D&D 5e: Savage Attacker and You: Optimizing This Terrible Feat

A savage half female half orc defeating a green dragon.

D&D 5e: Savage Attacker and You: Optimizing This Terrible Feat

D&D 5e: Savage Attacker and You: Optimizing This Terrible Feat

SOURCE: Player’s Handbook

The Meager Benefits of Savage Attacker

Savage Attacker is universally agreed upon to be a terrible feat. To understand why, we need to first list the feat’s absolutely massive list of benefits:

Benefit #1 – 

Once per turn when you roll damage for a melee weapon attack, you can reroll the weapon’s damage dice and use either total.

This gives you a second chance if you roll low on your damage dice; thankfully, you’re not taking a gamble by using this, since being able to use either total means that at worst, your damage will never go down if you use this. Despite being a weak benefit for most characters, it grants some extra damage consistency, so it’s perfect for people who hate rolling a 1 on their damage dice.

A large bronze great axe.

…It’s More Complicated, Actually

A Deeper Dive

A damage dice reroll might not seem complicated, but due to some of D&D 5e’s strange quirks, the implications of the wording can be truly bizarre.

Firstly, the reroll requires a melee weapon attack; so you can’t reroll a ranged weapon attack or a melee spell attack. Notably, it just has to be a melee weapon attack, not an attack with a melee weapon (these are two different things), but the next part of the feat refers to “the weapon’s damage dice” so it still needs to be with a weapon to allow you to reroll.

Once you know whether or not an attack qualifies, next you need to determine what dice can and cannot be rerolled; unfortunately for rogues, paladins, and certain other characters, the dice you reroll are limited to “the weapon’s damage dice”, which excludes things like smites, sneak attack and even the martial arts die of a monk’s unarmed strikes, since it’s not made with a weapon. This means for a greataxe, you reroll the d12, and for a longsword held in one hand, you reroll the d8.

Sage Advice has confirmed that attacks with things that aren’t weapons can’t qualify for Savage Attacker. You can search for it in their handy dandy Sage Advice Compendium. Some dungeon masters will just let you use Savage Attacker on any melee weapon attack, even if it’s not technically with a weapon, but this guide will assume your DM isn’t being generous.

However, there’s a way some “weaponless” attacks can be attacks with weapons: if you have claws or horns that are described in the thing granting them to you as something called a “natural weapon,” a term that has no rules on its own, that is indeed a “weapon” and you can reroll the damage dice for it. So some claw and bite and horn attacks can be rerolled, but a human monk’s fists can’t be rerolled. What a headache!

There is a rules gray area though: many monsters have attacks that aren’t clearly defined as weapons or not weapons. Is a bear’s claw a weapon? Is a dragon’s bite a weapon? Are a roper’s tentacles weapons? This question is currently unanswered by official sources and the answer will depend on your dungeon master.

Optimal Circumstances

Here’s a list of what you need to get the most out of savage attacker:

  1. A melee attack with something considered a weapon, that has…
  2. Large damage dice, and/or lots of damage dice, and…
  3. A good attack bonus so that you can hit in the first place, and finally…
  4. Aside from qualifying for these criteria, the character should still be viable, because sacrificing all your defense and damage and utility to maximize the effectiveness of a reroll is not great.

Our Ideal Savage Attacker Candidates

Top 3 Use Cases In Ascending Order

Barbarian – Barbarians stereotypically use greataxes. The greataxe is a d12 weapon, and no other weapon has a larger damage die. Therefore, if we’re using a normal weapon based character, this is the best case scenario. Great Weapon Master has higher damage output, but a level 4 barbarian specifically can become the king of damage consistency by combining reckless attack with a non-GWM affected attack bonus with a damage reroll; this way they almost always hit and almost always roll well on damage.

Moon DruidThe infamously powerful Moon Druid described here is surprisingly useful for this feat. If your DM rules that attacks made with monster parts like a Giant Elk’s hooves (which deal 4d8 damage) qualify for Savage Attacker, great! Turn into one at level 6 and that’s four dice you can reroll. At high levels, you can turn into a Mammoth, which has both a 4d8 and a 4d10 attack; great for rerolling.

Bladesinger WizardWhat’s a weapon feat doing on a wizard? Answer: Shapechange. More on that below. But at very high levels, wizards have maxed out intelligence and all the feats they want, so Savage Attacker might look really good on a wizard who plans to use Shapechange, and Bladesingers are the best at using Shapechange since many of their bonuses from their subclass carry over to their Shapechange form. For more information on Bladesinger features check out our Bladesinger Guide.

Multiclassing Considerations

Multiclassing will not help you. You want high weapon damage dice, and multiclassing will either not help you, or in the strange case of the Moon Druid and Bladesinger Wizard, will actually hurt you.

Race or Subrace Choices

Race selection will not help you even though natural weapons do work with this feat. Don’t try spending a whole feat to reroll a 1d4 or 1d6 attack though. That’s somewhat pointless.

Combos, Tactics, and Synergies

Do any other feats work with Savage Attacker? Any? Any at all?

Nope. Not really.

Shapechange and Savage Attacker

Ignore all other spells except maybe a high level Shadow Blade; Shapechange is the ultimate spell for taking advantage of Savage Attacker. You can turn into monsters, and those monsters have the statistics in their usual stat blocks, but you also get to keep all your wizard goodies and your feats. So if there’s a monster with a big attack with a weapon that does lots of damage dice, you can turn into it. A good candidate is the Balor: it has a longsword that deals 3d8 slashing and 3d8 lightning damage, and you can reroll every single one of those dice.

When to Use Savage Attacker

When do you use Savage Attacker anyway? If you make one attack a round, use it when you roll under average damage. The average for a 1d12 greataxe is 6.5, so a roll of 6 or lower = reroll. Simple as that. But when you have multiple attacks remaining, it gets more complicated: for each remaining attack, you halve the die number threshold you want to reroll on until you hit “1”. You will need more complicated math if the damage dice of your weapons are different, such as if you’re using a rapier and a shortsword for some reason, but this will work for most characters.

For example, if you’re a barbarian with two 1d12+mod attacks a round, if your first attack is a 3 or lower, you reroll. If your final attack is a 6 or lower, you reroll if you didn’t already use your reroll. Essentially, the more attacks you make, the worse your early attack rolls need to be to justify using the feat on them.

Final Verdict on Savage Attacker

This feat is terrible for most players and most characters. It’s almost always bad. It’s a feat that does nothing but increase damage and it increases damage very little for nearly everyone. But for consistency-obsessed gamers and transformed characters, it can be a surprisingly useful pick.

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