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One of the benefits of the Polearm Master feat (PHB, p. 168) is:

While you are wielding a glaive, halberd, pike, or quarterstaff, other creatures provoke an opportunity attack from you when they enter your reach.

One of the benefits of the Sentinel feat (PHB, p. 169-170) is:

When you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, the creature’s speed becomes 0 for the rest of the turn.

So if an enemy aproaches, you hit it with the opportunity attack from Polearm Master, and because of Sentinel it is now stopped 10 feet away from you. They can not hit you, you hit them on your turn and move back 5 feet.
Repeat at will.

Is this unbeatable in a duel? Am I not seeing something?

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    \$\begingroup\$ giantitp.com/comics/oots0216.html \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Dec 17, 2015 at 0:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ What level PC for this duel? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 25, 2019 at 3:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast, basically any level, where both combatants have only melee weapons. \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Jul 25, 2019 at 7:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ You should include the melee restriction in the question. There are more occasions where there can be restrictions on melee attacks. (Spells, terrain, etc...) In dnd-5e all character should be able to make ranged attacks (and all classes are able to do so while putting themselves at most at a small disadvantage compared to their "main" attack mode). \$\endgroup\$
    – Kvothe
    May 22, 2023 at 17:55

9 Answers 9

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One way to mitigate could be to move to 15', then Drop to Prone and crawl to 10' provoking an OA with Disadvantage (you are more than 5' away). And then stand and move to 5'. Attack.

Orcs are especially good at this, due to Aggressive.

Obvious downside is that you may end up Prone with 0' speed left. OTOH if you are, they need to close to 5' to get rid of their Disadvantage. At which point you're good to go.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Although, if an orc gets tagged with that OA then Aggressive becomes useless, anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – natlee75
    Jul 10, 2018 at 11:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ If the enemy starts at 15' away this would require them to have a move speed of at least 50'. An orc can do it, as you say, but most humanoids cannot. \$\endgroup\$
    – sirjonsnow
    Jul 25, 2019 at 17:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @sirjonsnow: As can any character with bonus action Dash or jump, e.g. Rogues, Goblins, Harengon, Satyrs. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 22, 2023 at 11:58
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No

For this to work it requires:

  1. You to hit with the opportunity attack every time,

  2. The opponent to have no reach or ranged options available,

  3. there to be only one opponent because you only get one reaction,

  4. The opponent to be an idiot.

No 1. is not going to happen, even if you have a massive bonus to hit you will eventually roll a 1.

No 2. is unlikely; most enemies have some way of doing damage at range.

No 3. Is a self-evident limitation - the first opponent sacrifices themselves to clear a path.

No 4. presupposes that the opponent has no options or will not use the options they have. A disengage action allows them to get close; a grapple stops you moving away, for example. A rogue can do this turn after turn with their Cunning Action (PHB 96); other classes have different techniques.

Note that the Sentinel ability against Disengage (PHB 192) is: "Creatures provoke opportunity attacks from you even if they take the Disengage action before leaving your reach."; it won't help with creatures 10 feet away from entering your reach or moving from 10 feet to 5 feet as they are not "leaving your reach".

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm late to the party, I know, but wouldn't disengage only apply when leaving your reach as well? So a rogue's cunning action couldn't negate the attack of opportunity as they approach the creature with the sentinel feat... oh, never mind. "your movement doesn't provoke opportunity attacks" -0 PHB 192 \$\endgroup\$ Aug 10, 2018 at 0:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Grond: Disengage is not a "move action", it's a regular action. (In fact, there's no such thing as "move actions" in 5e, there's just your "movement".) You can't disengage and attack in the same turn unless you have something like Cunning Action that allows you to disengage using your bonus action. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyvern
    Oct 14, 2019 at 16:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ About point 3, sentinel states "Creatures provoke opportunity attacks from you even if they take the Disengage action before leaving your reach" it does not state that the opportunity attack has to be provoked by leaving your range. Only that they have to use Disengage before leaving your reach. When read exactly the "before leaving your reach" part is useless. So polearm master may work here. And about point one, for halflings that's gonna be a low chance. \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Oct 31, 2019 at 17:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can use your action to Disengage and bypass both feats, stand beside him and then attack next round. A Rogue can use Disengage on their Bonus Action to run up to you and then use their action to make a full attack . Disengage does not specify in which direction you move, so the polearm feat can't hit you, and the sentinel feat only works when an opponent is leaving that character's 5' reach. \$\endgroup\$
    – Grond
    Dec 20, 2019 at 5:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ The point about Disengage is no longer relevant, since the first PHB errata Sentinel (p. 169). The text “within 5 feet of you” has been removed from the second benefit \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Dec 27, 2019 at 19:40
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Yes, it does

As you mentioned, Polearm Master lets you make an Opportunity attack as someone enters your reach; Sentinel lets you drop an enemy's speed to 0. This also applies while they're still 10' away from you, meaning that unless they have a reach weapon, they can't then make a melee attack against you.


So, you may say to yourself:

Wow, that's stupidly good

And the answer is that it's a highly specialized combo, so it is quite good -- if you're only concerned about duels. Dueling is not the most common combat situation in D&D 5e[1] so you're likely to run into some of the following issues, which limit the combo's usefulness in open combat:

  • You only get one reaction. This limits you to locking down a single enemy at a time, so this isn't quite as useful when going up against 2 or more enemies. The more enemies you fight at once, of course, the less useful it becomes.

  • They can go around you. You can penalize enemies by making use their movement like this, but you can't hold them back forever, barring favorable terrain.

  • This only triggers if they enter your range so if you fail to clear your area of influence, and an enemy starts within 10' of you, they're unhindered.

  • It's not guaranteed. Yeah, with the use of Precision Attack it gets up there. But, with the critical failure rules in place on Attack rolls, you're still failing to stop them about 5% of the time.

  • This doesn't address ranged attacks. So, anybody with a bow or ranged spells doesn't need to get close to hit you. Of course, thanks to Sentinel, you can always do the inverse of the strategy you suggested -- close distance on spell casters and prevent them from fleeing.

[1]: At least in my games, you're more likely to run into more than one opponent at a time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How about ranged attacks, spell/abilities like Misty Step (BA), spells like darkness/obscuring mist, Disengage with BA attacks, Disengage with Sentinel feat (will beat on you next round and now THEY can't run away), rogues who can do disengage as BA, Mobile feat/Swashbuckler, and I know someone has thought of a couple more I haven't... \$\endgroup\$
    – Grond
    Dec 22, 2023 at 7:39
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Well, they could use something to make you lose your reaction. There could be two people and you only have one reaction. They could disengage the first turn and get next to you and then you would only be able to do anything if you disengaged or took an OA. You could miss. They could have range. They could have reach. They could teleport.

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To answer your question, polearm master's second perk would activate once the enemy enters your reach (10'), and therefore a hit would stop him at that distance.

Keep in mind, however, that unless you have the Tunnel Fighter Fighting style (see below), you cannot use this more than once per round, as opportunity attacks use your reaction. You also sacrifice any other options for which you would need a reaction, which can make some feel like a one-trick pony during extended fights.

This combination is also extremely situationnal and requires a few conditions to be met. You must be able to reach the enemies (faster enemies might skirt around you or, for some, fly over/burrow under), and they must rely solely on 5' range melee attacks, which becomes void at later levels.

As for the use of Battlemaster, once again using your superiority die for this blocks other options which might be more useful or provide a more fun combat encounter. Also like your reaction, superiority die are a limited resource.

Last but not least, this requires 2 feats, and while this is not a problem for a fighter that has 7 APIs, it is not ideal for other classes who only have 5.

Here, however, are a few positive aspects of this combination:

  • Tunnel Fighter (UA) removes the limit imposed by a single reaction. If you choose your positioning carefully, you can therefore stop an entire enemy party in a narrow passage, so long as those enemies are within melee range, and you don't miss an attack, of course. If you are a DM, consider this carefully before including this material in the game.
  • This feat is a great opportunity for cooperative play! If you have casters with mold earth, movement-restricting spells or wall spells, use this to your advantage! Since you won't necessarily be doing mountains of damage, you can hold the front line while your allies pelt your enemies with ranged attacks while funneling your adversaries into your reach.
  • Take it with the Mobile Feat. If you're hell bent on spending ASIs on feats instead of ability score upgrades, take the mobile feat, which will allow you to back off on your turn after hitting the enemy without taking an attack opportunity from it is it has 10' range as well.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ With Mobile you can throw (15' away or more) a dagger with off-hand (Bonus Action), finish moving up and make a full attack with your preferred weapon. Thrown weapons are still melee attacks, so they qualify for Mobile and Swashbuckler. \$\endgroup\$
    – Grond
    Dec 22, 2023 at 7:32
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TL:DR Heck No

An example of something that would give the OP's fighter trouble (and perhaps a more ironclad one) would be going up against a War Caster Bard using Dissonant Whispers.

If the bard wins initiative, he can simply cast the spell -- without the ability to interrupt it with an opportunity attack. Now you're stuck making a Wisdom save, which the Fighter isn't so hot at.

If the bard loses initiative, it actually gets worse for the fighter -- the bard can use War Caster to cast Dissonant Whispers as a reaction to your attack, denying you the ability to disrupt it with an attack of your own. Failing that Wisdom save then makes life even tougher, because then your reaction goes up in smoke from the spell's effect, and you're now 30' away from the bard, who has his turn now available to do whatever he pleases.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How does the bard get the opportunity attack to cast Dissonant Whispers? \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    May 10, 2019 at 9:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Andras War Caster feat, perhaps? \$\endgroup\$ May 17, 2019 at 16:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast But what triggers it? Is there an OA that the fighter is triggering? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    May 17, 2019 at 18:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Hmm, I wonder if in 2015 Shal saw something in the action economy that I didn't? \$\endgroup\$ May 17, 2019 at 19:44
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Another potential counter could be the Disarming Attack combat maneuver, or the Disarm combat option (if the DM allows it). Both just require the attacker to make a "weapon attack", not specifically a melee weapon attack. So the attacker could make a ranged attack to disarm, and if successful, use their move to close to 5', then either draw a melee weapon and use any extra attacks they may have, or pick up your dropped pole arm to prevent you from picking it up on your turn.

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Your premise was that neither side has ranged (Including magic I assume) and there are only two combatants.

If I were going against such an enemy, I'd choose a polearm with reach as well.

If my character goes first, I hold an action to strike if he comes within 10', if he does it becomes normal combat.

If your character gets initiative what is he going to do? He comes within 10' and hits, then it becomes a normal battle. If he moves to outside the 10' I believe he takes an OA, so dodging in and out isn't advantageous, in essence they just wack each other with sticks from there on out.

Your character may easily choose not to lose but he can't win unless he does so fairly (and since he's wasted two feats that are absolutely useless for this battle, that's less likely). The best he can do with those feats is guarantee first strike.

So the answer is no, he's not unbeatable. He can force a draw by not attacking (He didn't need any feats for that!), and that's about it.

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No, you are not unbeatable, the are many ways it doesn't work

Not counting the odds of hitting every time for this to work, I list the major ways to nullify this combo.

1. There are range characters, like archers and spellcasters, who don't care about melee feats, and can kill you from hidden long distance (bows 400-600 ft.) or be flying out of reach and spell snipe (120-600 ft.).

2. Many martial characters have access to Misty Step from multiple sources and can "Bamph" beside you as a bonus action, then attack you. Metamagic can Quicken any Teleport Spell

3. Have the Mobile feat and throw a dagger/javelin from at least 15 feet away, then finish moving up and attack, now that you have nullified the PA threat (Swashbucklers can do this too with the 3rd level Fancy Footwork feature).

Mobile Feat 3rd Feature:

When you make a melee attack against a creature, you don't provoke opportunity attacks from that creature for the rest of the turn, whether you hit or not.

4. You can obtain the ability to use Disengage as a Bonus Action through the 2nd level Rogue feature. Then Declare as a BA, run up for full attack! And if he steps back, you get an OA, and can do this all again next round!

If you take the Disengage action, your movement doesn't provoke opportunity attacks for the rest of the turn.

5. Everyone can just declare the Disengage Action and run up and stand beside you. After doing that, you can only use a Bonus Action (cast a Bonus Action Spell, like Hex/Hunter's Mark, or a Quickened spell, or use a bonus action attack/effect) until next round, when you can go full attack on them. They can step back 10 ft., but this gives you an OA.

"But wait! Sentinel allows me to hit creatures who are using the Disengage action, so I still get the OA!"

Unfortunately, Sentinel doesn't work that way, it is very specific about when this special ability applies.

Creatures provoke opportunity attacks from you even if they take the Disengage action before leaving your reach.

Since they are entering your reach, Sentinel does NOT apply.

So thus "unbeatable combo" is quite beatable, and in some cases a bad trap for the person who thinks this "unbeatable".

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