skip to main content

RPG BOT

DnD 5e - The Fighter Handbook

Last Updated: April 3rd, 2019

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.

Temporary Note: I am currently waiting to include content from the Wayfarer's Guide to Eberron. According to Dragontalk (the official D&D podcast), it's in a semi-finished state and is still subject to change, which could mean that character options in the book will see major changes before final publication. Once the book is complete, physical copies will be released and I will update to address the new content.

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.

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 "Subclasses - Martial Archetypes", below.

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.

Subclasses - Martial Archetypes

  • Arcane ArcherXGtE: A really cool concept largely squandered. Arcane Shot is the heart of the subclass, and with just two shots per short rest you can't afford to rely on your signature ability often enough for it to be a meaningful part of your character. Arcane Archer gets a couple of excellent abilities, but they simply don't compensate for the massive amount of time you'll spend wishing that you had more Arcane Shot uses.
    • Arcane Archer Lore: A skill proficiency and one of two excellent cantrips.
    • Arcane Shot: A powerful and versatile ability, but you get just 2 uses between short rests until you get Ever-Ready Shot at 15th level. A lot of people mis-read the feature's text: you get additional Arcane Shot options, not Arcane Shot uses. Plan to reserve your Arcane Shot uses until doing so is exceptionally beneficial. The saving throws are based on your Intelligence score, which likely won't be stellar, so your save DC may not be high enough to be reliable. Try to pick options which work against a variety of saving throws and use them on foes which are bad at the chosen saving throw.
      • Banishing Arrow: Take the target creature out of combat for one round.
      • Beguiling Arrow: Prevents the target from attacking one of your allies for one round, and does a little bit of bonus damage.
      • Bursting Arrow: A bit of extra damage and AOE damage with no saving throw. Excellent in an opening volley against groups of enemies, but it also requires that your enemies be numerous and tightly packed to make this worthwhile.
      • Enfeebling Arrow: Creatures that rely on weapon attacks tend to have good Constitution saving throws. Banishing Arrow will be more effective if you need an enemy not to do any damage for a turn.
      • Grasping Arrow: Bonus damage and a speed debuff with ongoing damage. The target can waste its action to attempt to remove the brambles, but even if they succeed they've wasted their Action for a turn.
      • Piercing Arrow: Bonus damage, hit everything in a line, and ignore full cover.
      • Seeking Arrow: Ignoring cover and such is nice, but the big draw is that you learn the target's location, so you can locate invisible creatures.
      • Shadow Arrow: An excellent way to incapacitate enemies who use extended reach, ranged weapons, or spells.
    • Magic Arrow: If you're in a campaign with few or no magic items, this is absolutely essential.
    • Curving Shot: Redirect a missed attack once per turn. Absolutely amazing.
    • Ever-Ready Shot: Now you can afford to use your signature ability in every encounter.
    • Arcane Shot (improved shots): At this level all of your Arcane Shot options deal 1d6 or 2d6 more damage. Nice, but not especially significant.
  • Battle MasterPHB: The Battle master is more complicated than the Champion, but has the potential to do a lot of cool tricks beyond repeatedly stabbing things until they fall down.
    • Combat Superiority: You get four superiority dice, which means you get to use 4 maneuvers between each short/long rest. You gradually get more dice, allowing for more maneuvers at higher levels, and you gradually add more known maneuvers. You can replace known maneuvers as you level, but since there aren't any maneuvers with prerequisites or anything, you really only need to replace maneuvers that you tried and didn't like.
    • Student of War: Artisans tools probably won't matter to the game.
    • Know Your Enemy: This won't come into play in most encounters, but it's great if you can get the BBEG monologuing while you study him.
    • Improved Combat Superiority: These bumps only amount to an increase of 1 each, but they feel very nice.
    • Relentless: This ensures that you always have at least on superiority die, so you don't have to stress over using your last die before the day is over.
    • Maneuvers:
      • Commander's Strike: If you don't have a Rogue in your party, this is generally a poor option since you should do enough damage on your own that you should reserve your limited pool of expertise dice for other options. If you have a Rogue in the party, this becomes a fantastic option which you should capitalize on any time your Rogue can reliably hit the target. Sneak Attack works once per turn (not once per round), so allowing the Rogue to make an extra attack on your turn means a big pile of extra Sneak Attack damage.
      • Disarming Attack: Bonus damage and you get to disarm the target.
      • Distracting Strike: Very helpful with a Rogue or some other Striker in the party, especially against enemies with high AC.
      • Evasive Footwork: This is a huge boost to AC, but don't rely on it or it will eat all of your superiority dice.
      • Feinting Attack: Advantage on your attack and bonus damage. Note that errata updated this to indicate that the advantage is wasted if you don't attack the target during the same turn.
      • Goading Attack: One of very few taunt mechanics in DnD. However, Menacing Attack is probably a better option. Goading Attack imposes Disadvantage on attacks against anyone except you, but Menacing Attack imposes Disadvantage against on all attacks, and on ability checks, and restricts the targets movement. If you need to encourage the target to attack you (which is a good idea for most fighters), this may still be better than Menacing Attack, but in most cases you may be able to use menacing attack to achieve the same result. However, creatures which are immune to fear won't suffer the effects of Menacing Attack, so this is an excellent backup option.
      • Lunging Attack: Just move closer to your target. If you need to remain in your current position you can move back after attacking.
      • Maneuvering Attack: It's rare that this will provide a significant advantage unless you're using the flanking variant rule or something. Movement in 5e is easy, and if using something like Menacing Attack to impose Disadvantage on a potential opportunity attack is likely sufficient in most cases.
      • Menacing Attack: Frightening a target makes them considerably less effective, and with clever positioning you can use this to keep the target away from your allies. However, beware of creatures that are immune or resistant to fear effects.
      • Parry: Reducing damage is often much more effective than waiting to heal it later.
      • Precision Attack: Great against enemies with high AC, or if you absolutely need to make on more hit, but don't rely on it too heavily or it will eat through your Superiority dice. It's easy to compared Precision Attack to Feinting Attack since both make it easier to hit. Feinting attack provides Advantage and a damage boost, but you need to use it before the attack. Precision Attack is nice because you can use it after your attack roll if you know that your superiority could turn a near-miss into a hit.
      • Pushing Attack: Situational.
      • Rally: Charisma is a dump stat for Fighters, so this won't do much. I'm not certain if you can use this on yourself (I assume you can't), which is a shame because you are the one who needs this the most.
      • Riposte: Spend a superiority die for an attack as a reaction. Seems like a fantastic trade to me.
      • Sweeping Attack: This is very little damage, and you can get much better utility from your superiority dice.
      • Trip Attack: Knocking a target prone gives you advantage on melee attacks against them. Since Fighters get the most attacks, this means you get advantage on a whole bunch of attacks.
  • CavalierXGtE: The Cavalier is a fantastic Defender, and possesses abilities which I have been hoping to find since I first started writing handbooks for 5e. Defenders in 5e face two major problems: first, enemies can freely move around a creature within that creature's reach, often allowing them to circle around the Defender to get within reach of the Defender's weak allies. Second, the limitation of one Reaction per round means only one Opportunity Attack per round. Hold the Line and Vigilant Defender address both of these issues. The class also caters well to fighting while mounted, allowing you to protect your mount from harm and providing fun abilities like Ferocious Charge, but the abilities are also worded so that fighting mounted is not strictly required so you can still go into a dungeon without your horse.

    However, the Cavalier is not without problems. Using a lance while mounted is an obvious and exciting option, but several of the Cavalier's abilities only work while you're within 5 feet of the creature you're attacking (lances suffer Disadvantage while you're attacking a creature within 5 feet of you). It's also easily bypassed using the Disengage action, but forcing an enemy to spend their Action to get past you is a successful turn in my mind. If you plan to play the Cavalier while mounted, I strongly encourage you to read my Practical Guide to Mounted Combat.

    • Bonus Proficiency: A free skill or language proficiency.
    • Born to the Saddle: It's difficult to know how often you'll need to make a saving throw to stay in the saddle. Arguably anything with a save to prevent forced movement would count (Thunderwave, Command (Flee), etc.), but it's not clear. Allowing you to mount/dismount for only 5 feet of movement means that you can get back onto your mount from further away. However, it doesn't remove the once per turn limitation on mounting or dismounting a mount, so don't expect to go hopping on and off of your mount a bunch of times in the same round.
    • Unwavering Mark: This a great taunt mechanic. It makes it difficult for foes to attack you allies, and if they do it anyway you get an extra attack as a Bonus Action with a nice damage boost. However, most of it only functions while the target is within 5 feet of you, making lances difficult to use.
    • Warding Maneuver:Similar to the Protection Fighting Style. This doesn't require your reaction, so you can combine the two to make the target extremely difficult to hit, and they're much more likely to survive if they're still hit. You can only use this a few times per day, so use it sparingly, and make steps to avoid needing it if you can.
    • Hold the Line: This is considerably better than the Sentinel feat in most cases, as it prevents enemies from running around within your reach. This means that you can reliably hold enemies in place while remaining adjacent to allies so that you can protect them with Warding Maneuver and/or the Protection Fighting Style. It gets even better if you have extended reach because you're not required to be within 5 feet of the target like other Cavalier abilities. However, unlike Sentinel, the Disengage action still allows enemies to get past you.
    • Ferocious Charger: Two important notes: First, your mount moving counts, so you don't need to use your own movement. Second, your mount can still Dash or Disengage to put distance between you and your enemy. You should be doing everything you can to use this every round. The benefits are simply too great to ignore.
    • Vigilant Defender: This solves the second major problem with Defender builds in 5e. Combined with Hold the Line you can drop yourself into a crowd of enemies and force them all to stay exactly where they are.
  • ChampionPHB: The Champion is simple, but very effective. Champions get an improved critical hit range, and at high levels they heal themselves constantly for free up to half hit points. If you just want an easy to play block of excellent stats, the Champion is the way to go.
    • Improved Critical: Critical hits are a big deal in 5e, and this doubles your chance of getting one. Remember that criticals work on your damage die, so to maximize this you want to use a Greataxe for the biggest damage die possible.
    • Remarkable Athlete: Half proficiency in Acrobatics, Athletics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Initiative rolls, and several other possible ability checks.
    • Additional Fighting Style: For most builds the only option which works alongside your first choice is Defense.
    • Superior Critical: This is a huge critical range, especially with as many attacks as a Fighter can make.
    • Survivor: Constant healing makes Second Wind largely obsolete, and can keep you in a fight almost indefinitely.
  • Eldritch KnightPHB: A fantastic combination of combat prowess and offensive magic, the Eldritch Knight is a wonderful Blaster and Striker, but may not be able to compete with a real Wizard in terms of offensive spellcasting.
    • Spellcasting: Spellcasting is what defines the Eldritch Knight. You're limited almost entirely to Abjuration and Evocation spells, but those offer plenty of options which work for a Fighter. Be sure to pick up an offensive cantrip like Shocking Grasp which you can use alongside weapon attacks with War Magic.
    • Weapon Bond: Situational, but very cool.
    • War Magic: With the addition of new cantrips in Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, War Magic is better than ever. Using either Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade in conjunction with the extra attack from War Magic deals more total damage than a fighter making normal attacks at any level (provided that you can trigger the secondary damage from either cantrip). See my article on Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack for a breakdown of the math comparing melee cantrip spells to normal martial attacks.
    • Eldritch Strike: Since your Intelligence won't be as high as that of a real Wizards, DCs can be a real problem. Imposing disadvantage will make your spells considerably more effective.
    • Arcane Charge: This is as much movement as using the Dash action, so combined with Action Surge you get to do as much as you could in a complete additional turn except for a bonus action.
    • Improved War Magic: Drop a huge spell, then stab/shoot someone.
  • Purple Dragon Knight / BanneretSCAG: I love the flavor the Purple Dragon Knight (Banneret in non-Forgotten Realms games). A charismatic, knightly fighter. The class adds some nice support abilities, and encourages the Fighter to serve as a Face. Unfortunately, to really work as a Face you need Charisma, which is typically a Fighter dump stat, and as great as Royal Envoy is, it's not enough to justify any real investment in Charisma when the Fighter already needs to maximize two other abilitie scores.
    • Rallying Cry: This isn't a ton of healing, but it's enough to get your allies (including your unconcious Cleric) back on their feat and back into the fight. Since it attaches to Second Wind, it recharges on a Short Rest, allowing you to reuse it as many as three times a day.
    • Royal Envoy: Persuasion is the king of social skills, and double proficiency with it will go a very long way, especially if your Charisma isn't great. The free skill proficiency is nice, too, but if you're planning to play a Face than you probably have both Persuasion and Intimidation, and quite likely have Insight as well. Animal Handling is fun flavor for a knight, but not especially useful since mounted combat is such a niche option in 5e.
    • Inspiring Surge: Use this on a Rogue if at all possible. Rogues can Sneak Attack once per turn, not once per round, so they could in theory sneak attack hundreds of times if enough people could give the Rogue a free attack on their turns. (This has been explained several times by WotC's designers in various places.) Remember that this needs to be a weapon attack, and it's only one attack, so allies who can make multiple attacks won't get as much use out of this as a Rogue.
    • Bulwark: Save rerolls are fantastic, especially on mental saves which can often take you and your allies out of a fight.
  • SamuraiXGtE: An offensively focused archetype, the Samurai is a Striker, focusing on damage output almost exclusively. I expect most samurai to rely on two-handed weapons and to pick up feats like Great Weapon Master and Sharpshoot to capitalize on Fighting Spirit's ability to grant Advantage easily. Elegant Courtier and the Samurai's Bonus Proficiency also make it possible for the Samurai to serve as a Face. However, Samurai offers no mechanisms to protect or support your allies, making the Samurai somewhat of a loner in combat.
    • Bonus Proficiency: A free skill or language proficiency.
    • Fighting Spirit: Making this require a bonus action means that you're not going to be doing two-weapon fighting in the same round. Guaranteed Advantage on all of your attacks means that feats like Great Weapon Master and Sharpshooter become extremely tempting. The temporary HP also make it easier to go without a shield. However, at just three uses per day you can't expect to use this in every fight.
    • Elegant Courtier: Allowing you to use Wisdom in addition to Charisma on Charisma (persuasion) checks means that you can function as a face without having an especially high Charisma. An additional saving throw proficiency is even better, as most characters never get more than two saving throw proficiencies.
    • Tireless Spirit: Once you have this, you should plan to begin every fight with Fighting Spirit. Come out swinging, and do a lot of damage up front.
    • Rapid Strike: Advantage is nice because you get to roll twice and keep the higher. Rapid Strike lets you keep both, so if you get lucky and both rolls are high you can hit twice. You only get to do this once per turn, but this means that you can get four attacks in a single turn (5 once you hit 20th level, more if you have Haste or use Two-Weapon Fighting).
    • Strength before Death: An entire turn. An entire turn.. Drink a potion, use Second Wind. Something to get you some hit points and keep you conscious. Otherwise, take the Attack action and get revenge!

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.

Dwarf: 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.

DragonbornPHB: The Strength bonus is nice, and the breath weapon is fun, but if you need AOE damage play an Eldritch Knight.

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

  • Drow: 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 Elf: 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 Elf: 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 bonus 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 any 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.

  • Lightfoot: Nothing useful for a Fighter.
  • Ghostwise: Nothing useful for a Fighter.
  • Stout: 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.

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.

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 finesse-based Eldritch Knights.
  • 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.

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 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.

Skills

  • Acrobatics (Dex): Nothing the Fighter does makes use of Acrobatics.
  • Animal Handling (Cha): 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 dedicated spellcasters.
  • 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 Archer 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.

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.

Spells

This is not a comprehensive guide to every available spell, as that would be an exercise in madness. The following is a brief compilation of the most notable spells available to the class. Spells available via Magic Initiate are also excluded; for suggestions for Magic Initiate, see the "Feats" section, above.

This section applies almost exclusively to Eldritch Knights. Other fighters who take Magic Initiate may also find this section beneficial. Because Eldritch Knights are mostly limited to abjuration and evocation spells, I'll focus on those spells here, but I will address some notable options for the total of 4 spells which you can learn that go beyond the school limitation. It may be helpful to see the Spells section of my Wizard Handbook for advice on spells which go beyond this limitation. Also remember that your cantrips are not limited to Abjuration/Evocation.

Cantrips

  • Blade WardPHB: Once you get War Magic, this will probably supplant Dodge when you need to minimize the damage you take between turns. Cast Blade Ward, then swing a weapon as a bonus action.
  • Booming BladeSCAG: If you can use War Magic with either Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade and trigger the bonus damage, you will consistently deal more damage than attacking normally. Booming Blade has the added benefit of providing extra reasons for enemies to not move away from you, which is sorely needed in 5e because opportunity attacks are usually not a serious deterrent. See my article on Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack for a breakdown of the math comparing melee cantrip spells to normal martial attacks.
  • FrostbiteXGtE: The damage won't match Booming Blade, but combining War Magic, Eldritch Strike, and Frostbite creates a sustainable offensive combo. Hit the target with Frostbite to impose disadvantage on its first weapon attack the following round, then hit it with a weapon attack as a bonus action so it gets Disadvantage on its save against the first spell you cast on it next turn. Repeat. Of course, Blade Ward will have a similar effect, and doesn't have nearly so many points of failure.
  • Green-Flame BladeSCAG: Booming Blade is more useful for the Eldritch Knight's role as a front-line tank, and you only get a total of 3 cantrips over your entire career, so it's hard to justify taking both. The ability to damage two enemies with one attack is really enticing, but if you need that functionality you can either attack twice or use War Magic and hit the second target as a Bonus Action.
  • Sword BurstSCAG: Eldritch Knights are typically in melee, and Sword Burst is a great way to handle crowds of multiple enemies. See my article on Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack for a breakdown of the math comparing melee cantrip spells to normal martial attacks.
  • Toll the DeadXGtE: 60 ft. range, the damage is measured in d12's, and since it's necrotic damage almost nothing will resist it.

1st-Level Spells

  • Absorb ElementsXGtE: You get spellcasting later and slower than anyone else, so you have very few options for protecting yourself from non-weapon damage. This will handle that issue, but it will eat your spell slots quickly so be sure to eliminate the source of the elemental damage as quickly as possible so that you don't run through your spell slots too quickly.
  • Burning HandsPHB: A great way to handle crowds of enemies, and the damage is good for a 1st-level spell if you can for multiple foes in the AOE.
  • Earth TremorXGtE: Difficult terrain might make it slightly harder for enemies to move away from you, but not enough to actually stop them. Also, the terrain affects you. If you're an Earth Genasi this is decent, but otherwise skip it.
  • Mage ArmorPHB: If you're Dexterity-based, this is the only way to match the base AC provided by plate armor.
  • Magic MissilePHB: A great option at long range, and reliable damage, but at high levels the damage won't be good enough to justify over using a weapon, so you may want to trade it for something else.
  • Find FamiliarPHB: Eldritch Knights get just one 1st-level spell outside of their normal school limitation, and Find Familiar is a great candidate. Get an owl and have it use Flyby and Help to give you Advantage before you try to hit an enemy with Booming Blade.
  • Protection from Evil and GoodPHB: A great defensive buff with a reasonably long duration. A great use of your extremely limited spell slots.
  • ShieldPHB: A fantastic boost to your defenses. Nearly all the effect of the Defensive Duelist feat, and all it costs is a spell slot.
  • SnareXGtE: A nice way to set an ambush, and it works reasonably well even with a poor save DC.
  • ThunderwavePHB: Your saving throws won't (and shouldn't) keep pace with a full caster, and pushing enemies away from you is rarely a good idea when your job is to get into melee and make them stay there.
  • Witch Bolt: The ongoing damage should be much less than what you can do with a weapon.

2nd-Level Spells

  • Aganazzar’s scorcherXGtE: I've never been a fan of lines. It's too difficult to line up more than two creatures at a time, so you'll probably never hit more than two creatures unless you have a long hallway handy.
  • Enlarge/ReducePHB: One of the absolute best buffs you can put on a fighter, and you can cast it yourself. Advantage on Strength checks makes it easy for your to Shove and Grapple enemies, allowing you to keep them in place easily. Unfortunately the 1 Action casting time is annoying in combat, and with a 1 minute duration it's difficult to cast ahead of time. It's also outside of the school limitations.
  • Magic WeaponPHB: Having access to magic weapons is crucial, but this is a really hard way for you to get one. If anyone else in the party can cast Magic Weapon, don't learn it. The scaling is rough for the Eldritch Knight, and it's outside of the school limitations.
  • Maximilian's Earthen GraspEEPC: Keeping enemies in place so that you can beat them up is hard in 5e, and the Eldritch Knight doesn't have a lot of options to do it. Earthen Grasp is a great way to address the issue, and since it calls for a Strength saving throw it works really well on small nimble enemies and weak spellcasters, both of which are likely to look for ways to run away from you. Unfortunately this isn't within the Eldritch Knight's school limitations so you'll need to spend some of your very limited spells known that ignore the school limitations.
  • Misty StepPHB: A great spell all around. Eventually you'll want to trade it out once you get Arcane Charge, but that's not until 15th level.
  • Scorching RayPHB: Without an on-hit damage bonus of some kind this is obsolete by the time you can cast it. If you need ranged damage, pull out a bow or throw a javelin.
  • See InvisibilityPHB: Outside your school limitation, but you don't have another way to handle invisible creatures.
  • Shadow BladeXGtE: Compared to a rapier, the Shadow Blade adds 1d8 damage per attack, it changes to psychic damage (which is resisted by very few creatures), it adds the Thrown property for some reason, and since it gives you Advantage to attack creatures in dim light or darkness it will offset Disadvantage for attacking creatures when it's too dark for you to see. Unfortunately it's an Illusion spell so learning it consumes one of your limited spells known that ignore the school limitations.
  • ShatterPHB: Decent damage with a good AOE and thunder damage. Aside from your relatively poor save DC, this is a solid offensive option.
  • Snilloc's snowball swarmXGtE: Shatter but with less damage and worse damage type.
  • Warding WindXGtE: A moving sphere of difficult terrain centered on you. This makes it easy for you to keep enemies close, and the 10-minute duration can get you through multiple fights.

3rd-Level Spells

  • CounterspellPHB: Counterspell is incredibly powerful, but it's a really hard choice for the Eldritch Knight. You need to focus on your physical ability scores over Intelligence, and you don't have the high-level spell slots to guarantee that you can successfully counter spells. It's also outside of the normal school limitations.
  • Dispel MagicPHB: If your party doesn't someone else who can cast Dispel Magic by the time it's an option for you, you're probably all dead.
  • FireballPHB: At 8d6 damage, Fireball will likely exceed the amount of damage you can do to a single creature until you get four attacks at 20th level. Sure, your save DC will be relatively low, and enemies are likely to pass the save, but if you hit two or more creatures it's almost always going to do more damage than weapon attacks, and the more creatures you can hit in the sizable AOE, the more damage you'll do.
  • Flame ArrowsXGtE: Tempting for a fighter to boost your damage output, but it's not good enough to consume one of your few spells known that go beyond your school limitations.
  • FlyPHB: Flight is a defining tactical advantage over creatures who can't fly, especially if those creatures don't have effective ranged options. Even though this is beyond the Eldritch Knight's school limitations it's a must-have option. If you don't have easy access to flight by other means (an allied spellcaster, an item, a flying mount, etc.), you need this.
  • HastePHB: An excellent buff at any level, but it's outside your school limitations and it's available to many other spellcasters so you may be able to get it from an ally when you really need it.
  • Leomund's Tiny HutPHB: Perhaps an odd choice for the Eldritch Knight, but Tiny Hut is a great place to rest, and if you have time to set it up it's a great defensive position.
  • Lightning BoltPHB: As much damage as fireball, but it's much harder to hit multiple creatures with a line.
  • Magic CirclePHB: Excellent, but too situational to consume one your very few spells known.
  • Melf's Minute MeteorsEEPC / XGtE: I love that you can use this to turn your bonus action into damage output, but with your poor save DC this deals too little damage to waste a 3rd-level spell slot.
  • Protection from EnergyPHB: An excellent defensive option, but you may be doing alright with Absorb Elements.
  • Thunder StepXGtE: You can get most of the same function from Arcane Charge, which you get one level after you get your unrestricted spell known.
  • Wall of SandEEPC / XGtE: Decent area control, and since it restricts movement you may be able to use to to keep enemies from fleeing.
  • Wall of WaterEEPC / XGtE: This makes it hard for you to to engage enemies. Wall of Sand is more useful.

4th-Level Spells

  • BanishmentPHB: This is a fantastic spell, but your save DC probably isn't good enough for it to be reliable.
  • Fire ShieldPHB: One of the Fighter's primary roles is Defender. Your job is to stand in the front and get attacked by scary monsters. Throw up Fire Shield and enjoy a bunch of extra damage output for being in the right place and doing your job.
  • Greater InvisibilityPHB: Invisibility is an absolutely spectacular buff, but part of the Fighter's primary role in the party is to draw attention away from less durable allies. If you're invisible, you can't do that.
  • Ice StormPHB: If you want damage, cast Fireball. If you want to slow enemies down, cast Wall of Sand.
  • Mordenkainen's Private SanctumPHB: You get one 4th-level spell slot every day. Do you really want to spend it on a place to sleep?
  • Otiluke's Resilient SpherePHB: Single-target save-or-suck. Great, but your spell save DC is probably too low for it to reliable.
  • PolymorphPHB: With an hour-long duration, this is a great use of your single 4th-level spell slot. See my Practical Guide to Polymorph for more information.
  • StoneskinPHB: A decent buff, but at this level magic attacks are common.
  • Storm SphereEEPC / XGtE: Decent area control, but your spell attack bonus probably isn't good enough to make the spell attacks reliable.
  • Wall of FirePHB: Even if you save DC is poor, Wall of Fire is still a great area control option.
  • Vitriolic SphereEEPC / XGtE: Fireball will deal roughly the same initial damage, but the secondary damage might be enough to be appealing.
  • Watery SphereEEPC / XGtE: Without a maxed out spell save DC this spell isn't reliable enough to waste your only 4th-level spell slot.
  • Sickening RadianceXGtE: The damage only applies to each creature once, so unless you're fighting big groups of enemies, skip this. If you are facing big groups enemes, cast Fireball.

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

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)