D&D 5E Have we misunderstood the shield and sword fighter (or warrior)?


log in or register to remove this ad

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
(I'm going to be using the term fighter, but also applies to a paladin and some other "warrior" concepts).

There has been a lot of discussion how in 5e the shield and weapon using fighter is a bit... underwhelming... when compared to other options. This is mainly due to limited feat support: I'm doing 1d8+7 with my sword and dueling fighting style fighter, while the PAM/GWM is doing massive damage.
IMO. There are multiple paths to damage for a fighter/paladin/etc. You mentioned 1 above and that is feats. However, there is also multiclassing and multiclassing further drifts into 2 paradigms - high single damage attack + reaction attack (often rogue) - or many attacks with damage enhancement.

One of my favorite builds combines that together, while using a sword and shield. Battlemaster Fighter 5 Genie Warlock X.

  • Start with sword and shield and dueling style.
  • You can go str or dex but i recommend dex.
  • Take battlemaster maneuvers for reaction attacks (Riposte/Brace). I'd recomend precision or trip attack.
  • For warlock you get genie pact proficiency bonus damage boost and will want hex and then later on to transition to shadowblade.

By level 10 you can be doing 3d8+7 for 2 attacks (often with advantage) and make a reaction brace/riposte attack for 4d8+7 most rounds.
Continuing in warlock can eventually get you another d8 per attack and also +cha mod to damage. Nearing max level that looks like 4d8+12 damage x2 and 5d8+12 damage on reaction brace/riposte attacks. If you find a strong magic weapon spirit shroud works as a great replacement for shadowblade.

By level 10 you should be matching or out performing GWM and possibly GWM+PAM fighters in damage.

Also, the Battlemaster 3/Rogue X is similar but more skills and a little less damage.

I don't think you were meaning your post to extol the benefits of multiclassing for sword and shield fighters though. Outside of multiclassing fighter as you define it doesn't just have to compete with GWM/PAM and CBE/SS, they also have to compete with casters. Yes, casters have a different feel and aesthetic, but in terms of power and versatility, something like a simple life cleric likely outdoes or at least matches a non-feated non-multiclassed fighter in damage, while having alot more versatility and generally more useful out of combat stats. They can easily take a similar feats as they really can get by without upping their primary stats if desired. Save for half damage spirit guardians and auto hit healing spells / bless tend to mean they can live without max wisdom (wisdom is still really nice for them though).

What if this was... on purpose? Or if it's not on purpose, what if this was a "happy accident?"

If we look at a featless game, sword and board is actually somewhat better - if you take dueling fighting style, your damage output is basically the same as a 2 handed weapon and you have a shield!

So in a game with feats, because you really can't take things to improve your fighting style (there is shield master but it's... decent, not great?), you can take... whatever feat you want! Or just increase your stats if you don't like feats. You don't feel the "pressure" to take those "important" combat feats because they are simply not meaningful to you.
There are still incredibly strong feats for sword and shield. Any feat that grants even a single cast of hex per day is very strong. The feat for more battlemaster manuevers is very nice as well. Sentinel pairs very well. Inspiring leader and chef are solid defensive staples. Lucky is solid all around.

Never underestimate what a Battlemaster using Action Surge + trip attack + precision attack + hex can output as damage. It's incredible even if hex is limited to once per day.

I once made a dex-built melee fighter with shield and sword, and for feats by the end of the campaign I had ritual caster, chef, lucky ... was my PC as hard hitting as he could have been? No, but he was very versatile - a better rounded adventurer vs a mere DPS machine. I'm sure there are many other example of fun and useful combos a PC could have when they aren't "forced" to take PAM/GWM or SS/CE....
Sure. I mean you can use those feats with a greatsword and defensive style just as easily though. It's just the tradeoff feels better as you don't feel like you are giving up as much by not having the GWM/PAM feat option.

EDIT: to be clear: Sword and Shield is a bit better to compensate for the lack of feats
I think only slightly so. And it comes with some noticable downsides. Changing to a ranged weapon when wielding a shield is rough. Grappling when using a shield is rough. There's always the concern that without significant damage output that enemies can just ignore the high ac fighter (different dm npc battle tactics really change things).

I say all of this and I should note that my favorite melee character I've played has been a bear totem barbarian / swashbuckler. No feats. Focused on Con (was the only melee character in the party). Playing a fairly simple martial really freed up my mental load to be used for PC behavior and comments. Tactically the speed from rogue cunning action made engaging an enemy away from my allies work and the high OA damage coupled with the distance gap encouraged enemies to focus me instead of allies. I'd often grapple enemies as well just to be sure.

I'm honestly with you on the feats, they are strong but fairly boring. There's a more fun way to play, but with creative multiclassing you don't have to give up significant effectiveness. I do think going just sword and shield single class fighter is a waste. You don't end up doing significantly more damage than cantrips and have none of the versatility of casters (including clerics who can match your AC).
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
For Sword and Shield specifically, I think the Shield doesn't give enough of a benefit to make up for the huge difference in damage if feats are involved, at least for a Fighter. Without feats, it should be better, yeah.
If I recall a shield +2 doesn't require atunement. So if you get enough magic items that atunement is a concern then shields are typically going to be better than +2 ac. That's something that's usually left out of the analysis but is very important IMO.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
Mechanically, I am 100% ok with a spear fighter getting one "quick extra jab" doing a bit less damage. Twirling the spear around one handed? uuuugh.

I think making a "butt attack" was probably a mistake in the first place - while the "bo" style of staff fighting with both ends is legit and does exist, in the west both quarterstaves and polearms a grip designed to maximized reach. Another "bonus" for being a polearm master probably would have been better...
I always think of most uses of PAM to be more like flipping it "around" from axe-blade to pointy-bit at the same end of the polearm rather than butt-end, which is very viable, but only really when you're surrounded and hit a second opponent. (Not a polearm's intended fighting style, but something any competent fighter ought to be able to do in a pinch).

I think we can all agree that even in general, the flipping the staff around idea is based on an incomplete understanding of fighting by whoever wrote that bit of fluff (and you're right, it comes mostly from how bojutsu works). The idea that you could somehow get an extra attack (that you somehow couldn't get by just thrusting the same end again) is just plain ridiculous.
 

Zubatcarteira

Now you're infected by the Musical Doodle
If I recall a shield +2 doesn't require atunement. So if you get enough magic items that atunement is a concern then shields are typically going to be better than +2 ac. That's something that's usually left out of the analysis but is very important IMO.
Items are entirely DM dependant, so it's usually easier to ignore them. If you can get the ones you want, then magic shields would get you way higher, yeah, you can easily get 25+ AC with them and magic armor.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Items are entirely DM dependant,
Yes
so it's usually easier to ignore them.
I disagree. Just because it depends on the current campaign doesn't mean we can just ignore them. When the difference with and without coupled with the liklihood they are present in a random campaign isn't miniscule and that's enough to potentially change the analysis then it's worth noting that difference exists for games where such circumstances are present.
If you can get the ones you want, then magic shields would get you way higher, yeah, you can easily get 25+ AC with them and magic armor.
It's not even about 'getting what you want'. Magic shields aren't exactly a rare magic item to see handed out.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
If PAM is okay using a spear 1 handed, why isn't it okay if holding a sword or hitting someone with the shield? Whacking some with the pommel or cross guard of the sword was absolutely a thing.

It's not the ability to get the bonus attack that bothers me per se, it's the weirdly narrow application.
That's kind of the point, though isn't it? Why would you ban something that allows you to do the thing you think you should be able to do, just because someone wrote some dumb fluff for it? (Not the sword part, I mean for a spear fighter).

Would it help if we reworded the feat (Exactly the same mechanically) so that it was:

Spear'n'Shield Combo

When you take the Attack action and attack with a spear, you can use a bonus action to make a melee attack with an equipped shield. This attack uses the same ability modifier as the primary attack. The shield’s damage die for this attack is a d4, and it deals bludgeoning damage.
While you are wielding a spear with a shield, other creatures provoke an opportunity attack from you when they enter the reach you have with that your spear.
 

I always think of most uses of PAM to be more like flipping it "around" from axe-blade to pointy-bit at the same end of the polearm rather than butt-end, which is very viable, but only really when you're surrounded and hit a second opponent. (Not a polearm's intended fighting style, but something any competent fighter ought to be able to do in a pinch).

I think we can all agree that even in general, the flipping the staff around idea is based on an incomplete understanding of fighting by whoever wrote that bit of fluff (and you're right, it comes mostly from how bojutsu works). The idea that you could somehow get an extra attack (that you somehow couldn't get by just thrusting the same end again) is just plain ridiculous.
I've always looked at the "butt attack" (as my players put it) as using the haft of the weapon in a sideways strike, which is based on the actual use of several polearms. If you had to swing the whole weapon around, I'd hope you didn't have any friends standing nearby :oops:
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
I've always looked at the "butt attack" (as my players put it) as using the haft of the weapon in a sideways strike, which is based on the actual use of several polearms. If you had to swing the whole weapon around, I'd hope you didn't have any friends standing nearby :oops:

It's funny, because they left the Pike out of that attack, which presumes that even the designer felt that turning a pike all the way around was a step too far.

It's too far with the other weapons as well.

The solution is not to limit it to weapons that someone who doesn't know what they're talking about would think would work - the solution ought to be to change the fluff. There's many, many ways why any of that group of weapons (and, as @Oofta says, many other weapons, and weapon combinations) could have to get an extra 1d4 bludgeoning thump in.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I would need to be on a PC to write a full reply, but I will say the central bit:

I didn't really consider the subclasses, because they benefit most styles roughly equally

EDIT: this was to @FrogReaver re considering the damage outpout of some subclasses
 
Last edited:

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Holding the spear (or staff...) with one-hand and doing a reverse spin to swing the butt-end around is easy enough. It isn't as effective (hence the low damage), but can catch an opponent off guard.
Sure, which is why I said there are some cases where you might do so. It’s just not typically going to be your best option. And it certainly won’t be catching anyone off-guard when you do it consistently every 6 seconds 😜
I had a PC who was a spear/shield ranger with Dueling and STR 18 and PAM, so the butt-end damage was d4+6. :D
Yeah, it’s a pretty strong style, but I think balanced fine compared to PAM with a halberd or glaive and defense fighting style. Same average damage, just sacrificing the higher maximum and Reach for +1 AC. Also both hands are continually occupied instead of having one hand free when you aren’t attacking.
 

ECMO3

Hero
I would need to be on a PC to write a full reply, but I will say the central bit:

I didn't really consider the subclasses, because they benefit most styles roughly equally
I would not agree with this. Champion and Purple Dragon are the only ones that really apply equally.

Rune Knight for example gets an extra 1d6 damage with one hit a turn, but you have to hit to get it, so doing GWM and reducing your hit chance reduces your chance to land that extra damage. RK also gets advantage to strength checks which is going to be of more benefit to someone who us doing strength checks regularly, like tavern brawler or shield master.

Eldritch Knight gets a bonus action attack when he uses cantrip. In play this gives him an extra 1d8 damage using a blade cantrip for the EK (or more if 2 enemies are close together). Cavalier also gets a bonus action attack up to 5 times a day if an enemy hits someone else. These directly conflict with PAM bonus action attack though.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
It's funny, because they left the Pike out of that attack, which presumes that even the designer felt that turning a pike all the way around was a step too far.

It's too far with the other weapons as well.

The solution is not to limit it to weapons that someone who doesn't know what they're talking about would think would work - the solution ought to be to change the fluff. There's many, many ways why any of that group of weapons (and, as @Oofta says, many other weapons, and weapon combinations) could have to get an extra 1d4 bludgeoning thump in.
It’s viable in some situations. Just usually not the best option.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Sure, which is why I said there are some cases where you might do so. It’s just not typically going to be your best option. And it certainly won’t be catching anyone off-guard when you do it consistently every 6 seconds 😜
But think about how good you would be at it doing it every 6 seconds! :D

Yeah, it’s a pretty strong style, but I think balanced fine compared to PAM with a halberd or glaive and defense fighting style. Same average damage, just sacrificing the higher maximum and Reach for +1 AC. Also both hands are continually occupied instead of having one hand free when you aren’t attacking.
I think overall it is well-balanced between the different build types, each have their strengths and weaknesses of course.
 

Digdude@1970

Just a dude with a shovel, looking for the past.
?????

When did you look? Spears have always been polearms. They are the quintesential pole arm. Most would consider quarterstaffs and cudgels to be pole arms too.

A pole arm means literally a weapon (arm) made from a pole.
 

Digdude@1970

Just a dude with a shovel, looking for the past.
Help yourself to a quick wiki search. There are no staves, cudgels, or any other far-fetched wooden poles except for weapons with heads attached. All shown are two handed wooden shafts with all kinds of shapes of weapon heads.
 



James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Help yourself to a quick wiki search. There are no staves, cudgels, or any other far-fetched wooden poles except for weapons with heads attached. All shown are two handed wooden shafts with all kinds of shapes of weapon heads.
Ok, so I went to Wikipedia, and found this:

In the words of the arms expert Ewart Oakeshott-
Staff-weapons in Medieval or Renaissance England were lumped together under the generic term "staves" but when dealing with them in detail we are faced with terminological difficulty. There never seems to have been a clear definition of what was what; there were apparently far fewer staff-weapons in use than there were names to call them by; and contemporary writers up to the seventeenth century use these names with abandon, calling different weapons by the same name and similar weapons by different names. To add to this, we have various nineteenth century terminologies used by scholars. We must remember too that any particular weapon ... had everywhere a different name.
So apparently calling a polearm a "staff-weapon" or "stave" was perfectly legitimate.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top