© Wizards of the Coast by Lie Setiawan

Battle Master Fighter Subclass Guide 5e: Maneuvers are Awesome

The Battle Master is a truly amazing subclass, focusing on complete control over combat through the use of maneuvers. This martial archetype presents one of the most diverse options for character building, but no matter which options you choose, you will have an extremely powerful and extremely skilled adventurer.

I happen to have an emotional attachment to the battle master fighter subclass, which I’ll try to put away once we get to the meat of the article. The first character I ever played was a battle master and it was amazing. 

I played a dryad/wood elf (homebrewed class) battle master fighter named Baelvan Banniplith, and we had an absolute blast of a time. Now, there were a lot of cool things about that campaign that made it special, mainly a giant weasel that was my little companion, but being able to truly feel like I had mastery over the battlefield is what sealed the deal.

A lot of people say that fighter is the perfect beginner class, an opinion you can weigh on your own time. However, as a beginner, this subclass specifically sparked my love affair with Dungeons & Dragons. This is a subclass with so much variety and depth that it is perfect for any player, no matter how shiny and new your dice are.

There is a line in the Player’s Handbook “To a Battle Master, combat is an academic field,” that captures my view of the class. When I sat down at the table to play as Baelvan, I was constantly observing not only the battlefield, but every interaction, and thinking about how I could pull off some insane stunt.

With the expansive arsenal of abilities given me through either the class, subclass, or features I picked up along the way, just about any crazy idea was possible.

I was a novice, and yet, I became a force to be reckoned with by the beginning of 4th level. And this was while being a full-time college student mind you, I didn’t have time to study D&D outside of my time at the table.

So what exactly makes this subclass so great?

Class-Defining Abilities

  • Battle Maneuvers
  • Battle Maneuvers (With a fake mustache)
  • Battle Maneuvers (In a trenchcoat)

Yeah, that’s right, this is the battle maneuvers fan club section! While this subclass does offer up a few other fun features like Know Your Enemy, which helps you figure out the stats of other creatures, and Student of War, which gives you proficiency with artisan’s tools, the bread, butter, and just about everything else of this subclass is battle maneuvers.

So much so in fact, that the first feature you get is Combat Superiority and down the line, another feature is just named Improved Combat Superiority. 2/10 points for naming, 11/10 for consistency.

Combat superiority gives us the battle maneuvers that are so central to this class, along with the superiority die we use to make them work. We start off knowing three at 3rd level, and then get to learn two more at 7th, 10th, and 15th. 

You probably want to know what they are though, right? Maneuvers, in many ways, are like small features, abilities that allow us to become more efficient combatants. They’re also very versatile, which makes it hard to pin them down with a precise definition. 

They allow you to do the things that, quite frankly, a fighter should be able to do. A great example is Disarming Attack, which allows you to disarm your opponents and then deal extra damage. This maneuver is something really cool, something that gives you control over the battlefield and adds to the storytelling. 

There are also more strategically based maneuvers, like Goading Attack. This maneuver forces a creature that you have just hit with a weapon attack to make a wisdom saving throw. Should they fail the save, they have disadvantage on attack rolls against any targets other than you.

At the time of publishing, there are 23 different maneuvers to choose from. That means we’re looking at 817,190 different possible combinations of maneuvers! So you’re going to end up with a pretty unique character.

With all of that variety, you can build just about any combatant you can think of. That’s before we even think about the regular features of the class, the race and background you choose, or the feats you will likely pick up along the way.

Naturally, this subclass only gets better when we think of it in relation to those other abilities. Fighters get to attack multiple times in one turn, and can take extra actions in a turn.

At 20th level, you’ll have the potential to make 8 attacks in a turn, not including attacks on a bonus action, with the ability to use a slew of maneuvers improving your combat and absolutely decimating your opponents.

Limitations

This martial archetype gets my highest rating when it comes to limitations. This subclass is only limited by the fact that it is no other subclass or class. When I normally say that, it means that if you’re looking for a different build you came to the wrong class.

However, since this is a fighter subclass, that’s not even entirely true. The access to seven ASIs, so potentially seven feats if you choose a feat at each ASI, means being able to morph this subclass to most needs that you have.

You won’t end up with a full caster, but you can introduce a good amount of spellcasting to supplement this class if you want to. Yeah, this class is really only limited by the player’s creativity, and willingness to think about the options at their fingertips.

Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System

Color and Tier ranking is very helpful when you’re trying to digest a lot of information.  In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:

  • RedC Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful, and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but are largely less effective than other tiers.
  • GreenB Tier. Solid but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or Green can be very good but only in very specific situations.  
  • BlueA Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective. 
  • PurpleS Tier. The top of our rankings. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way.  No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are worth strongly considering when you create your character.

Our goal here is to provide scannable, but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.

While we might sometimes make reference to unofficial or homebrew content to illustrate a point (or just because it’s too cool not to talk about) every option we suggest is legal in the official rules for D&D 5e as published by Wizards of the Coast.

Race Choices

Martial classes have some of the largest option pools for choosing a race.

Specifically, the fighter can either focus on strength or dexterity (depending on your fighting style), with constitution coming in as your second most important ability. 

I encourage you to look further into the races available in 5e, since I can only include so many in this article. However, I will make a list of all the official races that give bonuses in strength or dexterity and constitution.

Duergar, Mountain Dwarf, Air and Earth Genasi, Goblin, Goliath, Stout Halfling, Half-Orc, Human (and Variant), Kobold, Minotaur, Orc, Triton, Warforged, Simic Hybrid, Locathah, Grung, Bugbear, and Leonin.

I believe these are all of the official ones, and that doesn’t include any of the other classes that give a bonus to one of those abilities and one mental ability.

From that list, a few of my favorites are: 

Minotaur – STR +2, CON +1. The minotaurs use of their horns feels like a maneuver reskinned as a racial feature. They can attack with their horns, using them as natural weapons, but they can also shove a target with their horns after successfully hitting them with a melee attack. Additionally, they can use their horns to make a melee attack after they take the Dash action, for a Goring Rush.

Mountain Dwarf – STR +2, CON +2. One of the best spreads of ability bonuses out there. Additionally, dwarves get advantage on saving throws against poison. Admittedly, a lot of the other abilities are proficiencies that overlap with fighters.

Grung – DEX +2, CON +1. I do love the frog people. Well suited for a dexterity-based fighter, the Grung comes with a climbing speed, and an outstanding high jump and long jump. They also have poison skin, which makes them great for grapple-focused fighters. Or… they can use their toxins to poison their weapons, making all of those hits you get off thanks to maneuvers that much more dangerous. 

Skill Choices

We tend to choose these based on our highest stats, but choosing a different route based on how you want to roleplay isn’t a bad idea, especially since adding your proficiency bonus might compensate for a not-so-good ability modifier.

The fighter class is given the ability to choose two skills from Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Survival.

  • Acrobatics (DEX) – Excellent for fighters in close combat who are going to try to pull stunts off, not just maneuvers.
  • Animal Handling (WIS) – Not important for this class, aside from very specific builds.
  • Athletics (STR) – Great for any fighter, even better for grapplers.
  • History (INT) – Fits the theme of the battle master’s knowledge base. Definitely consider it.
  • Insight (WIS) – Definitely an option, but not a great one. If you want to do well on rare insight checks, pick up the Tactical Assessment battle maneuver.
  • Intimidation (CHA) – Not incredibly important to this class.
  • Perception (WIS) – Great for any class. If you want it, grab it up.
  • Survival (WIS) – Pass on this one, unless you have a specific build in mind.

Background Choices

When we look for a background we want to find some skills that synergize well with our ability scores, but that’s not all. Realistically, a battle master fighter can have any background and still be built well.

To fit the archetype we should be looking for something that’s more oriented toward a fighter whose expertise comes from a deep knowledge of history, theory, and artistry.

The following options are all backgrounds that include some form of training in either combat or artistic skills.

  • Soldier – Proficiency in Athletics and Intimidation.
  • Athlete – Proficiency in Acrobatics and Performance.
  • Sailor – Proficiency in Athletics and Perception.
  • Guild Artisan – Proficiency in Insight and Persuasion. 

Battle Master Fighter Progression

Features that you automatically obtain through the Fighter class will appear in Orange and features that you gain through the Battle master subclass will appear in Pink

Filling out the Character Sheet (Level 0)

Hit Dice: 1d10 per Fighter level

Hit Points at 1st Level: 10 + your Constitution modifier

Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d10 (or 6) + your Constitution modifier per fighter level after 1st

Proficiencies

Armor: All armor, shields

Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons

Tools: None

Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution

Skills: Choose two skills from Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Survival

Equipment:

You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:

  • (a) chain mail or (b) leather, longbow, and 20 arrows
  • (a) a martial weapon and a shield or (b) two martial weapons
  • (a) a light crossbow and 20 bolts or (b) two handaxes
  • (a) a dungeoneer’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
© Wizards of the Coast

Battle Master Specific Table 

LevelManeuvers from Subclass# of Superiority DiceSuperiority Dice Type
3rd34d8
7th55d8
10th75d10
15th95d10
18th95d12

1st Level

Fighting Style:

Starting off in this class we choose a fighting style, a sort of bonus that defines how our combat as a fighter will play out. The fighting style options are as follows:

  • Archery
  • Blind Fighting
  • Defense
  • Dueling
  • Great Weapon Fighting
  • Interception
  • Protection
  • Superior Technique
  • Thrown Weapon Fighting
  • Two-Weapon Fighting
  • Unarmed Fighting

Second Wind:

This ability allows us to heal a number of hit points equal to 1d10 + our fighter level as a bonus action. Once this feature is used, we can’t use it again until we complete a short or long rest.

2nd Level

Action Surge:

One of the most exciting features of the fighter class, this allows us to take an extra action on our turns. We can use this ability once until we take a short or long rest.

As shown on the table above, we go up to two uses at 17th level, but the uses cannot be in the same turn. (A maximum of two actions per turn)

3rd Level

Student of War

You gain proficiency with one Artisan’s tool of your choice.

Combat Superiority

This is the ability that makes the battle master such an amazing subclass, and one of the best fighter subclasses out there. We gain access to maneuvers which are fueled by a mechanic called superiority dice.

We get four superiority dice, which are d8. These can be expended to use a maneuver. We regain all of our superiority dice on a short or long rest. We gain one more die at 7th level, and another die at 5th level.

We learn three maneuvers when we gain this feature, and two more at 7th, 10th, and 15th levels (a total of nine). We can also switch out maneuvers any time we learn new maneuvers.

Another important thing to know is that some maneuvers force our foes to make saving throws. The save DC for these throws is 8 + proficiency bonus + strength or dexterity modifier (your choice).

There are a lot of maneuvers to choose from, so buckle up. The available maneuvers are as follows:

  • Ambush – Add a superiority die to a stealth check or an initiative roll.
  • Bait and Switch – If you are within 5 feet of another creature you can switch places with them, without triggering opportunity attacks. You then add the superiority die to the AC of either you or the creature you switched places with until the start of your next turn.
  • Brace – You can make a reaction attack against a character that moves into the range of the weapon you are wielding. If your attack hits, add the superiority die to your damage roll.
  • Commander’s Strike – You can skip one of the attacks in your attack action to direct one of your companions on a bonus action. Choose a creature that can see or hear you to immediately make a melee attack as a reaction. They add the superiority die to their damage roll if they hit.
  • Commanding Presence – You can add your superiority die to a performance, persuasion, or intimidation check that you make.
  • Disarming Attack – If you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can add your superiority die to the damage roll. Then, force them to make a strength saving throw. On a failed save, they are disarmed and they drop an object they are holding of your choice, it lands on the ground in front of them.
  • Distracting Strike – If you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can add your superiority die to the damage roll. The next attack roll made against them (by someone else) has advantage if it is made before the start of your next turn.
  • Evasive Footwork – While you are moving, you can add a superiority die to your AC. This effect lasts until you stop your movement.
  • Feinting Attack – You can use a bonus action on your turn to feint, gaining advantage on the next attack you make against a creature of your choice before the end of your turn. If you hit, you add the superiority die to your damage roll.
  • Goading Attack – If you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can add your superiority die to the damage roll. Then, force them to make a wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature has disadvantage on attack rolls against anyone other than you until the end of your next turn.
  • Grappling Strike – Immediately after you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack you can make an athletics check to grapple the creature. Add your superiority die to the check.
  • Lunging Attack – You can increase the attack range of a melee attack you make by 5 feet. If you hit, you add the superiority die to your damage roll.
  • Maneuvering Attack – If you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can add your superiority die to the damage roll. Then, you choose a friendly creature that can see or hear you to move up to half their speed without provoking opportunity attacks from the creature you just hit.
  • Menacing Attack – If you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can add your superiority die to the damage roll. Then, force them to make a wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature is frightened of you until the end of your next turn.
  • Parry – When another creature hits you with a melee attack, you can reduce the damage you would take by your dexterity modifier + a roll of your superiority die.
  • Precision Attack – You can add a superiority die to an attack roll you make. You can add the die before or after you roll your d20, but before any of the effects of the attack are decided.
  • Pushing Attack – If you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can add your superiority die to the damage roll. Then, force them to make a strength saving throw if they are size Large or smaller. On a failed save, you push the target up to 15 feet away from you (the specific distance is your choice).
  • Quick Toss – As a bonus action, you can make a ranged weapon attack with a weapon that has the thrown property. The weapon does not have to be drawn to make this attack. Additionally, you guessed it, you add the superiority die to the damage roll if your attack hits.
  • Rally – Choose a friendly creature who can see or hear you and they gain temporary hit points equal to your charisma modifier + a roll of your superiority die.
  • Riposte – If a creature misses you with a melee attack, you can use a reaction to make a melee attack against the creature. If you hit, you add the superiority die to your damage roll.
  • Sweeping Attack – If you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack you can attempt to damage another creature within range (within reach of you and within 5 feet of the original target). If the original attack roll would also hit the second target, deal damage equal to the superiority roll to them. The damage has the same type as the original attack.
  • Tactical Assessment – You can add a superiority die to a history, investigation, or insight check.
  • Trip Attack – If you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can add your superiority die to the damage roll. Then, force them to make a strength saving throw if they are size Large or smaller. On a failed save, you knock the target prone.

4th Level

ASI

You can either increase one ability by 2 points or two abilities by 1. Alternatively, you can choose a feature, if you already have great stats this is a great choice.

5th Level

Extra Attack:

This allows us to make two attacks in an attack action. That can be confusing, but we need to recognize the difference between the two terms. An attack action is one of the actions we can take on our turn. As a part of the attack action, we can typically make one melee or ranged attack. 

The extra attack feature allows us to make not one, but two attacks as a part of one action.

There is also no limit on how often we can use this feature, so you’ll likely to it every time you make an attack.

At 11th level this goes up to three attacks, and at 20th it goes up to four. 

6th Level

ASI

7th Level

Know Your Enemy

If you spend at least 1 minute observing or interacting with a creature outside of combat, you learn whether they are your superior, equal, or inferior in two of the following characteristics:

  • Strength score
  • Dexterity score
  • Constitution score
  • Armor Class
  • Current hit points
  • Total class levels, if any
  • Fighter class levels, if any

8th Level

ASI

9th Level

Indomitable:

If you fail a saving throw you can reroll the save. You must take the new roll. 

You can use this feature once per long rest. At 13th level this goes up to twice, and at 17th it goes up to three times.

10th Level

Improved Combat Superiority

Exactly what it says. This turns your superiority die from d8s to d10s. At 18th level they go up to d12s.

12th Level

ASI

14th Level

ASI

15th Level

Relentless

When you roll initiative and have no superiority dice, you regain one die.

16th Level

ASI

19th Level

ASI

Feat Options

Alright get ready, the fighter class gives us access to at least seven times where we can choose to take a feat. Throwing that breadth of options on top of an already extremely versatile subclass means we have a lot to work with here.

Check out our review of fighter’s feats for more information about general feats the fighter can take.

As we’ve talked a bit about already, the feats we choose depend on what kind of build we are making. A ranged battle master is going to have no use for polearm master, and a grappler will never want to take the sharpshooter feat. So, consider what kind of build you’re looking for. 

I’ll go into a few build options and their feat choices, one of which I’ll use for our level by level explanation in the next section.

Master of Battle Battle Master 

This build wants complete control over the battlefield. Everything they do is centered around getting the edge on their opponents. This fighter uses the superior technique fighting style to get an early maneuver and superiority die. I’m picturing Nightwing or Taskmaster.

Martial Adept Gives them access to an additional two battle maneuvers and an additional superiority die.

Sentinel – This feat stops any opponents from getting out of your range, hitting them with extra opportunity attacks and dropping their speed to 0. You can also make additional reaction attacks against a creature within 5 ft of you that attacks a target other than you.

Polearm Master – Creates a larger range of opportunity attacks so long as you are using a glaive, halberd, or quarterstaff. Additionally, this allows you to make a bonus action attack each turn where you attack with the opposite side of your weapon. 

Mobile – Adds movement speed, and allows you to not provoke opportunity attacks from a creature that you have just made a melee attack against. A bonus is that using the dash action through difficult terrain doesn’t cost you any extra movement. 

Archery Battle Master

Focusing more on ranged combat is completely possible, you just have to avoid any maneuvers that specify “melee attack”, which isn’t hard to do. They control the battle from a distance, or at very least, not up close and personal with everyone they fight. This build uses the archery fighting style.

I’m picturing Green Arrow and Purple Arrow… I mean Hawkeye.

ALSO! The Pushing Attack maneuver doesn’t require you to use a melee weapon attack, it’s just any attack. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS???

IMAGE: https://static1.cbrimages.com/wp-content/uploads/imglib/18fyoughecevtpng-89d1c.png?dpr=1.5

Sharpshooter – This is THE feat for ranged combatants to pick up. This stops disadvantage from long distance, ignores half and three-quarters cover, and lets us deal more damage at the cost of a small deficit to our attack rolls.

Poisoner – There is something really cool about being able to poison any weapon, but poisoning arrows specifically feels like a very natural concept. This feat also lets you make said poison, which fits nicely into the knowledge and craftiness of the battle master.

Crossbow Expert – While the main purpose of this feat is obviously to boost the usage of crossbows, it also gets rid of disadvantage on any ranged attacks made within 5 ft of your target. A bonus action hand crossbow attack is really nice if you do happen to be in the midst of a melee combat with a one-handed weapon.

Piercer – Most ranged weapons do piercing damage, although most thrown axes do slashing damage, in which case, check out slasher. This gives you the ability to deal a lot more damage with your piercing attacks, and gives you a boost to either your strength or your dexterity.

Great Weapon Battle Master

Sometimes, you just want to hit things. This battle master is going to hit things hard. Their main focus is to deal a lot of damage, and never miss a hit. They will use the great weapon fighting style. They’ll also want to use a weapon that has the heavy and two-handed properties, such as the greataxe.

We’ll use this build below.

Great Weapon Master – Lets you get a bonus action attack if you crit or if you reduce a target’s HP to 0. It also lets you take a deficit to your attack roll to increase your damage roll. 

Lucky – Obviously, this feat is great for anyone, but we want to crit, so we’ll do what we can to get there. If that means rerolling our dice, so be it.

Savage Attacker – Once per turn this lets us reroll our damage rolls. That means every turn we’re going to take one of our weaker attacks and turn it into a slam. This works especially well if we’re adding the superiority die into our damage roll since we’re rerolling with the potential for a lot more damage.

Charger – Lets you make a melee attack as a bonus action after you use the dash action on your turn, either adding +5 to the damage roll or shoving the target. 

So you could potentially use one action to attack and defeat a target, action surge into a dash action. Then you could hit another weakened opponent far across the battlefield with a melee attack, maybe using something like a goading strike to distract them from an ally who was getting smacked down.

Great Weapon Battle Master Fighter Build

For the following example build we’ve used the standard set of scores provided in the PHB (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) when deciding ability scores. The only levels mentioned for the purpose of these builds are those when you will have the opportunity to make a decision on how your adventurer grows.

Race: Minotaur

Background: Soldier

Ability Scores: STR 17,  DEX 10, CON 15, INT 12, WIS 8, CHA 13

Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Intimidation, Perception, Insight

Language Proficiencies: Common, Minotaur

Tool Proficiencies: Gaming Set, Vehicles (land)

Equipment:  chain mail, a greataxe, a greatsword, two handaxes, an explorer’s pack, an insignia of rank, a trophy taken from a fallen enemy (a dagger, broken blade, or piece of a banner), a set of bone dice or deck of cards, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp

1st Level

Fighting Style:

Great weapon fighting lets us reroll once per attack whenever we roll a one or two on our damage roll.

3rd Level

Combat Superiority:

We get access to three maneuvers.

  • Feinting Attack lets us gain advantage on our next attack roll this turn. Increasing our chance of a critical hit.
  • Precision Attack lets us add a superiority die to our attack roll, before or after we have made the roll, but before any effects of the attack happen.
  • Sweeping Attack lets us deal damage to a second creature on our turn, which feels very fitting for a heavy hitter.

4th Level

ASI

We want to pick up the great weapon master feat as soon as possible.

6th Level

ASI

Let’s boost our STR by +1 up to 18 for a modifier of +4, and our CON by +1 up to 16 for a modifier of +3.

7th Level

Combat Superiority:

We get two more maneuvers.

  • Riposte lets us make a reaction when a creature misses us with a melee attack and hits them with a superiority die of extra damage.
  • Quick Toss we’ve got a couple of handaxes, and being able to throw them as bonus actions without worrying about drawing them is a great way to deal some extra damage.

8th Level

ASI

We’re gonna grab Lucky.

10th Level

Combat Superiority:

We get two more maneuvers.

  • Menacing Attack will make our targets frightened of us after we hit them, which is just awesome.
  • Bait and Switch is a great way to protect an ally, or get closer to a target.

12th Level 

ASI

Let’s boost that STR up to 20 for a modifier of +5.

14th Level

ASI

We’re gonna grab the charger feat.

15th Level

Combat Superiority:

We get two more maneuvers.

  • Evasive Footwork is going to pair well with the charger feat, and the goring rush from Minotaur.
  • Pushing Attack is another great way to send our opponents flying.

16th Level

ASI

We can take the Savage Attacker feat.

19th Level

ASI

To finish things off, we’re gonna boost our constitution up to 18 for a +4 modifier. Or you can do something crazy and fun like telekinesis. The world is your oyster.

Multiclassing

If you start in this class, don’t multiclass out of it. Whatever your plan is, it’s not worth it. Okay, I can’t say that for sure, but if you know exactly what you want to do, you probably don’t care what I have to say.

The reason I say this though is because you can already do so much with this subclass. If somehow the battle maneuvers weren’t enough for you, you can always use one of the seven ASIs the fighter class gets to pick up a feat that gives you what you want. 

That being said, if you are any other class, mainly a martial class, and you want to multiclass, pick up three levels in fighter and choose this archetype. While you can always grab the Martial Adept feat for a couple maneuvers and a superiority die, you’re better off multiclassing when you can.

First off, you get access to a fighting style from the fighter class. Even a ranger who already has one can choose a second option for more diversity. Then you get access to action surge and second wind, invaluable fighter abilities. Most importantly though, you’re getting three maneuvers and four superiority dice. 

Being able to have multiple maneuvers, and make them happen more than once a day is more than worth the three level dip. Essentially, you’re getting three feats wrapped in one (fighter initiate and martial adept twice), along with a bunch of great fighter abilities.

Any martial class looking to multiclass out can benefit so greatly from being able to control the battlefield. A raging barbarian that can force an opponent into only attacking him.

A paladin who can smite her enemies just because they tried to attack her and missed. Maybe even an artificer who can quickly throw a handaxe that has a returning weapon infusion on it.

Seriously, if you haven’t started to consider this subclass as multiclass potential, please do.


Beginner’s Guide to Battle Master Fighter

No matter what reason you’ve decided to go with the fighter class, choosing the battle master for your martial archetype is a great way to go. Now, this is a class that I actually have a lot of first-hand experience with.

I started playing D&D with this class and it’s a large part of what convinced me this game was going to be a lifelong passion of mine.

When I say this class is versatile, trust me, I mean it. The battle master is always about having an understanding of the battlefield. Learning from history and each new experience is what makes this class so capable in-game. As a player, the same concept carries through.

As you start to play with this character, you might be a bit confused. There are a lot of options for battle maneuvers which can feel really overwhelming. While I hope this guide helps you to understand how they work, you don’t need to know everything. Part of the fun is learning as you go.

This class will let you become a master of combat. If you’re new or have been playing for years if you’re looking for a character that excels in any type of armed combat you’ve found your home.

Superior Combatant

The combat superiority feature that you get when you pick up this class is the focus of this class. Since this is the beginner’s guide, I want to do my very best to explain how it works.

The first thing to remember is that you get a new mechanic called superiority dice, which you use to make the battle maneuvers happen. These superiority dice start out as eight-sided die and move up to ten-sided, then finally to twelve-sided. 

Battle maneuvers themselves are, very simply, abilities that give you an edge, primarily in combat. Typically, they allow you to do something that an ordinary fighter couldn’t, and they always allow you to add a roll of the superiority die to something.

Each maneuver says when you can use it, and what happens, which makes using them pretty simple. Let’s look at an example. Keep in mind that in the level-by-level guide above, we are summarizing. 

[When you hit a creature with a weapon attack]1, you can expend one superiority die to attempt to goad the target into attacking you. [You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll]2, and [the target must make a Wisdom saving throw]3. [On a failed save, the target has disadvantage on all attack rolls against targets other than you until the end of your next turn]4.

In the above maneuver, Goading Attack, I’ve bracketed off different sections that you can look for. 

  1. There is always a when clause, which might not alway say “when” but will say something that indicates the event that allows you to use the maneuver. In this example, that is hitting a creature with a weapon attack.
  2. You’re always going to add your superiority roll to something. Sometimes that is damage, sometimes that’s the attack roll, but there are more circumstances to look for. In this example, we’re adding it to our damage roll (since we just hit the creature).
  3. Most of the maneuvers have some form of additional effect, which allow you to do the cool thing, whatever that happens to be. Some have a built in requirement to make that happen. In this example, the cool thing requires your target to make a Wisdom saving throw.
  4. This is where the cool thing happens. In this example, that is your target being strongly incentivized to attack you, rather than any of your allies. This happens by giving them disadvantage against anyone else.

These will not always be in the same order, but you can pretty much rely on breaking a maneuver into these parts in order to understand how it works. In fact, this sort of breakdown works for a lot of different features and abilities, just not necessarily including the superiority dice.

Being a Battle Master

Stepping into the shoes of a battle master is an exciting process, on and off the battlefield. You are a master tactician, which includes so much more than the abilities of this class can account for. 

Each other martial class, and fighter subclass for that matter, has something they are good at. Monks channel energy to pull off superhuman feats, barbarians channel their fury, rogues can hide in plain sight, and rangers are unmatched against their chosen enemy. Rune knights harness the magic of giants and arcane archers weave magic into each shot.

Battle Masters, however, are masters of combat.

To witness a battle master move across the battlefield is to watch an intricate dance of a superior mind at work. They turn their opponents biggest strengths into their downfalls and use their own weaknesses to their advantage.

They can choose to be relentless melee combatants, powerful archers, or fearless leaders. Everyone on the battlefield at the same time as a battle master is unwittingly a pawn playing out a game that has already been won. 

Even off the battlefield, this subclass allows you as the player to shine as a leader and as a planner. My fighter Baelvan even took advantage of the Student of War feature to become a master smith, forging superior weapons and armor (and later enchanting them) for the entire party to use. 

I cannot stress enough the versatility of this martial archetype. If I were to attempt to say everything you could do with this subclass, you would never see this article because I’d still be working on it. Suffice to say, you could only play as this subclass in every game you ever play, and chances are you won’t get bored.

I’m excited for you and the character you build. Me and Baelvan wish you luck and many glorious victories.

And as always, happy adventuring!