Defensive Duelist feat in DnD 5E explained

Sweat ran down the Rogue’s brow, and if he wasn’t wearing gloves, it would threaten his grip on the old rapier he held in hand. The duel must have only been underway for no longer than a minute, but his heart was already racing and his haggard arm was beginning to feel like the slender blade was actually a block of lead with a handle. As the elven lord, who felt offended enough to create this lethal situation, lunged to deliver what he thought would be the final cut the Rogue calmly stepped into the blow. His rapier deftly directed the blow wide of his body before delivering the blow that would actually end the duel. 

In the heat of battle, even the best adventurer can be struck by an unfortunate blow at an inopportune time, and this is where Defensive Duelist comes in.

Note: You need a Dexterity of 13 or greater to be able to take this feat.

Let’s break down what this feat gives you:

  • 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. This is similar to Shield in how it functions, but with a smaller AC bonus that scales and only works against a single attack. Although, it is at-will and has the benefit of not being a spell, so it can’t be countered and won’t run into issues with needing a free hand for a somatic component.

Being able to parry potentially lethal blows is a skill that all characters would long for, right? Well, let’s take a look at who would really benefit from this feat:

Defensive Duelist is most useful for

  • Rogues – This class needs to use a finesse weapon for a core class feature, Sneak Attack, meaning they don’t need to make any offensive compromises to make use of the feat. This feat synergizes very well with Uncanny Dodge, allowing a Rogue to block some hits, and reduce the damage from those they can’t, assuming you know the number rolled to hit you. Combined with an additional, ASI compared to most classes, giving another opportunity to grab this feat, Defensive Duelist proves an excellent feat for a melee Rogue.
  • Fighters – Any Fighter that uses a shield isn’t losing any damage by choosing to use a rapier instead of a longsword, unless they were planning to use a spear with Polearm Master, making this a low-cost way of increasing their already high AC. This is especially true when considering that Fighters have the most ASIs of any class in the game. Dex-based melee Fighters that choose to not use a shield are also able to benefit from this feat, perhaps even more so as they don’t have a higher base AC to protect them.
  • Rangers – Similar to Fighters above, but with a greater incentive to be Dex-based, and so use finesse weapons anyway, as they lack proficiency in heavy armor. Rangers are halfcasters, but whilst they have access to Absorb Elements, no Ranger has access to the Shield spell natively meaning that Defensive Duelist fills a gap in their defensive reactions. 

Defensive Duelist is least useful for

  • Wizards and Sorcerers – This applies to anyone that has Shield, be it from these classes, a subclass, racial feature, or anything else. Shield has a couple of downsides compared to Defensive Duelist but is overall just more powerful. 
  • Monks and Barbarians – Whilst both of these classes could make use of this feat, both are MAD, making it hard to part with ASIs for feats, and would likely have to reduce their damage to some degree by using an applicable weapon. 
  • Ranged weapon users – This applies to anyone that can’t afford to hold a dagger in their offhand, making it very impractical to take a feat that requires you to hold a finesse weapon.

We hope that this article has saved you from a nasty damage roll and given you a chance at seeing another long rest. If you found this article helpful and are here because you’re contemplating it for your next Rogue, then check out our Rogue guide, or if you just like reading about these fun ways to customize your character then check out our feat spotlight section.