Some people claim that an ASI normally contributes more than any given feat. It is nearly always better than the Dual Wielder feat. However, the Crossbow Expert feat is better damage than an ASI (at least, as long as other conditions are met, such as not having other uses for your bonus action that can contribute to damage). Are there other feats where is this the case, in particular, is this also true for Great Weapon Master?

Obviously ASIs have many other valuable benefits depending on the underlying ability, like improving saving throws, skill checks, carrying capacity, jumping distance and so forth. This question is about the damage output aspect, but a more wholistic answer is also welcome.

You can assume a starting Strength of 16, fights taking 3 combat rounds, and 3 such fights per long rest, with a short rest between each fight, in case these numbers affect the analysis. You can use a fighter with Greatsword as the base class, unless you have another setup that is clearly superior.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 21, 2022 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Different clarifying question to the chat, but is this assuming only one feat? Because the value of some feats increases in conjunction with others \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 21, 2022 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, one feat. I think combinations again would make this too wide. And you would need multiple ASI (or variant human) for multiple feats \$\endgroup\$ Oct 21, 2022 at 18:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ (or Tasha's Custom Lineage) \$\endgroup\$ Oct 21, 2022 at 19:17

2 Answers 2


These feats are not meant to be a simple DPR increase

(In many cases they are actually decreasing DPR)

If you want that, just take the Ability Score Increase. Great Weapon Master and Sharpshooter are not meant for every situation, as proven by the calculations below. It is more of a way to convert excess hit chance to damage.

Non-DPR considerations

Even if your calculations show that GWM is beneficial, because you are fighting a prone, naked elf, you should consider that it wont be any more dead from 20 damage than from 10, when it has only 1 HP.
If you impose any conditions on a hit (prone, poisoned, frightened, etc), it might be more benefitial to attack without the -5.

When should you take the feat?

If your allies have a way to reliably provide Advantage for attacks, you just take the feat.
If not:
1st level: Human Variants could take it, but unless you are playing the Zombie Apocalypse, don't. With your low hit chance against the usual opponents, you will not have the opportunity to use it very often. Polearm Master / Crossbow Expert increases your DPR much more often.
4th level: A Battlemaster Fighter can quite reliably prone with Trip Attack. From level 5 it is possible to attack normally and prone, and use the second attack with -5/+10. Otherwise an Ability Score Improvement provides better average DPR increase.
8th level: Same as level 4.
12th level: This is where you should take it, and only because you can not increase the ability above 20.
Efficient adventuring groups have ways to provide Advantage for heavy hitters, the above advice is only meant for the less fortunate.


Level 4, Greatsword, Great Weapon Fighting Style, Strength 16. Is GWM better than ASI?
Attack: +5 (Str 16, Proficiency +2) Base damage: 11.33 (Great Weapon Style, Str 16)
DPR vs AC 12: 7.93 (0.70 x 11.33)
DPR vs AC 15: 6.23 (0.55 x 11.33)
DPR vs AC 18: 4.53 (0.40 x 11.33)

Attack: +6 (Str 18, Proficiency +2) Base damage: 12.33 (Great Weapon Style, Str 18)
DPR vs AC 12: 9.25 (0.75 x 12.33)
DPR vs AC 15: 7.39 (0.60 x 12.33)
DPR vs AC 18: 5.55 (0.45 x 12.33)

Attack: +0 (Str 16, Proficiency +2, -5) Base damage: 21.33 (Great Weapon Style, Str 16, +10)
DPR vs AC 12: 9.59 (0.45 x 21.33)
DPR vs AC 15: 6.40 (0.30 x 21.33)
DPR vs AC 18: 3.20 (0.15 x 21.33)
Crit: 0.42 (0.05 * 8.33)


In most cases ASI gives you a better DPR than GWM.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ In Tomb of Annihilation for a real-life sample, and over all 11 levels of play, average encounter AC is about 13. There are a Zombies in that, but they make up only about 2-3% of the expected encounters. The reason is that outside of goblins and guards, which have a solid AC, most common lower CR opponents have around AC 12, where according to your calculation GWM actually would be stronger. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 23, 2022 at 7:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, not sure how I missed that :). Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 15, 2022 at 10:33

Starting with 16 STR wielding a greatsword and assuming Extra Attack and nothing else about the class, it seems Great Weapon Master should outperform an ASI.

Here is a table of the expected damage each round. The GWM lists the average damage of the two normal attacks then a + and then the damage for the bonus -- assuming you use the -5/+10 on each attack except the bonus (doing the bonus -5/+10 made the math nasty, I'm still not sure the bonus damage is correct).

12 15.7 18.3 20.712 + 5.35
13 14.7 17.2 18.713 + 4.85
14 13.7 16.09 16.7 + 4.35
15 12.7 15 14.715 + 3.85
16 11.7 13.89 12.716 + 3.35
17 10.7 12.8 10.717 + 2.85
18 9.7 11.7 8.7 + 2.35
  • \$\begingroup\$ The damage for the bonus action attack seems off to me. A bonus attack should be half of the Before column and the odds of critting during your action is slightly less than a tenth, so I'd expect the bonus attack to be slightly less than a twentieth compared to the Before column. Against 12 AC for example: the bonus attack in the GWM column says 5.33, but I'd expect about ~0.7 instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruse
    Oct 22, 2022 at 14:22
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I am not sure what is wrong, but the maths looks off to me \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 22, 2022 at 16:19

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