Cavalier Fighter Subclass Guide

Cavalier Fighter

The thunderous sound of hooves echoes across the horizon. A band of raiders draw their weapons and wait in terror. As the deafening pounding comes nearer and nearer, the huddled mass prepares for what horrible fate awaits them.

Finally, they see it. A force of knights mounted atop armored warhorses. A massive trail of dust obscures everything behind them until the only thing these criminals see is the glisten of armor and raised swords. 

The cavalry has arrived, and the brigands’ reign of terror has come to an end.

Whether you’re talking about the Dothraki or the riders of Rohan, mounted combatants are a category of warriors known for doing three things: riding horses, looking awesome, and being an absolute menace on the battlefield.

It should come as no surprise then, that the cavalier subclass in 5e is one of the best fighter archetypes around. Cavaliers are masters of mounted combat, but these warriors do more than just slow-motion equestrianism.  

The cavalier is an expert at battlefield control, with an array of features that stop your enemies in their tracks, protect your allies, and dominate any combat. 

In this article, we’re going to be diving into what makes this class so appealing, how well the features work with and without a mount, and, of course, how you can make the best cavalier possible.

So saddle up and polish that armor, it’s time to charge into an S-tier martial archetype.

Class-Defining Abilities

There’s a lot to love about this subclass. It brings to life a classic warrior theme and lets you really step into the “knight in shining armor” role. Of course, there are a lot of ways to build it, so whether you’re looking for a mounted barbarian or a lance-wielding champion, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

In fact, you don’t even need to jump on a horse or any charging beast to use this subclass effectively. When it comes down to it, there are two things that make this subclass work so well:

  • Mounted Combat
  • Battlefield Control

In this section, we’ll talk about how the standout features of this class impact these main focuses. Naturally, there are some tips and tricks in here that you won’t find in a sourcebook, so be sure to take notes.

Mounted Combat

Starting with the obvious portion of this subclass, we have the ability to climb atop a mount and charge into battle. I know, it’s incredibly unique, right? 

Actually, no. Any character can ride a mount, even if mounted combat is kind of a mess in 5e. For the full rules and some extra tips, check with our article on mounted combat in 5e. Also, for ease of access, I’ve included a section unique to this subclass titled “Mounted Combat as a Cavalier that goes into enough detail to give you what you need for using this subclass effectively.

As for the actual features of this class that improve mounted combat, there are only a few. In fact, there’s really only one that is strictly dedicated to having a steed.

At 3rd level, you pick up the Born to Saddle feature. This will give you advantage on saving throws that you make to avoid falling off your mount. Additionally, if you fall off the mount and descend 10 feet or less, you land on your feet (so long as you’re not incapacitated).

The last part of this feature is probably the biggest benefit of all. It allows you to mount or dismount by using only 5 feet of movement rather than half of your speed, which is what any other character would have to sacrifice in a turn.

These are definitely great for a class that is supposedly dedicated to fighting atop mounts. You’ll almost never land prone, even if you do manage to fail a saving throw and actually are knocked off your horse (or horse-adjacent). 

While landing prone isn’t the end of the world, it’s still something that is better avoided. Besides, generally, the point of a steed, if you have one, is staying on it. 

The rest of the features that can benefit your riding capabilities are all actually pretty broad. Aside from Born to Saddle, there are no features that specifically mention your mount and don’t benefit yourself or allies in some other way. This brings us to the real point of this article…

Battlefield Control

… The cavalier subclass does not need a mount to be a complete powerhouse! 

I know, you probably thought this was a martial archetype dedicated to hopping on your steed and charging into battle. I think we all did, and we were wrong. While there are certainly benefits to being mounted with this subclass, mounts are completely supplemental.

The real focus of a cavalier is controlling the battlefield, and the majority of the features presented make that incredibly clear.

We start off with an outstanding feature titled Unwavering Mark, which allows us to mark a creature when we hit them with a melee weapon attack. While marked and within 5 feet of us, this creature has disadvantage on attack rolls that don’t target us.

Essentially, we are goading this creature into one-on-one combat. In doing so, we potentially protect our allies and almost certainly protect our mount.

If they do decide to just run off and deal damage to someone else, we get a special bonus action attack against them on our next turn. This special attack, which we can use a number of times equal to our strength modifier, has advantage and deals extra damage equal to half our fighter level if it hits.

So, we goad a creature into hitting us. If they don’t want to do that, they either have to stay within our reach and attack someone with disadvantage or they have to leave our reach, take our opportunity attack, and then likely take an extra attack from us on our next turn, with extra damage tacked on for fun.

Remember, this is only our 3rd-level creature, and we’re guaranteeing protection for our allies or extra damage on our marked enemy(ies). That’s right, there’s no limit on how many creatures we can mark per combat. If we use all our attacks on different creatures, we could potentially bring an entire enemy force to a screeching halt.

Moving on, our 7th-level feature, Warding Maneuver, further protects our allies. If a creature we can see within 5 feet of us is hit by an attack and we’re wielding a melee weapon or shield, we can use a reaction to roll a d8 and add it to that creature’s AC. 

Even if the attack still hits with our impromptu shield, the creature has resistance against the attack’s damage.

As an attack that can be used a number of times equal to our Con modifier per long rest, this is a great protective bonus. Without even being a tank, we’re protecting our allies. We won’t have an insane amount of uses here, so remember that this is a last resort if our unwavering mark isn’t doing the trick for some reason.

Hold the Line, our 10th-level feature, adds on to our opportunity attacks. Now, when creatures move 5 feet within our reach, we can hit them with an opportunity attack, and our opportunity attacks reduce a target’s speed to 0 until the end of the current turn. 

This is huge, especially for a fighter who’s probably using reach weapons already. Pair this with our Unwavering Mark, and it is almost guaranteed that our targets stay exactly where we want them. Either they move and get hit with an attack of opportunity, or they stay and suffer disadvantage. They almost have no choice but to attack us. 

If you want another way to keep opponents in place, look no further than the 15th ability Ferocious Charger. When we move at least 10 feet in a straight line before hitting a creature with an attack, they must make a saving throw or be knocked prone. 

Interestingly, this feature doesn’t require us to make a melee weapon attack. So, technically speaking, we can move 10 feet and then shoot an arrow or cast a spell and somehow transfer our kinetic energy into knocking enemies prone.

As silly as the loopholes to this feature may be, it’s a great way to capitalize on the movement we gain while being mounted, and it is still useful on foot. 

Last, but certainly not least, we have our 18th-level capstone, Vigilant Defender. This feature gives us the ability to make an opportunity attack once on every creature’s turn. 

Put all these features together, and we’re knocking bad guys prone left and right, goading them into attacking us or forcing them to suffer our wrath, whether it’s our turn or not. This subclass generates so many attacks for a fighter and is the definition of the battlefield control playstyle.

Limitations

Few things really limit this style of fighter. There’s nothing here that takes away from what it means to be a fighter. Everything just makes you better at what you could already do in exciting ways that are perfectly themed for mounted combat.

Truly the only thing I would want to warn prospective players of is that the cavalier doesn’t entirely focus on being a mounted combatant. Aside from Born to Saddle, everything in this class can be expertly used on foot, and that means this subclass isn’t necessarily the right fit for someone who wants to feel like an expert rider on and off the battlefield.

While I wouldn’t change anything about this subclass, I will admit that it leaves a strange hole needing to be filled. Somewhere out there is a class that is extremely honed in on all the aspects of mounted combat, introducing new abilities and setting up a character who is perfectly bonded with their mount.

What would such a subclass look like? Well, it would offer some clarity on how mounted combat works beyond the standard rules or possibly even give a character their own mounted rules to abide by. 

Instead of encouraging fighters to hold their enemies in one spot and function as a protective tank, a mount-focused subclass would emphasize movement from the start. Such a fighter would almost never stand still, and I can picture features like Thundering Hooves, Run Down, and Stampede defining the optimized build.

That is not the subclass we have though. The cavalier is absolutely amazing, and while it may miss the thematic mark for some, it certainly provides an excellent means to becoming an expert mounted warrior.

Mounted Combat as a Cavalier

In order to be a cavalier on a mount, you must understand how mounts work. The rules in the PHB are fairly simple and straightforward, but that doesn’t mean they provide us with the necessary information to really nail down the concept of mounted combat.

There are really three things we need to understand if we want to be a successful cavalier:

  • Mounts and Movement
  • Mounting, Dismounting, and Forced Dismounting
  • Reach and Range While Mounted

Mounts and Movement

Mounts and movement are probably the easiest to grasp, although there is room for interpretation even here. A mount is simply a willing creature at least one size larger than you that can comfortably bear the weight of carrying you. 

All the usual suspects — horse, griffon, elk, etc. — are here, but this can also spread out to things like dragons, brontosauruses (brontosauri?), and even a member of your party if you happen to be a Small or smaller character.

There are two types of mounts: controlled and independent. The distinguishing rule is unclear as it states an independent mount is intelligent enough to make its own decisions. This isn’t at all a standardized ruling, so it’s up to interpretation at your table.

The actual difference here is that a controlled mount shares your initiative and can only use the Dash, Disengage, or Dodge actions on its turn, and you control how it moves and acts. Conversely, with an independent mount, you are quite literally just along for the ride.

There are benefits to both. A controlled amount will go exactly where you need it to be, while an independent mount has the ability to continue attacking and/or acting normally.

A good choice for DMs is to allow mounted characters to decide whether their mount acts dependently or independently at the start of each round, obviously excluding creatures deemed too intelligent to consider following orders.

Mounting, Dismounting, and Forced Dismounting

The next bit about mounting is almost completely replaced by the Born to Saddle feature. The one piece you’ll need to remember is forced dismounting.

If your mount is moved against its will while you’re on it or you’re knocked prone while mounted, you must make a DC 10 saving throw to stay on. Born to Saddle gives you advantage on this save, and even if you do fail, you’ll land on your feet so long as the fall is 10 feet or less.

If your mount is knocked prone, normally you would have to use your reaction to land on your feet or be dismounted and fall prone. Fortunately, since you automatically land on your feet, you can forgo that reaction altogether, unless you’re flying, of course, in which case you should have a backup method of flight or a ring of feather fall handy.

Reach and Range While Mounted

This last part is where things get tricky. The official rules don’t state where exactly your character is while mounted, which matters when reach gets involved. This is more important with miniatures, but it is still something to be considered in theater-of-the-mind games.

Technically, the ruling from Mike Mearls, later confirmed by Jeremy Crawford, is that the rider occupies their space as if they were a free-moving box within their mount’s space. 

To clarify a bit of the problem here, a large creature occupies a 10×10-foot space, which is four 5-foot cubes or the occupied space of your typical medium-sized character. With a reach of 5 feet, the question is, can you attack anything with 5 feet of the mount’s space?

The official answer is a bit of a yes and no. If you’re riding a large creature, then yes. You just have to shift a bit, moving to the appropriate space in order to make your attack. As you start using larger mounts, this becomes harder to actualize, and, for the majority of the time, you might not be in range to make any melee attacks.

There are a few options to fix this that the community has come up with. 

Treating the mount and rider as one allows a rider to attack anywhere within reach of the mount but sacrifices realism with larger mounts.

Treating the rider as being in the center of the creature works a bit more within the confines of reality, but this makes you strangely invincible as you use larger mounts.

We go more into this in our full-mounted combat article, but the summary is that tables should decide on a standardized house ruling, likely incorporating pieces from several of these methods to achieve the desired balance of realism and straightforward mechanics. 

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 they 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.

Ability Scores

When building a character, we start by figuring out which ability scores to focus on. For a rune knight, that’s going to be strength and constitution without a doubt. While most fighters can use strength or dexterity interchangeably, the focus on strength and size we see in this class just further locks us into melee strength-based combat.

Below I’ve listed each ability score and just how important it is to this subclass.

  • Primary: Strength 
  • Tier II: Constitution, Dexterity
  • Tier III: Wisdom
  • Dump Tier: Intelligence, Charisma

Strength: This is our foremost ability since we’ll be focusing on mainly melee attacks and will want to make full use of reach weapons. Strength also dictates the number of times we can make our Unwavering Mark special attack, only furthering our reliance on this as our primary ability.

Dexterity: Cavaliers can certainly employ ranged weaponry or finesse weapons, but either will limit our ability to fully benefit from the features and opportunities of this subclass. Still, we should at least have some importance on Dexterity as we’ll need the bonus to impact our saving throws when attempting to stay mounted, even with advantage helping us.

Constitution: This subclass sets us up for a tanky build, so having heaps of HP to spare is essential. Additionally, we’ll need a good modifier to support our Warding Maneuver ability.

Intelligence: Leave this for wizards and artificers; we have nothing to focus our intelligence on.

Wisdom: Wisdom can help us with animal handling, a proficiency that is actually useful in this class if we want any chance of taming mounts that aren’t easily purchasable.

Charisma: While we may want this for roleplaying potential, it isn’t essential to any part of this subclass.

Race Choices

Next up, it’s time to decide a race for our character. This will affect our ability scores, and it will also give us a number of racial features that benefit us in a variety of ways. Each race offers up its own unique traits that give great starting improvements to us in combat, social interaction, or exploration.

Of course, 5e has had some big changes since it was first introduced in 2014, and we’ve seen the dawn of Custom Ability Score Increases as the new standard for races. While there are still plenty of races that offer up specific bonuses to one or two ability scores, many now give you the option to put +2 in one ability score and +1 in another or +3 in three separate ability scores.

Our recommendations are mostly based on the original type of 5e race since the Ability Score increase is definitely the most important aspect to consider. If we suggest a newer race, that’s because the racial traits are outstandingly fitting for this subclass. 

Mountain Dwarf: +2 Strength and +2 Constitution are phenomenal for fighters, although there aren’t any great synergies to be found beyond that. Dwarven Resilience is helpful when dealing with poison, but it isn’t clearly connected to the cavalier in any way.

Half-Orc: +2 Strength and +1 Constitution. Half-orcs are great choices for a cavalier looking to reinforce their role as a tank. Their Relentless Endurance will allow us to drop to 1 HP instead of 0 once a day, and Savage Attacks will simply allow us to dish out more damage as we can reroll a damage dice on each attack.

Bugbear: Custom ASI or +2 Strength and +1 Dexterity. Bugbears are the perfect fit for this class, as their Long-limbed trait increases their reach by 5 feet and therefore increases the effectiveness of our mounted combat in general. Paired with a reach weapon, we get a 15-foot effective radius that impacts most of our abilities. 

We also get some generally good features like Powerful Build to carry more and Surprise Attack to dish out a bit of extra damage in the first round of combat.

Niche builds based more on fun may want to use a small race such as the Halfling or Faerie, but few of these will have any useful synergies with the subclass beyond the ability to ride on your medium-sized allies’ shoulders.

Skill Choices

Skills allow us to overcome obstacles outside of combat, whether those are puzzles, traps, or the scariest of all, social interaction. The skills we choose will often define how we roleplay our characters, so while I’ll be making suggestions, it’s important to choose the ones that interest you.

Fighters choose two skill proficiencies from Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Survival.

Acrobatics: Unless you plan on doing strange mounted activities akin to something Legolas might do, you’ll be fine without this.

Animal Handling: Extremely helpful for taming animals we set out to make our mounts. We do have the chance to get this through bonus proficiencies though, and that’s where most cavaliers should be picking this up.

Athletics: This is often a similar skill to acrobatics but naturally focuses on activities that are more based in physical prowess than one’s dextrous capabilities. Since we’re focusing on Strength over Dex, our skills should reflect that.

History: Strictly relevant for roleplay but not a bad skill to have.

Insight: Strictly relevant for roleplay but not a bad skill to have.

Intimidation: Strictly relevant for roleplay but not a bad skill to have.

Perception: Always a great skill to have.

Survival: Leave this to the ranger or druid, or pick it up if it’s relevant to your backstory/roleplay goals.

Background Choices

Backgrounds are much more based on your roleplaying goals as they set up a basis for your character’s backstory and provide you with context for your character’s life outside of being an adventurer.

Since cavaliers are highly trained riders, it makes sense to choose a background that justifies such a skill set. Nobles are particularly apt, but Far Travelers, Folk Heroes, and Outlanders all fit the bill and provide you with solid character foundations.

Cavalier Fighter Progression

Features that you automatically obtain through the Fighter class will appear in Yellow, and features that you gain through the Cavalier subclass will appear in Gray

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

1st Level

Favored Enemy: 

Choose a fighting style from the list below:

  • Archery. Gain a +2 bonus to ranged weapon attack rolls.
  • Blind Fighting. You have blindsight with a range of 10 feet. 
  • Defense. Gain a +1 bonus to AC while wearing armor.
  • Dueling. When you are wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other weapons, you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls with that weapon.
  • Great Weapon Fighting. When you roll a 1 or 2 on a damage die for an attack you make with a melee weapon that you are wielding with two hands, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll, even if the new roll is a 1 or a 2. The weapon must have the two-handed or versatile property for you to gain this benefit.
  • Interception. When a creature you can see hits a target (other than you) within 5 feet of you with an attack, you can use your reaction to reduce the damage the target takes by 1d10 + your proficiency bonus. You must be wielding a shield or a simple or martial weapon to use this reaction.
  • Protection. When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll. You must be wielding a shield.
  • Superior Technique. You learn one maneuver of your choice from among those available to the Battle Master archetype. If a maneuver you use requires your target to make a saving throw to resist the maneuver’s effects, the saving throw DC equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice.) You gain one superiority die, which is a d6 (this die is added to any superiority dice you have from another source). This die is used to fuel your maneuvers. A superiority die is expended when you use it. You regain your expended superiority dice when you finish a short or long rest.
  • Thrown Weapon Fighting. You can draw a weapon that has the thrown property as part of the attack you make with the weapon. In addition, when you hit with a ranged attack using a thrown weapon, you gain a +2 bonus to the damage roll.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting. When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack.
  • Unarmed Fighting. Your unarmed strikes can deal bludgeoning damage equal to 1d6 + your Strength modifier on a hit. If you aren’t wielding any weapons or a shield when you make the attack roll, the d6 becomes a d8. At the start of each of your turns, you can deal 1d4 bludgeoning damage to one creature grappled by you.

The best choices in this feature for a cavalier are, interestingly, Defense and Great Weapon Fighting. While Protection and Interception feel like natural fits, we’ll want to save our reaction for opportunity attacks. Besides, we essentially already have a version of both baked into our features.

Defense is apt for a cavalier because it allows us that small bit of extra AC to help us be a better tank. GWF tackles the other side of this subclass, letting us dish out more damage with our chosen weapons, which are most likely two-handed. 

Second Wind:

On your turn, you can use a bonus action to regain hit points equal to 1d10 + your fighter level. You must finish a short or long rest before you can reuse this feature.

2nd Level

Action Surge:

On your turn, you can take one additional action. Once you use this feature, you must finish a short or long rest before you can use it again. Starting at 17th level, you can use it twice before a rest but only once per turn.

This feature works especially well when we want to stop a myriad of enemies in their tracks. We can mark every enemy we hit and keep moving as long as we’re willing to risk being hit by an opportunity attack or two.

3rd Level

Bonus Proficiencies: 

You gain proficiency in one of the following skills of your choice: Animal Handling, History, Insight, Performance, or Persuasion. Alternatively, you learn one language of your choice.

The only new proficiencies are Performance and Persuasion. Both can be justified for roleplay, but the optimal choice here is Animal Handling. A language may also be helpful, but that is largely campaign-dependent.

Unwavering Mark: 

When you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, you can mark the creature until the end of your next turn. This effect ends early if you are incapacitated, you die, or someone else marks the creature (it is unclear whether or not this applies to specifically Unwavering Mark or if Hunter’s Mark and similar abilities would conflict).

While it is within 5 feet of you, a creature marked by you has disadvantage on any attack roll that doesn’t target you.

If a creature marked by you deals damage to anyone other than you, you can make a special melee weapon attack against the marked creature as a bonus action on your next turn. You have advantage on the attack roll, and if it hits, the attack’s weapon deals extra damage to the target equal to half your fighter level.

You can make this special attack a number of times equal to your Strength modifier (a minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses of it when you finish a long rest.

Born to the Saddle: 

You have advantage on saving throws made to avoid falling off your mount. If you fall off your mount and descend no more than 10 feet, you can land on your feet if you’re not incapacitated. Mounting or dismounting a creature costs you only 5 feet of movement rather than half your speed.

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.

Martial Versatility (Optional):

Whenever you receive an ASI, you can also choose to do one of the following:

  • You can choose to switch out your fighting style for a different one. 
  • If you know any Battle Master maneuvers, you can replace one you know with a different maneuver.

5th Level

Extra Attack:

Fighters get to make a second attack whenever they take the Attack action as a part of their turn. This increases to three attacks at 11th level and four at 20th level.

6th Level

ASI

7th Level

Warding Maneuver:

If you or a creature you can see within 5 feet of you is hit by an attack, you can roll 1d8 as a reaction if you’re wielding a melee weapon or a shield. Roll the die, and add the number rolled to the target’s AC against that attack. If the attack hits after the AC has been modified, the target has resistance against the attack’s damage.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Constitution modifier (a minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses of it when you finish a long rest.

8th Level

ASI

9th Level

Indomitable:

You can reroll a saving throw that you fail. You must use the new role and can’t use it again until you finish a long rest. You can use this feature twice between long rests starting at 13th level and three times between long rests starting at 17th level.

10th Level

Hold the Line: 

Creatures provoke an opportunity attack from you when they move 5 feet or more while within your reach, and if you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, the target’s speed is reduced to 0 until the end of the current turn.

This feature is an additional reason why it is important to clarify the mounted reach rules at your table. Regardless, this is clearly made more effective the larger your reach is.

12th Level

ASI

15th Level

Ferocious Charger: 

If you move at least 10 feet in a straight line right before attacking a creature and you hit it with the attack, that target must succeed on a Strength saving throw (DC 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength modifier) or be knocked prone. You can use this feature only once on each of your turns.

Again, this does not specify a melee weapon attack, although it’s likely that is the intention of the feature.

16th Level

ASI

18th Level

Vigilant Defender: 

In combat, you get a special reaction that you can take once on every creature’s turn except your turn. You can use this special reaction only to make an opportunity attack, and you can’t use it on the same turn that you take your normal reaction.

19th Level

ASI

Feat Options

Feats are an excellent way to customize, specialize, and optimize your build. You can use them to pick up the slack in areas where your build is lacking, or you can use them to bolster the abilities that are already powerful. 

Fighters get access to one more ASI than all the other classes, meaning they can get one more feat than other classes.

Mounted Combatant: This shouldn’t be a huge surprise as it’s clearly focused on the same things we are. Fortunately, there is limited overlap between our features and this feat, making this a natural match if we plan to utilize a mount.

This feature offers three main benefits while mounted:

  • Advantage on melee attack rolls against unmounted creatures smaller than our mount.
  • Force attacks targeted at our mount to target us instead.
  • If our mount is subjected to an effect that allows it to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, it instead takes no damage if it succeeds on the saving throw and only half damage if it fails.

Perhaps the best part of this is the advantage, which we will almost constantly have while riding even a Large mount since most of our enemies will be Medium or smaller humanoids.

The rest allows us to protect our mount even more so than our subclass features do. With all of them combined, our mounts should almost never be taking damage, and if they do, it should be reduced.

Sentinel: While there is a bit of overlap with our features and this feat, it’s still worth taking to capitalize on opportunity attacks. If we take it before 4th level, we’re also getting to reduce our target’s speed to 0 on opportunity attacks much sooner.

The benefits of this feature are as follows:

  • When you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, the creature’s speed becomes 0 for the rest of the turn.
  • Creatures within 5 feet of you provoke opportunity attacks from you even if they take the Disengage action before leaving your reach.
  • When a creature within 5 feet of you makes an attack against a target other than you (and that target doesn’t have this feat), you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against the attacking creature.

So, our enemies are basically screwed if they’re within our reach, and things get much worse if they try to do anything within 5 feet of us. 

Polearm Master: The main benefit of picking this feat up is that other creatures provoke opportunity attacks when they enter our reach so long as we’re using a polearm (glaive, halberd, pike, quarterstaff, or spear). Stacking this with our other opportunity attack features, especially late game, makes sure that enemies near us are doomed.

Great Weapon Master: If we’re looking to dish out even more damage and our weapon fits the heavy property, then this is the feat for us. A critical hit melee weapon attack on our turn nets us a bonus action, and we can take a penalty to attack rolls for a +10 to damage.

Tough: If we find our HP lacking, this feat will net us an additional 2 hit points per our level. This is huge if we’re really filling the tank role in our party.

Cavalier 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. 

This section will provide you with a collection of the best choices from this article put into a single character build, along with explanations of different synergies and a general path for progression. 

  • Race: Bugbear
  • Background: Outlander
  • Ability Scores: STR 16,  DEX 13, CON 16, INT 8, WIS 10, CHA 12
  • Skill Proficiencies: Animal Handling, Perception, Acrobatics, Athletics, Survival, Stealth
  • Language Proficiencies: Common, Goblin, Thieves Cant
  • Tool Proficiencies: Lute
  • Equipment: Chain mail, glaive, halberd, two handaxes, explorer’s pack, a staff, a hunting trap, a trophy from an animal you killed, a set of traveler’s clothes, and a pouch containing 10 gp.
  • Fighting Style: Defense
  • Feats: Sentinel (4th), Mounted Combatant (6th), Great Weapon Master (12th), Polearm Master (16th)

Our cavalier build is all about battlefield control and dominating our enemies. While other builds may lean more into the tank aspect, we’ll get most of what we need from the Defense fighting style’s AC and our Relentless Endurance. Beyond that, the best defense is an overwhelming offense, which we certainly bring to the table.

The tactics we employ are going to largely be dependent on how many enemies we have to deal with and what our party dynamic looks like. 

We can start by looking at the party dynamic. If most of our allies are squishy, we’ll want to mark as many enemies as we can, protecting our allies at the cost of some aggravation headed our way. 

In this sort of party, we’ll be drawing a lot of attention, so we should double down on any tanky aspects, possibly swapping Tough for Sentinel or even taking a single-level dip into barbarian for the resistances that rage nets us.

If our party can mostly hold their own, the main benefit of our warding mark is the protection we provide our mount. 

The main difference here is that, as a protective force, we’ll want to move around and sort of corral our enemies, while as an offensive force we can lean into dominating one or two at a time. 

The more enemies we’re dealing with, the more we’ll need to protect our party, regardless of their squishiness (yes, that is the official 5e term for low HP/low AC).

As we grow in this subclass, we can comfortably take on more opponents, and the number of possible attacks outside of our turn skyrockets. 

A 20th-level cavalier with this build will almost be making more attacks outside their turn than not as long as they continue to prioritize putting themselves around a group of enemies and have the HP/AC to back that up. Obviously, this means heavy armor, and eventually, magic items should be part of our repertoire.

The more abilities we can stack up that keep us standing, the faster and more reliably we can knock down our enemies.

So there you have it, the cavalier. Whether you take this subclass at face value and fashion yourself a mounted martial monolith or stay grounded and lock eyes with enemies in one-on-one combat, you’ll be paramount to victory in every combat. So long as you stay standing, victory is always a short ride away.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and be sure to check out our full mounted combat article or our mounted combatant article, for more info on the actual riding portions of this subclass. As always, happy adventuring.