The Ultimate DND 5e Fighter Class Guide for Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition
What class should I play in Dungeons and Dragons? What's a great class for a beginner in Dungeons and Dragons 5e? What's the best build for fighters in 5e? Read below for the best guide on the fighter class in DND5E.
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What Are Fighters?
Fighter is one of the simplest but broadest classes in D&D with countless styles and strategies bearing the label “fighter”. Swords, shields, bows, axes, great massive bludgeoning weapons and sleek and subtle knives, everything and anything can be a fighter so long as it wields a weapon and knows how to use it. A fighter can be whatever you want to make of it, so long as what you want is to well, fight. Fighters don’t have much access to utility options, magic, or social abilities, everything they do is centered around combat. Mechanically, fighters gain double the access to “ability score increases” as all the other classes, which means they’re the kings of feats, and are usually the core around which the most insane build combinations are made.
Some of the most iconic characters that would probably be fighters in D&D include Captain America from the Marvel universe, both Legolas and Gimli from Lord of the Rings, and Mulan from her Disney film.
Building a Better Fighter
Fighters are the basis for a TON of different builds. You can become the ultimate archer, a master of combat maneuvers, or a walking slab of metal. Some of the most janky builds start with a few fighter levels. No matter what type of fighter you’re building you’ll need to start with your ability scores.
Fighter Ability Scores
Every type of fighter utilizes some combination of the physical ability scores, Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution. Most often, you’ll be choosing between Strength or Dexterity as your highest ability score and making Constitution your second highest.
Unless you’re planning on multiclassing or are going to be doing a particularly odd build, your mental ability scores won’t do you a whole lot of good as a fighter. You can feel free to treat Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma as dump stats.
A fighter’s primary goal is to be good at damaging their enemies with weapons. Most fighters use a two-handed melee weapon or a one-handed weapon with a shield. Either way, most of these weapons use Strength for attack rolls. For a traditional fighter build, put your highest ability roll into strength.
Another option is to create a fighter that uses ranged or finesse weapons, such as crossbows, rapiers, scimitars, or shortswords. These weapons are lighter, and do not require high strength to use effectively. Because of this, they use Dex instead of Str for attack rolls. If you plan on playing this type of fighter, put your highest roll into Dex instead of Str.
Constitution is important for any D&D character. The higher your constitution, the more hit points you will gain as you level. This will improve your ability to survive long fights. Put your second-highest roll into Con.
Wisdom is another important ability score for all D&D characters. If you have low Wis, you may often fall victim to magic spells and other types of mental manipulation that your foes may try to dominate you with. And Wisdom is important for succeeding at perception rolls, which happens often in D&D. Put your third-highest roll into Wis.
If you chose a traditional high-Str fighter build, dump your bad rolls into Dex, Cha, and Int. If you chose a finesse or ranged weapon fighter build, dump your bad rolls into Str, Cha, and Int.
You can choose any race but as a fighter you’ll want particularly high physical ability scores, optimized for whichever of the physical abilities you’re most focused on. The following races gain +2 in Strength or Dexterity and at least a +1 in another physical score, making them optimal choices for a fighter character:
Bugbears gain +2 Str and +1 Dex. Besides the high Strength, bugbears have the rather unique trait Long-Limbed which increases their melee range. When combined with weapons that also have reach and things like the Sentinel feat you can get up to some really nasty shenanigans. Consider bugbears if you’re going for a reach-based build.
Mountain dwarves get +2 Con and +2 Str. This is one of the rare options that gain 4 total ability points and they’re all conveniently in abilities we care about for a Strength based fighter. This is one of the best options for tanky fighters as the full Strength boost keeps you hitting hard while the boost to your Con combined with the free hit points from Dwarven Toughness will make you particularly chunky and survivable.
Base elves gain +2 Dex and the sea elf variety also get +1 Con. Besides the ideal stats for a dual wielder, ranged, or finesse fighter, you also gain the litany of abilities that let you shine in aquatic adventures.
Base elves gain +2 Dex and the shadar-kai variety also get +1 Con. These shadow elves are somewhat setting locked, so make sure your DM is cool with them before rolling one up. If you do get a chance to play one, they’re one of the best options for finesse fighters as the Blessing of the Raven Queen ability can let you teleport around your enemies.
Goliaths gain +2 Str and +1 Con. Less damaging than half orcs, but more tanky, goliaths are strong condensers for ideal Strength-based fighters. Their Stone’s Endurance feature makes them a lot more survivable in a long-haul adventure, as it recharges on a short rest.
Goblins gain +2 Dex and +1 Con. Goblins gain a lot of the abilities that rogues get which makes them an ideal option if you want to play your fighter stealthily. I particularly like them for ranged fighters as you can make the most of your ability to disengage and hide.
Stout Halflings gain +2 Dex and +1 Con. The Lucky feature is enough to justify choosing a halfling for a dual wielding or finesse fighter. Sadly, a bit slow movement-wise, but the Halfling Nimbleness offsets it somewhat as you can slip past your larger opponents.
Half Orcs gain +2 Str and +1 Con. Half Orcs are made to be Strength-based fighters. Use large d12 weapons like great axes to get the most use out of the Savage Attacks feature. Relentless Endurance also keeps you fighting longer, making half orcs one of the most attractive options for a big weapon fighter.
Base humans gain +1 to each ability score and the variant human gains +1 to two abilities of your choice (and a feat). Humans in both forms are very commonly used for fighters. Humans are the most flexible race, and fighters are the most flexible class, combined you can easily shape them to be whatever you want.
Minotaurs gain +2 Str and +1 Con. Minotaurs gain an ability to dash forward and still make an attack with their horns, which makes it easy for you to close the distance but sadly it’s a horn attack and not a weapon attack. Still a decent option, especially if you’re making a build that absolutely needs to get into the center of combat quickly.
Orcs gain +2 Str and +1 Con. Orcs share a lot of the same stats and features as their half-orc kin, but I generally feel like the half-orcs get the superior options that are different. Play an orc if you want to be better at closing the distance with your enemy, choose half-orc if you want to be more survivable and hit harder.
Fighters choose a martial archetype at 3rd level. This represents your overall distinct fighting strategy and can be vastly different from each other. Choosing your archetype is a major decision that greatly changes how your fighter will play, take some time to determine which archetype you want your fighter to take:
This is an old favorite of mine that they’ve made beautifully simple and easy to play in 5e. Just firing arrows can get boring in combat, why not shoot arrows around corners or ones that explode with magical power? Pick this up if you want to play an archer with a few tricks up their sleeve.
5e lumps most of the dirty tricks and combat maneuvers available in earlier editions into this one archetype package. Battle masters get a ton of tricks and options in any combat situation, and it makes battle master one of the best fighter options if you want to vary up your combats. Not as damaging as other archetypes, choose battle master if you want to be more clever than powerful.
A lot of people pass this up because they can’t count on having a mount all the time, thankfully 5e cavaliers are just damn good sword and board fighters regardless. Cavaliers force duels and gain bonuses for wielding sword and shield, and yes, are also good at charging people down on a mount. Grab this if you want your fighter to shout, “I challenge you to a duel” at every combat.
The name of the game for champions is crit fishing, with an extended critical hit range you’re incentivized to make as many attacks as possible for more chances at those sweet crits. Consider champion for dual wielding fighters for the extra attacks, and therefore extra chances to crit.
Echo knight is the fighter parallel to the trickster domain cleric. With a shadowy copy making attacks alongside you, you can be a party unto yourself. I find it works best with Strength based builds and large weaponry to make the best use of that extra echo attack.
Eldritch knight takes your fighter and dips its toes into wizardry. A lot of people rag on this archetype as it feels really lackluster if you play it incorrectly. There is a very strong way to play the eldritch knight though, relying on the wizard spells as buffs and tanking rather than trying to sling damage spells with it.
Psi knight is an “unearthed arcana” archetype that gives the fighter access to psionic powers. As long as you retain your psi die, you’ll have access to some strong utility options alongside some pure damage increases. Highly variable depending on what you roll using your psionic dice, but ultimately a very powerful option for damage dealing and utility.
Purple Dragon Knight
Meant to be a sort of face of the party and healing fighter, purple dragon knight leaves a lot to be desired. It’s also strangely setting locked (without DM fiat) which can make it awkward to play. Still, consider it if you want to play your fighter in a particularly Charismatic way but don’t want to go all the way to paladin.
Rune knight is an “unearthed arcana” archetype that lets you inscribe magical runes on your arms and armor. You get a ton of “runic” options to choose from that culminate into one of the most diverse and potentially deadly fighter archetypes. Choose rune knight if you want to have a lot of customization options and are going for tanking and damage.
The core of this archetype is the “fighting spirit” which just lets you choose to gain advantage on your next swing and temporary hit points 3 times a day. You’re also a friggin samurai! You get a bonus skill and some rather useful diplomatic abilities, but that fighting spirit and the inherent cool factor is the main reason to pick this one up, it’s so good!
Best class features for a fighter
As a fighter, you will have access to many features unique to your class. But out of these features, only a few will be so good that you will find yourself using them time and again. Here are some of the best fighter class features.
At level 1, you can choose a fighting style to specialize in. If you want to use ranged weapons, choose Archery to get + 2 bonus on attack rolls. If you want to use a sword and shield, choose Dueling to get + 2 bonus to damage rolls.
For fighting with two-handed weapons, choose Great Weapon Fighting to let you reroll 1s and 2s on damage - as long as you are willing to keep the second roll.
These are the most powerful fighting styles.
At level 2, this gives you one extra action per short rest. It is extremely useful for finishing off a wounded enemy.
The name says it all. As a fighter, your damage comes from your weapon. The more attacks you get, the more damage you do. You get this feature at level 5, and it scales further at levels 11 and 20.
As you gain levels, increasing your primary ability through Ability Score Improvement will usually make you a better fighter than taking feats will. But if your primary stat is already at 20, here are the best feats for a fighter.
If you use a sword and shield, this will give you a variety of benefits. You can knock a foe back with your shield or use your shield’s AC to help with Dex saving throws. If an effect would make you take half damage on a Dex save, you can use your shield to protect yourself on a successful save, reducing the damage to zero instead of half.
If you use ranged weapons, take this feat to prevent attacks at long range from imposing disadvantage, ignore half cover and three-quarters cover, and allow you to take a -5 attack roll penalty in exchange for a +10 to your damage roll. These are all great benefits for ranged weapons users
Lets you increase an ability score by 1 and gain proficiency in saving throws using the chosen ability. Many fighters have low Wisdom, making it easy for them to be dominated by magic and psychological manipulation. Use this feat to increase your Wisdom and help you make more saving throws in these situations
Great Weapon Master
If you use two-handed weapons, choose this feat to give you a bonus action anytime you get a critical hit or kill an opponent. You can also use this to take a -5 attack roll penalty in exchange for + 10 to your damage roll
Another great feat for ranged weapons fighters, although it can only be used specifically with a crossbow. As long as you have a loaded hand crossbow, this lets you make a bonus attack with it anytime you make an attack with a one-handed weapon.
This alone makes it worth taking. But it also lets you ignore the loading quality of crossbows you are proficient with and prevents disadvantage from being imposed if a creature is within five feet of you, making it an even greater choice.
Best fighter skills
Fighters will mostly rely on their class features and feats to accomplish things in the game. However, there are a few skills that can be useful for fighters.
- Athletics can help you shove or grapple your opponent, as well as avoid having these things done to you
- Perception can help you find clues and avoid dangerous situations - it is a basic skill that is useful for any class
- If your Charisma isn’t awful, take Intimidation to help get information out of NPCs.
Optional Fighter Features
In Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything every class got a set of optional features that act like a sort of upgrade patch to fix issues and improve things that needed improving. These features are technically optional, but assuming your DM allows them, make sure to include these class features with your new fighter:
Fighting Style Options
As a massive class improvement, the list of fighting styles has been doubled and the number of fighter builds you can potentially create has grown exponentially. The following styles are available to fighters at 1st level and for champion fighters at 10th level as well:
- Blind Fighting. This style straight up gives you blindsight within 10 feet, which means you’ll be able to “see” invisible enemies and you’ll get to ignore visibility problems like darkness or cloud effects. Situationally useful, but the potential is extraordinary if you or an ally can cast darkness or other effects that will hamper your enemies while doing nothing to you.
- Interception. This one is especially odd since it has nearly the same concept and function of the existing protection fighting style. Protection imposes disadvantage, where interception reduces damage. The subtle distinction is that protection requires a shield, where interception can use a weapon. This opens up “parry builds” where you use your flamboyant sword skills to deflect strikes aimed at your allies.
- Superior Technique. This lets fighters of any archetype dip their toes into battle master and play around with maneuvers. Maneuvers are some of the most interesting features in the fighter repertoire and it’s refreshing to access them without devoting your whole archetype to them.
- Thrown Weapon Fighting. This stacks a flat +2 damage bonus onto any attacks you make with thrown weapons. I absolutely love this addition, as it provides a real incentive for thrown weapon builds where before there really wasn’t a good reason to do so. I know I’m looking forward to flinging a storm of daggers with my next build.
- Unarmed Fighting. Another excellent addition, this fighting style lets you fight with your fists without dipping into monk levels. You also gain some free damage on grapple targets, which rounds out the full concept of the pugilist and brawler. Consider this fighting style if you want to throw out some haymakers without the discipline of a monk.
The fighter’s version of the versatility upgrade is the ability to trade out fighting styles whenever you gain an ability score improvement. If you’re a battle master, you can also trade out a maneuver. While most often the best play will be to keep with the build you have, this is a smooth way to shift over to a different play style if you’re unsatisfied with your current pick.
The list of maneuver options has doubled as well, and opens up new possibilities for battle masters, anybody that takes the martial adept feat, and any fighter that takes the new superior technique fighting style, including:
- Ambush. Built expressly for “sneaky fighters”, this lets you toss in a superiority die when making a stealth check or a roll for initiative. Potentially quite helpful if you’re looking to cement your fighter as the party scout or if there’s simply a need to go first in combat.
- Bait and Switch. Deceptively strong, this maneuver lets you trade places with a willing ally, literally swapping places with a creature within 5 feet. The important bit is that this movement doesn’t provoke attacks of opportunity. So now when an ally is in trouble you can safely get them out of the way and present yourself as a target. Strongly consider this option if you’re building for a tank, as this can be a very effective way to keep your allies safe while putting yourself where the tank wants to be.
- Brace. A new piece to the infamous sentinel build, this maneuver makes wielding polearms and other reach weapons very attractive. Getting a free stab when the bad guy approaches you is hard to turn down.
- Grappling Strike. This lets you attempt a bonus action grapple with your superiority die added to the Athletics check after you smack somebody with a melee attack. This overcomes one of the biggest weaknesses with the grapple build and I feel that with this new option you’ll be seeing a lot more grapplers at the game table.
- Quick Toss. Going hand in hand with the new thrown weapon fighting style, this lets you make a thrown weapon attack as a bonus action and you get to toss in the superiority die to the attack’s damage. Very strong option for the burgeoning new thrown weapon builds and one of the only ways to gain attacks using your superiority die.
- Tactical Assessment. This maneuver lets you add a superiority die to an Investigation check, History check, or Insight check. Very appealing option if you’re multiclassing or are just generally trying to branch out into the exploration and investigation aspects of the game as a fighter.
These are the best ways to maximize the power of a fighter in D&D 5E.
Fighters are often perceived as a “boring” class. They usually can’t cast spells or heal, and they don’t have cool rogue abilities like Supreme Sneak and Assassinate.
But as this guide has shown, they do have many options that can be used to flesh them out. You can play a Battle Master crossbow expert, an Eldritch Knight who combines sword-and-shield fighting with AoE spells, a heavy-weapons fighter who uses Trip Attack to stun their opponents, and many other unique builds.
Regardless of which options you choose, we hope this guide to fighter-maximization has helped you. Comment below if you have any questions - or if you have other ideas for powerful fighter builds.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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