It hardly seems like it could have been a month since my last History of the Fighter article, but it was; ring out the bells for its return. I always wonder which edition the greatest number of people started on, and which holds the greatest space in their memory (possibly the same as the first they played, possibly not). I see polls that touch on this all the time, but only as they are in progress – never their results. Anyway, I got my start in 2e, and played it for more years than any other edition, but internally, that doesn’t slow me down from treating 3.x as a kind of baseline. So here we are in my “default” edition with the most default of all PC classes.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five



The flavor text for the 3.0 fighter covers the same ground as we’ve seen in other editions: “this class represents a huge variety of characters.” Basically, if you’re tough, use a weapon, and don’t use magic, this is the class for you! All of the other classes carving off narrower character-concept niches, kind of defined by how they aren’t fighters.

  • d10 Hit Dice
  • Proficiency in all armor and shields (because there’s no “exotic” armor you need to spend a feat slot to use… yet)
  • Proficiency in simple and martial weapons. As you probably know, a bunch of weapons got cordoned off as Exotic Weapons, and thus require a feat to use.
  • 2 + Int skill points per level, and a very short list of class skills: Climb, Craft, Handle Animal, Jump, Ride, Swim.
    • The tiny number of skill points and short class skill list is probably my sharpest critique of not only the fighter class, but of 3.x’s whole approach to skills. It as much as declares that fighters must find all of their fun in combat, because their class features are trying to prevent them from engaging with the game outside of combat. There’s a total absence of support for fighter-as-leader, even though it’s well-nigh universal in fiction, and strongly represented in earlier editions through the whole system of followers.
    • Fighters also don’t have access to Spot or Listen in-class, on top of not really being able to prioritize Wisdom. Guards who should be on the lookout for thieves or assassins… should not be fighters, no matter what the flavor text of the fighter class suggests! (This is one of the most unforgivable sins of the edition to me. I may have lost some perspective here.)
  • +1/1 base attack bonus (BAB) progression, which is the fastest that the game includes.
    • Because of how feat prerequisites work, gaining one point of BAB at 1st level makes a huge difference in potential starting builds. Keep in mind that everyone gets at least one feat at 1st level, while fighters gain another, and humans likewise. A lot of combat-related feats that initiate long feat chains require +1 BAB, so fighters are getting on that chain earlier – and not spending their starting feat on a placeholder. (To all rogues buying Weapon Finesse… I am so sorry.)
  • Good progression in Fortitude saves, bad progression in Reflex and Will saves.
  • A bonus feat at 1st level, and at every even-numbered level thereafter. These bonus slots are restricted to combat-oriented feats, as if that were a real restriction.
  • Exclusive access to the Weapon Specialization feat. (Probably other feats too, but please do not mistake me for someone who can go through all of 3.0 to check for feat prereqs. The blood would skeet from my eyes and you would, collectively, owe me a new keyboard, monitor, and desk.)

The feat progression in particular made the fighter the go-to multiclassing choice for any weapon-using class. A ton of useful mechanics in 3.x are feat-based, and there’s a huge difference between 7-8 feats and 18-19 feats, over 20 levels. Getting 2 feats in 2 levels (1st and 2nd, that is), or 3 in the first 4… that’s a heck of a lot of return on investment. It’s especially noticeable in 3.0, where many classes have long stretches of “dead levels” – no new feature beyond hit points, base attack bonus, and saving throw improvement.


Sword & Fist

I covered the monk side of this book back in the History of the Monk, but by any standard, this book is primarily about fighters. After all, once you have 5-6 fighter levels under your belt, you might well be at the top of the main feat chain that you care about (Fighter 6 = 8 feats, 9 if you’re human), so you’re either chasing a whole new feat chain, or you’re looking for a class that has actual features. One of our delicious new Prestige Classes, perhaps? Yes, sir, right this way…

This book has a bunch of new feats, though it targets as many at monks (who don’t get a pile of bonus feat slots) as it does at fighters. It throws a bunch of prestige classes to monks (who are awful at multiclassing and need a ton of special handling to make it work) as it does at fighters. I don’t envy the design requirement of writing the first rules expansion while the core books were still on their way to store shelves for the first time, though.

Anyway, S&F has the Cavalier, the Devoted Defender, the Duelist, the Fist of Hextor (not an evil monk, as you might be forgiven for guessing), the Gladiator, the Halfling Outrider, the Knight Protector of the Great Kingdom, the Lasher, the Master of Chains, the Master Samurai, the Order of the Bow Initiate, the Tribal Protector, the Warmaster, and the Weapon Master. These improve styles that are already good (Order of the Bow Initiate, Weapon Master), rescue styles that are almost unplayable otherwise (Lasher), or represent elite forces of a culture (Cavalier, Knight Protector, Halfling Outrider, Master Samurai, etc.). I don’t know how the broader community received all of these at the time, but I would be surprised if more than three or four of them really caught on at all. Things like the Halfling Outrider are niche-of-a-niche concepts. Halfling fighters are fine, if a tough row to hoe. Halfling fighters that require their mount to use their primary features are just a mess. There’s a campaign for that, sure, but it is not common.

One recurring problem throughout these prestige classes and feats is a serious failure to work within a fighter’s combat priorities and action economy. The first level of most fighter-oriented prestige classes grants your sixth point of BAB, which means you can make a second attack in the round as part of a full-round action. Anything that takes a move-equivalent action or a standard action is competing with “or I could make two attacks.”

Ultimately, S&F has some interesting stories about groups of fighters and monks in a setting. Its prestige classes and feats are the first ones not to make the cut of going into the core books. Even at this early stage, I think it’s plain to see that prestige classes are going to be a mess, with some of them just making numbers get bigger (sometimes numbers you barely even need), while others are going to make you specifically better at exactly the thing you want to be doing anyway. There’s a lot of push for fighters to buy cross-class skills, both for their own sake (the book has guidance on alternate skill applications) and for prestige class prereqs. It also teaches build-planning, 101-level powergaming, and basic D&D tactics – like positioning to take advantage of a potential Cleave attack. Oh, and a bunch more exotic weapons, bringing hyper-specialization to ever greater heights.



I’m only going to cover the changes from 3.0 in the fighter’s class features.

  • Intimidate is added to the fighter class skill list.

Now, 3.5 also reworks a lot of feats and extends a lot of feat chains. Greater Weapon Focus and Greater Weapon Specialization are largely there to induce you to keep advancing as a fighter to get the big numbers. Nothing really changes, though, aside from a temporary reset button on some of the more broken content that WotC and third-party publishers had released in those heady early OGL days. No fullblade-with-Monkey-Grip for you!


Complete Warrior

In addition to updating many of the S&F prestige classes and adding a lot more new prestige classes, this book also brings us new base classes that are fighter-like or fighter blends. At this point, the hexblade has a long enough pedigree to be its own series (someday, maybe – though I did touch on the hexblade a bit in the 4e History of the Warlock article). The swashbuckler and samurai carve off concepts that the game has said, up to now, are either fighters or fighter-oriented prestige classes. Not that we’re exoticizing the samurai… perish the thought.

Anyway, I’m going to push off talking about the Complete Warrior samurai class until the next article in this series, when I’ll be covering 3.0 Oriental Adventures and some related class and prestige class expressions within the edition. Instead, let’s dive into the swashbuckler.

  • d10 Hit Dice.
  • 4 skill points per level.
  • A modest list of class skills, reflecting that they are fighters with a side of acrobat, and are more observant than dumb ol’ fighters.
  • +1/1 BAB.
  • Good Fortitude save progression, bad Reflex and Will save progression. Except that they also get a feature that gives them a scaling bonus to Reflex saves, so it amounts to a midrange Reflex save progression. Since it’s a competence bonus and you can’t usually deny someone their competence bonuses, it seems more like they couldn’t break from the two standard save progressions. Or they just wanted to fill out the class features with something that gets to appear three times. Tomato, tomahto.
  • Weapon Finesse for free at 1st level, which is only fair. Don’t make a base class specialize in Dex and then force them to spend their starting feat on Weapon Finesse. That would be a super dick move… wouldn’t it, rogues?
  • Grace, the aforementioned scaling Reflex save bonus.
  • Insightful Strike lets swashbucklers apply their Int bonus to weapon damage with light weapons and any weapon that they can finesse. Keep in mind that 3.x Weapon Finesse never grants Dex bonuses to damage, just to attack rolls. Also, remember that flat adds are multiplied in 3.x crits, and rapiers have an 18-20/x2 crit rating – so a passable Str and Int bonus total may add up for you fast.
  • They don’t get to buy Weapon Specialization. For a class born and bred to use the rapier, this is a travesty.
  • They get a scaling Dodge bonus, which works like but is different from the Dodge feat. Its bonus scales up to +4 at 20th
    • If you have finally drowned your memory of the Dodge feat with liberal application of the water of life, I’ll remind you. The feat and the feature let you designate a particular creature as your Dodge target, gaining a +1 or greater bonus to AC against them. It’s 3.x’s fiddly use of bonuses at its worst. If you have both this feature and the feat, you can split or stack the bonuses.
  • Acrobatic Charge lets swashbucklers charge over difficult terrain, requiring skill checks at the DM’s discretion. This is a pretty basic exception to have to all the way to 7th level to gain, but whatever.
  • Improved Flanking improves the attack bonus swashbucklers receive from flanking by +2.
  • Lucky lets swashbucklers reroll one failed d20 roll per day.
  • Acrobatic Skill Mastery lets swashbucklers take 10 on Jump and Tumble rolls even when under pressure.
    • Regrettably, I couldn’t figure out how to make a good Under Pressure/Ice, Ice Baby joke out of this. I don’t have Skill Mastery (Jokes). But I want you, O my readers, to know that I spent a good ten minutes stuck on this.
  • Weakening Critical adds 2 points of Str damage to the swashbuckler’s crits.
  • Slippery Mind works just like the rogue special ability, granting a second saving throw one round after they fail a save against an enchantment spell or effect.
  • Wounding Critical adds 2 points of Con damage to the swashbuckler’s crits.

Taken together, this class looks like it will be grossly underperforming, because their damage output just doesn’t scale much at all. If they have a great Dex and Str and Int and Con, then… sure? But you could do way more with four good ability scores in some other class. Fighter comes to mind. Or rogue. Or fighter/rogue. It has all of the drawbacks of playing a rogue (anything you can’t crit is taking trivial damage from your attacks) without the strengths (very efficiently murdering anything that doesn’t have immunity to crits).

I’m not going to do a deep dive into the prestige classes of Complete Warrior. The content covers fighters, barbarians, paladins, rangers, and monks, with a few offerings for other classes. There’s nothing here that says anything new about the nature of fighters, though the section on the all-warrior campaign is a perfectly good sword-and-sorcery model.

The one big change to the fighter in 3.x is the removal of followers and strongholds as a default assumption in gameplay. Even though it’s a feature that most players never reached or much valued, it was at least a definitive statement about the class: that ambition is part of their nature, and that martial strength becomes broader influence. Without that, it’s hard to break them out of the Dumb Thug mold that their ability score priorities and class skills push them toward. Basically I’m saying that I really like Roy Greenhilt and I wish it were easier to get that character to work in the actual rules. (Spoiler: the warlord class in 4e is that thing.)

  • Manos Ti

    Who doesn’t like Roy Greenhilt? Generally all of the OotS party are excellent characters (Elan is my personal favorite; what can I say, Bards rule).

    Nice write up Brandes, thanks. I played an Order of the Bow Initiate back in the day. It was actually a Ranger/Rogue/Order of the Bow Initiate. Good fun.

    I remember all the power players of that time played Human Fighter. Feats, feats everywhere.

    And now it strikes me, I’ve never ever played a Fighter before. Well, this goes to the to do list I guess.

    • My articles on the 4e and 5e fighters may wind up strongly resembling clouds of hearts floating over my head. I am such a fan of the various 4e fighter builds, and of 5e’s Battle Master and Eldritch Knight. (The EK has received some justified criticism, but I am still a fan.)

    • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

      I should see if I can recall my statistics class to figure out how much combat it would take between rests for the Champion’s improved criticals to be “as good” as the Battle Master’s superiority dice (as far as damage probability goes). Probably more than most groups face, in practice.

    • All the harder to judge because the Battle Master can declare a Maneuver after the crit is on the table, thus doubling the die pool – so the Battle Master is really swinging between 1dX and 4dX. How many times does the Champion need to land a 2dX to level that out? (Not that the Battle Master will really play quite THAT conservatively, not with replenishing on short rest.) I’ll be interested in your findings on it, if you come up with something, and I’ll also post my own approach when I get around to that article.

    • Shawn E.

      I really liked how 4e powers and the fighter lined up. I think I prefer the 5e battlemaster though. Looking forward to the next in this series.

    • I haven’t yet seen a subclass – of fighter or anything else – that captures the thing I liked about the 4e Brawler build of fighter. The game of mark management in 4e was also incredibly satisfying to me.

    • Manos Ti

      Ah yes, the Brawler. This one and the Brawny Rogue are the two topmost Subclasses I’d like to see in 5e.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      I loved the strength rogue from 4e, mostly because all of the players who played one I know really got into the “low-level thug” aspect of it and hammed it up.

      I did this a few years ago – it might need a second pass, as I haven’t looked at it in any meaningful way since then –

    • Manos Ti

      Nice ideas through and through. I did a quick pass through it all and first question that pops in my head is how many sneak attack dice do you get?

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Scales based on the core class progression, so up to 10 total?

    • Syd Andrews

      I have tried to get someone to play a “punch-n-grab” Brawler Fighter ever since I read about them. But no one seems to want this. I think that since most of my players have come back to D&D after a long hiatus (since prior to 4E, possibly prior to 3.0), they see the Fighter class in 4E as “generic”.

    • Also, the next article in the History of the Fighter will be 3e OA. Then the Book of Nine Swords, which people have been after me to cover for damn near as long as I’ve written for Tribality. Then Pathfinder, probably, and another peripheral thing – ACKS, 13A, and Dungeon World. THEN we move on to 4e and 4e Essentials. =)

    • Derrick Allen

      The Oots are awesome, specially Belkar the sexy shoeless god of war imo. Not really a fan of Elan before he took the Dashing Swordsman prestige class and became competent, he was too much of an idiot and how in the h@#^ was he kept from killing himself or the group. Of course i may be projecting cause a player in my group typically plays bards and/or paladins just like this and I usually somehow directly or indirectly am its cause of death (bit of a running joke).

    • Manos Ti

      I love Elan because although he is the obvious comic relief of the party he has rich backstory (a big story arc was based on this) and he does struggle with his own disadvantages (low Int is the primary of them).

      But as I wrote above, all of the OotS primary characters are really appealing.

  • Derrick Allen

    After reading this article, it got me thinking that I’m so glad I really never played 3.X edition (or 4e) except a brief dabble in the DnD online game, it is way too complicated/confusing, especially the fighter. Got my start around the time of 2e at the age of 7 but even then my dad mostly introduced me to tabletop gaming w/ GURPS and now a play/prefer 5e.

    • It’s hard for me to recapture in this text the perspective of the moment – what it felt like to shift from late-late 2e to day-one 3.0, and what it felt like to switch over from late 3.0 to 3.5 (including the massive hype cycle that preceded both of these releases). I’m doing a lot of critique long after the fact, and it’s a little disingenuous, though some things really WERE obvious at the time. I can totally see why you’d be glad to have skipped from 2e to 5e (with just one toe-dip along the way), but 3.x was a runaway success at the time for valid reasons.

    • Derrick Allen

      Ya i get that, I just prefer simplicity when it comes to game mechanics and not being forced to optimized. Did get invited to a 3e Spelljammer game last year, but turned it down after I went over all the rules and books being used. Much more of an improviser/roleplayer than a roll-player.

    • Totally fair – it would be incredibly hard for me to put aside my criticisms and just enjoy a 3.x campaign at this point. (Among other games and D&D editions.)

    • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

      If I had still been playing D&D when 3e dropped (I was too busy in university to find an open group, let alone commit to a regular game) I would have loved it unconditionally. I loved really “crunchy” RPGs, and I would have happily spent ages building characters around all sorts of silly ideas.

  • Syd Andrews

    Now, you have to be fair about the updates to the Fighter from 3.0 to 3.5. If I recall correctly, 3.5 changed skills so that all skills were available to all classes as either class skills or cross-class skills. So they could, if they wanted to, spend extra skill points (from their generous 2+Int award) to advance in ANY skill.

    At least I think I’m recalling that rule correctly.

    As much as I loved what 3e did to the D&D game, the skill system had a LOT of things to be ironed out. I liked 4E’s system better. And honestly, though I’ve not played it, the 5e system seems to be much more in line with my idea of a streamlined system.

    But we’re not here to talk about skill systems, we’re here to talk about the 3.x Fighters!

    My most memorable 3.x character was the Halfling I played. She started as a Fighter with the desire to live the fantastic tales that her grandparents had often told her about. She wanted to slay the dragons, topple the overlords, and rescue the… well, whatever needed to be rescued. The hitch was that she wanted to be able to tell everyone about it afterwards. With a 10 Charisma, she was ideally suited to not be a Bard. Decent Str and high Dex let me build an agile Fighter. Multi-class into Rogue then led to the Duelist Prestige Class (I don’t recall which supplement had that one).

    I went down the path of two-weapon fighting (which in 3.0 had that horrible prerequisite of Ambidexterity, a feat that did exactly nothing) and used a pair of short-swords. The good news was that with the Fighter BAB behind her, she got extra attacks rather quickly. And with TWF and another feat (I don’t recall which) she got multiple off-hand attacks as well. The bad news was that being small sized and using short-swords, she had a d4 as her base damage. It was a d4+10 when you counted in all of the magic and feats and such, but still. She earned the nickname of pin cushion from the group because her individual attacks didn’t do much, but if she hit with all 5 attacks, that was d4+10 (x3) and d4+6 (x2) which could add up. Plus, her Rogue levels gave sneak attack of 2d6 from time to time.

    Of course, it wasn’t long before the DM was using plenty of creatures with DR 15, which made them essentially immune to her attacks (but that’s another issue).

    The other feat tree she went down was the Mobility one. High Dex meant high initiative. Mobility and Enhance Mobility (Improved Mobility? I don’t recall specifically) gave her +8 to AC vs. Opportunity Attacks. And with her small size and maxed out Tumble (Rogue MC) she would typically start combat by zipping openly though the enemy ranks drawing all of the OA’s from enemies and setting up a good position to provide flanking for the main Rogue in the group (he had something like +7d8 for sneak attack damage, it was insane).

    Overall, I was fairly pleased with the Fighter in 3.x, as long as by “the Fighter” you mean using about 4 levels of the core class and then using MC and PrC to make it into an effective and memorable character!

    • Syd Andrews

      Oh, I forgot to mention, the character’s name was Orlene. And that’s only important because one year at GenCon, I got to meet Rich Burlew. I had bought some of the OOTS books, and he was signing them. He would also sketch a character at your request in the book. I requested that he sketch Belkar, another low-Wisdom Halfling that fought with two weapons. And he put in a speech bubble that said, “Orlene is hot!” So that was fun.

  • Mikey Kromhout

    Funny enough one of the biggest problems for fighters (and weapon users in general) in 3e versus other editions is the full attack action. 3e is the version of D&D that really forces fighters to be static and unmoving because to move was to bring your attacks down to one (and make two weapon fighting worthless sadly). It is one of the reasons why ToB was really needed. People think it is due to power but well made fighters and barbarians can out damage a ToB character but the ToB warrior will be so much more likely to be able to do that damage and not be limited to either only charges or the full attack action (or can move as a swift action so that they can get a full attack in a situation where a non-ToB character would be stuck with a move and one attack).

    • Yep, exactly that. A deep dive into the 3.x action economy is a great way to make ALL of us skeet blood from the eyes, but your summary here is on point. =)

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Not to mention it’s a big part of why spiked chain/trip-feat-investment fighters were so ridiculous 😀

    • Syd Andrews

      Just for fun, I built a spiked-chain/trip NPC as the Big-Bad of a series of encounters. My players were furious at me…

    • Colin McLaughlin

      They should be lucky you didn’t also do the Dragon Disciple prestige class and give him a Divine Strength item…unless you did!

    • Syd Andrews

      No, it was a little lower level than that. But the Big-Bad was an Ogre, so size Large, with Reach 3 or 4 (I think, it’s been a long time since I played 3.x).

  • Wyvern

    “Fighter 6 = 8 feats, 9 if you’re human”

    Unless I’m missing something, your math is off by 3 feats. Perhaps you meant to write “Fighter 8 = 6 feats”, and accidentally got the numbers switched?

    • Baseline: Feats at 1, 3, and 6
      Fighter: Feats at 1, 2, 4, and 6
      Human: 1

      My bad, should have said “Fighter 6 = 7 feats, 8 if you’re human.”

    • Wyvern

      D’Oh! I forgot the feats that everybody earns every 3rd level.

  • Adam Duclos

    The real problem with the 3.5 fighter (and maybe the 3.0 version?) was that the entire class was a trap. They had few skills, substituted feats for class features, then made the feats that you could choose from feat chains that just changed a few numbers incrementally higher. One feat chain that was four feats long allowed you to increase your damage by +4 and your attack by +2, but not before level 12.

    The entire class was upstaged by the druid’s animal companion. In fact, one of the things mentioned in the article as being a huge problem was the lack of ability to move and make more than one attack. One of the only ways to get around this was to take a one level dip in Lion Totem Barbarian from Complete Champion to get ‘pounce’… which again was something that a druid can get just by choosing a big cat as a companion.

    The only times I’ve seen a fighter played, the players were immediately dissatisfied.

    Followers in 3.5 were represented by the Leadership feat, which had problems of it’s own… For one thing, it was partially dependent on charisma, which is not usually a priority for fighters. For another thing, it granted you a cohort, which was basically an entire second character that could be fairly close to you in level, and if you were a fighter, picking almost any other class made your cohort both more powerful and more useful than your original character.

    • My experience of 3.0 and 3.5 fighters was mostly DM-side, but I didn’t hear anything like the level of dissatisfaction you’re talking about from the players. Being vulnerable to swarms is basically every weapon-using class – barbarians, monks, paladins, rangers, and rogues have few if any answers to the problem of swarms. Likewise for the full-round-attack issue – yes, there are solutions, but most classes that need them don’t get them.

      On the other hand, if your point is that late-stage 3.5 offerings eclipsed major portions of the Player’s Handbook content… yeah, the power creep is real. So very, very real.

    • Adam Duclos

      A little bit of both! Fighters didn’t really get any support as time went on, and became relegated to the ‘good for one level, maybe’ bin.

      As for swarms: Paladins and rangers could more easily escape them by riding their mount or animal companions away and had a few magical options as well, monks could run away at increased speed, dimension door away, or eventually get a flaming fist feat, and both monks and rogues could ‘use magic device’ a wand. Barbarians are in the same boat with the fighters though, as far as I know… unless they took leadership and got a magic using cohort.

      I’m glad other people were having fun with them though, and the bad rap wasn’t as all pervasive as I thought!