Eldritch Knight 5e Guide

Published on June 6, 2020, Last modified on September 3rd, 2020

In this post, we will examine the different choices you will be presented with when leveling up your Eldritch Knight. Everything from which ability scores to max out to which races will give you the best stats (and everything in-between) will be covered. This article will focus primarily on content from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook, but will also delve into some of the content in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

What is this guide?

This guide is meant as a deep dive into the Fighter Subclass, the Eldritch Knight. You can find a full overview on the Fighter class here: DnD 5e Fighter.

For our full class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:

  • 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

For our Subclass Guides, we focus mainly on the Blue and Sky Blue options, because the other options are discussed in the 5e Fighter Guide or other Subclass Guides.

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 an Eldritch Knight?

Eldritch Knights are Fighters that gain access to the subtle arts of spellcasting. Much like Rangers and Paladins, Eldritch Knights are semi-caster classes, but they only gain spells slots up to 4th Level. They are limited to the Wizard’s spell list and can usually only cast abjuration and evocation based spells.

Strengths

The Eldritch Knight’s gains access to the best defensive spells in the business: Shield, Absorb Elements, Blur, Mirror Image, etc. are all extremely effective ways to help your heavy armored Fighter avoid getting hit in combat.

Your spells also afford your some versatility in combat, which can help mix up your options and make the character more fun to play.

Weaknesses

Fighters need a strong physical ability modifier (STR or DEX) as well as a high CON modifier, this leaves very little room leftover to your spellcasting ability modifier, INT. They also gain access to a very limited pool of spell slots. Eldritch Knights can offset this downside by exclusively using spells that don’t require a spellcasting modifier. While this is the optimal way to play and Eldritch Knight, it decreases their versatility in things such as crowd control or out-of-combat utility.

Before You Start

Races

Despite being an INT based semi-caster, we will be not be prioritizing the INT stat in favor of STR and CON for reasons explained above.

There are viable DEX based Eldritch Knight builds, but we are sticking with the one true purpose of Eldrtich Knights: get our AC as high as possible. To do this, you need full plate. To wear full plate, you need STR.

Dwarf: +2 CON and a free resistance to poison. Eldritch Knights are very interested in this.

  • Mountain: +2 to STR on top of the Dwarves +2 to CON makes Mountain Dwarves the ideal choice in terms of racial bonuses.

Dragonborn: +2 to STR is beneficial for Eldritch Knight, but the +1 to CHA is wasted. Breath Weapon is also a nice AoE attack that scales with character progression.

Half-Elf: Half-Elf is a solid choice to take for your Eldritch Knight. Being able to boost STR and CON leaves you with solid starting ability scores and the resistance to charm/sleep and Darkvision are both super useful. 

Half-Orc: Half Orc’s get you +2 STR and +1 CON. Dark-Vision is nice, proficiency in Intimidation will help you with helping in social situation, Relentless Endurance is a nice bonus, and Savage Attacks is just plain savage.

Variant Human: get to boost to STR and CON and any of the numerous awesome feats for EK. One thing with the Vuman feat is you will be unable to take Warcaster because, RAW, you need to be able to cast at least 1 spell before you can take the feat.

Background

For this section, due to the sheer number of backgrounds available, I am simply going to list the most useful Fighter Backgrounds.

  • 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 Scores

Ability Score Increases (ASI): Thanks to being a Fighter, you gain access to ASIs at 6th, 8th, 12th, 14th, 16th, and 19th level.

STR: Eldritch Knights are Fighters, Fighters need to be dealing consistent damage every turn.

CON: Fighters are a tanking class. Eldritch Knights specialize in mitigating getting hit but when you inevitably get hit, you will want a high CON score to help soak damage.

INT: Intelligence is your spellcasting modifier. Because of the play-style of Eldritch Knights, it is best to pump STR and CON and stick to spells that don’t use your spellcasting modifier. For a breakdown of the best spells to use for Eldritch Knights, see our Spells section.

Fighter Class Progression

1st Level

Hit Points and Hit Dice: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide

Saves: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide

Proficiencies: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide

Skills: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide

Fighting Style: This choice comes down to the question, “do I want to maximize my AC or do a bit more damage?”

  • Defense: The name of the game for Eldritch Knights is absurdly high AC, this is necessary to get your there.
  • Dueling: This option will help boost your damage at the cost of that sweet, sweet +1 to AC that Defense will provide. If you aren’t particularly fussed about it and want to do more damage, this is the choice for you.

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.

2nd Level

Action Surge: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide

3rd Level

Martial Archetype: Eldritch Knight

Spellcasting: Most of the time you’re going to be using your spell slots for reaction-based defensive spells (like Shield and Absorb Elements) until you get to 13th level and you’re able to pick up Fireball. These spells are a great way to make your Fighter more versatile in combat. We will be covering which spells are best to grab in our Spells section below.

Weapon Bond: Never being without your weapon is a great thing, even outside of combat situations.

5th Level

Extra Attack: At this point, until 7th Level, Booming Blade and Green Flame Blade do not do as much damage as taking 2 attacks.

7th level

War Magic: This bring the effectiveness of Booming Blade and Green Flame Blade back online because you get the bonus action attack when you cast a Cantrip. This means that you can use your action to cast the BB or GFB cantrip in which you get your first attack, then attack again with your bonus action.

Depending on your setup, it can even be superior to your three attacks at level 11.

9th Level

Indomitable: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide

10th Level

Eldritch Strike: This is an absolutely amazing tool to help Eldritch Knights overcome their low INT modifier. Disadvantage takes on average -5 to a roll, so at this point, if you hit a creature with your weapon the turn before, you essentially have a +5 to your INT for the sake of casting a spell that causes a saving throw. This makes spells like Banishment much more viable starting at this level.

15th Level

Arcane Charge: This essentially gives you another turn (minus the bonus action) that you can use at will and regain after a short rest. This fact that the teleport allows you to navigate the battlefield unimpeded makes this especially effective.

18th Level

Improved War Magic: By 18th level, you are outputting a ton of damage with your melee attacks. However, when you can hit with an a spell like fireball and keep attacking, you can easily outpace your damage from attacking normally.

Feats

We cover the best feats for Fighters in our 5e Fighter Guide, the only changes would be:

  • Magic Initiate: Magic Initiate is a great choice for Eldritch Knights. Your best options would either be Warlock for Hex and Eldritch Blast or Cleric for Shield of Faith and Guidance.
  • Polearm Master: Polearm Master isn’t going to be great for an Eldritch Knight build for a number of reasons: 1. you have to use a reach weapon which will limit you ability to wear a shield. 2. This doesn’t combine well with War Caster, Eldritch Knight’s best feat, because of the implication on Booming Blade and Green Flame blade that restrict it to 5ft. You would have to take Spell Sniper as another feat to make this combo work at which point you are giving up a ton of ASIs for an albeit awesome combo.
  • Sentinel: Because Eldritch Knights are so hard to hit, you may find your DM directing attacks at squishier party members. Sentinel goes a long way to getting extra damage in and protecting your party members.
  • War Caster: War Caster is an extremely beneficial feat to have as an Eldritch Knight. Gaining proficiency to Concentration checks will be important for keeping Blur, Mirror Image, and Haste up and running. Due to your limited spell slots, you really don’t want to waste a spell by losing Concentration on it. This also allows you to cast a Cantrip when you get an opportunity attack. This works AMAZING with Booming Blade.

Spells

If you are going for an optimal build, Eldritch Knights shouldn’t typically rely on damage spells or spells that give the creature a saving throw. This is because you will be able to continue to drop INT while focusing on STR and CON. Spells marked with an asterik (*) are outside of the abjuration and evocation schools of magic. These can be learned at 8th, 14th, and 20th level.

Cantrips

  • Blade Ward: This may seem like a good option, but usually taking the Dodge action is more effective, especially with your high AC. It can have uses if you are entering a room you think might be trapped, or are in dire straights and don’t have any spell slots left but still need to get a hit off with War Magic.
  • Green Flame Blade: This is an awesome tool to have in your repertoire for when enemies start to cluster together. This gains the most traction between 7th and 10th level because you gain access to War Magic, so you still have your extra attack PLUS the damage dice is 1d8 + INT modifier, instead of just the INT modifier.
  • Booming Blade: Another great Cantrip + bonus attack option for when you pick up War Magic
  • .

1st-Level Spells

  • Absorb Elements: Amazing use for your reaction, being able to half the elemental damage and turn it into more attack power is exactly the kind of stuff Eldritch Knights are looking to do.
  • Burning Hands: Decent option if you can catch a bunch of creatures in the cone. Might be a bit lackluster due to your low save DC.
  • Find Familiar*: Seeing as your familiar gets to take a turn of its own but can’t attack, having it take the help action to give you advantage on attacks every turn. This is a great option.
  • Mage Armor: Seeing as you have proficiency in all armor you will likely never take this.
  • Magic Missile: Guaranteed damage when you need it but I can’t imagine you will ever want to use this over your attacks..
  • Protection from Evil and Good: Awesome defensive buff to use when facing certain foes
  • Shield: This is likely one of the best spells in your repertoire. It doesn’t require any INT to be able to cast and is a great use of reactions.
  • Thunderwave: Decent AoE spell but seeing as your Spell Save DC will be low compared to your level this could have underwhelming effects.

2nd-Level Spells

  • Blindness/Deafness*: Great debuff that will give you advantage on all of your attacks. Unfortunately, this isn’t viable for Eldritch Knights until they gain Eldritch Strike at Level 10. By the time you reach 14th level and get access to any school’s spells, you will have better things to choose than this.
  • Blur*: Absolutely incredible choice, requires concentration but enemies will have a bad time trying to hit a target that has +20 AC while they have disadvantage.
  • Hold Person*: Suffers from the same issues at Blindness/Deafness unfortunately.
  • Misty Step: Cast as a bonus action and gives you awesome mobility and the ability to get out of sticky situations. This is a take for sure.
  • Mirror Image*: No concentration, but the duplicates low AC doesn’t make this as effective as Blur.
  • Scorching Ray: Again, you’re going to be staying away from damage spells that require a spell attack or save. If you need a ranged option I would likely stick with a javelin.
  • Shadow Blade*: If you have a magic weapon, this can be left by the wayside. If you don’t, this is a solid pick.
  • Shatter: This is essentially a 2nd level Thunderwave with better damage, But it’s going to be tough with your low INT modifier.
  •  

3rd-Level Spells

  • Fireball: Your low INT modifier might make this a bit of a less attractive option, but with 8d6 damage and a large AoE, Fireball is a solid option whenever you can target a group of enemies.
  • Fly*: This is a great pick up at 14th level when you can choose a spell from any school of magic. Having the flight ability gives you tons of mobility and advantage over grounded opponents.
  • Haste*: Awesome buff but again is outside of the abjuration and evocation school. It would be a pretty good pickup regardless.
  • Lightning Bolt: Between Fireball and Lightning Bolt, the win usually goes to Fireball. It is just too hard to get a large number of creatures in a line.
  • Magic Circle: This is a great spell but is too situational to use up one of your limited spells on.
  • Protection from Energy: Decent spell if you are going into a fight that you know for a fact will have a ton of damage from a specific elemental type, but I would typically just stock Absorb Elements.
  • Slow*: An amazing debuff that can work well now that you have access to Eldritch Strike.

4th-Level Spells

  • Banishment: Really, really good option but your Spell Save DC is likely too low to use this reliably even with Eldritch Strike.
  • Dimension Door*: Great mobility option.
  • Fire Shield: Awesome defensive and offensive option. Activate, run into the fray, enjoy all your extra damage!
  • Greater Invisibility*: Really good spell to get in and do a lot of damage. One downside is that, as a Fighter, you are supposed to be taking damage off your party members. You can’t exactly do that if you’re invisible.
  • Ice Storm: Similar damage to Fireball. There are a lot better spells to be cast with your 4th level.
  • Polymorph*: Awesome to take a big baddie out of the fight. Similar issues to Banishment.
  • Stoneskin: Good defensive option. The downside is you will likely be getting hit with magical attacks a decent chunk of the time when you are past level 19.
  • Wall of Fire: Probably your best option with a 4th level slot. Really great at controlling the battlefield, even if your save DC is low.

4 thoughts on “Eldritch Knight 5e Guide

  1. A few issues that I noticed: “Variant Human: get to boost to STR and CON and can pick up Warcaster, an extremely important feat for Eldritch Knights.”
    In order to take War Caster you have to be able to cast at least one spell, which a lvl 1 fighter can’t do. A DM could hand wave it (if a player wants to take a feat that won’t help them for a couple levels, it doesn’t seem like a problem to me) but it’s not legal RAW. Vuman is still a good choice though, as there are plenty of useful feats. Some of the normal melee feats aren’t as useful for an EK, especially if they go sword and board instead of heavy weapon, but even then: Resilient Wisdom is boring but will help keep you from being charmed, Heavy Armor Master is overpowered at low levels and is never bad. EKs magic is very limited, they don’t have more than 3 spell slots until level 7. Magic initiate can be decent: Magic Initiate Warlock can get you Hex, Booming Blade and Mage Hand/whatever. Magic Initiate Cleric can get you Bless or Shield of Faith along with Light (since Vumans don’t get darkvision) and Guidance. Even taking Magic Initiate Wizard to get an extra casting of Shield isn’t terrible (again, at lvl 6 an EK can only cast 3 spells per day, every little bit of extra magic helps).

    “Polearm Master: Combined with War Caster and Booming Blade, you will get a free hit on every creature coming into your range. You can then cast Booming Blade as your opportunity attack and they have to take the damage to continue forward into melee range.”
    “Booming Blade
    Evocation cantrip
    Casting Time: 1 action
    Range: 5 feet”
    Booming Blade only has a range of 5 feet, so unless you take the Spell Sniper feat, you can’t use it beyond 5 feet. If you’re using a shield and wielding a quarterstaff with one hand, you wouldn’t get the OA until they were within 5 feet, so I guess you could use it then, but if you have a reach weapon and something came in range, I’m not sure if you could just wait to see if it came within 5 feet before attacking or not. Also, the bonus action attack from PAM clashes with the bonus action attack from War Magic, so one or the other gets wasted.

    There are several mentions of “dumping Int”, while you aren’t likely to start with a 16 there, it’s not that difficult to start with a 14 or at least a 12 in Int, which isn’t really dumping the stat imo.

    There’s no mention of Half-Elf, but the two +1’s they get can easily let you start with 16s in STR and CON, darkvision, immunity to magic sleep, advantage against being charmed are all pretty good things for a tank to have. The two skills can also be pretty handy, especially if your group doesn’t have a wizard or artificer, an EK with a 12 or 14 could very well be the highest Int in the party, so grabbing Arcana and Investigation at least can be helpful. The variant Half-Elf options in SCAG can also let you swap the 2 skills for different things, probably the most useful for an EK is a free cantrip from the wizard spell list. Since you only get 2 cantrips before level 10, being able to grab Minor Illusion for instance, in addition to Booming Blade and Green-Flame Blade is nice. This also lets you start the game with BB or GFB which is better than a normal melee attack at early levels anyway.

    1. Hey Ruxpyn!

      Thanks so much for the insight. All of these were great points and have been included in the article 🙂

      Thanks again for helping to make these guides the best they can be!

  2. I think you underestimate Blade Ward. Doesn’t a Dodge action give up an attack action? Casting a cantrip as an Eldritch Knight gives you a bonus attack. Effectively giving you the benefits of the Blur spell for free without using a 2nd level slot. Good for tank builds when you have a few guys around you at once where concentration is an issue. Sure you don’t hit as hard as you could in a turn like Booming Blade but you dont always have to use it especially in heavy plate, shield, and scimitar(finesse) with Defensive Duelist feat using that reaction to your advantage.

    1. Hey there!

      I agree that Blade Ward does have some uses! I think once you have access to War Magic, it’s objectively better than the Dodge action. Because of their high AC and plethora of defensive spells, Eldritch Knights will usually be using Blur or Shield in combat to completely avoid getting hit. If your resources are becoming limited (running out of spell slots and HP), then Blade Ward + War Magic is certainly a reasonable option 🙂

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