The DnD 5e Fighter Guide
Published on December 9, 2019, Last modified on July 15th, 2020
In this post, we will examine the different choices you will be presented with when leveling up your character. Everything from which ability scores to max out to which races will give you the best stats (and everything in-between) will be covered. For the time being, this guide will be focusing primarily on content from the Player’s Handbook and DM’s Guide.
What is this guide?
The guide will color-code each separate item to help you identify, at a glance, how good that option will be for your Fighter. This color-coding isn’t a hard and fast rule; there are plenty of sub-optimized options out there that will be viable to your party and will be fun to play.
- Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
- Orange is an OK option
- Green is a good option
- Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
- Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized
So if you’re ready, grab your two-handed greatsword and let’s get swinging.
Did you know?D&D Beyond can help create your characters by making choices using a step-by-step approach. Full customization and control of your character, none of the flipping through hundreds of pages to reference obscure rules.
What is a Fighter?
5e Fighters are meant to be among the best damage dealers and soakers in DnD. This means that your bread and butter is going to be when Initiative gets rolled. Outside of combat, Fighters can definitely still participate in RP but they won’t be able to be a whole lot of help in tricky situations where punching your way out isn’t going to help.
Funnily enough Fighters are good at fighting. By second level they are given skills to heal themselves and get an extra round of attacks in combat. In addition starting proficiencies allow them to use all weapons and armour.
These class features plus their extra attacks at levels 5, 11, and 20 ensure that the Fighter class is the epitome of a damage dealer.
Some people may complain that they don’t want to play a character that is a one dimensional “hack and slasher”, but that’s not that the case with Fighters. With a fighter you can definitely go for the straight up damage dealer, but you could also go for an Eldritch Knight who uses magic to supplement his melee capabilities, or a Battle Master that allows you to influence the battlefield in a strategic manner. No matter what type of Fighter you go for, you can be sure that in combat they can put down more pain than just about any class.
While Fighters are amazing at Fighting, some complain that they lack versatility outside of combat. Because of their need to output and soak damage in combat, they usually have to put all of their eggs into the STR and CON basket. This means having low CHA for social interactions or WIS/INT for problem solving and spellcasting.
Before You Start
Check out our Guide to DnD Races for non-standard races. Keep in mind, most races and subraces are limited by the setting and source material chosen by the DM. Check with your DM before selecting any of the races not listed below.
Fighters need a race that plays to their build. Archers, melee Fighters, finesse-based melee Fighters, and Eldritch Knights all require different things. Generally, bonuses to physical ability scores are key.
Dwarf: Dwarves are a great choice for Melee Fighters (just look at Gimli). They get bonuses to CON and a free resistance to poison. What’s not to love?
- Hill: Bonuses to WIS isn’t going to help a ton but may be useful if you need to have high Perception, and the bonus hit points are always welcome.
- Mountain: Most Melee Fighters will take bonuses to STR all day.
Dragonborn: Bonuses to STR are beneficial for Melee Fighters. Breath Weapon is also a nice AoE attack that scales with character progression.
Elf: You’re likely not going to play an Elf unless you are a Finesse Fighter or Archer. Elves get a bonus to DEX, free Perception proficiency, and Darkvision, all of which are very important for DEX based Fighters.
- Wood Elf: Wood Elves get bonuses to WIS and some extra movement speed, neither of which is super exciting for Fighters.
- High Elf: High Elves get bonuses to INT and a free Cantrip. This can help with Eldritch Knight builds but likely won’t contribute much to the other types of Fighters.
- Drow: Drow gets a bonus to CHA, a buffed up Darkvision, and a free Cantrip. Not what you’re looking for in a Fighter.
Half-Elf: Being able to take +1 to CON or STR is not enough to make a Half-Elf Fighter optimal
Gnome: Gnomes get a bonus to INT that won’t help a whole lot unless you are running an Eldritch Knight. Gnome Cunning is pretty useless for Fighters.
- Forest: Forest Gnomes get a DEX bonus that may help if you are going for an Eldritch Knight or DEX based Fighter. Minor Illusion could also help you add more spells to your limited spell list.
- Rock: Rock Gnomes get a bonus to CON which is nice but really doesn’t help further than that.
Half-Orc: Half Orc’s get you an STR and CON bonus, both of which are perfect for Melee Fighters. Dark-Vision is nice, proficiency in Intimidation will help you flex on other people, Relentless Endurance is a nice bonus, and Savage Attacks is just plain savage.
Halfling: Halflings get a bonus to DEX which will be beneficial for any DEX based Fighters. Lucky is also a very handy feat when you’re swinging as much as Fighters do.
- Lightfoot: A bonus to CHA and the ability to hide a bit better aren’t helpful traits for Fighters.
- Stout: Stout Halflings get a bonus to CON which is useful for any Fighter. They also get a resistance to poison which is a nice bonus.
Human: Due to the race’s versatility, they make a great fighter no matter what archetype you play.
- Vanilla: Getting a bonus point to all of your ability scores is nice, but Fighters usually only need two.
- Variant: Variant Humans get a bonus to two ability scores of their choice and an extra feat, both of which are wicked for Fighters.
Tiefling: Intelligence and Charism are not what you need for Fighters. The resistance to fire and spellcasting are nice, but situational at best.
For this section, due to the sheer number of backgrounds available, I am simply going to list the most useful Fighter Backgrounds.
- Criminal: This will be a great choice for DEX based Fighters. Proficiency with Stealth and Deception and thieves’ tools can help your ability to sneak around and lie, increasing your utility for the party.
- Sailor: Proficiency in Athletics and Perception would be good enough to make this a great option. If you are playing in a campaign that involves boats in any way, this turns into an amazing option.
- Soldier: Proficiency with Athletics and Intimidation is certainly a good choice, especially because Intimidation can add to your utility for the party. Proficiency in the gaming set and land vehicles isn’t awesome but could be useful in certain circumstances.
Ability Score Increases (ASI) at 4th, 6th, 8th, 12th, 14th, 16th, and 19th level.
Fighters can be built in many ways. Melee Fighters are the simplest, but DEX based Fighters and Eldritch Knights all have different needs.
STR: As STR affects your Attack Rolls and Melee Damage, Melee Fighters need Strength above anything else. DEX based Fighters can dump this stat .
DEX: DEX will be important for DEX based Fighters as this will contribute to their AC and attack/damage roll. Melee Fighters don’t necessarily need DEX, but it is always a worthwhile ability to have.
CON: Every Fighter needs hit points.
INT: The only time you should consider stacking INT would be if you are an Eldritch Knight as they cast spells using INT as their spell attack modifier, even then an optimized EK build shouldn’t use their INT modifier for spells.
WIS: WIS is helpful for Perception (the most important skill in the game) but this would be best left up to classes that need WIS for other class features (Rangers, Monks, etc.).
CHA: Again, Fighters should typically leave the CHA skill for classes that will make better use of it (Warlocks, Bards, etc.)
Fighter Class Progression
Hit Points and Hit Dice: d10 hit points is the second-best hit dice around. The only class that gets a higher one is the Barbarian. Combine this with a high CON score, Second Wind, and heavy armor, this means your Fighter will be hard to put down.
Saves: STR saving throws are rare, but you may see them more than other classes because you will be in melee combat. It isn’t unheard of to be grappled or pushed off a cliff, where you will be glad you have your STR save proficiency. CON saves are a common save for all sorts of nasty abilities.
Proficiencies: All armor, weapons, and shields? Yes, please. You don’t need to worry too much about utility skills like Stealth or Persuasion as the party’s enforcer.
Skills: Athletics (being the only STR based skill) is a shoo-in for the Fighter’s most important skill. The rest of their skills aren’t going to be stellar for most Fighters as they are mostly INT, WIS or CHA based.
- Acrobatics (Dex)
- Animal Handling (Cha)
- Athletics (Str): Athletics will remain your domain as an STR based build.
- History (Int)
- Insight (Wis)
- Intimidation (Cha): Intimidation rolls can be made with STR using the “Skills with Different Abilities” variant rule. Talk to your DM before you rely on this option.
- Perception (Wis): Perception is an extremely important skill to have, gaining proficiency will help offset any negatives you have taken to your WIS modifier by dumping WIS.
- Survival (Wis)
Fighting Style: One of the Fighter’s iconic abilities, and a great reason to multiclass into Fighter.
- Archery: The go-to for DEX based Fighters (specifically Ranged). +2 to ranged attacks? Yes, please.
- Defense: +1 to AC isn’t overly exciting but seeing as AC is hard to scale it can make a difference in the early and long game.
- Dueling: Being able to wear a shield while dealing close to two-handed weapon damage is a very, very tempting option.
- Great Weapon Fighting: Not an awesome option, only adds about 1 damage per attack. It would be better to pick up Defense to make up for the fact you aren’t wielding a shield.
- Protection: Only being useful when within 5ft is a major disadvantage for this skill, especially if you’re the tank of your party as most of your party members will be staying back while you are up in the fray.
- Two-Weapon Fighting: While Two-Weapon Fighting can make you hit a lot easier with your offhand weapon, there are some disadvantages to being a dual-wielding fighter. Mainly, the fact that attacking with your offhand takes your bonus action. This doesn’t cause your offhand attacks to scale with your extra attacks. This will cause the damage you output to quickly become overshadowed by something like using a Greatsword or taking the Dueling Martial Archetype.
Second Wind: 1d10 + Fighter level as a bonus action is certainly a great feature for someone who is going to be in the middle of most fights.
Action Surge: An extra action allows you to do a lot of really powerful things, including a pile of additional attacks. This is a good reason for nearly any class to multiclass into Fighter.
The 5e Fighter archetypes dictate the way your Fighter will play. By its definition, the Fighter class is considered easier to play than other classes. Their classes strength are their ability to provide consistent damage throughout combat by being able to attack more than any other class in the game. Some people view Fighters as “swingy”, but this doesn’t mean that playing a Fighter is boring or wrong, Fighters are an extremely fun class to play, and depending on the way your play your Fighter, you will be able to find plenty of fun and interesting maneuvers in combat.
The Battle master provides a ton of variability in combat. This Martial Archetype rivals the Eldritch Knight in the sheer amount of potential for getting creative to get the upper hand on enemies in combat.
- Commander’s Strike: Typically, the Fighter in the group will be hitting the hardest, so it doesn’t make sense to pass an attack off. This situation changes to a Sky Blue if you have a Rogue as they can sneak attack damage once per turn (not per round).
- Disarming Attack: Disarming a target isn’t a great option unless it is holding something you want. This is because picking up a weapon is a Free Action as determined on page 190 of the PHB.
- Distracting Strike: Useful when trying to focus fire on an enemy, especially one with higher AC. A great option if your party has a Rogue.
- Evasive Footwork: Nice in a pinch if you have to get out of a combat situation.
- Feinting Attack: Eats up your bonus action but grants advantage on your attack plus damage.
- Goading Attack: Typically if you are in melee combat with a creature, they will be attacking you anyways. A good option in case you want to direct damage towards a more tanky party member but it won’t come up that often.
- Lunging Attack: Just not a great option. The extra 5ft of reach isn’t important enough for a Superiority Dice.
- Maneuvering Attack: More useful than Goading Attack at protecting fellow teammates.
- Menacing Attack: A very good option for controlling the battlefield. Frightened is a great status effect.
- Parry: Alright option if you are an STR based fighter (which you likely are if you are taking Battlemaster). It could be limited in its effectiveness if you dumped DEX. Reducing damage is often much more effective than waiting to heal it later.
- Precision Attack: Great option to turn near-misses into hits, especially because you can use it after the attack roll.
- Pushing Attack: Alright option if you are looking to disengage or if the enemy is by a ledge. Situational at best.
- Rally: As Charisma is a dump stat most of the time, leave the healing to the healer.
- Riposte: Great option to get extra attacks in. Eats your reaction but if you’re not a Defender build this is an amazing option.
- Sweeping Attack: Not a great option, focus your attacks!
- Trip Attack: Allows the target an STR save but if you can get them prone they are going to have a super bad time with all of your attacks with Advantage.
Student of War: Artisans tools probably won’t matter to the game.
Know Your Enemy: Provides some awesome information about a BBEG if you can get them talking. Really flavorful and pretty useful.
Improved Combat Superiority: Nice damage boost on your most important class features.
Relentless: Always having a Superiority Dice at the beginning of combat is a nice feeling.
Simple but effective. Hitting things with criticals more often is a big deal, especially for Fighters.
- Improved Critical: Doubling your chance for a critical hit feels very, very nice.
- Remarkable Athlete: This is great for builds that have a lower DEX stat as it allows you to act outside of combat a little more (sneaking, sleight of hand) and provides a great bonus to initiative rolls.
- Additional Fighting Style: If you didn’t pick up Defense the first time around, now is your time for +1 to AC. Otherwise, the world is your oyster.
- Superior Critical: Just as exciting as when your chances for a critical hit increases the first time around. Although this time you will have 3 (possibly 6) attacks in a round.
- Survivor: Automatically healing at the beginning of every round is extremely good.
Check out our Eldritch Knight 5e Guide
- 3rd Level
- Bonus Proficiency: History, Insight, Performance, or Persuasion aren’t going to do a whole lot for your Fighter.
- Fighting Spirit: Three times per long rest you give yourself advantage on all attacks and gain temp hit points. This is an amazing ability.
- 7th Level
- Elegant Courtier: It’s nice flavor, but adding your WIS modifier to persuasion checks isn’t going to do much if you dumped the stat.
- 10th Level
- Tireless Spirit: Regaining a use of Fighting Spirit every initiative allows you to use them much more freely.
- 15th Level
- Rapid Strike: Being able to forgo one of your Fighting Spirit granted advantages for an extra attack is essentially a free crit against lower AC creatures.
- 18th Level
- Strength Before Death: This is an absolutely amazing ability. You immediately take a whole extra turn when you drop to 0 HP. This means when you drop to 0, you can take a round of three attacks and use either a Fighting Spirit or Second Wind to keep yourself standing.
Extra Attack: Fighters get more attacks than any class except for the Monk. This is huge when combined with Action Surge or a feat like Champion.
Get a 3rd attack at level 11 and a 4th attack at level 20.
Indomitable: Great feature, especially for builds that dumped DEX.
Get a 2nd use at level 13 and a 3rd at level 17.
In this section, we will be focusing on feats that are applicable to the typical Fighter builds.
- Crossbow Expert: It’s like Two-Weapon Fighting but you can add your DEX modifier to the offhand attack. If you are a DEX build this is an extremely tempting option.
- Defensive Duelist: It is very unlikely that you will be wielding a finesse weapon as a Fighter.
- Dual Wielder: Good option for Two-Weapon Fighting builds, but seeing as that build is optimal, the ceiling for this feat is quite low.
- Durable: The amount of healing this provides in conjunction with an already high CON stat is an awesome way to keep your Fighter on their feet throughout the day. Plus, it gives a +1 to CON. Great choice.
- Grappler: I get that a Grapple build is a thing, but it is not a very strong option.
- Great Weapon Master: This won’t be a ton of help against creatures with a large HP pool or high AC. It can also plateau towards the end of your campaign.
- Heavy Armor Master: Damage reduction like this is a massive boost to being able to stay alive through fights, especially good on builds not looking to use a shield.
- Lucky: Just a straight-up, damn good feat.
- Martial Adept: This is a fairly good option for Battlemasters that want more dice/maneuvers and for Champions that want to trip a foe and use the advantage to aim for critical hits. It is, however, a bit more clunky than taking something like Lucky.
- Mounted Combat: Very specific feat but if you find yourself on horses a lot this is a must-have.
- Polearm Master: This is definitely one of the more busted feats. The number of attacks this will net you in a single encounter will be substantive. Pair with Defense Fighting Style and Sentinel for pure insanity.
- Resilient: This is an alright option for becoming proficient in DEX saves.
- Sentinel: Great feat all on its own to control the battlefield. Combine with Polearm Master for an insane combo.
- Sharpshooter: Pretty much the same thing as Great Weapon Master. The negative you take to your attack roll for damage can be offset a bit more by using the Archery Fighting style.
- Shield Master: This is a great option to use your bonus action if you don’t already have a use for it. Knocking a creature prone gives the rest of your party advantage, but keep in mind that this is only available after you have taken an attack action.
- Tavern Brawler: Useful for grappler builds, otherwise, you can do without it.
- Tough: Good option to boost your HP max if you are going super tank.
- War Caster: Don’t bother, unless you are an Eldritch Knight in which case you need this feat.