How to Build a D&D Polearm Master That Might Be Better Than a Sharpshooter

When I wrote a post rating the Sharpshooter feat as overpowered and naming its combination with Crossbow Expert as the worst thing in Dungeons & Dragons, some readers stepped up to expose my bad take. But nobody said the feats were weaker than I claimed, because most folks who read my posts have played D&D.

Many folks refuted the power of Sharpshooter plus Crossbow Expert by naming a spell with the power to win an encounter. Animate objects (5th), mass suggestion (6th), and forcecage (7th) make particularly good examples. My posts on the most annoying lower-level spells and higher-level spells add ammunition to this line of thinking. Still, a look at the spells-per-level tables shows that even high-level spellcasters rarely get more than one chance to cast one of these spells per day. D&D lead designer Jeremey Crawford explains, “We constrain how many spell slots you get at those upper levels. You’ll look at your table of spells slots and you’ll go down the slope and you’ll get down there and you’ll go, “Oh, just one.” And it never goes up. That’s on purpose because it allows us to make 9th-level spells, for instance, just crazy bonkers. But you get that crazy bonkers no more than once a day.” Meanwhile, a martial character optimized for damage blows up every encounter.

Most commonly, folks tried to refute my point by citing other character builds they rate as even more broken. What could possibly be more ridiculous than the Sharpshooter and Crossbow Expert feats combined with either a fighter using the Samurai martial archetype or a ranger using the Gloom Stalker archetype? Also, you might ask how to build such ridiculous characters (but only because your story concept arrives there organically). Read on.

1. Great Weapon Master + Polearm Master

Great Weapon Master and Polearm Master offer the combination of feats most comparable to Sharpshooter and Crossbow Expert. Great Weapon Master lets characters trade -5 to hit for +10 damage with a heavy weapon, including polearms such as halberds and glaives. Polearm Master lets characters use a bonus action for an extra attack. Sure, the extra attack only starts with 1d4 damage, but when each hit still deals 13-15 points of fixed damage, the d4 is just seasoning. Plus, you can use a reaction to attack creatures who enter your 10-foot reach.

To create a character based on this combination, choose human to take Polearm Master at creation, then add Great Weapon Master at level 4.

Either barbarian or fighter makes a good class to combine with these feats.

  • Barbarians can use Reckless Attack to gain advantage, making landing blows at -5 easier.

  • The Battle Master fighter gets combat maneuvers like Trip Attack that enable you to gain advantage on follow up attacks. Later, the fighter gains more attacks. Plus the Riposte maneuver lets you use your reaction to attack creatures who miss you with a melee attack.

Are these feats better than Sharpshooter plus Crossbow Expert?

As strong as the combination of Great Weapon Master plus Polearm Master seems, three factors make it less troublesome in play.

  • These warriors must enter melee and stand in harm’s way. Flying foes can avoid their attacks.

  • These warriors usually must move to attack and to switch targets.

  • No fighting style comparable to archery offers a +2 bonus to hit with great weapon or polearm attacks.

Paladin also makes a fun combination with these feats, but the class needs both Charisma and Strength, so trading ability score improvements for feats hurts more.

2. Polearm Master + Sentinel

Polearm Master and Sentinel creates a combination of feats able to frustrate monsters and dungeon masters alike. The polearm master gains ways to trade bonus actions and reactions for extra attacks. When the sentinel lands an opportunity attack in a polearm’s 10-foot reach, the creature’s speed becomes 0. The combination of reach and literal stopping power lets these warriors plug a 25-foot gap.

To build a character based on this combination, choose human to start with your favorite of the two feats.

For fighters, choose the Defense fighting style. The Battle Master martial archetype brings several abilities that save your bonus actions and reactions for the feats. The Goading Attack, Lunging Attack, and Sweeping Attack maneuvers seem like particularly good picks.

The Cavalier martial archetype also combines well with these feats. The Unwavering Mark helps you draw attacks and punish foes who attack your allies.

Barbarians make a good match because they can shrug off damage better than any other class. Choose the Path of the Bear Totem Warrior for resistance to everything but psychic damage while you rage. The Path of the Ancestral Guardian also makes a good choice, although the Spirit Shield feature takes the reactions needed to power your Sentinel abilities.

Unlike armored fighters, unarmored barbarians need Dexterity and Constitution to gain a high armor class, so they suffer more when they trade an ability score improvement for a feat.

Are these feats better than Sharpshooter plus Crossbow Expert?

A character built on these feats rates as the best way to frustrate monsters and DMs looking to maneuver past the party’s front line. Still, these characters shine less in bigger spaces, when attacks come from multiple directions, and against ranged and flying foes.

While these combinations prove strong, they lack the consistent dominance of Sharpshooter plus Crossbow Expert. But forget feats. The most common builds rated as more powerful combined a paladin’s martial proficiency and smite ability with a spellcasting class able to fuel more smites.

Next: The best multiclass combinations with paladin

Related:
How to Build a Sharpshooter Who Wins D&D.
The Two D&D Feats Everyone Loves (For Someone Else’s Character)

6 thoughts on “How to Build a D&D Polearm Master That Might Be Better Than a Sharpshooter

  1. Johnathan

    I had a hexblade warlock who had a massive flat bonus to damage from using Cha as the attack ability and adding it again as necrotic from the invocation. Top with great weapon and polearm master for unreasonable damage per round.

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  4. Tim C

    The problem is the best sharpshooter class is 1 Fighter/X Bard. So they are only 1 level behind a pure caster on spell progression. You can build 16 Con 16 Dex 13 Cha, and just avoid spells that require spellcasting rolls/saves while still having a great spell selection. If you go college of swords your hand crossbow is a spellcasting focus and you also have access to powerful flourishes which means you can use your inspiration dice without needing to use your reactions or bonus actions. You get an extra attack at bard level 6 (level 7) which keeps you having the same number of attacks as fighters until they get 3 attacks. Close to the point where melee classes get 3 attacks you can get summon greater steed off magical secrets and have a flying mount that attacks twice with a disengage or 3 times without, resulting in you having 4 to 5 attacks a round. Archer giving +2 accuracy is hugely synergistic with sharpshooter while great weapon fighter doesn’t have supporting to hit bonuses so misses far more often.

    That being said the best polearm master class is probably 1 Barbarian/X Bard going for an armor of agathys+rage build. You have enough battlefield control to force people to attack you and you can keep temporary hitpoints up a long time since you’re only taking half damage, which really helps dish out the cold damage. Polearm Master + Sentinel really lets you control the front line, but your damage output suffers slightly without great weapon fighter, which isn’t really worth getting until you have 20 Strength, since polearm master gives you a bonus action attack anyways. If you really want the higher AC from heavy armor ignoring dex, you can go for a fighter 1/X bard build here too, although you no longer get armor of agathys + rage.

    Ideally I’d want one of each build in the party as the sharpshooter can push people backwards to prevent them from getting any melee attacks off since the polearm master stops their movement outside of their melee attack range. Similarly, the polearm master can push people backwards out of range so they have to reenter next turn, so those bardic dice turn into extra attacks.

    College of Swords allowing any martial weapon as a spellcasting focus wasn’t well thought out as it makes hand crossbows and polearms into spell foci. Not going lore as a bard has some drawbacks, most notably you don’t get counterspell up and running early, but it’s still worthwhile. Not having charisma as a primary stat means you miss out on some powerful spells but you’re still a great caster.

    Theros makes things even more extreme as you can play a class that gets a double feat at level 1, so you can start with Polearm Master + Sentinel or Sharpshooter and Crossbow expert and go for raising strength or dex at level 5 and 9.

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