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January 13

Brawlers and Beat-sticks: A Fighter 5e Class Guide

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Fighters in D&D Fifth Edition (5e) are a class based on mastering weaponry of all kinds. If you want to play this martial class, our guide will help you understand how they work, the best races and feat choices, and what they're all about!


A pair of armored knights slam shields and clash swords in a chorus of clanging metal. A desperate, filthy, cocky young woman wraps her broken fingers around a war-hammer and stands for one last chance at glory. A man clad in leathers stares at the beast's multiple eyes, writhing tendrils, and razor-sharp fang-filled mouth, gripping a whip and a cigarette. What do all of these characters have in common? They fight. They're fighters. Fighting is what they do.

Fighter Guide

Let's talk about FIGHTERS!


How to Play Fighters 5e

The Fighter class is, simultaneously, one of the simplest classes to understand and the most complex to build. By its very nature, this class is often handed to new players as a "beginner" class, simply because the essence of the class boils down to "person who fights things with a weapon."

One of the reasons they're recommended in 5e is their high hit points.

A fighter, like a wizard, has a litany of options available at the start of the game.

  • Will you be a melee weapon fighter? A shield fighter? A ranged fighter? A grapple fighter? A magical Eldritch Knight?
  • What feats will you be taking?
  • What weapon(s) will you be using?
  • What subclass will you be taking?
  • Which class features will you be selecting from your subclass?
  • And just how many weapon attacks can you make in a single round of combat?

When starting out, I would recommend doing two things: familiarize yourself with the core mechanics, and conceptualize your character's traits and desires.

Is this character a chosen one, just waiting to get their sword and shield? Or are they more grizzled, an old soldier clad in dented plate armor, more scar than flesh? Conceptually, you can borrow from a lot of established characters, or go completely off the deep-end. As long as you have a character who fights with weapons, you're technically playing a Fighter.

 By virtue of their mechanics, Fighters have high hit points, high armor class, a slew of unique and situational abilities, and some handy skills. They will also have a good survivability, thanks to class features like Second Wind.

They also have proficiency in all types of armor, further enhancing their already impressive ability to take and give hits, from chain mail and scale armor to leather armor and even cloth. Coupled with their high hit points, they can be a front-line tank!

Further, they can wield all weapons in the game with equal skill. Consider gathering a small armory of weapons to use based on the situation: a melee weapon sword or axe for close quarters combat, and a spear or pole-arm for more open, spaced out fights. A bow or crossbow can always be handy, too! You can choose from two weapon fighting, great weapon fighting, or a sword and shield.

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Fighter Features

Fighters are one of the few classes in 5e that have a d10 as their Hit Dice. They gain hit points at higher rates than the other classes, and will continue to do so the higher your fighter level.

The Fighter Class, as previously mentioned, begins with a proficiency bonus in all armor and all weapon types: they can use shields, light or heavy armor, and martial or simple weapons with equal efficiency.

They also gain the following benefits:

  • Proficiency bonus in Strength and Constitution Saving Throws
  • 2 skill proficiencies chosen from Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Survival. Animal Handling can be a particularly fun, while not the best, option!
  • Access to a martial weapon and a shield, or two martial weapons.
  • A set of chain mail armor, or leather armor with a bow and 20 arrows.
  • A light crossbow with 20 bolts, or two axes.

With this in mind, the meat and potatoes of this class are locked in its class features, such as your Second Wind. Further, your martial archetype and fighting style also influence your Fighters abilities, leading to additional customization. Additionally, Second Wind, Action Surge and most of your other bonus action abilities reset on a short or long rest.

Now let's cover what you get at each Fighter level, aside from your simple score improvement:

At level one, a Fighter gains access to their Fighting Style and their Second Wind features. Fighting Style is often a passive ability, such as Defense, which adds a +1 AC whenever you're wearing armor, or an active ability, such as Interception, which allows you to reduce damage to an ally close to you, that your Fighter can swap out as they level up. Second Wind allows you to regain hit points equal to a d10 and your level added together as a bonus action.

When choosing your Fighting Style, consider your character's personality, as well as which ability speaks to you. Starting off as a Defense Fighter is mechanically sound, but the ability is rather simple in its execution, representing a small numerical increase, rather than the ability to fling yourself in the path of an arrow meant for your wizardly best friend. Fighting Styles, by nature of their design, can be simple bonuses - Defense - or the crux of your entire character build - Great Weapon Fighting or Thrown Weapon Fighter. These give you bonuses to your attack roll with those types of weapons.

At level two, you gain the most powerful ability in your arsenal: the Action Surge. Every class in the game is limited to one action, and thus, the balancing of 5e's combat system is based on this fact. Once every short or long rest, however, you can throw some chaos into the mix, and receive TWO actions. Often, Action Surge will result in more Weapon Attacks being made, but sometimes, you can do some crazy stuff involving Dashes, Disengages, Attacks, Use Items, etc. For comparison, a level four spell-Haste-grants a limited use action, and has the drawback of stunning the target after the spell ends, as well as maintaining concentration from the spell-caster. Action Surge is POWERFUL! Action Surge makes this class!

At level three, your character gains access to their Martial Archetype, which are numerous and will require a separate guide to properly cover. Their Archetype, however, further characterizes and customizes your character's abilities into a specific "school" of fighting. A Battle Master, for example, gains a use of abilities called Maneuvers, and acts as a commander during fights, barking orders and tactics to their allies to net key bonuses and advantages. An Arcane Archer, on the other hand, blends martial prowess and magical knowledge, creating a living arsenal of trick arrows that can shove people into other dimensions or explode. Eldritch Knights are a mix between a Sorcerer and a Fighter (Eldritch Knights, while not the strongest archetype, are one of my favorites). The variety offered by Martial Archetypes are profound, and really help crystallize your character's concept into a living, breathing, attacking thing.

At level four, your character gains access to an Ability Score Improvement, bumping your stats by two points, or a Feat. A Feat, like a Class Feature, is varied and powerful. Feats can grant buffs to your stats, access to the abilities of other classes, a new proficiency bonus, or unique, situational abilities that aren't encountered in other class features. Fighters, unlike other classes, gain their ASI often, and can always substitute their Ability Score Improvement for access to another Feat. By 20th level, a Fighter will have access to seven feats or Ability Score Improvement increases.

Finally, at Fighter level five, your character gains the Extra Attack class feature. Essentially, whenever you take the Attack action, you can make an additional attack! You also gain a third Extra Attack at level eleven, and a fourth Extra Attack at level 20. While a Fighter is very sturdy, they can also deal a good to staggering amount of damage with their weapon attacks.

As the Fighter levels, they gain access to only one other class feature: Indomitable. Indomitable allows you to re roll any saving throw, with the caveat that you must use the new roll. You gain uses as you level up, and while not as powerful as a simple Advantage, they are useful in that the Player decides when they use it, rather than the DM.

Another cool feature of the Fighter class is that at 15th level, your weapon attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 18-20, allowing you to score a critical hit much easier and dish out some serious damage!

Aside from their martial archetype features, a "classic" Fighter will not gain new abilities after Indomitable by their class layout. They will, however, be allowed to choose which score improvement and abilities they gain, through Feats, and increase their considerable power and influence by increasing their stats. A Fighter is simple: that does not mean a Fighter is weak or predictable.


What’s the Best Race for a Fighter in 5e?

Human. Variant Human is, often, the strongest race, simply because it allows you to boost any two stats by one, and choose a Feat. While Tasha's Cauldron of Everything has officially created a "customizable lineage" rule, Fighters gain such strength that their racial choice is rarely integral to a character's optimal build. I would, as I always do, encourage a person to read about each Race to understand their appeal, and then choose based off that. If you're looking for a more mechanical-based choice, though, I would recommend the following:

Halforcfighter

Half Orc

Half orc stat bonuses are great for Fighters, and they can choose to not die once per day. Half orc is a pretty common class choice for Strength ability score Fighters.

Bugbear

Stats are great, a free 5-foot reach extension, and the ability to add 2d6 damage on your first turn in combat are all powerful!

Bugbear Fighter
Dragonborn fighter

Dragonborn

Stats are good, not great, but a customizable breath weapon and damage resistance are powerful options.

Shifter

Great stats, a bonus action HP increase and ability gain, as well as a free Proficiency are nothing to scoff at.

shifter fighter
Triton fighter

Tritons

Swim Speed, cold resistance, and great stat bonuses all lead to this fishy friend race becoming strong fighters.

This is not to say you can never play an Elf Fighter, a Tabaxi Fighter, or a Tiefling Fighter. You can! And often times, you should! The only problem, from a stats perspective, is you will have bumps in stats that you don't use as often as the main two: Strength and Dexterity.


Best Fighter Class Builds

Mechanically, a Fighter should focus on two stats: Strength OR Dexterity, and Constitution as your secondary score improvement. A high Constitution is a must: a better saving throw and more HP are integral to survive, and as Fighter, you will often be fighting. The winner of a fight is the one who survives. Thus, your Constitution ability modifier should be as high as you can make it.

While it is possible to max out Strength and Dexterity in a max-level Fighter, for most campaigns, it is better to focus on either Strength or Dexterity. The higher Strength or Dexterity becomes, the more often you will hit with your weapons-and the harder you'll hit with said weapon attacks. Melee Weapons often scale off of Strength-the higher your Strength, the better. Ranged Weapons often scale off of Dexterity-the higher your Dexterity, the better.

The Armor Fighter (Strength)

Generally, a Fighter who focuses on wearing heavy armor and shields, should focus on Strength. Armors have Strength prerequisites, and thus, the best armor requires a very high Strength—18 to be precise.

In addition, heavy armor is the only class of armor that does not allow a character to add their Dexterity modifier to their AC. The trade-off is that Heavy Armor often sets your AC to ridiculously high levels, such as 16 to 18. A shield further increases that number by 2. It is not rare to see a Fighter hit level 4, slap on some plate mail and a tower shield, and just not be afraid of being hit by most weapon attacks. Keep in mind, as well: armor and shields can be magically enchanted, allowing your AC to rise higher than 20, although some DMs might limit access to these items.

When building an Armor Fighter, consider taking the Defense, Interception, Dueling, or Protection Fighting Styles. For Feats, consider Lucky, Alert, Crusher, Tough, Shield Master, Resilient, and Heavy Armor Master.  For Martial Archetype, choose Battle Master.

ArmorFighter

The Ranged Fighter (Dexterity)

A Ranged Fighter, as the name implies, is a Fighter who focuses on movement, tactics, and whittling down enemies from afar with long-reach attacks. Using Bows or Crossbows or Thrown Weapons, a Ranger Fighter is mobile, accurate, and deadly. Understanding movement, lines of sight, and positioning are good skills to develop when playing a Ranged Fighter. Your AC won't be as high as the Armor Fighter, but the tradeoff is higher mobility and less susceptibility to area of effect abilities and traps, due to your higher Dexterity. Finding different types of ammunition, such as magical arrows, trap arrows, or bombs, also lead to an interesting dynamic, where the Player has to choose when to use certain benefits for maximum efficiency, rather than charging in and swinging.

When building a Ranged Fighter, consider taking the Mobile, Medium Armor Master, Skulker, Athlete, Crossbow Expert (if using Crossbows), Piercer, and Sharpshooter. For Fighting Style, consider Archery or Close-Quarters Shooter. For Martial Archetype, consider Arcane Archer or Champion.

DExfighter (2)

Weapon and Armor Properties

Like classes and characters, weapons and armor also have properties. I've included a list of them below separated into Mundane and Magical categories. Keep in mind, some of these descriptions are "abbreviated" for simplicity of understanding, and may be modified during your games.

Mundane Weapon Properties

Finesse

You may use Dexterity or Strength for attack and damage rolls made with this weapon.

Heavy

Small creatures have Disadvantage on attack rolls made with this weapon. I also consider allowing a damage re-roll on 1s and 2s, to represent the added weight.

Light

This weapon allows you to make an extra attack as a bonus action when using two weapons. You cannot, however, add your stat modifier to the damage roll, only the attack roll.

Reach

The weapon has a long reach, allowing you to attack opponents 5-feet further from you than normal. This usually means you can attack people that are 10-feet from you.

Two-Handed

This weapon requires two hands to use properly, and thus, cannot be used with a shield.

Loading

You may only make one attack with this weapon per round.

Thrown

You may throw this weapon as part of the attack action. Each weapon has a range, included with the weapon's stats, that represent the distance you can throw it.

Versatile

This weapon can be used with one or two hands, and has a different damage dice to represent this quality. One-hand usually means less damage, but can be wielded with another weapon or a shield.

Mundane Armor Properties

Light Armor

You may add your maximum Dexterity bonus to your AC while wearing Light Armor.

Medium Armor

You may add up to a +2 bonus to your AC from your total Dexterity bonus while wearing Medium Armor.

Heavy Armor

You may not add any of your Dexterity Bonus to your AC.

Shield

You wield a shield in one hand and gain a +2 bonus to your AC.

Magical Weapon Properties

+1/2/3 Weapons

These weapons grant a numerical bonus on all attack and damage rolls made with it, equal to the number. A +1 long-sword, for example, will add 1 to all attack and damage rolls.

Vicious Weapons

Weapons that deal additional damage whenever you get a critical hit. You add 2d6 damage to the weapon's damage whenever you roll a natural 20 on an attack roll.

Defender

A +1/2/3 weapon that allows you, after making an attack, to transfer the +1 property to your AC for the rest of the round.

Slayer Weapons

Weapons that are effective against certain enemies. A dragon-slayer spear, for example, would deal 1d8+xd6 damage to all dragons you fight. Most weapons of this caliber are +1 or +2, and add between 2-4 d6s of damage whenever you strike the "slayer" typed enemy.

Dancing

A weapon that, as a bonus action, can animate and attack creatures within its ranger, and continues to do so until the weapon is recalled.

Magical Armor Properties

+1/2/3 Armor

You add an additional numerical bonus to your AC equal to the armor's magical bonus.

Adamantine Armor

While wearing armor made of Adamantine, any critical hit is reduced to a normal hit.

Resistance Armor

You gain resistance to an element keyed to the armor's type. For example, Fire Resistance Armor would give you resistance to fire damage while wearing it.

Mithral Armor

While wearing Mithral armor, you do not gain Disadvantage on Stealth Checks imposed by the armor's normal statistics. In addition, Mithral armor does not require a Strength Score to be worn, as it is light and flexible.

Invulnerable

This armor type gives you resistance to all sources of non-magical damage while wearing it.


Role-playing as a Fighter

What is the point of a D&D guide if not to help you have more fun?!

5e-fighter-guide

What is the point of a D&D guide if not to help you have more fun?!

When role-playing as a Fighter, it is important to consider the blend between your character's game play mechanics as well as their personality and history. Here are some key questions to ask yourself when designing a Fighter:

  • What is your character's reason for fighting? Glory? Responsibility? Desire? Fear? Skill? A Fighter who is drafted into a kingdom's army, only to find that they have a talent for bloodshed plays very differently than a world-weary knight who has lost everything, and only exists to protect one last person, or find one last treasure, before succumbing to their checkered past. These two examples could even be the same character played out over the course of a campaign! A person going from eager recruit to world-weary general is a very epic story to explore.
  • How does your Fighter view combat? Is combat something to be sought out and conquered, like a bloodthirsty or vainglorious hero? Or is combat a misery, something to be resorted to after all options have been exhausted? Or are they the shoot-first, ask questions later type? Combat is integral to your character's mechanics, so understanding your view of it can lead to some excellent role-playing opportunities.
  • Do they fight for a goal? If so, what goal? Do they want to restore honor to their family's house after a great debacle? Are they fighting for freedom and an end to subjugation? Are they seeking wealth to retire in luxury and raise a family? Or are they fighting just because they enjoy doing so, and it lets them exert their will on the world? A person with a sword should know why they're holding that sword, even if the reason might be something vastly different from your own reason or view on combat.
  • Why do they use this particular fighting style? This particular weapon? Are they the type to throw a weapon and run, or unsheathe steel and charge in, shield raised and eyes glaring? Did they learn on their own? Did they have a drill sergeant, or a master? How did they learn their skills, and why do they continue to pursue this calling?
  • What do they fight? Are they monster hunters delving into dungeons? Do they have a title? If so, what is that title? Do they hunt men, claiming bounties wherever they go? Or are they soldiers of fortune, looking for the next big score?

After answering these questions, consider some key personality traits for your character. For example, while every character is different, if you want to borrow from existing archetypes, consider the following:

  • Grizzled- Brief in conversation, action-heavy, gruff, curses or swears often, patient but consistent, rarely laughs. Grizzled characters exist in worlds of moral greys and tough choices, and as a result, have felt the sting of tragedy and defeat. Yet, for some reason, they keep on trucking, moving on and surviving. An example would be Logan/Wolverine or The Mandalorian.
  • Haughty- Laughs often, challenges people to duels, pompous and arrogant, strong-willed, driven, has a goal or several goals, willing to test themselves often, reckless. An example would be Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, or Goku, from Dragonball Z.
  • Noble- Quiet, but charismatic, selfless to an extent, moral paragon, endearing, inspiring, a natural born leader. When joking, often tries to make everyone laugh. Will risk themselves to protect others. Should be in a position of power, but often isn't, or is hesitant in ascending to that position. A perfect example would be Captain America or Aragorn: people that are human, but possess that spark of the divine that leads them to acts of great heroism.
  • Guardian- Fiercely protective of an individual, subservient to an extent, knowledgeable and authoritative. Parental, nurturing, protective. A Guardian is somebody who seeks to keep things safe: a person, place, thing, or all of the above. Guardians are often codified as "the strong, silent type". A character that risks their lives to keep others safe. Most stories have these characters, but they are often in the role of supporting, rather than main.
  • Avenger- Angry, highly motivated, willing to cause chaos or destruction to "make things right". Avengers are often characters who have had great trauma or injustice inflicted on them, and as a result, have sought a way to retribute their enemies for their evil actions. Avengers are often the focus of a party, and will spark conflict due to their strong goals and inflexibility. An example of an Avenger would be Batman or Daredevil: these characters know something horrible was done to them, and as a result, want to make things right through their own actions.

Picking a character's core personality traits will often inform how you role-play any character, but I feel that it is more important in this class, simply because they enable so many options for the player. A Rogue, by definition, has to be sneaky and stealthy. A Wizard has to know about magic and mysteries. A Cleric must be religious and devoted to that religion. Its how these classes work. Fighters, however, are not as intrinsically tied to their class mechanics as the other classes of 5e. Thus, this class can be, as said earlier, anybody willing to fight and continue fighting.

When making your character, I would highly recommend taking inspiration from characters you found to be memorable, enticing, and most importantly, amazing. It is important for a Fighter to role-play their ACTIONS and their WORDS, rather than one or the other.

A Barbarian is, often-times, not the most eloquent of character. A wizard, often-times, is not the most physically striking or action-oriented character.

FighterGuide

A Fighter doesn't have to be both, but CAN be both with ease. Role-playing as a Fighter can mean leading a party into battle with a rousing speech, then describing the fluidity and savagery of your attacks, throwing weapons or grabbing monsters or how you slash your axe.

Fighting Style and Martial Archetypes aren't just abilities, they're how you interact with the world and how you've been raised in the world. If you're playing as a Battle Master, and your abilities call for you to manipulate your enemies and inspire your allies, then dang well role-play that, too! Tell your friends what abilities you're going to use, and try to do that in character, too! Have fun describing your epic, sweeping sword strikes, how you slam your shield into an opponent to send them sprawling onto the ground. Live the fantasy. How many movies and video games have been successful on the strength of their action scenes alone? The Fighter is your gateway into living (vicariously) that action!


Conclusion

Whether you inhabit the armor of an Eldritch Knight, or wade into a battlefield as a Battle Master, the Fighter offers a robust and in-depth suite of abilities and features.

While they are simple at their core, 5e has taken great effort in allowing a player to craft a very specific vision of a character through the combination of Feats, Martial Archetypes, and even Weapons and Armor. Fighters are, at their core, a great way for a player to test out their creative chops by recognizing the limitations of the class, but developing what tools and weapons they do have.

Pick up your dice and try out this class today! I hope you've enjoyed this guide!

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Brendan "Amigo"

About the author

Brendan has been an avid fan of games, stories, and the human experience for a good part of his lifetime. Laughter, friendship, and advice are all things he lives for. As a Dungeon Master, he’s seen his fair share of campaigns, and is always looking to craft some cool experiences for his friends. He will talk for days, if you let him, about his homebrew content, as well as whatever new story or phenomenon has caught his attention this week. Favorite systems are Dungeons and Dragons, Monster Hearts, and the newly released LANCER. He prefers long walks on the moon, dancing like everyone can see him, and a nice chianti with fava beans, but no liver. He’s on a diet, and  liver meat is awfully fatty.

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  1. I loved the roleplay idea section! Those archetypes are some of the most iconic "fighters" and that helps give new ideas how to play a similar character

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