A fighter might be bland, but thankfully it’s a malleable class. Unfortunately for the player that wants to be a fighter, he doesn’t have the in-game versatility of the spellcasting classes: they can rest, change their spells and essentially be an almost completely different character - their feat and prestige class selection might not be subject to change, but what mostly deals with enemies and helps their teammates is their spells. To make an analogy, a fighter is like cement: you can work with it at first, but once it hardens it’s generally too difficult to make drastic changes; on the other hand, classes that generally rely on spells are like plasteline clay: their attribute (which is basically their color) remains the same, but you can shape it as you wish.
So, since you decided to play a fighter, the best thing that you can do in order to be successful and actually help your party is to come prepared; study the builds of your party members and find out the weak spots; try to fill them in. This is actually a tricky process, since you won’t generally have full knowledge of the builds while you’re making your own, so you’ll have to rely, at least partially, to previous experiences that you had with your friends. You can also get important information that can influence your build choices by your in-game battles, so make sure to keep a few notes when during an encounter something really bad happens to you or to a teammate that could prove to be disastrous to the party.
I felt the urge to write a few words on this subject, mainly because I’ve many times experienced players that make their builds independently of their party. I’ve also heard players stating that they don’t want to play spellcasting classes, because they have a lot of bookkeeping. While that is generally true, this doesn’t mean that fighters don’t have bookkeeping to do; a spellcaster memorizes or selects spells trying to cover as many threats as possible, which is what a fighter should also do - the threats are the same, the only thing that changes is the means they employ in order to deal with them: one has spells, the other has special abilities and weapons. During character creation your cement isn’t dry yet, so you can make any changes you like; try to work with it in order to fit your team best, don’t let it dry and then regret your choices.
Since you already decided that the bulk of your levels will be spent in the fighter class, naturally, you want to be able to use weapons as your main source of damage. This is perfectly fine and there are many different combat styles that you can specialize in that deal a lot of damage. However, you need to remember that there are many ways in order to avoid or be immune to physical attacks; this guide will expand on hitting hard with your favorite weapons or styles, while tackling the subject of what you will actually do when your weapons prove worthless versus your enemies.
The fighter is a class that’s deceptively MAD. At first glance they look like they don’t need multiple statistics, but that’s not the case, as all attributes are beneficial, maybe with the exception of Charisma, which is optional.
However, not all of the statistics need to be kept high. An average starting score in all attributes will serve most fighter builds fine. If the game you are playing a fighter in uses point buy, then make every bit of them count; even with 28 points, you can allocate 14/14/14 in your physical scores, a 14 in your primary mental stat and 10 in the other two.
Spellcasters dump as many points as they can in their primary mental attribute because it gives them extra spells per day and it increases their spell DC. These two abilities are not easily replicated through items or class abilities. Even when you encounter them, they are often difficult to acquire. On the other hand, a fighter can easily get bonuses to hit and to damage, which is analogous to increasing his primary combat atttribute.
What I mention above applies mainly to character creation. After this process you will most certainly try to make the most out of your primary combat attribute using level up bonuses and items, as well as independent boosts to your to hit score and damage.
What people think it’s useful for: melee attack rolls.
What it is actually useful for: damage.
Strength boosts your attack rolls when using melee weapons. Because of this fact, it’s often mistakenly associated with the key attribute of melee combat. In reality, strength is able to boost the damage of pretty much any combat style: ranged (through composite bows), throwing weapons and melee. This is true even for dual wielding builds, which are traditionally dexterity based. Granted, you are getting only one half of your strength bonus on off-hand attacks, so it’s not the best option, but it works.
We have established that you will have to invest in strength to have a cheap and readily available damage source with virtually any weapon. Now the question that you need to ponder on while planning your melee fighter build is if you want to have strength as your main combat attribute. Strength is straightforward, meaning that it won’t bother you and it will just work. You won’t need to rely on feats or class features like Weapon Finesse to switch to another attribute for melee fighting. You will be able to boost it easily with low level spells like enlarge person and fist of stone.
Strength is also useful because it contributes to strength checks and most of the special attacks: bull rush, overrun and trip. Even if you don’t want to use these maneuvers, having a good strength score will provide you some bonus if you are defending against them, as most of them are opposed checks.
As a final note, because of the way that carrying capacity works, strength is an attribute that gives you a marginal benefit even when it’s not even.
What people think it’s useful for: ranged attack rolls.
What it is actually useful for: combat reflexes.
Dexterity is going to be used as your main combat attribute when using ranged weapons like bows, crossbows and throwing axes. The trouble that these builds have is that they need to invest in strength, or they need another source of extra damage like specific feats, such as crossbow sniper or dead eye.
Dexterity increases reflex saves, armor class and touch armor class. The most important of these stats is touch armor class, which is difficult to increase through items and abilities. I am conflicted about its actual usefulness beyond a certain level, though, because it’s far easier to increase attack rolls that it is to increase touch armor class.
Dexterity is a requirement for many different feats, especially for those that fit in the archery and the two weapon fighting styles. One of the most important of them is the combat reflexes feat from Player’s Handbook. This feat, combined with some of its upgrades (for instance, robilar’s gambit) are the basis for builds that use attacks of opportunity as a source of generating extra attacks per round.
Constitution is important for all characters, especially when you are going to be in melee range. Truth be told, if you select the fighter class, you already have a pretty good hit die and good fortitude saving throws, but almost everyone can spare a 14 in constitution before racial modifiers. Whatever you do, try to keep positive bonuses in your constitution, it’s invaluable.
Intelligence is sneakily useful when planning a fighter build.
The first benefit that it provides is obvious: skill points. Fighters get the lowest number of skill points per level up. If you need skill points to fulfill the requirements of a feat or a prestige class, then plan ahead and if need be, get a 12 or 14 in intelligence.
If you need the combat expertise feat for your build, you’ll have to have a minimum of 13 in intelligence, because that’s its requirement. Since the difference between a 13 and a 14 are formidable, compared to the investment, consider spending an additional point to benefit from the extra skill point.
The purpose of this attribute is to boost your will saving throw, especially early in your career, where you will generally be unable to purchase effective equipment that boosts saving throws.
Whatever you do, spend a couple of points to get wisdom to 10. This way, you won’t be getting any negative modifiers, as starting out with a negative saving throw score is going to be brutal. Races that have penalties to wisdom are extremely rare, so that 10 won’t be reduced by racial modifiers.
Wisdom is the key skill for most of the detection skills: listen, spot and sense motive; these skills are useful for any character, but listen and spot are not class skills for the fighter class.
Some feats, especially the Combat Form line, have wisdom as a requirement, but most of them do not have that much of an impact to have a whole playstyle revolving around them.
Charisma is completely optional, which makes it a prime candidate for dumping. It can provide a couple of interesting abilities to your repertoire, but it’s nothing that you can’t live with.
Demoralize is an option that’s provided by the intimidate skill and it’s an effective tactic against enemies that are not immune to mind-affecting effects. If the demoralize attempt is successful, then the target becomes shaken for 1 round and takes a -2 penalty to almost everything. Additionally, fear effects stack, so demoralize becomes better if other people in your party use the same tactic.
This skill check works even if your charisma score is low; however, ever since the sourcebook Drow of the Underdark was released, the demoralize maneuver was improved dramatically, because of a feat named Imperious Command, which has a requirement of 15 in charisma.
Greater Weapon Focus
Fighter 8,Player’s Handbook
Weapon Focus is actually a useful feat, because there is a large number of other good feats that require it, but the benefit it provides you with is horrendous. Greater Weapon Focus on the other hand is only required for Weapon Supremacy/Greater Weapon Specialization and gives you the same benefit, making it a horrible pick.
Fighter 4,Player’s Handbook
Contrary to popular belief, Weapon Specialization’s power completely depends on the build you’re shooting for and can be anywhere from a complete waste of space to a very good damage source. Extra unconditional damage is always welcome, but a +2 bonus per hit isn’t going to do you much good, unless you pump your attacks per round: an archer can easily get +10 from it per round, but it’s next to nothing compared to a charger’s Power Attack feat as a means for extra damage. It’s not even useful as a requirement filler, because it doesn’t oftenly appear as such, contrary to its little brother, weapon focus. The truth about Weapon Specialization is that its bonuses are useful, but usually you’ve got other priorities and you can definitely live without it.
Greater Weapon Specialization
Fighter 12,Player’s Handbook
Getting a total of +2 to hit and +4 to damage for a total of four feats, is a very bad deal. Like Greater Weapon Focus, the benefits this feat provides are too few and you shouldn’t consider it, unless you’re shooting for Weapon Supremacy.
Melee Weapon Mastery
Fighter 4, BAB +8,Player’s Handbook II
Essentially pick a damage type and gain a +2 untyped bonus to damage and attack rolls with all weapons that deal this kind of damage. Compare it to Greater Weapon Specialization/Greater Weapon Focus which combined give one attack bonus less with just one weapon, contrary to a full category of weapons and you’ll understand why they’re just a feat sink.
Even though this is an average feat, you can optimize it a little bit by using it with weapons like the morningstar, which has two damage types, both as a base (acquiring the feats that are required on a morningstar and then selecting two melee weapon masteries with piercing and slashing) or as a backup (if you have weapon mastery [piercing] you can gain the benefits with a morningstar for instance).
This feat isn’t worth the trouble most of the times; it would definitely be worthwhile if it also gave you the benefits of having Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization for a whole category of weapons (i.e. not only their benefits), in order to cut down the required feats so many [Weapon Style] and [Fighter] feats have.
Ranged Weapon Mastery
Fighter 4, BAB +8,Player’s Handbook II
This feat is exactly the same with Melee Weapon Mastery, but it has the added benefit of increasing the range increment of the weapon by 20ft. Higher range is always welcome when using ranged weapons, especially those thrown weapons that have a small range increment. Also note that it’s generally difficult to boost the damage of missile weapons, contrary to melee weapons (strength bonus and Power Attack), so all damage boosts are more than welcome.
Fighter 4, BAB +14,Player’s Handbook II
From the trio of “weapon category” feats from Player’s Handbook II, I consider this the weaker of the three. The effect can be considered useful if you have a large amount of attacks per round in order to lessen the penalties of your iterative attacks. Unfortunately, the feat explicitly states that the bonuses last until the end of your current round, which rules out attacks of opportunity.
There is a trick that should be mentioned that involves this feat, sometimes combined with Tiger Claw’s “Blood in the Water” stance: if you have Great Cleave (Supreme Cleave works a lot better) and a bag of rats, well, you can use your first iterative attack to kill a rat and kill the rest of the rats with the extra attacks of Great Cleave, giving you a +1 bonus to attack and possibly to damage. Then you can dump the rest of your attacks on your enemies, possibly after taking a 5ft step.
Do note that according to the Player’s Handbook II Errata, this feat is normally a [Fighter] bonus feat.
Fighter 4, BAB +14,Player’s Handbook II
If you favor bull rush, then this is a wonderful feat, as it lets you substitute your total damage bonus in place of your strength modifier when initiating a bull rush; because optimizing your attack damage using Power Attack is generally easy to do, you can get incredibly high bull rush checks and thus be able to push your opponents greater distances than normal and even have them fall prone. The fact that this feat is the piercing-themed, makes this fact weird, as it is more of a bludgeoning type ability.
The feat requires you to use a full-round action and make a just a single attack with a piercing weapon in order to activate it, which is normally not that good, as you are denied of your iterative attacks, but by RAW the charge option works just fine. Shield Slam, a feat which activates when taking a full-round or charge action attacking with your shield, has the ability to stack with Driving Attack, if you use shield spikes; the shield spikes entry states “When added to your shield, these spikes turn it into a martial piercing weapon that increases the damage dealt by a shield bash as if the shield were designed for a creature one size category larger than you. You can’t put spikes on a buckler or a tower shield. Otherwise, attacking with a spiked shield is like making a shield bash attack.”, thus you can get both effects together.
Other effects that have synergy with Driving Attack are: the Dungeoncrusher alternative class feature, the Brutal Strike [Fighter] feat, the Combat Brute [Tactical] feat and the Shock Trooper [Tactical] feat. A great weapon to use with this feat would be the morningstar, because it is both a piercing and bludgeoning weapon. You could for example charge an enemy with a morningstar using both hands, activating heedless charge and going all in for damage; Driving Attack activates in the process and you get a huge bonus to bull rush your opponent, in addition Brutal Strike activates, too, and benefits from your high Power Attack damage bonus. Assuming that you can push your foe back enough, you can activate Dungeoncrusher (you can use Directed Bull Rush in order to make this happen easier) and also set up Advancing Blows (from Combat Brute) for the next round. Getting all these effects together can be quite devastating for enemies, as it can very well leave them sickened, prone and next to a wall away from you, set up for a follow up charge the following round (with additional bonuses from Advancing Blows and Momentum Swing). You could even get Hold the Line and Standstill in order to avoid getting charged in return, if your enemy has the ability to stand as a swift action or you didn’t leave them in a prone position.
Do note that according to the Player’s Handbook II Errata, this feat is normally a [Fighter] bonus feat.
Fighter 4, BAB +14,Player’s Handbook II
If you favor slashing weapons, you can use this feat in order to gain additional attacks. The main bonus that makes this feat a lot different by those that offer additional attacks, is that you gain two attacks in a standard action, instead of an extra one in a full action. Unfortunately the required feats do not outweight the benefits of this feat, like Driving Attack does and in addition, the penalties that it applies to your attack sequence is very high.
Do note that according to the Player’s Handbook II Errata, this feat is normally a [Fighter] bonus feat.
Fighter 18,Player’s Handbook II
The benefits this feat provides are useful and nice, but if you consider that it requires a whooping five, taking the space for six out of your eleven bonus [Fighter] feats and that it comes very late in order to build around, it’s not really worth your trouble.
Fighter 1, Ki Power,Complete Scoundrel
Your fighter and ninja levels stack for the purpose of determining the size of your ki pool, as well as your AC bonus. They also stack for the purpose of qualifying for feats that require a minimum fighter level. Even though stacking feats are generally great and have been used in lots of builds (Swift Hunter is a great example for instance), the fighter and the ninja just lack the required synergy: you will mostly be using your ki power on ghost steps in order to enable your one or two dice of sudden strike and the ninja’s armor bonus is not going to be better than wearing an armor.
Fighter 4, Grace +1,Complete Scoundrel
Your fighter and swashbuckler levels stack for the purpose of determining your competence bonus on Reflex saves from the grace class feature and the swashbuckler’s dodge bonus to AC. Your fighter and swashbuckler levels also stack for the purpose of qualifying for feats that require a minimum fighter level, such as Greater Weapon Focus. If Martial Stalker is a bad feat, this feat is a joke. It makes you dip two levels into the swashbuckler class, which isn’t the best thing available, and nets you a total of +3 to reflex saves and a +4 dodge bonus against a single opponent (and only against his melee attacks!) over twenty levels. Compared to other stacking feats that made sense, this is just poorly written.
Fighter 4+,Complete Champion
Aligned strike is a quite colorful ability and really helps where damage reduction hurts most: the lower levels. For the cost of a [Fighter] bonus feat, you’re getting a free action activated ability that aligns your weapon with one of your alignment’s aspects. The fact that this ability is based on your alignment is significant, as there usually are no hard alignment restrictions for fighters.
Aligned strike also seems to work after an alignment change; although I wouldn’t suggest to anyone to purposely change their alignment in order to benefit from this alternative class feature, it’s important that you get to use it, should such a change occur. Last but not least, in order to get the maximum out of it, although not necessery, you need a non-neutral alignment.
This ability will work best for you, if your fighting style favors multiple attacks that do not deal significant damage; a power attack brute wielding a weapon with both hands will probably find this ability useless, but if you’re favoring dual weapons and their damage isn’t backed-up by damage enhancers (an example would be precision damage), then you’re good to go and should invest in this. It should be noted, that this ability is one of the cheapest ways to align natural weapons.
At any case, there are multiple spells and enhancements that align your weapons; some of them are very cost-effective and there is no reason for you not to use them, unless the cost is an issue. So, if you’re designing a character that’s pretty low in levels and you think that damage reduction is going to be an issue, Aligned Strike is going to serve you well; higher level characters should instead invest in items, barring extreme circumstances (e.g. not having access to your primary weapons for a long period of time, cost-effective damage reduction bypassers not available due to book availability or campaign style, etc).
Rules as written suggests that only melee weapons are aligned until you no longer wield them; ammunition or thrown weapons (and lots of weapons can be effectively ‘thrown’) are charged until the either strike or miss a target, i.e. after you use them. When need arises, this ability can be handy if your party develops tactics around it.
Aligned Strike is a supernatural ability, which is a big negative, as you don’t want your tools to not function when inside antimagic or dead magic zones.
Armor of God
Fighter 8+,Complete Champion
Armor of God is one of those ‘active’ devensive abilities and it’s pretty unique. You can reduce your base Will save as an immediate action in order to gain a bonus to your armor class equal to the amount of the reduction. I’m going to assume that since the armor class bonus is untyped, it applies to touch armor class, just like dodge bonus; otherwise, the ability is below average and you shouldn’t consider investing in it; investing eight levels in the fighter class for it is not worth it.
Armor of God completely depends on your base will score; if you decide to invest in this ability, the obvious optimization is to increase your base will score, by entering prestige classes or dipping; this should occur naturally and not push it to the limits.
The good news is that the effects that target will saves and those that target armor class are not exactly mutually exclusive, but their intersection is relatively small. In order to keep your defenses up while your will save is down, you can invest in immunities; you can’t normally cover them all, but it will give your character an extra degree of protection.
You can safely use this when spellcasters are not around and you need the extra protection, especially against touch attacks. The bad news are that you’re not going to be able to use it round after round - it’s going to eat all of your swift actions and most of the times are vital for a fighter to function properly; however, it should be pretty good when targeted by touch attacks and it does pack a ‘surprise factor’ when used properly. As with Aligned Strike, Armor of God is a supernatural ability and that’s a negative.
Fighter 2+,Complete Champion
Resolute shares a lot with Armor of God; you lower one-half your base attack bonus and increase your Will save instead. Resolute is a lot easier to qualify for, since you can acquire it from level two. Unlike Armor of God, being careful about your prestige class and dips, other than keeping your base attack bonus up, is not required.
This ability enables you to get a large bonus to your Will saves, high enough so that you don’t have to worry about your will save, at least when it’s not your turn. You can safely assume that the bonus will be equal or close to half your character level. It is also a great relief that the bonus lasts for more than just your next saving throw. Moreover, unless you want to keep your base attack bonus high for whatever reason during downtime (e.g. attacks of opportunity) or you want to keep your immediate actions for something more important, you can safely keep this up all the time; defining, however, when exactly your next action ‘ends’ outside of combat, is an interesting issue that you should discuss with your dungeon master.
If the base attack bonus is going to deny you additional attacks on your next action, when you use Resolute on an enemy’s turn, then this alternative class feature will be significantly worse; it’s true that you’re going to lose half your base attack bonus on your first attack, but the penalty lasts until the end of your next action, not the end of your turn. This means that after you make your first attack for the turn, then you get back your base attack bonus and when you check whether you’ll continue attacking (thus choosing to full-attack) or take a move action, your additional attacks will be restored.
Those who will benefit the most from Resolute will be people that have to dip multiple times in classes that have bad Will save scores, resulting at a low base score at high levels. Remember that this alternative class feature is not a solution for bad character planning, but it will mitigate some of the damage that has been done.
This ability is average, but on the other hand, it does only cost a feat to acquire it and you can qualify for it at a low level. Do note that like all alternative class features from Complete Champion, this is a supernatural ability.
Fighter 6,Player’s Handbook II
Another alternative class feature that is defensive in nature; unlike Resolute and Armor of God however, this is rather dull and unimpressive. You make a single attack and then get a small dodge bonus to your armor class, which thankfully scales as you get levels, although it is unclear if those are fighter-only levels; only the levels that this bonus increases are mentioned.
This ability is not that good and there are feats that do the job much better. What makes matters worse for those that are thinking of getting it, is that another great alternative class feature, Dungeon Crusher, is a lot better and you can only acquire it at level 6.
Fighter 12,Player’s Handbook II
You spend a full-round action in order to get the ability to attack as an immediate action an enemy that attacks you in melee. I don’t know who thought of this ability, but it’s definitely not worth even considering getting it.
For one, I don’t understand why this doesn’t have a standard action activation. If that was the case and your character didn’t have the ability to pounce, you could at least get a chance to get two attacks through - move up to a target, initiate Counterattack and then, if he attacks you, punish him for doing so.
Two, I don’t get why you get it so high in your career - in perspective, you can use attacks of opportunity from day one of your adventuring days and this ability is fairly similar (okay, most of the times, attacking an opponent in melee range won’t enable you to get an opportunity attack at him, but with the right setup you could effectively do it), so why get it at fighter level 12 (attacks from base attack bonus in a full attack: at least 3), for a chance of only two attacks? If you want to get two attacks per round at the highest base attack bonus, just ask your friendly spellcaster for a haste spell and keep your additional attacks (and your immediate action!).
Bottom line, this ability would be a lot better as a standard action if you could get it at level one or two, where abilities that grant you additional attacks matter most, but at level twelve it’s not worth the feat slot.
Fighter 1,Complete Mage
Only useful if you’re going to acquire an arcane spellcasting class and even then, there are some arcane spellcasting classes that let you cast in light armor. It is perfectly viable to get some spellcasting ability when you are a fighter for various reasons, but this alternative class feature is better left alone: even if you dip for spells, you’ll have to take this on your first fighter level, which means that your fighter career will be gimbed for quite a few levels; you also have to spend two of your starting skill points on cross-class knowledge(arcana), which, while not that important, it is certainly annoying.
Fighter 16,Player’s Handbook II
Overpowering attack is an ability that resembles a capstone; you could use your bonus [fighter] feat to acquire feats that are far worse than this, however, while it could prove to be a worthwhile addition to certain builds (for instance, attacks of opportunity builds), getting a whooping sixteen levels in the fighter class just for doubling your damage output on attacks of opportunity (since you’re spending a full-round action to initiate this attack and you’re only allowed to strike once), while significantly reducing your damage output on your regular attacks, is certainly not worth it, unless you really know what you’re doing.
Fighter 1,Drow of the Underdark
A very good ability that boosts your initiative and gives you an additional attribute modifier to damage, albeit conditionally (only against flat-footed enemies). These two effects are almost like two half-feats, considering the effects that Improved Initiative and Craven provide. Fortunately, even though your opponent must be flat-footed, this bonus damage isn’t precision damage, which means that you get to add it against all opponents. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work when flanking.
It’s debatable whether races other than drow and half-drow are able to acquire this alternative class feature, since it’s not stated as a requirement. Some builds are able to incorporate this feature without much hassle, as there are lots of classes and prestige classes that will give you access to heavy armor proficiencies again; the tower shield proficiency is a little rarer, though.
Archetypes are four categories that I’ve got in mind and use them in order to categorize martial characters, based on the way that they contribute to battle.
The brute specializes in hitting hard by optimizing his power attack damage. The Brute is playable at almost all levels, but is really able to come online after the 6th or so level.
The tempest tries to increase his damage output by increasing the number of attacks he gets in a round. Most tempests require many feats, items and class abilities in order to be effective, so tempest builds are pretty late to bloom.
The support employs battlefield control through exotic weapons and combat feats. Even though it doesn’t focus on damage primarily, it’s one of the most effective low-level choices for a fighter and continues to be effective at all levels, depending on your feats.
The blasphemer dabbles with magic to enhance his combat ability. This archetype requires some levels in the abjurant champion prestige class (preferably all five), so it’s playable at the mid level range (around 11-12).
The brute is a traditional compatant type that uses the feat Power Attack as a main source of damage. I decided to nickname this fighter type as ‘Brute’, because of the way that power attack works, reducing accuracy for extra damage. Power Attack is a feat that requires minimal investment in order to work and can easily fit into many builds that want to optimize their damage output. In addition, it is a gateway feat for other, more powerful feats like Combat Brute and Shock Trooper, which is an oddity, as requirement feats are usually a worthless burden (Weapon Focus, for instance).
I will be referring to class abilities, feats and others that double or triple your power attack as power attack multipliers in the rest of the guide. These multipliers are usually x1.5, x2 or x3, but interact weirdly when a character acquires multiple of these, due to the way the D&D mathematics work.
In order to correctly calculate your final power attack multiplier, subtract a single point from each multiplier after the first and add them together. For instance, if you’ve got a power attack multiplier of x1.5, x2, x2 and x3, you end up with the values 1, 1, 2 after subtraction (I’m leaving x1.5 out as the first, but the order doesn’t matter); adding them together yields x5.5.
Be careful for effects that multiply all of your damage, like critical hits; power attack damage is a flat bonus and not additional damage dice (like the flaming enchantment for instance), so it is multiplied. I believe that the best way to tackle this isn’t to apply your power attack multiplier to your power attack damage, add in your weapon damage and then apply your critical hit multiplier to that sum, but rather use the distributive property; to illustrate: a weapon with 1d10 damage, +5 damage from strength +10 power attack damage with an x3 multiplier and a whole damage multiplier of x2 (may be critical hit or the Valorous enchantment for instance) would yield (1d10+5+30)x2 = 2d10+70, but the correct (and honest) to D&D mathematics way would be (1d10+5+10x3)x2 = 2d10+5x2+10x3x2 = 2d10+5x2+10x4 = 2d10+50. This means that you need to eliminate any additional multipliers by combining them and end up with a correct formula.
A Power Attack multiplier is a very powerful tool for the brute and these characters oftenly favor melee, two-handed weapons, which is quite possibly the cheapest multiplier available in the game. For this reason, brutes prefer to pump their strength, as strength gets added x1.5 times to damage when using two-handed weapons; note that this isn’t always the case with brutes: it’s possible to make a brute built around dexterity or wisdom for instance (beware that this also means that there will be a feat toll), because power attack damage doesn’t have any connection to strength, besides needing a score of 13 in order to acquire the feat.
There are many Power Attack multipliers that activate when you’re charging; this is the reason why the brute’s signature move is the charge action. If you want a charging build and you’re looking for a way to deal additional damage, then look no further, as Power Attack is what you want to boost.
Fighting with two weapons and using Power Attack is generally considered to be a very bad idea, not only because you get to add half the amount of the penalty that you apply to your attack rolls (instead of twice that, when using a two-handed weapon), but also because fighting with two weapons incurs additional attack roll penalties (best case scenario, -2 to both hands). Additionally, two weapon fighters prefer light weapons, in order to lessen their penalties, but you can’t Power Attack with those, so you’re forced to spend additional feats in Oversized Two-Weapon Fighting. If, besides these warnings you still want to make a build that incorporates Two Weapon Fighting and Power Attack effectively, look in the prestige classes section, in the entries of Exotic Weapon Master or Revenant Blade, but do note that they both use double weapons.
The tempest is a fighter archetype that tries to maximize his damage output by getting as many attacks per round as it is possible. Out of the four archetypes, this takes the heaviest feat toll and is generally seen as a late bloomer; if you follow the core approach in order to build your tempest (i.e. using the Two Weapon Fighting feat line), this is actually correct, due to the base attack bonus requirements of iterative attacks, off-hand or not. There are other ways to get additional attacks, but the worst problem that any tempest build must address is improving his damage per hit.
Two Weapon Fighting is normally reserved for characters that have additional bonus damage. A dual-wielder must take advantage of his superior number of attacks by relying on effects which add damage to each attack, like sneak attack or the flaming weapon property. The fighter class doesn’t normally have access to a source of high precision damage, like sneak attack; actually there’s an alternative class feature in Unearthed Arcana that trades [Fighter] bonus feats for sneak attack dice, but I won’t cover that here. Keep this in mind when selecting the Two Weapon Fighting feat, as maximizing your damage per hit can be quite difficult.
The tempest’s choice of weapons probably has the biggest impact on his gameplay out of the four archetypes; this is because of the assosiated penalties (usually to your attack rolls) when wielding weapons that are not appropriate to your selected feats.
One of the most traditional builds, the melee tempest usually selects Two Weapon Fighting and its follow-up feats; most opt to use twin weapons, in order to benefit from weapon-specific feats, like Weapon Specialization; since the Two Weapon line of feats have a high dexterity requirement, Weapon Finesse often appears in these builds as a means to reduce multiple attribute dependancy. I know that many of the readers came here in order to get advice with this build in mind, but, unfortunately, this is not going to cut it; you are better off with a rogue, scout or even a swift hunter character type that has easy access to additional damage dice in order to maximize his damage output.
A melee tempest is extremely dependent on mobility: if he can’t full-attack an opponent during his round, then all the feats he has invested in are worthless. For that reason, tempests are required to acquire abilities that enable them to move around the battlefield as a swift action, in the case that he is unable to reach an opponent. Additionally, baring size increases, a tempest won’t have access to large reach easily, making battlefield mobility necessary to the tempest.
A melee two weapon fighter will have to address the following issues:
- Multiple Attribute Dependency as is, both dexterity and strength are useful: dexterity is a requirement for the Two Weapon Fighting feat chain and strength gives you bonuses to hit and damage with melee weapons. The damage part with two weapons is a little problematic unfortunately, as you don’t get your full strength modifier to damage. In order to improve on this, you need to shift either to strength or to dexterity; this could be possible by getting Weapon Finesse and Shadow Blade feats for example in order to make a build with a focus on dexterity. Alternatively, you could dip into the Ranger class, which offers the Two Weapon Fighting feat at second level, without you having to meet the prerequisits for it (dexterity score of 15).
- Feat Toll: Switching your primary attribute to dexterity or strength can be done, but requires an investment in feats or dips; for example, switching fully to dexterity requires Weapon Finesse and Shadow Blade, which are going to reserve at least four of your feats. You can overcome this by using items; for example, a feycrafted light weapon gives you the benefit of the Weapon Finesse feat and the Gloves of the Balanced Hand from the Magic Item Compendium either provides you with the Two Weapon Fighting feat if you don’t already possess it, or upgrades it to the improved version if you already possess it; this is particularly useful for characters who do not want to invest in dexterity.
- Weapon Choice: Use a two-handed weapon and use armor spikes as your off-hand weapon. With this method, you can benefit from high strength and have a light off-hand weapon that you can use without holding it into your hands. In addition, using weapons such as this, you can also select a martial reach weapon, There are many alternatives to this method that I’m going to list below.
There are certain times during a battle that dealing damage isn’t the answer to dispose of your opponents. The support fighter understands the need to enhance his martial prowess with additional combat options; while the main focus of the support is still to dish out damage, by making his focus broader he won’t be able to deal as much damage as a more specialized fighter build, so he makes up for it by providing teamwork to the table. As I’ve already analyzed in the guide’s preface, there is a need to build and plan your build before you bring your fighter to play; this is not only true for the support, it is an absolute requirement: if there are no other builds to synergize your abilities with, then your effectiveness will be reduced. This is they style to go for, if you want to play a fighter that controls the battlefield by denying actions and debuffs opponents.
The support isn’t a passive buffer, i.e. he doesn’t have the role of the spellcaster who provides significant buffs to his party and the martial characters are the ones that actually do the heavy-lifting; it’s more appropriate to view the character as the enabler, a character that can easily enhance the combat abilities of his teammates, while also taking part in the heavy-lifting.
Even though I don’t believe the party role that’s known as the “tank” is viable in D&D, the support is as close as you can get to a fighter type that stops enemies from ignoring you and attacking the spellcasters in your party, due to his battlefield-control abilities.
Fear tactics can have devastating effects against humanoid enemies, because the fear conditions stack; these tactics are not useful against all enemies, because almost all fear effects are [Mind-Affecting]. When enemies can be influenced by fear effects, they are a very easy way to disable enemies or to heavily debuff them, making it easier to be influenced by other disabling effects. The support can contribute to these tactics by using the demoralize combat mechanic, by using the intimidate skill, a skill that will almost be a class skill for the fighter or most of the classes he will choose to enter. You need to threaten an enemy in order to demoralize him, so it’s best to choose a reach weapon. The feat Imperious Command from Drow of the Underdark is a very powerful feat that you could select if you want to demoralize enemies, regardless of party tactics, but has a requirement of 15 charisma. Obviously you need to max out your intimidate skill, get any skill synergies that you can spare (e.g. five ranks in the bluff skill, assuming you get it as a class skill by the acquisition of an alternate class level or prestige class) and the Never Outnumbered skill trick from Complete Scoundrel. The Zhentarim Fighter substitution levels from the web enhancement of Champions of Valor are especially useful for fear tactics, as you gain various demoralizing-related abilities on your dead fighter levels (skill focus, extended intimidation and swift demoralization), without losing anything for them and they also give you bluff and diplomacy as class skills. The [Regional] feat Dreadful Wrath from Player’s Guide to Faerun is especially good for this kind of build can be worthwhile, depending on your charisma score.
Battlefield movement is also an important factor that can be attributed to the support if need be. The most useful spell in order to make this happen is Benign Transposition, as it’s low level and cheap to have a wand or an eternal wand. The reasoning behind it, even though you’re losing attacks in the process, is to get better positioning while helping a teammate in the process. For example, if you favor a lockdown build and a teammate is being grappled, it’s a no brainer that swapping places is favorable for both of you.
The blasphemer is a special type of fighter that typically dips into a primary caster or accelerated caster class and then advances that class’s spellcasting using the Abjurant Champion prestige class, in order to gain the maximum benefit of his 5th level ability, which makes your caster level equal to your base attack bonus, very beneficial to the fighter class. I decided to name this type of fighter a “blasphemer” instead of using the usual “gish” name, as the focus of these builds is not getting maximum spellcasting and base attack bonus, but to provide a fighter with a handful of utility spells in order to give him an unusual edge in and out of combat; hence the name, because he breaks one of the most important character optimization commandments: “Thou shalt not lose caster levels” and because suggesting the introduction of spells as a backup to martial character is not going to sit well with those players that prefer ‘pure’ fighter-types.
The single most important feature that enables this type of fighter, is the Abjurant Champion’s Martial Arcanist, because it gives your low level spells a very good caster level, almost equal to your level. Abjurant Champion is intended as a prestige for arcane casters, but keep in mind of the Adaptation part in the class’s entry in Complete Mage, which states that you may work with your dungeon master in order to re-fluff it as a divine (which is easily done) or even a psionic prestige class. The prestige requires you to spend a feat in Combat Casting, which will not be useful in game, but the prestige is very rewarding and is well worth the single feat investment. The blasphemer doesn’t mostly care about mutliple attribute dependancy, as most of the times he sinks several points in intelligence for Combat Expertise or wisdom in order to keep his will saves up and he isn’t likely to cast spells higher than 4th level.
Without getting into much detail, the blashemer is able to: use key low-level spells (Enlarge Person, Protection from X, etc) without relying on friendly spellcasters; save large amounts of cash by casting Magic Weapon, Greater and/or Magic Vestment, Greater, possibly in conjunction with a lesser rod of chaining at high caster level; if the blasphemer wishes to play a mounted character, he can spend a feat on Improved Familiar and select the Hippogriff or the Howler as a mount that scales according to his own level; spend a feat on Craft Magic Arms and Armor in order to save cash and benefit from “experience is a river” tactics; Arrow Mind enables archers; depending on the situation, you could carry multiple exotic weapons and use the best one at no penalty by casting Master’s Touch; always have a floating [Fighter] feat by casting Heroics.
brute & tempest hybrid
Combining these two archetypes is straightforward: you’re trying to maximize attacks per round and power attack damage.
Fighting with two weapons and using Power Attack is generally considered to be a very bad idea, not only because you get to add half the amount of the penalty that you apply to your attack rolls (instead of twice that, when using a two-handed weapon), but also because fighting with two weapons incurs additional attack roll penalties (best case scenario, -2 to both hands). Additionally, two weapon fighters prefer light weapons, in order to lessen their penalties, but you can’t Power Attack with those, so you’re forced to spend additional feats in Oversized Two-Weapon Fighting. If you want to make a hybrid build that incorporates Two Weapon Fighting and Power Attack efficiently, then you’ll have to use the Exotic Weapon Master or the Revenant Blade, but do note that they both use double weapons in order to achieve this.
Another option is acquiring multiple natural attacks, which does not affect your attack routine, but, since natural attacks are considered to be one-handed attacks, you don’t get the multiplier to the power attack damage, as two-handed weapons do.
These characters want to take as many full-attacks as possible in a given fight, so, since their weapon selection is usually limited, they try to acquire additional ways to move for free or just charge, dipping into Barbarian for the Lion Totem Barbarian alternative class feature. Shock Trooper also is a very useful feat, because it lessens the attack penalties while providing you with full Power Attack power.
brute & support hybrid
One of the easiest hybrids, this fighter acquires a bit of crowd-controlling feats, like Brutal Strike and Driving Attack that directly benefit from having a high Power Attack damage output.
These hybrids also use multiple feats that augment bull rushing, like Pushback, Knockback, Shock Trooper and the alternative class feature Dungeoncrasher.
brute & blasphemer hybrid
This combination specializes in maximizing his Power Attack damage through magic means, for instance by getting touch attacks (e.g. the spell Wraithstrike is a staple feat that enables that kind of thing).
Since the blasphemer can also acquire strong mounts through the Improved Familiar feats, a mounted brute also works in order to receive some cheap Power Attack modifiers, like spirited charge.
tempest & support hybrid
There are multiple attack modes, like trip, disarm and grapple and these do not depend on damage, but they do cost an attack. Getting additional attacks are very useful in order to make these work and the tempest provides a solid base for this kind of crowd control.
Additionally, feats like Boomerang Daze and Three Mountains directly benefit from a high number of attacks per round.
Finally, a special type of feats exist mainly in Complete Warrior (but also other books), called [Style] feats. These feats give you additional benefits for fighting with two specific weapons and for this reason they regularly require the Two Weapon Fighting feat, like High Sword, Low Axe.
tempest & blasphemer hybrid
Tempest + Blasphemer = A two-weapon fighter that enhances his weapon damage or his attack rolls with spells
support & blasphemer hybrid
Support + Blasphemer = Bladeweave, exotic weapons
the odd-level horror
Simply put, don’t make builds with an odd number of fighter levels.
Readers that are following the optimization community are familiar with this notion; as a matter of fact, it is number six of Caelic’s ten commandments of practical optimization.
The reasoning behind this commandment is that you are getting nothing new from those fighter levels and you are better off dipping in other classes (with a strong preference on those that feature full base attack bonus), in order to get additional special abilities. However, do keep in mind that this piece of multiclassing advice is only true for finished builds. Do not be afraid to enter a prestige class after five fighter levels. Many prestige classes have a base attack bonus requirement of +5 or +7. You can get that even fighter level later in your build and at the same time you will grab a bonus [fighter] feat. If you plan everything beforehand, getting that feat may be more powerful, too, as you will be able to fulfill additional requirements (e.g. higher base attack bonus).
However, do note that a good break-off point for dipping and switching to prestige classes is the sixth fighter level, because the bonuses you’re getting at that level (additional attack and two feats) increase your power exponentially.
The first checkpoint: Level 6
Assuming that you are a level 6 fighter, this is level is a very important one and will increase your combat value exponentially. The reason is simple: there are just many feats and features that have a base attack bonus requirement of +6, you will be receiving two feats at this level (one from fighter levels and one general feat from your levels) and you have already increased one of your attributes to 15 (remember, optimal attribute allocation is spending no more than 1:1 for fighter classes!), which appears in many different feats. If you are using feat retraining, which you should, if it’s allowed in your game, remember to start retraining feats at around level 4, in order to be able to fulfill requirements at this level.
At the start of your career almost all aspects of your character are going to be on the low side: your saves will be around +2 on average at best, you will get more attack bonus from your strength than your base attack bonus and you’ll be struggling to even get a masterwork weapon of your choice. However, your starting hit points are going to ensure that you are not going to die in a single hit and you’ve got to work on getting the most out of the single thing you’ll have lots of: feats.
However which feats should you get? The usual martial gems are either not going to perform that well (due to lacking numerical bonuses) or they will be unavailable (due to requirements). So what should you get? Well, there is a certain category of feats that seem to be unimpressive and that’s generally true, but they all have one thing in common: flat, fat (compared to your low-level statistics) bonuses to areas that hurt people (which is attack bonus and damage, almost exclusively).
Optimal low-level tactics include:
Denying your opponents of weapons
Which generally means two things: Improved Sunder and Improved Disarm. Power Attack + Improved Sunder is an extremely common start for many different builds, a lot more common than Combat Expertise + Improved Disarm, but they both have a single benefit: you can hit huge numbers with both, weighting the contested roll towards you and, incidentally, denying people of their weapons is going to render them useless, if they don’t have anything better to attack you with, which means that these effects pack optimal execution and resolution, which is rare.
To give you an idea, at first level you can get +1 from BAB, +2 from strength, +4 from the “Improved” feat and +4 for fighting with a two-handed weapon, which is a bonus of +13; if you add in that this may be happening while you’re flanking the target (+2) and that a friendly spellcaster may have casted an Enlarge Person spell on you (+4 from size), you can easily get it up to +19, without resorting to obscure sourcebooks for optimization (everything is from Player’s Handbook); in addition most weapons that are able to disarm give a bonus +2 to the disarm roll.
Both maneuvers are attack options, so you can use them instead of attacking; this also means that you can use them when receiving attacks of opportunity.
Utility: You can use Improved Disarm to grab stuff from opponents and you don’t have to only sunder weapons and armor. This is by no means a complete list, but just keep in mind that you can grab or break amulets, rings, ammunition, holy symbols (divine focus), spell component pouchs, artifacts, wands, spell focuses, quivers and really anything that seems to be important to or shiny on your enemy. Keep an eye out for important equipment.
Why they fail later: first of all, in the case that you face an opponent that doesn’t use weapons, both feats will fail. In addition, as you gain levels, opponents will be increasingly independent of weapons, either through spells and special abilities, or through backup weapons.
You could retrain the Improved Disarm to something more useful, as it’s not used as a requirement (unless you want to get Crescend Moon for whatever reason). Improved Sunder is a lot more common as a requirement feat (Combat Brute for instance), but sundering magical weapons that are going to be part of your loot is not a good idea and it’s seen as a very big “no-no” on most gaming tables I know of; in the first few levels, don’t be afraid to sunder weapons and armor, as they will probably be worthless and you won’t lose much - worst case scenario: you’re losing a masterwork item that you or your party’s spellcaster can make it for you at a discount price. In later levels, a simple detect magic spell will tell you whether an item is magical or not, but also note that weapons that are enchanted also have higher hardness and hit points, so, assuming you don’t mind wasting an attack to figure out if the weapon is magical or not, the rule of thumb is that “if it doesn’t break on ~20 damage, it’s probably magical and therefore not worth breaking”.
Attacks of Opportunity
Combat Reflexes is a wonderful feat in many different builds, especially in lockdown builds, but, you can use it as it was probably originaly intended - gaining more attacks per round. In order to optimize your attack roll, you can employ feats like Deft Opportunist (assuming you have the necessary dexterity) and/or Expert Tactician (which also gives buffs to your teammates).
Assuming you select all three feats, you’re getting +6 to attack rolls and +2 to damage rolls at just level 2 with attacks of opportunity, which gives you a nice buffer of attack bonus in order to spend maximum points for Power Attack. By the way, you won’t be able to activate Power Attack when making the attacks of opportunity, but any penalty that you took to your attack roll in your normal turn will carry over to your attacks of opportunity! So, if you want to use these together, make sure that you use Power Attack on your turn.
In order to get the most out of this tactic, you should really invest in a reach weapon (or an exotic weapon proficiency for a spiked chain) and a way to increase your size to large for the increased damage and reach (usually comes from an enlarge person spell casted by a friendly spellcaster).
If we’re talking really low level, a first level human fighter from the Shaar can get Rhinoceros Tribe Charge from Shinning South (it’s a [Regional] feat) and Powerful Charge from Miniatures Handbook or Eberron Campaign Setting, wield a greatsword and deal 4d6 + 1d8 + str*1.5 damage every time he charges, or 6d6 + str*1.5 if enlarged, which is a very good amount, since you can do this all day long. Of course, as you gain levels this tactic will quickly lose ground, favoring Power Attack and damage multipliers (such as Leap Attack, Spirited Charge, etc), but you can keep this trick running for the first few levels before you retrain your feats to something more viable for later. By the way, I don’t think that greater powerful charge is worth it, just for a +1d6, mainly because it requires a +4 or better base attack bonus, just when you’ll be looking to retrain these feats in order to get something cool on your sixth level.
A cool trick that you can also combine with low-level charging is bashing people with your shield; you can fit in Improved Shield Bash and Shield Slam into your build, which will enable you to make a free trip attempt.