D&D 5e: Shield Bonking With Shield Master

A half orc paladin, master of his shield.

D&D 5e: Shield Bonking With Shield Master

SOURCE: Player’s Handbook

The Strange Benefits of Shield Master

Shield Master has three benefits total, and all of them are okay, but none of them are spectacular:

Benefit #1 – 

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.

This is the lovely bonking feature people often take Shield Master for. Knocking people prone or moving them is useful, but there are some problems with the order in which you attack and shove

Benefit #2 – 

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.

Less useful than it immediately seems; “targets only you” excludes most area of effect effects, which are what trigger most dex saves. Not awful though.

Benefit #3 – 

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.

Turn a fireball into zero damage. Does not have the “only you” requirement of the previous feature. Effectiveness is based on how often you pass that saving throw, however.

An intricately designed golden shield.

Mechanics and Requirements

Understanding How It Functions

The shove effect in the first benefit is peculiar; there’s a popular misconception, partly caused and partly prevented by Jeremy Crawford, that you can choose to shove before you take the attack action. If you could, this would be good, because you could get advantage on all your melee attacks by using your bonus action to shove an enemy prone. However, you can’t do this: Jeremy Crawford has issued a correction to an old tweet of his, clarifying that you must use the bonus action after taking the attack action.

The second benefit is also strange; remember that if the effect targets anything else whatsoever, whether a creature, an object, or technically even the creature creating the effect themselves (as is the case for some heal-on-hit effects), you’re ineligible to use this. A fireball that targets only you triggers this benefit. A fireball that targets you and also a pile of logs doesn’t trigger it. It’s unclear if a stone floor or the air count as objects, so talk to your DM.

Remember that you can add your shield’s entire AC bonus: so in the case of a magical +1 shield that provides a +3 to AC, you use the +3.

Finally, the third benefit might be the most useful for some characters, but remember, it uses your reaction! 

Key Stats

This feat doesn’t provide an ASI, but as far as ability scores it requires, you need a high strength score, Athletics proficiency, and possibly advantage on those checks to make the most of the shoving benefit, and you need a high dexterity, proficiency in dexterity saving throws, and ideally advantage on them to make the most of the third benefit.

This is slightly problematic, since you rarely see a high strength and a high dexterity on the same character, although sometimes you’ll see a high strength and an okay dexterity or vice versa.

Ideal Characters for Shield Master

Top Classes

BarbarianBarbarians have both the high strength and high dexterity that Shield Master rewards, since strength is used for a barbarian’s attacks and dexterity is needed for their armor class. Shoving can help the barbarian’s allies, and the bonus to dex saves, advantage on dex saves, and/or no effect on a success can make a non-Bear Totem’s lack of resistance to elemental damage less of an issue.

PaladinPaladins are seen with shields more often than a lot of other weapon users, since they can pull off a spear/shield combo better than a fighter, especially at high levels when Improved Divine Smite comes into play. So, if they’re going to use a shield, they might as well take Shield Master once they run out of other feats they want to take. Their level 6 bonus to all saving throws will also trigger the third bullet point of Shield Master more often. 

RogueRogues have evasion, which may seem redundant with Shield Master at first; and that’s because it is redundant with the third bullet point. But still, there aren’t a lot of incredible feats for rogues, so if you somehow have shield proficiency from a multiclass or another source, and your DM uses a lot of dex save effects, you might as well get that +2 or higher to them and the option to shove. Remember that you can get Expertise in Athletics, making you a better shover than the fighter.

Multiclassing Considerations

Any multiclass that gives you shield proficiency makes this feat a lot more tempting; never consider this feat if you aren’t proficient in shields. Also, if you’re planning on making the most out of this feat, make sure the first class you take levels in has proficiency in dexterity saving throws, that way you can use this feat better.

Race or Subrace Choices

I can’t recall any race that gives you proficiency in shields, but some races have advantage on saves against magic such as the Satyr (see our excellent guide on it here), and some races can have advantage on strength checks such as the Kenku (although that race can only get advantage a limited number of times per day).

Combos, Tactics, and Synergies

Complementary Feats

Resilient (Dexterity) will give you proficiency in the relevant saving throw if you lack it. Useful on a very high level paladin who is sick of failing against Meteor Swarms and the breath weapons of ancient dragons.

Polearm Master is a must-have for any character using a shield; you need to deal damage somehow, and you might as well use a bonus action attack whenever shoving doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Spells that Synergize

Unfortunately, no, you can’t use the Shield spell or Shield of Faith spell for this feat, nice try.

Strategies for Maximizing Shield Master Effectiveness

Keep an eye on initiative; knocking enemies prone is only as good as the initiative order allows. If the enemy goes immediately after you and can just stand up on their turn, do not shove them prone!

Final Thoughts on Shield Master

Shield Master is an okay middle of the road feat that has some potential and some peculiarities. I would not prioritize this over the core damage feats like Polearm Master, but at higher levels, Shield Master is definitely worth considering.

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