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.
Table of Contents
- Fighter Subclasses
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. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we 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 are released, and the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.
A really cool concept largely squandered. Arcane Shot is the heart of the subclass, and with just two shots per Short or Loing 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.
If you want to make the Arcane Archer more playable, here are some suggested fixes:
- Improve the number of Arcane Shot uses:
- Shots equal to Intelligence Modifier: This adds a bit of MAD to the subclass, which serves as a built-in balancing mechanism. Players will likely sit at around 14 Intelligence, which keeps them at the same number of uses as the published version, but if the player is willing to spend resources on Intelligence instead of feats or something else, they can get additional shots in exchange for the opportunity cost of an ASI which could be spent on a feat instead. It also adds some additional benefit to raising the character’s Intelligence, which in turns makes it more appealing to selecting Arcane Shot options which allow a saving throw.
- Shots equal to Proficiency Bonus: Automatically scales with level, so as the Fighter gets more attacks and learns more shots they also get to use them more frequently. The progression feels very satisfying, but this is a linear buff to the Arcane Archer be careful that you don’t buff the subclass too much by accident. Tying things to Proficiency Bonus also frequently encourages multiclassing abuse.
- Practical Guide to Prestidigitation and Similar Cantrips. : A skill proficiency and a cantrip. Choose Prestidigitation and then go read my
: 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.
At high level this adds a little bit of damage, but it’s a negligible quantity of damage and it doesn’t improve Banishing Arrow’s usefulness.
: Take the target
creature out of combat for one round. This allows a Charisma saving
throw, and most creatures have absolutely terrible Charisma saves, so
this is decently reliable even with a poor save DC. Creatures which you
might expect to banish (demons, elementals, etc.) often have high
Charisma saves, but you’re free to use Banishing Arrow on creatures of
any type, so if you want to banish a dinosaur or a zombie or something
you’re ready to go.
- : Prevents the target from attacking one of your allies for one round, and does a little bit of bonus damage. This allows a saving throw and relies on the Charmed condition, so many creatures will be resistant, immune, or will have a good chance of resisting simply due to a decent Wisdom score.
- : 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. Unfortunately, Bursting Arrow’s damage bonus isn’t “extra damage” so the damage isn’t multiplied on a critical hit.
- : 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, which is a trade that you should be very happy to make.
- : Bonus damage, hit everything in a line, and ignore full cover. Unfortunately it’s hard to hit more than two creatures with a line, and since the line is only 30 feet long you’ll need to be in close quarters to use this. Plan to spend as much movement as possible moving away after using this.
- : Ignoring cover and such is nice, but the big draw is that you learn the target’s location, so you can locate invisible creatures and enemies who might be hiding or trying to escape from you.
- : An excellent way to incapacitate enemies who use extended reach, ranged weapons, or spells. Unfortunately it’s on a Wisdom save, so if you just need a creature to be unable to attack for a turn you’ll have better results with Banishing Arrow.
- : Take the target creature out of combat for one round. This allows a Charisma saving throw, and most creatures have absolutely terrible Charisma saves, so this is decently reliable even with a poor save DC. Creatures which you might expect to banish (demons, elementals, etc.) often have high Charisma saves, but you’re free to use Banishing Arrow on creatures of any type, so if you want to banish a dinosaur or a zombie or something you’re ready to go.
- : 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. With 2 to 4 attacks per turn, you’re inevitably going to miss with some of them, so turning a missed attack into another chance to hit something provides roughly as much attack output as the Crossbow Expert feat. This also makes the attack penalty from the Sharpshooter feat less risky. All around, it’s really great.
- : Now you can afford to use your signature ability in every encounter. Sure, it’s only once and that’s not nearly enough, but considering how resource-starved the Arcane Archer is this is still a massive improvement.
- : At this level all of your Arcane Shot options deal 1d6 or 2d6 more damage. Nice, but not especially significant.
Do you want a martial character with a combat toolset as versatile as a spellcasters? Do you want to go beyond the basic combat mechanics and reflect a more nuanced style of combat? Do you see the battlefield as a complex chess game to be mastered and dominated? Do you want to shout the names of your special attacks? The Battle Master may be for you.
The Battle Master is more complicated than most fighter subclasses, 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 your enemy falls down.
While almost every one of the Battle Master’s maneuvers works with melee weapons, many of them also work with ranged attacks. This allows for cool things like using Disarming Attack to shoot a weapon out of a target’s hand or using Goading Attack to make it hard for a melee-only enemy to attack effectively for a turn. Many of the Battle Master’s best maneuvers are melee-only, but a ranged battle master is still viable and effective.
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. This is a heavy feat cost, but many of the Battle Master’s maneuvers replicate the effects of feats, so you may find that a maneuver is sufficient in place of a whole feat.
Many maneuvers add your superiority die to the damage roll if you hit. Since the damage die is added to the damage roll, the additional damage is multiplied on a critical hit. This makes it especially appealing to apply a maneuver when you score a critical hit so that you get both a big pile of damage and a cool rider effect.
: 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.
- Practical Guide to Tools. : Artisan’s 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 were published. Check out out
- : This won’t come into play in most encounters unless you work to make it happen, but it’s great if you can get the BBEG monologuing while you study him or if you can manage to be stealthy long enough to observe the target. There’s no limitation on the usage, so you could spend additional minutes studying the target to learn everything on the list and get a really good sense of the target’s stats.
- : 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. As an interesting quirk, RAW if you have any dice from the Superior Technique style or the Martial Adept feat those dice also increase to d10s at this level, though that won’t be reflected in DnDBeyond.
- : This ensures that you always have at least one 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.
The Cavalier is a fantastic Defender, and possesses several features which I have been hoping to find since I first started writing handbooks for 5e which answer long-standing problems for Defenders. The Cavalier 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.
- : A free skill or language proficiency. Take the skill. Languages can be solved magically.
- : 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), Telekinesis, 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 when you start your turn 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.
The Disadvantage portion of Unwavering Mark only functions while the target is within 5 feet of you, making lances, whips, and other reach weapons difficult to use in conjunction. You can still make the Bonus Action attack if those enemies attack someone else, but you still want to keep enemies within 5 feet of you in order to impose Disadvantage on their attacks.
You’re limited in the number of times that you can use the Bonus Action attack between rests, so try to use the attack only as needed rather than throwing it on everything you hit. But you can mark foes (and impose Disadvantage) as much as you want, so spread the marks around and try to keep as many enemies as possible within 5 feet of you.
For cavaliers fighting while mounted, imposing Disadvantage on attacks against creatures other than you is a good way to keep enemies from attacking your mount. Considering how frail most mounts are compared to you, that’s a huge benefit.
If you really want to lean into this feature, consider the Sentinel feat. It will make it especially difficult for enemies to move away from you, making it easy to keep marked creatures within 5 feet of you. Even better, if they still attack a creature other than you, you get to attack them as a Reaction.
: This is a great taunt
mechanic. It makes it difficult for foes to attack your allies, and if they
do it anyway you get an extra attack as a Bonus Action on your next turn
with a nice damage boost.
- :Similar to the Protection Fighting Style. You can only use this a few times per Long Rest, 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 it doesn’t require you to be within 5 feet of the target like other Unwavering Mark’s Disadvantage effect does. 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 to set up your charge. 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, especially if you have a reach weapon in hand.
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 this simplicity makes the Champion an ideal character for new players, but veterans will likely find the Champion boring.
The Champion’s biggest problem is that it basically can’t do anything beyond what the core rules allow creatures to do. This is a subclass that is absolutely desperate for some buttons to push. The Champion has no utility outside of combat beyond skills and ability checks, and in combat your only options are attacking, grappling, and shoving. This is a subclass that’s absolutely desperate for feats and magic items to make them more interesting.
Since the Champion can deal critical hits more reliably than any other character, the Bludgeoner (TCoE), Great Weapon Master (PHB), Piercer (TCoE), and Slasher (TCoE) feats are worth considering, but if you’re playing a champion long-term I recommend a feat that adds some mechanical complexity like Polearm Master or Sentinel before you go for something that just adds a passive benefit on top of the same hack-and-slash tactics.
If you’re set on playing a champion but want it to be effective enough to compete with other fighter subclasses, consider replacing Remarkable Athlete with some additional skill proficiencies and replace Additonal Fighting Style with a feat of the player’s choice.
- : Critical hits are a big deal in 5e, and this doubles your chance of getting one. Remember that criticals only multiply damage dice, so to maximize this you want to use a big weapon for the biggest damage die/dice possible and look for magic items that add additional damage dice like flametongue swords. Improved Critical also synergizes well with the Half-Orc’s Savage Attacks, so half-orc champions are a popular build for new players.
- : Half proficiency in Acrobatics, Athletics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Initiative rolls, and several other possible ability checks. It’s not as good as Jack of All Trades, but it’s enough that you can forgo some of those skills and put your proficiencies into something which will make you useful outside of combat.
- : For many builds the only option which works alongside your first choice is Defense, and this became much less interesting when the Fighting Initiate feat was introduced.
- : This is a huge critical range, especially with as many attacks as a Fighter can make. If you combine this with the Grapple+Shove combo to keep enemies prone, you’ll score critical hits 27.7% of the time thanks to Advantage and your high critical hit rate. Make sure that you pick up a feat which provides an extra benefit on critical hits.
- : 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, but mastering the use of your echo is central to making the Echo Knight effective.
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. Players who can make this work consistently will find that the Echo Knight is an exceptionally powerful character.
Because the Echo Knight depends so heavily on your Bonus Action to manage your Echo, avoid Two-Weapon Fighting, Crossbow Expert, and anything else that touches your Bonus Action.
- including vertically into the air!
Remember that your echo 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 than to try to move it along with you. You can also teleport to switch places with your echo, allowing you to escape grapples, difficult terrain, and bindings with little effort (though it does also cost part of your movement for the turn). There is no limitation on how often you can create your echo, so recreating it every round is basically expected if yours has been destroyed by an attack or moved too far away.
There is some confusion around how this works since the Grappled condition reduces your speed to 0, which means that you don’t have 15 feet of movement to spend. I think RAI you’re intended to be able to teleport out of a grapple, but RAW you definitely can’t since the effect doesn’t specify a rules exception around grapples the way that the spell Freedom of Movement does. That said, Jeremy Crawford had a discussion on Twitter in which he discusses Freedom of Movement’s interaction with the Grapple rules. He points out that once you’re no longer grappled, your speed is no longer 0, so it makes sense that you could pay the 5-foot cost to escape a grapple using Freedom of Movement even though your speed is 0 when you do so. We can apply that same logic to the Echo’s teleportation, and so long as you will have 15 feet of movement to spend after teleporting you can pay the cost. However, the Echo Knight’s text doesn’t specify an exception to the grapple rules, so it’s not perfectly clear. Discuss this with your DM to see how they would like to handle things.
Manifest Echo doesn’t specify, but the echo is an object. It can be targeted by things like attacks and spells, but weirdly RAW that means that it can’t be targeted or damaged by many spells. Even options like Meteor Swarm RAW only damage creatures, but I think a reasonable DM will rule that the echo qualifies as a valid target for such things and takes damage appropriately. This thing is already insanely powerful, and it doesn’t need broad immunity to damage to keep it powerful. If that’s the case though, it also makes it a valid target for beneficial spells like Shield of Faith, Blur, etc. That means that it’s a valid target for Sanctuary, which is busted because the Echo never actually attacks, it just allows you to use its location.
: This is the Echo Knight’s
signature feature, and, while it gains some extra stuff over time, the core
ability never really changes. Get really comfortable using it, because
it’s going to take your Bonus Action to recreate if need be for the rest of your career. You
can move your echo for free once per turn in addition to recreating it in a
new place or switching places with it, and unlike moving your own character,
your echo doesn’t have specific movement types so you can move it 30 feet in
- : 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 allegedly omitted from the first printing of the book and Wizards of the Coast hasn’t issued errata. That means that you can’t send your Echo Avatar to attack people according to Crawford, but apparently it’s not enough of a problem that WotC actually cares to correct it, so RAW you can send your echo a few hundred feet into the air and rain arrows on everything in range. : You can walk/float 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 if it’s targeted, 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 perhaps the simplest “gish” build, combining the Fighter’s excellent combat capabilities and durability with a splash of spellcasting from the Wizard.
While the Eldritch Knight is fantastically durable and plenty effective, they usually can’t compete offensively with the Hexblade Warlock or the Bladesinger Wizard, both of which have considerably better spellcasting options but are nowhere near so capable of surviving in melee for extended periods.
Mastering the Eldritch Knight’s spellcasting comes with some pitfalls which are easy to fall into and end up with an ineffective build. Since the Eldritch Knight’s spellcasting is Intelligence-based, you need to put some resources into Intelligence, but it’s easy to invest far more than necessary. Many spells will depend on your spellcasting modifier, so it’s tempting to raise your Intelligence to get better fireballs and such, but this is usually a poor investment.
You can get by on very little Intelligence (14 is likely sufficient) by sticking to spells which don’t care about your spellcasting modifier (Booming Blade, Shield, Resist Energy, etc.) and still be extremely effective. Remember: The Eldritch Knight is still primarily a fighter, so throwing fireballs is a rarity rather than your go-to tactic.
While it’s totally possible to play an eldritch knight at range, it comes with some specific challenges. Since ranged attack cantrips all depend on your spellcasting modifier, you can’t get by on as little Intelligence as melee eldritch knights. You’ll likely need to reduce your investment in Constitution to make up the difference. But in exchange for that trade, you’re better situated to capitalize on Eldritch Strike, using ranged attacks to prime enemies for cantrips like Acid Splash and Toll the Dead which will impose saves made at Disadvantage. Once you move up to Improved War Magic you can shoot several foes one round, then fireball them the next round and impose Disadvantage on their saves.
You’ll get just one spell of each spell level which isn’t restricted to Abjuration/Evocation, so be very careful when picking those spells.
For help selecting spells, see our Fighter 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 Booming Blade which
you can use alongside weapon attacks with War Magic.
You can accomplish some odd shenanigans like bonding to oversized weapons or even siege weapons in order to freely teleport a massive object to yourself, but be cautious about how much your DM will tolerate before they have your bonded trebuchet appear over your head.
: Very cool, but it rarely
has any mechanical impact unless you plan to throw your weapon(s)
or want to appear unarmed somewhere. Casting spells like light or darkness on your bonded weapon
before throwing it means that you can place the spell effect at greater range and recall the weapon
in order to throw it again. But this combo is both more work and less effective than most methods
for abusing magical darkness.
- 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 Bonus Action 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) and offers tactical options that you simply can’t replicate by just swinging a weapon. See our 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 can enable some interesting combinations like hitting a bunch of adjacent enemies, then hitting them with Sword Burst on your next turn, or shooting a bunch of enemies with a bow then hitting them with a fireball on the next turn. If you’re facing single targets you can hit them every round with a Toll the Dead and a weapon attack thanks to War Magic. Look for opportunities to put this to use, but remember that War Magic is still your defining tactic.
- : This is as much movement as using the Dash action, so, combined with Action Surge, you get to do almost as much as you could in a complete additional turn (you still don’t get a second Bonus Action).
- : Drop a huge spell, then stab/shoot someone. Next turn, capitalize on Eldritch Strike to impose Disadvantage and hit the target with another spell.
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 pool 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 just 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 may 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 (since it’s a separate source of damage it forces a second saving throw).
- : Situational. You get it once per short rest, 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 works 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.
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 likely a better way to do so.
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. I don’t recommend this for newer players, but it could be a really fun option for veterans in a low-powered game or in a party with new players.
I frequently offer suggestions to help balanced problematic subclasses, but the Purple Dragon Knight is difficult to fix. I think it needs more features to make it interesting, but I haven’t come up with any options which I think would make the Purple Dragon Knight appealing without introducing more problems.
- the Unconscious condition was not intended to deafen creatures according to Jeremy Crawford. : This isn’t a ton of healing, but it doesn’t need to be. This is effectively Mass Healing Word with a few restrictions in exchange for it not being a spell. It does affect unconscious allies, as
- : Persuasion is the king of social skills, and Expertise with it will go a very long way, compensating for even a more modest Charisma score. The free skill proficiency is nice, too, but if you’re planning to play a Face, then 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 barring a Rogue, anyone else that can make a big solid hit (Raging Barbarian, Ranger with Hunter’s Mark, Hexblade Warlock, Paladin with Smites, etc.) will do.
- : Rerolls on saving throws 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 activatable ability. 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 or a severe need for feats.
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 transferring the attack doesn’t automatically hit the new target; the attack roll must still be compared to the new target’s AC as normal.
The difficulty with Cloud Rune is that it competes for space with Runic Shield, which you get automatically.
: 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
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. Consider using Action Surge the same turn in order to maximize how much damage you can do before the target potentially escapes.
: 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, put an ASI into Constitution. The bonus also applies to Strength checks, including important checks like Athletics checks to Grapple or Shove. But remember that Giant’s Might gives you Advantage on both Strength Checks and Strength Saves, and since both Giant’s Might and Frost Rune are activated as a Bonus Action, it’s hard to fit both into the same fight.
If you’re really concerned enough about Athletics that you still want Frost Rune, consider the Skill Expert feat. The additional bonus will be larger than that provided by Frost Rune and it will apply constantly without the need to activate Frost Rune. If, somehow, you have Expertise in Athletics, high enough Strength that using Athletics makes sense, and Giant’s Might to get easy Advantage on Strength checks, but you still somehow can’t reliably succeed at Strength (Athletics) checks, it seems likely that an occasional +2 is not going to solve whatever problem you’re facing. Consider new dice.
: 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 one powerful single-target crowd control effect which can affect big dumb enemies (Stone Rune) and one for 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. Even races with Darkvision tend to only have 60 ft range.
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 abilities 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.
Many races like 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 else’s), to protect your allies from save-or-suck effects, and potentially to grant Advantage on high-damage attacks from you or your allies. Keep in mind you can take reactions on your own turn and consider imposing Disadvantage on a target’s save or check, such as the save against Fire Rune’s active effect.
(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.
The precise wording in the feature is important. If you are not Large or larger, your size becomes Large. This is important because Enlarge/Reduce cast upon the Rune Knight after using Giant’s Might further increases the knight to Huge size, but not if Enlarge/Reduce is cast beforehand.
: 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 200 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. Being Huge notably means that you can grapple gargantuan creatures, making you big enough to grapple any creature in the game.
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. Pick the skill. Languages can be solved magically.
If your table is using the optional flanking rules, this is less important for melee builds because it’s so much easier to get Advantage, but it remains excellent for fighting at range.
: Making this require a
bonus action means that you can’t use two-weapon fighting in the same round,
so building around two-handed weapons is your best bet. Guaranteed Advantage
on all of your attacks means that feats like Great Weapon Master and
Sharpshooter become extremely tempting. The temporary HP also makes it easier
to go without a shield. However, at just three uses per day you can’t expect
to use this in every fight until you get Tireless Spirit at level 10.
- : Allowing you to use Wisdom in addition to Charisma on Charisma (persuasion) checks means that you can function as a face without having 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.
Fighting Spirit’s guarantee Advantage is an easy way to trigger Rapid Strike, but remember that Fighting Spirit only works three times per day. A more reliable tactic is to Shove your opponent prone before attacking them, or if an ally can land Hold Person/Monster then all attacks have advantage and all melee attacks are automatic critical hits.
: 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, use Two-Weapon Fighting, activate Action Surge, etc.).
- : An entire turn. An entire turn.. Drink a potion, use Second Wind. Anything to get you some hit points and keep you conscious. Otherwise, take the Attack action and get revenge! If you’re close to 0 on your own turn and have some way to give yourself enough falling damage to trigger this with just your movement you could in theory take a full turn with action surge and Fighting Spirit fueled Rapid Strike, fall to trigger Strength Before Death, and then do it all again, in the same round. And fun fact, if we do this during our own turn and we’ve already used Fighting Spirit then Fighting Spirit is still active (it says “interrupting the current turn”) because the turn that we used it on hasn’t ended yet. Even crazier, you could activate Action Surge again during this mid-turn bonus turn. If you can’t find a way to fall you can always use your last attack on yourself if you’re close enough to 0.