DnD 5e - Fighter Subclass Breakdown
Last Updated: November 20th, 2020
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : 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.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials or released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
Your choice of subclass will greatly affect the way you function in combat. Any fighter can swing a weapon, but your most interesting options will often come from your subclass.
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.
- : A skill proficiency and one of two excellent cantrips.
: 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.
- : Take the target creature out of combat for one round.
- : Prevents the target from attacking one of your allies for one round, and does a little bit of bonus damage.
- : 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.
- : 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.
- : 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.
- : Bonus damage, hit everything in a line, and ignore full cover.
- : Ignoring cover and such is nice, but the big draw is that you learn the target's location, so you can locate invisible creatures.
- : An excellent way to incapacitate enemies who use extended reach, ranged weapons, or spells.
- : If you're in a campaign with few or no magic items, this is absolutely essential.
- : Redirect a missed attack once per turn. Absolutely amazing.
- : Now you can afford to use your signature ability in every encounter.
- : At this level all of your Arcane Shot options deal 1d6 or 2d6 more damage. Nice, but not especially significant.
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. Each maneuver, much like a spell, is a tool tailor-made to address a specific situation or problem, allowing the Battle Master to respond dynamically to scenarios which are often more complex than simple hit point attrition and which require more nuanced solutions than swinging your weapon until you enemy falls down.
The Martial Adept feat (PHB) and Fighting Style (Superior Technique) both grant additional maneuvers and superiority dice, making them great additions to the Battle Master's limited pool of both. More dice means that you can use your maneuvers more often, and knowing more maneuvers means that you have more room to explore situational options to broaden your ability to respond to unusual circumstances in combat.
- Battle Master Maneuvers, below. : 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. For guidance on choosing manevuers, see
- : Artisans tools probably won't matter to the game, but the expanded options in Xanathar's Guide to Everything make this much more fun than it was when the core rules we published.
- : This won't come into play in most encounters, but it's great if you can get the BBEG monologuing while you study him.
- : These bumps only amount to an increase of 1 each, but they feel very nice and since you're using Superiority Dice so frequently the small bonus adds up.
- : This ensures that you always have at least on superiority die, so you don't have to stress about using your last die before the adventuring day is over.
- : These bumps only amount to an increase of 1 each, but they feel very nice and since you're using Superiority Dice so frequently the small bonus adds up.
Battle Master Maneuvers
- TCoE: A bonus to Stealth can have a huge impact even though you're likely not sneaking during combat. How effective this will be depends somewhat on your DM and how they paply the Stealth rules. If your DM asks for repeated Stealth checks in quick succession, this won't work out. But if you can make one check and sneak through a room or disappear into a crowd or explore a small area, this could helpful.
- TCoE: Situational, but very interesting if you have frail allies who tend to get stuck in melee from time to time. Switching places with them can pull them out of melee reach, and if they can act before your enemies your ally could withdraw to safety, removing the need for you to boost their AC and thereby allowing you to keep that benefit for yourself without feeling selfish.
- TCoE: An additional attack is absolutely worth a Superiority Die in almost any case. If you have the Sentinel feat and a reach weapon, you can use this to force enemies to stop moving, potentially keeping them out of reach and therefore unable to attack you.
- PHB: 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 Superiority 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.
- TCoE: Adding a superiority die is enough to offset a poor Charisma score, allowing the Battle Master Fighter to serve as a Face without further splitting their attention on ability scores. This notably omits Charisma (Deception), so there's mechanical incentive to be honest.
- PHB: Bonus damage and you get to force the target to drop one item if they fail a Strength save. Unfortunately, relatively few enemies use weapons and the ones that do predominantly rely on Strength and will therefore have high Strength saves. That means that this is only situationally useful, and in situations where it's useful the targets are often well-suited to resist this.
- PHB: Very helpful with a Rogue or some other Striker in the party, especially against enemies with high AC. However, its usefulness diminishes if you don't have an ally who can follow your attack with a single high-damage attack to capitalize on Advantage. Sneak Attack is an obvious example, but also look for high-damage attack spells like Inflict Wonds, Harm, and Cromatic Orc.
- PHB: This is a huge boost to AC, but its only purpose is to boost your AC when you know that you're going to provoke an Opportunity Attack. In those rare cases you should just use the Disengage action.
- PHB: Advantage on your own attack and bonus damage. You don't want to use this frequently because it will eat your Superiority Dice too quickly, but this is a great staple option and increasing your likelihood to hit right when you need it can help to eliminate enemies or break their Concentration when doing so is tactically impactful.
Note that errata updated this to indicate that the advantage is wasted if you don't attack the target during the same turn.
- PHB: A rare taunt mechanic in DnD 5e. 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.
- TCoE: Grappled creatures have a move speed of 0 ft., which both prevents them from running away and from standing up from prone. If you knock the target prone with either Trip Attack of the Shove special attack, they're prone and can't stand, giving you and any other melee attackes Advantage against them until they manage to escape the grapple. Grappling Strike works after you hit with an Attack, so it's easy to employ without gambling a Superiority Die on an attack roll and without cutting into your damage output (assuming that you're not using two-weapon fighting).
- PHB: Just move closer to your target. If you need to remain in your current position you can move back after attacking.
- PHB: - 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.
- PHB: 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.
- PHB: Reducing damage is often much more effective than waiting to heal it later.
- PHB: Great against enemies with high AC, or if you absolutely need to make one attack hit, but don't rely on it too heavily or it will eat through your Superiority Dice. The best part of Precision Attack may be hard to spot: you can use it after the attack is rolled, and that's the only sensible time to use this. If you're paying enough attention to know the target's AC (or at least have a rough idea), you can estimate when using this makes sense. The closer you are to hitting, the more likely this is to work, and at an average bonus of 4.5 I recommend only using this is you're within 4 points of hitting.
It's easy to compare Precision Attack to Feinting Attack since both make it easier to hit. Feinting ttack 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 Die could turn a near-miss into a hit, so you're not forced to gamble a Superiority Die that you might not need to spend. Feinting Attack provides a damage bonus, which means that even if you didn't need Advantage you still get something out of spending your die. Precision Attack doesn't require you to spend your Action and also works beyond 5-foot range. Taking all of these considerations into account, they're roughly equivalent and which is better depends greatly on your build. If you use Bonus Actions heavily, definitely go for Precisions Attack.
- PHB: Too situational. Shove is typically sufficient.
- : If you're built to throw weapons, you're using the Fighting Style (Thrown Weapon), so this is for melee builds that need a way to quickly deal some ranged damage without cutting into their melee stuff. You still need a free hand to draw the weapon and make the attack, so sword+board fighters will have trouble since you can't sheathe your weapon, use Quick Toss, and draw your weapon again without spending your Action to do so. That means that the only viable users for this maneruver are two-handed melee weapon users.
Even for that limited pool of users, this has limited usefulness. If you have a two-handed weapon in hand, you can draw a dagger or javelin as your free item interaction for the turn, then spend one of your attacks to throw it before returning your hand to your two-handed weapon. The only advantage which Quick Toss provides over that solution is that you get an attack as a Bonus Action and can use your Action to attack with your two-handed weapon.
- PHB: 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.
- PHB: Spend a superiority die for an attack as a reaction. Seems like a fantastic trade to me.
- PHB: This is very little damage, and you can get much better utility from your superiority dice.
- TCoE: The affected skills are difficult choices for the Fighter, with the possible exception of Insight, so you may see little benefit from taking this.
- PHB: 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.
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.
- : A free skill or language proficiency.
- : 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.
- : 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.
- :Similar to the Protection Fighting Style. You can only use this a few times per day, so use it sparingly, and make steps to avoid needing it if you can.
- : 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.
- : 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.
- : 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.
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.
Since the Champion can deal critical hits more reliably than any other character (thought hexblades deserve an honorable mention), the Bludgeoner, Piercer, and Slasher feats (all TCoE) are worth considering.
- : 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.
- : Half proficiency in Acrobatics, Athletics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Initiative rolls, and several other possible ability checks.
- : For most builds the only option which works alongside your first choice is Defense.
- : This is a huge critical range, especially with as many attacks as a Fighter can make.
- : Constant healing makes Second Wind largely obsolete, and can keep you in a fight almost indefinitely.
The Echo Knight's central feature is its ability to create an "echo", which allows you to fight in two places at the same time. Mechanically, it's a simple subclass with very little management and no decision points. Tactically, your echo is like a second character in some ways, and using your echo effectively is crucial to succeeding in combat. A clever Echo Knight can gain additional damage output and reduce damage to themselves and their party by ensuring that their echo is in the the right place at the right time.
Becuase the Echo Knight depends so heavily on your Bonus Action to manage your Echo, avoid Two-Weapon Fighting and Crossbow Expert.
- including vertically into the air!
Remember that it disappears if you move too far away, but it costs you nothing except a Bonus Action to recreate, so in many cases it may be more effective to intentionally walk away from your Echo and recreate it. You can also teleport to switch places with your echo, allowing you to to escape grapples, difficult terrain, and bindings with little effort (though it does also cost part of your movement for the turn).
The echo is notably neither a creature nor an object, which makes it hard for enemies to target with spells and difficult to damage with area effects like breath weapons or spells like Fireball. In a way, the echo works like Spiritual Weapon or Bigby's Hand. : This is the Echo Knight's signature feature, and while it gains some extra stuff over time the core the ability never really changes. Get really comfortable using it, because it's going to monopolize your Bonus Action for the rest of your career. You can move your echo without an action, and unlike moving your own character it doesn't have specific movement types so you can move it 30 feet in any direction,
- : Up to 5 extra attacks per day. Not a huge boost in damage, but fantastic when you really need it.
- you're not allowed to attack through it, but the text explaining that was omitted from the first printing of the book. That means that you can't send your Echo Avatar to attack people. : You can walk your echo up to 1,000 ft. away from you and see/hear through it. Unfortunately, according to Jeremy Crawford
- : In many ways this is like the Protection fighting style, but it works on any creature you can see. Limiting use to once per rest means that you need to be cautious about when you use it, and save it for when it will be really impactful.
- : With just 1 hit point your echo is going to die constantly, so this is an easy way to get temporary hit points whenever you don't have them. 2d6+Con is a decent amount, too, and you get enough uses per day that it's a significant improvement to your total capacity to endure damage.
- : Two echos means that you can fill two additional spaces on the battlefield, offering additional chances to make opportunity attacks, and creating more targets to draw attacks which would otherwise be directed at you and your allies.
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.
For help selecting spells, see my Rogue Spell List Breakdown. : 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.
- : Situational, but very cool.
- Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack for a breakdown of the math comparing melee cantrip spells to normal martial attacks. : 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
- : 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.
- : 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.
- : Drop a huge spell, then stab/shoot someone.
The Psi Warrior is a martial psionics user, making use a semi-magical mechanism known as "psionics" to produce effects which are borderline but technically not magical. Is it magic? Not quite, but more "yes" than "no".
The Psi Warrior shares some capabilities with the Eldritch Knight, and uses a resource pool similar to the Battle Master's Superiority Dice. Unlike those two subclasses the Psi Warrior has no decision points within the build, instead using a fixed set of built-in options.
This lack of build diversity doesn't mean that the Psi Warrior is ineffective. The Psi Warrior is much easier to build and play than either the Battle Master or the Eldritch Knight, and if you manage your Psionic Energy Die to last through the day you can be very effective. There's also nothing forcing the Psi Warrior into melee, which is a problem for the Battle Master and Eldritch Knight since so many of their best options are melee-only.
If your DM adheres to the Adventuring Day rules, that means you can recharge as many as three dice per day. Across a full day of adventuring that's a small pool to work with and you need to be cautious about spending your dice rather than burning through them in the first encounter. The initial options for spending your Psionic Energy Dice are easy ways to quickly burn through your dice for modest amounts of damage or protection.
: Your poll of Psionic Energy Dice are your defining resource. You get a number equal to double your Proficiency Bonus and the size goes from d6 to d12 over the course of your career. That sounds like a big pool, but they mostly recharge on a Long Rest, and between long rests you can recharge one die as a Bonus Action once per Short Rest.
- : Preventing some or all of the damage from an attack can keep you or an ally fighting, and can help allies maintain Concentration on spells. Save this for when hit points are low or when an ally's Concentration is crucial or you risk running through your Psionic Energy dice in a hurry.
- : A modest burst of damage. The damage is a separate source from your attack (it deals damage on its own rather than adding damage to the attack), so it's not multiplied on a critical hit. I wouldn't consider this a go-to option until you add Telekinetic Thrust at level 7 because your pool of dice is too small and too precious to spend on something as mundane as a tiny bit of damage. However, you might make an exception in cases where the extra damage could kill the creature or cause it to lose Concentration.
- : Situational. You get it once for free each day, which may be enough. This is forced movement (even though the target is willing), so you can use it to pull allies out of melee (even if they're grappled) without provoking opportunity attacks.
: Two new options for using your Psionic Energy Dice.
- : Even though the flight only lasts until the end of your current turn, that's enough to get into melee with flying enemies and beat tham up (consider using Action Surge to maximize the benefits) or Shove them prone to force them to fall. You can also use this to fly over pits, high walls, and other barriers. You get this once for free, but if you need it again you can recharge it with a Psionic Energy Die.
- : Shove is typically sufficient for melee fighters, but this work at range, which makes it a great counter to flying enemies. Flying creatures that are knocked prone fall, which can both cause a lot of damage and bring them into melee range
- : While this is technically situational, Charm and Fear effects are common and annoying across the full level range, and can take you out of a fight. They're especially good counters to martial characters (like you) because they tend to have require Wisdom saving throws which martial characters are bad at.
- : +2 AC to you and possibly the rest of your party for 1 minute, activated as a Bonus Action. This is a great buff at any level, but remember that it won't stack with other sources of cover. You only get to use this once per day, but you can recharge it with a Psionic Energy Die, and I recommend doing so. The +2 AC to your whole party will mitigate a huge amount of damage in a typical fight. +2 on a 20-point scale is 10% of the scale, so a +2 AC bonus will negate roughly 10% of all attack damage to your party in that encounter.
The abiltity to make a weapon attack as a Bonus Action while concentrating on Telekinesis is very exciting. The obvious intent is that you use your Action to use Telekinesis, and that can be a powerful combination: lift your target into the air and shoot them, or drop them to force them to fall prone before attacking them in melee. However, you're under no obligation to actually use Telekinesis while you're concentrating on it. The spell has a 10-minute duration so you can easily use it as a buff to add an attack as a Bonus Action. If you enjoy this strategy, I think you'll agree that spending a Psionic Energy Die to recharge this ability is well worth the cost to get an additional attack with little efort : By this level it's entirely possible that you have raised both your Strength/Dexterity and your Intelligence to 20, so your Intelligence checks may be very good. That makes Telekinesis a useful option in combat, especially against foes with poor Strength like many spellcasters. You can use this to lift foes into the air and drop them, to move them over pits or into hazard, or just to pull them into melee range.
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 significant investment in Charisma when the Fighter already needs to maximize two other ability scores.
Individually, each of the Purple Dragon Knight's abilities are great, but the sum of the abilities in the broader context of the Fighter class makes the Purple Dragon Knight a difficult option.
The biggest problem with the Purple Dragon Knight is that it takes the Fighter, who is almost exclusively good at fighting, and tries to make them good at some other stuff. While it's a nice option in the right party, Dungeons and Dragons is a game that rewards specialization and punishes diversification. If you do want to play a martial Face character, the Paladin is a better way to do so.
- : This isn't a ton of healing, and it has the important limitation that it only works on creatures that can see or hear you. Unconscious allies can't do either, so this is a small amount of in-combat healing. It's nice that you get to share Second Wind, but the effects won't be tactically impactful.
- : 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 possibly 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. If you start your build planning to be a Purple Dragon Knight, you might leave Insight or Intimidation open so that you can make use of this free proficiency.
- : 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.
- : Save rerolls are fantastic, especially on mental saves which can often take you and your allies out of a fight.
The Rune Knight runs on magic runes which they accumulate as they gain levels. There are just 6 runes available and you'll get 5 of them, so there's not much diversity in rune knight builds as you gain levels. Each rune provides a passive buff (often a bonus to a skill) and an active ability themed after the corresponding variety of giant. Since the active abilities are usable once per Short or Long Rest (twice once you get Master of Runes), they feel a bit like Warlock spell slots: few in number, but big on impact, and you get them back quickly.
Tactically, the Rune Knight has a limited pool of resources and you'll need to weigh the cost and benefit of using any given rune's active effect. The resource management is the core complexity of the subclass, and if you can master that resource management you'll find that the Rune Knight is a capable, interesting subclass with a lot to offer.
Where the Rune Knight suffers is damage output. Fire Rune can do some single-target damage, but the only other damage boost comes from Giant's Might. Giant's Might provides a +1d6 damage bonus, but only while Giant's Might is running (two to six times per day; the uses per day equal your Proficiency Bonus), and only once per turn on your own turn. The die scales up to d10, but +1d10 damage per round at level 18 is an insultingly small amount of damage. The Rune Knight does a lot of cool stuff other than damage, but make sure that the rest of your party can provide adequate damage on their own. Having Strikers classes in your party like monks, rogues, rangers, and warlocks is typically sufficient.
Despite being giant-themed, the Rune Knight is surprisingly appealing for a rogue-style character with high Dexterity and Charisma. Proficiency in Deception, Intimidation, and Thieves' Tools can all benefit significantly from the passive effects of runes, and nothing about the Rune Knight's features requires high Strength (unless you want to make Strength checks with Giant's Might).
- : Smith's tools are a popular option for adventurers since so much of adventuring gear is made of metal, and if you get the Fire Rune you can apply Expertise with all tools (see Fire Rune, below, for more). One proficiency is not a driving reason to get good with tools, but it can add some non-combat utility to a class which is all about fighting. You also learn to speak Giant, which is weirdly nice because runes can give you Advantage on Charisma (Deception) and Charisma (Intimidation) checks, allowing you to serve as a Face without much investment in Charisma.
Each rune provides a passive effect and an active effect. The active effect can be used once per Short or Long Rest (that's not a rule inherent to Rune Carver, but every rune works that way). Saves are Constitution-based, which is exciting because it makes it easy to justify 20 Dex or Strength and 20 Constitution, which many fighter subclasses need to postpone or forgo due to their subclass's dependence on a mental ability score.
Every rune is tied to a type of giant, so don't expect this list to expand unless WotC brings back the weird extra giants that they introduced late in 3.5 like Death Giants. Although a high-level Death Rune would probably be really cool. Well shoot, now I want that.
: 2 runes at 3rd level, and eventually you get up to 5. Since there are just 6 runes, that means that rather than choosing which runes to learn you get to choose one to ignore (Frost. Skip Frost. ). There are two runes with level requirements, but thanks to the built-in retraining rule you can drop a different rune when you hit level 7 to get both of the level-locked runes at the same time, then pick up whichever rune you dropped the next time you learn a new rune.
The active effect allows you to retarget a successful attack to another creature within 30 feet of you. The expectation is that you're going to redirect and enemy's attack to hit an enemy, and that's probably your best bet, but you can also use this to attack an ally and redirect the attack to an enemy which might be out of your reach otherwise. Keep in mind that transfering the attack doesn't automatically hit the new target; the attack roll must still be compared to the new target's AC as normal. : Sleight of Hand and Deception are a weird combination of skills for your typical fighter since Charisma is frequently a dump stat and even Dexterity-based fighters rarely take Sleight of Hand, so don't expect to get much use out of those unless you're building yourself with skills similar to a typical rogue.
While most martial enemies will be big, Strength-based monsters with high Strength saves, there are many other types of enemies with bad Strength saves. Spellcasters nimble enemies, and most small enemies will have poor Strength save bonuses. If you manage to keep the enemy restrained, they'll take an impressive 20d6 damage, which is pretty good even by the standards of many spells.
But while that damage is exciting, the bigger benefit is that the target is Restrained. Restrained creatures have 0 speed, suffer Disadvantage on their attacks, grant advantage on attacks against them, and suffer Disadvantage on Dexterity saves. That makes the target bait for every attack that your party can put out. Throw this on the highest-priority enemy in an encounter and focus on them until they drop. : Expertise in every tool in which you're proficient. The Rune Knight gets Smith's Tools at level 3, but you should strongly consider getting other tools, especially crucial adventuring options like Thieves' Tools.
+2 to saves is nice, but Strength saves are extremely rare and +2 to Constitution saves for 10 minutes one to three times a day (remember: Adventuring Day rules encourage two short rests) isn't worth a Rune. If you need better Constitution saves, but an ASI into Constitution. : Animal Handling is very situational, but Intimidation is a popular face skill for fighters and other martial classes despite usually lacking Charisma.
The active effect is a Wisdom-based save-or-suck charm effect used as a Reaction. It's not quite as good as Hold Monster, but it's close, and like Hold Monster the target can repeat their save at the end of each of their turns. If you pair this with Fire Rune, you have a powerful single-target crowd control effect which can affect big dumb enemies (Stone Rune) or smart, frail enemies (Fire Rune). : Spectacular passive effects. When you're building out your initial Ability Scores, you will typically max out your Strength or your Dexterity (depending on your build), then ideally you'll raise your Constitution as much as makes sense. After that, Wisdom is a great third-highest ability score both for skills and for saving throws. After that, Insight isn't much of a stretch. Perpetual Advantage on Wisdom (Insight) means a +5 bonus to your Passive Insight, which is a boon for your whole party. You also get 120 ft. Darkvision, which is great for races like the Dragonborn and the Human which don't get it naturally.
The active effect is a powerful defensive buff that you should absolutely employ when facing the prospect of significant weapon damage. It's one of those ability where you'll always wonder if you might need it more later, but if a fight looks like any significant threat and your enemies are relying on weapon damage types, use this as soon as attacks come your way. Resistance to weapon damage also makes it easier to justify using two-handed weapons since your AC is less important. (7th level): Poison is common across the full level range, and resistance to it is excellent. Dwarves already have this, so this rune does lose some of its appeal for them, but the active effect is still very good.
The active effect turns your Reaction into a reroll on any d20 roll which happens within 60 feet of you. You do need to use the Reaction before the roll happens, but that's probably fine. Use this to support save-or-suck effects (yours or someone elses), to protect your allies from save-or-suck effects, and potentially to grant Advantage on high-damage attacks from you or your allies. (7th level): Arcana isn't a skill that you'll be good at (you likely dumped Intelligence since you have no other usage for it built into the class), but never being surprised is great on any character.
- : Sleight of Hand and Deception are a weird combination of skills for your typical fighter since Charisma is frequently a dump stat and even Dexterity-based fighters rarely take Sleight of Hand, so don't expect to get much use out of those unless you're building yourself with skills similar to a typical rogue.
The bonus damage only applies once per turn on your own turn, which considering the Fighter's famously high number of attacks feels totally out of place and unremarkable. Weirdly, the d6 grows to a d10 over time but never becomes a significant part of your damage output since it's still just once on each of your own turns.
If you find that the damage bonus from Giant's Might is too small, consider this quick fix: drop the die size one step (from d6 to d4, reduce the d8 from Great Stature to a d6 and the d10 from Runic Juggernaut to d8) and allow it to apply to all of the Fighter's attacks while they're enlarged. That will cause the damage boost from Giant's Might to improve on an exponential upward curve as the damage dice improve at roughly the same levels that the Fighter adds more attacks. If that's a problem, consider removing the damage die size improvements. : Similar to casting Enlarge/Reduce as a Bonus Action, though the damage bonus isn't as good. Being large makes it harder for enemies to get around you since you take up more space, and Advantage on Strength checks makes it very easy to use Athletics to Shove and Grapple your enemies.
- : This is a great way to negate critical hits. You force the attacker to reroll the specific d20 used and use that result, so even if they have Advantage they still just roll one d20 and use whatever comes up. The number of uses per day is plenty if you don't try to negate every hit that comes toward your party; save it for critical hits or for allies who have a passable chance of a reroll missing. If an enemy is attacking your 12 AC wizard with a +10 attack bonus, don't waste the effort.
- : The 3d4 inches is amusing, especially if you're a small race, but it has absolutely no mechanical effect on the game. Height is a purely cosmetic portion of your character. Upgrading the damage die on Giant's Might from 1d6 to 1d8 is such a minor improvement that if you forgot to make the adjustment you would probably never notice. On average, that's 1 point of damage per round. At level 10 when you and your enemies can easily have 100 hit points, 1 damage is not noteworthy.
- : Double how often you can use all of your rune's active effects. You also gain your fifth and final rune at this level, so this is just a really fantastic level. With 10 active effects to use between short rests, you can afford to use two or more active rune effects in each combat and you may find that you have runes to spare when you make it to your next Short Rest.
- : The extra damage is not significant, especially at this level. But the ability to become Huge and get a little more reach can be helpful in some cases, but unless you have Sentinel or Polearm Master it may not be impactful.
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.
- : A free skill or language proficiency.
- : 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.
- : 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.
- : 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.
- : 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).
- : 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!