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DnD 5e - The Fighter Handbook

Last Updated: March 17th, 2020

Disclaimer

I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • 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.

I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

Introduction

The Fighter is a fantastic addition to any party. While their skills and tool proficiencies are extremely limited, Fighters excel in combat. They are durable, have great armor, and provide plenty of damage output. Feats and class options allow for Fighters to fill a variety of roles, including as a Defender and a Striker, and Fighters work with a variety of interesting builds. A bit of work allows the Fighter to also serve as a Face (Purple Draogn Knight) or Librarian, (Eldritch Knight) though they won't excel in those roles as much as a Bard or a Wizard whose ability scores are more tailored to those functions.

After reading this handbook, I encourage you to read my Fighter Subclasses Breakdown and my Fighter Spealls Breakdown.

Fighter Class Features

Hit Points: d10 hit points is standard for martial characters, and it's plenty to keep you going, especially with heavy armor and abilities like Second Wind.

Saves: Strength saves are fairly rare, but Constitution saves are common and typically very problematic.

Proficiencies: All weapons, armor, and shields, but you get no tool proficiencies, and only two skills.

Fighting Style: One of the Fighter's iconic abilities, and a great reason to multiclass into Fighter.

  • ArcheryPHB: The obvious choice for ranged builds. +2 to hit is a big deal in a game where a 20th-level character can expect a maximum of +11 to hit.
  • DefensePHB: Not very exciting, but since AC scales so little in 5e a +1 can be a big difference.
  • DuelingPHB: Note that this works while using a shield. 2 damage closes the damage gap between a longsword and a two-handed weapon (4.5->6.5 vs. 6.5/7).
  • Great Weapon FightingPHB: This adds an average of just over 1 damage per attack on average. If you plan to use two-handed weapons, pick up Defense instead to compensate for lack of a shield.
  • ProtectionPHB: Tempting for Defender builds, but allies need to remain adjacent to you for this to work. Being adjacent to the front line Fighter is generally a bad place to be unless you can do so safely without someone defending you.
  • Two-Weapon FightingPHB: One of the biggest issues with two-weapon fighting is that you don't get to add your ability modifier to your off-hand attack without this fighting style. While this resolve that issue, TWF is still sub-optimal for Fighters because they get more attacks than anyone else in the game and don't have an on-hit damage boost effect like Hunter's Mark. Consider that one attack with your off-hand will likely deal something like 1d8+5 damage at most (assuming 20 in your attack stat and the Dual Wielding feat) compared to 1d6, 2d6, 3d6, or 4d6 additional damage from using a Greatsword on your normal attacks. It's 9.5 vs. 3.5, 7, 10.5, or 14 damage depending on how many attacks you get. By the time you get two attacks it's close, but by the time you get 3 it's clear that a two-handed weapon is the better choice. On top of that, two-weapon fighting eats your bonus action. Any time you want to use that for anything else (Second Wind, Battlemaster Maneuvers, etc.) you lose 20-50% of your damage output for the round. Effects like Haste and opportunity attacks widen the gap even further. Unless you're going for the Champion archetype to fish for critical hits, this is a mistake.

Second Wind: A bit of healing can be very helpful, but it's not a lot of healing, and you can reasonably expect to use abilities which recharge on a short rest 2 to 3 times per adventuring day.

Action Surge: An extra action allows you to do a lot of really great things, including a pile of additional attacks. This is a good reason for nearly any class to multiclass into Fighter.

Martial Archetype: See my Fighter Subclass Breakdwon.

Extra Attack: Fighters get more attacks than anyone but the Monk.

Indomitable: Fantastic for saves which take you out of a fight, but don't waste it on things which are just going to hit you with a bit of damage.

Abilities

Fighters can be built in many ways. Strength-based Fighters are the simplest, but finesse fighters, archers, and Eldritch Knights all have different needs.

Str: Strength-based Fighters need Strength above anything else. Everyone else can dump it. Eldritch Knights should go for high Strength, too, since they need to be in heavy armor to avoid adding additional dependencies on Dexterity to have a reasonable AC.

Dex: Strength-based Fighters will be wearing heavy armor, so they can dump Dexterity. Archers and Finesse rely almost exclusively on Dexterity, so they need as much as they can get. Eldritch Knights can dump dexterity just like normal Strength-based fighters.

Con: Every fighter needs hit points.

Int: Eldritch Knights need a bit for their spells, but if you avoid spells which call for saving throws you can get away with almost nothing.

Wis: Helpful for Perception and Survival.

Cha: Only useful for saves and Intimidate, but a Fighter rarely makes a good Face.

Strength-Based Melee Eldritch Knight Finesse/Archery
Point Buy Standard Array Point Buy Standard Array Point Buy Standard Array
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 10
  • Con: 15
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 9
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 8
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 13
  • Cha: 12
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 8
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 14
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 8
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 8
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 13
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 10
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 15
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 13
  • Cha: 10
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 13
  • Cha: 12

Races

Fighters need a race which plays to their build. Archers, melee Fighters, finesse-based melee Fighters, and Eldritch Knights all require different things. Generally, bonuses to physical ability scores are key.

AarakocraEEPC: Bonus Dexterity and the ability to fly out of reach are perfect for archer builds.

AasimarVGtM: Very tempting for purple dragon knights. Each subrace offers a unique active ability and a different ability score increase, and the base race's Charisma will help you serve as a face. Darkvision is great on a class that can't get it on its own, and Healing Hands is great for a front-line class.

  • Fallen: Strength is great for a fighter, and the extra damage output from Necrotic Shroud is excellent.
  • Protector: Wisdom doesn't do much for a fighter.
  • Scourge: Constitution is great on a front-line character, but be careful not to let Radiant Consumption burn through your hit points if you don't have a cleric handy.

BugbearVGtM: Able to fill a variety of fighter builds.

DragonbornPHB: The Strength bonus is nice, and the breath weapon is fun, but if you need AOE damage play an Eldritch Knight. Purple Dragon Knight is probably the best option for a dragonborn fighter, but the Charisma increase isn't so crucial that the Dragonborn is a go-to option over other races.

DwarfPHB: Dwarves make excellent Fighters. Their bonus Constitution provides more hit points, and Dwarves get Darkvision and resistance to poison. Many of the Dwarf's free proficiencies are wasted because Fighters already get them, but even without those benefits Dwarves are still excellent Fighters.

  • DuergarSCAG: In a subterranean campaign, this is at least on par with Mountain Dwarf. Otherwise, sunlight sensitivity is a huge problem.
  • HillPHB: Bonus Wisdom is great if you need to have high Perception, and the bonus hit points are always welcome.
  • MountainPHB: The Strength bonus is fantastic for any Strength-based Fighter.

ElfPHB: A Dexterity bonus makes Elves obvious choices for Finesse Fighters and Archers. Free Perception proficiency and Darkvision are both welcome on any character.

  • DrowPHB: Nothing useful for a Fighter that other Elves can't do better.
  • EladrinMToF: Shadar-kai is a better fit for most fighters, but Purple Dragon Knights may enjoy the Charisma increase.
  • High ElfPHB: A bonus to Intelligence and a free Cantrip make the High Elf an obvious choice for an Eldritch Knight. With the Elf's Dexterity bonus you might consider an archery or a Finesse build, but be mindful of your potentially weak AC.
  • Sea ElfMToF: Excellent in a campaign where water is common.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Dexterity, Constitution, resistance to a damage type, and the ability to teleport.
  • Wood ElfPHB: Extra Wisdom works very well with Perception, and the extra movement speed is great for getting into (or out of) melee range.

FirbolgVGtM: A little bit of Strength and some useful magic abilities, but not much that specifically caters to the fighter.

GenasiEEPC: A Constitution increas is always welcome on front-line characters like Fighters, and the Genasi subraces allow for some interesting options for different Fighter builds.

  • Air: The Dexterity bonus is nice, and Levitate can be helpful at low levels before you have access to real flight, but it's just not enough compared to the other Genasi types.
  • Earth: Bonus Strength, and the ability to move across difficult terrain unimpeded helps you to get into melee in situations where it's normally difficult to do so.
  • Fire: Bonus intelligence, a free offensive cantrip, and a free offensive spell all play nicely to the Eldritch Knight. Fire resistance is a nice bonus on top of already excellent options.
  • Water: Wisdom is a good defensive ability, and the spells are excellent utilities. Resistance to Acid is nice, but situational.

Gith: Githyanki are great, but Githzerai don't have anything useful for fighters.

  • GithyankiMToF: Strength and some bonus proficiencies. The Intelligence is helpful for Eldritch Knights, and Githyanki Psionics offers some useful magical options for overcoming problems that many fighters find difficult.
  • GithzeraiMToF: Nothing useful for the Fighter.

Gnome: An Intelligence bonus doesn't help the Fighter unless they're an Eldritch Knight, and Gnome Cunning won't help you much since you're not proficient with Wisdom or Charisma saves, and your Wisdom and Charisma are low.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: For a finesse-based Gnome Fighter, Forest is typically better since Fighters don't really get anything Stealth-related. However, the spells are nice, and could be a good utility complement to the Eldritch Knight's purely offensive spellcasting.
  • ForestPHB: A Dexterity bonus helps for a finesse-based Eldritch Knight, and Minor Illusion expands your limited spell options.
  • RockPHB: Combined with the base Gnome, the Rock Gnome offers very little to the Fighter.

GoblinVGtM: Nimble Escape gives you the most important parts of Cunning Action, allowing you to hit-and-run much like a rogue. The Dexterity bonus works great for a finesse fighter. However, since the fighter is typically the party's front line it can be hard to have the fighter running away from enemies instead of trying to hold them in place.

GoliathVGtM/EEPC: Tailor-made to be a melee Monster. Bonuses to your important abilities, free Athletics proficiency, and Stone's Endurance adds a pile to your effective daily hit point total.

Half-Elf: Strength-based Fighters aren't great with skills, but a Half-Elf with decent Dexterity and a bit of Charisma could serve as a Face, and might be able to pick up some crucial Rogue skills with the right Background. Half-Elves work especially well as Purple Dragon Knights.

  • AquaticSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign.
  • DrowSCAG: A handful of magical options is tempting on a class with no magical utility options.
  • High/Moon/SunSCAG: Eldritch Knights get access to cantrips, and fighters get enough feats that Magic Initiate is a great option if you need more.
  • Keen SensesSCAG: The sidebar describing half-elf variants specifices that you can take Keen Senses in place of Skill Versatility, or a trait based on your elf parentage. Keen Senses give you a single fixed skill, and you're giving up proficiency in any two skills. It should be immediately apparent that this is a terrible trade.
  • WoodSCAG: Fleet of foot is nice for getting into melee a bit faster, but the other options won't do much for you.
  • VanillaPHB: You can get all of the skills you need to be a Face from your class and background skills, but two more are great so you can also get Athletics or something.

Half-OrcPHB: Relentless Endurance brings some of the Barbarian's durability, and Savage Attacks is extremely potent when combined with the Champion Fighter's improved critical range.

HalflingPHB: A bonus to Dexterity makes the Halfling great for both Finesse and Archery builds, and Lucky is fantastic when you make as many attacks as a Fighter does.

  • LightfootPHB: Nothing useful for a Fighter.
  • GhostwiseSCAG: Nothing useful for a Fighter.
  • StoutPHB"" A bonus to Constitution is great, and resistance to poison makes the Stout Halfling a bit like a small, nimble Dwarf.

HobgoblinVGtM: An interest option for Eldritch Knights. Saving Face will help cover the difference in your attack bonus until you get enough ability score increases to buff your Strength a bit.

HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

  • Vanilla: Fighters really only need two ability scores for any specific builds, but a +1 to all of your scores can be helpful if you use the point buy ability generation method to give yourself low, odd-numbered base abilities to save points.
  • Variant: You still get crucial bonuses to your two favorite abilities, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1. Feats are especially potent for Fighters, and since Champions don't get a lot of mechanics which they need to actively use, it can introduce some fun mechanical options. The bonus skill isn't super important for a Fighter since Fighters aren't really built for skill use, but pick up something fun or which no one in your party remember to pick up. The Prodigy feat is a great option if you plan to grapple because you can get Expertise with Athletics without multiclassing.

KenkuVGtM: An interesting option for stealthy fighters, the kenku's free skils overlap with the rogue's quite a bit. Be sure to pick up proficiency with thieves' tools from your background.

KoboldVGtM: With easy access to Advantage from Pack Tactics, it's really easy to rely on things like the Sharpshooter feat which normally present accuracy issues. You can also use Pack Tactics and the Champion subclass's improved critical range to fish for critical hits, potentially earning you big damage spikes with a relatively simple build.

LocathahLR: Increases to both Strength and Dexterity are difficult to use at the same time, but it means that you can build your Fighter nearly however you want. However, it's much easier to pick one of the two and focus on it exclusively, in which case other races will nearly always be better.

LizardfolkVGtM: Perhaps surprisingly, the lizardfolk makes an excellent Dexterity-based fighter. With 20 Dexterity you can match full plate AC without wearing armor, and the lizardfolk's other traits offer great options to keep you alive. However, Hungry Jaws is always dependent on Strength, so emphasizing Dexterity may mean giving up on Hungry Jaws.

OrcVGtM: Half-orc is strictly better. If you're set on playing a full-blooded Orc, ask your DM if you can use the Eberron version.

TabaxiVGtM: Similar to the kenku, the tabaxi makes an excellent rogue-ish fighter.

Tiefling: Darkvision and Fire resistance are both great, and the bonus spells can be very helpful.

  • AsmodeusMToF: Not great for most fighters, but the Charisma can be helpful for a Purple Dragon Knight.
  • BaalzebulMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • DispaterMToF: Potentially good as a Purple Dragon Knight, but the Asmodeus subrace has better spells for a fighter.
  • FiernaMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • GlasyaMToF: Potentially good as a Purple Dragon Knight, especially one in a sneaky party.
  • LevistusMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • MammonMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • ZarielMToF: A good option for Purple Dragon Knight.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: A fantastic option for Dexterity-based Eldritch Knights. According to the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, the Feral Variant is compatible with other variants, so if your DM allows it you may be able to use this in conjunction with another useful subrace or variant. A Feral Winged Tiefling is basically an Aarakocra, but it would still make a spectacular archer.
  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: Charisma-based spells are hard for most Fighters, and even Purple Dragon Knights won't really get any use out of them..
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Hellish Rebuke is a better option for fighters.
  • Variant: VanillaPHB: Bad ability scores for a Fighter.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Flight is great, but the ability scores are still bad for a Fighter.

TortleTP: Strength and natural armor are great, but once you can afford full plate armor the Tortle will fall behind.

TritonVGtM: Good ability score increases and some innate spellcasting.

VerdanAcInc: Bad ability spread. You could try a Purple Dragon Knight, but without a Strength or Dexterity increase, you'll lag severely in combat for a long time.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGtM: Nothing useful for the Fighter.

Setting-specific races are address below. Not every setting allows every race, and while most races presented in the core rules and in content for the Forgotten Realms can be used in other settings, races specific to settings like Ravnica aren't typically allowed in other settings. Talk to your DM about what races are allowed in your game.

Races of Eberron

BugbearERLW: See above.

ChangelingERLW: Purple Dragon Knight has a small dependency on Charisma, and makes for an excellent Face. While they tend to be less sneaky and deceptive than a changeling is expected to be, there's no reason you couldn't reject that stereotype.

GoblinERLW: See above.

ElfERLW: Eberron's elves are mostly the same as core elves, but include some additional subraces.

  • Aerani High: Trade the core High Elf's Weapon Training trait for expertise in a single skill or tool of your choice.
  • Aerani Wood: Trade the core Wood Elf's Weapon Training trait for expertise in a single skill or tool of your choice.
  • Valenar Wood: Trade the core Wood Elf's Weapon Training trait for slightly different weapon proficiencies, including the double scimitar. If you already get proficiency with martial weapons it doesn't matter, and if you don't you might prefer the original set of weapons because they include short swords. The two sets are roughly equivalent, so use whichever you like (or whichever your DM allows).

HobgoblinERLW: See above.

OrcERLW: The Eberron version of the Orc drops the Intelligence increase, and replaces Menacing with two skills from a fixed list. This makes the Orc considerably more interesting, but I think the Half-Orc is still more effective in combat. If you need more skills the Eberron Orc is a great option, but otherwise stick to the Half-Orc.

KalashtarERLW: Bad abilty spread.

ShifterERLW: Darkvisions is a great start, and several of the Shifter subraces support some fighter builds.

  • Beasthide: Great ability score increases, a good free skill, and additional temporary hit points when you shift to help you absorb more damage.
  • Longtooth: The Fighter has very few uses for their Bonus Action (unless you're built for two-weapon fighting), so using it to make an extra attack offers an easy way to boost your damage output. The ability score increases aren't as good as the Beasthide Shifter's, but they'll still work.
  • Swiftstride: Dexterity can work, and the Shifting Feature can be a lifesaver for archers.
  • Wildhunt: The Dexterity increase is the best part, and you can get that from numerous other places.

WarforgedERLW: Constitution, a flexible ability increase, a pile of useful resistances that cover things that front-lint martial characters frequently face, and a bonus to AC which puts you ahead of every other heavyily-armored character in the game. A warforged fighter with full plate armor, a shield, and the Defensive fighting style sits at 22 AC without magic items or spells, making you nearly untouchable. If you can force enemies to stay in melee with you (consider grappling), you're a fantastic Defender.

Dragonmarks

While the design intent for Dragonmarks was that they would offer some innate spellcasting for everyone, every dragonmark includes an expanded spell list which is arguably a more significant benefit than most of the provided racial traits. Because the expanded spell options are such an important part of the dragonmarks, if you're not playing a spellcaster you're giving up a huge part of your racial traits, which makes it exceptionally difficult to justify playing a dragonmark character who can't cast spells.

Dragonmarked DwarfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Warding: Interesting thematically, and some of the spells are tempting, but this is a hard choice without a Strength or Dexterity increase.

Dragonmarked ElfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Shadow: A sneaky, Dexterity-based fighter is absolutely an option, but at that point you may do better as a swashbuckler rogue. The spells offer interesting options for the Eldritch Knight to dip into stealth rather than simply blasting things, which could make for a very unique character.

Dragonmarked GnomeERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Scribing: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked Half-ElfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace some of your normal racial traits, as described in the entry for each Dragonmark.

  • Mark of Detection: Bad ability spread, and the spellcasting does very little to complement the Fighter's capabilities.
  • Mark of Storm: The ability spread is too poor to justify how little you'll benefit from the spellcasting.

Dragonmarked Half-OrcERLW: Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

  • Mark of Finding: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked HalflingERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Healing: A Dexterity-based Eldritch Knight could make us of the new spell options to complement their party's existing healing capabilities, but the ability score increases aren't spectacular. It's a workable build and it could be a lot of fun, but it tries to do too much at the same time, which very few classes can successfully manage.
  • Mark of Hospitality: A purple dragon knight could work thematically, but mechanically there's very little here that works well for the Fighter.

Dragonmarked HumanERLW: Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: Bad ability spread, and the spellcasting does very little to complement the Fighter's capabilities.
  • Mark of Making: The flexible ability increase can go into your choice of Strength or Dexterity, and you're off to a great start as an eldritch knight. The ability to cast Magic Weapon without Concentration is a significant benefit at low levels, providing a reliable numeric boost over other fighters. The dragonmark spells offer some excellent new spell options, and there is no character in the game better suited to benefit from Elemental Weapon than a fighter with four attacks per Action.
  • Mark of Passage: If you miss the 4e Warblade class, famous for teleporting around in combat while using weapons to attack, Mark of Passage may scratch that itch. Grab a rapier to take advantage of the Dexterity increase, take the Eldritch Knight subclass for the spellcasting, get really comfortable using Misty Step rather than walking around in combat like a peasant.
  • Mark of Sentinel: I really wish that the ability score increases worked for the Fighter, because Mark of Sentinel's traits and spells all make perfect sense for the Fighter. If you can survive without a Strength or Dexterity increase you may really enjoy Mark of Sentinel, but mathematically you'll suffer any time you try to use a weapon.

Races of Ravnica

CentaurGGTR: Not quite as powerful as the Minotaur, the Centaur's bonus skills and non-humanoid creature type help to make up the difference defensively.

GoblinGGTR: See above.

LoxodonGGTR: Very little that directly helps the Fighter.

MinotaurGGTR: An absolutely perfect melee fighter, the Minotaur's racial traits replicate the important parts of both the Charger feat and the Shield Master fields.

Simic HybridGGTR: Fantastic and Versatile.

VedalkenGGTR: Nothing useful for the Fighter.

Races of Wildemount

AarakocraEGtW: See above.

AasimarEGtW: See above.

BugbearEGtW: See above.

Dragonborn: Wildemount presents two new Dragonborn variants, each replacing the standard Dragonborn's ability score increases and damage resistance.

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Better ability scores for most fighters than the standard Dragonborn, and you can survive without the Dragonborn's damage resistance. Ravenite adds Darkvision, a Constitution increase, and Vengeful Assault which offers an occasional boost to your damage output..
  • StandardPHB: See above.

ElfEGtW: Wildemount elves share the core traits of core elves, but Wildemount adds two new elf subraces. See above for information on core elf traits.

  • Pallid Elf: Similar to the Wood Elf, but less martially-inclined. The Fighter is the definitive martial class, so that's not an asset in this case.
  • Sea Elf: See above.

FirbolgsEGtW: See above.

GenasiEGtW: See above.

GoblinEGtW: See above.

HalflingEGtW: Wildemount halflings share the core traits of core halflings, but Wildemount adds a new halflings subrace. See above for information on core halflings traits.

  • Lotusden: Nothing specificlaly useful to the Fighter.

HobgoblinEGtW: See above.

GoliathEGtW: See above.

KenkuEGtW: See above.

OrcEGtW: See above, under "Races of Eberron". Wildemount uses the updated Orc racial traits rather than the original traits published in Volo's Guide to Monsters.

TabaxiEGtW: See above.

TortleEGtW: See above.

Skills

  • Acrobatics (Dex): Nothing the Fighter does makes use of Acrobatics.
  • Animal Handling (Wis): Not really helpful for the function of the Fighter.
  • Athletics (Str): The only Strength-based skill, Athletics is more than climbing and swimming. You use Athletics for grappling and for pushing enemies, both of which can be excellent options for Fighters.
  • History (Int): History can provide a lot of useful background information. This is especially viable for Eldritch Knights.
  • Insight (Wis): Helpful for a Face, but few Fighters have the Wisdom to back it up.
  • Intimidation (Cha): Very few Fighters will be good with Charisma, but a Purple Dragon Knight with the right skills and background can make a perfectly viable Face.
  • Perception (Wis): One of the most important skills in the game. At least two people in the party should have it, but more is always better.
  • Survival (Wis): Adventuring tends to involve a lot of wandering around in untamed wilderness, so Survival can be very helpful to your party.

Background

This section does not address every published background, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the options which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. Racial feats are discussed in the Races section, above.

Fighters don't really need a lot of skills, so pick up whatever fits your concept. Eldritch Knights have the Intelligenc to back up knowledge skills, and Purple Dragon Knights have the Charisma to be a Face.

  • AcolytePHB: Access to Religion can be useful for Eldritch Knights in a party with few Knowledge skills, but Insight isn't fantastic, and you probably can't make use of extra languages.
  • City WatchSCAG: Athletics is great, but you won't get much use from Insight or the ability to speak two languages with your garbage Charisma.
  • Cloistered ScholarSCAG: An Eldritch Knight can make good use of the knowledge skills.
  • CourtierSCAG: A Purple Dragon Knight can make good use of Perception, but Insight is hard.
  • CriminalPHB: A Fighter with decent Dexterity can make use of Stealth, and with a bit of Charisma and Deception you're well on your way to being an effective Face. Thieves' tools let you handle traps and locked doors as well as any Rogue. A Half-Elf's bonus skill proficiencies or the Skilled feat will help to pick up whatever other Face or Rogue skills you might need.
  • Folk HeroPHB: Two skills off of the Fighter list, but neither are fantastic. Proficiency with a set of Artisan's Tools won't have a significant effect on the game.
  • Guild ArtisanPHB: Helpful if you plan to play a Face, but Criminal is more useful.
  • HermitPHB: A bit of Wisdom can make Medicine worthwhile, and an Eldritch Knight with some Intelligence makes Religion useful. An herbalism kit is helpful for making potions of healing and for handling interesting herbs.
  • Mercenary VeteranSCAG: Athletics is good, but very few Fighters can make decent use of Persuasion.
  • NoblePHB: Perception helps if you plan to play a Face, but Criminal gets you access to more things which aren't normally available to Fighters.
  • OutlanderPHB: Two good skills from the Fighter skill list, but the instrument isn't particularly helpful.
  • SagePHB: Arcana and History are both great for Eldritch Knights, but you can already get History from the Fighter skill list.
  • SailorPHB: Great for aquatic campaigns. Two good skills from the Fighter list, and boats!
  • SoldierPHB: Somewhere between the Folk Hero and the Outlander. Two good skills from the Fighter skill list, and some fun tool proficiencies.
  • Urban Bounty HunterSCAG: Basically two skill choices from the Rogue class skills, plus some tool proficiencies, including the ever-important Thieve's Tools. A finesse-based Fighter might be able to make good use of this.
  • UrchinPHB: Comparable to the Criminal, but more focus on Dexterity skills, and less on Charisma skills, so this works well for Dexterity-based Fighters who don't want to be a Face.
  • Uthgardt Tribe MemberSCAG: Athletics is good, but you may have trouble getting any use out of the rest.

Feats

This section does not address every published feat, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the backgrounds recommended in the "Quick Build" section of the class description, as well as other backgrounds which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. The possibility of custom backgrounds also means that it is literally impossible for me to provide comprehensive analysis of every potential background in existence.

  • AlertPHB: Fighters do just fine if they don't go first.
  • ChargerPHB: Great for closing to melee, but situational. If you can't get into melee range with your movement it may be better to use your action to throw some javelins.
  • Crossbow ExpertPHB: All the action economy of TWF with the range of Archery, and you can do it in melee combat.
  • Defensive DuelistPHB: Fantastic for finesse fighters, but the Battle Masters should use the Parry maneuver instead.
  • Dual WielderPHB: Moving from light weapons to one-handed weapons offers additional weapon options, but the extra damage is negligible, and drawing weapons is rarely a problem unless you're really surprised. However, the AC bonus is helpful, and when combined with the Defensive fighting style on a Champion you get as much bonus AC as you would with a shield.
  • Dungeon DelverPHB: With a bit of Intelligence and Wisdom you can be perfectly good at both Investigation and Wisdom. If your campaign involves a lot of dungeons, this might be helpful.
  • DurablePHB: Fighters are typically the party's front line, which means you're going to be taking the bulk of the damage pointed at your party. Magical healing goes a long way, but since 5e's healing comes mostly from hit dice, Durable can go a long way to keep you going throughout the day.
  • Elemental AdeptPHB: This can be a great option for Eldritch Knights, and it allows you to safely focus on one energy type.
  • GrapplerPHB: If you have Athletics and can use it reliably, you can use Athletics to Shove your enemy prone and get Advantage without the use of a feat.
  • Great Weapon MasterPHB: Excellent for any Fighter using a two-handed weapon.
  • Heavy Armor MasterPHB: Excellent for melee fighters, especially if you don't want to use a shield, because you can offset your weakened AC by reducing the damage you take.
  • Inspiring LeaderPHB: This is generally better for more charismatic characters like Bards or Paladins, but temporary hit points are great for Fighters. If you're building to play a Face, this can be worthy of consideration.
  • LuckyPHB: Good on anyone.
  • Mage SlayerPHB: Only useful in games which feature an abnormally large number of spellcasters.
  • Magic InitiatePHB: Potentially helpful for an Eldritch Knight who is already built for spellcasting.
  • Martial AdeptPHB: A Battle Master Fighter is limited by their number of superiority dice and their number of known manuevers, and this expands both.
  • Medium Armor MasterPHB: If you're going for a high Dexterity build, you should be in light armor.
  • MobilePHB: Fighters generally don't rely on hit-and-run tactics. If you're built for melee, stay in melee and get some killing done.
  • Mounted CombatPHB: Fighting while mounted can be a great option for Fighters, and you have plenty of hit points and AC to absorb any attacks which might target your mount.
  • ObservantPHB: Excellent if you're the only one in the party with Perception and Investigation, and it works very well with Dungeon Delver.
  • Polearm MasterPHB: Absolutely fantastic for Defenders. More ways to get opportunity attacks actively discourages enemies from charging past you to reach your allies. Combined with Sentinel you can easily trap enemies within your reach. Even if you don't want to use a polearm with reach, a quarterstaff or spear (spear was added in errata in 2018) with a shield works great.
  • ResilientPHB: This is particularly good for high-Dexterity builds, but Eldritch Knights might consider it for Intelligence saves.
  • Ritual CasterPHB: A great way for Eldritch Knights to improve their utility options if your party lacks full spellcasters, but ideally a full spellcaster should cover your party's spellcasting needs so that you can focus on keeping them alive.
  • Savage AttackerPHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2 extra damage per turn.
  • SentinelPHB: Absolutely essential for Defenders.
  • SharpshooterPHB: Fantastic for ranged builds. The Archery style provides a +2 to attacks, which helps to offset the -5 attack penalty, and items like Bracers of Archery provide additional attack bonuses not available to other combat styles.
  • Shield MasterPHB: The best part of this is probably the ability to shove enemies (possibly shoving them prone) as a bonus action. If you don't have other ways to use your bonus action, this can be a great option for sword-and-board builds.
  • SkilledPHB: High-Dexterity builds and Eldritch Knights have good abilities to support a lot of important skills, so this can be a great way to pick up proficiencies which will be very helpful for your party.
  • SkulkerPHB: Leave this for Rogues.
  • Spell SniperPHB: This can be a good way for Eldritch Knights to expand their spell list, and it's particularly helpful if you prefer fighting at range.
  • Tavern BrawlerPHB: Helpful if you go for Grappler, but otherwise skip this.
  • ToughPHB: Boosting your Constitution by 2 is a fine way to get more hit points, but if you're not worried about Constitution saves, this has a better return. Keep in mind that this also won't improve the amount your heal from Hit Dice, so combinding this with Durable can be problematic.
  • War CasterPHB: Absolutely essential for melee Eldritch Knights, especially if you use a shield.

Weapons

There are essentially no wrong choices for Fighters. Every build has at least one good option.

  • Crossbow, Heavy: If you have Crossbow Expert, a Hand Crossbow will be better. If you don't, a bow will be better. For the brief window of levels 1 through 5 where you can't make more than one attack on most turns, the Heavy Crossbow does slightly more damage than a bow, but if you use Action Surge once it will easily make up the damage gap you can expect to accrue in the course of a typical day.
  • Crossbow, Hand: Ranged. Use a bow until you get Crossbow Expert. Fighters don't have a ton of options which use their bonus action, so Crossbow Expert is a great choice, and even on turns where you use your bonus action the damage gap between a hand crossbow and a longbow is miniscule.
  • Glaive: Two-handed Defenders.
  • Greatsword / Maul: Two-handed non-defenders.
  • Handaxe: High Strength TWF.
  • Longsword / War Pick / Warhammer: High Strength single weapon.
  • Longbow / Shortbow: Archery until you pick up Crossbow Expert. Small characters will need to use a shortbow because longbows have the Heavy property.
  • Rapier: High Dexterity single weapon.
  • Shortsword: High Dexterity TWF.

Armor

  • Chain Mail: Free starting armor for heavy armor users. Works fine until you can afford Full Plate.
  • Leather: Free starting armor for light armor users. Upgrade as soon as you can afford it.
  • Half Plate: Eldritch Knights who start with only 14 Dexterity might consider sticking to medium armor for a while. Half Plate with a +2 Dexterity modifier provides as much AC as Studded Leather and 20 Dexterity, so stick to Half plate until you hit 20 Dexterity, then upgrade to Studded Leather.
  • Studded Leather: High Dexterity builds will want to upgrade to Studded Leather eventually, but it won't match the AC of Half Plate until you hit 20 Dexterity.
  • Full Plate: The obvious end goal for heavy armor users.

Multiclassing

  • Barbarian: Rage is tempting, but without investing a huge number of levels you can't expect more than 2 or 3 rages per day. Unarmored Defense is hard to use without investing in a ton of Constitution. Reckless Attack and Danger Sense are both nice, but hardly essential. Primal Path is fantastic, but at level 3 you still only have 3 rages per day, so you won't get as much use as you might from your Fighter abilities.
  • Rogue: A dip into Rogue for Expertise in Athletics will go a long way if you plan to use Shove or Grapple.

Example Build - Half-Orc Fighter (Champion)

I'm using a greataxe just like my barbarian cousin, but it's more homage than optimization.

This is a "Staple Build". This build is simple, and relies on options from the SRD and the Basic Rules wherever possible. If you need a functional build with nothing fancy or complicated, this is a great place to start.

This is a very simple build. Champion Fighters have very few decision points, and almost all of their abilities are numerical increases of some kind. If you're looking for a mechanically interesting build, this is not it. If you want something easy to play and you just want to swing a sword, this is a good option.

The most important decision point for the Champion Fighter is Fighting Style. This build will look at two combinations: Dueling+Defense and Great Weapon Fighting+Defense. You might trade out GWF or Defense for Protection if you would like to place more emphasis on protecting your allies, but we'll ignore that option for this build so I can more clearly emphasize the numeric differences between the two builds.

I've listed Damage Per Round (DPR) in the level entries below for each build, which presents us with an objective, numerical comparison between Dueling and GWF.

Abilities

We will assume the point buy abilities for Strength-based melee suggested above, but we'll switch Wisdom and Charisma so we can be better at Intimidation.

Base Increased
Str 15 17
Dex 10 10
Con 15 16
Int 10 10
Wis 9 9
Cha 12 12

Race

Half-Orc. Relentless Endurance and Savage Attacks work really well for the fighter, and Savage Attacks combines well with Improved Critical and the Fighter's high number of attacks. Strength and Constitution is a perfect spread for a simple melee fighter, which is exactly what we're shooting for.

I also considered Dwarf for this build, but the Basic Rules and the SRD include the Hill Dwarf. The Hill Dwarf works fine as a fighter, but without the Mountain Dwarf's Strength increase the Hill Dwarf feels like a step down in effectiveness offensively. Staple Builds are intended to serve as an effective base line and as a go-to simple build for new players, and starting without a +3 Strength modifier can feel like a significant handicap.

Skills and Tools

Half-orcs get Intimidation for free, so we'll pick up Athletics and Perception. Athletics is used for grappling and shoving, both of which add useful options to the Champion, which is helpful when you're otherwise a ball of numbers.

Background

Soldier makes the most sense thematically, and since we get two redundant proficiencies you can pick any two skills you want. Since we're starting with 12 Charisma, you might consider Deception and Persuasion to make yourself a passable Face.

There's room for customization here. By switching around your mental ability scores (Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma), you can set yourself up for success with different sets of skills. If you emphasize Intelligence, you could take the Sage archetype. If you emphasize Wisdom, you could take the Acolyte archetype.

Feats

Staple builds intentionally don't use feats so that I can focus on simplicity and limit the build to the Basic Rules and the SRD. But the Fighter gets more Ability Score Increases than any other class, and only needs two good ability scores, so 7 Ability Score Increases leaves us with a ton of resources that we simply can't use. If you're willing to go beyond the confines of this build, feats are a really good idea. If you still want to keep things simple, look at simply feats like Durable, Resilient, and Tough.

It just occurred to me that those are all synonyms. No wonder I can never remember which is which without checking.

Levels

Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
1
  • Fighting Style (Dueling or Great Weapon Fighting)
  • Second Wind

For your starting equipment, take chain mail, a longsword and shield or a greataxe and a warhammer, two handaxes, and either "pack" option.

In chain mail you'll have an AC of 16. You don't have as many hit points as the Barbarian, so you're not quite as durable. Fortunately, Second Wind gives you another 1d10+1 hit points every short rest, giving you nearly as many available hit points as another hit die. Neither of the builds we're considering use two-weapon fighting, so your bonus action is rarely in use so Second Wind won't cut into your damage output.

As explained above in my assessment of Fighting Style, Great Weapon Fighting is really bad. With GWF, using a Greataxe does just 1 more damage on an average turn than using a Longsword with Dueling. Without it your DPR with a greataxe drops by just 0.5, which even at 1st level is basically nothing.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+5 (DPR 5.9)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 6.9)

2
  • Action Surge (One Use)

Very little changes at this level. Action Surge only gets you one extra attack, but at this level an extra attack can make a big difference in a single turn.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+5 (DPR 5.9)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 6.9)

3
  • Martial Archetype (Champion)
  • Improved Critical

Improved Critical adds a bit to our damage per round, but otherwise nothing changes at this level.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+5 (DPR 6.6)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 7.7)

4
  • Ability Score Improvement (Strength 17 -> 19)

We started with 17 Strength, so at 4th level you could either raise it to 19 or you can split your points.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+6 (DPR 7.2)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 8.3)

5
  • Extra Attack

Extra Attack doubles our DPR.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+6 (DPR 14.4)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 16.6)

6
  • Ability Score Improvement (Strength 19 -> 20, Constitution 16 -> 17)

More Strength puts us ahead of the Attack vs. AC curve, and the curve won't catch up until 8th level, so for 2 levels you get to enjoy being 5% more accurate than anyone else.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 16.4)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 19.0)

7
  • Remarkable Athlete

Remarkable Athlete is neat, but the biggest things that you would want it for are covered by Athletics.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 16.4)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 19.0)

8
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 17 -> 19)

Our DPR actually goes down at this level as the Attack vs. AC curve catches up to our attack bonus.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 15.6)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 17.7)

9
  • Indomitable (One Use)

Indomitable is the closest that players get to Legendary Resistance.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 15.6)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 17.7)

10
  • Fighting Style (Defense)

More AC is always welcome. You've had plate armor for a long time now, and short of spells and magic items your AC has been largely fixed at 18 or 20.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 15.6)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 17.7)

11
  • Extra Attack (2)

Three attacks means that you now get more attacks than any other character in the game. That also means that your DPR goes up 50%.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 23.4)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 26.6)

12
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 19 -> 20, Wisdom 9 -> 10)

Level 12 and you have 20 in two ability scores. Nice.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 23.4)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 26.6)

13
  • Indomitable (two uses)

More uses of Indomitable means that you can tank more things and that you don't need to leave your single use in reserve in case of a save-or-die scenario.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 23.4)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 26.6)

14
  • Ability Score Improvement (Any)

At this point I would be seriously surprised if you haven't given in to the temptation to use feats.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 23.4)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 26.6)

15
  • Superior Critical

Superior critical nets a small increase in DPR.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 24.8)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 28.8)

16
  • Ability Score Improvement (Any)

By this point you've probably run out of ideas for how to use an Ability Score Improvement.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 24.8)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 28.8)

17
  • Action Surge (two uses)
  • Indomitable (three uses)

A second use of Action Surge comes online at the same time that spellcasters get their last cantrip damage boost.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 24.8)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 28.8)

18
  • Survivor

Free, automatic healing. Unfortunately it doesn't work while you're at 0 hit points so you still need someone to hit you with Healing Word once in a while, but it'll dramatically reduce how much you rely on Hit Dice or other sources of healing.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 24.8)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 28.8)

19
  • Ability Score Improvement (Any)

Your final Ability Score Increase. You've now increased your base ability scores by a total of 14. If you're looking at this before starting at 1st level, just imagine what you can do with all those points. It's beautiful, isn't it?

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 24.8)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 28.8)

20
  • Extra Attack (3)

Your fourth attack makes you truly terrifying with a weapon. You have a 47.8% chance to score a critical hit at least once in a round, so you're routinely enjoying Savage Attacks.

Dueling Build: Longsword 1d8+7 (DPR 33.0)

GWF Build: Greataxe 1d12+3 (DPR 38.4)