The Complete Fighter 5E Guide | Fighter 5E Handbook

fighter 5e

For many D&D players, the fighter is a bland class that is pidgeon-holed into melee combat and lacking any real flavor. I disagree with that view. In fact, these well-rounded fighters have tons of creative potential. Anything from Vikings to knights to tournament champions all falls under the banner of a fighter. Learn how to get the most out of your next campaign with our Fighter 5E Guide.

Updated for Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Fighter 5E Guide

The fighter is the ultimate master of fighting styles. Every member of this class has access to a wide range of weapons, giving them an array of options in combat. Master of long-range combat with a crossbow? Sure. Whirling dervish of murder using a greatsword? Why not. The combat world is your oyster.

The great part of playing a fighter is that you do not have to focus on a single build. Your character can excel at both crossbows and greatswords, for instance. You have a lot of interesting options to choose from.

Fighter Table

LevelProf BonusFeatures
1st2Fighting Style, Second Wind
2nd2Action Surge (x1)
3rd2Martial Archetype
4th2Ability Score Improvement
5th3Extra Attack (x1)
6th3Ability Score Improvement
7th3Martial Archetype feature
8th3Ability Score Improvement
9th4Indomitable (x1)
10th4Martial Archetype feature
11th4Extra Attack (x2)
12th4Ability Score Improvement
13th5Indomitable (x2)
14th5Ability Score Improvement
15th5Martial Archetype feature
16th5Ability Score Improvement
17th6Action Surge (x2), Indomitable (x3)
18th6Martial Archetype feature
19th6Ability Score Improvement
20th6Extra Attack (x3)

Class Features

Building your fighter character involves a lot of options. That said, each fighter shares plenty of traits. Below are the features that every fighter shares.

Hit Points

Hit Dice: 1d10 per fighter level
HP at 1st Level: 10 + your Constitution modifier
HP at Higher Levels: 1d10 (or 6) + your Constitution modifier per fighter level after 1st

Proficiencies

Armor: All armor, shields
Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons
Tools: None
Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution
Skills: Choose two skills from Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Survival

With your proficiencies, your fighter has access to all weapons, all armor, and shields. This is fantastic but is offset by the lack of tool proficiencies. You also only gain two skills.

Equipment

  • chain mail or leather armor, longbow, and 20 arrows
  • a martial weapon and a shield or two martial weapons
  • a light crossbow and 20 bolts or two handaxes
  • a dungeoneer’s pack or an explorer’s pack

The great part of playing a fighter is that you can make any of these combinations work. A one-handed weapon build plus a shield is great, especially at low levels. But you can just as easily focus your build in a two-handed martial weapon, a bow, or a crossbow.

The same is true for armor. You can target your build for a hulking, full plate beast. Or, you can go the dexterity route and go the leather armor route. Your best option will depend on how you spread around your ability points.

Fighting Style (Level 1)

Fighting Style is the most iconic feature of the fighter class. At level 1, every fighter must select their style, which will directly impact your optimal build. Currently, there are six fighting styles outlined in the Player’s Handbook. There are quite a few more under development in Unearthed Arcana, but this piece will focus on the six official options.

  • Archery. If you are going for a ranged build, this is a no-brainer. You gain +2 on attack rolls with ranged weapons, which is quite a powerful boost.
  • Defense. Defense grants you +1 bonus to your AC. While not exciting, few stats are harder to scale than AC. This is a great option.
  • Dueling. You gain +2 to your damage rolls when using a one-handed weapon with no weapon in your other hand. Since this works with shields, this is a fantastic option.
  • Great Weapon Master. This lets you re-roll a damage die that lands on a 1 or a two when using a two-handed weapon. As we discussed in our Paladin Guide, this usually results in a boost of only 1 damage for each attack. It’s not worth it.
  • Protection. When wielding a shield, you can use your reaction to force attacks from hostiles against nearby allies you can see to have disadvantage.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting. Normally, fighting with two weapons means your second attack lacks the ability modifier to the damage roll. You gain that modifier back with this.

Second Wind (Level 1)

Second Wind operates as a small hit point boost. While this isn’t a ton of healing, you can use it once per short or long rest as a bonus action on your turn. Second Wind recovers 1d10 + your fighter level of HP. In other words, the most this ability will ever boost is 30 HP.

Action Surge (Level 2)

Action Surge is another reason why fighter is not only a great class, but a great option for multiclassing. Starting at Level 2, you get an extra action each turn. This is in addition to your normal action and your bonus action. This is only one way a fighter can add extra attacks. You get one use of Action Surge per short or long rest. At level 17, you can use Action Surge twice without resting, but only once per turn.

Martial Archetype (Level 3)

See Our Fighter Archetypes Rankings

At Level 3 you select your subclass, known as the Martial Archetype. In total, there are 8 archetypes to choose from. We will review each of these subclasses in-depth below.

Extra Attack (Level 5)

Starting at Level 5, you get to make two attacks instead of one when using your attack action. This number of attacks goes up to three at Level 11 and four at Level 20. This ultimately means that as a class, the fighter gets more attacks than any other save the monk.

Indomitable (Level 9)

Indomitable allows you to reroll a saving through that you have failed. When you make the second throw, you must accept that new roll. Indomitable is not available again until after a long rest. At level 13, you can use this twice per long rest. At level 17, you can use it three times. This is a powerful option, but don’t blow them on inconsequential saves.

Optional Class Features

Like with most classes, the Fighter gained a few optional features in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. These include new options for fighting styles and maneuvers.

Additional Fighting Styles

In addition to the traditional fighting style, Tasha’s Cauldron has offered a few new options including:

  • Blind Fighting. You gain blindsight up to 10 feet. This allows you to see in that range even when you are blinded or in darkness.
  • Interception. A great defender option, this lets you reduce damage from a melee attack within 5 feet of you by 1d10 plus your proficiency bonus.
  • Superior Technique. This gives you your choice of maneuver from the Battle Master archetype as well as a superiority die to fuel that maneuver.
  • Thrown Weapon Fighting. This gives you a +2 boost to damage for thrown weapons and allows you to draw a throwing weapon as part of your attack action.
  • Unarmed Fighting. Unarmed fighting gives you a boost in damage for unarmed strikes, especially if you are not holding a weapon or shield.

Martial Versatility

At level four when you gain an ability score improvement, you swap out fighting styles or maneuvers.

Maneuver Options

For Battle Masters or those who take the Superior Technique fighting style, Tasha’s Cauldron also added a few new maneuvers. They include:

  • Ambush: You can add a superiority die to a stealth check or initiative roll.
  • Bait and Switch. This interesting option not only lets you swap positions with a willing creature within 5 feet of you without risking attacks of opportunity, but both of you get an AC bonus equal to the roll of your superiority die until the start of your next turn.
  • Brace. Spend a superiority die to use your reacting and make a melee attack against a creature that moves into range of you.
  • Commanding Presence. Add a superiority die to intimidation, performance, or persuasion checks.
  • Grappling Strike. Spend a superiority die to grapple a creature after a successful melee attack.
  • Quick Toss. Make a ranged attack with a throwing weapon as a bonus action. You can not only draw the weapon back as part of this attack, but you add your superiority dice to the damage.
  • Tactical Assessment. Add your superiority die to investigation, history, or insight checks.

Martial Archetypes – Fighter Subclasses

The choice of your martial archetype will dramatically impact what your character ultimately looks like. While much of the strength of the fighter class lies with its class traits, it is your subclass choice that allows for customization.

Arcane Archer

See Our Complete Arcane Archer 5E Guide

The Arcane Archer is a flavorful archetype that melds arcane energy into ranged weapon attacks. Despite the flavor, this archetype is largely a miss. The archetype centers around Arcane Shot which is powerful but can only be used in limited situations.

  • Arcane Archer Lore (Level 3). You gain proficiency in either Arcana or Nature. You also get either the Prestidigitaiton or Druidcraft cantrips.
  • Arcane Shot (Level 3). Arcane Shot gives you magical powers that you can apply to your arrows. You can learn two of these shots at level 3, and more at levels 7, 10, 15, and 18. These shots can overcome resistance, reroll misses, or add other important boosts. Unfortunately, you can only use this option twice per short or long rest initially.

Banneret / Purple Dragon Knight

See Our Complete Banneret 5E Guide

The Banneret, which is known as the Purple Dragon Knight archetype in Forgotten Realms campaigns, is in an interesting place. The purpose of the archetype is to build a fighter that has some support ability and can serve as a party face. However, your ability scores are going to be spread pretty thin if you go that route.

  • Rallying Cry (Level 3). This serves as a boost to Second Wind that affects your allies. Up to three creatures within 30 feet that can see or hear you can also gain your fighter level in HP when you use Second Wind.
  • Royal Envoy (Level 7). This gives you proficiency in persuasion. If you already have that skill, you can instead choose animal handling, insight, intimidation, or performance. You also double your proficiency bonus on all persuasion rolls.
  • Inspiring Surge (Level 10). A boost to Action Surge, inspiring Surge allows you to boost an allied creature within 60 feet of you. That creature can make one melee or ranged weapon attack using its reaction. At Level 18, you can select two allies.
  • Bulwark (Level 15). This lets you spread the Indomitable feature to allies who have failed saving throws.

Battlemaster

See Our Complete Battlemaster 5E Guide 

This is one of the more complex fighter subclasses thanks to the addition of Superiority Dice. That said, it has a ton of cool tricks up its sleave with the use of Maneuvers.

  • Combat Superiority (Level 3). Central to this subclass is Combat Superiority. You learn three maneuvers which are powered by superiority dice. You gain both new maneuvers and additional superiority dice over time. The list of maneuvers is lengthy, but we cover all the options in our Battlemaster Guide.
  • Student of War (Level 3). You get your choice of artisan’s tools proficiency. This will probably not be of much use.
  • Know your Enemy (Level 7). Watching another creature out of combat for more than 1 minute grants you insight into whether they are your equal, superior, or inferior in two characteristics including strength, dexterity, or armor class among other things.
  • Improved Combat Superiority (Level 10). At level 10, your superiority die become d10s. They turn into d12s at level 18.
  • Relentless (Level 15). At level 15, if you are out of superiority dice you gain one back every time you roll for initiative.

Cavalier

See Our Complete Cavalier 5E Guide

Flavor-wise, the cavalier archetype is all about mounted combat. What really makes this subclass sing is its ability to serve as a defender for your party. While it is one of the best defender options in the game, these features don’t show up until you reach level 10 and above.

  • Bonus Proficiency (Level 3). Gain a new language and proficiency in Animal Handling, History, Insight, Performance, or Persuasion.
  • Born in the Saddle (Level 3). This gives you advantage on saving throws related to falling from a mount. Any fall from your mount of less than 10 feet results in you landing on your feet. You also mount or dismount using only 5 feet of movement.
  • Unwavering Mark (Level 3). Every time you hit a creature with a melee attack, you mark them until the end of your next turn. Marked creatures have disadvantage on attacks that don’t target you.
  • Warding Maneuver (Level 7). If you or a creature within 5 feet of you is hit by an attack, rolled 1d8 as a reaction. Add the roll to the target’s AC. If the attack would still hit, the target gets resistance to the damage. You can use this once equal to the number of your constitutional modifier, and it replenishes each long rest.
  • Hold the Line (Level 10). This great feature lets you make attacks of opportunity against anyone moving within 5 feet of you. You can also reduce their speed with a hit.
  • Ferocious Charger (Level 15). You can charge 10 feet with your mount and knock a target prone if they fail a constitution save.
  • Vigilant Defender (Level 18). You get a special reaction on every turn other than yours. Use this reaction only for opportunity attacks.

Champion

See Our Complete Champion 5E Guide

The Champion is a no-frills but popular option for a fighter. While it lacks the complexity of the Battlemaster, it is a powerful archetype that works in many situations.

  • Improved Critical (Level 3). Instead of the usual 20, you get a critical hit when you roll a 19 or a 20.
  • Remarkable Athlete (Level 7). This lets you add half your proficiency bonus (rounding up) to any strength, dexterity, or constitution check that doesn’t already use your proficiency bonus. What’s more, your can jump an additional number of feet equal to your strength modifier.
  • Additional Fighting Style (Level 10). At level 10, you get another fighting style.
  • Superior Critical (Level 15). At Level 15, you now achieve critical hits with a roll of 18, 19, or 20. That’s a ton of critical hits.
  • Survivor (Level 18). At the beginning of every turn, you gain back HP equal to 5 plus your constitution modifier. This feature only works if you are below half of your total HP.

Echo Knight

See our Rundown of the Echo Knight Archetype

The Echo Knight is one of the more fascinating subclasses in 5E. Existing only in Wildemount, the Echo Knight battles alongside a shadow – or echo – of itself.

  • Manifest Echo (Level 3). The cornerstone of this subclass is Manifest Echo. This conjures a magical echo that is a translucent version of yourself. Your echo has 1 HP, immunity to conditions, and an AC of 14 + your proficiency bonus. You can teleport to switch places with the echo or attack from the echo’s position, among other things.
  • Unleash Incarnation (Level 3). This gives you an extra attack from the echo’s position. You can make a number of attacks equal to your constitution modifier per long rest.
  • Echo Avatar (Level 7). You can see and hear through the echo, using it as a scout. It can last up to 10 minutes and travel up to 1,000 feet from your position.
  • Shadow Martyr (Level 15). This lets your echo jump in front of attacks on other creatures, taking the damage instead.
  • Reclaim Potential (Level 15). Each time your echo is destroyed, you regain 2d6 plus your constitution modifier’s worth of temporary hit points.
  • Legion of One (Level 18). This gives you two echoes instead of one.

Eldritch Knight

See Our Complete Eldritch Knight Guide

The Eldritch Knight is a marriage between the wizard and the fighter. Unlike other combined classes, this works well. You may never get the spellcasting prowess of a pure wizard, but the offensive output is impressive.

  • Spellcasting (Level 3). You gain the ability to cast spells, starting with two level-2 spells. Your spell slots top at level 4, however. You also start with 2 cantrips. Like the wizard, your spellcasting ability is intelligence. You mostly get Abjuration and Evocation spells, which fits well.
  • Weapon Bond (Level 3). When you commit a ritual with a specific weapon, you cannot be disarmed unless incapacitated. You can summon the weapon to teleport into your hand with a bonus action. You can bond with two weapons but only summon one per turn.
  • War Magic (Level 7). Each time you use an action to cast a cantrip, you can use a bonus action to make a weapon attack. This can lead to a ton of damage quickly.
  • Eldritch Strike (Level 10). With Eldritch Strike, every time you hit a creature with an attack they have disadvantage on their next saving throw against a spell you cast. This wears off at the end of your next turn. This is excellent as your spell DC will be lower than most other casters.
  • Arcane Charge (Level 15). Teleport up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space you see using your action surge. Pretty handy and doesn’t require a spell slot.
  • Improved War Magic (Level 18). Now, you get that bonus attack after casting any spell.

Psi Warrior

See Our Complete Psi Warrior 5E Guide

The Psi Warrior is a fighter that is augmented with psionic powers. These powers can enhance weapon attacks or build shields out of mind energy.

  • Psionic Power (Level 3). Psi Warriors get Psionic Energy dice, which begin as d6. They can increase to D12 by level 17. You get a number of these dice equal to twice your proficiency bonus. You regain your dice at the end of a long rest, and you can use a bonus action to regain one die a single time before taking a short or long rest. You can spend these dice dealing additional damage, using telekinesis, or creating a protective field.
  • Telekinetic Adept (Level 7). You gain new uses of your Psionic Energy dice, including using it to make powerful leaps or knock enemies prone.
  • Guarded Mind (Level 10). You gain resistance to psychic damage and can end the charmed or frightened effect by spending a Psionic Energy die.
  • Bulwark of Force (Level 15). You create a shield of energy that gives friendly creatures within 30 feet half cover.
  • Telekinetic Master (Level 18). You can cast telekinesis without the need of materials or spell slots. While concentrating on this spell you can make an additional attack as a bonus action. You can cast telekinesis again following a long rest or by expending a Psionic Energy die.

Rune Knight

See Our Complete Rune Knight 5E Guide.

The Rune Knight has the ability to carve arcane runes that possess powerful magic. This type of magic is traced back to giants, and you have options on the type of effects based on the giant type you select for your runes.

  • Bonus Proficiencies (Level 3). You are proficient with smith’s tools and can read, speak, and write Giant.
  • Rune Carver (Level 3). You can create magic runes to enhance your gear. You start with 2 at level three and can have as many as 5 runes by level 15. Each rune is powered by a type of giant’s magic. Fire runs deal fire damage and give bonuses to smithing. Frost runes give advantage on animal handling checks and a bonus on Strength and Constitution saving throws. See our complete subclass review for all of the options.
  • Giant’s Might (Level 3). You can grow to large size, gain advantage on strength checks and saves, and deal extra damage on a weapons attack. These benefits last a minute, and you can do them a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus.
  • Runic Shield (Level 7). You can force attackers that hit an ally with an attack roll to re-roll their D20.
  • Great Stature (Level 10). You gain 3d4 inches to your height and also increase your damage with Giant’s Might.
  • Master of Runes (Level 15). You can use known runes twice as opposed to once and gain then back on a short or long rest.
  • Runic Juggernaut (Level 18). You get another boost for your Giant’s Might damage, and you can grow to Huge size instead of large. This also adds 5 feet to your weapon damage.

Samurai

See Our Complete Samurai 5E Guide

The strength of the Samurai archetype is the serious damage output it has as a striker. The entire subclass focuses around hacking bad guys to pieces, which means it doesn’t have much in the way of support options. Who cares though, you’re a samurai?

  • Bonus Proficiency (Level 3). You get a language of your choice or proficiency in either History, Insight, Performance, or Persuasion
  • Fighting Spirit (Level 3). Using your bonus action, you get advantage on all weapon attacks this turn. You also get 5 temporary HP. The HP boost increases to 10 at level 10 and 15 at level 15. You can use Fighting Spirit 3 times before requiring a long rest. this greatly increases the chances of landing blows during a fight.
  • Elegant Courier (Level 7). This adds your Wisdom modifier as a bonus when making Persuasion checks. You also get proficiency on Wisdom saving throws. This lets you serve as a party face without sinking points into Charisma, but your wisdom probably isn’t that high either.
  • Tireless Spirit (Level 10). Every time you roll inititiate and are out of Fighting Spirit uses, you get another one. This means use Fighting Spirit early and often.
  • Rapid Strike (Level 15). If you make an attack during your turn with advantage, you can forgo that advantage and make two attacks instead.
  • Strength Before Death (Level 18). When reduced to 0 HP, you can use your reaction to delay falling unconscious. You then get an entire extra turn immediately. Damage still causes death saving throws and you can still die, but you have that full additional turn until you are incapacitated. Pretty amazing.

Fighter 5E Optimization Tips

There are a lot of options when building your next fighter, especially when you consider all of the available archetypes. If you are like me, you enjoy a character that is well-optimized. If you feel the same way, the following section is for you.

Ability Selection

Like most melee classes, the fighter suffers from having a lot of irons in the fire. Unlike many Warlock builds that can genuinely focus on one ability, most fighters need at least two. If you want to use both strength and finesse weapons or go the Eldritch Knight route, you may need to spread around your stats three or four ways.

  • Strength. The most basic fighter builds center around strength for dealing damage. If that is the route you go, strength should be your top priority. Otherwise, you don’t want to ignore strength but it is less of a priority.
  • Dexterity. You will need to focus primarily on dexterity if you are going for a finesse build for your fighter. If you are going strength-based, your heavy armor can make up for the poor dexterity.
  • Constitution. This should probably be your second priority, behind whatever ability you use for damage.
  • Intelligence. Important for Eldritch Knights, but otherwise dumpable. In fact, you can get away without a lot of intelligence depending on your spell selection. After all, there are plenty of great spell options that do not require attack rolls or saving throws.
  • Wisdom. A little is nice for perception checks, but this is a low priority.
  • Charisma. Dump it.

Best Races for Fighter in 5E

I say this with every class guide, and I’ll drop it here again: the race you choose is not the end of the world. Yes, there are some that are far more optimized than others for a fighter. This is especially true at low levels. But as you progress, the racial bonuses are going to be relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. I advise picking the race you’re going to have the most fun with. Of course, for me that’s usually the one that is highly optimized.

Strong Options

  • Aasimar. Darkvision and some innate magical abilities are a nice fit for a martial class. The strength bonus fo Fallen Aasimar is also great.
  • Dragonborn. The Ravenite Dragonborn gets +2 strength and a breath weapon. Not bad!
  • Dwarf. One of my favorite options, as you get Darkvision, resistance to poison, and a boost to Constitution.
  • Goliath. A great fit for a strength-based fighter as you get the right ability bonuses plus Stone’s Endurance.
  • Human. Humans are great at everything.

Decent Options

  • Aarakocra. Nothing special with a strength build, but excellent for a ranged finesse fighter.
  • Elf. Another good option for finesse fighters.
  • Firbolg. A small boost to strength and innate casting abilities is a good fit.
  • Gnome. The Forest Gnome makes for a decent finesse fighter or Eldritch Knight, especially when you throw in minor illusion.
  • Kobold. The combination of Pack Tactics and the Champion archetype has fun potential.
  • Triton. Strength and Constitution boosts are nice but added charisma is usually a waste. Breathing underwater and the innate magical abilities is also cool.

Limited Value

  • Halfling
  • Half-Elf
  • Kenku
  • Tabaxi
  • Tiefling
  • Tortle
  • Verdan

Best Available Backgrounds

As a fighter, you are not going to make use of a lot of skills. With that in mind, your choice of background does not carry the same weight as it might for other classes. Focus on what fits your concept or go for extra languages.

  • Athlete. Straight out of Theros comes the Athlete background. Proficiency in Acrobatics and Athletics fits, and you get a language. Plus, you get a land vehicle proficiency.
  • Outlander. Two strong fighter skills is nice. The instrument proficiency is pointless.
  • Solider. Athletics and Intimidation are a good fit for a fighter. You also get proficiencies with a vehicle and a gaming set. This is the suggested background for fighters in the PHB, so it makes sense it is a nice fit.

Suggested Feats

There are a ton of feats that work well with martial characters, so you have more options than you might otherwise with different classes. It’s a tough tradeoff though, as most fighters are facing some stat spread issues. Below are some of the feats worth considering.

  • Crossbow Expert. Crossbows have some issues, and Crossbow Expert fixes them. You can dual attack with a hand crossbow, ignore reloading time, and use the crossbow in melee range.
  • Heavy Armor Master. +1 strength plus you reduce lots of nonmagical damage as well.
  • Sentinel. Steller for defender builds. You reduce a creature’s movement to 0 when you hit them with an opportunity attack. Speaking of opportunity attacks, you can make them even against characters that use Disengage. You can also make reaction attacks creatures within your range that attack someone else.

Multiclassing Options

The fighter is a strong subclass on its own. So much so that many other classes prefer to take a dip into this one. There are some fun options for multiclassing a fighter, however.

Good Fighter Multiclassing Options

These are our top picks for multiclassing your fighter:

Barbarian

I am borderline on barbarian. Rage is very tempting, but you only get a few uses per day if you don’t invest in Barbarian levels. Unarmored Defense is meaningless for a heavy armor fighter.

Rogue

Rogue is a surprisingly strong option. As a fighter you lack most skills, and a dip into Rogue can get you plenty. Going deep enough to nab Swashbuckler makes for a great combination with a fighter.

Wizard

A level in wizard is great if you are going for an Eldritch Knight. That single level gets you ritual casting, multiple spells, and some subclass benefits. A Bladesong/Rogue combo has potential too.

Avoidable Options

  • Artificer. Not a bad fit for getting some spells, but wizard is more optimal in every way.
  • Bard. Fighters lack the charisma to make this work.
  • Druid. No armor and casting spells with a different ability than intelligence? No thanks.
  • Monk. You might as well invest in fighter levels.
  • Paladin. Not a bad option when you add Divine Smite and Action Surge together, but relying on Charisma may be a dealbreaker.
  • Ranger. Also not a terrible fit, but probably not any better than an extra level of fighter.
  • Sorcerer. Stat spread makes it not worth it.
  • Warlock. Stat spread makes it not worth it.

Wrapping Up Our Fighter 5E Guide

That concludes our Fighter 5E Handbook. While this class might seem a little bland at first glance, there is a lot of fun to be had with these brutes. If we missed anything, let us know in the comment section below!

About Travis Scoundrel 503 Articles
A life long gamer, Travis spends his time writing about and playing games when he's not suing people or hanging out with his family.

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