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On September 29th, 2022, Playtest material for OneD&D was released for the Expert Class Groups, and included in this unearthed arcana were some planned feats for the new version of Dungeons and Dragons, including revised versions of feats that exist in 5th Edition D&D.

Notably, the Great Weapon Master feat was changed: the option to lower the attack roll of an attack in exchange for drastically improved damage if the attack connects was removed, and replaced with a flat damage bonus that can be applied to one of the attack rolls made in a single turn.

Great Weapon Master feat

As featured in the 2014 Player's Handbook for 5th Edition D&D on page 167

Before you make a melee attack with a heavy weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, you add +10 to the attack's damage.

Great Weapon Master feat

As featured in the 2022 Unearthed Arcana OneD&D Playtest: "Expert Classes"

Heavy Weapon Mastery. When you hit a creature with a Heavy Weapon as part of the Attack Action on your turn, you can cause the weapon to deal extra damage to the target. The extra damage equals your Proficiency Bonus, and you can deal it only once per turn.

How does this change affect the damage output of a character that uses Heavy Weapons?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this anydice program is considering the whole feat now, the bonus action attack is a greater % of the old versions mean damage, as crits are a higher proportion of hits \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleth
    Sep 30, 2022 at 19:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Caleth I've posted a new answer that should have the math corrected. I had a mistake that was giving non-GWM users completely wrong weapon stats, so my old answer has been deleted and replaced with the new one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Xirema
    Sep 30, 2022 at 20:57

1 Answer 1

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Long Story Short: The new Feat is actually stronger at most levels of play

As expected, the higher the Armor Class of the target, the worse the older GWM feat is, and the better the newer GWM feat is. So the determining factor is at what Armor Classes the new feat "breaks even".

What we find, if we look at the numbers, is that the break-even point for each level occurs at surprisingly low Armor Class values, and this remains true for most levels of play.

Assumptions and Scenario

We will first need to make a few assumptions, to have controllable variables.

First, we will assume that we are working with a fighter, at various levels between level 1 and 20. She takes the Great Weapon Fighting Style (reroll damage roll dice that roll a 2 or lower), uses a Greatsword, and has a 17 in Strength at level 1.

In D&D 5e, she is a variant human that takes the Great Weapon Master feat at level 1, and then takes Strength ASIs at levels 4 and 6 to get to 19 and 20 strength, respectively, at those levels.

In OneD&D, she takes the Great Weapon Master feat at level 4, which bumps her strength up to 18, and then takes the Ability Score Increase feat at level 6 to increase her strength to 20.

In both versions, we assume she is fighting a single enemy creature with infinite Hit Points. This means that the only way to gain the Bonus Action attack is to deal a critical hit. We are going to ignore Subclass features, and use the features of the baseline PHB2014 Fighter class.

Directly Comparing the Damage

Running these stats through a probability calculator, we arrive at the following table of average Damage per Round (DPR) that our fighter deals at her level. Since these values depend heavily on the armor class of her opponent, we add columns that adjust for varying Armor Class values, ranging from 0 (i.e. we assume she lands every single hit that isn't a natural 1) to 25 (i.e. the highest unmodified armor class of any statted creature in 5th Edition D&D, which we are using because OneD&D does not have any discrete creature blocks yet).

I've removed any rows that aren't accessible (for example, the new fighter cannot gain any Great Weapon Master features until level 4) or where the level change had no effect (there is no numerical change to damage output between levels 1 to 2, for example).

Armor Class columns are limited due to the formatting limitations on this website, as adding more would push the table off the page, so looking at a total range of possible Armor Class values, I've truncated the list down to just the thresholds at which the Armor Class actually swings the delta from the old feat to the new feat (or vise-versa), which starts at Armor Class 14 and goes up. Below Armor Class 14, the old feat always has higher damage output, and above Armor Class 18, the new feat always has higher damage output. In between, depends on the level of the character.

"Adv" stands for Advantage, "Dis" stands for Disadvantage. "w/feat" means the feat was taken, but only the Bonus Action attack is being used (if permitted by the rolls), not the extra damage, which applies only to the old feat (because there is no opportunity cost for using the bonus damage with the new feat).

AC 13 AC 14 AC 15 AC 16 AC 17 AC 18 AC 20
Level 1 Greatsword 7.783 7.217 6.650 6.083 5.517 4.950 3.817
Level 1 Greatsword Adv 10.758 10.332 9.851 9.312 8.717 8.066 6.593
Level 1 Greatsword Dis 4.809 4.101 3.449 2.854 2.316 1.834 1.041
Level 1 Greatsword w/feat 8.172 7.577 6.982 6.388 5.793 5.197 4.008
Level 1 Greatsword w/feat Adv 11.806 11.340 10.811 10.220 9.567 8.852 7.235
Level 1 Greatsword w/feat Dis 4.821 4.111 3.458 2.861 2.322 1.839 1.043
Level 1 Greatsword OldGWM 9.398 8.277 7.157 6.037 4.918 3.797 1.558
Level 1 Greatsword OldGWM Adv 15.876 14.413 12.833 11.135 9.321 7.389 3.175
Level 1 Greatsword OldGWM Dis 3.443 2.641 1.946 1.358 0.876 0.502 0.074
Level 4 Greatsword 9.050 8.433 7.817 7.200 6.583 5.967 4.733
Level 4 Greatsword Adv 12.036 11.635 11.172 10.648 10.062 9.415 7.935
Level 4 Greatsword Dis 6.064 5.232 4.461 3.752 3.104 2.518 1.532
Level 4 Greatsword w/feat 9.502 8.855 8.207 7.560 6.912 6.265 4.970
Level 4 Greatsword w/feat Adv 13.209 12.769 12.262 11.687 11.044 10.333 8.709
Level 4 Greatsword w/feat Dis 6.079 5.245 4.472 3.761 3.112 2.525 1.535
Level 4 Greatsword OldGWM 10.990 9.818 8.645 7.473 6.300 5.128 2.783
Level 4 Greatsword OldGWM Adv 17.988 16.579 15.047 13.392 11.615 9.716 5.549
Level 4 Greatsword OldGWM Dis 4.555 3.603 2.764 2.036 1.420 0.916 0.245
Level 4 Greatsword NewGWM 10.902 10.155 9.408 8.660 7.912 7.165 5.670
Level 4 Greatsword NewGWM Adv 15.029 14.524 13.942 13.282 12.544 11.728 9.864
Level 4 Greatsword NewGWM Dis 7.059 6.090 5.192 4.366 3.612 2.930 1.780
Level 5 Greatsword 19.333 18.100 16.867 15.633 14.400 13.167 10.700
Level 5 Greatsword Adv 24.750 24.072 23.270 22.345 21.297 20.125 17.412
Level 5 Greatsword Dis 13.917 12.128 10.463 8.922 7.503 6.208 3.988
Level 5 Greatsword w/feat 19.938 18.688 17.436 16.180 14.922 13.660 11.128
Level 5 Greatsword w/feat Adv 26.032 25.351 24.543 23.609 22.545 21.351 18.566
Level 5 Greatsword w/feat Dis 13.942 12.151 10.484 8.940 7.519 6.222 3.998
Level 5 Greatsword OldGWM 24.035 21.744 19.448 17.146 14.838 12.525 7.882
Level 5 Greatsword OldGWM Adv 37.265 34.861 32.215 29.321 26.178 22.779 15.197
Level 5 Greatsword OldGWM Dis 11.233 9.107 7.205 5.526 4.071 2.840 1.049
Level 5 Greatsword NewGWM 22.750 21.418 20.068 18.701 17.314 15.910 13.048
Level 5 Greatsword NewGWM Adv 29.020 28.326 27.498 26.532 25.422 24.164 21.177
Level 5 Greatsword NewGWM Dis 16.367 14.371 12.483 10.711 9.060 7.534 4.881
Level 6 Greatsword 22.167 20.833 19.500 18.167 16.833 15.500 12.833
Level 6 Greatsword Adv 27.225 26.625 25.892 25.025 24.025 22.892 20.225
Level 6 Greatsword Dis 17.108 15.042 13.108 11.308 9.642 8.108 5.442
Level 6 Greatsword w/feat 22.832 21.484 20.134 18.780 17.422 16.062 13.331
Level 6 Greatsword w/feat Adv 28.605 28.004 27.267 26.394 25.384 24.234 21.509
Level 6 Greatsword w/feat Dis 17.137 15.069 13.133 11.331 9.661 8.126 5.454
Level 6 Greatsword OldGWM 27.461 25.073 22.679 20.280 17.875 15.464 10.624
Level 6 Greatsword OldGWM Adv 41.119 38.857 36.345 33.580 30.557 27.272 19.898
Level 6 Greatsword OldGWM Dis 14.188 11.734 9.513 7.526 5.772 4.252 1.913
Level 6 Greatsword NewGWM 25.712 24.297 22.864 21.412 19.942 18.454 15.423
Level 6 Greatsword NewGWM Adv 31.601 30.992 30.243 29.349 28.307 27.111 24.235
Level 6 Greatsword NewGWM Dis 19.749 17.494 15.353 13.330 11.433 9.666 6.546
Level 9 Greatsword 23.500 22.167 20.833 19.500 18.167 16.833 14.167
Level 9 Greatsword Adv 27.692 27.225 26.625 25.892 25.025 24.025 21.625
Level 9 Greatsword Dis 19.308 17.108 15.042 13.108 11.308 9.642 6.708
Level 9 Greatsword w/feat 24.176 22.832 21.484 20.134 18.780 17.422 14.698
Level 9 Greatsword w/feat Adv 29.072 28.605 28.004 27.267 26.394 25.384 22.943
Level 9 Greatsword w/feat Dis 19.339 17.137 15.069 13.133 11.331 9.661 6.723
Level 9 Greatsword OldGWM 29.843 27.461 25.073 22.679 20.280 17.875 13.047
Level 9 Greatsword OldGWM Adv 43.134 41.119 38.857 36.345 33.580 30.557 23.721
Level 9 Greatsword OldGWM Dis 16.876 14.188 11.734 9.513 7.526 5.772 2.965
Level 9 Greatsword NewGWM 28.086 26.672 25.234 23.774 22.290 20.782 17.698
Level 9 Greatsword NewGWM Adv 33.070 32.599 31.988 31.235 30.334 29.281 26.693
Level 9 Greatsword NewGWM Dis 23.031 20.619 18.303 16.093 13.997 12.023 8.473
Level 11 Greatsword 35.250 33.250 31.250 29.250 27.250 25.250 21.250
Level 11 Greatsword Adv 41.538 40.837 39.938 38.837 37.538 36.038 32.438
Level 11 Greatsword Dis 28.962 25.663 22.562 19.663 16.962 14.463 10.062
Level 11 Greatsword w/feat 35.939 33.937 31.934 29.928 27.919 25.907 21.870
Level 11 Greatsword w/feat Adv 42.919 42.220 41.322 40.224 38.925 37.426 33.821
Level 11 Greatsword w/feat Dis 28.995 25.694 22.593 19.692 16.990 14.487 10.082
Level 11 Greatsword OldGWM 44.374 40.845 37.307 33.761 30.206 26.639 19.473
Level 11 Greatsword OldGWM Adv 63.597 60.617 57.281 53.585 49.524 45.093 35.081
Level 11 Greatsword OldGWM Dis 25.306 21.276 17.596 14.266 11.286 8.657 4.448
Level 11 Greatsword NewGWM 39.925 37.905 35.871 33.820 31.747 29.651 25.370
Level 11 Greatsword NewGWM Adv 46.918 46.220 45.321 44.221 42.918 41.410 37.759
Level 11 Greatsword NewGWM Dis 32.910 29.508 26.258 23.161 20.219 17.439 12.394
Level 13 Greatsword 37.250 35.250 33.250 31.250 29.250 27.250 23.250
Level 13 Greatsword Adv 42.038 41.538 40.837 39.938 38.837 37.538 34.337
Level 13 Greatsword Dis 32.462 28.962 25.663 22.562 19.663 16.962 12.162
Level 13 Greatsword w/feat 37.939 35.939 33.937 31.934 29.928 27.919 23.890
Level 13 Greatsword w/feat Adv 43.418 42.919 42.220 41.322 40.224 38.925 35.725
Level 13 Greatsword w/feat Dis 32.496 28.995 25.694 22.593 19.692 16.990 12.185
Level 13 Greatsword OldGWM 47.897 44.374 40.845 37.307 33.761 30.206 23.062
Level 13 Greatsword OldGWM Adv 66.223 63.597 60.617 57.281 53.585 49.524 40.282
Level 13 Greatsword OldGWM Dis 29.685 25.306 21.276 17.596 14.266 11.286 6.377
Level 13 Greatsword NewGWM 42.934 40.922 38.897 36.855 34.793 32.704 28.435
Level 13 Greatsword NewGWM Adv 48.418 47.918 47.220 46.320 45.220 43.916 40.684
Level 13 Greatsword NewGWM Dis 37.461 33.888 30.461 27.174 24.028 21.027 15.488
Level 17 Greatsword 39.250 37.250 35.250 33.250 31.250 29.250 25.250
Level 17 Greatsword Adv 42.337 42.038 41.538 40.837 39.938 38.837 36.038
Level 17 Greatsword Dis 36.163 32.462 28.962 25.663 22.562 19.663 14.463
Level 17 Greatsword w/feat 39.939 37.939 35.939 33.937 31.934 29.928 25.907
Level 17 Greatsword w/feat Adv 43.717 43.418 42.919 42.220 41.322 40.224 37.426
Level 17 Greatsword w/feat Dis 36.196 32.496 28.995 25.694 22.593 19.692 14.487
Level 17 Greatsword OldGWM 51.414 47.897 44.374 40.845 37.307 33.761 26.639
Level 17 Greatsword OldGWM Adv 68.498 66.223 63.597 60.617 57.281 53.585 45.093
Level 17 Greatsword OldGWM Dis 34.413 29.685 25.306 21.276 17.596 14.266 8.657
Level 17 Greatsword NewGWM 45.938 43.933 41.919 39.889 37.840 35.766 31.523
Level 17 Greatsword NewGWM Adv 49.717 49.418 48.918 48.220 47.320 46.219 43.402
Level 17 Greatsword NewGWM Dis 42.190 38.455 34.867 31.414 28.091 24.896 18.914
Level 20 Greatsword 52.333 49.667 47.000 44.333 41.667 39.000 33.667
Level 20 Greatsword Adv 56.450 56.050 55.383 54.450 53.250 51.783 48.050
Level 20 Greatsword Dis 48.217 43.283 38.617 34.217 30.083 26.217 19.283
Level 20 Greatsword w/feat 53.022 50.356 47.691 45.025 42.358 39.691 34.350
Level 20 Greatsword w/feat Adv 57.829 57.430 56.764 55.833 54.634 53.170 49.443
Level 20 Greatsword w/feat Dis 48.250 43.317 38.650 34.250 30.116 26.248 19.311
Level 20 Greatsword OldGWM 68.187 63.514 58.837 54.155 49.466 44.769 35.341
Level 20 Greatsword OldGWM Adv 90.545 87.515 84.018 80.054 75.621 70.719 59.485
Level 20 Greatsword OldGWM Dis 45.871 39.569 33.732 28.361 23.457 19.018 11.541
Level 20 Greatsword NewGWM 59.022 56.356 53.688 51.015 48.335 45.642 40.197
Level 20 Greatsword NewGWM Adv 63.829 63.430 62.764 61.833 60.634 59.170 55.439
Level 20 Greatsword NewGWM Dis 54.250 49.309 44.614 40.149 35.896 31.842 24.305

Observations

It's clear from initial observation that the new feat is better than the old feat in most combat situations.

In the levels 1-3 range, the old feat is obviously better just because the new feat isn't even obtainable yet, since it has a level 4 prerequisite. So the old feat (obtainable at level 1) dominates for several levels uncontested.

Once we get to level 4, though, things change. We see that at AC 13, we see that the old feat is better (10.990→10.902 for a -0.801% decrease), but at AC 14, the new feat is better (9.818→10.155 for a 3.432% increase). In my experience as DM, by this point in the game, a player should reasonably expect an enemy creature to have an armor class of around 14-16, with higher or lower values tending to be outliers—Armor Classes lower than 14 tend to be trivial, filler creatures that aren't meant to threaten the party, and Armor Classes higher than 16 tend to be boss monsters or unusual, non-typical encounters.

Levels 5-6 see some power increase for the older version of the feat, since the extra attack, proficiency increase, and (at level 6) strength increase scale better for the old version of the feat than they do for the newer version. This makes sense: a flat damage increase to one attack isn't going to scale as well as to-hit & damage increases to multiple attacks, and the +to-hit for old GWM is more powerful than the +to-hit for new GWM. But, even at these levels, Armor Class 15 continues to be better for the new feat than the old feat (19.448→20.068 for a 3.188% improvement). And it'll continue to be better all the way up to level 10.

Level 11, with the third [baseline] attack, is where the new feat finally falls behind the old feat for Armor Class 15 (37.307→35.871 for a -3.849% decrease). But at this point, the new feat is still ahead for Armor Class 16 (33.761→33.820 for a 0.175% increase), and at this point in the game, the average armor class of enemy creatures ought to have gone up. Armor Class 16 is very typical for challenging encounters at level 11, and can often go as high as 18 or 20 depending on circumstances, while lower ACs are very rare.

At level 13, the improved proficiency bonus benefits the old feat more than the new one, so now the new Armor Class threshold is 17 (33.761→34.793 for a 3.057% increase), not 16 (37.307→36.855 for a -1.212% decrease). At this level one could argue that a character would rather have the old feat if the DM prefers lower armor class creatures. But as Armor Classes are going to continue to go up for the rest of Tier 3, that will cease to be the case.

Finally, only at level 20, does the threshold finally go up to Armor Class 18 (44.769→45.642 for a 1.950% increase). At a point in the game where PCs are expected to take on endgame challenges and gods whose Armor Class will rarely, if ever, dip below 20.

The facts are very clear: there are some encounter scenarios where the old feat would provide higher damage output overall, but those scenarios tend to involve disproportionately low Armor Class creatures that the party is unlikely to find challenging to begin with.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting numbers. Would it be possible to run the computation with a polearm master build? Since this is considered as the optimal way to use that feat with 5e. \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Sep 30, 2022 at 21:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, for having tried to so such tables on this site. My hat is off to you. I feel the pain of arranging all those numbers (even if there were probably copy/pasted from whichever program you used) \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Sep 30, 2022 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah yes, the GWM user who doesn't have reckless attack, battlemaster precise attack, or a familiar - a mythical creature, as I have never seen even one. Humongous table is not necessary for laymen, does not add anything to the observations, and is inserted in the middle of the answer. This does not seem to be a useful answer for the actual state of 5e play, rather a theoretical exercise about GWM if no means to increase to hit bonus exist. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Oct 1, 2022 at 5:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2754 The last campaign I ran featured a barbarian who had to be judicious about when to use Reckless Attack (due to incoming non-physical damage), a fighter who ran out of precision attacks pretty quickly in many combats, and a warlock whose familiar would die pretty quickly if it used the Help action too many times. You can't just point to the "well, in the absolute ideal situation where all the bonuses...!" if those bonuses are going to quickly run out. And if a DM isn't forcing players to use up their resources to avoid the "Single Combat Adventuring Day", they're a bad DM. \$\endgroup\$
    – Xirema
    Oct 1, 2022 at 6:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like your suggested average AC is way above what I normally encounter as a player or use as a DM. It also ignores the key benefits of the old feat which is that you can use it when it is useful, and avoid it when it isn't. On my barbarian I had a little chart that said "at x AC use GWM" and I could tune to get max benefit. This new feat loses out there because when used well GWM1 far outperforms the kind of white room simulation above. GWM1 was always an optimisation feat, so any useful analysis has to include an optimised build. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 4, 2022 at 9:55

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