Dungeons & Dragons 5E, the latest edition of the world’s most renowned tabletop RPG, has always allowed its broad player base to create unique character profiles and embark on exciting adventures led by a certain dungeon master (commonly termed as a DM). The DM controls NPCs, monsters, and all the events that unfold in the D&D world.
The tabletop game comes equipped with a rather illustrative Player’s Handbook that lists out the various feats a player can master, apart from other miscellaneous information to guide the player along the way. Defensive Duelist is one such feat that can be taken up instead of an ability score improvement at various levels, depending on the player’s character profile.
DnD 5e Defensive Duelist Explained
What is Defensive Duelist 5E?
The 5E Defensive Duelist is a feat you can take up if you possess a dexterity score of 13 or above. The feat is exclusive to characters wielding finesse weapons, such as daggers, darts, shortswords, whips, rapiers, and scimitars. So, essentially, you might have to pass up on higher damage weapons for one that allows this feat.
Here’s a direct quote from the Player’s Handbook:
“When you are wielding a finesse weapon with which you are proficient, and another creature hits you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to add your proficiency bonus to your AC for that attack, potentially causing the attack to miss you.”
Prerequisite: Dexterity score of 13 or higher
The 5E Defensive Duelist feat often goes unnoticed among melee fighters due to its nomenclature’s lack of a fancy undertone. However, if built into a melee character with considerable stats and weapon choices, Defensive Duelist can prove to be as powerful as its ‘cool’-sounding counterparts.
The Defensive Duelist feat can fit well into both technical and fighting style role plays for the right melee character build. The purpose of Defensive Duelist is to add a proficiency score to your armor class for the particular attack you choose to wield. We recommend Defensive Duelist for melee classes that do not use their reaction, such as fighters, monks, and melee-based rangers since the added AC can turn critical enemy hits into misses. Moreover, the feat scales with the character, so it remains effective for every campaign level.
Benefits of Using Defensive Duelist
If your character is a melee-focused, dexterity-heavy damage dealer who might not be packing strong defensive stats as your strength-heavy counterparts, then the 5E Defensive Duelist feat is highly recommended! If your levels are high enough, this feat adds an extra +6 to your AC, which can make a considerable difference between face-tanking a Gargantuan Demon’s great-axe, and smoothly slipping to the side completely unharmed.
The game allows players one reaction in each round, so your character can repeatedly use the 5E Defensive Duelist’s bonus to move swiftly around the battlefield. This feat informs you whether you are hit or unharmed before using this feat; it also lets you know whether your added AC will turn a hit into a miss.
Yet another point to factor in, while discussing the benefits of the DnD 5E Defensive Duelist feat, is that it scales. What can potentially start out as a meager +2 for AC at level one (if you choose the human variant) can rapidly scale up as your proficiency score increases.
Lastly, note that numerous classes do not react at all. Therefore, instead of a bonus action feat where your character would have to decide against doing one or two things before choosing to use the feat, the Defensive Duelist feat is essentially a ‘freebie’ during your character’s turn.
Classes that Should Use Defensive Duelist
If you are new to the game or just haven’t gotten around understanding the nitty-gritty of DnD 5E, here’s a guide to the classes that should use the Defensive Duelist feat:
A finesse master by design, the Bard, expresses a strong affinity towards rapiers, daggers, scimitars, whips, and shortswords. Being a caster class instead of a martial one, armor is rarely a choice. As a Bard, if your character wants to go to the College of Swords, it is recommended that you take up the Defensive Duelist feat as a defensive bonus upon reaching the Charisma and Dexterity caps.
This is also why Swords Bards are often at a disadvantageous position while wielding their swords since they are easy to be targeted and put in harm’s way. The 5E Defensive Duelist feat helps in covering that weakness by letting them dodge critical attacks from overpowering enemies with the AC boost.
The sole reason keeping the Monk out of a 5-star Defensive Duelist class is its inability to utilize finesse weapons fully. The Monk shares a disposition towards Monk weapons (Read more in our Monk Guide 5E), with only dagger and shortsword as finesse alternatives.
Therefore, the Defensive Duelist feat is highly recommended for the Monk class since it stacks with Unarmored Defense. However, it is essential to remember that using other finesse weapons barring daggers and shortswords disqualifies the character from using their Defensive Duelist boost.
So, if your character can make do with only shortswords and daggers as finesse alternatives, the Defensive Duelist feat is an excellent pickup for your class!
One of the finesse-specialist and dexterity-heavy classes that can make good use of the Defensive Duelist feat is Rogue. Primarily a stealth-focused class, the Rogue prefers going to the battlefield without armor. So, simply put, Rogue is one of the few classes that can take advantage of the Defensive Duelist’s boosts.
Unlike the Monk, who has to essentially forego its armor, the Rogue chooses to go unarmored to complement its stealth play. The Defensive Duelist feat helps cover for the Rogue’s Unarmored Defense while also offering an alternative to Uncanny Dodge, which can let you take no damage at all instead of half damage.
4. Wizard – Bladesinger
Note that this works solely for Bladesinger Wizards. A Bladesinger can get proficiency with a martial melee weapon of its choice, so they are free to choose a finesse weapon, in turn earning the Defensive Duelist bonus.
Bladesinger Wizards can take Shield as early as level 1, so while both the Shield spell and the Defensive Duelist feat are reactions, the former out-scales the latter until level 13. Following the 13th level, the Bladesinger Wizard can swap their Shield spell for the Defensive Duelist feat when the opportunity strikes.
Classes that Should Not Use Defensive Duelist
The Defensive Duelist feat is exclusive solely to finesse weapon wielders, so if you are playing as an armor-heavy, martial class character, chances are that Defensive Duelist won’t be of much use to you. You can take full advantage of this feat only if you specialize in or choose to take up finesse weapons as your primary or secondary mode of attack and damage control.
Classes such as the Barbarian, Fighter, Paladin, or Ranger are best kept out of the equation when the Defensive Duelist feat is in question. The bottom line is, if you are a strength-heavy martial class character, you won’t possibly use finesse weapons, and without finesse weapons, the Defensive Duelist feat is as good as no feat at all.
If your character ranks high in Dexterity scores and wishes to deal considerable damage without losing out on too many defensive stats, the Defensive Duelist feat is perfect for your style of play! This feat is an excellent option if you are a squishier damage dealer who needs to cover your back while at a brawl.
Of course, it goes without saying, efficiency is not the end of discussion. You need to be aware of when and how to use your feats to be able to get the best out of them. Choosing a feat solely based on theoretical efficiency can often be counter-productive.
Know the nuances of the feat you go for, and you will be good to go. Happy questing!