Widely regarded as one of the best Fighter subclasses in DnD 5e, Battle Masters have a ton of tools that make them a ton of fun to play. Their maneuvers give them so many great tools that are sort of akin to spellcaster’s spells, making them one of the most consistently versatile martial subclasses that DnD 5e has to offer.
I’ll cover Battle Master features, rate each feature (and maneuver) on a scale of 1 to 5, and go over how to build a Battle Master effectively in 5e. I’ll also discuss their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to build a roleplaying backstory for your Battle Master.
Battle Master Features
Combat Superiority – 3rd-level (5/5)
Get access to three maneuvers that enhance your attacks. These maneuvers are usable four times per rest (short or long) and use superiority dice (d8). Saving throws for these maneuvers use a DC equal to 8 + proficiency bonus + Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice).
You learn two additional maneuvers at levels 7, 10, and 15, and gain one additional superiority die at levels 7 and 15. Superiority dice values increase to d10s at level 10, and d12s at level 18.
Here’s more details on each of the maneuvers, as well as my 1-5 rating of each:
Ambush (4/5): Add superiority die to Stealth check or initiatve roll. This is a solid pick for any Fighter, since going earlier in the initiative order is so important for getting off Extra Attack before enemies can respond, possibly even eliminating a threat from the fight. It’s even more necessary for Strength-based Fighters who aren’t putting as much focus on Dexterity. And if you’re wearing heavy armor, it helps to negate disadvantage on Stealth checks.
Bait and Switch (2/5): Switch places with a willing creature within 5 feet without provoking opportunity attacks and add your superiority die to the AC of you or the creature for one round. Useful for repositioning yourself and an ally and becoming tankier for a round, but it can also be tricky to get into position to actually use this unless there’s a second frontliner in the group that’s nearly always beside you in fights.
Brace (4/5): Use a reaction to make an attack against a creature who moves into the reach of your melee weapon, adding your superiority die to the damage if the attack hits. Getting more attacks per round is always good and, as a Fighter, foes will frequently be running into your range.
Commander’s Strike (2/5): Replace one of your attacks to use a bonus action to allow an ally to use a reaction to immediately make an attack, adding your superiority die to the damage if the attack hits. Overall, you’d rather be the one making attacks rather than your allies. However, this maneuver becomes much more attractive if you have a Rogue in your party, as they can get Sneak Attack damage multiple times per turn.
Commanding Presence (1/5): Add your superiority die to an Intimidation, Performance, or Persuasion check. If your party lacks a Charisma-based character, this can be a useful way to fill that gap, but your Charisma is probably bad to begin with (unless you have proficiency in one of these skills already). Overall, I’d say skip this one and let someone else be the party’s Face.
Disarming Attack (2/5): After hitting a creature, add your superiority die the attack’s damage and force the target to make a Strength save, dropping one item of your choice if they fail. Creatures can pick up their items with a free action, so disarming isn’t very strong in DnD 5e. However, it might come in handy for knocking an enemy’s shield off to lower their AC for a round or causing a foe to drop a MacGuffin so you can pick it up yourself.
Distracting Strike (3/5): After hitting a creature, add your superiority die the attack’s damage and the next attack roll against the target by an attacker other than you had advantage. A decent maneuver for helping Paladins and Rogues land more critical hits, but you can accomplish the same thing for multiple attack rolls with Trip Attack (although it’s save-dependent).
Evasive Footwork (1/5): Add superiority die to your AC during movement, lasting until you stop moving. There are better ways to reposition yourself in combat than making opportunity attacks slightly less likely to hit; skip this maneuver at all costs.
Feinting Attack (4/5): Use a bonus action to get advantage on an attack against a creature within 5 feet, adding your superiority die to the damage if the attack hits. Great for do-or-die moments when you need an attack to land and boosting your chances of landing a critical strike.
Goading Attack (1/5): After hitting a creature, add your superiority die the attack’s damage and force the target to make a Wisdom save; if it fails, its attack rolls against targets other than you have disadvantage for one round. The idea is for this to act as a soft taunt, but the better way to do that is to just stand next to them threatening an opportunity attack. Ironically, this is actually better on ranged weapon users, but, even then, there are better uses for your limited superiority dice.
Grappling Strike (3/5): After hitting a creature, use a bonus action to attempt to grapple the target, adding your superiority die to the Athletics check. This can be pretty handy in conjunction with Trip Attack to pin a prone creature to the ground (they can’t get up while their speed is 0) and in conjunction with hazardous terrain like Spike Growth. If you’re fully committing to being a melee-heavy group’s grappler, this can actually be a decent maneuver; otherwise, skip it.
Lunging Attack (1/5): Add 5 feet to a melee weapon’s reach, adding your superiority die to the damage roll if the attack hits. +5 feet of reach is not worth your limited superiority dice, so you can skip this maneuver completely. Although, I’ll admit that it’s fun to cheese this with Bugbear’s Long-Limbed feature and a reach weapon for insane 20-foot reach melee attacks.
Maneuvering Attack (3/5): After hitting a creature, add your superiority die to the damage roll, and a friendly creature can use its reaction to move half its speed without provoking opportunity attacks from your attack’s target. Handy for highly mobile allies like Monks and protecting squishy allies from danger, and more often usable than Bait and Switch.
Menacing Attack (5/5): After hitting a creature, add your superiority die to the attack’s damage and force a Wisdom saving throw, frightening the creature until the end of your next turn if it fails. The frightened condition gives a creature disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks and disallows them from moving closer to you. This is better for tankiness than any of the supposedly tank-focused maneuvers on this list because it helps all your allies, not just yourself or one other ally. It’s also incredible on ranged attacks, since you can effectively remove a melee enemy from the fight for a full round of combat, or even kite it and force it to use Dash on its next turn to catch up to your party.
Parry (2/5): After being hit by a melee attack, use your reaction to reduce the damage by your superiority die plus your Dexterity modifier. This damage reduction is not very good, even if you are a Dex-focused Fighter. You’re better off dealing bonus damage with a different maneuver, killing the enemy faster (death is the best damage-reducing debuff, after all).
Precision Attack (4/5): Before or after you make a weapon attack, add your superiority die to the attack roll. Like Feinting Attack, this is good for moments when you absolutely need your attack to land. In a way, it’s better because you can see the result of your roll before deciding to use it.
Pushing Attack (3/5): After hitting a creature, add your superiority die to the attack’s damage and force a Strength saving throw, pushing the target up to 15 feet away from you if it fails. Personally, I love movement-forcing effects, so I’m a big fan of Pushing Attack. But it requires a certain type of party to really work effectively. A party that sets up hazardous terrain like Spirit Guardians, Spike Growth, Moonbeam, and stuff like that will benefit much more from this maneuver than a party that lacks these tools. Oh, and pushing a bad guy off a cliff or into lava is always fun.
Quick Toss (1/5): Use a bonus action to throw a thrown weapon, which you’re able to draw as part of this attack, adding your superiority die to the damage roll if it hits. Since you can simply drop your weapon as a free action to draw and throw a weapon anyway, this is hardly useful (although an extra BA attack is always nice).
Rally (2/5): Use a bonus action to give an ally temporary hit points equal to your superiority die plus your Charisma modifier. You’re better off dealing more damage with a different maneuver than giving a small defensive boon to an ally, especially since your Charisma modifier likely isn’t very good as a Fighter.
Riposte (5/5): After a creature misses you with a melee attack, use a reaction to make a melee weapon attack against it, adding your superiority die the damage roll if it hits. Being able to weaponize your reaction with something other than opportunity attacks is a big benefit, and since you’re likely to be attacked a lot as a frontliner, you’ll get a lot of use out of this maneuver. Easily a top-tier choice for any melee Fighter, but not useful at all for most ranged weapon users.
Sweeping Attack (1/5): After hitting a creature, make an attack against another creature within 5 feet of the target and within your reach, dealing damage equal to the superiority die if it hits. It’s kind of rare that two creatures will be grouped up around you and, even if they are, the damage is pretty lackluster.
Tactical Assessment (1/5): Add your superiority die to an Investigation, History, or Insight check. You dump Intelligence as a Fighter, so you won’t be good at any of these skills, even with this small bonus.
Trip Attack (5/5): After hitting a creature, add your superiority die to the attack’s damage and force a Strength saving throw, knocking it prone if it fails. Melee creatures have attack advantage against prone creatures, the prone creature has attack disadvantage, and it takes half their movement to stand up. Overall, this can net a melee-heavy party a ton of advantaged attack rolls with the right initiative order, and it even helps you get away from a creature without being hit by an opportunity attack as well.
Battle Master maneuvers are the heart and soul of the subclass, and the sheer number you can use each day (4-18, depending on your level and short rests taken) paired with the variety of options (3-9, depending on your level) means that you’ll almost always have the right tool for the occasion. Here’s some advice for making the most of this feature:
Student of War – 3rd-level (1/5)
Gain proficiency with one artisan’s tools of your choice.
This is a pretty underwhelming feature, but it’s not why you pick Battle Master as a subclass. If you could get proficiency with thieves’ tools, it would be great, but as it is, artisan’s tools won’t have a big impact on most DnD games.
Know Your Enemy – 7th-level (1/5)
Spend one minute to learn if a creature is equal, superior, or inferior in two of the following: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, AC, HP, class levels, or Fighter levels.
Another very underwhelming subclass feature, but it does have some utility. Mostly if you’re a Dexterity-focused, good-at-stealth character who can size up a foe from the shadows before starting a fight. But, honestly, even then it won’t be very useful for your party.
Improved Combat Superiority – 10th-level (3/5)
Superiority dice increase to d10s. At 18th level, they increase to d12s.
Beyond the benefits of leveling up your Fighter for the class features, this is the only reason to stick with Battle Master as a subclass past level 3. Still, the damage boost alone is marginal — equal to an average of +1 per die increase.
Relentless – 15th-level (3/5)
+1 superiority die if you have none remaining when you roll initiative.
More superiority dice are always good, but by this level, you already have access to six per rest, so it’s a very small benefit overall.
How to Build a Battle Master in 5e
As a Battle Master, your ability scores are fairly straightforward; prioritize Strength if you’re a melee Fighter and Dexterity if you’re a ranged Fighter, and go for Constitution as your second most important stat. Ignore Intelligence and Charisma, and put some points into Wisdom for the sake of your Perception.
Using point buy, your starting ability scores should be something like 15 Str, 13 Dex, 15 Con, 8 Int, 12 Wis, 8 Cha (as a melee Fighter wearing heavy armor). If you’re a ranged Fighter wearing light or medium armor, your starting ability scores should be something like 10 Str, 15 Dex, 15 Con, 8 Int, 14 Wis, 8 Cha.
Fighters are a versatile class that can be built in a number of ways, and Battle Master only adds to this versatility. Here’s a bit of advice for building a Battle Master as a tank, a frontline striker, or a ranged attacker:
Tank. Take the Dueling or Defense fighting style for +2 damage with one-handed weapons or flat +1 AC. Get the Sentinel feat for more battlefield control, Defensive Duelist for a reaction to boost your AC when attacked, and/or Shield Master for the ability to shove enemies prone after your first attack as a bonus action. Get the Trip Attack, Riposte, and Menacing Attack maneuvers for even more chances to knock enemies prone, deal damage when attacked, freeze enemies in place, and give them disadvantage on attack rolls.
Frontline striker. Take the Superior Technique or Great Weapon Fighting fighting style for +1 maneuver and superiority die or the ability to reroll 1s or 2s with two-handed weapons (or just get Defense for the flat +1 AC). Get the Great Weapon Master, Polearm Master, Martial Adept, and/or Alert feats for more damage and attacks, more opportunity attacks, more maneuvers and superiority dice, and/or better initiative rolls. Get Trip Attack, Brace, and Feinting Attack for the ability to knock enemies prone (getting attack advantage on follow-up attacks), attack when enemies enter your reach (which can be 10 feet with a reach weapon), and give yourself immediate attack advantage to land more critical hits.
Ranged attacker. Take the Archery fighting style for +2 to ranged weapon attack rolls. Get the Sharpshooter and Crossbow Expert feats for heavier-hitting ranged attacks and bonus action attacks with a hand crossbow, as well as ignoring all the negative aspects of using a ranged weapon (disadvantage on long-ranged attacks, disadvantage from a foe being within 5 feet of you, and bonus AC from cover). Get the Precision Attack, Ambush, and Menacing Attack maneuvers for attack advantage, even better initiative and Stealth checks (on top of your already solid Dexterity), and the ability to freeze your targets in place and give them disadvantage.
Battle Master Feats
There are a number of great feats for Battle Masters, and they give you more ways to specialize in your role as a tank, a striker, or a ranged attacker on top of your maneuver selection. Here’s a word on each of them:
Martial Adept. +2 maneuvers and +1 d6 superiority die (that scales to a d10 with your level 10 feature, Improved Combat Superiority). More maneuvers and dice are a great addition to the Battle Master subclass that bring even more versatility and reliability to your kit.
Great Weapon Master. +1 bonus action attack after landing a critical hit or killing a creature and the ability to take a -5 penalty to your attack roll for +10 damage if it hits. Absolutely essential if your main goal is to deal as much damage as possible, and you can basically negate the -5 penalty with Trip Attack (advantage against prone targets) or Feinting Attack (immediate attack advantage).
Polearm Master. +1 d4 bonus action attack after attacking with a polearm, and enemies provoke opportunity attacks when they enter your reach. Great for tanks and strikers alike, and pairs phenomenally well with the Sentinel feat.
Sentinel. Creatures you hit with opportunity attacks have 0 speed for the turn, you ignore the Disengage action, and you can make a reaction attack if a creature within 5 feet of you attacks someone other than you. With Polearm Master, you can freeze enemies who enter your 10-foot reach before they get into melee range to attack you. One of the best tanking feats in the game, hands down.
Shield Master. Bonus action shove after taking the attack action, can add shield AC to Dex saves for effects that target only you, and take 0 damage if you pass a Dex save that normally deals half damage. The shove bonus action is basically a free, unlimited Trip Attack (although without the damage), and the defensive perks are okay, too. Gives you even more tricks to employ as a sword-and-board Battle Master.
Defensive Duelist. Reaction to add your proficiency bonus to your AC for an attack that hits you while you’re wielding a finesse weapon. Far. far better than the Parry maneuver, and basically a limitless (but weaker) version of the Shield spell (one of the most OP spells in 5e). If you’re a Dex-focused melee Fighter, there’s no better defensive feat for self-preservation.
Crossbow Expert. Ignore the loading quality of crossbows, creatures within 5 feet don’t impose disadvantage on ranged attacks, and bonus action attack with a hand crossbow after attacking with a one-handed weapon (including hand crossbows). Sadly (IMO), this feat makes hand crossbows the premier ranged weapon in DnD 5e, because more attacks is the best way to deal more damage. And, of course, not having to worry about melee enemies being in your face is essential to optimal play on a ranged character.
Sharpshooter. Ignore disadvantage on long-ranged ranged attacks and AC bonuses from cover, and can take a -5 penalty to your ranged attack roll for +10 damage if it hits. The ranged version of Great Weapon Master, this is your best way to deal the most possible damage as a ranged weapon-user.
Alert. +5 bonus to initiative, can’t be surprised, and creatures don’t get attack advantage against you for being unseen attackers. Going earlier in combat is great for killing enemies faster, so they can’t deal damage to your party. As the DnD community loves to say, “death is the best debuff.” The other perks are nice, but the +5 initiative is really what we’re here for.
Lucky. Can reroll 3d20 per day, including attack rolls against you. Technically good on any character in DnD 5e, but boring as heck.
Battle Master 5e Multiclass Options
Multiclassing out of Battle Master is a tricky thing. On the one hand, your best feature comes at level 3, and the rest of the subclass features are pretty bad. On the other hand, continuing to level as a Fighter gives you a ton more Ability Score Improvements (and therefore feats) that add incredible perks to the Battle Master kit, not to mention the high-quality Fighter class features, like more Extra Attacks and Indomitable.
Ultimately, I think that the best time to multiclass out of Battle Master doesn’t come until level 11, when you’ve already got Extra Attack x2, Indomitable, 3 ASI from Fighter, and +4 maneuvers, +1 superiority die, and d10 superiority dice from Battle Master. You’ve got to weigh those benefits against what you get out of any of the subclasses below, but here’s my argument for why each works well with the Battle Master Fighter kit:
Swashbuckler Rogue. You’ll need 13 Dexterity to multiclass into Rogue, which may change how you approach your point buy allocation if you’re a melee Fighter. But becoming a Rogue quickly gets you Sneak Attack, Expertise, and Cunning Action for more damage, great skills (Athletics Expertise grappling/shoving for the win), and more mobility. Steady Aim at level 3 gives you another way to get advantage for a bonus action at will (as long as you’re not moving on that turn), which is excellent for ranged attackers and solid for melee attackers.
Becoming a Swashbuckler at 3rd-level also gets you Fancy Footwork for the ability to move away from enemies you target with melee attacks without triggering opportunity attacks and makes triggering Sneak Attack easier. You also get a +Cha bonus to your initiative, but it’s still not worth putting points into Charisma. You’re really here for the mobility and extra damage from Sneak Attack and auto-advantage.
Mastermind Rogue. I’ve already covered the general perks of being a Rogue, but Mastermind also gets you the ability to use the Help action as a bonus action from 30 feet away to give attack advantage to an ally. That just pairs so well with what the Battle Master already is: a battlefield commander and master of tactics (hey, that’s the name of the feature!) You also get +2 languages, proficiency with the disguise kit, and the ability to mimic native speakers perfectly, which are all nice flavor features.
Totem Warrior Barbarian. The ability to Rage for bonus damage and physical damage resistance makes you more threatening and tankier, although you can’t wear heavy armor in order to gain these benefits, so your AC will be a bit lower (17 max instead of 18). You also get advantage on Dexterity saves and Reckless Attack for attack advantage at the cost of being attacked with advantage for one round.
Totem Warrior gets you a couple of spells, but more importantly, you get the Totem Spirit feature. Pick Bear as a tank to get resistance to all damage except psychic while raging, even if you’re wearing heavy armor (although you’ll lose the Rage bonus damage if you are). Or you can pick Wolf to grant allies attack advantage on melee attacks within 5 feet of you, which is a huge benefit if you’re in a melee-heavy party (especially one with a Rogue and/or Paladin).
Conquest Paladin. You’ll need 13 Charisma to multiclass into Paladin, which definitely changes how you approach your point buy allocation. But becoming a Paladin quickly gets you spellcasting, a healing feature, an extra fighting style, and Divine Smite, a way to add extra radiant damage to your weapon attack — after it hits, so you can save it for critical hits to maximize its utility.
Conquest, in particular, is great because you can use Channel Divinity to either frighten creatures within 30 feet (great for defensiveness) or get +10 on an attack roll after making it (guaranteeing your attack and maneuvers land). If you’re not using your spell slots for Divine Smite, Armor of Agathys is also a decent way to make yourself tankier, although by the time you mutliclass, the temporary hit points it provides are fairly marginal.
Vengeance Paladin. Channel Divinity: Vow of Enmity is what we’re here for — attack adavantage against a creature for 1 full minute at the cost of a bonus action. Fantastic for fights against big bads, making it easier to land maneuvers, get critical hit Divine Smites, and just generally kick butt in combat.
Battle Master Strengths and Weaknesses
Versatility. The #1 thing that sets Battle Masters apart from every other martial subclass in DnD 5e is the sheer amount of options they have. Not just in their choice of maneuvers, but in how often they can actually use those maneuvers each adventuring day. Paired with the Fighter base class and its generous level of versatility, Battle Masters are satisfying to play because they can do so many things so well.
Utility. A big complaint about martial classes in 5e is that they don’t do much besides basic attacks. But with the abilities to knock enemies prone, frighten foes, and push enemies away (to name a few), Battle Masters add more to combat encounters to sheer damage; they help set up allies and take control of the battlefield.
Damage. Beyond utility, most maneuvers also add a superiority die to the attack’s regular damage. This means that, on top of everything else, Battle Masters also hit quite hard, quite consistently.
Maneuver-reliant. The only real downside to playing a Battle Master is that you’re basically a subclass-less Fighter once you run out of superiority dice. This can happen quite quickly if you’re engaged in multiple combat encounters without a chance to take a short rest, especially if some of your maneuvers rely on reactions. But if you manage your resources well, this issue can be avoided most of the time.
Is Battle Master a Good Subclass in 5e?
Yes, Battle Master is a phenomenal subclass in DnD 5e. It has a lot of effective build options and playstyles, as well as the versatility to change between playstyles as you like.
You can be a heavy hitter, a tank, an archer, or a support character with equal effectiveness. Beyond all that, Battle Masters are just downright fun to play.
In fact, Battle Masters are so compelling that many in the community feel that their maneuvers should just be a part of the Fighter base class. Alas, it seems Wizards of the Coast won’t be doing that any time soon.
Roleplaying a Battle Master
From a roleplaying perspective, Battle Masters are a subclass focused on the academic field of combat. Some even delve into weaponsmithing, history, and theory, as well as simply fighting. With a deadly combination of skill and knowledge, there are a number of compelling backstories you can use to make your Battle Master a unique character. Here are some short ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
An aide-de-camp. You worked as a general’s assistant from your time as a youth, learning the ins and outs of battle, supply lines, and scouting. But when the army you were in was routed, you lost touch with your former comrades. Now, your goal is to complete your martial training, not just with sword and spear, but to become a well-rounded commander who excels in tactics as well.
A smith’s apprentice. As a girl, you lost your parents to a goblin raid on your village. Adopted by the village smithy, you learned the ways of forging metal. But making weapons and armor was never enough for you. You wanted to be the one wielding steel, not the one making it. You used all your spare coin to acquire manuals on the art of war and practiced every free second with a blade. When the goblins came again, you tried your best to defend the village…but failed. You’ve vowed to never fail in battle again and set off to a nearby city to learn from a true master of combat.
A student of history. A noble by birth, you lived a life of comfort and relative luxury. Your tutor taught you all manner of fields, but one excited you more than all the rest: history. Treaties, kingdom-building, and, beyond all, war. You dreamed of being more than an idle reader and started to train in the ways of commanding troops on the field. When your parents learned of your extracurricular activities, they banned you from further study of the subject. So you ran away, eager to put your meager training to the test and learn the ways of war first-hand.