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On of my players (an Eldritch Knight) wants to make a modification to the "Polearm Master" feat by replacing the weapons given with a longsword. So it would be written as such

Longsword Master

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

Is there anything about this that is overpowered or ripe for abusing? How would that change if we kept the original weapons and added a longsword rather than replacing them?

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2 Answers 2

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It is slightly more powerful unless used with Sentinel

A longsword functions similarly to a quarterstaff or spear, but it has a better damage die. This makes the feat more powerful than other similar options.

It is better because:

  • Longsword is Versatile, so this feat could be used 1-handed, but has a better damage die than the Spear or Quarterstaff
  • Longsword is not Heavy, so a small creature could use it, while having a damage die better than a Spear or Quarterstaff
  • A longsword can be wielded 1 handed with a shield and the bonus action can still be used to make pommel attacks as a bonus action

It is worse because:

  • Less powerful synergy with Sentinel
  • Longswords don't have reach so the second bullet's effect is much smaller, but even so a lot of creatures will approach within 5ft of you so this isn't a big change.

Overall, I would say this makes the feat slightly more powerful when used alone, and less powerful when used with Sentinel. The biggest balance change I can see is that you can 1 hand a longsword with a shield and still use the bonus attack.

I would recommend the following change:

Longsword Master

  • When you take the Attack action and attack with only a Longsword wielded with two hands, you can use a bonus action to make a melee attack with the opposite end of the weapon. This attack uses the same ability modifier as the primary attack. The weapon’s damage die for this attack is a d4, and it deals bludgeoning damage.
  • While you are wielding a Longsword, other creatures provoke an opportunity attack from you when they enter your reach.

However, I would also recommend not allowing your player to do this. Each weapon type has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. While this may not be overpowered, it goes against the uniquness of each weapon type. The player should use a polearm if they want to use polearm master.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It’d also allow race/class combinations that have proficiency with long swords but not polearms (e.g. High Elf Wizards) to make use of a feat that they otherwise couldn’t. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Dec 18, 2019 at 7:22
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A Longsword is equivalent to a spear and nothing gained from the feat works only with Longswords; there are no balance issues

We can see that Polearm Master applies to Spears naturally, so what a character does is answer the following question: Do they want to use Polearm Master with a Spear or a Longsword? The bonus action attack will do the same damage, they have the same range, and are both versatile; the only thing worth considering is that Longswords deal +1 average damage and Spears are throwable (note that it's actually less than +1 damage because of your chance to hit).

In terms of the feat, there are no benefits unique to the Longsword; any reason to use a Longsword with this feat is also a reason to use a Spear with this feat. If the feat made you roll additional damage dice then these would be different, but it doesn't; there is nothing being added only to the Longsword.

This trade-off of the Thrown property for more damage is an established metric of balancing weapons; this can be seen as it it is the only differences between a Scimitar and a Dagger, a Flail and a Javelin, a Trident and a Warhammer, and a Battleaxe and a Spear. This trend shows us that a weapon losing the thrown property can be balanced out by increasing its die size once. Thus the Longsword is equivalent to the Spear in terms of how the weapons table itself is balanced; as a result, this would not disrupt weapon selection balance.

Choosing not to use a Spear is still a significant decision because you have removed the ability to fight well against anything not immediately adjacent to you.

How bad/good is the Longsword's +1 damage over the Spear?

Let's say our character has a 50% chance to hit and makes four attacks per turn as well as the opportunity attack at some point. This is a generous assumption of our combatant as the number of attacks their making is basically only doable by a Fighter though they are quite likely to be able to make the opportunity attack, given what the feat does.

This would be an average +.55 damage five different times for a total change of +2.75 damage over the spear per round. This is honestly a very small change in overall damage and isn't going to be something that will suddenly ruin the balancing and flow of your game. I really don't think a generously high +3 damage over the course of an entire round is going to ruin your game. The combatant is choosing this bonus to damage over the ability to throw their weapon well.

As pointed out, a Fighter would more likely have a 75% chance of hitting, in which case their damage difference go from +2.75 to +4.0. Note that at this level there are spells like meteor swarm dealing 122.5 damage to every creature in a 40-foot radius. Though that is one per long rest, whereas this change is every round. Honestly, the fourth attack only occurs at level 20, when much of balance has gone out a window.

Let's say our Fighter makes only three attacks per turn with a 75% chance of hitting. Then they get an average increase of +3.2 damage per round, which is not much higher than +2.75. I can't see 16 additional damage over the course of a five-round combat having an especially alarming impact on your game. It's certainly nothing to scoff at, but 4.0 of the damage comes from opportunity attacks the enemies can try to work around. I can't see 3 points of health each round dramatically shifting the playstyles or outcomes of battles.

If our combatant made a more reasonable two attacks and an opportunity attack per round, their change in damage per round is brought down to a mere +1.65 which I can't see having any meaningful impact on table play and experience.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be an established method of balancing weapons against each other, but we aren't doing that. Polearm master doesn't mesh at all with throwing, but it has synergy with having a higher damage die. For example imagine a feat called "heavy weapon master" saying that "you gain +1 damage for every 5ft your target is away from you". Clearly this would be an amazing feat if applied to thrown weapons, even if the thrown weapon itself is balanced compared to a heavy weapon. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 18, 2019 at 2:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes but nothing changes from the feat, you are merely dealing an additional 1 damage on average with an attack. And you are giving up a significant use of a weapon, which is throwing them. Thrown weapons are excellent regardless of whether or not it is specifically helped out by the feat \$\endgroup\$ Dec 18, 2019 at 2:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Longsword is balanced against spear in a direct comparison, and holistically when considering the entire system. You aren't giving up throwing the weapon because you never could throw the longsword. Longsword is gaining a bonus attack and a method of provoking opportunity attacks. I think more than "spear vs longsword" in a vacuum needs to be considered. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 18, 2019 at 3:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jgn All of the things you're talking about can be done with a spear. (The bonus attack does the same damage and provokes opportunity attacks identically) This is the scenario in question: A person is deciding whether they want to use Polearm Master with a spear or a longsword, what they would then consider is whether they want the +1 average damage, or the throwing range \$\endgroup\$ Dec 18, 2019 at 3:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Right, which is what you should address. What is better for OA's - 1d6 or 1d8? 1d8 or 1d10? More damage = better OAs. What deals more damage? 1d8 with a bonus 1d4 attack, or 1d10 without a bonus 1d4 attack? I don't think you really talk about how this would buff the longsword and why it isn't a big deal to add a weapon with better die to a skill. It surpasses the existing limitations in a non-trivial way. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 18, 2019 at 3:16

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