Questing knights, conquering overlords, royal champions, elite foot soldiers, hardened mercenaries, and bandit kings — as fighters, they all share an unparalleled mastery with weapons and armor, and a thorough knowledge of the skills of combat. And they are well acquainted with death, both meting it out and staring it defiantly in the face.
What makes a fighter special?
Fighters are far more than rank and file warriors. Even at 1st level, they stand above their martial peers, destined for greatness and adventure. To be a fighter is to be a figure of martial renown, a great warrior whose skills are recounted in folk tales by travelers huddled around campfires like Robin Hood or Zorro from our own world. Fighters are a cut above the competition – in more ways than one. Every great legend has an origin story, somewhere it all began for the fledgling warrior. What is your tale?
Where did your fighter learn their skills?
As you build your fighter, think about two related elements of your character’s background: Where did you get your combat training, and what set you apart from the mundane warriors around you?
No fighter is born knowing how to loose an arrow or wield a sword, they learn and practice! A critical aspect of your character is the manner of their training. Did you serve with distinction in an elite unit for your lord’s army? Was your mother a retired adventurer eager to pass on her skills? Did you have a youthful talent for marksmanship which you honed through tireless practice? Each of these characters would be very different to roleplay!
Take some time to consider where your fighter acquired their skills, and try to include at least one living NPC in your backstory for your GM to pull in later. This person should be connected to your martial training in a meaningful way but doesn’t have to be your instructor. For example, you could have formed a close bond with your unit’s cook, who served your favorite meal whenever you had a particularly tough day in the training yard.
What’s your style?
Another key component of a fighter’s personality is their preferred fighting style. Whilst these all vary mechanically, they are also another part of the character that can add narrative depth and complexity. Yes you’re a skilled archer, but where did you get your bow? Did you craft it yourself, or was it a family heirloom? Why do you like to fight this way? Is it a preference or a necessity?
A fighter’s chosen fighting style is an integral part of who they are as a person and it pays to consider this aspect of your character a little more deeply than purely mechanical benefits.
Your Martial Archetype
Different fighters choose different approaches to perfecting their fighting prowess. The martial archetype you choose to emulate reflects your approach.
At 3rd level fighters gain access to their martial archetype, a mechanical term which encompasses the remarkable abilities your fighter possesses. Perhaps they are a paragon of athleticism and skill, their body forged in the fires of battle to the limits of physical endurance, or a scholar of war viewing each battle as a complex game of strategy and wit. Your fighter’s archetype is the final piece of the puzzle in terms of creating your fighter as it brings together all of the previous elements into a cohesive whole, much like an organized military force.
The archetypal Champion focuses on the development of raw physical power honed to deadly perfection. Those who model themselves on this archetype combine rigorous training with physical excellence to deal devastating blows.
Champions are incredible physical specimens capable of olympian feats of athleticism and strength. These fighters trust in hard steel and the strength of their arm above all else to claim victory in battle. If your fighter falls into this category, consider how they view themselves and those around them. Are they arrogant due to their physical prowess, relishing the attention their sculpted physique brings from ordinary folk? Are they more reserved, content to keep their head down and focus on their training to the exclusion of all distraction? Do they fall somewhere in between, perhaps allowing themselves to indulge in the attention during celebrations like the gladiators of our own world? This is the foundation of their interactions with others.
The next important question to answer is: How do they feel about others? Do they view anyone who isn’t a proven warrior as weak and unworthy of their respect? Or do they see themselves as a protector of these folk, recognising their value beyond a lack of martial skill. Depending on the culture your fighter grew up in this question will have very different answers! For example, the barbarian tribes of the Forgotten Realms prize martial efficacy and show disdain for those they consider “soft”. Consider how your fighter’s upbringing would color their perceptions of themselves and others.
Those who emulate the archetypal Battle Master employ martial techniques passed down through generations.
A student of war, the battle master fighter is equal parts scholar and warrior, able to tactically analyze the battlefield and gauge the weaknesses of their foe to best direct their comrades toward victory. Battle masters are natural leaders, often taking charge of any group they find themselves in to direct and utilize the talents and resources they have available. How does your battle master come across? Are they haughty and aloof, looking down their nose at those less educated than themselves? Are they a gregarious social nucleus, binding the party together to get the best from everyone? Perhaps they are more reserved, content to lead by example as they give precise instructions like an orchestra conductor. Though the battle master is a talented and educated individual, it pays to consider how this affects their world view. Depending on their chosen leadership style, your battle master may choose different maneuvers to utilize in combat.
Your chosen maneuvers
Battle masters have a plethora of strategic maneuvers available to them, and the ones they bring to battle establish their expertise and methods of war. Does your battle master favor a more supportive role in combat, utilizing maneuvers like Commander’s Strike and Rally to buff their companions? If so, why do they choose this approach? Perhaps they prefer to get into the thick of the action, assaulting their enemies with maneuvers like Pushing Attack and Sweeping Attack to physically overpower them! Your battle master could even specialize in disrupting enemy plans through maneuvers like Trip Attack and Maneuvering Attack to master positioning on the battlefield. How your battle master chooses to fight says a lot about their character and their relationship to their companions.
Student of War: Your choice of tools
To a Battle Master, combat is an academic field, sometimes including subjects beyond battle such as weaponsmithing and calligraphy.
The unique nature of the battle master allows them to take a proficiency in a set of artisan tools of their choice. This is a great opportunity to consider your battle master’s perspective on war as a subject of study, and how their scholarly pursuits influence their choices on the battlefield.
Although there are no restrictions on which tools you can gain proficiency with, it is wise to consider how said tools could relate to your battle master’s studies.
However, if you can think of a good justification for their knowledge and training, then go ahead and get creative! Brewer’s tools could be essential to a dwarven battle master’s understanding of unit composition for example, underpinning the need for balance between ingredients (or warriors) to get the best out of a batch (or unit)!
The archetypal Eldritch Knight combines the martial mastery common to all fighters with a careful study of magic. Eldritch Knights use magical techniques similar to those practiced by wizards.
For some fighters the blade or bow alone is not enough; they crave the esoteric power of magic, wielding it with precise martial focus to protect themselves and destroy their enemies. If your fighter is an eldritch knight, they can cast spells from the abjuration and evocation schools of magic to aid them in battle. How did your knight come by this arcane power? Perhaps they studied under a wizard mentor, honing their mind as well as their body through rigorous training and practice. Were they struck by an arcane bolt in battle which granted them strange new powers?
A key part of your eldritch knight’s story is how they gained their magical and martial abilities – and how they feel about them! Your knight may love unleashing their powers in battle at every opportunity, reveling in their arcane superiority over mundane foes as their magical shield protects them from harm. Alternatively they may use their powers more sparingly, perhaps only revealing them in dire need. Deciding on this aspect of your knight’s worldview early on will help you to inhabit the character more easily as it helps you understand them. As your eldritch knight levels up they gain access to strange arcane abilities, like magically bonding with a weapon.
Your bonded weapon
At 3rd level, you learn a ritual that creates a magical bond between yourself and one weapon.
Your fighter’s chosen fighting style is an important factor to consider here as they will likely bond with their favored weapon. From a roleplaying perspective this ability offers a rich seam of opportunity to mine for both character background and even NPCs! Something is special about your bonded weapon, but what is it? Is your sword a treasured family heirloom wielded by each generation before you? Did this weapon once save your life when wielded by another? Is it inhabited by the spirit of your grandfather, constantly rambling to you telepathically about his adventuring days? This is a wonderful opportunity to work with your GM and get creative!
Another point to consider is the nature of your bonding ritual. What does it look like for your fighter and why? If they choose to meditate in isolated silence, consider why. Perhaps they always had a weakness for distraction when undertaking their arcane tutelage and they can only concentrate in such an environment. How might this impact them if they couldn’t perform this ritual should the connection ever be severed? How bonded are they with the weapon? For example, when it is struck do they feel it like an extension of their own body?
The two most important questions to ask when roleplaying your fighter are; ‘What elevates them above their peers?’, and ‘How did they come to have these abilities?’. If you can answer these questions, then you can build your roleplaying on a solid foundation as you flesh out your fighter’s character into their fighting style, archetype and beyond. Now go forth and forge your legend!