How to get the most out of the Battle Master Maneuvers in 5e.
Think of the fantasy genre, and your mind probably immediately goes to the image of a muscle-bound warrior pitching themselves against a horde of bad guys. Conan cutting a swathe through a band of skull-helmed marauders, Elric wielding his soul-sucking sword, and Aragorn facing down the orcish hordes of Mordor. And if that is the sort of character you see yourself playing, then you should consider the various benefits you can gain from following the Battle Master Archetype.
The various moves and skills the Battle Master may have at their disposal range from disarming, tripping, and pushing their opponents to expertly parrying enemy blows. These maneuvers provide a diverse array of tools, tricks, and tactics that mean you can really assert your dominance on the battlefield.
If you’re interested in playing a fighter but worry about the limitations of the class, especially when compared with some of the skills available to the magic-wielding classes, then opting for the Battle Master Martial Archetype or integrating Battle Master maneuvers into your character build is an excellent way of really exploring the full spectrum of martial skills.
Table of Contents
What are the Battle Master Maneuvers?
You can make a fair argument for the Battle Master being the most versatile of all martial-based archetypes. Eldritch Knights might gain access to spell use, and psychic skills that the Psi Warrior can use are both excellent. But if that all seems a bit fancy and you want to be the most aggressive, meanest, most dangerous person on the battlefield with the biggest and most impressive sword, then the Battle Master is the only way.
The core of this subclass is the resource known as Superiority Dice. This pool of four d8s (increased by one at levels seven and fifteen, is the mechanism that powers most of your maneuvers.
Maneuvers, in this case, relate to special effects that can be applied during combat and which, in turn, use up your Superiority Dice. However, these are replenished after the appropriate period of rest. Options range from dealing extra damage (generally by adding the totals of your Superiority Dice roll to your damage calculation) to disarming your enemy and allowing you to protect your allies better to the clever and dexterous outmaneuvering of your enemies.
At the 3rd level, you can choose three maneuvers and then two more at levels seven, ten, and fifteen. Because it takes a while to build up a solid array of these maneuvers, choosing the right ones early on is crucial. The ones that will be the most useful and the ones that will let you play in the style you enjoy most.
Battle Master Maneuver Breakdowns
Between the Players Handbook and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, there are 23 Battle Master maneuvers to choose from. Deciding which ones are right for you, especially when just starting down this path, can be daunting. Let’s look at each in more detail.
This is a good choice for low Dexterity characters who want to be sure that they have a good chance of taking out their enemies before they get a chance to react. Although it is one of the few maneuvers that does add to the damage done, it does mean that you jump right to the front of the initiative queue when things kick off.
Bait and Switch
A perfect maneuver to have in your arsenal for when you need to get a wounded ally out of the firing line while also giving yourself an excellent little Armor Class boost at the same time – rolling somewhere around an eight on your Superiority Die could mean that your Armor Class ends up shooting up to the mid 20’s. This, as we all know, is something close to invulnerability. The only real downside of this maneuver is that it doesn’t deal any damage out to your opponents.
This is pretty much reverse engineering of the main aspects of the Polearm Master and Sentinel feats. It means you can issue additional damage and use it for your reaction. In addition, if the character can disengage as their bonus action, you can do it all again next turn.
This is a maneuver to use sparingly as it costs a lot to use. You must give up both your attack and your bonus action, and your nominated ally will also need to sacrifice their reaction. This means this is only worth using if you can make multiple attacks per round, and your ally can already dish out much more damage than you do.
Think of this maneuver as a hyper-specific take on Bardic Inspiration, the only catch being that you can’t bestow this on other people. There are probably already others in the party who are charismatic and good with face-to-face interactions. Unless your group is terrible at social checks and being persuasive, you can give this a miss.
This is generally one of the favorites, with many from the list of options. Not only does it allow you to hand out a bit of extra damage, but it can also force your enemies to drop their shields and weapons. A clever use of it also means that you should be able to force the bad guys to drop the all-important trinkets and treasures you are getting your hands on as you chase them through the corridors of the deep, dank places of the world.
Think about your favorite fight scenes in the movies. The Battle of Carthage is reconstructed in the Colosseum in Gladiator, the sprawling brawls of any Pirates of the Caribbean film, and most of the action in any Marvel film. What do they all have in common? Teamwork. Allies working together, great martial combinations, smart one-two sucker punches, and plenty of deft and dexterous interaction by the good guys. (that’s you, by the way.)
One of the things that players miss in DnD is teamwork, as everyone seems out for personal glory and to get their names in the songs of troubadours and bards. Distracting Strike is one of those wonderfully cooperative moves that more people should pick up. No one remembers the assists, perhaps, but such moves can help win the day. (even if no one notices.)
Most people consider this merely a costly way of acquiring the equivalent of a Dodge action. And they would be right. Plenty of other maneuvers can raise your Armor Class for longer and bestow other excellent benefits, too. No thanks.
This is an excellent maneuver to break out when trying to ruin the afternoon of a high Armor Class bad guy. Just ensure that there are only so important things that you could be doing with that precious bonus action first.
Some people may overestimate how valuable the Gouding Attack maneuver will be in most dungeon encounters. Simply by virtue of being the biggest and most apparent warrior, standing at the front of your party with the big gleaming sword is enough to make you the focus of the enemy’s attention, anyway.
Add in the fact that it relies on a saving throw and is starting to look increasingly poor. That said, it is always helpful if you need to rescue a vulnerable spell caster who has got too near all of the pointy action.
Another consideration is that it can be applied to ranged weapons, so on balance, it is up to you.
As the name implies, this is useful if you are trying to concentrate on the Grappler skills and focus on close-up, hot and sweaty, unarmed combat, but there is no real benefit for anyone not pursuing such a path.
This can be a useful maneuver depending on the specific situation. The associated damage is good, but there are plenty of other ways to use your Superiority Dice to add damage to a more significant effect.
If you use a weapon that works within a 5-foot range, the extra reach is all but insignificant. However, apply it to someone wielding a Halberd or Pike; suddenly, they can make melee strikes against enemies fifteen feet away!
It’s always a great way to quickly get a fellow ally out of trouble, although other options exist in such situations. Still, it is a fun and flamboyant way to make a dangerous situation less so for your buddy.
It’s one of the best maneuvers available and a fantastic move that imposes disadvantage on your foe’s attack rolls and ability checks. It also means that they can’t get close to you as the ferocity and deftness of your attack keep them well at arm’s length. If paired with ranged attacks, you can keep the ghastly hordes at bay for an extra turn or two.
Perhaps “Parry” isn’t the best word for what is taking place when you use this maneuver. You aren’t really deflecting the incoming blow, which is the usual sense of the word, but reducing a sizeable amount of the damage it would have done. So think of this as slowing of momentum to minimize potential damage.
This is very powerful at lower levels; these early days are when even one lucky blow from a sizeable beastie can knock out half your hit points. Ouch! This is a good move if you are a high Dexterity character or any class that relies on speed, deftness, agility, and grace as it piles on top of any guaranteed damage reduction you might have available from other skills and abilities.
Again, this is another maneuver that doesn’t boost damage, so perhaps not the most obvious early choice. But, if you are faced with a high Armor Class opponent or need to stack the odds by turning a near miss into a definite hit, this is an excellent way to ensure you land that killer blow.
Not many other abilities allow you to push an opponent a full 15 feet away from you. This means that not only would such a pushback ensure that you get some much-needed breathing space in the heat of battle, but it could easily and dramatically deliver an instant kill if fighting on a cliff top of the roof of a building, a castle walkway, or alongside a deep river.
Another one of the really cool maneuvers available is a must for one of the initial choices at 3rd level. It’s the stuff of heroic and cinematic legend. You draw your dagger from your waistband and, in one swift move, hurl it at lightning speed straight at the oncoming ugly. Practical, fun, and flashy as hell. The maneuver eliminates using a separate action to draw the weapon, which is really useful. Combine this with a Pushing Attack, and you get the whole rush, pushback, and throwing axe to the face move, which always impresses those looking on.
If you already have a healer in the party and they haven’t maxed out their skills, then this maneuver will be surplus to requirements. However, if you need to keep a friend alive for one more round so that he can be taken out of harm’s way, then this is the trick. Great at lower levels, but as you move up through the levels, you may want to replace it with something else.
This maneuver is similar to Brace and is another excellent early pick. If you have a high Armor Class – say, 18 and upwards – this maneuver will give you plenty of opportunities to use your reaction to deliver some serious additional damage.
This maneuver gives you access to a type of attack rare in the DnD universe. Besides Green Flame Blade, Sweeping Attack is one of the few ways to hit multiple targets with a single strike. Good at lower levels when the opponents don’t have significant hit-point totals, but as you split your damage across two targets, this will feel underwhelming as you move into the higher levels.
This is much the same as Commanding Presence and is way down the list of valuable picks. As with the aforementioned maneuver, this can’t be given to others, and the benefits it bestows are probably already found elsewhere in the party’s collective pool of skills and abilities.
Along with Disarming Attack, this is a fantastic maneuver, not only for practical results but for adding a bit of color and excitement into the melee. Embody your character and revel in the feeling that you are merely dancing nimbly around your opponents, out-matching them and making them look right buffoons.
Also, once your opponents are subjected to being in a Prone Condition, not only is their movement impaired and a disadvantage on attacks applied, but they look like a fool sitting on their behinds right in the middle of a serious melee.
Choosing Your First Three Maneuvers
Here’s the story so far. You have decided to go the physical route and embrace a martial and combative path to seek fame and fortune. You have opted to specialize as a Battle Master and reached level 3. It is time to pick the three best maneuvers to see you safely up to the 7th level, where you will be allowed two more.
It is probably best to choose maneuvers that cover all of the various aspects of combat so there is no obvious weak spot in your fighting style. If we break things down into Damage, Control, and Defense, choosing one from each category will mean you have everything reasonably well covered.
If your Armor Class is 18 or higher, you should pick Riposte. The high Armor Class means that your opponents will miss you more often, giving you more chances to use your reaction to respond with the killer blow. Or at least a smack on the head that will give them pause for thought.
If your Armor Class is lower than 18, Brace is the one to go for, as this allows you to strike your enemies as they enter the extremes of your melee range, enabling you to take them out or keep them at bay before they can land a blow on you.
Pick Menacing Attack if you are looking for a great way to disrupt incoming attacks, a combination of practical attack and a frenzied display of martial skills that should make them think twice about facing off against you.
If you have a high Armor Class and you expect to be the guy who has to get less well-protected allies out of trouble, then Goading Attack means that the bad guys will see you as a priority, hopefully ignoring the soft targets nearby.
Parry will help you stay alive longer as it helps reduce incoming damage. Rally, on the other hand, enables you to hand out some temporary Hit Point, useful if you don’t have a healer or if they are the sort of person that gets knocked unconscious a lot.
Battle Master Builds
The wide range of maneuvers that are open to the Battle Master means that it is easy to build a unique character. There may be other battle masters around; you may not even be the only one in your party, but it is probably that no two will be that much alike.
There is no right or wrong way to build the Battle Master; it is all down to your style of play. You could be the ranged combatant, devastating with a bow and fighting from a long way off. You could be the deft and dexterous duelist, all quick wits and quicker rapier thrusts. You could be the tank who plows straight through the enemy ranks. And so much more besides.
A great way to get some ideas for combining feats and fighting styles, skills, and multi-class options is to check out the Battle Master Builds section of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything—plenty of ideas and inspiration to be found there.
The Battle Master can be honed into an impressive damage dealer through the careful combination of Feats, Fighting Style, and Maneuvers, enabling you to construct some of the game’s most potent sustained damage-per-round (DPR) builds.
At level 3, the Battle Master showcases remarkable strength, delivering a compelling initial impact that makes it an enticing option for multiclassing. However, as you advance to level 7, several other Fighter archetypes begin to narrow the gap, and the Battle Master’s effectiveness wanes in the higher echelons of the leveling system. This decline becomes particularly evident when confronted with larger creatures or foes immune to fear, causing several Maneuvers to lose their edge in such situations.
Nonetheless, the Battle Master offers a treasure trove of customization possibilities. Whether your preference leans toward specializing as a ranged weapon virtuoso, a resilient tank, a high-damage dealer, an adept grappler, a master of thrown weapons, or even a party leader whose martial skills make for a rallying point for the rest of the team, the Battle Master’s versatility is endless.
Battle Master Maneuvers 5e FAQs
What is a Battle Master in D&D 5e?
The Battle Master is a Fighter subclass that is proficient in the finer points of combat maneuvers and tactics. They are able to dominate, control, and steer battlefield action through their maneuvers.
How do Battle Master maneuvers work?
Battle Masters have access to a set of martial maneuvers, which they are able to use by expending Superiority Dice, which limit and control many of the actions. The dice can determine effectiveness, decide additional damage, and limit use. These maneuvers are generally regained after a short period of rest.
Can Battle Masters only use melee weapons?
No, Battle Master maneuvers are applicable to both melee and ranged weapons, making them versatile combatants and able to do serious damage both in hand-to-hand combat and from afar.
How do you choose Battle Master maneuvers?
An initial three maneuvers are gained at the 3rd level, and then more are acquired at the 7th, 10th, and 15th levels.
Kendra has always been a hardcore fantasy nerd. Growing up in the worlds of Tolkien, Sanderson, Jordan, and Abercrombie, DnD & board games just came naturally. She and her husband, Bryan, started GameCows.com in 2018 as a fun passion project that just took over their lives. An avid board gamer since childhood and chronic DnD chronicler for more than two decades, she loves to play, write, travel, and learn dead languages. She is also a professional content writer at SlashGear.com