Great Weapon Master in DND (Ultimate Guide for Beginners)

Here is a good summary and chart of the Great Weapon Master (GWM) feat in DND:

Great Weapon Master is a feat in D&D for combat characters. The feat gives characters an extra melee attack when they roll a critical hit with a great weapon or when they reduce an enemy’s hit points to zero. If they take a -5 attack roll penalty and still hit an enemy, they deliver +10 damage.

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Great Weapon Master BenefitsDescription
Extra Melee Attack (Critical Hit)Players get a bonus attack when they roll a critical hit with a proficient great weapon.
Extra Melee Attack (Hit Points 0)Players get a bonus attack when they reduce an enemy’s hit points down to 0.
+10 to Damage RollsPlayers accept a -5 disadvantage to an attack roll with a great weapon. If they hit their target, they get +10 to their damage roll.
Great Weapon Master Details, Bonuses, and Benefits

In this ultimate guide, we’ll answer everything you need to know about the GWM feat.

What Is the Great Weapon Master Feat? (Official Rules)

Barbarian Warrior with battle axe—Great Weapon Master in DND
Image by the author via Canva—Great Weapon Master in DND

The D&D Player’s Handbook describes the GWM feat like this:

You’ve learned to put the weight of a weapon to your advantage, letting its momentum empower your strikes. You gain the following benefits:

On your turn, when you score a critical hit with a melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with one, you can make one melee weapon attack as a bonus action.

Before you make a melee attack with a heavy weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, you add +10 to the attack’s damage.

D&D Player’s Handbook

Note that you must be proficient with the great weapon to use the GWM feat.

How Do You Get Great Weapon Master?

The GWM feat is an optional special ability in Dungeons and Dragons.

To get the GWP feat, you must:

  • Choose a fighter class or multi-class
  • Meet the prerequities of the feat
  • Accept the benefits and disadvantages of the feat
  • Choose the feat

According to the D&D Player’s Handbook, the only prerequisite of the GWP feat is to rise to level 4 in the game.

You can also choose the optional feat anytime you get an ability score improvement.

That’s usually at the following character levels:

  • 8
  • 12
  • 16
  • 19

Once you select the feat, you still need a few things to mechanically use it in combat.

To use the GWP feat to blast away your enemies, you need to:

  • Wield 1 of 6 great weapons
  • Be proficient in the great weapon
  • Roll a critical hit
  • Reduce an enemy’s hit points to 0
  • Successfull roll a hit in combat with a -5 penality to your attack roll

With all that said, GWM is an incredible feat worth getting and using—especially if your character build focuses heavily on close-range, front-line combat.

Otherwise known as “tank characters.”

How Does Great Weapon Master Work? (Simple Steps)

When you unleash GWM during combat, you’ll choose a great weapon with which you are proficient, announce to your Dungeon Master (DM) that you will use the GWM feat, and take your attack roll.

If you roll a critical hit, you get an extra bonus melee attack with a melee weapon.

Here is that process in a list of simple steps:

  1. Before your turn, inform your DM that you will use your GWM feat.
  2. Choose a great weapon (make sure that you are proficient in the weapon).
  3. If you think you have better odds of hitting the target than missing it, you can choose to accept a -5 disadvantage on your attack roll.
  4. Take an attack roll (whether or not you accepted the penalty).

At this point, you either hit or miss the target:

  • If you miss the target, you just miss and that’s the end of your turn.
  • If you hit the target without taking the penalty, you roll your damage like usual.
  • If you hit your target with the penalty, you add +10 to the damage.
  • If you rolled a 20 on d20, you landed a critical hit and get a bonus melee attack action. You can attack the enemy again with a melee weapon.

Here is a good video about how the GWM feat works:

YouTube Video by Chance’s D&D Spellbook

Example of the GWM Feat in Combat

As a concrete example, let’s say that you play a 4th Level Barbarian with a great axe.

At the 4th level, you chose to take the GWM feat.

In a combat encounter with a drunken goblin, you take your attack penalty, roll the dice, and—WHOMP—land a critical hit. You roll your damage and add your modifier.

In this case, it is 1d12 + 3. You roll a 7, so that’s 7+3 = 10 points of damage.

Your roll was also a critical hit, which doubles your normal dice roll for damage. You roll another 1d12 and get a 4 this time.

Now, that goblin is looking at 10 + 4 = 14 points of damage.

But wait, you rolled against a penalty, so you add another +10 to your damage. The calculation now looks like 14 + 10 = 24.

The goblin drops dead.

If the goblin somehow survived, you would have also earned a bonus melee attack because of your critical hit.

What Weapons Work With the Great Weapon Master Feat? (Easy Weapon Chart)

The GWM feat only works with great weapons.

Here is a simple chart that lists the great weapons and damage calculations:

GWM WeaponsPenalty Damage Calculation Crit Damage Calculation
Pike1d10 +10 + Modifiers2d10 +10 + Modifiers
Greataxe1d12 +10 + Modifiers2d12 +10 + Modifers
Halberd1d10 +10 + Modifiers2d10 +10 + Modifiers
Glaive1d10 +10 + Modifiers1d10 +10 + Modifiers
Maul2d6 +10 + Modifiers4d6 +10 + Modifiers
Greatsword2d6 + 10 + Modifiers4d6 + 10 + Modifiers
Weapons you can use with the Great Weapon Master feat

The damage calculations in the above chart assume that you hit the target despite the -5 penalty against your attack roll.

You’ll also need to add any modifiers to the final damage.

Typically, you add your strength modifier, which might be anywhere between +1 to +5 (or greater).

As modifiers vary from character to character, it’s nearly impossible to create a streamlined chart or table that includes all of the possible variations.

What Weapons Don’t Work With the GWM Feat? (Answers for 31 Weapons)

The GWM feat does not work with any weapon that is not specifically classified as a Great Weapon.

Here is a chart that answers which weapons don’t work with the GWM feat:

D&D WeaponDoes It work with Great Weapon Master?
BattleaxeNo
BlowgunNo
ClubNo
Crossbow (Light)No
Crossbow (Hand)No
Crossbow (Heavy)No
DaggerNo
DartNo
FlailNo
GreatclubNo
HandaxeNo
JavelinNo
LanceNo
Light HammerNo
LongbowNo
LongswordNo
MaceNo
MorningstarNo
NetNo
QuarterstaffNo
RapierNo
ScimitarNo
ShortbowNo
ShortswordNo
SickleNo
SlingNo
SpearNo
TridentNo
War HammerNo
War PickNo
WhipNo
What weapons don’t work with the GWM feat?

For more details about weapons, I highly recommend the D&D Player’s Handbook.

Great Weapon Feat Critical Hits

Getting a critical hit with a GWM feat is a rare occurrence during a D&D adventure.

After all, you must roll a perfect, natural 20 on a twenty-sided die without attack modifiers.

Any roll besides 20 is a normal hit.

The only exception, as we’ve discussed, is when you get a non-critical roll against a chosen -5 disadvantage.

In that case, it’s still not a critical hit but you do add +10 to the overall damage.

When you do land a coveted critical hit using the GWM feat, then you not only double your damage dice, you also get an extra attack.

Great Weapon Feat Extra Attack

The extra attack bonus is a deadly feature of the GWM feat.

Essentially, it gives you a bonus action attack on your turn when you roll a critical hit or knock your opponent’s hit points all the way down to zero.

However, there are some important stipulations:

  • You must be using your great weapon
  • You must be proficient in your great weapon
  • You can only use your bonus action to perform a melee attack
  • You can only use a melee weapon for your melee attack

In other words, you can’t use your bonus action to escape or evade.

You must use it to attack.

You also can’t use it to attack with a ranged weapon, like a light crossbow. You must use a melee weapon.

A melee weapon is any weapon that is capable of striking an enemy in close combat.

Since your character is likely using a two-handed great weapon, you’ll almost always perform your bonus attack with the same weapon.

Great Weapon Master in DND (Class Guide)

Any character of any class or race can choose the optional GWM feat starting at level 4.

However, most players take the GWM feat in these classes:

  • Fighter
  • Samurai
  • Barbarian
  • Paladin

Let’s look at some particulars of the GWM feat in different classes and character builds.

Samurai and Mastery in Great Weapons

A Samurai can easily pick up the GWM feat anytime they get the opportunity for an ability score improvement.

That’s at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19.

One thing to note with a Samurai GWM is how it pairs with other abilities.

For example, a Samurai can get the Fighting Spirit ability. They can then use it as a bonus action during combat.

However, they don’t get a second bonus action during the same turn if they crit with their GWM feat.

You can’t get two bonus actions in a single turn.

Barbarians with Mastery in Great Weapons

Barbarians make great candidates for the GWM feat.

Personally, I like to get GWM for barbarians that specialize in big, heavy, two-handed weapons.

My recommendation matches others that I’ve seen online:

  • Wait until level 4 or 8 to get GWM
  • If you wait, take your +2 Ability Score bonus at level 4
  • Choose to +2 your strength (comes in handy for big, beefy barbarians with battleaxes)

However, you can play a barbarian in many different ways, so do whatever you like most.

Here is a good article about the question, Can barbarians wear armor?

Paladins with Mastery in Great Weapons

Paladins can also choose the GWM at level four or higher.

In fact, certain types of Paladins—such as Vengence or Devotion—come with attack bonuses that can cancel out the attack penalties of GWM.

That’s why many players with Paladin characters opt for GWM at the 8th or 12th level.

Rouges with Mastery in Great Weapons

If you multi-class a rogue/fighter, you can get heavy weapon proficiency and the GWM feat.

This makes for an interesting build because rouges are most known for sneakery.

Not close-quarters, heavy-weapon combat.

Wizards with Mastery in Great Weapons

A Wizard with a GWM is probably one of the most unique and rare character builds.

Tanking a magical character is fun in the creation and in the gameplay.

Here’s one way you can do it:

  • Choose the Gith race (also known as the Githyanki)
  • Choose the martial proficiency in a greatsword (a great weapon)
  • Enjoy your added proficiency in light or medium armor with a Gith

Remember that any character of any race and class can technically choose the GWM feat. You just need to find a way to get proficient with a great weapon.

That includes Bards, Clerics, Rangers, and anyone else.

Here is a shortlist of cool GWM builds I’ve seen in person and in forums online:

  • Vengeance Paladin + Samurai Fighter + Darkness + Devil’s Sight Hexblade
  • BattleMaster + Precision Attack
  • Samurai Fighter + Kinsei Monk + Artillerist Artificer
  • Barbarian + Reckless + GWM + Rage + Great Axe

At What Level Should I Take Great Weapon Master?

You should take the GWM feat “as early as possible and as late as necessary.”

For me, that means at levels 4, 8, or 12. If I’m building a character based around two-handed heavy weaponry, I’ll probably take it at level 4 or 8.

However, if I’m focused on other factors I might wait until level 12.

Sometimes, you want to increase your strength or other abilities first. Nothing wrong with that at all.

The best time to get the GWM feat is when it fits best into your specific build.

Taking GMW at level 4 is a good idea because many of your enemies will possess lower Armor Class (AC). That makes them easier to hit, even with the -5 attack penalty.

For most builds, I generally wouldn’t wait until later than level 12.

At that point, you’ll probably have access to other skills, abilities, feats, and magical items that make the GWM feat less appealing in gameplay.

How Many Times Can I Use Great Weapon Master?

You can use the GWM feat for every turn, if you choose.

When you land a critical hit with GWM, you can use it again as your bonus melee attack.

However, you can not use GWM more than twice, even if you improbably roll two critical hits during your turn.

According to the official rules, you also only get one bonus action per turn.

You might want to read our article about 11 things you need to know about bonus actions.

Great Weapon Master Combos and Stacks

Many players and DMs ask about how to combine or stack GWM with other abilities or feats.

Here, I’ll answer three of the most common questions.

Does GWM Work With Versatile Weapons?

No, you cannot use versatile weapons with the GWM feat.

By definition, the GWM feat applies to heavy weapons that characters can not realistically weild with a single hand.

There are only six great weapons that you can use with GWM.

Looking into the official definitions of each of these great weapons shows that they are heavy and all require two hands.

For example, the weapon listing for Glaive in the Player’s Handbook lists:

  • Heavy
  • Two-handed
  • Reach

Does GWM Apply to Smite?

You don’t stack Smite with GWM.

The official definition of GWM seems to focus on doubling the dice rolls for the great weapon only.

Therefore, I lean heavily toward not stacking Smite with GWM.

This interpretation also seems to fall in line with stacking Great Weapon Fighting with Smite.

According to a Twitter post by Jeremy Crawford, a principle rule designer for D&D, “The intent is that Great Weapon Fighting lets you reroll just the weapon’s dice, not Smite dice and the like.”

Does Polearm Master Stack with GWM?

You can stack Polearm Mastery with Great Weapons Mastery.

Once again we turn to the inside source of Jeremy Crawford on Twitter. In a Tweet, Crawford confirmed that you can combine the two abilities.

This combo gives you a +5 attack bonus (-5 penalty/+10 advantage = +5).

When you get a successful hit, you also calculate the damage by adding modifiers to the damage.

Is the Great Weapon Master Feat Worth It?

The GWM is worth it under certain circumstances.

The GWM is worth it if:

  • You are at a lower level
  • You fight a lot of low-AC enemies
  • You deliver low damage
  • You have attack advantage modifiers that cancel out the -5 penalty
  • The feat matches your vision for your character

You might not want to select GWM if:

  • You use Smite a lot
  • You want to play a character that dual-wields multiple weapons
  • You can deliver a lot of damage with other abilities, weapons, or items
  • You fight many enemies with a high armor class
  • You get bonus attacks from other feats or abilities

When To Use the Great Weapon Master Feat?

In gameplay, you will face an endless series of decisions whether or not to use GWM in battle.

There are several popular Great Weapon Master Formulas floating around the internet. Sometimes people refer to them as a “Great Weapon Master Calculator.”

On the face of it, the math looks very impressive.

Unfortantely, I am not a numbers person. Thank God for numbers people, though.

During a game, I’m not able to do mental calculations that align with most of these formulas.

Therefore, I settle for a much simpler “formula.”

You could call it a GWM decision matrix:

  • If I think the creature has low AC, I will take a swing with GWM.
  • If the other players have missed the enemy with high attack rolls of 18 or higher, I’ll probably not take the chance at missing the target.
  • If I have an advantage on the attack roll, I usually go with GWM.
  • If I have a disadvanatge (over and above the -5 penalty), I won’t use GWM.
  • If my character possesses other feats, abilites, and/or modifers that cancel out the -5 penalty, I’ll use the GWM more often.
  • If my character can deal greater damage more consistently with other weapons, feats, or abilities, then I will use GWM less often.

I also occasionally gamble with GWM in a battle just for fun.

Should You Always Use Great Weapon Master?

No, you should not always use GWM.

Like any other feat, ability, item, or spell, I recommend that you use GWM strategically in your D&D adventures.

Use the decision matrix that I described above or the GWM math suggested by others.

Take into account your:

  • Advantages
  • Disadvantages
  • Modifiers
  • Streak of good luck or bad luck in a game
  • Magical items
  • Other feats
  • Other abilities
  • Environment/location
  • Context
  • Potential consequences
  • Weapons

You might also want to think about the rest of your party—particularly, their strengths and weaknesses.

D&D is basically 4D chess with Dwarfs.

Is Great Weapon Master Overpowered?

Great Weapon Master is not overpowered as a feat. The feat is balanced with bonuses and drawbacks. The big drawback is accuracy. The -5 attack penalty makes it harder for a character to successfully hit an enemy.

The feat loses this balance when a character possesses modifiers or other attack advantages that remove the negative effect of the penalty.

When this happens in a game, it’s usually up to the Dungeon Master to homebrew a remedy.

Here are possible DM remedies using combat encounters:

  • Highly armored enemies
  • Flying or ranged enemies
  • Enemies that can only take damage from magical attacks

A DM can also magically take a certain character out of commission.

For example, an enemy spellcaster might levitate the player character out of melee combat range.

DMs can also use the landscape—hills, walls, towers, rivers, etc—to force a fight outside of GWM feat parameters.

As far as the non-combat parts of D&D modules, the GWM feat is little help in escaping an avalanche, negotiating peace talks, or solving a murder mystery.

Can You Lose the GWM Feat?

It is possible to lose feats in D&D. When you lose a feat prerequisite, you lose the mechanical function of the feat. In other words, you don’t get the advantages or bonuses of the feat.

With GWM, there are no race, class, or other prerequisites for possessing the feat.

Therefore, you could technically lose the GWM feat only if:

  • You lose your profieciency in a great weapon
  • You lose your great weapon
  • You lose your hands or arms
  • Your character is unconcious
  • Your character dies

If any of these things happen, you will lose your ability to use the GWM feat.

Metagaming and Cheating with GWM

Metagaming is basically using out-of-game information to make in-game decisions. So, for example, if you look up the AC of an enemy on your phone, you might realize that you should or shouldn’t use the Great Weapon Mastery feat.

The same is true if you peek at the DM’s notes while they make a snack run to the kitchen.

D&D is usually more fun when you roleplay your character based only on what they know inside the game.

Final Thoughts

The best way to learn about feats, weapons, characters, and other equipment is from the official D&D rulebooks.

Here are resources that I recommend:

Recommended D&D ResourcesPrice
D&D Core Rulebook SetCheck the latest price
D&D Rules Expansion SetCheck the latest price
D&D Dice SetCheck the latest price
D&D Accessories BagCheck the latest price
Recommended D&D Resources

There are a ton of other articles on this site about how to play D&D. Before you go, browse around to see what else you might learn.

Here are some suggestions related to this article.

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Sources

Wizards of the Coast (Player’s Handbook)
DND Beyond

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