I’m going to need SO many more hours in a day to keep up with the rate of UA releases, book releases, photo flip-throughs of upcoming releases… It’s been a breakneck pace around here and I’m not keeping up. Anyway! It beats having nothing D&D related to talk about but the year that was January. Today I’m covering the Fighter class and its subclasses from the PH 7 packet, on the same day that the new Bastion and Cantrip packet drops. What can you do?
Barbarian | Fighter
The last time we saw the Fighter was the PH 5 packet, where the Fighter was one of the most polished-looking classes there. I had some issues with the approach to Second Winds, but otherwise I was pretty happy with it.
- Fighting Style… well, the Fighter’s version is the good one that works right. It’s not this feature’s fault that the feats require this feature. (But that’s bad and should change.) Additionally, you can now swap out your Fighting Style feat when you gain a Fighter level. That’s good, though relaxing that to any time you gain a level costs nothing and saves you from more buyer’s remorse.
- Second Wind still gives you a base of two uses, scaling up to four by level 10, and still heals 1d10 + Fighter level hit points as a Bonus Action. Now you also get one use back per Short Rest. I’m perfectly happy with this.
- Weapon Master has tweaked the number of weapons you can use Mastery features for at a time, scaling to 6 rather than 5. ‘kay. After about 3 weapons (level 1), the scaling falls off sharply in interest.
- Action Surge at level 2 now lets you add anything except the Magic Action (but you can still cast then Action Surge to attack), and it once again grants a second use starting at level 17. Fine, sure.
- Tactical Mind at level 2 is a new feature that lets you burn Second Winds to add the d10 to a failed ability check, and the use of Second Wind isn’t expended if you still fail. I like this a lot, and the Fighters in my game are going to appreciate it a lot.
- Fighters once again get subclass features at 3, 7, 10, 15, 18.
- Bards and Clerics look at them thinking, “Must be f*ckin’ nice.”
- Ability Score Improvement/Feat at 4, 6, 8, 12, 14, 16, and 19. Two feats better than the “normal.”
- Extra Attack at level 5, of course.
- Tactical Shift, also at level 5, lets you move up to half your Speed without provoking when you use a Second Wind in its Bonus Action form (not its Tactical Mind Free Action form). This is basically fine, and if you’re in a bad way for hit points, GTFO’ing with a free Disengage feels great.
- Indomitable at level 9 is back to giving more uses at higher levels. I like this feature – both that it’s back where it was, and that you have a bonus on the reroll.
- Master of Armaments at level 9 replaces Weapon Expert and Weapon Adept, and lets you substitute Mastery properties for weapons you’re using. I’m okay with this but it feels like the whole system of weapons qualifying for properties exists to interact with this feature.
- Second Extra Attack at level 11, of course.
- Studied Attacks at level 13 grants Advantage after you miss with an attack. You’ve got to still be attacking the same creature, but the net effect is that high-level Fighters hit and crit more often. If Great Weapon Master and Sharpshooter weren’t changing, this would be a huge argument in favor of using them.
- At 17th level, Action Surge and Indomitable both improve – it’s only more uses, but a second Action Surge per Short Rest is no joke. I felt like that was worth calling out.
- Third Extra Attack at level 20.
The worst I can say about this is that “Second Wind” is a little awkward as a currency name for Tactical Mind, and I’m sure we’ll see Fighter subclasses offer more alternate reasons to spend your Second Winds. Other than that, this looks like a solid, enjoyable class with no intrinsic magic, just incredible survivability and sustained damage output. It doesn’t suffer from changes to monster design the way the Barbarian does.
This was my instant favorite Fighter subclass in 2014 and, guess what? Still going strong. (Rune Knight and Eldritch Knight are also great.)
- Combat Superiority is unchanged in function. You learn 3 maneuvers, scaling to 6 by level 15. Those maneuvers start at 4d8, but if you water them and keep them in the sun, they can grow to 6d12.
- Student of War still gives you proficiency in one Artisan’s Tool, but now also gives you proficiency in one additional Fighter skill. Sounds good.
- Know Your Enemy at level 7 has been redesigned, because the 1-minute focus time and the bulleted list of questions you were allowed to ask created a feature that was awfully hard to use. Now it lets you check a creature within 30 feet for immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities as a Bonus Action. You can use this 1/Long Rest, or expend Combat Superiority dice for more uses. I’d say this is much more likely to see steady use.
- At level 10, your Combat Superiority dice become one size more superior in combat (d10).
- Relentless at level 15 is a different kind of currency fixer – instead of restoring CS dice when you start combat without them, you just get one free d8 CS die per turn. That’s incredible for stretching out currency over a long fight, or between fights without a rest.
- Ultimate Combat Superiority at level 18 pushes your CS dice to d12s at last.
Right, so, an amazing subclass got more amazing. No problems detected.
Battle Master Maneuvers
A whole mess of maneuvers from TCOE are coming into the 5e.24 PH. I’ve commented on them already, so I’ll just link that.
- Commander’s Strike still costs one of your attacks from your Attack action and your ally’s Reaction, but no longer also costs your Bonus Action. If you want to use this more than once per turn on different allies, fine, go ahead.
- Disarming Attack, Distracting Strike, Goading Attack, Maneuvering Attack, Menacing Attack, and Precision Attack now work with Unarmed Strikes, where previously they only worked on weapon attacks.
- Evasive Footwork lasts until the end of your turn rather than until you stop moving. This mostly only matters if you use it, move, stop to stab some dude, and move again. Legendary Actions and the most of the new Reaction crypto-Legendaries in Morte’s Planar Parade use the end of your turn as their trigger, so Evasive Footwork won’t help with those.
- Lunging Attack has been redesigned. Instead of increasing reach for one attack, which admittedly isn’t helpful that often, this lets you Dash as a Bonus Action, and if you move far enough to be a Charge before hitting with a melee weapon (this should probably work for Unarmed Strike, because… flying kick), you add your CS die to damage. This is great if you need more movement reasonably often; I feel like Orym in Critical Role would get a lot of mileage from this one.
- Parry used to only allow CS die + your Dex modifier for the damage it stops. Now you can use Strength instead if you want. Good change.
- Precision Attack now triggers on a miss, rather than “before or after the attack roll,” which was… never super clear on timing. Good fix.
- Rally now uses Int or Wis or Cha + your CS die for Temporary Hit Points, which is great. Build your slightly leader-ish Battle Master however you like. The one Fighter I saw who used Rally extensively was incredible with it, because he was in a situation where he couldn’t affect the fight any other way, so he made the party’s ranger who was in position amazing.
Good gets better. I have no issues with these. The whole Battle Master gets a “this looks fun as heck” from me.
Oh… oh my. This is a huge promise, because the Brawler build for 4e Fighters was one of the best things I played in all of that edition. Their combat style was kinetic and fun, and had so much control and forced movement. This isn’t especially trying for the specifically weapon-and-open-hand style that we saw in 4e; instead, it’s trying to cover bareknuckle boxing and improvised weapons, as from a bar brawl. I like that also.
- Unarmed Expert lets you deal 1d6 damage with your Unarmed Strike, or 1d8 damage if you can do the Kirk double-fist punch. (There are a lot of ways you can explain extra damage if both hands are empty, but…)
- Improvised Expert lets you add weapon properties to Improvised Weapons – one property for one-handed weapons and one property for two-handed weapons. Further, you can choose one of three different Weapon Mastery properties for one-handed or two-handed weapons.
- Choosing your weapon’s Mastery property uniquely for each attack is really cool. It’s not making up for how far your damage is lagging behind a character with a real weapon, though.
- Between this and Unarmed Expert, there’s just one glaring problem: these two features bring you up to almost as good as a normal Fighter with weapons and no subclass features. These need to be a lot stronger to make levels 3-6 on par with a Fighter who also has subclass features.
- Grappling Expert at level 7 is where you start to have a real advantage over a baseline Fighter. As a Bonus Action, you can make an Unarmed Strike as a Grapple or Shove, and if you’re Grappling a creature at the start of your turn, you can deal 1d6 Bludgeoning damage to them for free.
- This delivers maybe 80% of the 4e Brawler content that I’m looking for. This is absolutely great.
- Dirty Fighting at level 10 gives you Advantage on Improvised and Unarmed attacks you make against creatures you’re Grappling. That tells you very firmly to Grapple first and ask questions later in everything but corner-case situations.
- Improvised Specialist at level 15 finally helps your damage with Improvised Weapons catch up to—maybe even pass?—people using ordinary or magic weapons; you can also apply two Mastery properties to your Improvised Weapon attacks feature rather than one.
- This, or something like it, desperately needs to happen somewhere before level 15. Amazing feature on the math side, but out of reach for official campaigns that aren’t Tyranny of Dragons, Mad Mage, or Turn of Fortune’s Wheel
- Unarmed Specialist at level 18 improves your Unarmed Strike damage from d6/d8 to d8/d10. What a completely insufficient feature. This needs to be so much more.
This is a solid first step. I would like to see all of what this offers except maybe Dirty Fighting compressed down to lower levels, and further new features added. Some ideas:
- You should be able to treat creatures you’re Grappling as Improvised Weapons on some limited basis. This is how you slam two creatures’ heads together to knock them both out, or Shove one guy into another and knock them both prone.
- I quite like the 4e utility power Makeshift Shield – an Improvised Shield concept would be cool here. You’re a Fighter, and this subclass ultimately asks you to sacrifice defensive options for a modest return on offense.
- Maybe specifically using one Grappled enemy to block an incoming attack?
I’m glad this exists, for the players who want this experience. In one session of my Aurikesh campaign, I had a Battle Master, an Eldritch Knight, and a Champion all in the same group, and that was interesting to see. Anyway, Champion always worked basically fine, so it’s not surprising that the changes to this are mostly reversions from the previous packet.
- Improved Critical needs no change. All good. Your weapon and unarmed attacks crit on 19-20.
- Remarkable Athlete dropped from level 7 to level 3, which is great. It now applies Advantage to Initiative and Strength (Athletics) rolls, and adds your Strength modifier to your running long jump distance.
- Additional Fighting Style drops from level 10 to level 7 – here again, big fan. The worst single problem with all 5e subclasses is the tendency to hold the cool thing back too long. Anyway, this does exactly what the name says.
- Heroic Warrior at level 10 gives you Heroic Advantage whenever you start your turn without it. I don’t like this, just in that it takes you completely out of any interest in engaging with the roleplay side of Heroic Advantage. I’d like something else here instead.
- Superior Critical at level 15 adds 18 to your crit range. Love it.
- Survivor at level 18 grants Advantage and expanded “crit” range on your death saving throws, and still restores your hit points as long as you’re at or below half health and above 0. The new Knocking Someone Out rule means that they have to take you to 0 hit points and stabilize you; otherwise you keep popping back up.
- Be aware that there’s at least one creature in official release that gets a massive power-up if a creature near it regains hit points, so having a character with this feature makes the fight… not quite unwinnable, but unbelievably harder, even in tier 4.
Heroic Warrior is my only issue with this subclass. Its mechanics are beneficial—I just don’t like what it says and does in the system. Otherwise, the Champion is another case of good improving to great. You just have to make a lot of attacks without a Short or Long Rest for the expanded crit range to catch up to the added damage of Combat Superiority dice, and Champions have no answer to the other effects that the Maneuvers offer.
The design of the Eldritch Knight depends much more than one really wants to see on system mastery. Specifically, you need to understand the nuances of all of your spell options. It helps if you also have a spare high ability score to throw at Intelligence. My number-one-with-a-bullet piece of advice is do not sleep on Protection from Evil and Good. In fights where it applies, PfE&G on top of a strong AC is deeply unfair and amazing.
- Spellcasting is unchanged except that the schools of spells you can learn are no longer restricted after level 3, you can use an Arcane Focus, and you can reassign a Cantrip each time you level. Great, fine, love it.
- Abjurations are still some of the best choices for EKs, since you aren’t guaranteed to have a good spell attack bonus or spell save DC.
- War Bond at level 3 helps you fund the war against Hitler, and I approve of that.
- I’m receiving a note here.
- Apparently this is just a rename of Weapon Bond from 5e.14, with no other changes.
- War Magic at level 7 is hugely Instead of casting a cantrip and getting one attack as a Bonus Action (this scales poorly at level 11!), you can drop one attack from your Attack action to cast a cantrip. With Greenflame Blade, always one of my favorites, this is fantastic.
- Eldritch Strike at level 10 is unchanged – hitting a creature with a weapon gives it Disadvantage on its next save against a spell you cast, before the end of your next turn. Great for prepping a crowd-control spell, for example, but also nice for making any saving-throw-based cantrip land.
- Arcane Charge at level 15 is unchanged, and it is awesome: your Action Surge also gives you a 30-ft teleport, before or after the additional action.
- Improved War Magic at level 18 lets you replace two of your attacks with any Wizard spell you can cast that has a casting time of 1 action. This is potentially great for your 3rd and 4th-level spells.
- It’s also a marked improvement over its previous version, where you could make one attack after casting a spell.
Overall, I’d have to play an Eldritch Knight for a long time to feel confident in the intricacies of their action economy, spell selection, and use of Concentration. The tanking potential of EKs – plate armor, a shield, Blur, and Shield – is eye-poppingly great even in 5e.14. For a lot of them, War Magic and Improved War Magic barely enter the picture, because they’re holding so much back for more defensive spells.
That brings us to the end of the Fighter and its subclasses in this document. The class and its subclasses are all looking great to me, but even in 5e.14, I felt like the Fighter’s survivability and mix of sustained and burst damage output were impressive and fun. A lot of the conversation I hear suggests that spellcasters are the be-all and end-all of 5e.14 play, and that’s just not my experience at the table with even modest party cooperation. Spellcasters are great, but I feel like I have to solve for my fighters as much as or more than other classes.
Next time: Sorcerers! And… maybe I can slip in an extra article to cover Bastions and Cantrips soon?