In 5e Dungeons and Dragons, action economy is the key to success in combat. Because of this, feats such as Polearm Master and Crossbow Expert are staples of optimized builds by weaponizing the bonus action. Both of these are fantastic feats because they also include additional features beyond a bonus action attack, but if you just want a bonus action attack there are a handful of other options to consider.
In particular, there is a weapon hidden away in the Eberron book called the Double-Bladed Scimitar. This weapon allows a bonus action attack via the Special property, which seems strong at face value. We’ll be exploring and comparing this weapon alongside other ways of investing into bonus action attacks with some DPR math to show where each option falls with various levels of build investment.
Table of Contents
- Weaponizing the Bonus Action
- DPR Comparisons
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released, and the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.
Weaponizing the Bonus Action
There are a few notable ways to consistently turn a bonus action into a melee attack.
- Crossbow Expert
- Double-Bladed Scimitar
- Dual Wielding
- Martial Arts
- Polearm Master
- Shield Master
Additionally, there are a few less practical methods we won’t be discussing in detail, but that are worth mentioning for completeness.
- Quickened Spell + Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade
- Great Weapon Master + Critical Hit
- Berserker Frenzy
- War Domain – War Priest Domain Power
Crossbow Expert is a feat that allows you to fire a ranged attack in melee, ignore the Loading property of crossbows, and most relevant to this article, allows a creature to fire a hand crossbow as a bonus action after taking the attack action with a one-handed weapon, which includes the hand crossbow.
The Double-Bladed Scimitar is a two-handed weapon buried in Eberron: Rising from the Last War. A traditional weapon of the Valenar elves, the weapon has both the two-handed and special properties, the special granting the weapon an attack as a bonus action if the attack action was used to make an attack with the DBS.
The Revenant Blade feat is an Elf-exclusive (no Half-Elves allowed) racial feat that grants the Finesse Property to the DBS and +1 AC, and can most closely be compared to the Dual Wielder feat, but is also unnecessary for using a DBS unless you want to make Sneak Attacks with it, a common reason for wanting to dual wield.
Another strong use case is for Rangers, who generally have a difficult time playing as Strength-based. One of the flaws with traditional Two-Weapon Fighting is the need for an open hand for somatic components where a Two-Hander can just let go of the weapon with one hand to cast the spell. That all said, unless you need the weapon to use Dexterity, this feat can be skipped and this weapon can be enjoyed by all races.
When you take the attack action with a light melee weapon, you can use your bonus action to make an attack with a different light melee weapon held in your other hand, but can’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus action attack. Fighting Style (Two-Weapon Fighting) allows you to add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus action attack.
The Dual Wielder feat alters the conditions such that this can be done with one-handed melee weapons that don’t need to be light. This can increase your damage by allowing larger dice to be used, typically growing from 1d6 to 1d8, though technically a Lance is a one-handed weapon with 1d12 damage if you wanted to go for the most shenanigans. This feat additionally gives the character +1 AC while holding a melee weapon in each hand and allows you to draw or stow two weapons with the same item interaction. If you’re going to be Two-Weapon Fighting, this is a good option to push a little more damage out round by round.
The Martial Arts ability allows a Monk to make one unarmed strike as a bonus action as long as the Monk has made the attack action with an unarmed strike or a Monk weapon on that turn. Using Martial Arts requires the Monk to remain unarmored and wield only Monk weapons or remain unarmed.
Polearm Master is a feat that allows the user to make an attack as a bonus action with the back end of a polearm type weapon listed in the feat’s text as long as the user has also made the attack action and used the primary attack of the polearm. Notably this option is the only one that allows for a shield, or the one-handed or heavy properties, which open up the options of using Fighting Style (Dueling) or Great Weapon Master.
On top of all that, PAM allows a creature to make opportunity attacks when foes enter the PAM user’s reach. Being an opportunity attack and not just an attack as a reaction is fantastic because it introduces synergy with anything that triggers on opportunity attacks such as the Sentinel and War Caster feats. For some, this is the primary feature of the feat with the bonus action bonk being the additional benefit. Together these features make this feat a defining part of some powerful builds.
To compare these, we’ll be checking DPR at a few level breakpoints. Our standard example for the weapons will be a Variant Human Fighter, while Martial Arts will require Monk. We will also include a control column for each level where we see what happens when the character needs to do something else with their bonus action. These extra columns allow for a fair comparison with a Greatsword.
We will give the contestants feats or ASIs as needed to perform.
Before feats, our Contestants all have 16 Strength at first level.
The Monk at twelfth level takes the Fighting Initiate Feat to gain the Dueling style. At this point the martial arts damage of 1d8 is equal to the versatile damage of the spear so switching to using it one-handed gains damage thanks to the feat.
Dual Wielding will have two entries, both using the Dual Wielder feat, with and without the fighting style.
Polearm Master has four entries:
The first uses a spear one-handed with a shield with the Defense style.
The second uses a spear one-handed with a shield with the Dueling style.
The third uses a pike two-handed.
The fourth uses a pike two-handed then takes Great Weapon Master at 4th level and always uses it from that point on.
The Greatsword will show damage with and without GWM for comparisons.
Crossbow Expert will use the Archery fighting style and also take Sharpshooter at level 4 and use Dexterity in all situations where the other Fighters used Strength.
|Contestant||VHuman Feat||Weapon||Fighting Style||Level 1||Level 1 No BA||Level 6||Level 6 No BA||Level 12||Level 12 No BA||Level 20||Level 20 No BA|
|Double-Bladed Scimitar||Slasher||Double-Blade Scimitar||Defense||9.15||5.45||19.88||14.50||25.25||20.25||32.00||27.00|
|Dual Wielding||Dual Wielder||Double Morningstar||Two-Weapon Fighting||10.20||5.10||20.63||13.75||25.60||19.20||32.00||25.60|
|Dual Wielding||Dual Wielder||Double Morningstar||Defense||8.25||5.10||17.13||13.75||22.35||19.20||28.75||25.60|
|Martial Arts||Piercer||Versatile Spear+Foot||N/A||9.03||5.33||16.30||11.95||22.25||15.85||24.45||17.35|
|Polearm Master 1H||Polearm Master||Spear||Defense||8.10||4.40||17.63||12.25||22.10||17.10||27.80||22.80|
|Polearm Master 1H||Polearm Master||Spear||Dueling||10.70||5.70||21.83||15.05||27.30||21.00||34.30||28.00|
|Polearm Master 2H||Polearm Master||Pike||Defense||9.50||5.80||20.63||14.20||26.30||21.30||33.40||28.40|
|Polearm Master GWM||Polearm Master||Pike||Defense||9.50||5.80||22.88||16.15||32.55||25.42||41.02||33.90|
|Greatsword Weapon Master||GWM||Greatsword||Defense||8.35||20.50||27.45||36.60|
|Greatsword No GWM||GWM||Greatsword||Defense||6.85||17.50||24.45||32.60|
|Handcrossbow Expert SS||CBX||Hand Crossbow||Archery||10.10||5.05||26.78||17.85||37.70||28.28||47.13||37.70|
We can draw a few important conclusions from this chart that help inform the nuance between different choices. The Double-Bladed Scimitar stands out as a weapon that can do well in situations where you can’t invest in the feats or fighting styles needed for the other options.
With investments in Dueling and PAM however, the DBS loses to the Spear and Shield by a few points of DPR but also loses out on the +1 AC the shield provides over the Defense style. This option is great for characters that can’t wield Heavy weapons, such as Small characters.
For those that can, the Pike (or similar weapons) alongside Great Weapon Master puts out the most DPR but requires two feats worth of investment. Our other Heavy option, the Greatsword with Great Weapon Master shows off an interesting data point. With only one feat invested, GWM, the Greatsword outdoes everything but the PAM+GWM Pike without using its Bonus Action to attack, making it the highest-DPR option for builds that already heavily use their Bonus Action.
As mentioned above, there are more possible variables to look at, such as class. If this chart were instead done with Paladins for example, the gap would be much narrower between PAM and DBS while the Greatsword falls behind, because instead of extra attacks Paladins get extra radiant damage on every attack starting at 11th-level, but DW would also fall behind because Paladins do not have Two-Weapon Fighting. Unsurprisingly, Paladin is one of the classes that heavily benefits when using the DBS over other options because the lack of required support feats allows the Paladin to spend more ASI on Charisma.
But then people asked me to include Crossbow Expert and all of the melee options promptly became irrelevant thanks to the Archery style. That’s what having an extra +2 to-hit over the competition does for you.
Should You Allow Double-Bladed Scimitar at Your Table?
The short answer is Yes.
The longer answer is that the DBS is a little stronger than other weapons without investment, but then loses to those same weapons after any investment is made. It also loses ground to an uninvested Greatsword over time and you haven’t asked me if you should ban the Greatsword even though the Greatsword without using any feats also closes in and almost matches the Pike using only PAM. And before you ask, the DBS just doesn’t have any significant investment options, it starts and ends about as good as it can be.