Last Updated on January 22, 2023
From bandit kings and brutal warrior queens to desperate sellswords and barroom brawlers, fighters are probably the most diverse class in all of Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
As an archetype, the fighter encapsulates a broad variety of playstyles and narrative flavors. Some fighters excel at outmaneuvering their opponents with a combination of tactical expertise and martial skill.
Others overwhelm their foes with sheer speed and ferocity, or they prefer to strike down their enemies from horseback or from extreme range.
A few fighters even dabble in the magical arts, blending war casting, rune magic, or psionics with cold steel.
If you want to put the “sword” in “sword and sorcery” adventures, explore a unique, exciting, and diverse class, and become the all-round best at taking down bad guys with a big old sword, the fighter class may be for you.
In this in-depth guide, we’re going to start by exploring some of the characteristics that make the fighter really shine, where this class fits within the context of an adventuring party, and some of the different ways you can roleplay a fighter that go beyond being yet another “big guy with a sword.”
Then, we’ll take you through the features, abilities, subclasses, skills, feats, and more – basically, everything you need to understand how fighters work and how to go about building your own.
And lastly, we’ve taken a closer look at multiclassing fighters (dipping into other classes to complement this class’ abilities) and put together some suggested quick-start builds to help you get a character up and running in no time.
You can jump to any of this guide’s sections using the contents table, or keep scrolling to jump right in.
Why Play a Fighter?
In a world of high fantasy and magic, where wizards can call teleport across whole continents, clerics can wipe out entire cities with the wrath of their god, and druids can shapeshift into literal bears that shoot lightning out of their claws, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to play “some dumb jock with a pointy stick.”
Nevertheless, the Fighter is consistently ranked as the most popular class for people to play in D&D 5e. I think this is the case for a few reasons…
Fighters Are Simple
When I first started playing 5e, I have a distinct memory of thinking, “Hey, maybe a wizard would be fun,” flipping to the class entry, then to the entire chapter on spellcasting, then to the wizard spell list, then feeling very overwhelmed and deciding to play a fighter instead.
A lot of classes in D&D 5e differentiate themselves with extra subsystems, whether that’s a wizard’s spellcasting, a sorcerer’s metamagic, or a paladin’s channel divinity.
While fighters do unlock more complex abilities and even spellcasting as they level up and choose a subclass further down the line, at 1st level, a fighter is basically regular person with a few weapons and single ability to keep track of.
If you’re still learning the game and want to be able to focus on things like saving throws, rolling to hit, and what all the freaking acronyms mean, then picking a fighter frees up a lot of headspace to do stuff other than frantically scan your character sheet for a spell or ability you may have forgotten to use.
Simple Doesn’t Mean Boring
This is the criticism I see leveled at fighters the most often: “But you’re just a person with a sword. I don’t want to spend every single turn just saying I hit them with my sword.”
While it’s true that your character sheet is going to have fewer options to choose from than, say, a bard or cleric’s, that’s not a bad thing, and it certainly doesn’t mean playing a fighter is boring.
Having fewer options means that fighters have to get creative.
They have to use their environment, their gear, and their knowledge of the world; playing a fighter forces you to look outside of your character sheet for the solution to problems (assuming the solution isn’t “I hit it with my sword.”).
Honestly, whenever I see someone playing a fighter who understands this, they always seem to be having a lot more fun than everyone else.
They’re the one coming up with cunning plans, rigging weird traps, shoving people off cliffs, and swinging from the chandeliers – all while the wizard player sits and frets over whether to cast levitate or grease.
Fighters Don’t Have To Stay Simple
A lot of other classes frontload the majority of their complexity, meaning you need to learn to use spell slots or some other form of resource management, like wild shape or bardic inspiration, right out of the gate.
Fighters, by contrast, start out as simple as you please, then get more complex as you level up. It’s one more little detail that makes them the perfect class for a new player.
Then, as your fighter grows in power and experience, you start to unlock degrees of versatility that other classes can only dream of (suck it, Artificer!).
Want to take the plunge and inject some spellcasting into your build? There’s a subclass for that.
Want to be a highly analytical tactician who controls the battlefield with unique abilities? No problem.
Want to dip your toes into psionics and kill people with your brain and your sword? Way ahead of you.
In summary, the fighter is a class that new players and veterans alike can come back to time and time again.
You can build a fighter to suit just about any concept or idea you have in your head and tailor their progression to suit how you like to play the game.
I’ve played fighters as grizzled detectives working for the FBI (fantasy bureau of investigations), snooty noblemen whose primary contribution in battle was telling everyone else how to do their jobs better, and showboating duelists sworn to defend the honor of an evil queen.
Fighters are awesome for the same reason that Batman is awesome.
In a world where literal gods and goddesses walk the earth, where dragons raze whole villages to the ground in a single breath, and bards can hypnotize a hydra with a song, fighters manage to hold their own without magic powers or the blessings of a deity.
How? They’re just really, really good at kicking ass.
The Fighter’s Defining Features
Setting aside for a minute some of the more specialized abilities that fighters get as a result of their Martial Archetype (subclass), there are several abilities that define all fighters, all of which conspire to make them, well, really good at fighting stuff.
Some fighter abilities, like their 1st-level ability Second Wind, allow them to stay in combat for longer, regaining a burst of hit points once per short rest. Later on, the fighter’s Indomitable feature lets them reroll failed saving throws.
These abilities, combined with a d10 Hit Die, proficiency with shield and heavy armor, and frequent ability score increases, conspire to make the fighter one of the best defensive classes in the game (outshone only by the paladin and maybe certain flavors of monk).
It’s offense, however, where the fighter really shines. First, this class gets the ability to use any weapon in the game from 1st level, which can be invaluable when it comes to customizing your playstyle.
Fighting Styles let you customize your approach to combat even further, letting you focus on things like Archery, Defense, Dueling, and Two Weapon Fighting.
But it’s the fighter’s Extra Attack that truly sets this class head and shoulders above any other character who wants to mix it up in melee or ranged combat.
Sure, other classes also get a second attack at 5th level, but no other class continues accumulating additional attacks all the way up to 20th level, when the fighter makes a full four attacks per round as standard.
The fighter’s defensive and offensive capabilities are formidable, but it’s honestly this class’ versatility that’s the real selling point for me.
The fighter’s Action Surge ability is, hands down, one of the most powerful abilities in the game, allowing the fighter to just take an extra action (whether that means attacking again, casting a spell, tackling an enemy to the ground, dodging and weaving through a melee, or anything else that helps give them an edge) once per short rest.
The Fighter’s Limitations
Now, as much as I love the fighter, I’m the first to admit the class isn’t perfect.
While fighters really shine at early levels (between 3rd and 7th is their sweet spot, I think) they admittedly start to feel a little outclassed by casters from level 10 onwards.
While getting to take four attacks per round is undeniably cool, at the same level, the party’s wizard can cast Wish, fundamentally altering the fabric of reality once per day.
Obviously, by that point, your fighter will probably have gotten involved in politics, maybe even ruling their own kingdom or demiplane, or they’ll have legendary magic items that help them make up the difference.
Speaking of making up the difference, the other major drawback of the fighter is a near-total lack of innate magical damage.
By the time you get to level 5 and beyond, lots of monsters and enemies are going to start having resistance to nonmagical damage, so again, you’re going to need to invest in magical items to keep yourself relevant.
The Fighter’s Role Within the Party
The versatility of the fighter means that there are a number of roles they can fulfil within a party.
I’ve seen fighters with essentially zero melee functionality who hung out at the back of the party wearing leather armor and carrying a heavy crossbow.
I’ve seen fighters who served as the party’s “face,” leveraging a decent Charisma score into becoming the respectable, socially capable representative of a party full of edgy rogues and sinister warlocks.
Mostly, however, I see fighters in the front line, drawing the enemy’s attention away from the squishy casters and the rogue, walking right up to the biggest, baddest thing on the battlefield and hitting it over the head with a greatsword until it rethinks its career path.
You can tweak this, of course.
Picking the Protection fighting style and the Battle Master archetype (with the right maneuvers), paired with plate mail and a shield, can turn you into a walking brick wall, capable of weathering the most powerful attacks and keeping the rest of your party safe.
Or you can go for a more mobile, graceful build that runs rings around your enemies, dishes out tons of damage, and lets someone else (probably the big, dumb paladin) handle “tank duty.”
Obviously, unless you multiclass or take a feat, you’re never going to be the party’s healer. And, even if you choose to play an Eldritch Knight or a Psi Warrior, you’re never going to be a full-on caster.
The fighter’s lane is wider than most classes, but don’t be fooled into thinking it doesn’t exist.
Especially at higher levels, your job becomes keeping the super powerful, rather squishy specialists alive long enough to win the fight, rather than trying to be a self-sufficient loner.
How To Roleplay a Fighter
As mechanically versatile as fighters are, when it comes to roleplaying, there are virtually no limits.
More than any other class, the fighter excels at taking any character concept you can think of and making it playable with the least amount of grief.
Whether you want to play a brutal dragonborn witch hunter, a kindly dwarf who protects her mountain village, a daring spy who trades veiled insults as well as sword blows, you can execute most concepts with a fighter.
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, or 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.
The Fighter Class Features
Now, let’s look at the class features that define the fighter in more detail. In this section, we’ll present the defining elements of the fighter as well as little of our own thoughts (in italics) on their effectiveness.
All fighters start off with the following traits and features at 1st level.
Hit Dice: 1d10 per fighter level
The gold standard for tanky martial classes, 1d10 puts you on even footing with paladins and rangers. Only the barbarian has more hit points at 1st level – and they don’t even get any armor.
Armor: All armor, shields
Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons
This is why so many multiclass builds start with a fighter. The ability to equip and use any weapon, piece of armor, or shield you come across goes a long way toward making you super effective in combat and highly survivable from 1st level.
Not great, but if you really want a tool proficiency (never in the history of D&D has the BBEG ever been defeated by Brewer’s Supplies – although that sort of thing can be helpful if you want to start your own business at some point down the line), you can get one from your background.
Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution
Constitution is great as it’s a common spell save, keeps you from dying to poison, and helps you fend off the effects of exhaustion – which can be really, really nasty.
Strength is… fine. It’s useful for resisting effects that might knock you prone or restrain you, but it’s still a fairly uncommon saving throw.
Skills: Choose two skills from Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Survival.
Two skills isn’t a whole lot (classes like the rogue and bard get more), but you at least get a broad range to choose from.
When you create a Fighter, you get to pick a fighting style that helps to emphasize what you’re good at in combat.
There are six fighting styles in the Basic Rules and a further five available through Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
You choose one fighting style at 1st level. While you can gain additional fighting styles by multiclassing or taking the Fighting Initiate feat, you can never take the same style twice.
Archery: You gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls you make with ranged weapons. Great if you’re playing a Dexterity-based, ranged-focused build. If you’re going to be favoring melee, skip this.
Defense: While you are wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to AC. This is perfect if you want to beef up your defensive capabilities and serve as your party’s tank.
Paired with heavy armor and a shield, the Defense fighting style lets you have an AC of 19 at 1st level. Laugh in the faces of goblins and other low-CR monsters as their puny butter knives rattle off your impenetrable carapace. Mwahaha!
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.
This perfectly combines with a sword and shield setup, allowing you to get the +2 AC and statistically better damage output than if you had a d10 two-handed weapon. Highly recommend it.
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.
This is undeniably the most badass fighting style, although it isn’t quite as statistically good as Dueling.
Nevertheless, a great offensively focused damage option. Use with a greatsword (which uses 2d6 for damage) for maximum opportunities to reroll 1s and 2s.
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.
This is better on paper than in practice as it requires your squishy allies to stay on the front line with you rather than a full 15 feet behind you where they belong.
Two-Weapon Fighting: When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack.
Great if you’re not playing a subclass that makes use of its bonus action (like the Samurai).
This is a fantastic way to make the most of taking as many attacks as possible per turn. Pair with the Dual Wielder feat to swing around two longswords like a champ.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Blind Fighting: You have blindsight with a range of 10 feet.
Within that range, you can effectively see anything that isn’t behind total cover, even if you’re blinded or in darkness. Moreover, you can see an invisible creature within that range, unless the creature successfully hides from you.
As thematically cool as a blind fighter sounds, this is still a very niche option. Maybe consider it for an Underdark campaign.
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 (to a minimum of 0 damage).
You must be wielding a shield or a simple or martial weapon to use this reaction.
If you’re playing with a particularly squishy group of allies, this can be a good solution. It’s better than Protection.
Superior Technique: You learn one maneuver of your choice from among those available to the Battle Master archetype and gain superiority die, which is a d6.
I’d wholeheartedly recommend this fighting style, but one d6 superiority die and a single maneuver per short rest feels kind of underpowered.
Still, the extra versatility of a maneuver like Bait and Switch or Riposte makes for a good use of your reaction. The Martial Adept Feat is still probably a better option.
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.
Perfect for a flavorful, close-quarters specialist that channels Danny Trejo’s character from Desperado.
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.
This is an unbelievably powerful fighting style if you’re willing to commit to the character concept.
You have a limited well of stamina that you can draw on to protect yourself from harm.
On your turn, you can use a bonus action to regain hit points equal to 1d10 + your fighter level. Once you use this feature, you must finish a short or long rest before you can use it again.
This is a (quite literal) life-saver at 1st and 2nd level.
The ability to heal yourself by 1d10 plus your fighter level every short rest goes a long way toward compensating for just how squishy 1st level characters can be, and having this on tap can make the difference between a hard-fought victory and a messy retreat (or worse).
Starting at 2nd level, you can push yourself beyond your normal limits for a moment. 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 on the same turn.
This. Is. So. Good.
Not only does it mean that (if you’re using two-weapon fighting) a 2nd-level fighter can make a full three attacks on their turn, but it’s an ability that has virtually limitless utility.
Other than the Haste spell (which casters can’t access before 5th level), there’s basically nothing else in the game that lets you just, like, do another thing (oh, there’s Strength Before Death, which is ANOTHER FIGHTER ABILITY!).
Given how important the action economy is in 5e, Action Surge is a top-tier ability.
Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.
The number of attacks increases to three when you reach 11th level in this class and to four when you reach 20th level in this class.
You get to hit stuff more often. What’s not to like? Seriously though, this is the real meat of what sets the fighter apart in terms of damage output.
Beginning at 9th level, you can reroll a saving throw that you fail. If you do so, you must use the new roll, and you can’t use this feature 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.
Another great survivability mechanic that’s best saved for getting out of control and manipulation effects like Fear and Command (especially as your Wisdom and Intelligence saving modifiers probably aren’t all that great).
In addition to the extra fighting styles mentioned above, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced another optional rule for fighters: Martial Versatility.
4th-level fighter feature
Whenever you reach a level in this class that grants the Ability Score Improvement feature, you can do one of the following as you shift the focus of your martial practice:
Replace a fighting style you know with another fighting style available to fighters.
If you know any maneuvers from the Battle Master archetype, you can replace one maneuver you know with a different maneuver.
Honestly, this just formalizes something that most (non douchey) DMs would just let you do anyway. Still, it’s nice to have a rules-legal option for reworking a character concept that maybe isn’t panning out as well as you’d hoped.
Creating a Fighter, Step-by-Step
In this section, we’re going to break down some of the decisions you’ll need to make when building a new fighter from the ground up.
For a list of Martial Archetypes and quick-start builds that work off of the advice in this section, see below.
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.
Beyond that, you should think about your subclass.
An Eldritch Knight would probably want to place a good Intelligence score on equal footing with or possibly above their Constitution, and a Samurai would want to make sure their Wisdom isn’t total garbage, for example.
Otherwise, just distribute your stats in a way that gels with your character concept from a roleplaying perspective.
Remember, fighters are a versatile class and, as long as your chosen weapon modifier is good, you can kind of make anything work.
Optimization and power gaming are all well and good, but none of it means anything if you don’t actually like your character.
In general, though, most fighters are going to want to arrange their ability scores like so…
Tier II: Constitution
Tier III: Dexterity, Wisdom, Charisma
Dump Tier: Intelligence
Strength: The modifier that drives your melee (and thrown) weapon attacks, which really are the heart and soul of any fighter’s build.
You want to get this stat as high as possible – at least 16 at 1st level, preferably 18 – using your starting ability scores and racial bonuses.
Dexterity: Dexterity is never going to be a bad thing to put your points into; it’s the saving throw that comes up most frequently in play and helps with some of the game’s most frequently used skills like Stealth – where heavy armor is going to give you disadvantage.
Also, because fighters can use any and all weapons, a fully Dexterity-focused build that uses a finesse weapon, like a rapier, and a ranged weapon, like a longbow, is absolutely viable.
Constitution: Constitution equals more hit points. If you want to live your best, fighter-ey-est life, you’re going to need to be able to take a beating as well as dish one out.
More Constitution is how you make that happen, especially if you’re playing a build that favors speed and damage over AC.
Intelligence: This can definitely be useful as a way to power skills like History, Religion, and Investigation (my favorite fighter I ever played was a City Watch Investigator with Intelligence as her highest stat. Was it optimal? No. Was is fun? You bet *True Detective Theme Intensifies*).
However, most of the time, there are probably going to be other people in your party who can already use those skills, so unless you like the idea of playing a higher Intelligence character or it helps with your backstory, you can feel free to make this your dump stat.
Wisdom: All of the skills attached to Wisdom are kind of useless for a fighter, with the exception of Perception, which is arguably the most useful skill in the whole game.
Because perception checks are one of the main ways you glean new information about the world, putting a few extra points into this score is never going to be a bad idea.
Charisma: Social skills like Deception, Persuasion, Performance, and Intimidation are never going to go amiss, but unless you’re going for a dip into Hexblade warlock (or something else Charisma-driven, like a Bard) later down the line, this isn’t a super high priority.
When it comes to picking a race for your fighter, you’re going to want to keep a few questions in mind.
Does this race give us the ability score increases that we need? Do we gain access to interesting or useful abilities? Is it freaking cool?
Custom Lineages and 5.5e
It’s worth noting that if you like the aesthetics and roleplaying elements of a particular race but their abilities don’t fit a fighter, you can recreate them using the custom lineage options available in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
Also, the way that D&D 5e handles races and innate bonuses (or penalties) is set to change pretty dramatically over the next few years with the coming “Next Evolution of D&D” looking like it might do away with inherent ability score bonuses altogether, meaning you can play whichever race you want in whatever class and still have it be “optimal.”
With juicy +2 Strength and +1 Constitution bonuses, Half-Orcs were basically made to be fighters.
You also get proficiency in the Intimidation skill (perfectly thematic and helpful since fighters are usually a bit short on skills to begin with), extra damage on critical hits thanks to your Savage Attacks feature, and Relentless Endurance, which means that once per long rest, if you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead.
All around, Half-Orcs are perfectly geared toward being strength-based melee combatants.
In particular, the extra damage they deal with a critical hit means any subclass of Fighter that can attack and/or crit more often, like the Samurai or the Champion, is going to benefit the most.
The pinnacle of versatility, Variant humans can do just about anything and are the only basic-rules race that gets a feat at 1st level, which can be a huge boost to the effectiveness of your build.
In addition to their feat, Variant Humans get to add +1 to two ability scores of their choice, which can be perfect for rounding up odd-numbered scores to get that all-important +1 modifier.
If you want to emphasize the fighter’s defensive qualities, Earth Genasi (which get +2 Constitution and +1 Strength) are ideal.
You also gain the ability to ignore difficult terrain made of earth and stone and can cast Pass Without Trace once per long rest.
For a fighter who spends their life clanking around in heavy armor with disadvantage on stealth checks, being able to virtually guarantee you’ll pass even one check a day can be invaluable.
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, and you should feel free to pick based on either your character backstory or whichever skill matches up with your second/third-highest ability score.
Backgrounds are both a great way to help flesh out your character’s personal history and serve as your primary source of extra skills, tool proficiencies, and languages.
Each background also has its own special feature – something which I maintain is a highly underused aspect of D&D.
Take 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 competent within the world in which they live as well as help the DM flesh out that world and draw players deeper into its lore.
The Soldier background is 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), 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.
Feats are the subject of a fair amount of debate in D&D 5e.
Some people argue that they’re an underpowered and unnecessary overcomplication of an already complicated game, some people claim they’re overpowered, and some people say that if a +2 bonus to Constitution was good enough for their father and his father before him, it’s good enough for them and the kids these days don’t know how good they’ve got it, and so on.
While a lot of DMs tend to ignore Feats (they’re a somewhat maligned element of 5e), if you’d rather get something a little more flavorful than an ability score bump, they’re a great way to add new abilities, spells, buffs, and utility to the fighter.
There are simply tons of feats available to you, and we’re not going to break down all of them here but rather offer up a few options that work well with the fighter specifically.
A consistently strong option for characters who want to get the drop on their opponents.
The Alert feat grants a +5 bonus to your initiative rolls, prevents you from being surprised while you’re conscious, and enemies you cannot see don’t get advantage on attacks against you.
All told, this feat does a great job of enhancing your survivability and effectiveness when it comes to taking the fight to your foes.
Since the launch of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything dramatically expanded the list of Battle Master Maneuvers, the Martial Adept Feat has become a fantastic pickup for a bit of extra damage and battlefield control.
When you pick up this Feat, you learn two maneuvers of your choice from the Battle Master archetype, and you gain a d6 superiority die that resets on a short rest.
There are a bunch of Maneuvers that can enhance your abilities in combat, but the one we’d recommend is Brace.
When an enemy you can see moves within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to expend one superiority die and make one weapon attack against that creature.
If the attack hits, add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.
Great Weapon Master
For the fighter who wants to throw everything they have into their offensive capabilities, a greatsword and the Great Weapon Master feat are practically required.
Once per turn, when you score a critical hit with a heavy melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points, you can make one melee weapon attack as a bonus action.
Regardless of race, class, or subclass, Lucky is never a bad pick for a feat. Three times a day, you can reroll an ability check, saving throw, or attack roll.
The kicker is that you don’t have to be the one to roll the d20; you can impose disadvantage on an enemy’s roll as well.
If you want to take two-weapon fighting to the next level, the Dual Wielder feat bumps up your AC by 1 while using a melee weapon in each hand and allows you to dual wield weapons without the light property.
There are a ton of other great feats that synergize with the fighter, depending on the playstyle, subclass, multiclass, or aesthetic you’re going for.
Some other honorable mentions include: Tough, Mobile, Savage Attacker, Sentinel, Piercer, Slasher, Crossbow Expert, Fey Touched, Magic Initiate, Grappler, and even some racial feats like Orcish Fury and Elven Accuracy.
Multiclassing can be an effective way of adding even more versatility to a character, accentuating its strengths or compensating for its weaknesses.
It’s also another useful tool if taking a particular class from 1st to 20th level doesn’t line up with a character concept you have in mind.
You can check out our full guide to multiclassing fighters here, but we’ve also rounded up a few of our favorite options below that keep three key points in mind:
- Ability Score Synergy: Fighters tend toward having high Strength and Constitution, so multiclass options that can also make use of Strength are going to be worth considering. That being said, Fighters are pretty close to being Single-Ability-Dependent (SAD), so multiclasses that require points in a different stat are still feasible.
- Complement and Compensate: The golden rule of multiclassing; pick something that makes your base class better at what they already do (or at least doesn’t make them worse at it) or (preferably and) helps make up for any glaring issues they might have.
For fighters, this means improving combat abilities with weapons and (on the compensation side) introducing some spellcasting, AoE damage, and battlefield control if possible.
- Don’t Stack Key Abilities: Extra Attack, the fighter’s core ability, doesn’t stack; if you have a fighter with extra attack and a ranger with extra attack, you don’t get double the attacks, so don’t waste levels on multiclass options that give you things you already have.
All that being said, let’s take a look at three perfectly viable options for a fighter multiclass.
Keep in mind that these options assume that you’re going to be taking most of your levels in fighter; there are few classes that can’t benefit from 1-3 levels of fighter, but those are X/Fighter Multiclass builds, and we’re doing Fighter/X here.
This is definitely the most straightforward multiclass build as both classes typically favor Strength and Constitution.
Adding a few levels of barbarian to your fighter is basically going to turn your melee-offensive combat abilities up to 11, admittedly at the expense of everything else.
You gain access to rage, reckless attack, and barbarian subclasses like the Zealot and the Bear Totem; this can do a lot for your survivability if you end up as the party’s only frontliner.
While this can be a tricky multiclass to pull off, the combination of a rogue’s Sneak Attack damage and a fighter’s multiattack (not to mention Action Surge) shouldn’t be ignored.
The fighter also brings survivability and a broader suite of weapon proficiencies to the rogue, and the rogue provides a much broader range of skills and tool proficiencies – not to mention Expertise – to the highly combat-focused fighter.
Rogues also require pretty minimal leveling to start paying off with sneak attack, cunning action, and a roguish archetype all coming online by 3rd level.
The only major drawback is that lower rogue levels means significantly less sneak attack damage. However, you can compensate for that with the right choice of subclass.
Personally, when blending together a fighter and a rogue, I want to keep things as simple as possible. To do that, I’d recommend using the “simplest” rogue subclass, the Assassin.
Assassins are all about dishing out massive damage with every hit, so they pair well with the fighter’s ability to hit two, three, or four times per turn instead of once.
Assassins can get advantage on attack rolls against targets that come after them in the initiative order (so the Alert feat is also basically a must-have here), and any hit they score against a creature that is surprised is a crit.
Warlocks are probably the only “full caster” that I’d recommend blending with a martial class like a fighter. Take a Battle Master fighter, unlock maneuvers, then divert into warlock for a while.
Both classes have abilities that reset on a short rest, meaning you’ll frequently have all your defining moves off cooldown.
Warlock invocations are a great way to tweak and buff different aspects of your character (although you may want to leave Eldritch Blast invocations alone and focus on at-will spellcasting and other buffs) and synergize really well with Battle Master Maneuvers.
Fighter Subclasses (Martial Archetypes)
At 3rd level, all fighters get to divert toward one subclass or another. This is where fighters get one of their biggest power spikes, not to mention unlock a whole lot of versatility.
We’ll go into each fighter subclass in detail in their own articles, but here’s a quick overview to help you get started.
Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Conceptually, the Arcane Archer is an amazing subclass that gives you magical effects you can apply to your arrows that range from ensnaring enemies or dealing extra damage to banishing targets from reality for a few moments.
This martial archetype should make you feel like fantasy Hawkeye.
But… It falls short in terms of execution. Because you only get two magical shots per short rest, you end up feeling less like Hawkeye and more like a warlock with extra steps.
Source: Player’s Handbook
Honestly, if I play a fighter, I always reach for the Battle Master at 3rd level. This martial archetype blends versatility and depth with real mechanical impact.
The core of the Battle Master build are Maneuvers, special abilities that you trigger using a resource called Superiority Dice.
These dice (which replenish on a short rest, meaning you can usually use between eight and 12 maneuvers per adventuring day – see why the Arcane Archer feels underwhelming?) boost your damage and increase your defense, control, and utility.
Battle Master Maneuvers also typically work with both melee and ranged attacks, meaning you have even more choice when it comes to how you approach combat.
Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
An excellent defense-focused subclass that elevates a fighter’s ability to stand in the front line and stop enemies from reaching their squishier allies at the back.
The Cavalier’s Unwavering Mark ability lets you draw powerful foes into a de facto compelled duel and prevents weaker enemies from making a break for it.
You basically become a black hole in the middle of the fight, drawing all your enemies’ attention toward you. This subclass pairs great with the Sentinel feat.
The only reason this isn’t a top-tier archetype is that the Cavalier’s focus on mounted combat (famously difficult in a dungeon) can make the subclass feel like it’s wasting its potential if you ever dismount.
Also, the rules for mounted combat in 5e kind of suck, and this archetype really really wants you to engage with them as much as possible.
Source: Player’s Handbook
The truly archetypical fighter and a solid contender for the best first-time subclass in the game.
This is mostly because everything the Champion fighter does is basically a passive ability; the subclass has, like, no buttons to push.
While that translates into better skill proficiencies, a hugely improved chance of getting critical hits, and a 20th-level capstone feature that makes you nigh-unkillable, it’s also the reason why players invariably get very, very bored with the Champion.
If you want to multiclass down the line or maybe don’t care very much about special abilities and tracking resources, then the Champion could be a solid choice for you. Otherwise, there are cooler options out there.
Source: Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
A really interesting subclass that’s easy to learn and hard to master as it relies on you having a good understanding of positioning to make the best possible use of your Echo – a shadowy duplicate of your fighter that can do battle alongside you.
It’s a great subclass for small parties as an extra “body” lets you tie up enemies, block incoming missile fire, scout ahead safely, and generally be a lot more effective without putting your actual character in harm’s way.
Source: Player’s Handbook
An amazing blend of martial skill and arcane spellcasting, the Eldritch Knight gets limited access to the wizard’s spell list and some more powerful cantrips, making this one of the most utility-focused fighters in the game.
It’s also the perfect class for newer players who want to play around with spellcasting without making it a central focus of their build.
On a more thematic note, Eldritch Knights have the ability to psychically bond with their weapon and summon it to their hand at will, which is both insanely cool and has some interesting gameplay possibilities.
The only reason this isn’t a top-tier subclass is the fact that, with the need for a decent Intelligence score as well as Strength/Dexterity and Constitution, this archetype is verging on being dangerously multi-ability dependent.
Source: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
The introduction of psionic subclasses as part of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything gives us the Psi Warrior, an interesting archetype that focuses on damage and mobility.
Mechanically, the Psi Warrior feels like a cross between the Eldritch Knight (it gets access to a list of what are essentially spells) and the Battle Master (it gets a pool of psionic dice that feel a lot like superiority dice) but manages to feel less versatile and impactful than either one.
If you like the idea of a psionic character (like a Githyanki Knight), then this is by no means a bad pickup. If you want to feel as impactful as possible, there are better options out there.
Purple Dragon Knight/Banneret
Source: Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
This archetype tries to do something that I really like in principle: take the fighter and make them work as a charisma-based “face” that can also buff and support their allies. In practice, however, this subclass is a real mess.
The Purple Dragon Knight/Banneret (if you’re not playing in the Forgotten Realms setting) gets some deeply underwhelming abilities that kind of turn them into a paladin without the magic… or the damage… or the spells at the expense of making them largely ineffectual in combat.
If your DM is open to homebrew content, we’ve put together some advice for “fixing” this thoroughly underwhelming subclass here. Otherwise, hard pass.
Source: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Rune Knights harness the power of magical glyphs to give themselves semi-permanent buffs that let them do special stuff.
Mechanically, these feel like more combat-focused versions of artificer infusions, and my only complaint is that I wish there were more of them.
There are six runes to choose from, and you’ll unlock five of them by the time you fully level up, so there aren’t many ways to make this subclass feel diverse.
That being said, if you can manage your limited pool of rune effects, you’ll find this is a really engaging subclass to play with lots of meaty utility options – even if it does kind of lack damage output.
Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
The only archetype that gives the Battle Master a run for its money.
The Samurai is almost entirely focused on offensive damage output, making the Samurai a classic “striker” style subclass, but some of its social abilities also mean it can serve as a passable “face” for the party in a pinch.
Samurai also have what may be the best capstone ability in the game.
When you’re reduced to 0 hit points at 20th level, your Strength before Death ability lets you take a whole additional turn (a whole turn!), allowing you to dish out even more damage or chug a healing potion.
The only drawback to this class is that it doesn’t really do much to support anyone else in the party.
But does that really matter when you can charge across the battlefield and make six attacks with advantage and a greatsword in a single turn of combat?
Fighter Quick-Start Guides
Now that we’ve broken down the fighter’s defining features, abilities, and subclasses, we’re going to give you some quick-start builds that you can use to get different flavors of fighter up and running in no time.
A fighter that dominates their enemies, supports their allies, and controls the flow of battle.
- Class/Subclass: Battle Master Fighter 20
- Maneuvers: Bait and Switch, Commander’s Strike, Disarming Attack, Distracting Strike, Parry, Rally
- Race: Human (variant)
- Skills: Athletics, Perception
- Background: Noble
- Feats: Martial Adept, Inspiring Leader
- Fighting Style: Dueling
- Starting Equipment: Longsword, Shield, Chain Mail, Light Crossbow (20 bolts), Explorer’s Pack
An unassailable wall of muscle and steel, capable of keeping even the squishiest of spellcasters safe behind you.
- Class/Subclass: Cavalier Fighter 20
- Race: Mountain Dwarf
- Skills: Insight, Perception
- Background: Soldier
- Feats: Durable, Sentinel
- Fighting Style: Defense
- Starting Equipment: Longsword, Shield, Chain Mail, Light Crossbow (20 bolts), Explorer’s Pack
- Class/Subclass: Samurai 20
- Race: Tortle (ironically)
- Skills: Insight, Perception
- Background: Mercenary Veteran
- Feats: Charger, Great Weapon Master
- Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting
- Starting Equipment: Leather Armor, Longbow (20 arrows), Greatsword, Longsword, Handaxes x2, Explorer’s pack
A down and dirty build that hits hard, crits harder, crits often, and is beautifully simple to play.
- Class/Subclass: Champion Fighter 11/Barbarian 9
- Race: Half-Orc
- Skills: Athletics, Perception
- Background: Urban Bounty Hunter
- Feats: Grappler, Tough
- Fighting Style: Unarmed Fighting
- Starting Equipment: Doesn’t matter
A fighter/rogue multiclass that uses speed and grace to outmaneuver and wear down their opponents while inflicting lethal damage.
- Class/Subclass: 13/Assassin Rogue 7
- Stats: Prioritize Dexterity Instead of Strength
- Race: Wood Elf
- Skills: Insight, Perception
- Background: Criminal
- Feats: Alert, Dual Wielder
- Fighting Style: Defense
- Starting Equipment: Leather Armor, Longbow (20 arrows), Shortsword, Shortsword, Handaxes x2, Dungeoneer’s pack
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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.