Fighter Archetypes 5E: We Rank the Martial Archetypes

fighter subclasses 5E

Ah, the fighter. Written off by some players as little more than a character that stabs stuff, there is actually room for nuance with this class. The subclass options – 8 in total – are strong, too. In fact, there are few duds and several options that are genuinely well-rounded and fun. The choice of a fighter archetype is your best way to flesh out the character. These subclasses offer many interesting directions outside of a pure striker, but you can certainly excel at that role if you want. Learn all about your options in our Fighter Archetypes 5E Rankings.

Our Criteria for the Best Fighter Archetype

Before we get to our rankings, the first step is to consider our review criteria. We are only ranking each of these subclasses relative to each other. That means the highest-ranked option on this list might not fare well compared to other classes. We considered the following factors:

  • Design. The first thing we are looking for is good design. A good subclass should have mechanics that are useful, that come into play regularly in most campaigns, and that stack up well compared to other classes. I generally put more weight into the lower-level features, as most characters will never reach level 20.
  • Clarity. The truth is that some subclasses and their features are hard to understand. Sometimes WOTC makes things more complicated than necessary, which can make it difficult to know exactly how the mechanics are supposed to work.
  • Fun. Subclasses should be fun. I love optimizing a character as much as anybody, but I am likely to rank a subclass that offers fun and meaningful choices above something that is clearly more powerful. My goal is to give you a clear picture of the subclasses that are both fun and optimal.
  • Theme. Some subclasses are built around an exciting theme that ties all of the features together. Others are a mishmash of boosts and bonuses without much thought behind any of them. I will always appreciate a strong theme.
  • Versatility. Finally, I weigh subclasses based on how versatile they are. There is nothing wrong with a subclass that is great at a single thing, but it’s hard to beat archetypes that are capable of filling multiple roles in the party.

What is the Best Martial Archetype?

Want to skip the list? Here is our pick for the best fighter subclass in 5E.

There are a lot of nice subclass options for the fighter. Some of them really expand the bounds of what you can expect from the class. The Champion, on the other hand, focuses on improving what the fighter naturally excels at. The basis of this class focuses on the increased likelihood of critical hits. As the Champion levels up, more and more rolls on the attack dice count as a critical. The Champion also picks up useful proficiencies and extra fighting styles. This is a great option for new players and veterans alike, given that it is simple to comprehend but offers fun, well thought out mechanics.

Ranking the Best 5E Fighter Subclasses

10. Arcane Archer

See Our Arcane Archer Guide

The Arcane Archer is the only real dud when it comes to fighters in 5E. The concept is interesting, and the features of the archetype are not necessarily weak. The bad news is that the most important features in this class are limited in use without a short rest, largely rendering the entire subclass useless late in sessions.

This range-based martial subclass is centered around the Arcane Shot mechanic. This mechanic allows you to choose from a range of interesting buffs when firing arrows. Some of these options are genuinely great, like the Piercing Arrow’s ability to hit every target in a straight line and ignore full cover. Even the weaker options like the Beguiling Arrow’s ability to prevent an attack on a specific ally isn’t bad. The rub is that you only get two uses of Arcane Shot per short rest. If your campaign generally involves one big fight in a session, you get two uses against the big bad. If you get a face a number of tussles without a short rest, you’re going to have to use it sparingly. The end result is that this cool feature is often wasted.

At higher levels, Arcane Archer only improves. Eventually, you gain Ever-Ready Shot which allows you more uses of your Arcane Shot, plus other nice boosts like redirecting missed attacks or dealing magical damage. A high-level campaign makes this subclass a much better option, but it’s probably not worth grinding up to the high levels yourself.

9. Banneret / Purple Dragon Knight

See Our Banneret / Purple Dragon Knight Guide

Known as the Banneret or the Purple Dragon Knight depending on whether your campaign is set in the Forgotten Realms, this subclass is not without its strengths. This fighter is designed as the best support option for the class and even plays well as a party face. Unfortunately, it requires the use of charisma that most fighters gleefully use a dump stat. The more you spread your points around to improve your charisma, the weaker you will be at the fighter’s basic combat skills.

At lower levels you get some nice utility options like Rallying Cry, which enhances Second Wind to cover your allies. You also get Royal Envoy, which gives double proficiency bonuses to persuasion. This allows you to play a half-decent party face even if your charisma is lacking.

At higher levels, you also get Bulwark which lets you or allies reroll save throws. This can make or break certain fights that involve steep consequences for a saving throw. The Banneret falls lower on this list not because it is terrible, but altogether these options don’t hold up to the other subclasses. Even a support fighter that serves as a party face is kind of an odd fit, given that you can probably find another class that serves this purpose better.

8. Rune Knight

See Our Complete Rune Knight Guide.

The Rune Knight is a fun option straight out of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. This subclass harnesses the magic of giants through arcane ruins you can imprint. While there are six to choose from, you will eventually pick up all but one if you level enough. This means there is little diversity in the subclass.

Rune Carver is the central focus of this subclass. You start with two and gain up to five as you level. These runes provide both passive and active effects like skill proficiencies or damage boosts. While there are some fun options, the major downside is that the damage output from this class feature is suboptimal.

At higher levels you can enlarge your size, mitigate critical hits against you, and eventually make additional uses of your runes. These options are nice, if a bit of a mish-mash that doesn’t fit well with the overarching theme.

7. Samurai

See Our Complete Samurai 5E Guide

At only 6th place on our rankings, we have already reached the point where the differences between each subclass is small. Despite its placing on the list, I am a fan of the Samurai. First released in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, this archetype is a pure striker that deals excellent damage.

The cornerstone of the Samurai is Fighting Spirit, and it is excellent. Using a bonus action, you can give yourself advantage on all weapon attacks for the rest of the current turn. This also gives a small HP boost, and it is available three times per long rest. While you have to be judicious with using it, Fighting Spirit is can seriously increase your damage especially as the number of attacks you can make goes up. At level 10, any time you roll for initiative without a use of Fighting Spirit remaining you gain one back. This is another fantastic buff.

High-level samurai see an increase in survivability, as they can gain an additional turn when they hit zero. This gives the samurai options on avoiding death and getting back into the fight without relying on allies. As amazing as this is, few campaigns last long enough to see it in use.

6. Echo Knight

See Our Complete Echo Knight Guide

Exclusive to the Wildemount setting, the Echo Knight is arguably the most creative subclass for the fighter. It is an interesting option that can be especially powerful with some creativity. However, it does have some limitations and is also further down the list given that it is not available in most campaigns (unless your DM is super cool).

The fighter’s Echo is central to this martial archetype. The echo is a translucent reflection of yourself that you can summon with a bonus action. It can move and is immune to conditions. It also has a single hit point and an armor class that scales with your proficiency bonus. Early on, you can attack from your position or your echoes. As you level up you can launch more attacks from the echo, use them to shield your allies, and gain temporary HP when they are destroyed. At the highest levels you can even have two of these bad boys by your side.

The Echo Knight isn’t the most powerful option available, but if you are creative there are a lot of options available with this subclass. The unfortunate part is that it is limited to the Wildemount setting. It’s also an unusual fit for other settings as the lore is pretty specific, but if your DM is cool with it, why not roll one?

5. Psi Warrior

See Our Complete Psi Warrior Guide.

The Psi Warrior is one of several psionics-based subclasses that dropped in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Like the Battle Master’s Superiority Dice, the Psi Warrior also comes with similar dice-based resources known as Psionic Energy Dice. Expending these dice in order to exhibit psionic abilities is the central theme for this subclass.

Your Psionic Powers are interesting. Early on, you can use these die to move objects, create a damage shield, or deal damage yourself. As you level, you not only gain die but the value of those die increase up to a d12. These early options are fine but fairly underwhelming compared to other archetypes.

While the Psi Warrior has some weaknesses early on, it gets more interesting at higher levels. You eventually can spend your Psionic Energy Dice to shove opponents or fly, which is always useful. At Level 15, you can effectively give your entire party cover for a minute, boosting AC across the board. This could be used more than once per day if you are willing to expend the dice for it. All told, the Psi Warrior seems like a fun option.

4. Cavalier

See Our Complete Cavalier 5E Guide

I am pretty high on the Cavalier as a martial archetype. Long-time players might be iffy about this call, but rest assured the Cavalier became an excellent option in 5E. The important thing to remember about this subclass is that it does two things extremely well: serving as a defender and mounted combat. If either of those things is the purpose of your character, you can’t miss. Outside of those specialties, the cavalier is probably not your best option.

As far as drawing attacks away from your allies goes, the cavalier excels. At level three you can mark an enemy, giving disadvantage on any attacks against nearby allies instead of yourself. You also get special melee attacks against creatures that deal damage to your party members. At level 7, the strength as a defender goes up further. Warding Maneuver lets you pump up a nearby allies’ DC when attacked. The real highlight of the class is at Level 10, where Hold the Line lets you make a reaction attack against a creature that moves within your reach instead of moving away from you. It’s hard to beat this subclass as a defender.

The rest of the subclass focuses on mounted combat, which is a blessing and a curse. If your campaign is heavy on mounted combat, this archetype is perfect. Most campaigns probably won’t see some of these abilities used. Your mileage definitely varies with the Cavalier.

3. Battlemaster

See Our Battlemaster 5E Guide

The Battlemaster is a great subclass and by all accounts is one of the most popular options in 5E among players. This archetype offers some great customization options, but it is also somewhat complex. With so many options, a bad choice when picking maneuvers can hamstring your character. When done right, you can accomplish some amazing things!

The centerpiece of the Battlemaster is maneuvers. There are 16 maneuvers in total, and you start with three of them at Level 3. You gain more as you level, up to a total of 9. There are too many maneuvers to list here, but you can get the full rundown with our Battlemaster guide. To use maneuvers, you must spend Superiority Dice. You start with 4d8 superiority dice, and you can gain more as you level. You can spend dice and use maneuvers that can disarm opponents, give you advantage on attacks, or taunt hostiles among other things. There are a lot of moving parts here, but when optimized you can be pretty powerful.

Battlemaster falters a little with its medium-level features. Gaining insight into an opponents ability skills or proficiency with artisan tools isn’t that helpful. The subclass ends strong as Relentless ensures you always regain a superiority die if you have none.

2. Eldritch Knight

See Our Eldritch Knight 5E Guide

One of the big letdowns of most fighters is the inability to cast spells. Eldritch Knight can help with that! There are some real drawbacks with this subclass, but the ability to sling some spells makes up for it. I especially like to plan an Eldritch Knight that multiclasses one level into wizard.

Eldritch Knights are limited to Abjuration and Evocation spells (another reason to multiclass) primarily, but you can quickly build a great striker or blaster that mixes melee combat with damage cantrips. As you level, your power grows substantially. Level 7 lets you make a weapon attack with a bonus action after casting a cantrip. At the highest levels, non-cantrips can also trigger these attacks.

Other fun options include magical bonds that prevent you from being disarmed and buffs to saving throws so that you don’t have to heavily invest in Intelligence. All told, this is a fun class that mixes might and magic well. Obviously there are better options for doing either of those things separately, but this subclass marries the two well.

1. Champion

See Our Complete Champion 5E Guide

At the top of our Fighter Archetypes 5E List is the Champion. Every class seems to have a vanilla-type subclass that is simple but greatly enhances the class’ natural strengths. For the fighter, that is the Champion. This archetype maximizes damage by increasing the odds of a critical hit, and it also has some utility options. As great as this subclass is, be warned that the most interesting stuff only pops up at higher levels.

Champion starts with a bang thanks to Improved Critical. At level three, you get a critical hit when rolling either a 19 or a 20, essentially doubling your chances. More critical hits mean more damage, which is always a good thing. At level 4, you gain additional proficiency bonuses for strength, dexterity, or constitution checks which is always nice. At higher levels you add a new fighting style and start landing critical hits with a role of 18, 19, or 20.

You finally pick up a defensive option at Level 18. Survivor lets you regain 5 plus your Constitution modifier’s value in HP at the start of each turn, so long as you are below half of your total HP maximum. Constantly healing is fantastic, and could keep you in endless combat as long as you don’t take one giant hit. While not the most flavorful, it’s hard to beat what Champion has to offer.

Concluding Our Fighter Archetypes 5E Rankings

And that’s it for our fighter archetypes 5e Rankings. There is plenty of subjectivity in what makes for the best subclass, and many of these options are great. I look forward to hearing your take on our rankings, so don’t forget to comment below with your favorite fighter subclass option.

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