Introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, Crusher, Piercer, and Slasher brought a new collection of options for people who consistently do a physical damage type to add some utility when they do. Each of them gives you a hybrid option for increasing a physical stat, an option to do something once per turn when you hit something with the associated damage type, and a unique bonus when you perform a critical hit with the associated damage type. The actual benefits of each feat are more and less useful, but each one does make a certain amount of thematic sense which is aesthetically pleasing.
During research for the Genie warlock handbook, we found a really odd use case for one, and it got us thinking “how can we optimize all of these feats?” I already made a pretty good case for Piercer in the Gloom Stalker ranger handbook, but there are definitely other great things to do with each of them that we’re going to explore in this article.
Since I don’t really have a better place to put this, I’m going to call out something that applies to each of these feats: they say once per turn not once per round. This means that, like Sneak Attack, if you can get additional attacks outside of your turn you can apply the effects again. This includes things like the Voice of Authority feature from Order clerics, the Commander’s Strike maneuver, or someone casting Haste on you, letting you attack once during your turn with the Haste action and then preparing your real action to do an attack outside of your turn. Just make sure to be so vague about the condition as to guarantee it triggers.
Table of Contents
Because Tyler likes things in alphabetical order, we immediately start with the strangest of the feats in this list. First off, it’s the only one that offers Con instead of Dex for its hybrid ability score increase. The once per turn ability to move people is one of the few things that doesn’t mention what direction you’re allowed to move them in, which means that you can move them up. Moving someone 5 feet up is, by itself, not an issue. However, if you combine that with another ability that lets you move people away from you, now “away from you” can be further up.
Probably the single best use I can think of for this is to put it on an Elf Tempest cleric. Put Elemental Weapon (lightning) on, hit someone with the stereotypical mace, and send them 15 feet into the air. This will deal an extra d6 falling damage, which then makes them prone upon landing. This is supported by this section of Xanathar’s, which says we can choose what order to stack simultaneous effects in. Now that they’re prone and next to you, you have advantage on any additional attacks you make against them. I suggest a 3, 5, or 11 level multiclass into Champion Fighter to capitalize on that with extra attacks, trying to crit them so that everyone has advantage to attack them. The advantage from the feat and disadvantage from prone will cancel out for ranged attackers, leaving them no worse off than if the target was standing.
The combining of simultaneous effects like that also works on a Dao genie warlock applying bludgeoning damage through their Genie’s Wrath ability. That can combine with Repelling Blast for the same “15 feet up” trick if you start 10 feet away from them to knock them first up with Crusher and then away upward at an angle. That Dao genie feature can also add bludgeoning damage to any attack that hits, allowing them to be the only player character option I can find that will deal more than one type of physical damage on the same attack.
You might be tempted to say “well that kind of makes the warlock dip an expensive opportunity cost for my martial character just to accomplish this gimmick,” given that it’s going to put you a level behind on your fundamental math and martial characters usually dump charisma. The one exception is a multiclass hexblade/paladin, but you can’t be both a hexblade warlock and a Dao genie warlock, much to my frustration. With that said, spell attacks are also attacks.
Now, by default, there actually aren’t any spells that require an attack roll and do slashing damage. But that sure doesn’t stop a multiclassed Dao Warlock/Scribe Wizard from making one. Scorching Ray and Cloud of Daggers are both second level spells. Scorching Ray gives you 3 attack rolls to try to hit. If any of them do, you can move the target 5 feet thanks to Crusher and apply the speed penalty from Slasher.
If you had difficult terrain around, perhaps from an Erupting Earth you cast in the area, you could functionally prevent most things that can’t fly from moving unless they took the Dash action. If you had a friend who could also apply a movement penalty, perhaps with Ray of Frost, you could actually just make most things completely unable to move on the ground. The Rune Knight Handbook also talks about another good use case where you grapple them so their speed is 0 and then move them around with Crusher.
You can also, of course, use it to force people into/through damaging area effects like spells. Since the duration of this effect from the feat is instantaneous (unlike the effect that happens on critical hits) you can even get multiple people with Crusher in one party and have them all do the same thing to one target. Creating an area that is hazardous to move into is already good. Creating an area that’s more hazardous depending on how much you move can be very good, especially if you have multiple people in your party with this feat. Spike Growth requires concentration, but the difficult terrain from Erupting Earth doesn’t. Make it very hard for people to escape and then move them back and forth over a cheese grater and enjoy dealing caltrop damage with actual plastic caltrops.
One thing to remember is that, unlike the Tempest Cleric ability which cares about absolute size, Crusher cares about relative size which is part of what makes it so good on said Rune Knight. If you are going to try to use it, look for ways to make yourself bigger so you can wrestle more things into harm’s way.
Additionally, remember that, in 5e, grid movement is always in discreet 5-foot increments. It doesn’t matter if it’s orthogonal or diagonal, moving one square is always 5 feet. Let’s pretend we have two foes standing next to each other. A and B. A and B are adjacent to each other. Therefore, if we hit A with Crusher, the square five feet above B is adjacent to A. A falls on B and they are now squeezing and B has to make a DC 15 Dex save or fall prone because A landed on B’s head.
Other build options:
- Thor, God of hammers. Throw light hammers with strength to apply the effects at range. For added benefit, do it as a Battle Smith artificer so you can use Intelligence to attack instead and therefore add both the returning weapon infusion so you only need your one magical hammer and, also, now it’s a viable choice for Elven Accuracy.
- David. Do the same thing but with a sling. Since that’s dex, it could also be used with Elven Accuracy and/or Champion Fighter to good effect.
- Elf Monk. No melee weapons that deal bludgeoning damage have the finesse tag (which makes sense) so this is the only way to get a melee attack that works with Crusher and uses Dex to hit (to once again combine with Elven Accuracy and/or Champion Fighter).
There’s relatively little to say about Piercer except that it’s the mathematically best feat on this list and also the most boring. If you can fit it into a Cavalier Fighter you absolutely should because getting to reroll d12’s on your lance is pretty great. You should also definitely fit it into any Assassin Rogue build. It would, in fact, be my recommendation that this be the first feat you take on such a character. It doesn’t really interact with anything else in any way, although you can use the reroll portion even on dice that aren’t piercing damage thanks to the wording.
I call this out in that gloom stalker build when I say to save the reroll for the d8 from dread ambusher. That means that it will also work on, for instance, the thunder damage from a Booming Blade applied by a piercing weapon (only the initial damage, not the triggered secondary damage). Do also note that the extra die you roll on the crit doesn’t specify that it has to be a weapon damage die so it, too, can be something larger if you have it.
Other build options:
- Any rogue. While Assassin rogues are called out above, most rogues rely on piercing damage and roll a big pile of dice, and the more dice you roll the more likely it is that one of them will be a 1 in need of rerolling.
- Really anything that does piercing damage, especially if it also cares about critical hits. There are many options for Dex-based attack rolls with piercing damage which makes the Elf Champion Fighter very good here too.
Slasher has definitely the best on-crit effect and, if optimized for, the strongest solo effect. This is very definitely one where you’d want to be an advantaged Elf Champion with accuracy and a scimitar. Or, amusingly, a whip if you want to do it with reach and don’t care about damage too much. If you crit, it’s actually better than the Ancestral Guardian taunt or even the Armorer Artificer taunt because it applies to attacks made against you as well.
Meanwhile, the ability to slow something by 10 feet, when combined with other similar effects like Ray of Frost as discussed above can provide a very effective battlefield control technique. If you’re able to stack that with difficult terrain then, again, perhaps even without Crusher it may be possible to hold something still just through raw movement cost.
Now, unfortunately, if you remember the part where I talked about attacking again out of turn to trigger the feat more than once, this one is the least good version. The speed penalty won’t stack and will functionally be wasted thanks to this section of the DMG. What you can still do though is apply it to two different targets. That by itself is powerful, but it also means that, unlike the interesting things we talked about above that can happen when a whole party has the feat, in this case there’s no benefit apart from being able to more easily apply it to more targets.
Other build options:
- Glaive Fighter. Apply the speed penalty from outside of their reach and then walk to a second target before waiting for something to trigger you to attack outside of your own turn.
- Kord, God of axes. Thrown handaxes can also apply the penalty, and if you do the same 3 level dip into Artificer mentioned above now you’re attacking with Intelligence again and eligible for Elven Accuracy.
- Fine, I’ll do both myself. The Eldritch Knight and the Bladesinger both get the ability to make weapon attacks and cast a cantrip in the same turn. Grab a whip and cast Ray of Frost and you can apply two 10 ft. speed penalties from outside of many creatures’ reach.