attacker feat is a great way to get the most out of your melee weapon attacks because it effectively gives you “advantage” on your damage rolls.
Once per turn when you roll damage for a melee weapon attack, you can reroll the weapon’s damage dice and use either total.
Source: Player’s Handbook
It’s that simple. Whether you’re rolling 2d6 for a greatsword, 1d8 (or 1d10) for a longsword, or any other kind of melee weapon, once per turn you get to throw a bit of extra fury behind the attack, roll the damage twice, and choose the higher result.
It’s worth noting that the Savage Attacker feat explicitly applies to weapon damage.
This means that additional sources of damage, such as a rogue’s Sneak Attack damage (which is additional damage not originating from the weapon itself), cannot be rerolled.
There’s also some debate about how Savage Attacker interacts with Critical Hits.
Some argue that because the rules governing criticals (page 196 of the Player’s Handbook) state that on a critical hit, you roll all of the attack’s damage dice “twice,” that means you’re supposed to roll the weapon’s damage, and then roll an additional die to calculate the additional damage from the crit.
This is opposed to the rules saying that a crit doubles the damage dice of the weapon and is supported by the line “To speed up play, you can roll all the damage dice at once.”
It’s a pretty semantic distinction, but the upshot is that your DM should rule whether Savage Attacker lets you choose between rerolling the weapon’s base damage dice and the critical damage dice or whether you need to reroll the whole lot.
The argument for the “reroll everything” approach comes from the fact that if you’re using a weapon with multiple base damage dice (like a greatsword), you need to reroll both dice if you choose to trigger your Savage Attacker feat.
I’ve seen it interpreted both ways, and, as long as there’s a consistent ruling at your table, I’m not sure it matters.
Also, there are some magical weapons which inflict additional damage of a type other than bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing on a hit.
The Dragontooth Dagger, for example, inflicts an additional 1d6 poison damage on a hit.
Because this damage is described as being applied “in addition” to the base weapon’s damage, I would rule that it is applied in a way similar to Divine Smite and therefore can’t be rerolled using Savage Attacker.
So, remember when I said this was a really simple feat? Turns out there are some edge cases that undermine this assertion.
However, most of the time the Savage Attacker feat is simple and elegant: once per turn, grab those damage dice, roll them twice, and pick the best result.
The question remains, however…
Is the Savage Attacker Feat Good?
To figure out if it’s worth taking the Savage Attacker feat (remember that taking a Feat usually means forgoing an ability score increase), we need to do a little math.
How much extra damage does rerolling (usually) one damage die per turn actually equate to?
Well, some somewhat simple math shows us that the average increased result of rolling any die twice and taking the higher result is always roughly equal to 16% of the highest number on the die.
Therefore, rerolling a d4 gives an average of +0.62; rerolling 1d6 gives an average of +0.98; a 1d8 reroll gives an average of +1.30; rerolling 1d10 gives an average increase of +1.62; and rolling a d12 twice gives us an average bonus of +1.99.
As a side note, this math also applies to a d20, meaning that having advantage on an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw is usually going to give you an average bonus of about +3.33, which is actually a lot less impactful than I would have intuitively thought.
So, depending on the weapon your character is using, this feat can range from a measly 0.62 extra damage per turn to almost 2.
At lower levels – especially when dire bears are concerned – an average of 2 more points of damage per turn can be pretty huge. At higher levels… not so much.
When Should I Take the Savage Attacker Feat?
Weapon damage dice remain fixed, no matter the character’s level. A 1d8 longsword in the hands of a 1st level fighter still does the same base damage as the same sword in the hands of a 20th level fighter.
The difference in damage output is thanks to the fact that the 20th level fighter probably has a higher Strength modifier to add to the damage roll, and can attack multiple times per turn.
If Savage Attacker could be used on every attack made per turn, it would scale much better into higher-level play. It would also probably be broken as all hell.
House Rule Alert!
If I were going to make Savage Attacker a bit more powerful for higher level characters, I would rule that the feat’s effect could be triggered a number of times per round equal to half of the character’s Proficiency Bonus, rounded down (with a minimum of 1).
Characters taking this feat would still only be able to use it once per round from 1st to 8th level, getting another use between 9th and 16th, and getting to use it three times at high-tier play (17th to 20th).
It’s not a huge buff considering the power levels of other characters by this point and might do something to mitigate the fact that, even by second-tier play, Savage Attacker starts to feel kind of lackluster.
Also, if it could be applied to damage dealt other than the base weapon’s damage die, Savage Attacker would scale really well with classes that don’t have access to multi-attack, like the rogue.
However, due to the fact that we’re restricted to one use per turn and can’t reroll extra damage from sources like Sneak Attack and Divine Smite, we’re forced to conclude that Savage Attacker is definitely a low-level feat if we’re using the RAW.
4th level is probably the first and last time most classes want to grab this feat.
However, if you’re playing a Variant Human or using the custom lineage options made available as part of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, you get the opportunity to take a feat at 1st level, which is the ideal time to grab Savage Attacker.
Which Classes Should Take the Savage Attacker Feat?
Because Savage Attacker gives the biggest average damage buff to weapons with the biggest damage dice, this feat is almost exclusively the purview of classes with access to martial weapons.
Any class (fighters, paladins, war domain clerics, and barbarians are all good examples) that can pick up a martial melee weapon with a d10 (longsword held two-handed, glaives, and halberds, etc.), d12 (the greataxe), or 2d6 (the greatsword, which averages out to be about the same as a 1d12 weapon in terms of rerolled damage) is going to be a prime candidate.