Last Updated: November 14, 2022
As I described in the Bladesinger Handbook, this is the subclass for Fighters who want to cast spells. Spell selection is limited, but it’s limited to two schools that neatly tie into what a Fighter is trying to do. With the option to pick up one spell per level outside the restrictions, and given that the class features don’t really cater to any one particular playstyle, you end up with a subclass that brings a surprising amount of utility to the Fighter while also increasing damage by a respectable amount.
There are quite a few things that go into optimizing an Eldritch Knight. Spell selection is critical, especially if you’re planning on using offensive magic beyond melee cantrips. Eldritch Strike is an excellent feature, but it doesn’t come online until level 7. Before then, you’ll struggle with trying to make save-or-suck staples stick on targets, so the best way to think of this subclass is as a way to shore up the capacities of a Fighter with magical capacities no other subclass has access to.
Be sure to see our Fighter Spell List Breakdown.
Table of Contents
- Eldritch Knight Features
- Eldritch Knight Ability Scores
- Eldritch Knight Races
- Eldritch Knight Feats
- Eldritch Knight Weapons
- Eldritch Knight Armor
- Example Build – A good Scottish name
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.
Eldritch Knight Features
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 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) 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.
Eldritch Knight Ability Scores
: Likely your primary attack stat.
: We should be wearing heavy armor unless you’re choosing to use finesse weapons.
: Not only are you probably a front line character, you also need to make Concentration saves.
: It’s important that this be at least 14, but it can stop there as described above. Mathematically, targets will have the same success rate against your saves with 14 Int and disadvantage from Eldritch Strike as they would against someone with a capped spellcasting stat.
: he most commonly targeted mental save. Give it whatever you have left over.
|Point Buy||Standard Array|
Eldritch Knight Races
War Magic might appreciate the extra cantrip from being some kind of High Elf, but two is probably good enough for a Fighter. Between that and the fact that Eldritch Strike doesn’t come online until level 10, nothing different than other Fighters.
Eldritch Knight Feats
The obvious plug here is War Caster, because casting Booming Blade when something tries to walk away from you is an incredibly effective technique for a Defender.
Crusher synergizes well with Booming Blade (hit the target and push them 5 feet away so they’re forced to move to get back into melee), but War Magic’s Bonus Action attack takes place after you do this, so you want to apply the movement effect on the Bonus Action attack, not on the Booming Blade attack.
Note that these feats are anti-synergistic. If you push something out of your safety donut, it can break the Booming Blade and then just walk around you so it won’t trigger an opportunity attack.
Eldritch Knight Weapons
Because Booming Blade will be a go-to combat option for us, using reach weapons isn’t a viable tactic. To that end, we mostly just want whatever weapon will allow us to hit the hardest. If you want the extra defense of a shield, longswords with Dueling are the gold standard onehander and work with Slasher, so enemies will have an even rougher time walking away from you.
Otherwise, using the Great Weapon Style allows you to reroll the initial thunder damage from Booming Blade as well, making it a good combo with a Greatsword.
Eldritch Knight Armor
Nothing different than any other Fighter. If you’re Strength-based, walk out in scale, buy plate when you can. Otherwise, wear studded leather forever.
This section briefly details some obvious and enticing multiclass options, but doesn’t fully explore the broad range of multiclassing combinations. For more on multiclassing, see my Practical Guide to Multiclassing.
I don’t think I’d ever play a straight-class Eldritch Knight. I’d take it to 10 for Eldritch Strike and then take Wizard to 10 with the War Magic subclass, having your capstone be Durable Magic. Is that an overall optimized character? No. But it feels pretty good while maintaining the Eldritch Knight flavor and it’s probably more effective than the last 10 levels of Eldritch Knight. If you want more fighter levels, levels 11 (Extra Extra Attack), 12 (ASI), 17 (Action Surge x2), and 18 (Improved War Magic) are great points to stop and multiclass.
If you’d prefer to be Dex-based, Bladesinger also works well. With a single weapon you can get the same DPR as dual-wielding because you can use the Bladesinger’s version of Extra Attack and combine that with War Magic (the feature, not the subclass) to get two attacks and a cantrip per turn a hand free to hold a shield. It requires Dex-based fighters because Bladesong only works in light armor with no shield. I’d probably do this as EK 7/Bladesinger X.
If neither Wizard version is your speed, picking up 3 levels of Artificer for either Battle Smith or Armorer will let you not care about Strength by using Intelligence to attack instead, meaning your spells are also much more likely to succeed. Doing either of those is just going to make you feel like an Artificer more than an Eldritch Knight though, so that’s very much another case of optimization vs. character identity.
Example Build – A good Scottish name
Hey, it’s a kind of magic!
Using a broadsword and thunder damage is going to result in some pretty great DPR using the combination mentioned above. Lacking the defense of a shield, you’re just going to have to hope you can come back from your first death (and possibly others) as needed. Fortunately, D&D provides the magic to do so.
As discussed above.
Custom Lineage. We were born to human parents, even if we go on to become something much greater. Importantly, we want several feats quickly.
We’re definitely a folk hero, but more of the “leading a charge in a clan war” variety than something that would result in Animal Handling and Survival. Let’s trade those out for skills that put our high Int to good use, namely Arcana and Investigation.
Skills and Tools
We take Athletics and History from Fighter, adding that to Arcana, Investigation, land vehicles, and Carpenter’s Tools from the background.
At level 1 we walk out with Slasher.
Level 4 gets us War Caster
Level 6 gets us Fey Touched
Level 8 caps Strength
Level 12 gets us Chef
Level 14 gets us Ritual Caster
Level 16 gets us Gift of the Metallic Dragon
Level 19 gets us Mobile
|Level||Feat(s) and Features||Notes and Tactics|
– Great Weapon Fighting
|Custom Lineage is the only thing post-MMotM’s patch to Changeling that can walk out with an 18 in a stat while using point buy. We put that to good use and also pick up our first Defender tool: a speed penalty on the first thing we hit in a round. Slowing others down is almost like quickening ourselves.|
As mentioned above, we’re going to get a lot of use out of rerolling damage dice, so we’re going to take the biggest sword we possibly can.
Speaking of, walk out with chainmail, two greatswords, and a light crossbow. Sell the crossbow and spare greatsword for some javelins.
|2||Action Surge||Unlike Strength Before Death, Action Surge doesn’t actually provide another turn, so you still can only apply the debuff from Slasher once before your initiative comes around again.|
– Booming Blade
– Sword Burst
– Absorb Elements
– Find Familiar
|So, casting spells while holding a greatsword. The two-handed property of weapons only says you must hold it in two hands to attack with it. That means you can just carry it in one hand, do your sigils with the other hand, and put said hand back on the hilt for attacking.|
Booming Blade is now the go-to option for attacking in combat and will stay there until level 5. Remember to reroll 1’s and 2’s on that thunder damage, too.
None of the spells here require much description, but definitely read the part about using the owl familiar to grant advantage in the Fighter Spell List Breakdown.
Weapon Bond is a weird thing here. Strangely, the best use I can see for it is to put it on a pair of javelins and only carry around those two javelins for ranged weapons until you start needing a 3rd at level 11.
– Protection from Evil and Good
|Because of the wording on the two-handed property which I described last level, the only thing we’re here for is the ability to Booming Blade something as it walks away from you. However, we’re spending a whole feat on that (plus advantage on concentration saves, which we’ll start needing to make at some point) because it’s really good.|
A note about using Booming Blade with War Caster. You’re going to want to position yourself between your target and your backline even more than usual. If you can force the target to walk 5 feet inside your safety donut, that will trigger the secondary damage. If they then leave your safety donut with the next 5 feet of movement, that will trigger an opportunity attack which will let you Booming Blade again thanks to War Caster.
If you don’t do your positioning correctly, you will only get secondary damage once because the opportunity attack happens before the action that triggers it, meaning they haven’t moved yet, meaning you’re putting Booming Blade on a target that still has lingering Booming Blade which won’t stack.
|5||Extra Attack||Whack, Whack. Even with cantrip damage improving at this level, this swings the math back in favor of just attacking twice until we get to War Magic at 7.|
|6||Fey Touched (Int)||We can only cast the Misty Step once per day right now from the feat because we don’t actually have any other spell slots of the right level, but that’s ok. We can definitely cast the Silvery Barbs we picked up for free from this feat with other spell slots.|
|War Magic is excellent and means that you go back to Booming Blade/Sword Burst and a Bonus Action attack forever. You only lose 3 DPR if the target doesn’t move, and you gain quite a bit if it does. By this level you should have full plate, so you can even Booming Blade something and then just walk away and force it to take the extra damage if it wants to follow you in order to retaliate.|
Darkness is the only spell within the school limitations which I can think of that would do any good. You can’t see through it, but your theoretical warlock friend probably can, and Sword Burst doesn’t require you to see.
– See Invisibility
Ability Score Increase: Str 18 ->20
|Not much to say about either of these, but they’re both great to have.|
|9||Indomitable||You get to pretend to be a Legendary Creature.|
– Toll the Dead
– Rime’s Binding Ice
|This is already pretty good for throwing a javelin at something and then next turn asking it for a Wisdom save with disadvantage to avoid taking d12’s of damage. It gets even better at next level when you can further push the multi-target math described in our melee vs. cantrip article. At level 11 you can attack three targets with one action, then sword burst the next turn and have everyone you hit making saves with disadvantage.|
While Binding Ice targets the worst save, its damage matches Shatter and it wastes an action per target that fails the save. If you can combine it with Eldritch Strike to impose Disadvantage, you may be able to make it work somewhat reliably.
|11||Extra Extra Attack|
– Warding Wind
|Warding Wind’s primary feature will be creating difficult terrain. Between that and Slasher, it’s entirely possible you’ll be able to prevent things from moving entirely. If that’s the case, just attack three times instead of using Booming Blade.|
|12||Chef (+1 Con)||Getting Con up to a round number while also gaining the ability to protect and heal your party a little bit out of combat. Eat the temporary hit point snacks between fights instead of trying to squeeze another Bonus Action into your turns.|
Indomitable (2 uses)
|Is this very late to get Fireball? Yes. Is fireball still an incredible spell at this level? Also yes.|
– Comprehend Languages
|Picking up Ritual Caster at this level lets us use some of the money we’ve been stashing to grab things that the poor Bard/Warlock/Sorcerer in this party hasn’t learned like Tiny Hut, Water Breathing, and Telepathic Bond.|
If you already have a Wizard in your party, honestly, I would recommend picking a different flavor of gish to build your character around. Perhaps try a Hexblade or a College of Valor Bard to bring some Face capabilities to the group. I recognize that neither of those feel as strong in the primary Defender role as a Fighter does, but they both bring other utility that makes up for it.
|15||Arcane Charge||Super-free Misty Step is even harder to argue with than regular free Misty Step.|
|16||Gift of the Metallic Dragon|
– Wall of Sand
|We’re up in the levels where enemies might be intentionally targeting your healer(s). Here’s a good way to help them back up after going down. Plus, it provides a tool to prevent them (or you) going down in the first place.|
|17||Action Surge (2 uses)|
Indomitable (3 uses)
|18||Improved War Magic||Now you can cast Fly and still swing your sword (once) in a round. Or add 2d6+5 to your Fireball.|
|19||Mobile||The prize for making it all the way to 19: you walk faster. I have no idea why people were so interested in this quickening stuff.|
|20||Extra Extra Extra Attack||The capstone is at odds with the core identity of the subclass which really wants to Cantrip and then swing again thanks to War Magic. It functionally does nothing unless you don’t think you can convince your target to move after you Booming Blade it.|