How to Play a Fighter in 5e: Tips for Playing the Martial's Martial (2023)

The Fighter class in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is one of the base options available for players to choose for their character. It’s a martial class with a focus on versatility and customization in playstyle.

But, how do you play as a Fighter in 5e? What stats are most important for one? And, how do you use their core features?

This beginner’s guide on how to play a Fighter in 5e gives you the basics of the class so you have an idea on what to expect going into creating one.

Of course, this isn’t an optimization guide. This is a starting point for players new to D&D 5e looking for the basics on playing a Fighter.

So, without further ado, let’s start with what it kind of means to play a Fighter in D&D 5e.

Playing a Fighter in 5e

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Playing a Fighter in D&D 5e means playing a more or less classic medieval weapon specialist. They’re the typical sword fighter, axe wielding, hammer thrower, or whatever other weapon fighter you can think of.

Fighters in 5e are one of my most classic classes in D&D. To put it bluntly, playing a Fighter means playing the character who hits things with a sword (or axe or mallet or arrow). These characters are one of the least magically-inclined classes in D&D 5e, with a few exceptions in their subclass options, usually resorting to physical capabilities over arcane tricks.

That isn’t to say they’re boring. Far from it. Playing a Fighter means playing a weapons-specialist, to a certain degree.

See, it doesn’t matter what kind of Fighter you choose to play as, your character has some degree of training for both Simple and Martial Weapons, how to wield Shields, and wear Light, Medium, and Heavy armor. While the class often gets restricted to engaging in combat without the use of spells, they’re capable of doing so thanks to their wide range of abilities.

While they rely heavily on their martial prowess, every Fighter specializes in a different form of combat be that with sword and shield, dual-wielding weapons for increased damage output, or firing arrows at range. The best part is, this specialization doesn’t necessarily need to come at the detriment of other capabilities. Playing a Fighter means having the option to switch things up in terms of which weapons you use, which armor you wear, and which tactics you employ depending on the situation.

Now, specializing as a Fighter does come with its benefits. But, this versatility is what makes Fighters, well, Fighters.

Martial Versatility

The Fighter class is one of the most martially versatile options in D&D 5e. They’re not the only class proficient in both simple and martial weapons, but they are rarely restricted to either melee or ranged options, often excelling in both.

One of the best parts about playing a Fighter in 5e is you have the ability to wield pretty much any weapon you like to varying degrees of success depending on how you want to play your character.

Want to build a frontline character in Heavy armor who imposes themselves between their enemies and allies? Fighters can do that.

Looking to play a quick character who darts in-and-out of combat dealing consistent damage? Fighters can do that.

Think playing a ranged character without the theming of the Ranger (and most likely perform as well if not better than said class)? Fighters can do that.

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Want to wield a bit of magic to supplement your weapon fighting? Fighters can do that.

You get the point.

When playing a Fighter in 5e, you have a wealth of options available to you for creating a character with a specific playstyle or as broad and generalist as you want.

That said, there are some things Fighters won’t excel at without deliberately building them for it. Few of their class features help them in social encounters or during exploration. Now, some Archetypes do grant you some out-of-combat features (Battle Master and Samurai, namely), but they’re the exception, not the rule.

Also, while one subclass does grant you the use of spells (others have supernatural effects, but not explicitly "magic"), even the most magically-inclined Fighter won’t compete with even the half-caster classes.

Because of this, it’s important to remember the Fighter is a martial class first and foremost and you have a lot of options for improving their marital capabilities. Your character may not be the worst during social encounters but probably won’t excel in them and magic should supplement your martial prowess rather than take precedence.

Now, with that all out of the way, let’s dive into the mechanics of how to play a Fighter in 5e starting with their most prevalent Ability Scores.

The 5e Fighter’s Stats

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As one of 5e’s martial classes, Fighters often emphasize the physical Ability Scores; Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution. That said, some subclasses need a decent Intelligence score as well.

For the most part, you’ll want to prioritize either Strength or Dexterity as your Fighter’s primary Ability Score. Much of the class’ strengths lie in their ability to use the various weapons in D&D 5e. Since Strength and Dexterity govern both Attack and Damage modifiers, those will usually be where you place your highest stats.

Between the two, you’ll probably get more use out of Dexterity. But, Strength is important for wielding the non-Finesse and ranged weapons. Also, the Heavy armors have a minimum Strength requirement to wear without penalty, so keep that in mind.

That said, Fighters often take to the frontlines of combat. So, Constitution is typically the most important secondary stat for them. A higher Constitution score means more hit points in 5e which means less of a chance of falling unconscious which means attacking the bad guys more.

Now, either Strength or Dexterity along with Constitution are all you need for most Fighters. But, two subclasses need a good (or acceptable) Intelligence score as well.

The Eldritch Knight and Arcane Archer Archetypes use Intelligence to determine save Difficulty Classes. Eldritch Knights also need it for the Spellcasting Attack Bonus since they get actual spells, not just subclass abilities. So, on top of a good Strength / Dexterity and maybe Constitution, you’ll need to then make sure your Intelligence score isn’t too bad.

With that all out of the way, here’s a brief rundown of each of the Ability Scores and their importance for the Fighter class.

Strength is a pretty good stat for Fighters in 5e. Many of their weapons, excluding ranged options, use Strength to determine both attack and damage modifiers. It’s also good for helping while adventuring for lifting heavy objects or grappling creatures. That said, it’s importance depends on how you want to play your Fighter.
Constitution is one of the most important Ability Scores for Fighters in D&D. As one of the classes with the second highest available Hit Die, Fighters have an opportunity to have much more health than other classes (aside from the Barbarian). That said, the overall importance of a Fighter’s Constitution stat depends on if they’re a frontline warrior, playing as the party’s tank, or keeping outside the fray and attacking at range.
Dexterity is an amazing Ability Score for 5e Fighters. Not only can you use it for ranged and Finesse melee weapons, it affects your Armor Class (for Light and Medium armors) and initiative bonus. Also, Dexterity is one of the most common saving throws in 5e, so you’ll have a better chance at reducing damage with a high number in this stat.
Intelligence is a situationally important stat for Fighters, and its importance depends mostly on your subclass choice. For the most part, you won’t really need a good Intelligence score while playing as a Fighter. But, the Eldritch Knight and Arcane Archer Archetypes both heavily rely on this stat for their subclass features. Balancing the need for Fighters to focus on at least one physical stat and Intelligence makes optimizing these characters a bit tricky, but they can be a lot of fun to play.
Wisdom is a fairly important Ability Score across the board for D&D’s classes and that includes Fighters. While you don’t need a high Wisdom modifier for any class or subclass features, your Perception skill, one of the most used and important skills in the game, uses Wisdom as the default stat. Also, many effects that cause the Frightened Condition in 5e and other charm effects force a Wisdom saving throw, so having a low Wisdom score may mean debilitating your character at a critical moment.
Charisma isn’t a terribly important Ability Score for Fighters. None of the class or subclass features use it, so it won’t really affect your adventuring or combat capabilities. Having a halfway decent Charisma score as a Fighter is pretty much purely for roleplaying and social encounters.

In summary, Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution are usually the best stats for Fighters in 5e but certain subclasses need a halfway decent Intelligence score too.

Core Features of D&D 5e Fighters

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The core features for Fighters in 5e highlight their martial prowess. Each one might not be unique from other classes, but Fighters get special versions of the non-specific features to make them stand out from others.

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Of course, as a martial class, the features core to Fighters exemplify their capabilities in combat especially concerning weapons. The most identifiable features of Fighters are the ones which improve the class’ martial combat prowess or emphasize their customizability.

The core features to remember when playing a Fighter in 5e include:

  • Fighting Style
  • Second Wind
  • Action Surge
  • Ability Score Improvement
  • Extra Attack

I excluded Indomitable from this list because while yes it is a feature unique to Fighters, it takes so long to get it at 9th-level it doesn’t feel quite like a "core" feature. Also, it’s a bit lackluster in execution, so I wouldn’t consider it a super important feature.

With that said, let’s take a look at the most notable features core to playing a Fighter in 5e.

Fighting Style

While not unique to Fighters, the version of Fighting Style granted to the class is unique in it gives every available option for grabs. Other classes get a limited version of this feature, giving Fighters more opportunity to customize how they play.

Some of D&D 5e’s martial classes get some version of Fighting Style. But, Fighters get the largest list available to them.

As of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, D&D 5e has a total of 13 Fighting Style options. Paladins and Rangers each get a single option unique to each class, giving both access to seven styles. But, the Fighter picks from the 11 options excluding the unique ones.

Another unique aspect of the Fighter’s version of the Fighting Style is they get theirs starting at 1st-level. Paladins and Rangers don’t choose theirs until 2nd-level. Not a huge difference, but this is unique to Fighters.

Second Wind

Second Wind is a 1st-level feature which basically helps keep Fighters in the fight. It gives you a small self-heal using your bonus action for emergencies.

The Second Wind feature is pretty solid for low-level play but tapers off as you level up. Basically, once per rest (either short or long), a Fighter may take a bonus action to roll one ten-sided die (1d10) and add their Fighter level to regain that many hit points.

At low levels, this is great for bolstering your hit points. But, once you enter Tier 2 of play (levels 5-10), it becomes increasingly less useful as your pool of hit points grows more and more, essentially reducing the effectiveness of Second Wind.

That said, every hit point counts, so it’s still nice to have in an emergency.

Action Surge

Action Surge is a 2nd-level feature which lets Fighters take an additional action on their turn. This feature usually helps in improving a Fighter’s damage output by giving them more attacks during a single turn than other classes, but it’s great for other uses like taking the Dash, Dodge, or Disengage actions while still making an attack.

Possibly the core feature to Fighters, Action Surge gives you another Action to use on your turn once per rest (again, short or long). At 17th-level, you get to use it twice per rest but only once per turn.

Now, you’ll most likely use Action Surge to take additional Attack actions, churning out attack after attack. And who would blame you?

A 20th-level Fighter can make up to eight attacks using Action Surge alone. That’s not including a possible bonus action or opportunity attack nor using outside help like the haste spell.

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That all said, it’s also a good way to take a different action which may be more beneficial in certain circumstances. For example, taking the Disengage Action to move away from an enemy without provoking an Opportunity Attack then using Action Surge to use the Dash Action to run to an ally’s aid.

Ability Score Improvements

The 5e Fighter’s Ability Score Improvement works in the same way as other classes, but they get many more increases than other classes. As such, Fighters have the opportunity to increase more Ability Scores or gain more feats than any other class.

At its most basic, the Fighter’s Ability Score Improvement (or ASI) feature works the same way as every other class. Starting at 4th-level, you may increase one Ability Score by two points or two Ability Scores by one point each. Or, you may take one of 5e’s Feats instead of the ASI assuming your table allows them. You then get more ASIs as you level up at regular intervals.

The difference with Fighters is they get two more than most other classes.

Most classes get five ASIs at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19. Only the Fighter and Rogue classes get more. Both classes get ASIs at the same levels as other classes, but gain extra ones at specific in-between levels. Rogues get one more at 10th-level while Fighters get one more each at 6th– and 14th-level.

So, Fighters get a total of seven Ability Score Increases by the time they reach 19th-level.

This means either boosting your Ability Scores higher than other classes may achieve (and have an overall higher spread of stats) or customizing your Fighter more through gaining Feats meant to achieve a specific character build.

Extra Attack

Fighters in 5e get the Extra Attack feature like other martial classes, but theirs improves over time instead of being a one-time feature. Most classes get this feature to gain one additional attack on their turn starting at 5th-level, but the Fighter’s Extra Attack improves at 11th– and 20th-levels, giving them a total of three extra attacks for a total of four for every Attack action.

Like other martial classes, Fighters first get the Extra Attack feature at 5th-level. At that level, this feature works the exact same way as the other classes; it gives your character the option to make two attack rolls on their turn when they take the Attack Action.

Fighters get a slightly different version though.

Once a character reaches 11th-level as a Fighter, they may make two extra attack rolls as part of the same Attack action for a total of three attacks. Then, starting at 20th-level, a Fighter may make three extra attacks for a total of four for every Attack Action.

No other version of the Extra Attack grants more attacks than the Fighter’s version, making it a unique alteration to a relatively common class feature.

Fighter Subclasses (Archetypes) in 5e

How to Play a Fighter in 5e: Tips for Playing the Martial's Martial (4)

Fighters choose their subclass, called Archetypes, at 3rd-level. These Archetypes specialize in a different method of fighting with benefits or modifications to a Fighter’s basic actions.

Some of the Fighter Archetypes specialize a character towards a specific way of fighting. But, most of them actually don’t do much to restrict players to a rigid playstyle. Usually, each Archetype simply alters a Fighter’s attacks either through mundane methods or sometimes arcane alterations.

At the end of the day, regardless of which subclass you choose to play as with your Fighter, your character is still a martial one. This means you’ll prioritize weapon attacks during combat.

Here’s the list of all officially available Fighter Archetypes released so far for D&D 5e:

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5e Fighter Subclass List

  • Battle Master (PHB)
  • Champion (PHB)
  • Eldritch Knight (PHB)
  • Purple Dragon Knight / Banneret (SCAG)
  • Arcane Archer (XGtE)
  • Cavalier (XGtE)
  • Samurai (XGtE)
  • Psi Warrior (TCoE)
  • Rune Knight (TCoE)
  • Echo Knight (EGtW)

Here’s a list of for reference on which sourcebook each subclass comes from.

And, here’s a brief description of each one so you get an idea of how each one works.

Battle Master
The Battle Master Fighter Archetype gives characters special things they can do called Maneuvers. Essentially, the Battle Master’s Maneuvers let you modify attack or damage rolls or manipulate the battlefield through imposing disadvantage on attacks or allowing your allies to move. It’s one of the best Fighter subclasses and gives players a lot of options for customizing how they play their character.
The Champion Fighter Archetype is one of the simplest subclasses to play in 5e. This subclass focuses on improving basic attacks with pretty bare bones features. It’s pretty straightforward with few player-driven choices making it one of the best options for players completely new to tabletop roleplaying games.
Eldritch Knight
The Eldritch Knight Fighter Archetype gives your character a bit of magic to supplement their martial prowess. Basically, this subclass gives the Fighter spellcasting using Intelligence and the Wizard spell list. It’s a bit complicated balancing spellcasting while still playing a martially-focused character, but it’s a good choice for players who want some spell options.
Purple Dragon Knight / Banneret
The Purple Dragon Knight Fighter Archetype, or Banneret for settings outside the Forgotten Realms, sort of stands in for the stereotypical knight archetype. This subclass puts a focus on working with your allies either through encouraging them to fight through their wounds or giving them opportunities to make more attacks outside their turn. Being based on the classic idea of the medieval knight, this class also gives characters a small bonus for social encounters.
Arcane Archer
The Arcane Archer Fighter Archetype blends supernatural energies into their ranged attacks. Players who choose this subclass get a short list of special shots their character may make using a ranged weapon including effects like sending a creature temporarily to another plane of existence or causing a small energy burst, damaging surrounding creatures from the point of impact. This is the only Fighter subclass which focuses exclusively on ranged combat.
The Cavalier Fighter Archetype highlights the potential of mounted combat and places an emphasis on defending allies from enemy attacks. While this subclass does give players more of a reason to enter combat while mounted on a creature, it’s a solid Fighter Archetype outside of that. Basically, the Cavalier gives a character features which make attacking other creatures harder, making it a pretty good tank class in 5e.
The Samurai Fighter Archetype gives players some roleplaying options as well as a leaning into the idea of fighting even beyond mortal wounds. This subclass does give some fun features for helping a character during social encounters sort of in line with the idea of samurai serving as courtiers. That said, being a Fighter subclass, the Samurai Archetype has some fun combat features for getting even more attacks in per turn and for fighting even past what would normally be fatal damage.
Psi Warrior
The Psi Warrior Fighter Archetype wields psychic abilities to augment their martial prowess. You get a few options for defending yourself and allies, adding more damage to your attacks, and manipulating the battlefield a bit through psychic powers. This is a fun subclass for Fighters that simply makes you better in combat both in damage output, mitigation, and movement.
Rune Knight
The Rune Knight Fighter Archetype gives players options for customizing how their character acts in combat based on the different . This subclass gives you a list of runes to choose from, each one based on a different kind of giant and granting a unique set of abilities to your character. You get a lot of bonus action features from the Rune Knight Archetype, so it might take a few turns to fully take advantage of the subclass, but its a fun choice for boosting your martial capabilities.
Echo Knight
The Echo Knight Fighter Archetype basically gives you a shadowy clone of your character to help during combat. Through summoning your echo, you’re able to make additional attacks through it, teleport to switch places with it, eventually use it to supplement your health, and more. This subclass is an interesting way of altering how the base Fighter works.

How Do You Level Up Fighters in D&D 5e?

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You level up Fights in D&D 5e in much the same way as any other class. Check to see if you get another feature or upgrade to a feature, roll hit dice to increase your health, and any other Archetype-specific bonuses.

Fighters go through the exact same level-up steps in 5e as any other class. Of course, the features you gain as you level up differ and your hit die may be different, but the same basic steps apply.

  1. Check to see if your Proficiency Bonus increases
  2. Either roll 1d10 + your Constitution Modifier or take the average six + Con mod to add to your Hit Point Maximum
  3. See if your character’s race gains any new traits
  4. Make sure to note any new Fighter or Archetype features you gain
    • This may include getting new Maneuvers for Battle Masters, Arcane Shot for Arcane Archers, or Runes for Rune Knight
  5. If you’ve reached an ASI, either increase your Ability Scores or choose a new feat
  6. Check to see if any of your Ability Score Modifiers need updating (usually only after an ASI)
  7. For Eldritch Knights, see if you get more Spell Slots, higher level spells, or switch out one of your known spells for another

Check out my guide on for a full rundown on what general steps to take.

5e Fighter FAQ

How to Play a Fighter in 5e: Tips for Playing the Martial's Martial (6)

How Many Feats Does a Fighter Get in 5e?

Fighters have the option get get up to seven feats through their Ability Score Improvement feature.

Since Fighters get the most Ability Score Improvements out of any class, they also have the ability to get the most feats. Now, this doesn’t include taking the Variant Human race which grants another feat at 1st-level, giving you a possible eight feats by the time you reach 19th-level as a Fighter.

Can a Fighter Have 2 Fighting Styles?

Yes, a Fighter may have two Fighting Styles, but only in specific circumstances. The Champion Archetype and the Fighting Initiate feat from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything give a Fighter a second Fighting Style. Multiclassing also lets you pick another Fighting Style.

Those are the only two ways for a Fighter class only character to get two Fighting Styles. If you multiclass into another class that eventually grants a Fighting Style (Paladin or Ranger), you get to choose another. That said, you can’t take the same Fighting Style twice, so you need to pick a different option each time.

Can You Use Second Wind While Unconscious?

No. You can not use Second Wind while unconscious in D&D 5e. Second Wind uses a bonus action and you can not take actions, including bonus actions, while unconscious.

Becoming Unconscious in 5e also inflicts the Incapacitated Condition which stats "An incapacitated creature can’t take actions or reactions." "Actions", in this case, includes bonus actions which the Second Wind feature uses to activate.

Does Action Surge Give You More Bonus Actions?

No. The Fighter’s Action Surge feature does not give you more bonus actions.

The Action Surge feature only lets you take one additional regular action but not an extra bonus action.

Summary on How to Play a Fighter in 5e

That about covers the basics on how to play a Fighter in D&D.

The Fighter is one of D&D 5e’s basic classes which places an emphasis on martial prowess and combat with weapons. It’s one of the game’s most versatile classes in terms of customizing it to fit your playstyle. They put an emphasis on the physical Ability Scores (Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution), but a couple subclasses use Intelligence as well. Of course, being one of the most martially-focused classes, the core features of the Fighter improve their capabilities in combat. The Fighter’s subclasses are called Archetypes and each one specializes a character to a more focused style fighting.

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One thing you absolutely need to remember is Fighters are martial characters. Even the Eldritch Knight isn’t really a caster. Yes, it has the ability to use spells, but those spells should supplement your Fighter’s fighting capabilities, not become the focus of your playstyle.

Which Archetype is your favorite? What is your go-to weapon when playing a Fighter? Leave a comment below!

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