Pathfinder - The Fighter Handbook
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
The fighter is one of the simplest classes in Pathfinder, but it is also one of the most conceptually flexible. A new fighter is a blank canvas, and can take nearly any form, but typically excels as a Defender or Striker. The fighter's biggest problem is that they are typically forced to specialize to remain effective, and tend to be pigeon-holed by their combat strategy. With no magic and terrible skills, the Fighter has a lot of trouble functioning where their combat skills don't apply.
This guide is intentionally sparse. Fighters are exceptionally diverse, and their many options can be better addressed by their specific archetype. For further guidance, see my Fighter Archetype Breakdown.
Fighter Class Features
Hit Points: d10 hit points like nearly every other front-line class.
Base Attack Bonus: Full BAB.
Saves: Good fortitude saves, but many fighters have major problems with Reflex and Will saves.
Proficiencies: All armor and shields, include Tower shields, and martial weapons. The fighter has a huge variety of options, and with plenty of bonus feats they can supplement these options with exotic weapon proficiency.
Skills: Likely the worst skill list in the game, and Fighters often dump intelligence to 7. 2+ skill ranks is almost nothing, but many fighters still can't find a good way to use all of their skill ranks.
Bonus Feats: Bonus feats are why most people play a Fighter (or at least take a class dip). With a feat at level one and another at every even-numbered class level, the Fighter gets a total of 22 feats by level 20 (23 for humans), giving you a dizzying number of options. On top of this, the fighter gets a free retraining option every 4 levels which allows you to pick up feats with high prerequisites by trading in low-level feats which aren't paying off anymore. Do silly things like trade in Toughness for Improved Critical at level 8.
Bravery (Ex): Situational. This ability is replaced by almost every Fighter archetype.
Armor Training (Ex): This greatly reduces the need for Mithral armor, and makes Dexterity much more important for Fighters than it is for other heavily armored characters. The ability to move at normal speed in medium and eventually heavy armor makes charging easier, and lends itself well to highly mobile builds.
Weapon Training (Ex): On top of "exclusive" access to Weapon Specialization (many classes can take feats as a Fighter), Weapon Training provides a bonus to attacks and damage with groups of weapons.
- Axes: Axes typically have a high critical multiplier and a 20 threat range, but are otherwise comparable to heavy blades. The Axes group includes a reach option (Bardiche) and a ranged option (throwing axe).
- Blades, Heavy: Contains a bunch of great melee options, including the Scimitar, Falchion, and Faltcata. However, with no reach or ranged options, it lacks versatility
- Blades, Light: Includes the Dagger, Kukri, and Rapier, making this the obvious choice for finesse Fighters. Daggers provide an excellent option for both melee and ranged combat, though they suffer from a very short range increment.
- Bows: A very small group, but the obvious choice for archers. A good second choice for primarily melee Fighters who need a solid ranged weapon.
- Close: Largely reserved for backup weapons, but includes shield spikes. For shield fighters who like to shield bash, the Close weapon group is your best bet.
- Crossbows: Crossbows have a huge feat tax compared to bows, and can't compete in terms of damage. The biggest draw for crossbows is their complete lack of dependence on Strength.
- Double weapons: With the possible exception of the double-chained kama, are usually terrible. There are rare builds which can easily switch between two-weapon fighting and using one end of a weapon as a two-handed weapon, and your GM may allow you to make attacks of opportunity as though using a double weapon two-handed.
- Firearms: Generally best reserve for Gunslingers, but potentially a good second choice for a melee Fighter who needs a good ranged weapon.
- Flails: The Flails group offers a lot of great options for Defender builds and Trip builds. Flails often provide bonuses to Trip and/or Disarm, and with a few feats the Whip can provide superior reach similar to the Spiked Chain in 3.5. Don't be tempted by the Spiked Chain in Pathfinder; it is worthless.
- Hammers: Like Axces, but with no reach option.
- Monk: Lots of interesting and diverse options, but most of them are exotic and their damage is poor.
- Natural: Only works for very weird builds.
- Polearms: Reach: The weapon group.
- Siege Engines: Save this for NPCs.
- Spears: More Simple options than Polearms, but Spears typically have a range increment in place of the special abilities on most Polearms.
- Thrown: An excellent second choice for primarily melee Fighters. The range increment isn't as good as a Bow, but they're much cheaper and already apply your Strength bonus to damage.
Armor Mastery (Ex): A bit late in the game, but DR/- is always welcome.
Weapon Mastery (Ex): Absolutely fantastic. Making critical hits more reliable provides a massive boost to your damage, and you can retrain Critical Focus if you haven't taken any critical feats.
Unfortunately it's impossible to make broad generalizations about abilities for Fighters. Because they are so diverse, ability allocation must be similarly diverse.
Str: Nearly every fighter needs a bonus to Strength, including archers. For melee fighters, this is your primary ability.
Dex: Coupled with Armor Mastery, high Dexterity can provide an excellent bonus to AC in even the heaviest armor. For ranged or finesse fighters, this is your primarily ability.
Con: Hit points are crucial for Fighters because they tend to be the party's front line.
Int: The Fighter's skills are garbage, and you can't get less than one skill rank.
Wis: Only needed for Will saves, but don't dump it.
Cha: Worthless unless you plan to use Intimidate.
The Fighter is a good option for nearly any race, and different races lend themselves to a variety of different builds.
Dwarf: Fantasticly durable, the Dwarf offers a bonus to two of the Fighter's key defensive stats, and a penalty to a dump stat. The Dwarf's additional defensive abilities add further bonuses, and access to Dwarf weapons as martial weapons grants some helpful options like the Dwarven Longhammer and the Dwarven Waraxe, which are somewhat bland but offer a bit of extra damage.
Elf: The Elf is primarily a spellcasting race, but with some alternate racial traits the Elf can make a decent finesse fighter.
Gnome: The Gnome is not a great Fighter. With a penalty to Strength and a bonus to Charisma, the Gnome has very little to offer.
Half-Elf: The Half-Elf is versatile, especially with some alternate racial traits.
Half-Orc: A flexible ability bonus and Darkvision are both great for the Fighter. The other racial bonuses also play well to the Fighter's strengths, and the racial bonus to Intimidate can offset dumping Charisma.
Halfling: Your best bet for a small Fighter, the Strength penalty is offset by the Dexterity bonus. The Charisma bonus is wasted, as are most of the Halfling's other racial bonuses, but some alternate racial traits can make the Halfling very viable. However, because Enlarge Person doesn't give the Halfling reach, it falls short as a Defender.
Human: An extra bonus feat gets your build up and running a level earlier, and the bonus skill rank applies after your 7 intelligence drops your class skill ranks to 1.
- Climb (Str): Too situational.
- Handle Animal (Cha): Only useful for mounted builds, and other classes (like the Cavalier or Paladin) do mounter combat much better.
- Intimidate (Cha): The fighter's only social skill, and some builds can work Intimidate into combat.
- Knowledge (dungeoneering) (Int): One of the best Knowledge skills. Unfortunately the Fighter's poor Intelligence will hurt your bonus.
- Knowledge (engineering) (Int): Too situational.
- Ride (Dex): Only useful for mounted builds, and other classes (like the Cavalier or Paladin) do mounter combat much better.
- Survival (Wis): Situational.
- Swim (Str): Too situational.
Weapon Focus: A +1 to hit is always nice.
- Greater Weapon Focus: Another +1 to hit.
Penetrating Strike: DR is always annoying,
and with no magical options it can be hard for the Fighter to overcome
many types of DR.
- Greater Penetrating Strike: Ignore even more DR. By this level, DR 10/* is very common.
Weapon Specialization: +2 damage is always
tempting, but unless you're two-weapon fighting you can often expect
to get a better payoff from other feats.
- Greater Weapon Specialization: Another +2, but faces the same issues as Weapon Specialization.