4 Fighter Ideas You Can Steal
Fighters are one of the most popular classes in D&D. They are straightforward, uncomplicated, skilled, reliable, and versatile. While many consider them an entry-level class because their actions in combat appear simple compared to the quadratic spellcasting classes, Fighters come with a slew of benefits. They are simple to learn (nobody is wasting 15 minutes at the table arguing how a fighter’s sword works), difficult to master (combining feats, magic items, and your allies spells to make you an invincible-bladed-beholder-blender in combat), and have great touchstones in pop culture that make them relatable (Wonder Woman, Teal’c from Stargate, Leonidas, Achilles, Hercules, Xena, and Saber from Fate/Stay, to name a few).
Often criticized for being “one-note” or ordinary, Fighters come in a variety of different flavors and can have rich, developed character concepts and backstories. To inspire your next 5e dnd Fighter, here are some elevator pitches for Fighters you could use or modify for PCs or NPCs in your next D&D game.
Created as a guardian by a long-forgotten race deep beneath the earth, you have tirelessly and ceaselessly watched for intrusion from your post in front of a temple to an ancient god. Requiring neither food nor sleep as a metal humanoid, you made the perfect defender. You allowed only nobility and members of the priesthood to pass. you and your fellow sentinels defended your position for decades through wars, incursions, and thieves.
One day, all members of the clergy entered the temple at once, and did not return. Days, months, and years passed, and you did not move from your post. You did not question that no one had exited the holy place for a century, nor did you note that intruders and visitors became less and less frequent. Only when the temple you so fiercely guarded was crushed by the cave collapsing atop it and your fellow sentries did you conclude decide that you were no longer needed to remain at your post.
Clearing the rubble and investigating the ruins, you recover a reliquary of eldritch design and ominous portent. Shortly after retrieving it, you soon discover that the civilization you served for ages must have fallen long ago... its towers are crumbling, and its homes vacant. Taking with you the mysterious holy relic and your knowledge of a people long gone, you make your way to the surface in search of a new purpose and answers about the totem you defended for so long…
To realize this idea, start by making a Warforged fighter. In 5e, Warforged can live an unspecified amount of time without showing any signs of deterioration. This makes Warforged ideal to act act sentries for advanced civilizations.
At early levels, I’d recommend the Blind Fighting fighting style. Since Warforged do not have Darkvision, it’s important to have a way to effectively fight down in the caves even in complete darkness, and your creators would have known this. When choosing a subclass that fits the theme. An Eldritch Knight would be appealing, marrying the idea of magic with the martial prowess necessary for this task. However, I’d suggest a Samurai. Their ability to quickly and effectively strike against their foes while bolstering their own defenses suits this concept well. Also, if you don’t already have it, take History as your bonus skill proficiency at third level to reinforce the idea that you’re from another time.
As you level up, consider taking the Sentinel feat, allowing you to attack more often and prevent your enemies from leaving the reach of your weapons. No one gets past you. Choose further feats for your Warforged samurai to make striking with your chosen weapon(s) more effective, such as Polearm Master, Great Weapon Master, Crusher, Piercer, or Dual Wielder.
Finally, pick a badass name for your Warforged. “S3ntr-E” sounds appropriately pseudo-sci-fi for a Warforged to me, but you might prefer “Warden” or “Firewall” (especially if you chose to be an eldritch knight). Have fun with it!
"The Barehand Butcher"
Fight. Win. Fight again.
This is all you have known for some time. Life in the arena is a series of challenges in more ways than one. Each day is a struggle. Each day could be your last. Even if you survive the training and the cruel treatment, your only reward is risking your life for the entertainment of spectators again at the end of each tenday.
There isn't a good word for what you are... slave is too unpleasant. Prisoner is closer. Gladiator is too glamorous for the reality, and the reality is that when you first got here, you were expected to die. Hells, you probably still are! You were thrown into an arena with other unarmed and unarmored “contestants”, expected to meet your end facing a monster the likes of which you have never seen. But you did survive, soaked in the blood of the beast and spattered with the entrails of those it gored before you could slay it. You should have died… but you fought on, and managed to emerge victorious.
Now you are something of an attraction. In spite of all the disadvantages placed upon you, you have managed not only to Defend yourself, but to make a name for yourself here in the arena. It is unclear whether the crowds that fill the seats of the stadium are here to support you, or just to say that they were there the night you finally fail.
Regardless, fame, or possibly infamy, has its advantages. You have caught the notice of a very influential party. They promised you your freedom In exchange for you putting your very unique talents to good use… soon, you will leave this life of constant Peril for another. Will it be any safer, you wonder? Probably not. Either way, “The Barehand Butcher” has proved time and again that they’re more than a match for whatever is thrown at them.
This character concept relies on utilizing feats and class features to make your fighter an effective unarmed combatant. It benefits from a little multiclassing, so it may be more fun to play this class in a campaign where you start at sixth level or so. This should reflect all the combat you’ve seen in the pits.
First, we need to make sure the Barehand Butcher is a Half-orc fighter. The Relentless Endurance trait we get from that race will help us outlast our opponents, since we’re going to be in melee with them. Savage Attacks will also help us outpace them in terms of damage.
We’re going to take the Unarmed fighting style from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything at level two, making our fists and feet deal 1d8 bludgeoning damage so we don’t fall behind on damage. At third level, we choose the Battle Master archetype so we can outmaneuver our enemies, selecting the Trip Attack, Disarming Attack, and Menacing Attack maneuvers. These choices will each add to our damage when we attack while also disadvantaging our opponents, but importantly don’t require our bonus actions or reactions.
As you progress in levels, consider taking a few levels of either barbarian or monk. They both unlock a version of Unarmored Defense at level 1, which is important for our character concept. One or the other may be preferable depending on whether your Constitution or Wisdom is higher. Barbarians also get Rage at level one, which will greatly extend your survivability, and unlock Reckless Attacks at level two which will practically ensure you hit your target with your blows. Meanwhile Monks get access to Martial Arts which will add to the number of attacks you can make each turn, and get access to Ki Points at level two which will let you attack even more! If you’re feeling especially frisky, you could take two levels in each and really make your gladiator a force to be reckoned with!
For future feats as you level up, look at Sentinel (to make sure your enemies stay close), Crusher (to deal more damage more often with your strikes), Mobile (to duck and dodge your way through a battlefield), Tavern Brawler (to grapple targets more often and more easily), or Tough (to survive the worst your enemies can throw at you). Also choose other Battle Maneuvers like Grappling Strike, Lunging Attack, Goading Attack, and Ambush to keep your opponents on the back foot.
While other fighters need time to get dressed before a fight, have equipment maintenance, are noisy and cumbersome in a fight, and are at a loss without their full regalia, the Barehand Butcher is ready to break the backs of their opponents whenever and wherever they are!
You’ve seen many great warriors fall on the battlefield by charging recklessly and foolishly into battles they could not, and did not, win. Putting oneself in danger is not a requirement of dealing death to one’s enemies. A well-placed arrow can send a man to his maker just as easily as a sword, and when it comes to placing arrows well, you’re the best there is.
Your teacher taught you long ago to learn your enemy’s weaknesses and exploit them. This is the one and only path to total victory. An enemy’s limitations are your strengths. And the greatest limitation of all is their effective range. Whether swords, axes, crossbows, spells, or even the bows of lesser archers are against you, they cannot harm if you if they cannot reach you. So you have trained tirelessly to kill at long range.
An Archer is often inconvenienced by the terrain. A Target May have plenty of cover from their attackers, whether by coincidence or design. Bystanders, combatants, trees, even architecture can complicate a shot. End while you are a master at threading the needle between such obstructions to hit your target, it is all the sweeter when you can remove those inconveniences entirely by flying above your prey where there is no hindrance. Attacking from these unexpected angles, especially when hiding yourself in the light of the Blazing Sun, so that your enemies cannot see you clearly, is and especially effective and satisfying tactic.
Your unerring accuracy, as well as your avian anatomy, has earned you the nickname “Hawkeye” among your peers. Such titles don’t concern you, but the respect and subtle fear with which they speak it is satisfying to hear.
As you likely guessed, this build is for an Aarakocra fighter. Their ability to fly completely changes the face of ranged combat, even before we start delving into class features. The ability to rain down arrows on creatures or groups who didn’t bring any ranged options to the fight with absolute impunity cannot be understated. “Those who live by the sword, die by the bow.”
Early doors, make sure you take the Archery Fighting Style. This boost to your ranged attack rolls is going to pay dividends all the way to level 20! Then choose the Champion martial archetype. You’re going to be hitting hard and often, so we want that Improved Critical! After you unlock a second fighting Style, spend it on either Protection (even though we don’t plan on getting hit that often, our AC can use some help since Aarakocra cannot fly in medium or heavy armor) or Superior Technique (Precision Attack will be useful to us later).
Take the Sharpshooter feat as soon as possible! Being able to use your bow at its maximum range is essential to playing this sniper effectively and for keeping you out of harm’s way. Ignoring cover is a plus, and we’re going to get good use out of the increased damage feature of the feat! Also pick up the Piercer feat to deal even more damage when you crit, which we will be doing more often as a Champion! Skulker will also help make sure that the shots you take while hiding don’t give away your position on the off chance you miss.
Of course making a hawk-themed Aarakocra fighter will only add to the flavor of this concept, as will outfitting your character with specialty arrows. Talk to your DM about allowing you to tie a packet of the Dust of Sneezing and Coughing to one of your arrows! Or a flask of alchemist's fire! or, if it’s a slapstick campaign, go for classics like a boxing glove or a crème pie!
Your life hasn’t been an easy one. You’ve been denied things others took for granted, and are tired of the “haves” looking down on you and the other “have nots.” Now, you’re getting yours… and you’ve got six friends who’ve helped you level the playing field against anyone who stands in your way.
Why does the word “outlaw” sound so derogatory? Folks have in-laws, and you reckon they’re just as hated as you, after all. You didn’t set out to become feared and reviled, you just wanted what everyone else had, and were willing to do whatever it took to get it. But as a disadvantaged pauper, you know that climbing society’s ladder isn’t as easy as it looks when the ladder is missing several rungs at the bottom. The only way to survive, let alone get ahead in life, was to take risks… and to take what others had and make it your own.
Despite your young age, you’ve managed to best the odds more than once thanks to your wit, spirit, and… well, your guns! Your pistols are free from their holsters and smoking before most longswords clear their scabbards, bullets tear through plate armor like butter, and your rifle can put a man down quicker than any bow and arrow. You’ve practiced with them so much that your hands feel naked without them, and you can make good use of them at any range!
Your enemies underestimate you because of your age, but they never do it for long. If your accomplishments don’t change their minds, your bullets will.
This concept works best for a variant human, which will allow you to take the Gunner feat at first level. Proficiency in firearms is pretty important to the concept, after all. And there will be some similarities with the previous concept, given they both rely on ranged weapons. The Archery fighting style is a must, and you’ll want the sharpshooter feat at fourth level!
With your DM’s permission for use in their game, Critical Role’s unofficial Gunslinger Martial Archetype will pay big dividends for you, especially since the Gunner feat will allow you to void the loading property of the weapons listed there! Grit and Trickshots mimic the abilities offered by the Battle Master’s maneuvers, but are more focused on being useful to someone looking to embody a more “wild west” character.
Other feats to take as you level up are the Piercer feat (its virtues already listed above) and the Dual Wielder feat if you like the idea of dual-wielding pistols. The Lucky feat may also prevent you from misfiring as often, ensuring that your turns are spent attacking and not repairing.
Mess with the bull, you get the horns. Mess with The Kid, and you'll regret it for the rest of your life… about a second, if you’re lucky.
Your Fiercest Fighters
Did anything in this weeks’ article inspire you? What are some of your favorite character concepts and/ or builds for a fighter in D&D 5e? Be sure to comment and share them, or tag us on our socials and share your thoughts!
Rob Franklin (@thedndwannabe) has been a Dungeon Master for many years, and has a deep passion for roleplaying games. He runs the MistyMountainStreaming channel on Twitch, our Misty Mountain Gaming YouTube channel, and is cohost of the Bardic Twinspiration D&D podcast. He also enjoys bourbon, From Software games, and his dog Bigby.