The Cavalier. Ever since Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the Cavalier has been riding into battle, atop a magnificent horse. They are the honorable defenders of armies and powerful people alike. It took Xanathar’s Guide to Everything for them to get introduced to 5e. In this edition, they are about the same as ever; loyal to a code, typically of noble rank, leaving a comfortable home for glory or revenge. These mounted nights are well-known amongst the land, but they’ve always had issues fitting into adventuring parties. Will 5E’s rendition suffer the same fate? Find out, in our Cavalier 5E Guide.
The White Knight: Cavalier 5E Fighter
The Cavalier fighter archetype made some drastic changes in the transition to 5E. Instead of being reliant on mounted combat (difficult when dungeons sometimes require climb checks), the Cavalier is simply better at riding mounts. Replacing their horse is a mark mechanic that makes it difficult for enemies to fight anyone that isn’t the Cavalier. In addition, this fighter gets loads of mechanics to make them the center of attention, and the best Opportunity Attack support in the game. Oh, and you’re a Frontline Defender. No variety in builds here.
The Cavalier is the only Fighter archetype that gets 3 abilities at level 3. Two of them are more flavor-based. This is one of them.
When you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you gain proficiency in one of the following skills of your choice: Animal Handling, History, Insight, Performance, or Persuasion. Alternatively, you learn one language of your choice.
Fighters have extremely limited skill choices, both in number and options. That’s unbecoming of the noble upbringing of a Cavalier, so now you get an additional proficiency.
Animal Handling makes a lot of sense. You’re a talented rider (see the next ability) so you’ve probably got some natural affinity for animals. This ability is somewhat situational, but clever usage of Animal Handling might get you out of some Beast combats. Or make Druids more likely to not attack your party, either or.
History is extremely difficult to use, since it requires events to be centered around the past of an area. Rarely is History strictly bad, and there’s a ton of times where your History check will help a situation. If any member of your party has any Intelligence, though, you’ll probably be outmatched here.
Insight is good for Fighters; only one person can talk to someone else, but everyone else in the conversation can decide whether or not to trust them! You can sit in the background and see if the person talking is telling the truth, then talk with your party later. This is still probably better done by your Cleric, but you’ve got a small handle on it.
Performance is primarily useless, unless your GM is super creative. Maybe the dragon is a huge fan of the drums, or your singing can cause a distraction. Consider getting Animal Handling though, since you could use a bird as a pretty useful distraction and teach your horse tricks.
Persuasion is useful only if nobody in your party has Charisma. This is early enough that your party might have survived without a good talker until now, but you’re gonna need one soon. Hopefully, someone else can pick up that mantle.
Don’t learn a language; magic is far too efficient at crossing language barriers, and skills are more useful.
Personally, I’d choose Animal Handling, unless your party really needs to fill in skill gaps. Teach that horse how to do cool stuff!
Born to the Saddle
This is the second flavor ability. You gain exactly 3 bonuses, and you may never use any of them.
Starting at 3rd level, your mastery as a rider becomes apparent. You have advantage on saving throws made to avoid falling off your mount. If you fall off your mount and descend no more than 10 feet, you can land on your feet if you’re not incapacitated.
Finally, mounting or dismounting a creature costs you only 5 feet of movement, rather than half your speed.
Mounted combat is ridiculously hard to make work in traditional 5e, but your GM might throw you a bone and give you a Griffin, or a climbing creature. In those cases, let’s go over the benefits.
“Saving Throws” should just read Dexterity saves, since those are the only saving throw type that keeps you from falling. The DC of those Dexterity saves is 10, so early on, this’ll keep you on your horse more often than not. Fantastic!
Speaking of early-on, you’re going to fall less than 10 feet until you get flying mounts. This basically gives you half your movement speed if you fail the check to dismount… which is okay? It’s a good plan B, I guess, but you probably wanted to stay on that horse in the first place.
Mounting and dismounting rarely happens outside of combat. Now, you get 5-10 extra feet of movement if it happens during combat. Cool, I suppose.
If you can, get a Griffin or something to use, since Flight is good for Fighters. If you’re a Small creature, you might find a Medium-sized Climber that can be useful in dungeons… and you’ll be adorable.
Finally, you get a level 3 ability that actively works in all combat situations.
When you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, you can mark the creature until the end of your next turn. This effect ends early if you are incapacitated or you die, or if someone else marks the creature.
This is a mechanic that was introduced in D&D 4e, where Defenders marked enemies and then could do different things to them. From what I know, at this time, the only creatures that can Mark are Cavaliers. So… don’t run two Cavaliers in the same party.
Notably, you can mark as many creatures as you can make attack rolls against. That means Two-Weapon Fighting strategies pay off early on – you can make an additional melee combatant and be a menace to the enemy frontline!
This comes with a few benefits.
While it is within 5 feet of you, a creature marked by you has disadvantage on any attack roll that doesn’t target you.
This benefit means you can keep a creature from casting most spells, making ranged attacks, or attacking a melee ally. It also means they’ll have a lot of trouble kicking your horse’s butt, and keeping your mount alive is important.
Disadvantage on attack rolls can be incredibly annoying, and if you stick to an enemy Sneak Attacker, they’re in trouble. Any creature that consistently makes attack rolls has a significantly higher chance to miss with Disadvantage, especially early on. Find the threat and hug them close.
And you actually get a tiny bit of anti-DC caster tech, unlike most other Defenders!
In addition, if a creature marked by you deals damage to anyone other than you, you can make a special melee weapon attack against the marked creature as a bonus action on your next turn. You have advantage on the attack roll, and if it hits, the attack’s weapon deals extra damage to the target equal to half your fighter level.
This can be done a number of times per day equal to your Strength modifier.
The main reason this is useful against casters is because if a spell doesn’t do brutal crowd control or defense buffs, it has to deal damage. That’s just how it works in 5e. So, if a caster decides to Burning Hands your horse (even if they “intended” to target you), you get a massive hit on them next round. Advantage on that attack is crucial, since you have a limit on the number of times per day you can do it. Then, the damage you deal is staggering!
This does step a tiny bit on the toes of the Two-Weapon Fighter from earlier, but not by a significant amount.
This ability would work okay on Greatsword builds, but you’re still the tank. You might want to have a shield, just to lower the chance that they knock you out and move on.
At level 7, you get a phenomenal reaction! Not so phenomenal that you can’t get Protection, but still really good!
If you or a creature you can see within 5 feet of you is hit by an attack, you can roll 1d8 as a reaction if you’re wielding a melee weapon or a shield. Roll the die, and add the number rolled to the target’s AC against that attack. If the attack still hits, the target has resistance against the attack’s damage.
You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Constitution modifier (a minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses of it when you finish a long rest.
Say that your Cleric decided to be a melee frontliner; Clerics do well in melee. Now you can protect your Cleric… as long as they are relatively close to them. On average, you add 4-5 AC to your target. So, if the Cleric just barely got hit, you can reduce the damage dealt to them by 0… On reaction! After they got hit!
And you can actually use this as a Hail Mary, since you got a chance to add a ridiculous +8 to AC. Even if you roll a 1 and they still get hit, you halve the damage to an ally. Do remember that a target can’t have resistance to the same thing twice, so make sure you know what your melee companion is resistant to. This maneuver isn’t gonna be too useful on a Barbarian.
Unfortunately, just like the attack-back part of Unwavering Ward, this has a daily limit. This has the upside of being extremely effective to reduce healing, so try and use it every single time someone within 5 feet of you gets hit.
You can literally slap a disintegrate out of the air with your sword. That’s amazing.
Hold the Line
So, just in case you weren’t good enough at protecting your allies, you become a complete wall in a 5-foot radius around you.
At 10th level, you become a master of locking down your enemies. Creatures provoke an opportunity attack from you when they move 5 feet or more while within your reach, and if you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, the target’s speed is reduced to 0 until the end of the current turn.
This is at level 10. 10.
This is actually how Opportunity Attacks worked in earlier editions… well, the first part. Moving within 5 feet of your reach literally happens at all times. This means Rogues going for flanking maneuvers, creatures skirting around you to hit your melee ally, something charging through your squares… You can hit all of them.
And, if you decide to pick up a Halberd or Whip, then it’s within 10 feet, meaning you’re a giant square of “you can’t go here.” Then the enemies stop moving, and you can keep within range to protect allies.
There’s an attack of opportunity feat called Sentinel that seems like it’s useless here. Sentinel also drops speed to 0, and Sentinel’s ability that allows you to hit someone who hit your target seems like a waste of a reaction. However, Sentinel also has the unique property that you ignore the Disengage action. So, if you take Sentinel, you get 2 benefits.
- You can hit creatures if they leave your threaten squares, or if they move within your threaten squares, regardless of Disengage
- If you don’t want to use your reaction to use Protection or Warding Maneuver, you get to slap them with your reaction instead… and then use your Unwavering Mark attack next turn, since you landed a melee attack.
That’s a lot of synergy! You are a force to reckon with. It’s too bad there’s no way to get multiple attacks of opportunity per round….
Calling upon the Cavalier abilities from the past, you get an ability based on the archaic Charge action.
Starting at 15th level, you can run down your foes, whether you’re mounted or not. If you move at least 10 feet in a straight line right before attacking a creature and you hit it with the attack, that target must succeed on a Strength saving throw (DC 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength modifier) or be knocked prone. You can use this feature only once on each of your turns.
In old editions, Charge gave you a bonus to hit on attacks as long as you moved towards them, but penalized your AC. This ability focuses more on the Cavalier abilities from those editions.
You’re going to be making a lot of straight line calculations. It’s really important that you enter combat with Ferocious Charger whenever you can, since knocking something prone with your first attack gives Advantage to all your other attacks. And, a prone creature takes disadvantage on attacks to hit you back. Really good for you!
Of course, you’re not gonna be darting around to knock people prone, even on a mount. So, the once per turn caveat isn’t too important. Run at the most important target, knock them down, then kick their butt. Then, they’ll have so much trouble running away from you!
Of course, without the Mage Slayer feat, you won’t be interrupting many teleportation attempts if a mage gets worried. Consider picking up Mage Slayer if you want to restrict those tricky Windy Steps.
Your final ability may be the most ridiculous level 18 ability of any Fighter archetype. Probably not, but it’s still really good.
Starting at 18th level, you respond to danger with extraordinary vigilance. In combat, you get a special reaction that you can take once on every creature’s turn, except your turn. You can use this special reaction only to make an opportunity attack, and you can’t use it on the same turn that you take your normal reaction.
With Sentinel and Hold the Line, you’ll be making opportunity attacks really often. Like, really often. If you use a Reach weapon, this easily turns you into a bulward that no creature can pass… without teleportation. You’ll restrict entire hordes of enemies from even shifting towards your allies.
But… this does come at a cost.
Vigilant Defender can’t be used on the same turn that you use a normal reaction, such as Warding Maneuver, or the hit-back effect of Sentinel. It’s not too clear if this means that you can’t use a normal reaction anymore, or if your reaction turns Vigilant Defender off. Talk to your GM about if you can use Vigilant Defender until you take your normal reaction, or if Vigilant Defender stops your normal reaction from working anymore.
Even in the worst-case scenario, this ability is crazy. You’ll lock down every single enemy in a fight, and keep any of them from moving. That’s insane.
Best Race for Cavalier Fighters
Cavaliers focus on melee combat. Boost your Strength and Constitution as high as you can. Mentally, Wisdom is super nice for making saves against spellcasters and Insight checks. Animal Handling is also a Wisdom skill, so… that’s good.
The Cavalier is a defender type, so these half-Earth Elementals are great for you. From the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion, the Genasi gain +2 Constitution, +1 Strength. Great! Because you’re so attuned to earth, you ignore difficult terrain made of rubble or stone (so… most difficult terrain). You can also cast Pass without Trace for free once per rest. Not exceedingly impactful, but it allows for group Surprise attacks. Time to put your stone skin to the test!
Let’s say you want to take Sentinel and Mage Slayer, but worry about how much Feat investment there is. Say no more! The Variant Human from the Player’s Handbook gets a +1 to Strength and Constitution (or whatever you’d prefer). Then, at level 1, you can pick up Sentinel and start your career as the most intimidating wall that anyone’s ever encountered! Of course, with only one opportunity attack per round, you won’t stop everything… But you’ll still be hard to handle with a Halberd in your hand!
Conclusion – Our Take on the Cavalier Fighter
The Cavalier is insanely good for any party with squishy backline casters (so… almost every one). They’re great defenders and will save the lives of Monks and melee Warlocks alike. Take this class if you worry about the durability of your party.