Last Updated: September 27, 2023
The Fighter is one of the most iconic classes in DnD, and with considerably more feats than any other character the Fighter has a ton of room for customization. However, because 3.5 rewards specialization Fighters tend to pigeon-hole themselves into a small set of combat options, and when those options are ineffective they frequently find themselves useless in combat. The Fighter excels as a Defender and Striker, but completely lacks the ability to fill other roles.
Because Fighters are exceptionally diverse, this handbook will not present a specific build. Instead, it will provide general advice which should apply to most Fighters.
Table of Contents
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which tend to be more consistent than 3.5 handbooks. Because so little of 3.5 is available on the SRD, I will attempt to tag items with a superscript indicating their book of origin. For help identifying sourcebook abbreviations, see my Sourcebook Abbreviations Guide.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
It’s important to note that I generally omit campaign-setting specific content. I am of the opinion that those options are intended to be limited to campaigns run in those settings, and as such they don’t really apply to a generic campaign. Those options also tend to be wildly unbalanced and rarely receive errata. I also omit the use of “Flaws” since they allow a massive increase in power with essentially no cost to the character.
Fighter Class Features: d10 hit points is standard for martial classes. : Full BAB. : Fortitude is the Fighter’s only good save. : Heavy armor, tower shields, and martial weapons. : 2+ skill ranks and the worst skill list in the game by a huge margin. : The Fighter’s only class feature. Bonus Feats are why you play a Fighter (or take a 2-level class dip).
Alternate Class Features
- PHB2: Potentially viable if you’re using a big two-handed weapon, but it cuts into your damage output and prevents you from using your swift action.
- DrM: This is a weird ability, and it strongly discourages multiclassing into anything which doesn’t provide heavy armor proficiency. You’ll probably do better just buying norma armor, but this could potentially save you a whole lot of money, and it’s a good option for builds which can’t sacrifice mobility to use heavy armor. The maximum dexterity bonus of +2 is enough for many Combat Reflexes users, but you may want more for really well-optimized area control defender builds.
- Ds: The bull rush component is the only important part of this ACF, and it’s plenty. 8d6 damage plus triple your strength bonus is a huge pile of damage, and you can do it as often as you like. Combined with Shock Trooper, this can be a fantastic component of charge builds, and can give you a fun option for positioning your enemies on the battlefield.
- PHB2: The bonus to AC isn’t nearly enough to compensate for the amount of damage ouput which you give up for this.
- PHB2: Fantastic for area control Defenders because it doubles the damage of your attacks of opportunity. It also removes the disappointment of rolling and missing with all of your iterative attacks.
- CM: Very tempting for Gish builds like the Eldritch Knight, but you need to take a whole bunch of levels of Fighter so that you can cast higher level spells in armor, which means you’re giving up spellcasting levels.
- CC: DR is one of the Fighter’s biggest problems, and the ability to align your weapon as a free action is better than any Cleric or Paladin can do.
- CC: Will saves are one of the Fighter’s biggest problems. However, many fights involve enemies with no abilities that count on your Will saves, and the bonus is typeless so it will stack with anything.
- CC: This is a great option for addressing the Fighter’s poor Will saves. It’s an immediate action, so you can use it in response to effects which require a Will save instead of guessing when you might need it. You will probably need to forgo Power Attack on the following turn, but it’s better than being mind-controlled.
- RoDr: Standard class skills plus profession (miner).
- : Spears are simple weapons with considerably better martial equivalents, and you give up heavy armor proficiency.
- : A constitution bonus is tempting, but not very effective compared to a feat or Dungeon Crasher.
- : A Strength bonus is a nice bonus to attack and damage.
- RoDe: Standard class skills plus bluff, diplomacy and sense motive. 4 + intelligence modifier skill points at each substitution level. This allows the Fighter to serve as a passable Face, but adds an annoying dependence on Charisma. These substitution levels could make for a great class dip for Swashbucklers.
- : Replace your first level feat for two weapon focuses (rapier, longsword). The Rapier is a great option for a TWF build, but this definitely limits your options.
- : Two-Weapon fighting for free when wielding longsword/rapier and dagger. Rapier/Dagger is a fine combo, but it won’t be as effective as using two identical weapons to capitalize on Weapon Specialization.
- : This is a fun mechanic with a cool flavor, and it offsets the TWF penalties.
- RoS: Standard class skills plus Knowledge (dungeoneering). d12 hit die at each substitution level. Dungeoneering is one of the most important Knowledge skills, and it gives you a good option for your one skill point. The bonus hit points aren’t much, but starting with 12+ at first level feels nice. Unfortunately the abilities are all fairly terrible.
- : If you’re using a greataxe or an axe with a shield, this is fine.
- : Weapon specialization is strictly better.
- : Essentially Armor Focus.
- PH: Standard class skills plus knowledge (the planes). Planes is one of the better Knowledge skills, and it gives you a good option for your one skill point.
- : Weapon specialization is strictly better.
- : The Aligned Strike alternative class feature is strictly better.
- : A dimensional anchor effect on you. Nice for grapplers, but situational.
- RoW: Some great options for Raptorans.
- : Useful for raptorans, especially if you wear heavy armor.
- : Weapon specialization when you are higher than your opponent. Raptorans are all about flight, so being higher than your opponent should be a given.
- : Nice bonuses to flying speeds. Stacks with others so it is worth the trade.
Content from Unearthed Arcana is generally considered optional variant rules. Many of these options are poorly balanced, so be sure to consult your DM before selecting any such options.
- : For lightly armored builds, the Thug can be a fun improvement to the Fighter. The extra class skills allow you to serve as a Face. Unfortunately you give up the bonus feat at first level, but many builds can afford to give up one feat.
- : Trade in your bonus feats for the Rogue’s Sneak Attack progression. I can imagine a few builds where this might be helpful, but the primary reason to play a Fighter is for the feats.
The Fighter’s abilities vary depending on your build, but the emphasis on physical ability scores is constant across nearly every Fighter.: Almost every Fighter is Strength-based, and even the ones who aren’t need Strength for the damage bonus and access to Power Attack. : Great for AC, Reflex saves, and Combat Reflexes. If you don’t want to go for Combat Reflexes, you can get away with as little as 10 thanks to Heavy Plate. : Hit points are absolutely crucial. : Only useful if you want Combat Expertise. : You need a bit for the Fighter’s garbage Will saves, but that’s all that it gets you. : Dump stat.
Bonuses to physical ability scores are nice, but bonus feats are often more important. Medium size is preferred, especially for Defender builds which rely on being enlarged.: A great defensive option, Dwarfs get a whole mess of good bonuses beyond their Constitution bonus. : The bonus to Dexterity is nice for archer builds, but the constitution bonus hurts a lot. : Small size and a penalty to Strength severely limit your options. None of the Gnomes abilities are useful for Fighters. : Awful. : The Strength bonus is tempting, but the Human bonus feat is considerably more effective. : Your best bet for small Fighter builds, but still not a great option. : The gold standard. A bonus feat is a huge bonus, but the Human’s bonus skill points are wasted on the Fighter.
- (Str): Too situational.
- (Cha): Training animals isn’t useful for Fighters.
- (Cha): The Fighter doesn’t have a way to bring Intimidate into play effectively.
- (Str): Only useful if you want Leap Strike.
- (Dex): Mounts are not typically important for Fighters, but if you want to play a mounted combat build you will need to max Ride.
- (Str): Too situational.
- LoM: The aberant feats are surprisingly good for Fighters, though they tend to be supportive or utilitarian in nature, with a couple notable exceptions. Remember that you’ll look a bit… odd, so you may want to skip aberant feats in highly social campaigns.
- LoM: Only good if you take a at least 3 other aberant feats.
- LoM: Small bonus attacks like these are best left to Rogues. The damage is puny compared to what you can do with a weapon.
- LoM: Improved Toughness will get you considerably more hit points.
- LoM: Permanently extend your reach by 5 feet. A -1 to attacks is nothing considering how good reach is.
- LoM: Only applies to ingested poisons. There are plenty of ways to make food edible without a feat.
- LoM: Allows short bursts of flight with average maneuverability. Great for getting into combat, jumping pits, ascending walls, etc.
- LoM: Will saves are one of the Fighter’s biggest defensive gaps, but you need at least 3 other aberrant feats for this to match Iron Will or Combat Focus.
- LoM: There are plenty of ways to get a swim speed, and if you’re in a campaign where you need a permanent swim speed you should probably be playing something that has a natural swim speed.
- BoED: It’s hard to fit this into complex builds, but it’s potentially a better way to get a cheap magic item than having a party member craft it. Since you can convert magic items’ entire value, you don’t lose half of your loot’s value by selling it. This can allow the rest of your party to take things like art and gems, and leave you with all of the vendor trash items, thereby setting the whole party well ahead of the normal loot curve.
- PHB: Great at high levels when enemies will start having access to effects like Blur. It is also helpful if your party likes to use effects like Obscuring Mist to disrupt enemies.
- CAd: Thrown weapon builds can be very effective, and this removes the need for Dexterity.
- CAd: Lacking an equivalent to Power Attack is one of the biggest problems with archery in 3.5, but thrown weapons get Power Throw. This can add up to some fairly ridiculous damage.
- PHB2: The short description says that you can daze targets, but the full description says that you can only sicken targets, and even then its only for 1 round.
- CW: The first benefits works very well with Dungeon Crasher: smash enemies into the wall, then hit them on your next turn with a big bonus to attack and damage. The third benefit works on both a regular charge and on a bull rush, assuming your charged to initiate the bull rush, so you can combine the first and third benefits. The bonus to attacks from the first benefit can help to offset your Power Attack penalty, too.
- PHB: Adds a difficult dependence on Intelligence, but this is a great way to boost your AC in fights where you’re taking a lot of hits.
- CW: You probably don’t want to sacrifice more attack bonus than Combat Expertise already allows.
- PHB: Only a small subset of enemies use weapons which you can disarm.
- PHB: Only useful for Rogues, and even then nearly no Rogues take it.
- PHB: Trip builds are popular because they’re effective.
- PHB: Extremely hard to bring into play, and it costs a huge pile of feats to get.
- PHB2: By itself Combat Focus isn’t as good as Iron Will because it only applies while you’re in combat, and only lasts 10-15 rounds. The big appeal is the other Combat Focus feats, but unfortunately only a couple of them are worthwhile.
- PHB2: Learning enemy’s hit point totals is very informative, and can help you plan out your turns. Blindsight might seem worthless at 5 feet, but that’s enough to get adjacent to invisible enemies and murder them.
- PHB2: This helps make Dodge less painful if you took it for something else, but Dodge is still complete garbage.
- PHB2: It’s extremely rare for enemies to use these special attacks.
- PHB2: The biggest problem with Combat Focus is the short duration, and ending it early greatly exacerbates this problem. Still, this can be a great finishing move when your duration is running low or when you’re nearly guaranteed to kill the last enemy in the fight. Use Combat Awareness to make sure you don’t use this prematurely.
- PHB2: Fast healing is a great way to keep yourself alive during a fight, especially when it jumps to fast healing 4.
- PHB: Required for area control Defenders.
- CW: The wording of the feat seems to ignore the possibility of reach, which is weird because the most likely users of this feat will have reach. It’s only one extra attack when people charge you, but an enlarged fighter with a spiked chain has 15 foot reach, and can get a total of 3 attacks. This could be enough to outright kill an enemy.
- PHB2: Many fights involve standing still and wacking each other until someone falls over, so this can get you a lot of free attacks.
- PHB: Awful, but opens up some other options which are pretty great.
- PHB: The 10 point buffer before you die will frequently save your life, so Diehard is a gamble. Instead of falling unconscious and being ignored until someone saves you or your party wipes, you just fight until you’re outright dead.
- PHB2: Turns Wisdom into an extra dump stat, and makes you immune to natural 1s on Fortitude saves.
- ToB: An amusing way to reposition yourself with Defender builds.
- CW: Great for TWF builds and Two-Handed builds which need a bit of help with AC, but once you can afford an animated shield it becomes useless.
- PHB: Garbage, and most people forget to declare their Dodge target.
- PHB: Only good for Spiked Chain. Other exotic weapons are garbage.
- PHB: Fantastic for Scimitars and Falchions, but otherwise skip it.
- PHB: Never hurts, but going first isn’t as important for Fighters as it is for spellcasters.
- CW: An extra hit point at every level can be very nice if your AC isn’t doing the trick.
- PHB: Knowing that the Fighter is a better unarmed fighter than the Monk is one of the greatest signs of understanding character optimization in 3.5. Most people still prefer to use a weapon, but unarmed combat builds are perfectly viable.
- PHB: Very situational.
- PHB: Very situational, and pretty bad in the rare cases that it works.
- PHB: Grappling in 3.5 is among the worst, slowest, and most painful things that you can do. Every time someone tries to start a grapple my eyes roll back into my skull to watch my brain fail to remember the horrifying pile of minutiae and edge cases that make up the grapple rules.
- PHB: Only useful for Monks, who get to use it enough times per day for it to be useful.
- PHB: Very situational.
- PHB2: One attack with slightly improved reach as a full round action. Garbage.
- CAd: Situational, but it really shuts down enemy spellcasters.
- ToB: Maneuvers are fantastic, and many of them offer great options for Fighters.
- ToB: Stances are fantastic, and many of them offer great options for Fighters. Remember that some stances may require you to take Martial Study more than once.
- CW: Effectively -2 to attacks for +1d6 damage. Not a good trade.
- : Essential for mounted builds, but not very exciting. PHB
- PHB: The basis for every ranged build.
- PHB: Bows have plenty of range already.
- PHB: Essential if you have other allies in melee.
- PHB: Even better than Precise Shot, and it lets you ignore pesky effects like Blur.
- PHB: A huge boost in damage output for archer builds.
- PHB: Very situational. Standing and making a full attack is considerably more effective.
- PHB: Essential for any melee Fighter build except TWF builds.
- PHB: Very rarely pays off unless your DM likes to use lots of weak enemies in fights.
- PHB: Great for Dungeon Crasher, and required for Shock Trooper, but otherwise worthless.
- PHB2: This could potentially work for Defenders early in a fight when enemies are closing distance, but it’s very passive and situational.
- CW: The first two benefits are great for Dungeon Crashers, but the third is great for any charger build. Applying your Power Attack penalty to AC instead of attack allows you to take as much bonus damage as you are allowed without wasting it by missing.
- PHB: I have been playing this game for over a decade and I have never once seen anyone use this feat. Stop running past people and hit them.
- PHB: Don’t destroy your own loot.
- CAd: Essential for charge builds.
- BoED: Making an enemy cower on a crit is extremely tempting, but it keys on your dumped Charisma.
- CW: Essential for critical hit builds.
- PHB: Only important for throwing builds.
- PHB2: Fantastic for Defenders. If you can keep convincing your enemies to attack you, this can get you a huge number of attacks. Combined with the Overpowering Attack ACF, you can really ruin some people’s days.
- Shield ProficiencyPHB: You get it for free.
- PHB: Only important for sword-and-board TWF builds, which are a great mix of sword-and-board AC and TWF damage output.
- PHB2: +1 to AC isn’t much, but sure beats Dodge.
- PHB2: You need to really enjoy fighting defensively for this to be worth a feat.
- PHB2: If you’re going for a sword-and-board TWF build, you either need to use a light weapon or a light shield. This allows you to use a heavy shield and a one-handed weapon, and has the added benefit of not requiring 15 dexterity.
- PHB2: Remember that expensive shield you’ve been spending thousands of gold enhancing? Yeah, now it’s on the ground over there somewhere.
- PHB2: Touch AC is a huge problem, and even modest improvements to yours will go a long way. Since touch AC scales so poorly, very few creatures which rely on touch attacks have a large attack bonus.
- EPH: A frequently overlooked feat from a frequently overlooked book, Stand Still replaces the need for complex Trip tactics and Combat Expertise, making Defender builds considerably easier for characters with low intelligence. Combat Reflexes isn’t required, but I still strongly recommend it.
- PHB: Literally never.
- PHB: Two-Weapon Fighting is a fun strategy, but it generally doesn’t work as well as two-handed builds.
- CAd: This will amount to roughly 1 damage per weapon. Unless you specifically need to use a one-handed weapon for some reason, there is no reason to take this feat.
- PHB: More attacks means more damage.
- PHB: Improved Buckler Defense is miles better.
- CW: Improved Buckler Defense is still better.
- PHB2: Take a level of Barbarian for real Pounce.
- PHB2: 1d6 damage plus 1.5 strength is very small. TWF builds rely on on-hit damage boosts like Flaming weapons and Weapon Specialization. This damage bonus will be insignificant.
- DotU: A great option for Spiked Chain defender builds, but usually requires that you have someone to flank with.
- PHB: Essential for Dexterity-based melee builds, and great for TWF builds with low Strength.
- PHB: A +1 to hit is always nice, and it’s especially useful for archery and TWF builds which depend on multiple weak attacks.
- PHB: Another +1 to hit.
- PHB: +2 damage is always tempting, but unless you’re two-weapon fighting you can often expect to get a better payoff from other feats.
- PHB: Another +2, but faces the same issues as Weapon Specialization.
- PHB2: Really only useful if you use more than one weapon for some reason. Potentially good for TWF builds which use two different weapons in the same group.
- PHB2: Only really helpful for TWF builds with bludgeoning weapons, but the scaling bonus can really help your iterative attacks. Potentially great for unarmed combat builds.
- PHB2: And interesting combination of Bull Rush and Trip, and you don’t need the feats for them. Potentially effective for Defender builds which use polearms.
- PHB2: The -5 penalty to attacks hurts, but at this level your attack bonus should be stellar. Extra attacks are especially great for critical hit builds.
- PHB2: The bonuses are great, and the ability to use your weapon unhindered in a grapple removes one of the easiest ways to shut down weapon-based Fighters.
- PHB2: I can’t think of a single character who would benefit from this.
- : The two-handed equivalent of the Scimitar.
- : A great option for two-weapon fighting because you can only need to take Weapon Focus/Specialization once, and it has 18-20 threat range.
- : A composite longbow is your go-to option for archery builds.
- : Your likely go-to option at first level, but the Scimitar will be a better option once you have a significant damage bonus.
- : Essentially identical to the scimitar, but you can also use it with Weapon Finesse.
- : Your go-to option for sword-and-board builds. The higher critical threat range will be much more effective at high levels than the longsword’s superior damage.
- : The Kukri’s better threat range will pay off better.
- : The only exotic weapon worth a feat. Absolutely crucial for area control Defender builds.
Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order.
- : Your starting armor.
- : With Improved Buckler Defense, the Buckler is a fantastic boost to AC for TWF and two-handed builds.
- : Probably your best bet for sword-and-board builds.
- : A nice AC bonus, but the penalty to attacks is frustrating.
- RoS: +1 more AC than full plate, and you don’t need 12 dexterity to fill out the max dex bonus.
- DMG2 (2000gp): Unfortunately this ability only works once per day, but if your DM allows it to work with Dungeon Crasher, this is can be very powerful. Charge with Shock Trooper and Leap Strike, then bull rush the target into a wall for Shock Trooper damage. Follow up on the next round with another Bull Rusk for more Shock Trooper damage, then on the following round murder them with Combat Brute’s Advancing Blows and Momentum Swing abilities.
- MIC: Many weapon users pick up an energy enhancement for a bit of extra damage, but at 3000gp an energy assault crystal is cheaper than any actual enhancement (minimum of 6000gp on top of a +1 weapon). You can also swap out the crystals if your enemies are resistant to whatever you’re using.
- MIC: Not terribly exciting, but stealing health from enemies you hit in combat can get you the extra hit points you need to get through a fight.
- DMG (+2): An animated shield is a crucial AC boost for two-handed and two-weapon builds of any kind. At 9000gp, a +1 animated shield is one of the cheaper ways to boost your AC once you already have cheap AC boosts like a +1 Ring of Protection. If you can handle the -2 penalty to attacks and the max dex bonus, you can apply this to a tower shield for a fantastic +5 AC bonus for just over 9000gp.
- MIC: A splash of DR on your armor/shield. For 500 GP the lesser version is basically 10 hit points per day.
- DMG: Excellent at high levels, especially if you have enough Dexterity to back up your Reflex saves.
- DMG: You’re probably the party’s Defender, so you need all the AC bonuses you can get.
- DMG: Essential for dungeon crasher builds, but the extra +2 damage for power attacking is useful for nearly any Fighter.
- DMG: See Gauntlets of Strength, below.
- DMG: Vest of Resistance is identical and takes up a much less useful slot.
- DMG: These are a glove slot as a throwback to previous editions (and to Thor), which makes it annoying to switch to a new belt when it’s time to upgrade to +4. Check with your DM, and you may be able to get a +2 belt, or upgrade your gloves past +2.
- DMG: At only 5000gp, a Dusty Rose Ioun Stone provides a cheaper boost to AC than upgrading your Ring of Protection from +1 to +2. The bonus is an insight bonus, which makes it easy to stack because insight bonuses to AC are extremely rare.
- MIC: DR 3/something for 15,000 gp. Expensive, but if you’re not using adamantine heavy armor it’s a great way to get DR. Absolutely do not get a Shirt of Resilience. By the time you can afford this nearly everything you meet can bypass DR/magic. DR/adamantine is my favorite because only things like Iron Golems can bypass it without an adamantine weapon.
- MIC: Same cost as a cloak, and takes up the largely useless “torso” slot. A strictly better choice than a Cloak of Resistance, unless you plan to buy a Shirt of X for DR.
- PHB: Essential for Defender builds, large size gets you constant reach. Coupled with a spiked chain, you get a total of 15 foot reach, allowing you to dominate huge portions of the battlefield. The bonus strength is nice, but the penalty to Dexterity cuts into your attacks of opportunity, and you lose a total of 2 to your AC, which can be problematic.
- PHB: For dexterity-based Fighters, being reduced from medium to small size can provide a nice bonus to Dexterity, AC, and attacks. However, be sure not to go down to tiny or you won’t be able to attack into adjacent squares.
- PHB: With no way to handle invisible creatures, the ability to always see them is a fantastic benefit.
Multiclassing and Prestige Classes
- PHB: A one level dip can get you both Rage and Pounce. Rage doesn’t really scale with level, so you aren’t missing much by only taking one level. Two levels and the Wolf Totem gets you Improved Trip without needing Combat Expertise, which greatly simplifies area control Defender builds, and reduces MAD a bit.
- ToB: Maneuvers and Stances are great for Fighters, and the Tome of Battle classes are all full BAB, and complement the Fighter’s existing abilities very nicely.
- PHB: If you’re going for an unarmed build, Monks get you a lot of good things for a one or two level class dip.