Fighters are the most popular class in D&D 5e, and after reading through this guide, you’ll understand why–and how to play one.
There’s a reason that fighters are the most popular class in D&D, and it all comes down to accessibility. In terms of both mechanics and story, fighters are the easiest class to wrap your head around. Even with the most basic understanding of what D&D is, it’s easy to explain a fighter. They’re the sword half of sword and sorcery. They’re the plate in the mail, the knights, the lancers, warriors who need food, badly. As long as there’s been adventure, there’s been people who hit things with swords (or other weapons).
They’re the easiest class for a new player to pick up, but rewarding enough for even a seasoned veteran. Read on to find out how to be a fighter. You’ll see:
- What makes fighters work
- What subclass to pick
What Makes Fighters Work
Fighters have a lot going for them. They give you the quickest route to picking up dice and playing–they have a lot of hit points, they can wear any armor and use any weapon they want. And all you really have to do is make sure you’re in range of an enemy and roll a d20 and you’ve got it made.
But the real secret to fighters is how flexible they are. When you play a fighter, you pick a signature fighting style that determines what you’re best at, sword and shield, brawling, two-weapon fighting. There are no wrong answers here, it all depends on what you want to do. If you want to deal damage, pick dueling, great weapon fighting, or two-weapon fighting. If you want to be tough, pick protection or defense.
The other thing to know is that you can recover hit points even in the middle of a fight. As a fighter, you can tough out almost any combat with your second wind, this lets you regain 1d10 + your fighter level hit points, and at low levels, that’s quite a bit.
At 2nd level though, your fighter will really blossom with action surge. This lets you take another action, which can be used to attack or run further, or take any other action, even casting another spell. And you can do it once per rest, just like second wind. Between second wind and action surge, your fighter will shine in any fight. Everything else just lets you do what you already do but better, whether it’s making extra attacks when you take an attack action or rerolling saving throws. The secret to fighters is you hit hard and often, and can take a beating.
And with Action Surge and Second Wind ensuring that they have the tools to keep themselves in the fight (once per rest at any rate), they can be bastions of endurance that carry the party as encounter after encounter heads their way. So how do fighters differentiate themselves? First up is the Fighting Style (which lets them specialize a little bit), second is by feats–with their ability score improvement rate, they stand to be the most able to take all the weird non-combat feats if they want, and finally there are the subclasses.
What subclass to pick
Fighter’s martial archetypes help them fit a specific role in the party.
Arcane Archers are Fighters who mix magic and arrows (and both in a decent amount). This subclass makes you much more short rest dependent than others–not only do you get back second wind and action surge, but you gain back both uses of your Arcane Shot. Which is good–because the big defining feature of the class, Arcane Shot (which allows you to add extra damage and magic to your attacks) up to twice per encounter and then you’re spent. After that, sure you have a magic bow and the ability to keep your attack targeting opponents until it hits one–but it’s the Arcane Shots that make you stand out. So it’s kind of a shame how quick that runs out. Nevertheless this class is great for battlefield control and dealing with a powerful enemy.
Pick this subclass if you want to have a few powerful attacks that help to end a fight quickly.
Battlemasters are pretty great, focusing more on versatility. They have the Superiority Dice and the Combat maneuvers which let them do extra damage, as well as pick from a list of maneuvers that help them accomplish a variety of tasks on the battlefield. They are consummate brawlers, but can also focus a little on battlefield control or party support. The Fighter that takes Commander’s Strike, Rally, and Goading Attack is any party’s best friend. And that’s only three of your eventual nine maneuvers.
Pick this subclass if you want to fill a variety of roles in your party–especially if with your feats you’re gearing up to be the party’s leader.
Fighters who become Cavaliers are armored and mounted knights, although the horse is only one part of this subclass. Cavaliers are all about resilience, whether protecting themselves, their mounts, or other people from attacks. They are great at holding enemy attention–their offensive abilities are alright, but where they really shine is in protecting the party with their reactions. As a Cavalier you’ll have to be careful to figure out which reaction to use and when.
Pick this subclass if you want to be in the center of the party, fighting hard to keep your friends safe.
Champion Fighters are all about indomitability. They are fairly straightforward, emphasizing the fighter’s natural endurance and brawling ability, making them able to hold the line in just about any combat. They are the most efficient Fighters there are. They don’t have any other powers that run out–they get constant abilities that help them keep fighting better and harder than the other fighters.
Pick this subclass if you want to fight and fight and fight without ever really stopping. If you want to be indomitable and never worry about what your next action is.
Eldritch Knights are, as the name implies, spellcasters. They’re a perfect blend for any gish build you could possibly want to make. We haven’t seen too many of these that are fighters and spellcasters combined into one–but the Eldritch Knight does this with aplomb. If you take this class, you’ll be stepping into the wide world of fighting with swords and magic in equal measure. There’s a lot to keep in mind, like your action and bonus action economy–but you get some pretty powerful tools that can make sure your enemies are affected by your spells and damaged all to heck by the end of it.
Pick this subclass if you want to blend martial mastery and magic. You can do a lot of damage and keep yourself fighting better, faster, harder.
Psychic Warriors channel the power of their mind. This is a new, psionic type introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron, and it gives you extra powers somewhere between an Eldritch Knight and a Battlemaster Fighter. You’ll be able to deal psychic damage and gain some powerful movement options.
Pick this subclass if you want to move around the battlefield and hit things hard and fast.
Speaking of Tasha’s Cauldron, Rune Knights are an interesting option–they can draw upon special runes to transform themselves for the duration of a fight. With different options to pick from, you can make sure that once or twice a day, you can really go into your ultra-powerup mode and dish out damage.
Pick this subclass if you want to have a power-up sequence in a fight, and you’d like to be able to pick and choose what you bring to each fight on the fly.
Samurai are perhaps my personal favorite subclass. They combine the resilience of the Champion along with the brawling abilities of like a Barbarian. This class is about what I like to call offensive resilience. They have buffs that grant themselves temporary hit points, but also makes attacking better. Their fighting spirit ability also sets up the ability to make even more attacks com 15th level, giving them the most attacks per round, especially comboed with Action Surge and/or Haste.
Pick this class if you want to make the most out of a single moment in a fight.
Anyway, that’s the fighter. The anchor for many a party, and your fighting friend who’s fun to be with.