An armored man with a shield.

Collective Effort by Eric Deschamps

Last time, we started through the fighter’s 10 subclasses. Now, we wrap up that journey. As a reminder, there are three main categories I am looking at as I judge the power level of each subclass: combat strength, allowance for a range of powerful builds, and how it interacts with multiclassing. So, let’s finish up the fighter with the final five entries.

5. Psi Warrior

A goateed mage throwing mirrored shards.
Niko Aris by Winona Nelson

One of the fighters introduced in Tasha’s, the Psi Warrior is slow to start but has some useful mid- and late-level features.

Level 3 – Psionic Power

You harbor a wellspring of psionic energy within yourself. This energy is represented by your Psionic Energy dice, which are each a d6. You have a number of these dice equal to twice your proficiency bonus, and they fuel various psionic powers you have, which are detailed below.

Some of your powers expend the Psionic Energy die they use, as specified in a power’s description, and you can’t use a power if it requires you to use a die when your dice are all expended. You regain all your expended Psionic Energy dice when you finish a long rest. In addition, as a bonus action, you can regain one expended Psionic Energy die, but you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

When you reach certain levels in this class, the size of your Psionic Energy dice increases: at 5th level (d8), 11th level (d10), and 17th level (d12).

The powers below use your Psionic Energy dice.

Protective Field. When you or another creature you can see within 30 feet of you takes damage, you can use your reaction to expend one Psionic Energy die, roll the die, and reduce the damage taken by the number rolled plus your Intelligence modifier (minimum reduction of 1), as you create a momentary shield of telekinetic force.

Psionic Strike. You can propel your weapons with psionic force. Once on each of your turns, immediately after you hit a target within 30 feet of you with an attack and deal damage to it with a weapon, you can expend one Psionic Energy die, rolling it and dealing force damage to the target equal to the number rolled plus your Intelligence modifier.

Telekinetic Movement. You can move an object or a creature with your mind. As an action, you target one loose object that is Large or smaller or one willing creature, other than yourself. If you can see the target and it is within 30 feet of you, you can move it up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space you can see. Alternatively, if it is a Tiny object, you can move it to or from your hand. Either way, you can move the target horizontally, vertically, or both. Once you take this action, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest, unless you expend a Psionic Energy die to take it again.

This is the core of the Psi Warrior subclass, and at this point it isn’t great. At level 3 the fighter only has four Psionic Energy dice, and none of their uses impress me. The damage reduction from Protective Field is already bad by 3rd level, as is the damage increase from Psionic Strike. Both of these abilities also key off of intelligence, which is a very weak stat unless you are a wizard or artificer.

At this point Telekinetic Movement is probably the most powerful, as it allows you to “teleport” members of your party 30 feet 4 times per short/long rest. This will be most helpful with exploration and traversal,* as the full action to use this option limits its combat viability.

Level 7 – Telekinetic Adept

Psi-Powered Leap. As a bonus action, you can propel your body with your mind. You gain a flying speed equal to twice your walking speed until the end of the current turn. Once you take this bonus action, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest, unless you expend a Psionic Energy die to take it again.

Telekinetic Thrust. When you deal damage to a target with your Psionic Strike, you can force the target to make a Strength saving throw against a DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier. If the save fails, you can knock the target prone or move it up to 10 feet in any direction horizontally.

The ability to gain flight speed for a turn is nice, albeit so limited it probably won’t matter much. The stronger part of this ability is Telekinetic Thrust, attaching a save-or-prone effect to Psionic Strike. Unfortunately this targets strength and is based on intelligence, but it doesn’t cost anything extra to use this ability if we’re already using Psionic Strike.

Level 10 – Guarded Mind

You have resistance to psychic damage. Moreover, if you start your turn charmed or frightened, you can expend a Psionic Energy die and end every effect on yourself subjecting you to those conditions.

Damage resistances are always good, even rare ones like psychic. The ability to end the charmed or frightened effect on ourselves for the low cost of a single Psionic Energy die is very good and solves a major problem many fighters face when dealing with things like a dragon’s fear aura.

Level 15 – Bulwark of Force

As a bonus action, you can choose creatures, which can include you, that you can see within 30 feet of you, up to a number of creatures equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of one creature). Each of the chosen creatures is protected by half cover for 1 minute or until you’re incapacitated.

Once you take this bonus action, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest, unless you expend a Psionic Energy die to take it again.

A great defensive buff to the fighter and their party. Half cover grants a +2 to AC and dexterity saving throws, and the Psi Warrior can do this as a bonus action up to 10 times per short/long rest. Linking the number of protected creatures to intelligence does mean that a high-level Psi Warrior has to waste some of their stat allocations on an otherwise bad choice, but the payoff is good.

Level 18 – Telekinetic Master

You can cast the telekinesis spell, requiring no components, and your spellcasting ability for the spell is Intelligence. On each of your turns while you concentrate on the spell, including the turn when you cast it, you can make one attack with a weapon as a bonus action.

Once you cast the spell with this feature, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest, unless you expend a Psionic Energy die to cast it again.

This is a fun feature that encourages creativity from the Psi Warrior’s player. Even with the bonus action attack, I doubt it’ll be worth giving up two to three attacks to cast this spell unless there’s a cliff handy to drop enemies off of. However, telekinesis has a lot of noncombat uses that increase this ability’s overall power.

Given this subclass’s reliance on intelligence, I wonder if there’s some potential multiclassing that can be done with the Battle Smith artificer to really lean into an intelligence-based fighter. Even for a more traditional build, the Psi warrior offers decent (if not spectacular) options, earning it fifth place.

4. Battle Master

A man placing pieces on a map.
Ampryn Tactician by Cynthia Sheppard

For many years the general consensus was that Battle Master was the best subclass option. That wasn’t true when 5E released, and it certainly isn’t true with all the new subclass options introduced since. That doesn’t mean the Battle Master is bad, but it does suffer from a lack of features and feature scaling.

Level 3 – Student of War

You gain proficiency with one type of artisan’s tools of your choice.

Tool proficiencies are about as weak as features come, so thankfully this isn’t the only thing the Battle Master gets.

Level 3 – Combat Superiority

You learn maneuvers that are fueled by special dice called superiority dice.

Maneuvers. You learn three maneuvers of your choice, which are listed under “Maneuvers” below. Many maneuvers enhance an attack in some way. You can use only one maneuver per attack.

You learn two additional maneuvers of your choice at 7th, 10th, and 15th level. Each time you learn new maneuvers, you can also replace one maneuver you know with a different one.

Superiority Dice. You have four superiority dice, which are d8s. A superiority die is expended when you use it. You regain all of your expended superiority dice when you finish a short or long rest.

You gain another superiority die at 7th level and one more at 15th level.

Saving Throws. Some of your maneuvers require your target to make a saving throw to resist the maneuver’s effects. The saving throw DC is calculated as follows:
Maneuver save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice)

The fact that this is its own feature when it doesn’t function without Maneuvers is weird to me. As we cover those Maneuvers in a moment, the only thing I’d like to touch on here is how nice it is that Maneuver saving throws are based on the Battle Master’s strength or dexterity, significantly better than the intelligence Psi Warriors are stuck with.

Level 3 – Maneuvers

Ambush. When you make a Dexterity (Stealth) check or an initiative roll, you can expend one superiority die and add the die to the roll, provided you aren’t incapacitated.

Bait and Switch. When you’re within 5 feet of a creature on your turn, you can expend one superiority die and switch places with that creature, provided you spend at least 5 feet of movement and the creature is willing and isn’t incapacitated. This movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks.

Roll the superiority die. Until the start of your next turn, you or the other creature (your choice) gains a bonus to AC equal to the number rolled.

Brace. When a creature you can see moves into the reach you have with the melee weapon you’re wielding, you can use your reaction to expend one superiority die and make one attack against the creature, using that weapon. If the attack hits, add the superiority die to the weapon’s damage roll.

Commander’s Strike.When you take the Attack action on your turn, you can forgo one of your attacks and use a bonus action to direct one of your companions to strike. When you do so, choose a friendly creature who can see or hear you and expend one superiority die. That creature can immediately use its reaction to make one weapon attack, adding the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.

Commanding Presence. When you make a Charisma (Intimidation), a Charisma (Performance), or a Charisma (Persuasion) check, you can expend one superiority die and add the superiority die to the ability check.

Disarming Attack. 

When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to attempt to disarm the target, forcing it to drop one item of your choice that it’s holding. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll, and the target must make a Strength saving throw. On a failed save, it drops the object you choose. The object lands at its feet.

Distracting Strike.

When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to distract the creature, giving your allies an opening. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll. The next attack roll against the target by an attacker other than you has advantage if the attack is made before the start of your next turn.

Evasive Footwork.

When you move, you can expend one superiority die, rolling the die and adding the number rolled to your AC until you stop moving.

Feinting Attack.

You can expend one superiority die and use a bonus action on your turn to feint, choosing one creature within 5 feet of you as your target. You have advantage on your next attack roll this turn against that creature. If that attack hits, add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.

The advantage is lost if not used on the turn you gain it.

Goading Attack.When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to attempt to goad the target into attacking you. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll, and the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the target has disadvantage on all attack rolls against targets other than you until the end of your next turn.

Grappling Strike. Immediately after you hit a creature with a melee attack on your turn, you can expend one superiority die and then try to grapple the target as a bonus action (see the Player’s Handbook for rules on grappling). Add the superiority die to your Strength (Athletics) check.

Lunging Attack.

When you make a melee weapon attack on your turn, you can expend one superiority die to increase your reach for that attack by 5 feet. If you hit, you add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.

Maneuvering Attack.

When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to maneuver one of your comrades into a more advantageous position. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll, and you choose a friendly creature who can see or hear you. That creature can use its reaction to move up to half its speed without provoking opportunity attacks from the target of your attack.

Menacing Attack.

When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to attempt to frighten the target. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll, and the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, it is frightened of you until the end of your next turn.

Parry. When another creature damages you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction and expend one superiority die to reduce the damage by the number you roll on your superiority die + your Dexterity modifier.

Precision Attack. When you make a weapon attack roll against a creature, you can expend one superiority die to add it to the roll. You can use this maneuver before or after making the attack roll, but before any effects of the attack are applied.

Pushing Attack. When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to attempt to drive the target back. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll, and if the target is Large or smaller, it must make a Strength saving throw. On a failed save, you push the target up to 15 feet away from you.

Quick Toss. As a bonus action, you can expend one superiority die and make a ranged attack with a weapon that has the thrown property. You can draw the weapon as part of making this attack. If you hit, add the superiority die to the weapon’s damage roll.

Rally. On your turn, you can use a bonus action and expend one superiority die to bolster the resolve of one of your companions. When you do so, choose a friendly creature who can see or hear you. That creature gains temporary hit points equal to the superiority die roll + your Charisma modifier.

Riposte. When a creature misses you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction and expend one superiority die to make a melee weapon attack against the creature. If you hit, you add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.

Sweeping Attack. When you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to attempt to damage another creature with the same attack. Choose another creature within 5 feet of the original target and within your reach. If the original attack roll would hit the second creature, it takes damage equal to the number you roll on your superiority die. The damage is of the same type dealt by the original attack.

Tactical Assessment. When you make an Intelligence (Investigation), an Intelligence (History), or a Wisdom (Insight) check, you can expend one superiority die and add the superiority die to the ability check.

Trip Attack. When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to attempt to knock the target down. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll, and if the target is Large or smaller, it must make a Strength saving throw. On a failed save, you knock the target prone.

This must be the most text-heavy feature I’ve covered so far; no wonder they split it in two. There are some very solid options here, especially at level 3. Trip and Menacing Attack add a decent amount of damage on top of valuable secondary effects.

Unfortunately, there are two major problems with these Maneuvers. The first is one I’ve already mentioned when talking about the Arcane Archer, and that is diminishing returns. Because there are no level-restricted Maneuver options, players will pick the best options for their character at level 3, and every other selection will include less and less useful options.

The other issue is, given how these Maneuvers are the only real feature this subclass gets, the Battle Master has far too few superiority dice. With a maximum of six dice, a fighter can burn through every die they have with Action Surge even at low levels. If the subclass got something else, this wouldn’t be such a major issue, but once the Battle Master is out of superiority dice, it essentially doesn’t have a subclass.

Thankfully, both of these issues don’t become a major problem until mid and high levels, making this feature excellent at lower levels of play where many campaigns take place.

Level 7 – Additional Maneuvers

You learn two additional maneuvers of your choice.

Given the sheer number of Maneuvers, there are probably two more that most players will be excited to get, but the feature and subclass is already losing a lot of its relative strength.

Level 7 – Additional Superiority Die

You gain another superiority die.

The number of superiority dice should probably be linked to twice the proficiency bonus, like the Psi Warrior. This would also leave room for more real subclass features.

Level 7 – Know Your Enemy

If you spend at least 1 minute observing or interacting with another creature outside combat, you can learn certain information about its capabilities compared to your own. The DM tells you if the creature is your equal, superior, or inferior in regard to two of the following characteristics of your choice:

  • Strength score
  • Dexterity score
  • Constitution score
  • Armor Class
  • Current hit points
  • Total class levels (if any)
  • Fighter class levels (if any)

This is not one of those real subclass features, sadly. Most of the information this ability can tell you is useless for the majority of enemies in 5E. The most egregious of these options are the two involving class levels, something no monster will have without extra work from the GM.

Learning if a target’s AC is higher than yours is probably the most useful, but only if you plan to fight them, and this feature can’t be used in combat. An ability that does little even when it works, Know Your Enemy is awful.

Level 10 – Additional Maneuvers

You learn two additional maneuvers of your choice.

Maneuver’s strength is now seriously dropping off, and it doesn’t get better.

Level 10 – Improved Combat Superiority (d10)

Your superiority dice turn into d10s.

An average increase of one to each Maneuver roll does little to fix the problems this subclass has at higher levels.

Level 15 – Additional Maneuvers

You learn two additional maneuvers of your choice.

More options was weak at level 10, and it’s even worse at level 15.

Level 15 – Additional Superiority Die

You gain another superiority die.

Six dice per short/long rest is simply not enough at this level. Most optimized fighters will be making four attacks per round, bumping up to seven with Action Surge. If a fight lasts for four rounds, that’s 16 attacks made with only six maneuvers that can be applied. Even in a game with short rests between every fight,* the vast majority of the Battle Master’s attacks at this level will be made with no improvements.

Level 15 – Relentless

When you roll initiative and have no superiority dice remaining, you regain 1 superiority die.

There are a lot of abilities like this sprinkled throughout 5E, and I seriously dislike how all of them punish players for trying to conserve resources. Yes, it is nice to have at least one superiority die each combat, but it also encourages the fighter to burn through their supply as fast as possible so they get at least some benefit.

Level 18 – Improved Combat Superiority (d12)

 Your superiority dice turn into d12s.

Another very sad fighter capstone.

The Battle Master earns its place on this list thanks to its strong showing at the earlier levels of play where most campaigns take place. At those lower levels, this is a solid fighter subclass that will feel impactful. However, if I were to shift the focus of this list to post-level 6, the Battle Master would drop significantly. The master of the early game takes fourth place.

3. Echo Knight

A man staring in fear at a clone of himself.
Clone by Kev Walker

A lot of the 5E content creators I follow talked the Echo Knight up whenever they covered the subclass, with some declaring it the best fighter subclass. While I obviously don’t agree with that exact power ranking, I do think the Echo Knight is a solid subclass, especially for those who enjoy the tactical side of the game.

Level 3 – Manifest Echo

You can use a bonus action to magically manifest an echo of yourself in an unoccupied space you can see within 15 feet of you. This echo is a magical, translucent, gray image of you that lasts until it is destroyed, until you dismiss it as a bonus action, until you manifest another echo, or until you’re incapacitated.

Your echo has AC 14 + your proficiency bonus, 1 hit point, and immunity to all conditions. If it has to make a saving throw, it uses your saving throw bonus for the roll. It is the same size as you, and it occupies its space. On your turn, you can mentally command the echo to move up to 30 feet in any direction (no action required). If your echo is ever more than 30 feet from you at the end of your turn, it is destroyed.

You can use the echo in the following ways:

  • As a bonus action, you can teleport, magically swapping places with your echo at a cost of 15 feet of your movement, regardless of the distance between the two of you.
  • When you take the Attack action on your turn, any attack you make with that action can originate from your space or the echo’s space. You make this choice for each attack.
  • When a creature that you can see within 5 feet of your echo moves at least 5 feet away from it, you can use your reaction to make an opportunity attack against that creature as if you were in the echo’s space.

This feature has received the majority of the focus, and for good reason. Any time a feature has unlimited uses, it needs to be closely examined to make sure its effects don’t run wild when there are no limiters placed on them. This ability passes this test.

The flexibility in movement and areas of threat is cool and unique, especially for martial classes. Being able to threaten opportunity attacks pairs well with effects like the Sentinel feat, forcing creatures to disperse the echo before being allowed to safely move. This effect does lose some of its power as monsters gain more attacks and spending one to kill the echo is a minor annoyance.

As a final thought on this feature, I’d like to correct a couple misconceptions I’ve seen during discussions about the Echo Knight. First, the echo cannot be used to trigger flanking rules,* as it’s not a creature like a familiar is. Secondly, there are no rules for the echo distracting enemies or having any sort of misdirection mechanic. This feature works just fine without adding more effects than it already has.

Level 3 – Unleash Incarnation

Whenever you take the Attack action, you can make one additional melee attack from the echo’s position.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Constitution modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

This is a nice early-game damage boost that keeps the Echo Knight competitive in its damage output. The feature does fall off later as between one and five extra attacks per long rest becomes less powerful at higher levels, but it’s always good to have.

Level 7 – Echo Avatar

As an action, you can see through your echo’s eyes and hear through its ears. During this time, you are deafened and blinded. You can sustain this effect for up to 10 minutes, and you can end it at any time (requires no action). While your echo is being used in this way, it can be up to 1,000 feet away from you without being destroyed.

This is another feature I’ve seen discussed a lot. Many look at this as risk-free exploration that goes as far as ruining an entire pillar of the game. The idea is that the Echo Knight uses their echo to scout entire dungeons with no risk to themselves. However, there are a couple issues with that. The first is that any character with the Find Familiar spell has been doing something similar as early as level 1 since 5E came out.

The second is that, while it’s true that the echo can now be moved around at great ranges, it still can’t go through doors or walls and can’t manipulate objects to open said doors. Of course the fighter could quickly swap places with the echo to open a door in its way, but now the fighter is exposing themself to danger, even briefly. The echo also can’t sneak, meaning the first enemy it runs into can just kill it.

None of this is to say this feature is bad. I think it’s a cool scouting feature normally not available to fighters, but when a 1st-level spell can do as well or better, I don’t think this ability is overpowered.

Level 10 – Shadow Martyr

You can make your echo throw itself in front of an attack directed at another creature that you can see. Before the attack roll is made, you can use your reaction to teleport the echo to an unoccupied space within 5 feet of the targeted creature. The attack roll that triggered the reaction is instead made against your echo.

Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

This ability is odd in how incredibly limited its uses are. It’s especially weird given that the echo itself has unlimited uses. Personally, I’d link this to proficiency or at least constitution like Unleash Incarnation is. As is, the limit on this feature’s usage leaves it feeling very weak.

Level 15 – Reclaim Potential

When an echo of yours is destroyed by taking damage, you can gain a number of temporary hit points equal to 2d6 + your Constitution modifier, provided you don’t already have temporary hit points.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Constitution modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Another middling ability, although at least this time it can be used more than once per rest. It’s very strange that the temporary hit points from this feature don’t trigger if you already have temp HP when there are already rules for overwriting one source of temp HP with another.

Level 18 – Legion of One

You can use a bonus action to create two echoes with your Manifest Echo feature, and these echoes can coexist. If you try to create a third echo, the previous two echoes are destroyed. Anything you can do from one echo’s position can be done from the other’s instead.

In addition, when you roll initiative and have no uses of your Unleash Incarnation feature left, you regain one use of that feature.

Both of these features are nice, if minor, bonuses. A second echo increases the Echo Knight’s flexibility even further, although a more direct power boost would be nice at this level.

This subclass is not one I would recommend unless you have a specific plan for how to use its Manifest Echo feature. When properly used, it can bring a lot to the fighter both in and out of combat, but for those uninterested in that heavy tactical and scouting role, I think the subclass will feel underwhelming. Third place to the echo.*

2. Rune Knight

A shield with runes.
Rune of Sustenance by Yeong-Hao Han

Given the popularity of runes in games like the Diablo franchise, I’m surprised it took Wizards of the Coast this long to make a subclass based around them. While I don’t think the Rune Knight fully hits the mark, it is a powerful fighter option.

Level 3 – Bonus Proficiencies

You gain proficiency with smith’s tools, and you learn to speak, read, and write Giant.

A strong thematic feature with little mechanical value, this is a nice pairing with the real 3rd-level features.

Level 3 – Rune Carver

You learn two runes of your choice, from among the runes described below, and each time you gain a level in this class, you can replace one rune you know with a different one from this feature. When you reach certain levels in this class, you learn additional runes, as shown in the Runes Known table.

Whenever you finish a long rest, you can touch a number of objects equal to the number of runes you know, and you inscribe a different rune onto each of the objects. To be eligible, an object must be a weapon, a suit of armor, a shield, a piece of jewelry, or something else you can wear or hold in a hand. Your rune remains on an object until you finish a long rest, and an object can bear only one of your runes at a time.

Runes Known
Fighter Level Number of Runes
3rd 2
7th 3
10th 4
15th 5

The following runes are available to you when you learn a rune. If a rune has a level requirement, you must be at least that level in this class to learn the rune. If a rune requires a saving throw, your Rune Magic save DC equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution modifier.

Cloud Rune. This rune emulates the deceptive magic used by some cloud giants. While wearing or carrying an object inscribed with this rune, you have advantage on Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) checks and Charisma (Deception) checks.
In addition, when you or a creature you can see within 30 feet of you is hit by an attack roll, you can use your reaction to invoke the rune and choose a different creature within 30 feet of you, other than the attacker. The chosen creature becomes the target of the attack, using the same roll. This magic can transfer the attack’s effects regardless of the attack’s range. Once you invoke this rune, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

Fire Rune. This rune’s magic channels the masterful craftsmanship of great smiths. While wearing or carrying an object inscribed with this rune, your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses your proficiency with a tool.

In addition, when you hit a creature with an attack using a weapon, you can invoke the rune to summon fiery shackles: the target takes an extra 2d6 fire damage, and it must succeed on a Strength saving throw or be restrained for 1 minute. While restrained by the shackles, the target takes 2d6 fire damage at the start of each of its turns. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, banishing the shackles on a success. Once you invoke this rune, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

Frost Rune. This rune’s magic evokes the might of those who survive in the wintry wilderness, such as frost giants. While wearing or carrying an object inscribed with this rune, you have advantage on Wisdom (Animal Handling) checks and Charisma (Intimidation) checks.

In addition, you can invoke the rune as a bonus action to increase your sturdiness. For 10 minutes, you gain a +2 bonus to all ability checks and saving throws that use Strength or Constitution. Once you invoke this rune, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

Hill Rune (7th Level or Higher). This rune’s magic bestows a resilience reminiscent of a hill giant. While wearing or carrying an object that bears this rune, you have advantage on saving throws against being poisoned, and you have resistance against poison damage.

In addition, you can invoke the rune as a bonus action, gaining resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage for 1 minute. Once you invoke this rune, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

Stone Rune.

This rune’s magic channels the judiciousness associated with stone giants. While wearing or carrying an object inscribed with this rune, you have advantage on Wisdom (Insight) checks, and you have darkvision out to a range of 120 feet.

In addition, when a creature you can see ends its turn within 30 feet of you, you can use your reaction to invoke the rune and force the creature to make a Wisdom saving throw. Unless the save succeeds, the creature is charmed by you for 1 minute. While charmed in this way, the creature has a speed of 0 and is incapacitated, descending into a dreamy stupor. The creature repeats the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on a success. Once you invoke this rune, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

Storm Rune (7th Level or Higher). Using this rune, you can glimpse the future like a storm giant seer. While wearing or carrying an object inscribed with this rune, you have advantage on Intelligence (Arcana) checks, and you can’t be surprised as long as you aren’t incapacitated.

In addition, you can invoke the rune as a bonus action to enter a prophetic state for 1 minute or until you’re incapacitated. Until the state ends, when you or another creature you can see within 60 feet of you makes an attack roll, a saving throw, or an ability check, you can use your reaction to cause the roll to have advantage or disadvantage. Once you invoke this rune, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

Yay! Wizards learned that level gating fighter options makes gaining more of those options as you level a substantial power boost. It would be even better if there were more high-level rune options though. Getting new options at level 7 is nice, but there are 13 levels after that where there’s nothing new to play with.

Even with that complaint, runes are a massive improvement over how the Battle Master and Arcane Archer are structured. Not only does the Rune Knight get tangible boosts as they level, but each rune has a passive effect so even after it’s been triggered the fighter is gaining some benefit. I do wish the rune’s passive effects were a bit more useful to most fighters. Out of the starting options, the Stone rune is the only passive effect I can see being used by every fighter. Most adventurers will benefit from insight checks, and humans love to get a source of dark vision.

Level 3 – Giant’s Might

As a bonus action, you magically gain the following benefits, which last for 1 minute:

  • If you are smaller than Large, you become Large, along with anything you are wearing. If you lack the room to become Large, your size doesn’t change.
  • You have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
  • Once on each of your turns, one of your attacks with a weapon or an unarmed strike can deal an extra 1d6 damage to a target on a hit.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses of it when you finish a long rest.

On top of a bunch of cool runes, the Rune Knight gets the unique ability to increase its size without using a spell. Size is a bit of a tricky thing in 5E. It can be handy for increasing the number of squares you can threaten on a grid or allowing you to grapple larger enemies, but it can also make maneuvering awkward and force you to use the squeeze rules to fit in five-foot corridors. On the whole I’d say being bigger is a good thing, but be aware of its weaknesses.

Alongside this embiggening comes a damage boost, bonus to a single skill,* and improvements to one of the worst saves. Add all these 3rd-level features together and you have a strong start to this subclass.

Level 7 – Runic Shield

When another creature you can see within 60 feet of you is hit by an attack roll, you can use your reaction to force the attacker to reroll the d20 and use the new roll.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Forcing disadvantage on an attack is a solid use of a reaction on a class that normally doesn’t have much to do with it. The way this is worded also allows Runic Shield to negate any advantage the attack roll had, as it only mentions rerolling a single d20.

Level 7 – Additional Rune Known

You learn an additional Rune.

Finally an instance of “you learn an additional x” that I’m happy to see. Instead of grabbing runes too weak to take the first time around, the Rune Knight now has access to the second tier of runes. The Hill rune is definitely the winner here, granting passive poison resistance and the defense portion of a barbarian’s rage as an active ability. You can even grab both 7th level runes if you don’t mind switching out one of the runes you took earlier, although I don’t know if the Storm rune beats out options like Stone and Cloud.

Level 10 – Great Stature

Roll 3d4. You grow a number of inches in height equal to the roll.

Moreover, the extra damage you deal with your Giant’s Might feature increases to 1d8.

I have no idea why this rolled height increase is in here, but it doesn’t hurt the subclass, so it’s fine. The damage increase here is fine, too, but averages out to only one extra damage per round, so a pretty forgettable feature.

Level 10 – Additional Rune Known

You learn an additional Rune.

This is where I’d personally pick up the Storm rune. Another great thing about the Rune Knight is since the runes don’t share uses, each new rune is an additional use, instead of just being an option like the Battle Master or Arcane Archer.

Level 15 – Master of Runes

You can invoke each rune you know from your Rune Carver feature twice, rather than once, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a short or long rest.

This is a huge boost to the subclass, doubling your number of rune uses. This is especially great with the Hill rune as now you get two pseudo-rages per short rest.

Level 15 – Additional Rune Known

You learn an additional Rune.

This is the worst rune option feature, but even at its worst this is adding more power than the Battle Master and Arcane Archer are getting as early as level 7.

Level 18 – Runic Juggernaut

The extra damage you deal with the Giant’s Might feature increases to 1d10. Moreover, when you use that feature, your size can increase to Huge, and while you are that size, your reach increases by 5 feet.

Now the Rune Knight can grapple a Tarrasque, so that’s cool. If you want to control more of the battlefield and have the space, being huge is a good boost, as on top of the five-foot reach you simply take up more space so enemies have a harder time avoiding you.

The Rune Knight is a powerful subclass and one I’d recommend to anyone looking to play a fighter. My main complaints are I wish there were more runes for high-level play and you could share your runes among your friends, but the Rune Knight still takes second place.

1. Eldritch Knight

A woman with glowing armor.
Ethereal Armor by Daarken

What’s best in 5E? Spells. Which fighter subclass is the best? The one with spells. Perhaps a bit flippant, but it’s true. While every other fighter subclass has major dips in its power progression, the Eldritch Knight is good at all levels.

Level 3 – Spellcasting

Cantrips. You learn two cantrips of your choice from the wizard spell list. You learn an additional wizard cantrip of your choice at 10th level.
Spell Slots. The Eldritch Knight Spellcasting table shows how many spell slots you have to cast your wizard spells of 1st level and higher. To cast one of these spells, you must expend a slot of the spell’s level or higher. You regain all expended spell slots when you finish a long rest.

For example, if you know the 1st-level spell shield and have a 1st-level and a 2nd-level spell slot available, you can cast shield using either slot.

Spells Known of 1st-Level and Higher. You know three 1st-level wizard spells of your choice, two of which you must choose from the abjuration and evocation spells on the wizard spell list.

The Spells Known column of the Eldritch Knight Spellcasting table shows when you learn more wizard spells of 1st level or higher. Each of these spells must be an abjuration or evocation spell of your choice, and must be of a level for which you have spell slots. For instance, when you reach 7th level in this class, you can learn one new spell of 1st or 2nd level.

The spells you learn at 8th, 14th, and 20th level can come from any school of magic.

Whenever you gain a level in this class, you can replace one of the wizard spells you know with another spell of your choice from the wizard spell list. The new spell must be of a level for which you have spell slots, and it must be an abjuration or evocation spell, unless you’re replacing the spell you gained at 3rd, 8th, 14th, or 20th level from any school of magic.

Spellcasting Ability. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for your wizard spells, since you learn your spells through study and memorization. You use your Intelligence whenever a spell refers to your spellcasting ability. In addition, you use your Intelligence modifier when setting the saving throw DC for a wizard spell you cast and when making an attack roll with one.

Spell save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier
Spell attack modifier = your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier

Even with the restriction on spell schools, the Eldritch Knight can pick up Absorb Elements, Find Familiar, and Shield. This gives better defensive options than other fighter subclasses and advantage on one attack per round thanks to the familiar’s help action.

Once they have access to 2nd-level spells, the Eldritch Knight has options like Shadow Blade, which is great for one-handed builds. It can also get Darkness, Fog Cloud, and Pyrotechnics to combine with blind fighting style for all the offensive and defensive bonuses that combo brings.

At higher levels, spells like Haste come online for efficient buffs that take advantage of the fighter’s naturally high AC and constitution saving throws to minimize the risk of losing that concentration. At all levels there’s a host of spell options that allow for unmatched flexibility and strength within the fighter class.

Level 3 – Weapon Bond

You perform the ritual over the course of 1 hour, which can be done during a short rest. The weapon must be within your reach throughout the ritual, at the conclusion of which you touch the weapon and forge the bond.

Once you have bonded a weapon to yourself, you can’t be disarmed of that weapon unless you are incapacitated. If it is on the same plane of existence, you can summon that weapon as a bonus action on your turn, causing it to teleport instantly to your hand.

You can have up to two bonded weapons, but can summon only one at a time with your bonus action. If you attempt to bond with a third weapon, you must break the bond with one of the other two.

This is a mostly flavor feature with little mechanical value. It can be valuable as a means of reusing a magic thrown weapon or sneaking into an area that doesn’t allow weapons, but those are very niche.

Level 7 – War Magic

When you use your action to cast a cantrip, you can make one weapon attack as a bonus action.

If Eldritch Knight doesn’t already have something useful to do with their bonus action, this is a substantial improvement to their extra attack feature, swapping out a normal weapon attack for Booming Blade or Green Flame Blade. For sword/shield fighters, this combo is actually better than the three attacks gained at level 11.

Level 10 – Eldritch Strike

When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, that creature has disadvantage on the next saving throw it makes against a spell you cast before the end of your next turn.

If you plan on using save spells, then this is a good way to make sure they land. Personally, I’ve found that dumping intelligence and relying on spells that don’t care about that stat is the way to go, making this feature almost worthless.

Level 15 – Arcane Charge

You gain the ability to teleport up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space you can see when you use your Action Surge. You can teleport before or after the additional action.

A Misty Step tied to Action Surge is a nice, if minor, bonus. Like most of this subclass’s features, the real power is in the additional spells gained as the fighter increases in level.

Level 18 – Improved War Magic

When you use your action to cast a spell, you can make one weapon attack as a bonus action.

Now the Eldritch Knight can still deal some damage on their spell setup turn. I still wouldn’t call this ability great, but as I mentioned, the spells are why we’re really here.

It’s odd to me that many people who acknowledge that spells are the strongest options in 5E severely underrate this subclass. Is the Eldritch Knight better than full casters or a well-built paladin? No, but then again the same can be said of any fighter. Whether we like it or not, Wizards has placed more power in spellcasting than martial options, and tapping into that power is one of the best things a martial class can do. First place goes to the Eldritch Knight.


I’m a big fan of fighters. They bring a solid amount of power to the table without the risk of outshining the rest of the party. They also make a great choice for players that want to be a monoclassed martial character. Something like the paladin is significantly weaker without a level of Hexblade, but the fighter does its thing just fine without any outside assistance.

I have also created a tier list for those of you who are interested.

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