Last Updated on September 14, 2021
Now, realistically, there are two types of people that have found their way to this article. You either picked the fighter class because you were told it was going to be a no-brainer, or you are trying to optimize your character and you realized this is where it all begins. Or you fall somewhere in between and I’m not psychic.
In this guide, we’re going to explain what can be one of the most daunting decisions for martial classes: Which fighting style should I choose?
Even the classes that don’t naturally get the option find themselves drawn towards this feature in an attempt to improve their martial prowess.
We’ll do our best to break down what makes each fighting style unique and powerful in its own way. We’ll also touch on how to lean into the different fighting styles with various feats and subclasses.
What Are Fighting Styles in 5e?
Fighting styles are abilities that give martial combatants an edge in battle. Much like a subclass, they represent a character’s focused study in one particular form of combat. In 5e, these fighting styles are available to fighters, rangers, and paladins, but can also be picked up by anyone who takes the Fighting Initiate feat.
In the past, choosing a fighting style would lock you into one form of combat for the entire campaign. Recently however, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything has introduced us to a series of options that allow our character’s to be more fluid as they progress. One of those options is the Martial Versatility feature, which allows us to switch out a fighting style we know with one we don’t.
While martial versatility gives us the ability to explore different types of combat, it’s a good idea to plan on one fighting style anyways. Our style can affect other character choices we make along the way, so knowing which one we want is a good idea.
Fighting Styles Breakdown
There are 13 fighting styles in total, although each class is only given a handful of options. Fighters, as the most versatile combatants, have access to 11 styles, where rangers and paladins each have access to 7.
Archery F R
You gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls you make with ranged weapons.
There is no better style for someone fighting with any form of bow or crossbow. This is pretty straightforward, but it should be noted that the +2 only goes towards your attack rolls, not damage rolls.
If you choose this fighting style you better be prepared to pick up the sharpshooter feat, which vastly changes an archer’s combat prowess.
You’d also be wise to pick up the crossbow expert feat to ignore disadvantage on ranged attacks made within 5 feet, although admittedly this makes the most sense for someone who decides to use a crossbow.
Blessed Warrior P
You learn two cantrips of your choice from the cleric spell list. They count as paladin spells for you, and Charisma is your spellcasting ability for them. Whenever you gain a level in this class, you can replace one of these cantrips with another cantrip from the cleric spell list.
This paladin exclusive fighting style is rather interesting in that it gives no benefit to martial combat. It does, however, give the paladin class access to cantrips, which it would not otherwise receive.
Ironically, this fighting style makes the paladin a more viable caster. I would suggest picking up an offensive cantrip such as Sacred Flame and a supportive cantrip like Spare the Dying. Avoid utility spells, since the goal here is to improve your combat supremacy.
Blind Fighting F P R
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.
Blind fighting is an exciting addition made in TCoE. The rules for blindsight simply state that you can perceive your surroundings without sight, but this opens up a lot of opportunities within combat.
It means that in any blinding condition, be it magical darkness, fog, or what have you, you are one of the only people who knows what’s going on.
Keep in mind that being able to “perceive” your surroundings is not the same as seeing them. There are certain spells that this put’s off-limits, so rangers and paladins beware.
Putting this style together with the alert, sentinel, and polearm master feats makes the 10ft around you a death trap for any foe, visible or not.
Defense F P R
While you are wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to AC.
This may seem like a small benefit, but if you’re looking to be an unstoppable tank every little bit helps. That one point of armor can save you from a nasty hit but not without a well-built defensive character in every other aspect.
Up until the interception and protection fighting styles were introduced, this was the definitive choice for a tank. Now it’s the choice for anyone who isn’t going to be wielding a shield. Even then, this style is probably better off as a second fighting style for those rare builds that choose multiple.
Druidic Warrior R
You learn two cantrips of your choice from the Druid spell list. They count as ranger spells for you, and Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for them. Whenever you gain a level in this class, you can replace one of these cantrips with another cantrip from the Druid spell list.
This is the mirror to the paladin’s blessed warrior, giving rangers access to cantrips they wouldn’t normally be able to use. Similarly, you should go with a balanced selection of cantrips, like Primal Savagery and Guidance or Thornwhip and Resistance.
Dueling F P R
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 is a great bonus for one-handed weapons, which tend to be a bit weaker than larger two-handed weapons, and need some form of advantage to be a worthy choice. This bonus to damage bridges the gap that we see in versatile weapons like the longsword, which deal 1d8 when wielded with one hand and 1d10 when wielded with two.
You can still hold things in your off hand, so long as they don’t count as a weapon. Potions, shields, and other various combat tools make this an excellent option for anyone looking for a character that isn’t too complicated.
As for feats, you’ll definitely want to pick up the damage feat that matches your weapon of choice; slasher, piercer, or crusher. If your one handed weapon also has finesse, you might want to take the defensive duelist feat as well to give yourself an excellent bonus to AC.
Great Weapon Fighting F P
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 going to mean pretty often dealing at least 3 damage before modifiers. While this isn’t the most astounding benefit at first glance, you’ll get your money’s worth out of this style after only your first couple of combats.
Two-handed weapons often also have the heavy property, so you’re going to want to pick up the great weapon master feat as soon as you can. Throw in the savage attacker feat for an added opportunity to reroll your damage dice each turn and you’re basically golden.
Interception F P
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.
This is basically like a battle maneuver off of the battlemaster subclass. The prerequisite of wielding a shield or a simple or martial weapon basically is almost pointless, since there should be very few times you’re caught without one of the three.
This gives even a brute attacker the ability to fill the role of a tank/support class by keeping their allies safe from a whole lot of damage. With careful planning and coordination, you should be able to use this reaction every round of combat.
This can go well in any build, which is pretty remarkable. Even archers can benefit from this if they have a long-range caster at their side to protect.
Protection F P
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.
Protection is the way to go if you plan on using a shield. The shield itself already protects you with at least a +2 to armor, and now you get to protect your nearby allies by imposing disadvantage on attacks.
This fighting style says nothing about the type of attack, so it can be assumed that this works for any simple or martial weapons, as well as spell attacks that require spell attack rolls. This is a huge bonus and one of the most consistent ways to create disadvantage for your opponents within the game.
Picking up the shield master feat is going to make the shield more protective for you, giving you greater protection from spells and the ability to shove your opponents around, which is always fun.
Superior Technique F
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.
This is an interesting fighting style, and you’ll notice it’s only available to fighters. While it can be tempting to improve another martial archetype by choosing this fighting style, this is actually best used by a fighter who intends on becoming a battlemaster.
On its own, a single battle maneuver really isn’t as effective as most of the other options you have here. Sure, it might be really nice to parry or make a goading attack at the crucial moments, but it’s just too limited to make it a worthy option.
Your best bet is to use this as a headstart on your battlemaster build, giving you access to an extra maneuver and an extra superiority die.
Thrown Weapon Fighting F R
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.
I’m not sure how many thrown weapon specialists are out there, but I love this style and I hope it draws out some more. It’s really just the same as archery or dueling, with the +2 to damage, but the kicker is how it improves thrown weapons mechanically.
Normally, you can only interact with one object for free per turn, such as drawing an axe. After that you have to take an action to interact with anything else.
This effectively means that a fighter can draw as many weapons as he can attack with in a turn, which brings to mind a great picture of a bandolier full of daggers.
This is great for someone looking for a non-standard approach to a ranged attacker. Maybe you’re a big fan of Javelin from DC comics, who knows.
Two-Weapon Fighting F R ‘
When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack.
I often see people confused about how fighting with two weapons works in 5e. Normally, you must be wielding two light melee weapons in order to make a bonus action attack with your off-hand weapon after you make a standard attack. That bonus attack doesn’t normally add your modifiers to damage, which this fighting style remedies!
Flavor-wise, a fighter letting off 4 attacks in a turn might be described as swinging her blades back and forth, but technically all of the attacks in your main action are made with one weapon.
The dual wielder feat is an essential add-on to this style, eliminating the light property as a requisite for your weapons, giving you a bonus to AC, and allowing you to draw both of your weapons at the same time.
Unarmed Fighting F
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 a great fighting style that makes unarmed strikes a real option for anyone other than a monk. In fact, the monks unarmed strikes don’t do a d8 of damage until they are 11th level, giving you a wicked head start.
You can also deal damage to creatures grappled by you at the beginning of your turn, which means putting some focus on being a good grappler. Tavern brawler makes grappling creatures easier (even if d4 damage is redundant), and grappler gives you advantage while you have a creature grappled.
A build centered on this fighting style doesn’t need a weapon to be feared. In fact, it might just be better than some weapon builds out there.
All of the styles above are good at what they do. The only real exception being defense, which could do a bit better, +2 to AC isn’t that much to ask for man. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to think about how you want to perform in combat.
None of the fighting styles change the mechanics in such a groundbreaking way that they stand apart. The best way to choose is to decide which weapon or weapons calls to you, and then to decide whether you want to be more defensive or more offensive in your playstyle.
Fighting Initiate and Champion
The fighting initiate feat lets characters gain a fighting style from among the fighter’s list of options, so long as they have proficiency in a martial weapon. This means that other martial classes like the rogue or barbarian might seek to get in on the action. It also means that a class that gets a fighting style could pick up a second.
Another way to pick up a second fighting style is through the champion fighter subclass, but I’ll be honest with you, don’t take the champion subclass. It’s a pretty poor subclass that doesn’t add anything to the fighter’s abilities, and just feels very bogged down.
If you are a class that doesn’t typically receive a fighting style:
Full casters shouldn’t be looking into this as a serious option. If you are a full caster and you want to get a fighting style, multiclass into fighter. It’s not worth it to waste an ASI on a fighting style if this is your first foray into martial combat.
The only exception that I would make is blind fighting, since its bonus is only mildly related to martial combat, and casters can still benefit from extra perception.
For the classes who are left, you probably already have some idea of what fighting style you want. Again, it all depends on which weapons you’re using.
For rogues, this will probably be one-handed weapons that also have finesse, so dueling will go well, although an archery style might suit you if you’re more specialized at long range.
Barbarians like to deal a whole lot of damage so they’re going for great weapon fighting. Monks might even want a headstart on extra powerful punches with unarmed fighting.
There is no perfect option for each class, but each character’s build will have a clear fighting style. A good rule is “If you don’t know which fighting style to choose, you shouldn’t take the fighting initiate feat.”
If you are looking to pick up a second fighting style:
For anyone who is looking to double down on fighting styles, you can indeed take multiple. Champion fighters, as mentioned, get a second style at 10th level, and anyone fighter, paladin, or ranger can pick up the feat to grab an additional style if they so choose.
Some styles synergize with each other well, and some create opportunities for a more diverse build. Very clearly, the archery and dueling fighting styles won’t be used at the same time, but you could be very good at both depending on what the situation calls for.
My suggestion is to focus on synergy, and choose one’s that compliment each other.
A few options are as follows:
- Blindfighting pairs well with any melee focused style.
- Any defensive style can pair with any offensive style, unless otherwise specified.
- Dueling and Interception is great.
- Protection and Unarmed fighting don’t work because their shield clauses conflict.
- Archery and Two-Weapon fighting works well if you’re using multiple thrown weapons. Thrown weapons have both the thrown and ranged properties.
Fighting styles are a great way to make your martial character a more skilled combatant. If they seem daunting, don’t worry. Remember that you can always change your style whenever you get an ASI if you’re not feeling it.
As always, happy adventuring!
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.