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


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FitzTheRuke

Legend
So PAM+spear+shield makes some logical sense and helps the modest-but-dependable spear finding a niche (for whoever isn't a monk). But PAM+staff+shield... Put me in the camp of "cheese".

Yeah, I think the problem comes from the fact that while you can certainly thrust with a staff, its not it's most effective attack. A solid shot will hurt, but it would be hard-pressed to KILL. Even if a spear is just a staff with a pointy bit on the end - the pointy bit is important. You pretty much really do need to swing a staff to do much damage with it.

A martial artist friend of mine worked hard to get good at the pairing of a sword and a staff after watching Gandalf do it. He was pretty good. As a person that sparred with him, it was a scary thing to face. However, it wasn't exactly hard to disarm him of the staff. It's not so much that he couldn't effectively attack with it, he could - but he couldn't hold onto it if you blocked really hard.

That's actually one of the unsung benefits of wielding a weapon in two hands. It's really much easier not to lose it.
 
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(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.

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.

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....

EDIT: to be clear: Sword and Shield is a bit better to compensate for the lack of feats
This IMO isn't the problem at all. The problem is threefold:
  • Sword and Board combat basically caps when your Str hits 20
  • Str sword & board is no better than Dex sword & board at hitting people thanks to the rapier being as good as the longsword. And it's worse >90% of the rest of the time.
  • Synergies and anti-synergies apply
First increasing your strength bonus by +1 has roughly the combat effectiveness of either Great Weapon Master or Polearm Master assuming you have no other relevant bonuses - and no other feat comes terribly close (not even Sentinel). I can't be bothered to go through the math here - but what this means in practice is that there are three ASI equivalents possible for either greatweapon or polearm fighters and only two for sword & board fighters. This means that the sword & board fighter lags behind badly at level 8 when you get your third ASI unless you switch to one handed spear & shield/polearm master (and see below for why that doesn't always work).

Second the Versatile ability of the Longsword is a ribbon ability that almost no one uses (especially with duelist style). What this means in practice is that if you assume equivalent stats a Dex based sword & board fighter with a rapier will do exactly the same damage as a Str based fighter with a longsword. But (even assuming heavy armour) Dex applies to initiative, one of your best saves, and multiple skills including stealth. Dex >> Str. Further if you want Dex-melee there's a good case for going ranger not fighter for a whole lot of interesting choices.

Finally there are synergies - with sword & board being the basic "nothing to see here".
  • Great Weapon Master really gains from easy attack modifiers, so it's awesome for reckless barbarians and for battlemasters
  • Polearm Master requires bonus actions and benefits from static damage boosts so it's best with Paladins. The Barbarian uses a bonus action to enter Rage and the Fighter for Second Wind. And subclasses like Echo Knight and Rune Knight use bonus actions for their class features a lot
  • Polearms (and especially PAM) work better with duelist than with Great Weapon Fighter. It's one of the many things that leads to the spear-and-shield combination.
But I think the big thing is that the sword & board fighters stop scaling with ASIs at level 6 for fighters and 8 for anyone else - and the great weapons and polearms at 8/12. And they don't just stop but might as well be dex based.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
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.

What if this was... on purpose? Or if it's not on purpose, what if this was a "happy accident?"
Since feats are "optional" according to the Player's Handbook, I think it's safe to assume that lack of feat support was intentional.

Maybe the design intent back in 2014 was to add more "sword and board" flavored feats, fighting styles, etc., in later books. But there certainly hasn't been much added since.
 

Horwath

Hero
Simple feat to help sword&board type:

Shield basher:
+1 str, dex or con

as a Bonus action you can make one attack with a shield or make one shove attempt.

Attack deals 1d6 B damage, or P if you add spikes to the shield.
you add STR to attack and damage.
any +X bonus to AC from shield adds +X to attack and damage of this attack or Athletics check to Shove.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
Simple feat to help sword&board type:

Shield basher:
+1 str, dex or con

as a Bonus action you can make one attack with a shield or make one shove attempt.

Attack deals 1d6 B damage, or P if you add spikes to the shield.
you add STR to attack and damage.
any +X bonus to AC from shield adds +X to attack and damage of this attack or Athletics check to Shove.
That sounds inherently much better than Two-Weapon fighter with Dual Wielder feat. And by the time you get a feat at level 4, you're not far off from your extra attack at level 5 so i'm taking this in consideration too.

You get a +1 to one ability score
Shield in itself is +1 AC over TWF+DW
Since you get to use your Str bonus without spending a fighting style, you can use dueling for +2 damage on your main attack (so that's +4 assuming extra attack)
your magical "off hand weapon" also gives bonus to AC and Athletics checks
all that for a drop from 1d8 to 1d6 for your off-hand weapon.

And yes, TWF+DW is fully dex-compatible while this imposes Str on the bonus action attack (main attacks can still use Dex). Still, too powerful for 2014 benchmarks. The Shield Master feat is actually not bad, even with the erratum that bonus action shove/trip must be done after attacks.

[edit] even if the problem lies with TWF, it's still powerful compared to Polearm Master and other feats/abilities allowing attack on bonus action.
 

Argyle King

Legend
This IMO isn't the problem at all. The problem is threefold:
  • Sword and Board combat basically caps when your Str hits 20
  • Str sword & board is no better than Dex sword & board at hitting people thanks to the rapier being as good as the longsword. And it's worse >90% of the rest of the time.
  • Synergies and anti-synergies apply
First increasing your strength bonus by +1 has roughly the combat effectiveness of either Great Weapon Master or Polearm Master assuming you have no other relevant bonuses - and no other feat comes terribly close (not even Sentinel). I can't be bothered to go through the math here - but what this means in practice is that there are three ASI equivalents possible for either greatweapon or polearm fighters and only two for sword & board fighters. This means that the sword & board fighter lags behind badly at level 8 when you get your third ASI unless you switch to one handed spear & shield/polearm master (and see below for why that doesn't always work).

Second the Versatile ability of the Longsword is a ribbon ability that almost no one uses (especially with duelist style). What this means in practice is that if you assume equivalent stats a Dex based sword & board fighter with a rapier will do exactly the same damage as a Str based fighter with a longsword. But (even assuming heavy armour) Dex applies to initiative, one of your best saves, and multiple skills including stealth. Dex >> Str. Further if you want Dex-melee there's a good case for going ranger not fighter for a whole lot of interesting choices.

Finally there are synergies - with sword & board being the basic "nothing to see here".
  • Great Weapon Master really gains from easy attack modifiers, so it's awesome for reckless barbarians and for battlemasters
  • Polearm Master requires bonus actions and benefits from static damage boosts so it's best with Paladins. The Barbarian uses a bonus action to enter Rage and the Fighter for Second Wind. And subclasses like Echo Knight and Rune Knight use bonus actions for their class features a lot
  • Polearms (and especially PAM) work better with duelist than with Great Weapon Fighter. It's one of the many things that leads to the spear-and-shield combination.
But I think the big thing is that the sword & board fighters stop scaling with ASIs at level 6 for fighters and 8 for anyone else - and the great weapons and polearms at 8/12. And they don't just stop but might as well be dex based.

I can't entirely tell if you're saying "sword & board" is good or bad.

I would agree that being Dex-based tends to be better.

Personally, I almost always go sword & board when playing a fighter (or paladin). Despite the various forums saying GWM and two-handed is better, I haven't seen that be the case very often.

In the long run, I've found that consistent damage while not getting hit tends to be better than higher potential damage combined with being hit more. For a DEX-based sword & board fighter, you also have the option of switching to a ranged weapon when needed -continuing to output consistent damage in scenarios during which the enemy can't even attack you.
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
Simple feat to help sword&board type:

Shield basher:
+1 str, dex or con

as a Bonus action you can make one attack with a shield or make one shove attempt.

Attack deals 1d6 B damage, or P if you add spikes to the shield.
you add STR to attack and damage.
any +X bonus to AC from shield adds +X to attack and damage of this attack or Athletics check to Shove.
Too strong.
 

I can't entirely tell if you're saying "sword & board" is good or bad.
That's because I'm not. I'm saying that sword and board is fine while you have up to two ASIs. It's not especially inspiring but it's decent and some people like the lack of frills. Great weapons and polearms on the other hand both have a feat that is competitive with an ASI in your primary stat (GWF and PAM) so they pull away at the third ASI. However 90% of games don't go above level 10 meaning it only really matters for fighters (and barbarians who have massive synergy with GWF).

I'm also saying that dex based > str based for sword & board.
In the long run, I've found that consistent damage while not getting hit tends to be better than higher potential damage combined with being hit more.
In the long run AC isn't that useful at high levels - and at low levels barbarian damage reduction is really useful. The only barbarian build I wouldn't go great weapon with is the shifter with claws.
For a DEX-based sword & board fighter, you also have the option of switching to a ranged weapon when needed -continuing to output consistent damage in scenarios during which the enemy can't even attack you.
And this is why for a STR based fighter you carry javelins.
 


Oofta

Legend
Dex + Shield synergizes with the Dex save part of the Shield Master feat, but not with the bonus action shove part of it. There's just no winning.
The bonus to dex save from Shield Master only applies if you're the sole target which only applies to 4 spells that I know of. I guess using your reaction to negate damage if you saved is okay, but as you state it primarily helps dex builds.

It's a pretty pointless feat for the saving throw bonus, if your DM rules that you can't do the shove until the end of your turn it's worth even less.
 


Oofta

Legend
At least it's a solid way to get a bonus action shove for a grappling build. You can get your thing going from lv1.
According to sage advice you have to take the bonus action after you have completed your attack action. So ... I still think it's pretty pointless. If you're doing a grapple you'd have to, what, make an attack with a weapon then put the weapon away and then grapple? I suppose that could work, not sure I see the point.

I rule that it works just like bonus action spells, as long as you take the attack action on your turn the bonus action can come at any time.
 

Horwath

Hero
That sounds inherently much better than Two-Weapon fighter with Dual Wielder feat. And by the time you get a feat at level 4, you're not far off from your extra attack at level 5 so i'm taking this in consideration too.

You get a +1 to one ability score
Shield in itself is +1 AC over TWF+DW
Since you get to use your Str bonus without spending a fighting style, you can use dueling for +2 damage on your main attack (so that's +4 assuming extra attack)
your magical "off hand weapon" also gives bonus to AC and Athletics checks
all that for a drop from 1d8 to 1d6 for your off-hand weapon.

And yes, TWF+DW is fully dex-compatible while this imposes Str on the bonus action attack (main attacks can still use Dex). Still, too powerful for 2014 benchmarks. The Shield Master feat is actually not bad, even with the erratum that bonus action shove/trip must be done after attacks.

[edit] even if the problem lies with TWF, it's still powerful compared to Polearm Master and other feats/abilities allowing attack on bonus action.
1. PAM is 10ft reach bonus action attack so it should be lower, yes you can use it on non-reach weapon, but that is simply willingly doing a bad build. Also PAM gives you very reliable way to use your reaction for attack.
PAM attacks shares enchantment with main attack. I.E. "flaming" is very good on basic 1d4 attack.

2. TWF sucks. it sucks as base usage, with style and with feat. Maybe if dual-wielder is a half-feat it would be decent. Or if offhand attack is part of Attack Action. Or if you get 2 off-hand attacks with style when you get Extra attack feature.

3. all feats in 2014 benchmark except PAM, GWM, SS, CE, HAM, maybe Resilient wis/con are not worth losing +2 to primary ability.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
1. PAM is 10ft reach bonus action attack so it should be lower, yes you can use it on non-reach weapon, but that is simply willingly doing a bad build. Also PAM gives you very reliable way to use your reaction for attack.
PAM attacks shares enchantment with main attack. I.E. "flaming" is very good on basic 1d4 attack.

2. TWF sucks. it sucks as base usage, with style and with feat. Maybe if dual-wielder is a half-feat it would be decent. Or if offhand attack is part of Attack Action. Or if you get 2 off-hand attacks with style when you get Extra attack feature.

3. all feats in 2014 benchmark except PAM, GWM, SS, CE, HAM, maybe Resilient wis/con are not worth losing +2 to primary ability.
How about adding War Caster to that list?
 

ECMO3

Hero
  • Str sword & board is no better than Dex sword & board at hitting people thanks to the rapier being as good as the longsword. And it's worse >90% of the rest of the time.
I think strength sword and board is substantially better for 4 reasons:

1. Melee Weapons - the strength sword and board can use a Rapier, Longsword, Battleaxe, Pick, Morningstar, Flail or warhammer and do 1d8 damage. The dex sword and board can only use a Rapier. Also a host of d6 melee weapons are available and there are only two with a dex guy. This versatility matters a lot once magic weapons start showing up. While wielding that +1 Trident might not be what you had in mind at character build, it will do more damage than a non-magic Longsword or Rapier.

2. Missile weapons - A sword and board is usually going to want to melee, but occasionally they are going to need to hurl something. All of the weapons you can use as a sword and board are thrown and usable with strength. Only a couple of them (dart, dagger) are finesse and usable with dexterity. Further the damage is higher, 1d6 vs 1d4.

3. Bludgeoinging damage - While longsword is the trope for a sword and board, and a Rapier also does 1d8, the best weapon for a sword and board actually a flail or a warhammer, especially at low levels. At low levels you are usually going to run into fair numbers of enemies that are either vulnerable to bludgeoning damage or resistant to piercing and slashing.

4. Armor - high strength means heavy armor without sacrificing movement. This in turn means a higher AC. It is only 1 point, but then add that your strength is higher so you don't hit your encumberence limit as soon either.

Individually these are all relatively minor, but taken together they make a strength swordmore powerful in combat than a dex sword and board IMO.
 
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ECMO3

Hero
2. TWF sucks. it sucks as base usage, with style and with feat. Maybe if dual-wielder is a half-feat it would be decent. Or if offhand attack is part of Attack Action. Or if you get 2 off-hand attacks with style when you get Extra attack feature.

Mathematically TWF with the fighting style and an ASI will do more damage than using a Glaive or Halberd with no ASI and the PAM feat

At 5th level if all attacks hit,
16 strength PAM is doing 2d10+1d4+9=22.5
18 strength TWF is doing 3d6+12=22.5

However, the TWF is htting more often so it will outdamage the PAM fighter. At 15 AC for example PAM is doing 13.5DPR, TWF is doing 14.625 with the same action economy.

Add to this the TWF can go with hand axes and engage at range as well.

I think the reason TWF gets a bad wrap is people think of it as a Ranger style and people try to use it on a dex-based Ranger using Hunters Mark. On that build it does suck because they are limited to finesse weapons and they need to use a bonus action to cast/move hunters mark. PAM is actually a better build for a Ranger than TWF. But TWF works very well on a strength-based fighter with a subclass with few bonus actions.
 
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TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Mathematically TWF with the fighting style and an ASI will do more damage than using a Glaive or Halberd with no ASI and the PAM feat

At 5th level if all attacks hit,
16 strength PAM is doing 2d10+1d4+9=22.5
18 strength TWF is doing 3d6+12=22.5

HOWEVER the TWF is htting more often so it will outdamage the PAM fighter. At 15 AC for example PAM is doing 13.5DPR, TWF is doing 14.625 with the same action economy.

Add to this the TWF can go with hand axes and engage at range as well
Well, taking the GWF fighting style will add 2.1 max damage to the PAM calculation, or 1.26 damage to the AC 15 calculation, which would nudge it slightly higher.

Or they could just take Defensive style and get +1 AC, which is also a decent trade off.

Honestly, the biggest factor by far in these weapon style debates is how the campaign handles magic item acquisition, as you mentioned in a previous post. If the DM is fairly generous with giving out weapon-style appropriate items, then PAM and GWM, or rapier-based Dex, can come out ahead. If the weapon drops are more random (or non-existent), that's a big boost to Str based fighting, S&B and TWF.
 

ECMO3

Hero
3. all feats in 2014 benchmark except PAM, GWM, SS, CE, HAM, maybe Resilient wis/con are not worth losing +2 to primary ability.
I don't think that is true. Warcaster, Sentinel, Alert, Magic initiate, Weapon Master, Tavern Brawler all can be better depending on the specific build and Lucky is the best feat of all of them.

I think Resilient constitution is overated and not generally as good as the above feats. There may be some corner cases with an odd constitution that it is useful, but it is rarely worth +2 or another half feat IMO.

I know a lot of people don't like weapon master and it is rated poorly, but it is a solid feat on a custom lineage Rogue (heavy crossbow, whip, scimitar, longbow) or a Bladesinger with an odd dexterity (hand crossbow, short sword, scimitar, whip and then take Rapier as your bladesinger weapon).

Magic initiate is also rated poorly by many but it is a great feat on either a melee Rogue or melee cleric, providing a substantial boost to your attacks with booming blade and green flame blade.
 

According to sage advice you have to take the bonus action after you have completed your attack action.

Yes, it's another ruling they just pulled out of nothing. The feat doesn't say 'after you have finished your Attack action', it just says 'if you take the Attack action', and a bonus action can be used at any time during your turn. Otherwise you get weirdness like you can attack + walk 30 feet + attack, but you cannot attack + bonus action Rogue dash 30 feet + attack.

So ... I still think it's pretty pointless. If you're doing a grapple you'd have to, what, make an attack with a weapon then put the weapon away and then grapple? I suppose that could work, not sure I see the point.

The whole heart of grapple builds is that you grapple them, and then shove them down. With movement 0, they cannot get up, while all their attacks are at disadvantage. Plus you can drag them anywhere you want at half speed (like a campfire, through spiked growth, over a ledge, up a tree).
 

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