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I see people are continuing to complain about the strength of this feat chain: Weapon Focus => Weapon Specialization => Greater Weapon Focus => Greater Weapon Specialization, and most builds don't even touch it unless necessary. Meanwhile, when I browse the core monster manual, I see a lot of monsters are picking these feats whenever possible (especially when they have fighter levels). I am wondering, how bad could they be as a choice of feat selection?

I am aware of the damage type issue, so probably having this full chain on something that can cover more damage types (e.g. Executioner's Mace, I always think this beast should be an exotic weapon as it has high damage dice as well as all damage types) could be a good deal.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind there's a big difference between monster Feat selection (with a focus on "easy to run for the DM") and Feat selection for players. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Dec 1, 2022 at 8:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Things in the monster manual are designed to be defeated by PCs. Taking bad feats aids that design \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleth
    Dec 1, 2022 at 10:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another point to consider when looking at the MM, it was written with only the feats in the PHB. Builds using only the core rules are very different from those picking widely from the options available in the many splat books. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 2, 2022 at 10:45

3 Answers 3

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TL;DR: Weapon Focus does suck, because by the time you have gotten your build’s mission-critical feats (which will never include Weapon Focus unless you need it as a prerequisite), its static +1 bonus is too tiny to make much difference.

Monster Manual feat selection is close to meaningless

Meanwhile, when I browse the core monster manual, I see a lot of monsters are picking these feats whenever possible (especially when they have fighter levels). I am wondering, how bad could they be as a choice of feat selection?

The Monster Manual authors were bad at the game.

No, really, they straight-up admitted it. Mike Mearls talked about it while offering unofficial errata to the Complete Warrior hexblade class. How early on (Monster Manual is even earlier than Complete Warrior) they badly overestimated the value of some things (e.g. attack bonuses), and underestimated others (e.g. non-damage effects like tripping). Sadly, as far as I can tell, this commentary was lost over a decade ago when Wizards ended their “Gleemax” forums (and at this point they’ve purged their site material 2 or 3 times since).

Beyond that, Monster Manual authors weren’t trying to make optimal feat selections in the first place:

  1. Monsters are meant to be defeated.

  2. Monster statblocks are meant to be usable by a DM who hasn’t necessarily prepped for the fight, so anything that can be baked into the statblock and require no additional work on the DM’s part is very, very good, and anything that requires the DM to do extra work—especially looking something up in another book—is very, very bad.

  3. Monsters get special unique features as a matter of course. There is little reason to worry terribly much about feats per se when you can just slap any arbitrary ability onto a monster—in fact, it’s better this way, since your special ability can be unique to this monster, and the rules for it are right there in the description and not somewhere else.

    See the Tarrasque for a truly ridiculous example: its statblock has it taking Toughness six times. Toughness is another terrible feat, and no one would ever recommend that a PC takes it six times—but for the Tarrasque, it doesn’t really matter,¹ because its monstrous ability scores, carapace, and regeneration are independent of its feats.

So looking at Monster Manual isn’t really helpful for determining the quality of a feat.

Looking at example NPC statblocks is arguably worse—everything about monsters applies to those, too, except they didn’t even get much love or attention in the first place—they often have outright mistakes. The official, “iconic” example characters for several prestige classes don’t even properly qualify for the prestige class they’re supposed to be an example of.

But we can still consider the question of Weapon Focus et al.

The above is why seeing Weapon Focus on a lot of monsters doesn’t mean Weapon Focus is good—but just because we have discounted one potential source of evidence for it being good, doesn’t inherently mean it’s actually bad.

It is, of course. The above just doesn’t demonstrate it.

The restrictions on Weapon Focus are negligible

Almost every warrior optimally focuses on one specific class of weapon anyway. A trip-lockdown build needs a weapon with the reach and tripping qualities, so they have to use a guisarme unless they’ve burned a feat on Exotic Weapon Proficiency for a spiked chain (or kusari-gama or meteor hammer or rope dart)—and if they have burned a feat for that proficiency, they really want to use the exotic weapon they’ve paid dearly to become proficient in. A mounted übercharger will pretty much never use anything but a lance willingly. Etc.

Furthermore, random weapons you find rarely match what your build needs, and often involve choices that makes sense for NPCs (easy to run), but are suboptimal for PCs (similar story to monster feat choices). For instance, straight enhancement bonuses—very common to see +2’s, +3’s, but it’s not optimal to ever go beyond the required +1. So pretty much every optimal warrior is wielding custom work, not using what they find.

And finally, because of the immense expense of magic weapons, back-ups are rarely viable, so being locked into one type of weapon (and its damage type) doesn’t really matter so much—it’s not as though you can really do better by switching to a back-up anyway. Better to just overwhelm the damage reduction with the superior weapon—DR values are rarely very large. When they are, don’t you have a cleric or a wizard to cast a spell to fix that?

So it doesn’t really matter that Weapon Focus locks you into one specific weapon; you probably were anyway. This is not why Weapon Focus is bad.

But so are its benefits

A +1 bonus to attack is almost nothing. A +2 bonus to damage is even less. AC scales very poorly in this game, so accuracy is rarely something warriors have to worry very much about, and damage scales very well, so high-level warriors are routinely dealing dozens of damage per attack.

At lower levels, obviously, these numbers are relatively larger—their lack of scaling is a big part of the problem. They’re “balanced” against the very lowest levels of the game, so they fall behind—badly—after a few levels are gained.

Opportunity cost is everything

So Weapon Focus’s explicit limitations are negligible, and while its benefits are pretty negligible too, they might be OK, ish, at very low levels. So why the hate?

Because they cost a feat slot. Having Weapon Focus means not having some other feat. And some other feat could do so much more.

For instance, Complete Champion’s Knowledge Devotion, for a very straight comparison: it grants a minimum of +1 to attack and damage, and there is the opportunity for it to scale up to +5 attack and damage. For one feat. It does require 5 ranks in a Knowledge skill (i.e. it can’t be taken at 1st, except maybe if you’re a cleric), and requires more ranks in various Knowledge skills if you want it to scale, but nonetheless it’s Weapon Focus plus 50% of Weapon Specialization, and it isn’t even restricted to a single weapon type (not that it matters very much).

But Knowledge Devotion is not exactly an amazing feat. Amazingly better than Weapon Focus, certainly (and certainly amazing to get for free, as many characters can since cloistered cleric dips are optimal for so many builds), but probably not a crucial part of anyone’s build.

Rather, most builds rely on very specific feats to do their thing. Trip-lockdown requires Combat Reflexes and Improved Trip; without them, you’re not a trip-lockdown build. Überchargers require Power Attack and Shock Trooper (and probably Spirited Charge, Leap Attack, Battle Jump, etc.). Can’t dual-wield without Two-Weapon Fighting. Can’t do archery without Precise Shot and Rapid Shot (plus, if you’re using a crossbow, you need Rapid Reload; if you’re throwing, you also need Quick Draw). Can’t fight unarmed without Improved Unarmed Attack. The list goes on and on—pretty much every PC warrior lives and dies by their feats.

And what that means is that taking Weapon Focus means not taking one of those crucial feats that makes your character do the thing that your character is supposed to do. It makes you slightly better at attacking, but that’s nothing compared to having a viable combat strategy online. And most strategies will consume as many feats as you’ll give them—even fighters, with their many bonus feats, can usually keep throwing feats at the specialty to make it better—and usually should. The game rewards specialization heavily.

Which means that you always have something better than Weapon Focus to take. Either it’s early, and you still haven’t gotten all of the crucial pieces that make your character work properly together, or it’s later, and Weapon Focus is a very paltry improvement to your accuracy.

Don’t forget non-feat considerations

Fighter is a poor class—because class features should be better than feats. The class features of many classes are—rage is a lot better than a feat, for an easy core example. Usually, 1-2 levels of fighter are considered the absolute maximum—a feat per level is OK if you’re desperate, but a feat every other level is awful. Dungeoncrasher, from Dungeonscape, makes fighter 6th viable, but also replaces your bonus feats at 2nd and 6th, so you only get 2 bonus feats from it.

Which means that imagining yourself with eleven bonus feats as a fighter 20th is a mistake—you won’t, or at least shouldn’t, ever get anywhere near there. Getting 2 bonus feats out of fighter is about the maximum. And feat chains are long, so that won’t be enough to “run out” of feats before Weapon Focus becomes meaningless—and even if you did, it would just mean “take fewer fighter levels then!”

Player’s Handbook II

Player’s Handbook II seems to have gotten the memo, sort of, and tried to add more to the Weapon Focus line to shore it up. It adds Melee Weapon Mastery, Ranged Weapon Mastery, Crushing Strike, Driving Attack, Slashing Flurry, and Weapon Supremacy to the feat tree. Crushing Strike and Driving Attack are poor, sadly, and the Weapon Masteries are just unnecessary for most, but Slashing Flurry and Weapon Supremacy are quite good—or would be if they were stand-alone feats.

But since Slashing Flurry requires Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, and (Melee or Ranged) Weapon Mastery, it doesn’t cost one feat, it costs four (and mandates fighter 4th unless you’re a warblade).

And Weapon Supremacy, on top of that staggering fighter 18th requirement that no one should ever hit, requires every other feat in the Weapon Focus tree. Even for a fighter 18th, six feats is a lot.

If you were forced to play a single-classed, non-dungeoncrasher fighter using only Player’s Handbook and Player’s Handbook II, then maybe Slashing Flurry and Weapon Supremacy start looking decent. But that’s a rather contrived scenario, basically forcing you to get tons of bonus feats while restricting you to an environment with very few feats to take.


  1. The Tarrasque is, unfortunately, not designed super-well, since its lack of Intelligence, flight, or teleportation make it relatively easy to contain at that level, and design oversights—i.e. its inability to attack incorporeal or ethereal targets and its lack of immunity to ability drain—mean it can even be defeated at very low levels, but these problems aren’t caused by its feat selections. Better feats could, obviously, mitigate some of those weaknesses, though.
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great analysis of the reasons for this attitude which offers historical context for people still playing 3.5e (and i've upvoted it). However, a tldr/abstract at the start would quickly answer the question as length is an issue for a lot of people. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Dec 1, 2022 at 14:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Toughness is better thought of as highly situational: If you're playing a wizard in a first-level one-shot, toughness may be a good pick (it would be nice if it came with some sort of disclaimer expressing that, but, y'know.) \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Dec 2, 2022 at 2:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin I’m not convinced that Toughness is a good call even in that case, though: even with +3 hp, you’re still probably downed in one hit. And anyway, if you’re playing a wizard in a first-level one-shot, you either better know exactly what you’re doing, or should probably reconsider. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 2, 2022 at 4:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fectin A funny thing is, in my player community, there's a saying that "if you are playing a one-shot Lv.1-3 campaign, take 3 toughness before doing anything else". Guess those people were getting killed with a single slash before. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 2, 2023 at 4:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TerryWindwalker 1st-level characters do often die in one hit—but Toughness doesn’t do a lot to prevent that from happening. Better feats might, by ending fights sooner. Ultimately, though, 1st level is kind of a crap shoot; anyone playing at that level should know that going in. Anyone playing above 1st should know that every other level is a wildly different game from 1st, and lessons learned at 1st level may not apply to any other level. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 2, 2023 at 4:40
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Weapon Focus occupies an odd space in a 3.x build. It's either absolutely essential or an absolute waste of a feat.

Essential Cases: Any crit-fishing martial build with a full base attack bonus spread wants this, because these builds all want greater specialization, which on a two-handed scimitar swing translates to 6 extra damage per attack at 5 APR under haste.

In addition, while you ironically don't need this feat for improved critical, if it's the sort of game where you plan to go epic, you absolutely do need this feat for things like Overwhelming and Devastating critical.

Finally, several prestige classes require you to have Weapon Focus in some kind of weapon to take those classes at all. Taking it early on and having +1 for the life of the character is a nice QoL buff in any of the above cases.

Everything else definitely has better options.

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    \$\begingroup\$ −1. Crit-fishing is a poor strategy in any case, and even if you’re doing it, there are vastly superior options available than Weapon Specialization or Overwhelming Critical, which are both awful. Devastating Critical is OK, ish, except that it’s epic and at that level everything worth worrying about can (and thus should) have immunity to critical hits anyway. Optimally, no one should ever take any of those feats. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 1, 2022 at 15:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelW. Yes, there is, but these are very much on the “useless” side of the spectrum. There is no situation where taking one of these feats doesn’t mean missing out on a much, much better feat for your crit-fishing. And even core-only, that’s fine—just don’t play a single-classed fighter! It’s a bad class! You don’t have to play it! If you don’t have good feats to take, take levels in something else. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 1, 2022 at 21:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TheFallen0ne The question explicitly discounts the idea of Weapon Focus being used as a prerequisite. And frankly, even if you have Weapon Focus, that doesn’t mean burning 4 levels on fighter for Weapon Specialization is a good idea. A fighter/rogue/weaponmaster is not a good build. Weapon master is also, officially, not 3.5e-compliant—officially, the exotic weapon master from Complete Warrior is its “update” (even though it’s a completely different class), and updated 3.0e content is not legal in 3.5e. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 2, 2022 at 1:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think I see the disconnect in our approach: you’re talking about the fighter having more than enough feats, +2 attack/+4 damage being “[not] a bad foundation” considering how many you have, etc. I’m saying that, if you don’t desperately need those feats, don’t take levels in fighter at all. A fighter would have “more than enough” feats? Then don’t be a fighter—you should only take fighter levels if you don’t have enough feats. Of course, a weapon master does need feats—its requirements are insane. So fighter 2nd makes sense, but after that: monk, psychic warrior, etc. to get more. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 2, 2022 at 14:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ (Also, rogue is a weird addition to that build since sneak attack explicitly doesn’t work with ki damage or critical hits. I would be looking to get more attacks, e.g. whirling frenzy barbarian, the aforementioned monk, etc.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 2, 2022 at 14:19
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There are diminishing returns on bonuses to attack, and a mid- to high-level PC is likely to meet them even without Weapon Focus. Monster AC doesn't scale as quickly as bonuses to hit do, so eventually a Fighter will be trivially hitting the monsters, causing Weapon Focus to lose its efficacy.

Power Attack is the easiest comparison, and while Power Attack and Weapon Focus are comparable to each other for at least the early to mid levels, the subsequent feat chains are not: Weapon Focus -> Weapon Specialization -> Greater Weapon Specialization pales in comparison to Power Attack -> Improved Bull Rush -> Shock Trooper.

Outside of a raw damage comparison, feats like Improved Trip and Combat Reflexes provide utility and control tools that are much more powerful than a half a point of extra average damage, and something like Improved Initiative can mean the difference between getting to act or just getting crowd-controlled in the first round.

Honestly, Weapon Focus is fine at low levels. It compares pretty well to Power Attack mathematically, better against high AC enemies and worse against low AC ones, but the high AC enemies are often the more difficult fights. But the Weapon Specialization has pretty minimal impact compared to the things Power Attack opens up, like Shock Trooper or Leap Attack.1

Lastly, Weapon Focus locks a PC into a particular type of weapon, which can sometimes be a problem. If you're delving in a dungeon an uncover a sweet +2 warhammer of skullcrushing but you have Weapon Focus (Longsword), that's going to feel bad. If you took it for an executioner's mace, like you're considering, the chances that you find an upgrade in a dungeon or even at an weapons shop are slim to none, so you're reliant on getting a custom made weapon, which isn't actually trivial in many campaigns. (Weapon Focus for a natural weapon dodges many of these issues, as does the Warblade class feature Weapon Aptitude.)

Weapon Focus does lead to plenty of neat prestige classes, like the Pious Templar or Divine Crusader, and it's great for NPCs because it's easy to just bake into a stat block, as opposed to a "better" feat like Combat Reflexes or Power Attack. But for most characters, there are simply better things to be doing with feat slots.


1: Though it's perhaps worth noting that, as written, Leap Attack doesn't do anything at all because the author forgot how Power Attack works and also how charging works, so I suppose in that light Weapon Specialization is much better. But it's pretty clear how Leap Attack was intended to work, and it's stronger than Weapon Specialization.

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    \$\begingroup\$ “And if you're just taking pure levels of Fighter, you'll have so many feats that you might as well take Weapon Focus.” No, you won’t—even a single-classed human fighter can find better things to spend feats on. Maybe if limited to core only, but even then it would only make sense when there is basically nothing else left—and at that point, as you yourself point out, it is close to meaningless. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 1, 2022 at 12:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, while Leap Attack certainly is written poorly, I cannot see any justification for your claim that “as written [it] doesn’t do anything at all.” \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 1, 2022 at 12:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ -1. Answer is confusingly written. I might disagree with the answer itself, too, but I can't tell what the actual answer is meant to be - it posits several, which disagree with each other. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Dec 1, 2022 at 14:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan As far as pure Fighter goes, I suppose I assumed that anyone taking 20 levels of Fighter isn't using much beyond core, which is unfounded and I certainly didn't make clear; I'll just remove that line. Leap Attack never says that you make a charge and then get a bonus to PA at the end. Even reading the description above benefits as rules text (which would be controversial) it doesn't have any limit on how long you get 100% extra PA damage, and you would have to know in advance if your jump check is successful—it's a disaster all around. Technically, a long Jump only works over gaps, too. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2022 at 15:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ “This attack must follow all the normal rules […] for making a charge” is not the clearest way to explain that you have to charge in order to get the benefit, which applies to the charge attack specifically, but it is in the feat’s benefit rules. As for the long jump thing, see any standard discussion of the distinction between description and proscription in rules text. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 1, 2022 at 15:39

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