Last Updated on January 22, 2023
From brutal warlords and dashing duelists to armored knights on horse (or dragon) backs, fighters are one of Dungeons & Dragons 5e’s most versatile classes.
That being said, there are a few areas where the fighter falls short.
Not only does the class sometimes lack utility outside of combat, but in battle, the fighter’s almost entirely weapon-centric playstyle means that this class struggles to deal damage to large groups of enemies, instead having to take them on one at a time.
Even though extra attacks and action surge help a fighter potentially hit two, three, or even four enemies per turn, they still lack the massive AoE damage available to wizards, sorcerers, and clerics.
If you want a martial archetype that combines the fighter’s combat prowess with the utility and AoE damage of a dedicated spellcaster, the Eldritch Knight may be the subclass for you.
In this guide, we’re going to take a look at the features and abilities that set Eldritch Knights apart from other subclasses, and we’ll analyze their strengths and weaknesses.
Then, we’re going to go into detail concerning how to build an Eldritch Knight from 1st level, breaking down which Ability Scores to prioritize as well as the best races, backgrounds, and skills to help round out this build, including some suggestions for Feats that can help bring out the best in it.
Once we’ve covered character creation — and taken a look at possible multiclass options — we’ll give you our step-by-step guide to building an Eldritch Knight as you level up from 1st to 20th level.
Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System
In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:
Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful and might make for an interesting narrative choice but are largely less effective than other tiers.
Green – B Tier. A solid choice but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or it can be very good but only situationally.
Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
Purple – S Tier. The best of the best. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are definitely worth considering when you create your character.
Our goal here is to provide scannable but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.
What Is an Eldritch Knight?
The Eldritch Knight is a fighter subclass (known as a Martial Archetype) found in the Player’s Handbook that combines the class’s martial prowess and survivability with spellcasting abilities borrowed from the wizard’s spell list.
Characters that combine elements of arcane and martial prowess are commonly referred to as “gish” builds and fall along something of a spectrum between more magic and martial extremes.
The Bladedancer wizard, for example, allows a powerful spellcaster to hold their own in combat — through a mixture of dexterity and magical wards — whereas subclasses like the College of Valor bard strike a more equal balance — medium-armored warriors with access to powerful spellcasting.
The Eldritch Knight lies much closer to the martial end of the spectrum. The subclass retains pretty much all the survivability and combat prowess of other fighter archetypes but with the addition of some spellcasting versatility.
This spellcasting is focused, however, on the two most warlike schools of magic: offense-focused evocation and defensive abjuration.
The Eldritch Knight’s Defining Abilities
- Soul-bond with your chosen weapons
- Wizard spellcasting
- Casting spells lets you make weapon attacks as a bonus action
Firstly, people who say that the Eldritch Knight’s Weapon Bond ability to summon weapons from anywhere on the same plane of existence isn’t very impactful clearly have no imagination.
In addition to bringing a whole heap of flavor to this subclass, being able to ensure you always have a weapon to hand is an invaluable skill, whether you’re trying to get past palace security or breaking out of jail.
The defining feature of the Eldritch Knight subclass, however, is its ability to cast spells from the wizard spell list.
The Spellcasting feature means choosing three wizard cantrips and three 1st-level wizard spells at 3rd level and slowly growing that selection as your character improves.
Eldritch Knights focus on spells that enhance their capabilities in battle, and draw almost exclusively from the abjuration and evocation schools of magic.
While they may learn one or two spells from the other schools, Eldritch Knights are mostly going to focus their magical talents on keeping themselves alive and dealing damage to their enemies with more than just a blade.
This added spellcasting oomph is especially useful at solving the problem of the one thing fighters really struggle with: inflicting AoE damage.
Picking up a few uses of spells like Burning Hands or Thunderwave can do a lot to solve that problem.
Alternately, the other issue that fighters sometimes struggle with is super-high-AC enemies.
A fighter that can’t hit their target is basically dead weight, so being able to fall back on magic — specifically magic that can force a target to make a saving throw rather than trying to beat its AC — is a great way for the Eldritch Knight to take a different angle of attack against a powerful, heavily armored opponent.
Later on, in order to mitigate the issue of always having to choose between casting cantrips (and even later full spells) and using multiattack, the Eldritch Knight can use its War Magic feature (levels 7 and 18) to make an attack as a bonus action after spending an action casting a spell.
The Eldritch Knight’s Limitations
- Complex to play, risk of analysis paralysis
- Underwhelming at higher levels
By trying to balance arcane spellcasting and martial prowess, this subclass runs the risk of feeling like it’s not very good at either option.
Playing an Eldritch Knight means constantly struggling to find reasons why casting a spell makes more sense than just attacking with a weapon.
Because the Eldritch Knight’s spell list remains quite small and never gets access to anything higher than a single 4th-level spell slot at 19th level, this also gets even harder to justify as the base fighter class gives you access to more attacks per round, making the trade off between casting a spell and beating your enemies to death with a sharp stick the old-fashioned way even steeper.
This would be okay if Eldritch Knights could really put their spell lists to use as a hyper-versatile toolkit for solving all the class’s non-combat problems, but the fact this class is mostly restricted to evocation and abjuration spells — most of which have a decided focus on combat — makes this tricky.
You can still use your non-abjuration/evocation spell levels to grab useful stuff like Hold Person or eventually Banishment, however.
Lastly, fighters already need to invest in high ability scores in Strength (for melee) and Dexterity (for stealth, ranged combat, and sometimes AC) so they can, you know, actually fight things effectively, as well as Constitution for survivability.
Add to this the Eldritch Knight’s need for a good Intelligence score to fuel the subclass’s spellcasting, and things start to look decidedly MAD (or, multi-ability-dependent).
You can fix this by making a Dexterity-based fighter that focuses on using finesse and ranged weapons and wears medium armor to reduce your dependence on Strength, but you’re still just bringing down the number of requisite ability scores from four to three.
This isn’t the end of the world, as fighters get more ability score increases than just about any other class, but it can seriously cut back on the number of feats your character can take, not to mention making you feel underpowered at lower levels, which is honestly where this subclass feels like it should shine.
Basically, all of the Eldritch Knight’s subclass abilities feel like they would be at home on this class at 3rd or maybe 7th level.
The lackluster power curve of the Eldritch Knight’s spell list means that it’s very easy to be left wondering why you didn’t just play a dedicated fighter or a full wizard — or an Arcane Trickster for that matter.
The whole class really feels like it’s making do with incremental power spikes rather than the massive, earth-shattering boons that other classes unlock at higher levels.
However, there is a reason why the Eldritch Knight looks a little underwhelming on paper. Namely, the base fighter class is really, really strong.
This class has great proficiencies, has a big hit die, and gets something useful pretty much every round, whether that’s an ability score increase, an extra attack, or something else.
There are plenty of other classes (looking at you, wizard) that have to suffer through numerous “dead levels” to get to their good stuff.
Fighters, on the other hand, just keep on collecting useful bits and pieces all the way. Their subclass features really are just the icing on the cake.
In the case of the Eldritch Knight, it’s kind of a thin, slightly magical layer, but it’s a very, very good cake.
Progression: Subclass Features
Let’s take a look at the unique features that take an Eldritch Knight from 1st level to 20th.
Note that this guide won’t be covering the class features available to all fighters, like Second Wind, Action Surge, and Extra Attack in detail; you can click here for our full guide to the base fighter class.
Spellcasting: Your access to (bits of) the wizard spell list is the heart and soul of this subclass.
However, you can’t just crack open the spell list and grab whatever takes your fancy; the spells you learn are limited to the evocation and abjuration schools unless otherwise stated.
At 3rd level, you learn two cantrips from the wizard spell list. You learn another at 10th level.
There are some solid choices here, especially as you aren’t restricted to abjuration and evocation options.
While it’s tempting to pick up something for damage (like Green-Flame Blade), I also like utility cantrips like prestidigitation, mage hand, and minor illusion as your weapon attacks are likely to inflict more reliable damage anyway, even before you bring multiattack into the equation.
You also learn three 1st-level wizard spells, two of which must be from the evocation or abjuration schools. Subsequently, when you learn and/or replace spells on your list, they must also be from these schools.
The exceptions to this rule are the spells you learn at 8th, 14th, and 20th level, which can come from any school of magic.
To make your character less dependent on your spell-attack modifier and spell-save DC, try picking up spells that don’t rely on a spell attack or forcing enemies to make saving throws.
Absorb Elements, Shield, and Booming Blade are all solid choices here.
You can see the full Eldritch Knight spellcasting table here.
Eldritch Knight Spellcasting
Weapon Bond: Also at 3rd level, Eldritch Knights gain the ability to form a bond with up to two weapons of their choice. This is done by performing an hour-long ritual, at the end of which the weapon bond is complete.
You can bond to up to two weapons in this way, and bonding with a third weapon requires you to break one of your existing bonds.
Once bonded to a weapon, an Eldritch Knight cannot be disarmed of it while not incapacitated.
Also, while the weapon is on the same plane of existence of its master, they can summon that weapon as a bonus action on their turn, causing it to teleport instantly to their hand.
Not only is this the perfect way to smuggle a couple of weapons past any guards, conveniently reequip yourself after breaking out of prison, prevent a powerful artifact from falling into enemy hands, or any number of other interesting left-of-field ideas, but you can’t tell me there’s anything more metal than throwing a spear through an enemy’s skull, magically recalling it to your hand, and then doing the same thing again next turn.
War Magic: From 7th level, the War Magic ability helps reduce the opportunity cost of using a cantrip rather than making multiple weapon attacks on your turn.
When you cast a cantrip using your action, War Magic lets you make a weapon attack using your bonus action.
This can be highly effective as you use a cantrip like Blade Ward to consistently give yourself resistance to damage from weapon attacks, allowing you to throw yourself into combat with virtual impunity.
Eldritch Strike: You learn to blend martial and arcane abilities, meaning you can use weapon attacks to interfere with a creature’s ability to make saving throws against your spells.
When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, that creature has disadvantage on the next saving throw it makes against a spell you cast before the end of your next turn.
This is pretty good, but by this point your spell list is already starting to feel seriously outpaced by dedicated spellcasters, so it’s not as good as it could be.
Still, it’s a nice way to make sure that your limited pool of spell slots is being put to good use. I just wish this ability gave enemies disadvantage on saving throws against other people’s spells as well.
Arcane Charge: This is both thematically and mechanically strong. Arcane Charge lets you teleport up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space you can see (basically, cast the Misty Step spell) whenever you use your Action Surge.
You can also choose to teleport before or after the additional action, which makes Arcane Charge the perfect initiation ability or last-ditch escape mechanic.
Improved War Magic: Your subclass’s “capstone” ability extends your War Magic ability to leveled spells in addition to cantrips. This is definitely helpful, but it feels like it comes too late.
As well as giving you new, diverse ways to create interesting character concepts, multiclassing can be a great way to either emphasize a particular class’ strengths or compensate for its weaknesses.
In the case of the Eldritch Knight — which feels really strong at lower levels and considerably weaker in Tier III and Tier IV play — multiclassing can be a great way to move beyond the class’ limitations.
Keep in mind, however, that this subclass is already quite MAD, so options that place additional demands on your ability scores are going to make you feel like you’re stretching your build even thinner.
That being said, here are a couple of options for multiclass builds that synergize with the Eldritch Knight.
Artificer (Battle Smith)
Dipping into Artificer for enough levels to choose the Battle Smith subclass, which lets you use your Intelligence modifier for attack and damage rolls with a magic weapon (which you can create), makes you instantly into something much closer to a single-ability-dependent class.
Artificers are also less prodigious spellcasters, but they have a bigger list than the Eldritch Knight.
This choice drags you further back in the direction of being a full caster (and opens up all sorts of conversations as to why you’re not just playing a bladesinger or a swords bard) by expanding your pool of spells at the expense of hit points and fighter levels.
Character Creation: Building an Eldritch Knight
Now, let’s take a look at how to build an effective Eldritch Knight from 1st level.
- Primary: Dexterity, Constitution
- Tier II: Intelligence
- Tier III: Charisma, Wisdom
- Absolute Dump Tier: Strength
Regardless of how you generate your ability scores, fighters usually want to prioritize Strength to deal damage (or Dexterity if you’re going for a ranged or Finesse weapon-based build) and Constitution to stay alive.
The Eldritch Knight, however, is going to do things differently.
In order to minimize the number of ability scores this subclass is dependent on, I would strongly recommend going for a Dexterity-based build that uses finesse and ranged weapons and wears medium armor.
You can also become less MAD by reducing your initial focus on Intelligence by choosing spells that don’t require enemies to make saving throws or you to make spell attacks.
Options like Booming Blade, Shield, and Resist Energy all give you useful advantages using your spell slots, but they don’t require you to have an especially high Intelligence score.
This can be a great way to avoid being too MAD early on. You can pick more ability-dependent spells later when your bountiful ability-score increases allow you to get your Intelligence to 18 or above.
Unless you’re using a custom lineage from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, you’re going to want to pick a race that benefits one or more of your requisite ability scores (Dexterity, Constitution, and Intelligence).
This is especially important for a subclass like the Eldritch Knight that can be MAD.
The perfect blend of deadly grace and magical flair, High Elves get a +2 bonus to their Dexterity and a +1 bonus to their Intelligence, making them a more-or-less perfect starting point for an Eldritch Knight.
They also get a free wizard cantrip, proficiency in Perception, and Fey Ancestry.
Hailing from the elemental Plane of Fire, these half-genie humanoids gain a useful +1 Intelligence in addition to +2 Constitution.
They also have resistance to fire damage and can innately cast the Produce Flame cantrip at 1st level as well as Burning Hands at 3rd level.
If you don’t mind going down the more traditional Strength-based route, you may like the original embodiment of a half-martial, half-spellcaster humanoid.
The warlike Githyanki sail the Astral Sea as dimension-faring pirates or psionic knights.
Githyanki get a +1 Intelligence bonus and a +2 boost to their Strength, not to mention a small suite of psionic spells and cantrips, including Mage Hand and Misty Step.
The ultimate embodiment of a brutal, hierarchical, and above all warlike society, hobgoblins made the jump from monster to playable race in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and they make surprisingly great Eldritch Knights.
They get a +2 Constitution bonus and +1 to their Intelligence. In addition, your Saving Face ability lets you gain a bonus to a missed attack roll equal to the number of allies you can see around you.
Backgrounds are both a great way to help flesh out your character’s personal history and your primary source of skills.
Each background also has its own special feature – something which I maintain remains a woefully underused aspect of D&D.
For example, the Criminal’s natural ability to draw upon a network of contacts for information, leads, and jobs or the fact that the Sage’s Researcher feature means that, even if they can’t recall a piece of lore, they know exactly where to go to get it.
Background features are a fantastic way to make your character feel like a part of the world in which they live as well as gain access to useful things in that world — whether that means lore, quests, assistance from factions, or even some free retainers.
Also, backgrounds are a great way to round out your character’s proficiencies with skills, weapons, and armor. While fighters start out proficient in all the weapons and armor in the game, your choice of skills is kind of limited.
Sage: As a student of the arcane, it’s actually slightly odd that the Eldritch Knight subclass doesn’t give you any recourse to become proficient in Arcana, the skill pertaining to magic.
Therefore, picking the Sage background will solve that problem.
In addition, this great background gives you History proficiency, and when you attempt to learn or recall a piece of lore, if you do not know that information, you often know where and from whom you can obtain it.
This can be a hugely helpful way to avoid your party spending whole sessions blundering around in the dark — assuming your DM is okay with you all heading “off to the library” yet again.
The Soldier background is also a strong choice for any Fighter, giving you access to Charisma (Intimidation) and Strength (Athletics) based skills. Also, it makes a lot of narrative sense.
Whether or not your character is still a part of their military outfit or has since been discharged (or even gone rogue as a result of their arcane predilections), it can be a great source of material for your DM to work with.
Other backgrounds, like the Noble, Mercenary Veteran, Knight (particularly good if you want a handful of bumbling retainers and hangers-on), and Haunted One (a good choice of skills and the best starting gear in the game if you want to mess up some vampires) can all make for excellent fighter backgrounds.
Skills and Languages
Any race you choose is going to be able to speak Common, and beyond that, you should choose languages that fit with your background and the campaign you’re playing in.
As far as Skills available to the fighter go, Athletics is going to play into your primary ability and Strength and be good for grappling and shoving enemies prone to get advantage on attacks.
Beyond that, Stealth (useful to counteract disadvantage from wearing heavy armor), Perception (an evergreen choice for any class), Insight, and Intimidation are all universally powerful.
You should feel free to pick based on either your character backstory or whichever skill matches up with your second/third-highest ability score.
All fighters get access to a fighting style at 1st level.
You can read our full breakdown in the fighter class guide, but our suggestion for an Eldritch Knight would be something like Defense as it means you’ll be less reliant on using a shield, freeing up your spare hand for pesky material and somatic components.
Feats are an optional rule that allows you to forgo an ability-score increase in favor of a special ability or bonus that can (in some cases radically) alter the way your character works.
Usually, picking a feat is a matter of serious risk vs. reward, but since fighters are virtually swimming in ability-score increases (even if you don’t play a custom lineage or variant human, which get feats at 1st level), you can feel free to really explore your options.
Go ahead. Let your feat flag fly.
Magic Initiate: One of my favorite feats in the whole of D&D 5e.
Magic initiate lets you learn two cantrips and a 1st-level spell of your choice from the bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell lists.
In addition to putting stuff like healing and non evocation/abjuration spells on the table for Eldritch Knights, picking this Feat is just an all-around great way to expand your smallish spell list.
Elemental Adept: Usually found on more dedicated spellcasters, Elemental Adept is nevertheless a really strong choice for a subclass that needs to get the most out of its limited spell slots (not to mention make its cantrips feel more impactful than simple weapon attacks).
This feat lets your spells overcome one of the following damage types: acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder. Pick one that suits your spell list, and enjoy wiping smug smiles off monsters’ faces.
War Caster: A highly useful feat that gives you more ways to use your spellcasting.
In addition to giving you advantage on saving throws to maintain your concentration, not to mention letting you perform the somatic components of a spell while holding a weapon and shield, taking the War Caster feat means that when a hostile creature’s movement provokes an opportunity attack from you, you can use your reaction to cast a spell at the creature rather than making an opportunity attack.
You can read our full guide to picking fighter feats here.
Example Eldritch Knight Build From 1st to 20th Level
Let’s take a look at how to build an Eldritch Knight from the ground up, all the way to 20th level.
Note that we’re not focusing on getting our Intelligence score especially high to start with. Instead, we’re going to focus on spells that don’t require a high modifier and then shift our selection as our ability scores increase later on.
We’re also going to focus on Dexterity as our main damage-dealing ability as it lets us use the same ability score for melee and ranged attacks.
- Ability Scores (Standard Array): Strength (8), Dexterity (14), Constitution (15), Intelligence (13), Wisdom (12), Charisma (10)
- Race: High Elf (Dexterity +2 (16), Intelligence +1 (14)
- Size: Medium
- Speed: 30 feet
- Darkvision: You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
- High Elf Cantrip: Mage Hand
- Languages: Common, Elvish, +1 Any
- Hit Dice: 1d10 per fighter level
- Hit Points at 1st Level: 10 + your Constitution modifier (2)
- Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d10 (or 6) + your Constitution modifier per fighter level after 1st
- Armor: All
- Weapons: All
- Tools: None
- Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution
- Background: Sage
- Skills: Arcana, History (background), Perception (race), Acrobatics, Insight (class)
- Leather armor, longbow, 20 arrows, rapier, two handaxes, explorer’s pack.
- Fighting Style: Archery
- Second Wind
- Action Surge
- Martial Archetype: Eldritch Knight
- Cantrips: Prestidigitation, Green-Flame Blade
- 1st: Absorb Elements, Burning Hands, Sleep
- Bonded Weapon
- Ability Score Improvement: +2 Dexterity (18)
- 1st: Shield
- Extra Attack (1)
- Ability Score Increase: Feat (Elemental Adept, Fire)
- War Magic
- 1st: Protection From Evil and Good
- Ability Score Increase: +2 Dexterity (20)
- 2nd: Invisibility
- Eldritch Strike
- Cantrips: Blade Ward
- 2nd: Shatter
- Extra Attack (2)
- 2nd: Shadow Blade
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Constitution (16), +1 Intelligence (15)
- Indomitable (2 uses)
- 3rd: Fireball
- Ability Score Increase: Feat (Resilient, +1 Intelligence)(16)
- 3rd: Counterspell
- Arcane Charge
- Ability Score Improvement: +2 Intelligence (18)
- 3rd: Glyph of Warding
- Action Surge (2 uses)
- Indomitable (3 uses)
- Improved War Magic
- Ability Score Improvement: +2 Constitution (18)
- 4th: Fire Shield
- Extra Attack (3)
- 4th: Polymorph
Playing an Eldritch Knight: A Beginner’s Guide
Eldritch Knights can be a tricky subclass to play in a way that feels effective, especially if you have a mental image of this class as a “wizard with a sword.” If you fall into that trap, you’re going to have an underwhelming time.
As a 1/3 caster, you’re pretty much going to always be limited to maybe one spell per engagement.
Also, because you’re going to be quite multi-ability dependent, gambling the success of one of your precious few spell slots on something with an attack roll or a saving throw is risky — the opportunity cost of an enemy passing a save against Hold Person and wasting your only 2nd-level spell for the day is too much.
Instead, you’re going to want to pick spells that will either deal some damage on a successful saving throw (picking up fireball is literally never a bad idea on any class at pretty much any level) or don’t require any rolls to be effective.
Stuff like Absorb Energy and Shield are really important here.
Honestly, because your spell list is always going to lag behind that of a more dedicated caster class, there’s very little point investing too heavily into offensive spells (of course, this all depends on your party composition).
You’ll get more use out of defensive and utility magic — anything to keep you in the fight for a few more rounds.
All things considered, Eldritch Knights can be loads of fun to play. Who wouldn’t want to be a teleporting magic badass that can summon their sword out of thin air?
Just make sure you’re managing a limited pool of magical resources. Run out too soon, and you’ll just be a regular old fighter with a few cantrips.
Of course, there’s nothing especially wrong with that either – just something to keep in mind before you take the plunge.
Hopefully this guide has set you in good stead to start playing this interesting, surprisingly tricky subclass at the table.
Just remember: pick your spells carefully, conserve your spell slots, and don’t forget that you’re a fighter with some spells, not a wizard with a sword. When in doubt, hit something. Twice.
Until next time, folks… Happy adventuring.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.