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…
@J_McGrody As with most bonus actions, you choose the timing, so the Shield Master shove can come before or after the Attack action.
— Jeremy Crawford (@JeremyECrawford) January 21, 2015
Until 2018 that is…
Clarification about bonus actions: if a feature says you can do X as a bonus action if you do Y, you must do Y before you can do X. For Shield Master, that means the bonus action must come after the Attack action. You decide when it happens afterward that turn. #DnD https://t.co/fWqVHYNJS3
— Jeremy Crawford (@JeremyECrawford) May 11, 2018
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!
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!
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!