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Stab, Slash, and Smack Your Way to Victory
Fighters are at once very simple and incredibly complex with strategies ranging from "stab them with the pointy bit" to intricate multiclass and multi-feat shenanigans. But just what are the best ways of the fighter in 5th edition DnD? Grab your killing implements of choice as we go through everything you need to know in this dnd 5e fighter guide.
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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.
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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 jankiest 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 and strongly consider spending your ability score improvements on 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 and strongly consider spending your ability score improvement in Dexterity.
This one is difficult to pin down since fighters can realistically make use of any equipment right from the start. It will all just depend on the type of build you're going for, with everything from leather armor to plate armor, from daggers to lances. Generally, you'll want to match your equipment to the bonuses you've chosen and the playstyle you're working towards. So, if you're trying to be a tank simply take a shield and put on some heavy armor, if you're going for dexterity-based builds maybe a medium armor or light armor like studded leather armor would be better. You've also got access to the full complement of martial weapons, so just go with what feels best.
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:
A bugbear gains +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 with opportunity attacks. 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 fighter subclass represents your overall style of fighting and can be vastly different from each other. Your martial archetype will grant you features when you first get it at 3rd level, then you'll gain more at 7th level, 10th level, 15th level, and 18th level. Choosing your martial archetypes is a major decision that greatly changes how your fighter will play over the course of your fighter levels, take some time to determine which subclass you want your fighter to take:
You can create magical arrows put boring nonmagical attacks to shame. Pick arcane archery up if you want to play with the archery fighting style but don't want to be stuck making the same attacks all campaign. An arcane archer fighter puts just a dash of wizard into your ranged weapon build by letting you fire magic-infused arrows with your ranged attacks. Just firing arrows can get boring in combat, why not shoot curving shot magic arrows around corners using magic bows or arcane shot arrows that explode with magical power?
You'll have to split your ability scores a bit more than other fighters, since arcane archers care about their Intelligence score, but it's worth it. To start with you get some wizard cantrips akin to taking the magic initiate feat, but their signature ability is arcane shot. You get to fire two arcane shots per short rest, and they don't take any actions to use other than hitting your target with a normal attack. Arcane archers get to pick two arcane shot options when you get the archetype at 3rd level, and additional arcane shots at 7th, 10th, 15th, and 18th level. All told you get to choose from: banishing arrow, beguiling arrow, bursting arrow, grasping arrow, piercing arrow, seeking arrow, and shadow arrow.
- Banishing Arrow. When this arrow hits the target must make a Charisma save or be banished into the feywild for a round. Think of this as an "arrow of turn skip" as you can't interact with targets you banish this way, they're just "gone" for a turn. It's a solid option that can give your party a round of breathing room when you need it most.
- Beguiling Arrow. Forces a Wisdom save or the target becomes charmed, and deals an extra 2d6 psychic damage. The damage happens even on a successful save so this is a surprisingly reliable damage option.
- Bursting Arrow. The most straight-forward of magical effects, these arrows explode for an additional 2d6 force damage to the original target and also to anybody standing within 10 feet of them.
- Enfeebling Arrow. This deals an extra 2d6 necrotic damage and forces a Constitution save and on a failure the target's weapon attack damage is halved until your next turn. Note that it's specifically weapon damage so don't bother firing this at mages or anybody not actually using weapons.
- Grasping Arrow. This arcane shot deals an extra 2d6 poison damage and basically acts as a single target entangle. The target keeps taking 2d6 piercing damage when it tries to move unless it makes a Strength (Athletics) check to pull off the brambles. A reliable source of damage that can really hinder your highest-priority enemy.
- Piercing Arrow. This basically turns your arrow into a mini-lightning bolt that damages every enemy it passes through and it's an amazing option if you can manage to line up a ton of targets.
- Seeking Arrow. Instead of making an attack your errant arrow zips to wherever your target is using divination magic and they make a Dexterity save to avoid it. It only deals an extra d6 so it's inferior to most of the other options unless you're specifically dealing with invisible or hidden enemies.
- Shadow Arrow. The target takes 2d6 extra psychic damage and makes a Wisdom save or it's quasi-blinded until your next turn and can't see further than 5 feet. It's a bit awkward assuming they did know where you or your allies were before the arcane shot they can just run to where they last saw them and attack with impunity, so I usually give this one a pass.
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 melee 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. It’s also by far the most complex of the fighter archetypes so we’ll go into it in more detail in its own section.
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 eldritch knight 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. Think of eldritch knight as a fighter that can cast its own magic buffs, as playing an eldritch knight as a blaster caster will run you out of effective spells instantly and you'll be left in the lurch.
Psi warrior is an 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. In the original psi knight version you dealt extra psychic damage but in this updated version it switches over to force damage. Unlike other fighters though this one cares about your Intelligence modifier so you'll need to juggle a couple ability scores to make it work properly. 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.
How To Battle Master
The battle master archetype has a lot more combat options than most fighter archetypes (and I’ve seen some good arguments that the battle master 5e features should have been part of the core fighter features). This versatility and complexity deserves a bit more of a deep dive than each other fighter archetype and a thorough explanation of its features.
At 3rd level when you take the archetype, you get a big complex feature that will drive the rest of your battle master features called “combat superiority”. You can think of it as one big feature composed of the following three chunks:
- Superiority Dice: These are the “fuel” you’re going to be using on your special battle master stuff. You get 4 d8 dice that you’ll have the option to roll for your special battle master abilities and they’ll do different stuff depending on what you pick. You get these dice back whenever you finish a short or long rest, and you’ll get an extra die at 7th level and 15th level.
- Maneuvers: You get to learn special moves called “maneuvers” that you’ll be spending your superiority dice on. You get to pick 3 of these maneuvers when you first get the feature, and you get 2 extra maneuvers at 7th level, 10th level, and 15th level. We’ll go into what each maneuver does in just a bit.
- Saving Throws: Just like a spellcaster and spells, your maneuvers will sometimes force saving throws and you get a simple feature here outlining that your “maneuver DC” is 8 + your proficiency bonus, + your choice of Strength or Dexterity modifier.
Student of War
Also at 3rd level when you first pick up the archetype, you get this ribbon feature that grants you proficiency in your choice of artisan’s tools. Not amazing, but it’s nice to have.
Know Your Enemy
At 7th level you pick up practically your only archetype feature that doesn’t directly relate to maneuvers. With “know thy enemy” you can spend a minute observing a creature you can pick two of the following things to learn about the creature:
- If they have more, less, or equal Strength as you.
- If they have more, less, or equal Dexterity as you.
- If they have more, less, or equal Constitution as you.
- If they have more, less, or equal AC as you.
- If they have more, less, or equal current hit points as you.
- If they have more, less, or equal total class levels (if any) as you.
- If they have more, less, or equal fighter class levels (if any) as you.
This observation isn’t magical and there isn’t really a way in 5e to block it, you just get this info with no strings attached. There is also a bit of a disagreement about the wording in “at least 1 minute” but the consensus seems to be that you can’t use this feature multiple times against the same creature to learn everything on the list. Your DM may come to a different conclusion but assume you’ll only be able to learn 2 of the options.
Improved Combat Superiority
All of your late game archetype features revolve around your superiority dice starting here at 10th level. They change from d8s into d10s.
Starting at 15th level, whenever you start a combat (roll initiative) and don’t have any superiority dice left, you get one back. It’s nice these additional superiority dice to have but pretty underwhelming for a 15th level feature, but it can pay off if you’re in a mega-dungeon situation with a lot of concurrent fights.
Improved Combat Superiority (2)
Just like the last feature of the same name, at 18th level your superiority dice grow all the way to d12s.
Now we get to the real heart of the battle master, maneuvers. There are 23 maneuvers in total, each presenting you with some bonus or completely new utility, mostly using your superiority dice. You’ll start knowing 3 maneuvers and you’ll only ever get a total of 9 maneuvers max, so pick and choose carefully.
Fairly simple but excellent for a stealth-minded fighter. You can add your superiority die to a stealth check or to an initiative check. Strongly consider this option if you’re going for a rogue/fighter multiclass.
Bait and Switch
You essentially get to swap places with an ally within 5 feet, then add the superiority die to the AC of your ally or yourself until the start of your next turn. The timing of this is awkward, and unless you’re in a cramped corridor situation most of the time this is just a way to pump your own AC for a round. Which isn’t bad but I find it rarely works as intended.
This lets you make an attack of opportunity when an enemy enters your threatened area, rather than leaving it, and as a bonus you get to add the superiority die to the damage roll of that attack. This is one of the best arguments for using the battle master for the infamous sentinel builds but even outside of that it’s quite useful and is one of the best options if you plan on using a weapon with reach.
This lets you forgo one of your attacks as a bonus action to allow one of your allies to make a weapon attack instead with your superiority die added as bonus damage. This can be quite powerful with the right allies and giving the barbarian an extra swing or the ranger an extra shot at the right time can be game changing. The one big problem is that it uses both one of your attacks and a bonus action, so you can’t make any off-hand attacks in addition. This usually means it’s best used by sword and board fighter builds, since they weren’t likely using that bonus action anyway.
Super simple, this lets you add a superiority die to Intimidation, Persuasion, and Performance checks. Obviously most useful if you’re trying to be a “face of the party” but I’d argue the fighter isn’t best suited for that and it’s not worth trying to force it.
Once an entire global mechanic now reduced to a single maneuver option. This lets you attempt to disarm an enemy after you hit them, adding the superiority die as extra damage and forcing them to make a Strength save or drop the held object. Picking up a sword isn’t as much of a chore in 5e as it used to be but getting a weapon or important magical trinket out of the bad guy’s hands can be huge. It’s also a very low opportunity cost since you don’t need to activate it until after you’ve already hit.
This lets you add the superiority die to an attack's damage roll, but also the next attack from one of your allies at the target gets advantage. It’s worded similarly to the guiding bolt spell, and you can think of this as guiding strike in a way. Granting advantage on the next hit and still adding the die’s damage on the initial attack is a decent option for focusing down a boss.
This lets you add your superiority die to your AC during your movement for the turn, but only during that movement. Compare this to bait and switch that can add the die to your AC until the start of your next turn, you just need to swap with an ally for a second. I get that this was designed as the anti-attack of opportunity maneuver, but it’s just functionally worse than bait and switch.
You can use a die and your bonus action to get advantage on your next melee weapon attack against a target, and if that attack hits you also add the die as damage. This one sits at the bottom of the barrel for me. Compare it to distracting strike that also grants advantage on the next attack, doesn’t cost your bonus action, and can be triggered after the hit rather than risking a wasted die. It just has to be the attack of an ally rather than you. This is one I recommend you never take.
On an attack you get to add the superiority die in damage and force the target to make a Wisdom save. On a failed save they have disadvantage on all attacks against targets other than you until the start of your next turn. This is best used for tank builds who are trying to keep their squishier allies from getting hit. Strongly consider this maneuver if you’re going for a fully armored fighter build.
On an attack you can spend a superiority die and a bonus action to attempt a grapple, using the die as a bonus on your grapple check. This isn’t terrible but using up your bonus action really hurts for grapple builds. I’d much rather be a barbarian for grapple builds or for a grapple fighter instead take the rune knight archetype so you get advantage on the Strength checks (and therefore grapple checks) from the giant’s might feature. This works in a pinch but it’s really not the best way to go for a dedicated grapple build.
You can spend a superiority die to increase the range of a single attack by 5 feet and then add the die’s damage to the attack. I’ve never found a good reason to take this one, using up a die for a little extra reach on a single attack just feels like a waste, and since it doesn’t work on reactions you can’t even work it into the sentinel build.
Like many of the other “attack” maneuvers this lets you spend your die and add it to the damage of an attack, but strangely it lets you shout at one of your allies as a reaction to let them move up to half their speed without provoking attacks of opportunity. This is pretty darn versatile, and you can use it to speed an ally out of danger when they’re low, to slingshot a dps character up to a prime target, or to simply rearrange the combat situation to better suit your needs. There are a lot of situations where you won’t find this helpful, but it’s worth taking for the situations where it is.
Like the other “attack” maneuvers this lets you spend your die and add it to the damage of an attack, but they also make a wisdom saving throw and on a failed save they become frightened of you until your next turn. Frightened creatures have disadvantage on their attacks against you, which strangely makes this one of the better defensive maneuvers, especially for tanks.
As a reaction when you’re taking damage from a melee hit, you can spend a superiority die, add your Dexterity modifier to it, and subtract that amount from the damage you would take. So, on average this spends a die to “heal” or negate 8-10 damage. At the right times that can be the difference between going down or staying alive so this is one that should be highly considered as an emergency panic button.
Unlike the other attack maneuvers, this one lets you add your superiority die to the attack roll rather than to damage. It’s very simple, but very powerful, especially when you get to the later levels where your superiority die is higher. This will always be worth taking and it’s usually one of my early picks.
Just like most of the other attack maneuvers this adds your superiority die to the damage, but also forces the target (so long as they’re large or smaller) to make a Strength save or be pushed back 15 feet. Shoving shenanigans can be useful when there’s situational hazards about, or if you need to retreat and want them too far away to make an attack of opportunity. It’s not a top pick but it’s worth considering.
Just like most of the other attack maneuvers this adds your superiority die to the damage, but it uses your bonus action to draw and throw a weapon with the thrown weapon quality. In some situations, this can be an extra attack where you wouldn’t normally get one, but I’m not a fan of it for specifically thrown weapon builds as they’ll normally be using their bonus action for a thrown weapon attack anyway. Still, if you’re using a versatile weapon and want to keep a few throwing axes in your pocket, it can be a nasty surprise extra attack.
This is another maneuver for a “charismatic fighter”. As a bonus action you can give one of your allies temporary hit points equal to your superiority die + your Charisma modifier. Getting what is essentially healing spells as a fighter is amazing but it’s a shame that you have to boost your Charisma to get the most out of it. An obligatory pick if you’re a charismatic fighter but a bit iffy otherwise.
When something misses you with a melee attack, you can spend your superiority die to immediately make an attack back at them and you get to add the die’s damage if you hit. Note nothing in there mentions using a reaction, so you could make a riposte in the same turn you make an opportunity attack. The fact that it doesn't use an action of any kind makes this incredibly tempting, and an obvious pairing with the parry maneuver. Beware though, you’ll burn through your superiority dice incredibly fast this way.
Essentially, if there is another target standing next to your first target, and if your attack would hit, you get to add your superiority die in damage to the guy standing next to your first target. It’s not as good as it seems at first, since you don’t actually get to attack the second target, you still have to “hit” them, and you’re only getting the die of damage. I typically give this one a hard pass.
Just like the commanding presence option but for different checks. This lets you add a superiority die to Investigation, History, and Insight checks. Just like with commanding presence I don’t think it’s worth forcing a fighter into a skill-based role, but if you happen to be in a campaign with little combat, this is an excellent way to keep your fighter relevant in more out of combat situations.
Just like most of the other attack maneuvers this adds your superiority die to the damage, but also forces the target (so long as they’re large or smaller) to make a Strength save or be knocked prone. I often take this maneuver early as you get advantage on attacks (melee attacks anyway) against prone opponents and a well-timed trip can often just let the party utterly destroy somebody.
Fighter Class Features
While you'll be getting a lot of your unique features from your subclass, the actual main fighter class levels will still provide the core of your abilities that make you function in whatever battlefield capacity you choose. Let's go through each of those features and what they'll do for your character.
At 1st level you select a fighting style, a bonus to a particular style of fighting that will largely indicate how you defeat your enemies and specializes you to certain types of weapons.
- Archery: Very simply and powerfully, the archery fighting style lets you deal 2 more damage every time you hit with a ranged weapon. This bonus to damage makes archery the option you'll want to take for focusing on bows or crossbows. Notably, while they're has been some debate about this, it doesn't work for thrown weapons, since while they may use a ranged attack, it's not with a ranged weapon. If you want to throw stuff, look into the optional class features from Tasha's later in this article.
- Defense: Super simple, while you're wearing armor you gain +1 AC. Oddly, I don't rate this one highly. You'd think this would be great for tank characters, but I'd recommend going for the protection option a little further down for tanking, as it works better at protecting your allies than a simple +1 AC boost does. I DO like it as the 2nd fighting style for champion fighters though, as it can very simply improve any strategy you're already employing.
- Dueling: When you use a one-handed weapon, and no other weapons, you get +2 to the damage of your melee weapon attacks. Basically, this is your option for sword and board. If you plan on using a shield but are working towards DPS, go for this. If you're shielding up to be the best tank you can be, go for protection.
- Great Weapon Fighting: One of the big risks when it comes to big two-handed weapons is rolling really low on those big damage dice. This mostly removes that risk by letting you reroll damage dice that are 1's and 2's. This is your go-to for any two-handed weapon strategies.
- Protection: While you're using a shield, and an ally next to you gets attacked, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack. I love this feature for tanks strategies, as it'll force enemies to pick between hitting your tough AC, or potentially missing their attack against your squishier ally.
- Two Weapon Fighting: Normally, you don't get to add an ability modifier to your off-hand attack, this feature lets you add that in and essentially erases one of the major downsides for two-weapon fighting. If you're going for some double sword action, this is an essential pickup. check out our full blog post on two weapon fighting here.
Right at 1st level you gain the ability to take a quick breather as a bonus action and heal up practically like you just took a healing potion. You get 1d10 + your fighter level, which is especially powerful at early levels but will start to feel a bit lackluster towards the late game. It recharges on short rests though, so feel free to fire it off when you're down a few hit points and have a bonus action free.
At 2nd level you get the frankly bonkers ability to take an additional action during your turn, which in many cases is almost like taking an extra turn. Usually this gets used to make an additional attack (or set of attacks if you're higher level), but it can also let you do things like dash to reach a fallen ally and administer a healing potion on the same turn. It recharges on short rests, so feel free to use it every combat when the timing feels right.
Ability Score Improvement
Normally I wouldn't bring up a class's ability score improvements since they're something that every class gains. When you get an ability score improvement or ASI, you can improve two of your ability scores by +1, a single ability score by +2, or if your DM is playing with the optional feat rules (practically every DM does) you can select a feat instead.
I bring this up because fighters don't follow the normal progression of ASIs, and in fact you gain way more of them. You'll be picking up an ASI at 4th level, 6th level, 8th level, 12th level, 14th level, 16th level, and then a final one at 19th level for a grand total of 7 ASI which is 2 more ASI than everybody else gets.
Aside from having more potential to max out your best ability scores, this also makes fighters the best classes for taking feats and builds that require a lot of them routinely are based on fighters. Strongly consider feats at your ASI, since your "cost" for them is substantially lower.
Most martial classes gain this feature, extra attack functions just like you'd think and whenever you take "the attack action", you get to make one more of those bad boys. Unlike the other martial classes though, fighters don't just get this once at 5th level! You'll be picking up a third attack at 11th level, and a further fourth attack at 20th level. You'll end up a whirling ball of death with all these additional attacks.
And just for clarity (because I've seen people get tripped up by this), if you're dual wielding you'll only ever get one attack with your off-hand weapon using your bonus action. So, for example; if a 5th fighter with the extra attack feature and two shortswords starts chopping into a guy, they'd make 3 total weapon attacks. 1 from making the attack action, 1 from the extra attack feature, then 1 more using their offhanded weapon as a bonus action.
At 9th level, you gain the ability to reroll a failed saving throw. It's a fairly simple ability, but it can save your butt from the worst your DM throws at you. It recharges on long rests, so try to save it for the really nasty saves. You'll pick up additional rerolls at 13th level, and 17th level.
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. In situations where you're likely to hit anyway this is a massive improvement to your damage per attack.
Let’s 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. With your proficiency bonus and your Strength bonus acting as a counterbalance, the -5 penalty can often be overcome and 10 is a LOT of extra damage.
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.
Fighters don't get many class features that deal with skills, excepting a few very specific subclass features. But you don't need class features to focus on skills. You get a smattering of skill proficiency options from the class itself, and you can force basically any skills using your background. Generally though the party will likely look towards the fighter for solving physical problems and Strength-based fighters should take proficiency in Athletics, whiles Dexterity-based fighters should take proficiency in Acrobatics. Beyond that Perception will always be useful to you and to the party. You likely won't have the Wisdom needed for an especially high Perception, but trust me, proficiency in Perception won't be wasted.
Two-weapon fighting inevitably comes up whenever players start building their fighter and while it's not as complex as it is in other editions it still takes a bit of explaining. Take a look at our two-weapon fighting guide for a complete picture of what it takes to double up on your swords.
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 combat 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 actually do something with an unarmed strike 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. We already included these additional maneuvers along with the other maneuvers up in the battle master section, but here they are separated out:
- 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 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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