Table of Contents:
Polearm Fighter Build: Everything You Need to Know
The “polearm master” feat inevitably comes up whenever people discuss optimized fighter builds in Dungeons and Dragons. Some DMs will even call it overpowered or broken. Is it? Should you play one? We’re going to dive deep into the concept and provide you with everything you need to know. Before you roll into this guide, check out our fighter dice sets to prepare to win!
What’s the Point of the Build?
Fundamentally, the build takes advantage of a couple different feats to create a fighter that can hit their opponents with reach and stop them from getting any closer. It gains an additional attack with the backend of your polearm, and you get to trigger your opportunity attack when somebody comes at you rather than waiting until they try to get around you.
At 4th level, a polearm master fighter’s turn will look a lot like this:
- Get to within 10 feet of an enemy, make 2 attacks for a total (assuming both hit) of 1d10 + 1d4 + 6.
- Back off 5 to 10 feet.
- Get charged and make your opportunity attack before they get into melee of you, for 1d10 + 3.
- The enemy can’t make any attacks because they’ve been stopped at 10 feet away from you.
There’s a lot of assumptions and things that have to go right for this to work, but it can make you into a daunting and neigh unstoppable opponent in any kind of dueling situation or “fair fight”.
If this kind of “keep away” style of combat sounds appealing, then this character build may just be right for you!
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How do I build it?
You can technically run this build with any combination of race and class, but it requires two different feats, so ideally you want to run a human fighter as they gain extra opportunities to take them. All the build needs is two different feats: Polearm Master, and Sentinel
From the Player's Handbook, when you take the attack action with a glaive, halberd, or quarterstaff, you can use a bonus action to make a melee attack with the other end of the weapon. The damage die is a d4 (add attribute modifiers as normal) and deals bludgeoning damage. Otherwise, this attack functions just as if you attacked with the weapon in question.
While wielding a glaive, halberd, pike, or quarterstaff, other creatures provoke an opportunity attack from you when they enter your reach.
(It’s worth noting that this feat has been errata and now includes spears as a “polearm”.)
Whenever you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, its speed drops to 0 for the rest of the turn. This stops any movement they may have been taking.
Creatures within your reach provoke opportunity attacks even if they took the Disengage action.
When a creature within your reach makes an attack against a target other than you (and that target doesn't have this feat), you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against the attacking creature.
Note how these two lovely feats interact. Polearm Mastery is allowing you to make your opportunity attack when an enemy enters your reach (which is 10 with your brand new polearm) and Sentinel stops them in their tracks before they can close the distance.
That’s it really, the core concept of the build just revolves around taking these two feats in tandem, and they’re both rather good on their own already. Essentially, just build your fighter how you normally would, and simply select these two feats at your earliest opportunity.
With the simple goal of two feats in mind, for the optimal build of a polearm master, choose the following:
- Select the human race and take the variant human option that grants a feat at 1st level and select Polearm Master build as your feat.
- Use a glaive or halberd as your weapon.
- At 4th level, select the Sentinel feat.
That’s what you can consider the core of the build, and beyond that you have a lot of wiggle room to customize.
The Vanilla Polearm Master Build
The “standard” or “vanilla” build of polearm master is usually what people are talking about when they reference the build. It is the easiest and most direct application of the idea and “turns on” the earliest with the least penalty for the multiple feat dips.
For this version of the build, take the previously mentioned core options for the build and make the following choices:
- Level up as a fighter.
- Choose the Battle Master archetype.
- Choose either the Great Weapon Fighting style (for better damage) or the Defense style (for more tanky goodness).
- Fighter is the default class for this build because it gains so many ability score increases. You sacrifice a lot of raw ability score points by taking 2 feats instead, and fighter can really help you make up some lost ground.
- The Battle Master archetype is also a huge boon, and the maneuvers can really help augment the positioning games you play with your feats. Choose this option if you don’t want to sacrifice a lot of ability points and becoming a master of battlefield tactics sounds appealing.
The Knight of Unfair Stabbing
This variant of the build is unfair, it’s right there in the name. Imagine a scenario in which an enemy is locked in place, 10 feet from you, they can’t run away from you or get into melee with you and you can stab them safely from 10 feet away. Oh, and let’s not forget they automatically take psychic damage every turn while they stand there helpless.
To set up this completely unfair scenario, take the previously mentioned core options for the build, and make the following choices:
- Level up as a paladin.
- Choose the Oath of Conquest (found in Xanathar's Guide to Everything)
- Choose either the Great Weapon Fighting style (for better damage) or the Defense style (for more tanky goodness).
- The features from the Oath of Conquest that we really care about are the channel divinity option Conquering Presence and the 7th level ability Aura of Conquest.
Aura of Conquest
Starting at 7th level, you constantly emanate a menacing aura while you’re not incapacitated. The aura extends 10 feet from you in every direction, but not through total cover.
If a creature is frightened of you, its speed is reduced to 0 while in the aura, and that creature takes psychic damage equal to half your paladin level if it starts its turn there.
At 18th level, the range of this aura increases to 30 feet.
Conquering Presence is really just a built-in way to get your opponents frightened, but there’s also some useful paladin spells that can achieve the same effect.
Think about how this interacts with our polearm setup, once a creature becomes frightened of you, they won’t be able to move, and because of your reach, they won’t be able to attack you either. Even if they do save out of it, you can smack them with your opportunity attack and keep them locked in place with sentinel.
This version of the build takes a bit more work, because you’ll also need to care about your Charisma stat, and it takes until level 7 to really “turn on”, but you’re also getting heavy armor and all the deliciousness that is divine smite so I think it makes for a fine tradeoff.
Storm Lock Barbarian
A little fairer than the knight, but still based on creating a 10 aura of pain around you and locking your opponent out of reach. With this you can slash away while your opponent is stuck just ahead of you in a nimbus of electric damage.
To set up this storm, take the previously mentioned core options for the build, and make the following choices:
- Level up as a barbarian.
- Choose the Path of the Storm Herald (from Xanathar's Guide to Everything).
- Choose Sea as your environment.
- Now you can play a beefy glaive-wielding barbarian, lock your enemy out of their melee reach as in the other builds, but also deal them free lightning damage every turn.
This version has the bonus survivability of a barbarian with an extra damage synergy. Consider this build if you like the idea of being a living lightning rod.
Is the Build Worth Playing?
The short answer is yes!
The long answer is sort of. The main concept of the build is strong, but it relies on a lot of factors going right.
If you get ambushed or have any scenario where your enemies begin the combat in melee of you, the whole gimmick of your feats don’t really have a chance to shine. It also does little to nothing about ranged combatants. You’re also limited to a single reaction, so this keep-away battlefield control strategy falls apart if you get swarmed.
The build controls a single close-range enemy well, and in a straight dual or any single combat your opponent will be crying “broken” and “OP” after they spend the entire combat locked in place and doing nothing while dying to polearm slashes.
The advantage of the build though is how little you give up achieving it. Nothing you do for the build is bad on its own, and even in those scenarios where the gimmick fails, you’re still a damn fine martial character.
So, go forth, and have fun stop-locking your opponents into oblivion!
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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