Wizards of the Coast recently released a new Unearthed Arcana of One DnD playtest materials, which introduces weapon masteries. These masteries introduce new tactics and effects for weapon users, depending on which weapon they’re wielding.
Fighters (and possibly other characters somehow) will also be able to change the Mastery property of a weapon if it qualifies for a different mastery. Fighters won’t have this ability until 7th level, though, so to keep things simple for this article, I’m only going to discuss each weapon’s pre-set mastery property.
I’m going to rank these masteries from best to worst by looking at what the actual expected in-game impact of each will be. I’ll try to quantify what the damage-add masteries are worth and compare the relative strengths of the utility-focused masteries that aren’t quantifiable in that way.
I’ll also show what weapons go with each mastery and try to leave you with my hunch on what the best weapon choices are going to be based on these masteries and their potential to complement other effects in the game.
For starters, here’s a link to the UA. Information on which weapon masteries apply to which weapons and what each weapon mastery does can be found on pages 2-4.
Now let’s get to the fun stuff – ranking these weapon Masteries.
Weapon Masteries Ranked
There are 9 in total – let’s start with my pick for the best one in the UA, which is
Push which allows you to push your opponent 10 feet away on a hit. This can happen multiple times per turn and doesn’t require a save. For simple weapons, this only works with the Greatclub, and for martial weapons, it works with the Pike and Heavy Crossbow.
While these aren’t the hardest-hitting weapons and they’re all two-handed, Pike also comes with the reach property, so you can attack from up to 10 feet away.
As written now, this applies WHENEVER you hit a creature with the weapon – even on opportunity attacks. To me, this brings the Sentinel/Polearm Master feat combination back to the table as very very strong, even with the nerfs to both those feats in the Expert Classes UA.
If you’ve got Extra Attack and the Polearm Master’s bonus attack (yes, Pikes work for Polearm Master in One DnD now), you could conceivably push a target 30 feet in one turn – mover over Repelling Blast spamming Warlocks, there’s a new Sherrif in town.
And if someone gets close to you, use your Polearm Master reaction to opportunity attack push them away – NOPE.
With Sentinel, if someone tries to run away from you, you can make your opportunity attack to not only push them away, but freeze them in place – absolutely dirty.
As written now, I’m predicting that Pike’s will be the premier melee weapon of choice for characters that value teamplay and the ability to do cool stuff as often as possible.
Crossbow Expert removing the Loading property of crossbows might do the same for Heavy Crossbows and Push. Even without it, it’s a good option for kiting foes and keeping enemies away from your allies.
And no matter what, the Push mastery is going to be especially useful when paired with hazardous terrain, long falls, or slowing effects. Push enemies into your allies’ Spike Growth or Web, and you’ll be a hero.
Oh, and last but not least, Push can help you or your allies get away from your opponents without provoking any opportunity attacks, without sacrificing your action for a measly shove.
The second-most powerful Weapon Mastery is
Slow, which when you hit an opponent with this mastery, their speed is reduced by 10 feet for one round. This effect doesn’t stack with itself, but it can be applied multiple times per turn to different creatures. This mastery applies to 4 simple weapons – the club, javelin, Light Crossbow, and Sling and 3 martial weapons, the Whip, Longbow, and Musket.
The reason this gets my #2 pick is that it’s fantastic on the ranged weapons it applies to – the javelin, light crossbow, sling, and longbow. Pair this with other slow effects like Ray of Frost and Spirit Guardians to basically keep enemies at a standstill – absolutely brutal for your melee foes who begin a fight out of range.
It’ll also work nicely with hazardous terrain and effects like Silence and Web – with the right conditions, this could translate into forcing an enemy to stay in range of one of these effects for an additional round or two, which is a whole lot of utility gained via teamplay – my favorite thing in DnD.
I’m also happy because I think the Slow mastery will make it so that Longbows are finally a top-tier option for Ranged martials – as they should be, if you ask me. Either way, Ranged weapons with Slow are now the ultimate tool for kiting, and with Extra Attack, you can even kite multiple enemies at once.
Whips having it is kinda cool since they’re reach weapons, but the low damage will continue to prevent it from being a great choice. Overall, I think Slow only really shines as a mastery for ranged weapons; most enemies aren’t going to risk an opportunity attack using their movement to get away from someone wielding a Club (although if they do and you hit, that -10-foot speed reduction is nice).
My pick for the third-best mastery on this list is
Topple. Which forces a creature you hit to make a Con save with a DC based on your proficiency bonus and the ability modifier you used for the attack. If they fail, they’re knocked prone. One reason I rank Topple lower than the other two is that it’s only available on Martial melee weapons – the Battleaxe, Lance, Maul, and Trident – no simple weapons.
While arguably a stronger effect than Push or Slow in terms of consistent damage-add for your melee mates (attackers within 5 feet of a prone target have advantage against it) and possibly defensive benefits (prone targets have attack disadvantage, but they’ll usually just stand up), Topple doesn’t automatically work on-hit like the other two. And Constitution is the highest average monster ability score in 5e, so it’s got a lower chance of landing than most effects.
But for melee-heavy parties with favorable initiative orders, it’s a great mastery. I foresee the Trident + Net combo becoming really strong – knock them prone with Trident Topple, then Restrain them with the Net so they can’t stand up until they break it. Kinda like a faux-Shove + Grapple combination, but with damage. Oh, and a Trident can BE THROWN up to 20 feet without disadvantage, potentially knocking an enemy prone from a distance, which opens up even more utility for this combo.
I also think this obviously beats out the Flex weapon mastery of choice for tank characters, with a one-handed battleaxe or Trident and shield being the go-to for beefy boyz. The only thing I don’t like is all those saving throws – I’d prefer the mastery to be something like “If your attack hits by more than 3, the target is prone” or something like that. I think it would end up proccing at about the same rate with less drag on gameplay.
Moving onto my pick for the 4th-strongest Weapon Mastery in this UA,
Vex. Which gives you advantage on your next attack roll against the same target after you hit them with an attack. This works on the simple weapons of Handaxes, Darts, and Shortbows, and the Martial weapons of Rapiers, Shortswords, Blowguns, Hand Crossbows, and Pistols. This is the most common weapon mastery in the UA, applying to 8 weapons in total.
Now, at low levels, pre-Extra-Attack, I don’t think this is going to be all that good. It’s kinda like a built-in True Strike in that you don’t gain any benefit until your next turn, and only then if you’re still attacking the same target. This means that Vex is great for great big beefy bad guys, but not so much for clearing out Kobolds.
In a 4-round bout of combat, you can expect advantage on two extra attacks pre-Extra Attack, so maybe +1 to 2 average damage per round on 2 rounds – not all that good, really.
But once you get Extra Attack and can start chaining Vex’s Advantage to proc itself, or if you pair a Vex weapon with a Nick weapon for two-weapon fighting without a bonus action requirement, i can see it being really good. Plus, hitting more will give more DPR than I’m assuming here if you have on-hit effects as well, like the bonus damage from a Barbarian’s Rage or a Rogue’s Sneak Attack.
I could really see Shortsword/Scimitar combination doing some work for dual wielders, which I’m really excited about.
For ranged weapons, the Shortbow and Hand crossbow are the weapons worth talking about. With no two-weapon fighting, I think these will only catch up in terms of offensive output once you have extra attack. But once you do, I think this will be the option of choice for ranged builds that want to hit as often as possible and are willing to sacrifice some utility to do that.
For my middle-of-the-pack weapon masteries, let’s start with #5
Sap. Which gives a creature disadvantage on their next attack after you hit them, just like Vicious Mockery. It’s available on one simple weapon – the mace, and 2 martial weapons – the flail and morningstar.
Now while you can apply Sap multiple times per turn, disadvantage doesn’t stack. So unless you’re splitting your attacks up between targets, which isn’t usually advisable in 5e, then you’re only applying this to one target per turn.
But if you apply it to a heavy hitter and bring their chance to hit down significantly, that’s great utility for you and your party – probably you, since this a melee weapon-exclusive mastery. I think Sap is probably the pick of choice for builds that want to go all-in on damage reduction, but I still think Topple is the better choice for tanks.
Nick. Which allows you to make a Light weapon extra attack as part of your attack action, rather than a bonus action (once per turn). This works with the Dagger, Light Hammer, and Sickle for simple weapons, and only the Scimitar for Martial Weapons. As the rules read, both weapons you wield only need to be Light to dual wield them – they both don’t need to have the Nick property – allowing you to wield a different weapon and weapon mastery in your other hand (as long as its light).
This is tricky for me to quantify, because it really depends on what you’re using that now-available bonus action for. For Rogues, I think this finally allows for the playstyle that many have been envisioning and associating with that class for years – a dual-wielder who hits a lot and is able to get in and out with ease. No longer must you choose between Cunning Action and the offhand weapon attack.
Plus, with a Light Vex weapon AND Light Nick weapon, you can use that attack advantage on the same target more consistently. Forreal, the scimitar/shortsword combination is going to be A LOT of fun for Rogues, methinks.
But for most classes and character builds, I don’t think Nick is a standout weapon mastery.
My pick for #7 is
Cleave. Which allows you to make a second attack roll against a target within 5 feet of your original target and within your reach after landing an attack. This attack doesn’t get your ability modifier added to it and can only occur once per turn. It’s only available on 2 martial melee weapons – the greataxe and halberd. No simple weapons.
To me, this is mostly not great. It works out to maybe 3 to 5 extra DPR when enemies are grouped, but the extra damage necessarily won’t be focus-fired – not ideal for 5e’s combat system where focus fire is everything. And it only works if enemies are tightly grouped around you, which means you’d want it on a tank. But sorry, this is for two-handed weapons only, so no shield for you if you’re cleaving.
On the plus side, Cleave’s extra attack CAN have its damage boosted (unlike Graze, up next), so if you have extra on-hit effects, like a Barbarian’s Rage damage, this can actually be pretty great indeed. And it can proc on opportunity attacks, which is also neat.
This is the one I’m least sure of, but I just think Cleave is too limited and ultimately kind of boring as is. But with some more theory-crafting, this might turn out to be a really strong weapon Mastery. Especially with teamplay, with allies pushing enemies into range or keeping them locked in place so you can keep proccing Cleave consistently.
Now, we head to what I consider to be the bottom-tier Weapon Masteries that are in serious need of a rework if wizards of the coast expect anyone to actually choose weapons with these masteries.
My pick for 2nd-worst weapon mastery is
Graze. Which allows you to deal damage equal to your attack ability modifier when you miss an attack. This damage can’t be boosted in any way, so no Barbarian Rage damage here. It only works with two martial melee weapons, the Glaive and Greatsword.
As a rule, I think any feature in any game that gets worse as your character gets better is poor design, and that’s exactly what Graze does. It rewards you only when you miss. Assuming you miss 35% of the time and you have a +3 to +5 ability score modifier, this works out to like 1 or 2 extra DPR. And that’s all you’re getting, since that damage can’t be increased by any other features.
Overall, this is a trap Mastery in my opinion, built to make players feel better when they miss, but mechanically weak and tactically uninteresting.
And finally, my pick for the worst weapon mastery in this One DnD UA has got to be
Flex. Which allows you to use a weapon’s versatile damage even when you’re wielding it one-handed, so basically a damage boost for sword + boarders, or possibly those with the dueling fighting style. Flex applies to the simple weapons of Quarterstaff and Spear, and the Martial weapons of Longsword, War Pick, and War Hammer.
Increasing your damage die from 1d8 to 1d10 works out to a damage-per-round increase of below 1. Sure, it’s consistent, but BOY is it boring.
And it really fails at Jeremy Crawford’s stated design goal with this change:
Can we give characters who are focused on weapon use more to do tactically? – Apparently not, because I’m not seeing any tactical uses of Flex here.
My suggestion – the one-handed sword-and-board feat should lean into the protector role more. Replace Flex with Pommel, and allow players to apply One DnD’s fancy new Dazed condition on an attack at the cost of dealing less damage. Or maybe on a failed saving throw, like Topple, although I do think that design is a bit clunky. Maybe if you hit the same target with two attacks, they’re Dazed? Or if your attack hits by over a certain amount it automatically Dazes the target?
I dunno; these are just some proto ideas I’ve got, since I really like the new Dazed condition and think it makes perfect sense for a weapon mastery to apply it somehow.
My pick for the 6th-best weapon mastery in this UA is
Anyway, while I think these Weapon Masteries are a big step in the right direction from Wizards’ design team, I must admit I’m a little disappointed. To me, several of these masteries fail at the design goal of giving martials more to do with their turn. Sure, more stuff HAPPENS, but players won’t really be making turn-to-turn decisions – they’re making character build decisions.
Cleave, Graze, Vex, and Flex are literally just small damage upgrades when you boil them down. Nick is just a restored bonus action for dual-wielders. Sap is just a built-in Vicious mockery to your weapon attacks.
These aren’t all that compelling, in my view, even if they math out to be optimal in the end.
I really like Push, Topple, and Slow because they add tactical complexity to martials IN A FIGHT. Positioning will matter more, and teamplay opportunities are extra ripe with these masteries.
I’d like to see more of these types of masteries, not just small mechanical or damage tweaks that will make martial gameplay continue to be a snoozefest.
Anyway, this is all just my opinion and theorycrafting.