My favorite feat in the entire game of 5e, Great Weapon Master. A feat so powerful, that many Dungeons and Dragons players deem it broken and potentially ban-worthy.
But the question becomes when to use it? After all, against a monster with a 24 AC. It seems unwise to use Great Weapon Master when you take a reduction to hit. But is that actually the case? Well, it depends on a variety of factors.
As such, I will be evaluating GWM in 5 different regards, Barbarian v FIghter, DPR gain from it, advantage to hit, disadvantage to hit, and appropriate AC to attack. So, curious to see the results? I know I was. Let’s begin.
What is Great Weapon Master in 5e?
For those of you who do not know what Great Weapon Master is, GWM is a feat found on page 167 of the Players Handbook. It states:
While attacking with a heavy weapon, killing a creature or landing a critical hit, allows you to make an additional attack with your bonus action. Moreover, you can take a -5 to hit to deal +10 damage if you hit.
This is used for those that forgo the defense capabilities of a shield and favor damage through weapons such as a greatsword or greataxe. The key part that everyone talks about is not the extra attack, but the bonus to damage when you attack. Considering you can have this feat at level 1 where the average hp is 24. You can literally one shot the average monster making you a threat to deal with.
As such most people assume the best classes to use this ability are those with lots of attacks or able to take a hit. Such as the fighter or Barbarian. But who is the better Great Weapon master? Well here are the results.
Great Weapon Master: Barbarian v Fighter
Now comes the question of a Barbarian v Fighter. Who is the better Great Weapon Master. The answer, Barbarians dominate the field. Simple as that. The only time a fighter beats a barbarian is when they are level 20. Until then, factoring in the average monsters AC at each level, Barbarians rage bonus, and advantage, a Barbarian will deal at their peak average, 36.61 points of damage in a round with GWM.
A fighter will have a DPR of 31.53. Meaning, a barbarian will deal 5 more points on average in a round then a fighter will. This is assuming the fighter does not have advantage but the Barbarian does due to reckless attack.
Now before we continue, I do need to state, this is the highest average. Obviously a Barbarian or fighter can do more damage then this in a round. But when you factor in how much he misses as well, this is their average DPR. It also does not factor in magic weapons since they are so unique per campaign. So take that into account as well. This baseline of class abilities and mundane items
If a fighter has advantage, then he will still underperform the barbarian by roughly 2 points from levels 1-10. Once a Fighter reaches level 11 though, the fighter will outperform dealing almost 10 points more, a 46.47 DPR.
So, in general, a barbarians class synergizes much higher than a fighter with GWM. Making them the ultimate Great Weapon Fighter. However, if a fighter can gain consistent advantage every attack and attack 3 or more times, Then the fighter will overshadow the barbarian by a lot.
GWM: DPR Gain
Now that we know who the ultimate Great Weapon Fighter is, lets apply it to every adventurer. I’ve already briefly talked about a fighter, but let’s see the specifics.
A fighter will on average gain a 31.43% increase in DPR with Great weapon Master. Of course this is skewed due to a 93% increase at level 20 from 4 attacks. Therefore, not factoring level 20, they gain a 28% increase. To put this more simply, from levels 1-19, you will on average deal 28% more damage with GWM then without.
A barbarian, on the other hand, has a lower DPR increase with Great Weapon Master in 5e. They have only a 3.95% increase throughout levels 1-20. But more surprising, they actually have a negative return on 5 of their 20 levels. This was unique as no other class has a negative DPR for GWM. Even more, they dealt the highest damage out of any class with Great Weapon Master in 5e.
Upon further look, it’s just that good a class for hitting things. A barbarian with his bonus rage damage will deal more than Great Weapon Master. Meaning if you do not have advantage your rage damage will do almost on par with GWM overall. A surprising result to be sure.
Finally, we have other classes that attack twice or once. A class that attacks twice will have less DPR increase than one attack class. With a 14.22% increase for two attack classes, but a 16.10% increase for one attack classes. While that might be the case percentage-wise, two attack classes have a higher average DPR than one-hitters. So they are considered better. To help, here’s a chart that shows DPR increase for each class to use for your games. I hope it helps.
But what about a DPR increase with Advantage? The general rule of thumb is always to use Great Weapon Master if you have advantage. This holds to be true. On average, if you have advantage with Great Weapon Master in 5e you will see a 35-41% increase in damage unless you’re a barbarian. They will see a 20-35% increase in DPR.
This solidifies the statement above about advantage but let’s look at some actual numbers as well. A fighter without advantage will deal on average 22.78 damage a turn using Great Weapon Master in 5e. However, a Fighter with consistent advantage will see an 11 point increase in average damage-dealing 33.31 points of damage a turn. Greatly increasing your character’s ability to kill enemies.
But what about a Barbarian? Their rage bonus heavily affects their class’s DPR increase. So much that if the Barbarian doesn’t have advantage he should consider not using GWM in general. A barbarian will still see an increase of roughly 26.35%. In other words 6 more points of damage over a round. A barbarian with advantage but without Great Weapon Master in 5e, will deal 23 points of damage. But a Barbarian with both advantage and GWM will deal 29 points of damage.
Meaning, a Barbarian can consistently deal 29 points of damage a turn with no magical weapons and just attacking. Brutal for anyone fighting them.
And next comes the second part for Great Weapon Master, disadvantage. The assumption for Great Weapon Master is to never attack with disadvantage. This is 100% true. A character can see anywhere from a 30-40% decrease in damage when using Great Weapon Master. And to specify this percentage drop is assuming you already have disadvantage on the attack.
If you are going from the damage difference between using GWM with advantage verses GWM with disadvantage, the difference is over 73.2%. Meaning you if you had advantage on your first round of attacks but disadvantage on your second round of attacks, you will see a 73% drop in damage compared to your first round. That is huge.
Therefore, if you are going to attack with disadvantage, chances are high you should probably not. A Barbarian will deal 7.88 points of damage on average. Meanwhile, a fighter will do slightly more due to their ability to attack 3 times, giving them 8.9 points of damage on average. Still significantly lower than attacking at disadvantage without using Great weapon Master in 5e.
GWM: What AC to attack
So as can be seen Great Weapon Master in 5e will see large swings of damage for those using it. With a Barbarian being the best for damage unless a fighter has advantage. And while that might be useful information for deciding what class to choose for your great weapon fighting adventurer, the real question becomes at what AC should I hit at.
Well, you’re in luck I compiled the information using a simple algebra formula that I found on Giant tip. From there I used the average AC you expect to see at each level coupled with a few other formulas for advantage and disadvantage and pesto a chart that shows you that if an enemy’s AC is that or lower at each level, then you should attack with Great Weapon Master.
As you can see appropriate uses for Great Weapon master in 5e are generally against enemies with AC 16 or lower starting out. However, by level 20 using it against 21 AC monsters should be a regular use as well. The reason being, the DPR increase is positive meaning you should.
Now, this does not take into account situational things. Such as is the boss on his last legs and just needs to hit? If so, your better off to just attack regularly as all that matters at that point is hitting.
What is interesting the most was the severe drop in AC for attacking ranging from 14-15AC or lower. Meaning if you compare by level 5, the average monster has a higher AC than the recommended disadvantage chart. Therefore, you have a shot from level 1-4 to be positive on your DPR with disadvantage. However, after level 5, it is highly recommended not too.
Great Weapon Master 5e: Conclusion
And there you have it when to and not use Great Weapon Master, as well as which class is the best Great Weapon Fighter. With this, you should now know how much damage you should expect to do on average when you are using Great Weapon Master as well as gaining a chart that shows you the AC you should or should not attack at.
If you enjoyed this one, then you will love my post on bless as well since it goes over a little bit about the hit chances with Great Weapon Master and how much it improves it’s DPR and to hit chances.
- P.S. If you enjoyed this post and want to analyze your own spells, monsters, and encounters, download my D&D calculator! It’s a tool I use to calculate true DPR for spells and monsters in my campaigns. If you are still unsure by my little blurb then check out the review I made and see all the nifty abilities it has!