Hipsters & Dragons

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The Shield Master Feat: Bossing It!

I absolutely love the Shield Master feat… it offers a great boost to both offense and defense, with plenty of cool flavour and some nice tactical flexibility. A quick flick in the Player’s Handbook reveals the following:

You use shields not just for protection but also for offense. You gain the following benefits while you are wielding a shield:

  • If you take the Attack action on your turn, you can use a bonus action to try to shove a creature within 5 feet of you with your shield.
  • If you aren’t incapacitated, you can add your shield’s AC bonus to any Dexterity saving throw you make against a spell or other harmful effect that targets only you.
  • If you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you can use your reaction to take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, interposing your shield between yourself and the source of the effect.

One of my first ever characters, Jaxx Storm, a cleric of the tempest, had a lot of fun bashing over opponents with his bonus action and then clobbering them with his morning star while they were prone, gaining advantage on his attack roll. Which was totally legit…


Until 2018 that is…

That’s quite a big difference. Now, when you use the shove action it has to be after you’ve used your action to attack, meaning that your opponent can simply get back up on their turn, using half their movement, and retaliate as if nothing had happened. Obviously the feat is still handy for giving advantage to your allies, although only if they happen to be in the right place in the initiative chain… in between you and the monster you just floored. You’re also making it harder for your ranged strikers to hit the creature…. so potentially your successful shove could do more harm than good… which isn’t cool.

Does this need fixing? I think so, because the 2018 ruling just takes so much away from the feat as originally written. The simplest thing to do might be play according to the original ruling…. and I think that would be fine, until you start getting two attacks. Then it feels a little overtuned, as you would potentially be getting multiple attacks at advantage and it’s an ability you can use every round. In other words, I see why Jeremy changed his mind on this one!

And stay down!

Here are some suggestions then, on how I would handle the Shield Master feat in my game.

HIPSTER REMIX 1

  • If you take the Attack action on your turn, you can use a bonus action to either attempt to shove a creature within 5 feet of you with your shield, or to attack with your shield as an improvised weapon. You are considered proficient with the shield and use your Strength modifier to calculate your to hit and damage rolls.

Quite a strong option! But I think it’s in line with Polearm Master feat which also enables you to do an extra d4 damage plus your Strength modifier using a bonus action. Obviously with Shieldmaster feat you are also benefitting from a +2 bonus to your AC (plus the Dex save bonuses!), but then with Polearm Master your main attacks likely deal d10 damage and have a range of 10 feet, plus you get that sensational opportunity attack ability (so good!).

Overall, I think it’s about fair, and this remix offers even more versatility to the Shieldmaster… if there’s no point shoving a creature (maybe it’s too large, or it’s directly after you in the initiate chain, so knocking it prone won’t do anything) then at least you can do something else cool with your bonus action.

Not convinced? Here’s another thought…

HIPSTER REMIX 2

  • If you take the Attack action on your turn, you can use a bonus action to try to shove a creature within 5 feet of you with your shield. Provided you move at least 10 feet in a straight line before making the shove, you can use this bonus action before taking the Attack action

I like this, because when I think of someone using a shield to make a shove attack it’s usually at the end of a charge. This restores the original benefits of the feat, but only in certain situations, creating a power balance between the pre and post 2018 ruling which leave the feat too strong / too weak.

If I was your DM I’d let you use employ both remixes, because ultimately I don’t think sword and board is as powerful option as two handed weapons in 5e, due to the combos you can set up with the latter (Polearm Master + Great Weapon Master and/or Sentinel feat for example), but you should be able to persuade your DM to use at least one of them!

If you are the DM, then you can temper any improvements to Shield Master feat by applying these buffs to your Large sized monsters. They’re not so easy to push over now!

SHIELDMASTER TACTICS

I should probably round off this post with a couple of fun tactics you can use, even if the DM does insist on using the post 2018 version of the feat. Obviously the shove attack can be used to move monsters back (or indeed any direction, given that you can safely manoeuvre around a creature in 5e), instead of knocking them prone, making this feat your best friend for any battle that takes place on a bridge – or near any dangerous terrain whatsoever. [Note: the two tactics that follow won’t work as well as I’d hoped in RAW… see comments by Nathan Brown below. I keep them here as part of the discussion] But how about this technique… readying your action and letting a creature charge you before using your reaction to attack it. This way you can knock it prone after it’s used all its movement. Either it will have to take the dash action simply to stand up, or it will be forced to attack you at disadvantage and then still be prone when it comes to your turn. Meanwhile, in a battle where your whole party is railing on one BBEG it would probably be worth readying your action to attack the creature directly after its turn, meaning if you do succeed in knocking it prone your entire party will get advantage on their attacks before it can act. I haven’t actually used this feat for a long time… so if you have, please pipe up in the comments with any cool tactics and combos!

I’ll sign off by saying have a very merry Christmas y’all! May Santa fill your stockings with lots of nice presents, D&D flavoured, or otherwise. And let’s hope 2021 is a much better year than the sh!tshow we’ve all endured these last 9 or 10 months… speak soon!

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14 Comments

  1. Nathan Brown

    If you take the ‘Ready An Action’ action, you wouldn’t benefit from Shield Master’s bonus action attack (I don’t believe), since you aren’t actually taking the ‘Attack’ action. You could make your readied action a ‘Shove’ though, I suppose, so nevermind…

    When you get the ‘Extra Attack’ feature, you should be able to take the ‘Attack’ action, make the first roll, use the bonus action from SM to ‘Shove’ prone, then use the ‘Extra Attack’ feature with advantage.

    Also, a brawler (any unarmed fighter-type other than monk) with a shield and SM feat could also, using the above example, use the ‘Extra Attack’ as a ‘Grapple’ instead, thereby pinning the poor SoB so your other melee PCs can beat them down, with advantage.
    Added benefit: ‘Grappled’ condition makes speed zero, preventing them from standing from prone without first breaking the grapple… So it can either attack with disadvantage or try and escape on it’s turn. Rinse and repeat, and unless they’ve got backup or something up their sleeves it’s Game Over ;-D

    • duncan

      hey Nathan

      Thanks for sharing these ideas!

      Damn, you’re right, I had assumed that the Ready action allows you effectively to defer your turn, but not really. You can’t use any bonus actions combined with a ready action, as you say. In fact, you can’t even ready JUST a bonus action… so for sure action + bonus action is off the cards.

      https://www.sageadvice.eu/2016/10/05/can-you-ready-a-bonus-action/

      Plus I just saw that you can’t even benefit from Extra Attacks using the Ready action

      https://www.sageadvice.eu/2015/01/24/extra-attack-ready/

      So when you Ready your attack, you’re only ever going to get one attack is seems… and to do so you effectively have to give up any bonus action tied to your Attack action, any extra attacks of your class, and of course your reaction, which you need to use in order to be able to use Ready . That’s quite a sacrifice in order to act later in the initiative chain… or maybe not act at all if the trigger you’re waiting for never happens!

      You could Ready the Shove attack, but the goal of my tactic was to use the bonus action shove to best effect, and so not sure this is helpful, and certainly it’s not specific to Shield Master.

      Regarding using Shield Master in conjunction with Extra Attack, my initial instinct was that the bonus action attack would come after the Attack action, and therefore after all the attacks made in the Attack action. When Jeremy says:

      “For Shield Master, that means the bonus action must come after the Attack action. You decide when it happens afterward that turn”

      It creates a bit of ambiguity though…. did you see any other tweets on this subject? At any rate, using it in between could be a nice compromise between being able to use it before or after…. also i like the sword-shield-sword combo effect that would be taking place!

      So for a brawler with SM and Extra attack, you’re suggesting Punch – Shove (prone) – Grapple! I can see that working 😉

      • Nathan Brown

        I have not seen anything regarding the timing of Extra Attack, but my feelings towards it are that it is kind of a Free action. And since you are able to Attack-Move-Extra Attack, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to use your Bonus action anytime post-Attack. And if there’s a ruling against my theory, it can always be houseruled anyhow 😀

        [From PHB:
        “Moving Between Attacks –
        If you take an action that includes more than one weapon attack, you can break up your movement even further by moving between those attacks. For example, a fighter who can make two attacks with the Extra Attack feature and who has a speed of 25 feet could move 10 feet, make an attack, move 15 feet, and then attack again.“]

        And that is precisely how I envisioned the brawler working. I made a Sumo wrestler-esque character a while back, and ended up going with the Monk class, but toyed with the SM warrior build as a grappler as well.

  2. Dennis

    I think a feat line item should be simpler:

    Simplest option would be to just remove the attack action requirement: “you can use a bonus action to try to shove a creature within 5 feet of you with your shield”. Yes, it’s potentially powerful, but sword and board needs a power boost anyway.

    Or just replace the attack requirement with a movement requirement: “If you move at least half your movement, you can use a bonus action to try to shove a creature within 5 feet of you with your shield”.

    Finally the shove could become a simple bonus action attack: “If you take the Attack action on your turn, you can use a bonus action to make an attack with your shield. This attack uses your Strength modifier and does 1d4 bludgeoning damage. You are considered proficient with your shield for this attack.”

    • duncan

      Hi Dennis

      I like the simplicity of your lines, but as always there’s a trade off between simplicity and achieving what you want to achieve….

      For example, removing the Attack requirement is simple, but then you’re making it more powerful than the original interpretation of the feat which Jeremy Crawford thought was too powerful… so you’re going up two power levels from what the chief rules master thinks is best! My goal was to go up half a power level, so to speak, offering something in between the original interpretation of the feat, and what JC’s new ruling states.

      I like your simple movement requirement version of this feat a lot. I have one reservation however: I think it might bug me, as a player, that I can no longer use the shield to do anything once I’m locked in combat…. still this is a strong contender for how I might run this feat!

      I suggest the attack as something else you could do… to have it instead of the Shove option feels a bit boring! The fact that Shield Master brings the handy Shove attack into play at a cheap cost, is what makes the feat fun and attractive (it’s rarely worth giving up an action to Shove, but a bonus action for sure is worth it!). So I wouldn’t go with this option.

      Cheers for your input!

      • Dennis

        I like opening up the option to knock an opponent prone (shove bonus action) then run away (dash action).

        I don’t think JC nerfed Shieldmaster for being too powerful, but instead just stated that the rules interpretation was wrong. I’m not seeing the feat featured in power builds, nor any consternation at the ruling breaking anybody’s power build, nor any other indication that it’s over powered. Instead it seems to be a rarely chosen feat – most likely because it’s considered weak.

        If the goal is to encourage players to select the feat more often, the best way to achieve that goal is to make it more powerful. Making Shieldmaster as powerful as Great Weapon Master, Polearm Master or Sentinel isn’t power creep, instead it allows the defacto power level to be achieved another way, thus adding variety.

        • duncan

          Ok, I had assumed that the ruling was made to check the power of certain abilities, and the fact that he used Shield Master as his example made me think the feat’s power balance was a key factor in coming out with that particular rules clarification.

          You got me curious about its power (or at least damage output) next to Great Weapon Master feat and Polearm Master. For me knocking over your opponent becomes potentially too powerful when you get 2 attacks, and can attack twice with advantage, so I want to compare three 5th level fighters and see what happens. I will give them Strength 16 and Athletics proficiency. And pit them against a bugbear chief.

          Shield Master fighter

          Bonus action to knock prone has 61.75% chance of working, after which each attack has a 50% of hitting normally, or a 75% of hitting with advantage (ie. if the shove attack worked). Any hit would do an average of 7.5 damage (1d8+3), so 15 damage if both hit. Overall then there’s a 19.125% (chance of hitting twice if not prone) + 46.3125% (chance of hitting twice if prone) of doing full damage. So an average total of 9.82 damage, I believe.

          Polearm Master fighter

          50% chance of hitting with three attacks (2 x 1d10 + 3 and 1d4 +3) = 11.25 damage.

          Great Weapon Master fighter

          25% chance of hitting with two attacks (2 x 2d6+ 13) = 10

          Then if you factor in the fact that with Shield Master you’ve got +2 AC, and also an additional chance of making a critical hit when you to succeed in knocking your target prone, you could make a solid case for SM being the most powerful of these feats, when you allow the bonus action to take place first! Especially as the prone condition could convey advantage to all your allies too….

          Obviously there’s a tonne more factors involved (maybe PAM fighter gets to use a reaction attack etc etc etc….. monsters with lower ACs favour GWM etc etc), this is just a tiny snapshot.

          No big conclusion here…. my thinking probably remains the same. It’s a little too powerful if you can bonus action first, and maybe a bit too meh if you can’t….

        • duncan

          Btw, think you were right about JC’s intentions…. just seen this tweet, saying balance of Shield Master was not the issue:

          https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/995108600161824768

  3. Rick Coen

    I had my players (who are also GMs) read this article, then we had a long discussion. We ended up all agreeing that a Shield Bash was an acceptable alternate use of the Shieldmaster Bonus Action. (d4 damage, follows rules for Improvised Weapons, but the shieldmaster is considered Proficient)

    We could not agree on the Shield Charge special case (move 10′, bonus action without Attack first). In my campaign, I will allow a Shieldmaster to charge (Move) in, shield first, and use a bonus action to strike or shove (including knock prone option). In another’s game, he will allow the Shield Charge, but only to damage or Shove-knockback, not Shove-knockprone. The other fellow won’t allow the Shield Charge option at all, for fear of the power of “bonus action knock prone, then attack and extra-attack with advantage”.

    • duncan

      Thanks Rick…. I appreciate you getting a few more pairs of eyes on this! More feedback the better.

      Tangentially related only, but your comment just got me thinking about running up and pushing someone backwards 5 feet…

      How about this little rule for any Shove attack (not just Shield Master feat).

      If you take a 20 feet run up before making a Shove (backwards) attack you can choose to gain advantage on the contest. However, if you do so and lose, you end your turn 5 feet behind the target you were trying to shove.

      Could be a fun dilemma to give a PC just as they attempt to knock someone off a bridge!

  4. bruce sutton

    I think of it more as a tanking ability, rather than an easy way to give yourself reliable advantage, which would be very powerful for a feat that can be taken at level 1 (variant human). id also like to add that knocking them prone is a good tanking strategy. When they get up they are going to be less likely to try and get to your allies, as they will have less movement to reach them.

    You can also knock someone prone and then move away yourself. you can probably forgo having to use disengage as they have disadvantage. you knock them down and go to help an ally. you can move your full 30ft, while your opponent can only move 15ft once they get up. as long as your allies are about 20ft from you (which mages and archers should be) then you have taken them out of combat for one round.

    • duncan

      Hi Bruce… i like those ideas / strategies.

      My friend has the feat atm, and he tends to want to stay next to the monster he’s bashing, but certainly the feat has some tactical uses I hadn’t fully considered.

      Cheers!

  5. Mark

    I use this a little different myself. Along with the above stated rules, I also allow my players to burn their reaction to add their proficiency bonus to their AC against a single attack. As if putting their shield in the way defensively. I think it’s fair to assume that just holding onto it or hitting people with it wasn’t its initial purpose, it was to block incoming attacks.

    • duncan

      Hi Mark, makes sense, but that is very powerful indeed IMHO. Not only do you get the shield’s AC but you also effectively get the Defensive Duellist feat for free, and without even the finesse weapon and Dexterity restriction. Plus of course all the other Shieldmaster abilities. So it sounds like 2.5 feats in one almost.

      I might still allow it, but I would add the proviso that first you have to use your Bonus Action to declare you’re going ‘on the defensive’. When you are ‘on the defensive’ you can use your reaction to get the proficiency bonus against one attack you can see before the start of your next turn.

      It’s another option now for shieldmasters… shove, attack (if allowed), or extra defense. But they can’t benefit from both shove + extra defense each round… which feels too much to me.

      Cheers!

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