I know that feats are only an optional rule, and the game should be balanced around not having them (at least that is what I would expect it to be)

But still I get the impression that those feats are almost "required", as something like Great Weapon Master greatly improves the damage per round, doesn't it? At least it does increase it more than adding +2 to your strength, which is also limited to 20 (+5).

My question is: How important are those feats in 5e?

Are they as important as they seem to me?
Can a Fighter (meaning the someone with the fighter class) without feats overcome level-appropriate foes as competently as a Fighter with feats?

In the campaign in question, the player's are about to be Level 5, and we (2 Players + DM) are about to create new characters on this level. We switched to using the standard array for attributes, and in a discussion about the new characters (which are not yet finalized, classes and races are completely undecided) this question arose and was heavily discussed between me and the DM.


3 Answers 3


It can overcome, but not as competently

Just like with Magic Items, if you do not add feats to the game, non-spellcasters are hit the hardest. Spells are not modified much by magic items or feats, but a Maul strike is.

(I will only consider DPR, other things are very hard to quantify and compare)

Ability Score Improvements are so strong that there are only 4 feats that provide better DPR increases, and those are for special builds only:

  • Crossbow Expert
  • Sharpshooter
  • Polearm Master
  • Great Weapon Master

Even Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Master are worse than an ASI most of the time, unless you have access to near constant advantage.

As long as you can improve your main stat, you are not much behind feat users.
Unfortunately a standard Fighter with a 16 in Strength maxes out his Strength at level 6; after that you will really feel the difference.


Until level 6 you are fine, later you fall behind. At level 12 you are about 60%* as effective. After that the gap remains the same, as there are not many great feats, so the third feat of a Fighter is most likely not much better than an ASI in a secondary stat.

How much stronger are you with feats

Imagine a standard HalfOrc Fighter at level 12, optimized for damage output:
Starting abilities: Str 16, Dex 10, Con 16, Int 12, Wis 13, Cha 8
Fighting Style: Great Weapon

With feats, Str becomes 20, and takes Polearm Master and GWM.
Attack: +9 (Str 5, Prof 4)
Damage: 3 x (1d10 + 5) + 1d4 + 5 = 41.9 (with Great Weapon Style)
DPR against AC 18: 0.6 * 41.9 = 25.14
DPR against AC 18 with Advantage: 0.84 * 41.9 = 35.2
DPR against AC 18 with Advantage and GWM: 0.58 * 41.9 = 47.3

Without feats, Str becomes 20, and the rest does not matter for DPR.
Attack: +9 (Str 5, Prof 4)
Damage: 3 x (2d6 + 5) = 40 (with Great Weapon Style)
DPR against AC 18: 0.6 * 40 = 24
DPR against AC 18 with Advantage: 0.84 * 40 = 33.6

*Getting Advantage is trivial at level 12 between spells, maneuvers and feats (Shield Master), so comparing the best values it is 47.3 vs 33.6, 40% higher with feats.
Paladins and Barbarians experience an even bigger difference, Polearm Master adds about 50% to their damage, while Fighters have 3 attacks at this level anyway, so it adds about 33%.

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    \$\begingroup\$ could you share how you come up with the 60%? \$\endgroup\$
    – Patta
    Jul 1, 2016 at 22:53

A featless fighter isn't less capable of overcoming level appropriate challenges than a fighter with feats. It's true that feats like Great Weapon Master are a straight up DPR increase, especially when compared to an ASI in a non-combat stat. However, the ASI's are still providing very useful benefits. The fighter with feats has the advantage of a high degree of specialization, but the one without feats is a much better generalist. The featless fighter might have high strength, dex, AND con. As such, he is never in a situation he can't handle. Enemies hundreds of feet away? Pull out a bow and plunk away. Enemies up close? Pull out a maul and start swinging. Taken prisoner? Hey, that leather armor he took off the guard after sneaking up on him and taking him out will still bring his AC to a respectable 17, even if he'd prefer plate.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for pointing that out, edited the "no" out to keep it more consistent. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ethan
    Jul 1, 2016 at 17:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I find these claims difficult to believe and would like to see more evidence and analysis backing them up. Can a fearless fighter at high levels actually switch weapons and maintain meaningful damage output? You assert he can but I doubt it. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 1, 2016 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ KRyan: The fighter with the bow can drop it once a foe reaches melee range, and pull out a sword. The key thing is in D&D, we don't have perfectly spherical fighters smacking cubic battleblobs on an infinite plane. Stuff gets messy, and when the specialized GWM fighter can't smack things with a great weapon with an AC such that GWM is a damage increase, he is operating one ASI behind. Andras: +1 Wisdom from the feat doesn't matter if it's an even score, and if it's and odd score then it should be compared to +1 wisdom and +1 something else. When you aren't making wis saves, ASI is better. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ethan
    Jul 1, 2016 at 18:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ethan Hey now, sometimes we do fight cubic battleblobs. \$\endgroup\$
    – JAB
    Jul 1, 2016 at 19:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan If you demand precision from the answer, please first identify what you mean by "meaningful damage" (a vague term) so that ethan has some basis to work from to respond to you. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 1, 2016 at 21:59

The answer to this question very much depends on your GM/ your playstyle in so far that he can give your level-appropriate foes feats, too.

As the math in other answers suggests a fighter with feats can more competently overcome a given foe than a fighter without feats. But if the foe has access to feats, too this is no longer the case because both sides gain the same advantage.

For example a group of characters need to defeat a bandit "king" and his honour guard. With feats the player characters may deal more damage but what if the bandit king has the same feats as the fighter and his second in command has the expert leader feat giving every opponent a couple of temporary hp? Now both sides deal more damage and the enemies are tougher, too.

Now let's assume the fighter fights the bandit king while the rest of the party care about the honour guard. Will the fighter overcome the bandit more competently than he would have if both sides had no access to feats?

All in all feats are an potential increase in power for everyone meaning that it is up to optimization whether the result is beneficial for the party and thus for the fighter.


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