The Fighter is one of the basic classes in almost every RPG system ever made.
It's also one of the main classes of fixed wing Combat Aircraft alongside bomber, and hybrids of the two.
The fighter's primary role is serving as a meat shield and smashing things. Fighters can wear armor and use powerful weapons. They are also traditionally good at physical activities like jumping, riding animals, balancing, and sometimes not drowning under the weight of their own armor. Some systems also let fighter be for flexible in presence other similar classes, letting them dip into Skill monkey territory. Without fighters (or lest their magical cousins, paladins), a party typically needs to replace them via summoning or enchantment to ensure that the GM doesn't casually pick off at least one party member on any given day.
Dungeons and Dragons
In D&D the Fighter class has existed since the very first incarnations (then called "fighting-man").
In the 1st editions, the fighter's strength was endurance. His killing power lasted far longer than that of magic-users, as he could not run out of sword (back then the only cantrip was Prestidigitation, except it was just called "cantrip"). So a lv 1 mage could cast Magic Missile exactly once and was then completely useless for the rest of the fight. And we liked it. Of course, any player worth their salt would take sleep instead. Players who rolled 18 Strength at character creation got the benefit of an "exceptional Strength score", metered strangely in the format "18/nn", (where "nn" is the roll of a d100) could add as many as 6 points of damage to every hit for those who received the blessings of the dice gods. By rule, it was possible for a fighter to obtain a level of armor fairly early on that made him unhittable unless the attacker rolled a natural 20. This even worked against touch attacks, as the rules granted them no bonus to hit. Fighters could also mass many hit points. Gear loss was not a problem in 1e, as the fighter could wear any armor and use any weapon that they found.
A little later, the Unearthed Arcana book first added weapon specialization (and weapon mastery, then named double-specialization), allowing fighters to improve their damage even further and attack more than once per round, further improved by level.
However, the fighter's "saving throw" defenses against special attacks were absolutely wretched, making him a sitting duck for paralysis, petrification, breath weapons, death magic, magic wands, spells, and most horribly, poison, which was everywhere in 1e and meant almost certain death. Many found playing a 1e fighter boring because every problem was solved in largely the same way, and found the extra dice rolling to be a chore rather than a pleasure.
Fighters in 2nd edition continued all of the trends from 1st edition. 2nd edition spellcasting was limited by onerous regulations, costly material components (which back then were consumed upon casting unless otherwise stated), and the likely permanent crippling of the caster, making fighters the kings of the 2e battlefield. They had the best "THAC0" (To Hit Armor Class 0) chance of any class to hit enemies. In 2nd edition, fighters received bonus attacks based on their level, and these bonus attacks had no penalty to hit. With new 2e rules for bows allowing 2 shots per combat round at level 1, with the common sheaf arrow dealing an entire d10 "hit die" worth of damage, and with the advent of the "Odysseus-style" composite longbow adding Strength bonus to arrow damage, fighters were a serious threat at any range. The (optional) proficiency system meant that fighters couldn't quite achieve the "pick up anything they find and use it" levels of gear efficiency that they had in 1st edition, but since the fighter's penalty for using a weapon unskilled was only -2 to hit, and the nonweapon proficiencies were mostly worthless medieval fluff like Cobbling and Heraldry, Fighters still weren't particularly worried about Rust Monsters and Ethereal Filchers nicking all of their stuff.
Weapon specialization got added to the Player's Handbook and became a standard, further improving the fighter's combat ability. Around the end days of the edition, the notoriously unbalanced Player's Option line of books further developed this into weapon mastery, high mastery, and grandmastery, which allowed the fighter to swing his chosen weapon even faster, crit more often, and even increase the damage dice to the next highest. A grandmaster swordsman could swing his bastard sword four times in a round, dealing 1d20+3 instead of 1d12 damage against an ogre or a dragon or something. Meanwhile, his buddy, the fastest dart-thrower in the Sword Coast, gets to throw seven darts for 1d4+7 damage each and one out of four will crit, and only a natural 1 would miss. No high-level fighter with a DM stupid enough to allow him to use these rules was to be fucked with in 2nd edition.
In 3.x, the advent of Feats was supposed to make fighters more attractive to play. The fighter gets loads of feats, making it the only class that can take more than one full-size feat tree (Archery, Weapon Specialization, etc.). But feats brought a nerf in disguise. Fighters could no longer use the best weapons like the "spiked chain" without spending feats to do so, or taking a significant -4 penalty to hit. The only fighter feats really worth getting involved a horrible exploit in 3.0 called "the bag of rats" (the fighter dropped a bag full of rats in front of an enemy, then used Whirlwind Attack feat to attack all the rats in a single round, then used Great Cleave to get a free attack on the enemy for each rat killed. This was clobbered in 3.5). There were other nerfs as well. Bonus attacks received hit penalties that made them nigh-worthless, and actually using them meant choosing between movement or full attack, one of Monte Cook's more subtle and fiendish nerfs in his endless quest to ensure total spellcaster domination. Bow rate of fire and damage was nerfed, and crossbows, which any character could use, got a significant damage increase. The new skill system overtook things that any character could do in previous versions of the game, and with their tiny number of "skill points", fighters became helpless bumbling buffoons in just about everything... not that more skill points would have helped them. All of their class skills that benefited from their god stat (strength) suffered huge nerfs when wearing heavy armor. They had no class skills that benefited from their second most important stat (constitution) and only one (ride) that benefited from their third most important stat (dexterity), and the rest of their stats were dump stats. So, in other words, they had exactly one skill that was actually worth putting skill points into.
Meanwhile, spells became so powerful that a single caster could bring down entire armies in one or two rounds. The result was that your party was better off having any character with Summon Monster I than with a fighter. Fighter became something you multi-classed your rogue or cleric into for one or two levels, in order to get their bonus feats and weapon, armor, and shield proficiencies. It was still a scrumptious dip class for those first few levels, but it was generally best left behind afterwards.
Fighter is the only class in the game to have two iconic characters that actually got used: the Tordeck Dwarf and Regdar the human. Tordeck came first, but the suits came and demanded the Fighter iconic be a Human male and this human male be prominent in art. In response, the devs made both the iconic and, as an in-joke about their disdain for the situation, illustrations featuring Regdar were primarily of the him being victim of various hazards or abilities. This ended with Regdar appearing dead in the core book for 4th edition.
How to play one effectively
You've got three options, depending on how optimized you want to be:
- Add some homebrew bullsh** to make them suck less
- Play as an orc or warforged. Orcs have +4 strength and no penalties to con or dex, which is fucking amazing for a +0 LA race. Warforged, meanwhile, can take Adamantine Body at level 1 and be borderline indestructible for those first several levels until they can prestige into Juggernaut. If all you can do is hit stuff with a stick, you might as well get really really good at it. Dwarf might also be a good choice of race.
Weaponwise, you'll want to get one of the best options: spiked chain, rope dart, or dragon chain (for trip builds), kaorti resin jovar or kaorti resin elven courtblade (for crit builds), dwarven warpike (for polearm builds), gnomish quickrazor (for iaijutsu focus), and so on.
Fighters are generally a little beefier and a lot better in Pathfinder, with more unique passive benefits other people don't have, while keeping their big pile of feats, and fewer classes that can be described as "like a Fighter but better." They don't have the raw power of the spellcasting classes, but they're now actually good at their job, namely, killing tons of dudes while shrugging off damage, while many martial and exotic weapons, particularly archery, are more attractive options. The archetype system also helps them a lot, sacrificing much of their versatility in terms of weapon use to make them even deadlier or tougher with a single combat style. (Two-handed weapon, sword-and-board, unarmed combat, etc.)
Unfortunately, with a pitiful dribble of skill points and limited skill selection anyway, they don't tend to be much use once things are actually being done out of combat, barring pure roleplaying or trait-use to gain one good skill. In-fact, Fighter is the only player class in the game to have 2+int skill points per level and no casting ability. A lot of the time, if no fighting's going on, the fighter's player may as well just go off to use the restroom or crack open a soda for all the use he'll be. One way around this is to take the Tactician archetype, which gives them a lot more skill points and class skills, offers great bonuses and buffing capacity for having high mental stats, and barely reduces their combat effectiveness in the bargain. The only real price is a little bit of MAD trouble, but if you rolled well on your scores and want to make a character who can kick ass and still be the charismatic and intelligent party leader, consider it.
There are also two particular books (Armor Master's Handbook and Weapon Master's Handbook) which mitigate a degree to which the fighter can actually contribute both in and out of combat. By sacrificing one level of Weapon or Armor training after the first, they can instead gain special training options. Among the notable ones are Versatile Training (BAB=skill ranks for two skills as designated by weapon group), Armored Juggernaut (Damage Resistance when wearing armor), Warrior Spirit (gain the power to add a temporary magical bonus to a weapon), and Fighter's Reflexes (Add weapon training to Reflex). Though practically all the archetypes trade these off one way or another, it's an incentive for those who don't or those who find that they need something more than +1 on a weapon.
Another avenue of approach is the combination of the Lore Warden and Martial Master archetypes. The Lore Warden trades in medium and heavy armor and armor training in favor of better ability to trip, grapple, sunder, disarm, and perform other combat maneuvers, a +2 bonus to attack and damage after making a successful knowledge check, an extra two skill points, all knowledge skills, the ability to negate critical hits, and the ability to automatically confirm a critical hit on a knowledge check. It does a good job of making the Fighter have more skills and variety in combat. However, combining it with the Martial Master allows you to flexibly pick up combat feats as you need them, like a Brawler. that means you aren't locked into a single static configuration, and can change up how you fight on an encounter-by-encounter basis. Invisible enemy? Take blind-fight! Flying enemy? Grab ranged feats! DM gives you an exotic weapon that you need to kill a boss with? EWP. It makes up for the fighter's weakness in being able to kill dudes quickly but only in one specific way.
To give Fighters something to do, they got exclusive access to Attacks of Opportunity before 6th level (and even then, only Barbarians and Champions get it, and need to spend a class feat on it). Other than that, they remain the exact same opposite of the Skill monkey they are in any other D&D (Class feats are almost entirely combat utility, and almost no non-combat utility), although skill advancement is at the same rate as any other non-Rogue. Athletics and Intimidate remain your best skills, especially with the overhaul on how Combat Maneuvers work, while Crafting is critical for maintaining equipment regardless of focus (especially since shields can be damaged quite easily now). Dex fighters can get a lot out of Acrobatics, Stealth and Thievery. In combat, the only real weak spot they have is crossbows, as those weapons require multiple actions to reload and only the Ranger and Gunslinger can access the feats needed to facilitate on that front without dipping into an archetype.
More than any other class, the Fighter is the least bound by any class features, whereas other classes are forced to specialize in a specific part of their niche. While they have weapon mastery to grant better proficiency for one weapon group as well as access to crit effects, their impact boils down to slightly bigger numbers in combat for the most part. This makes Fighters incredibly open to archetyping since they lose so little from it. In addition, fighters have the ability to take temporary feats, as the Brawler did before. This was buffed because, instead of it being usable 3 + half Brawler level times per day for a few minutes, now Fighters can pick a Fighter class feat they don't have, picking at half their level.
What makes Fighters shine is having both the best attack bonus progression and having a bunch of combat feats that allows them to cheat the action economy, though it is not unique to them (Barbarian and Ranger both get various similiar feats). However, by having an attack bonus that is superior any other class, they are quite more likely to critically hit. Besides the usual double damage, fighters of level 5 or higher apply various penalties depending on the weapon they are using. From making them flat-footed, bleed or prone, a fighter in melee can bully a foe into submission with combat maneuvers or by simply being so good in hitting them.
In 4th edition, the Fighter is listed as a "Defender". His main purpose is to serve as a meatshield and prevent the enemies from getting close to the squishies behind them. Fighters do more single-target damage than any other class in the game that isn't a "Striker" (and in some cases can out-damage strikers, especially if they get a lot of opportunity attacks). They also make the squares around them a living hell for any marked foe who tries to move through them at all. They come in five flavors: "Great Weapon" (uses two-handed weapons, considered to be a striker "by the back door"), "Guardian" (the archetypical 4th Edition fighter, uses a one-hand weapon and a shield, has primary access to most of the best Fighter powers including the truly awesome Tide of Iron at-will), "Battlerager" (a berserker fighter build, lives on yummy, yummy, temporary hit points), "Tempest" (a two-weapon fighter build for those who feel like they cannot live without a two-weapon warrior who wears heavy armor), and "Brawler" (uses a one-handed weapon, but leaves the other hand open so they can grab people to use them as human shields, break faces, or snap necks).
In 5th edition, the Fighter is the only class who hangs onto 4e's Healing Surge (called Second Wind, and usable once per short rest, granting 1d10+Fighter level). Fighters base class don't have a lot of abilities, but what they do have is very useful - aside from aforementioned Second Wind they can do two Actions per turn once per short rest, get rerolls on failed saving throws, and are the only class that can get 3+ basic attacks per turn without feats or dual wielding - all very simple but incredibly powerful abilities. Fighters also have more levels dedicated to stat increases, and since you can use those for either 2 stat points or 1 feat, fighters are likely to have 20s in any stats they want and still have slots left over for feats.
While stereotypical warrior is a STR based frontliner tank (sword and board) or damage dealer (greatsword or polearm), DEX builds of dual wielder, duelist or archer are equally viable, giving you better range and stealth options, while losing on the AC and ability to wrestle enemies down with brute strength.
Most of the fighter flavor and cool tricks comes from the subclasses:
- Champion gives him more sustain and tankiness with more-frequent crits and better physical ability score checks (including initiative). Notable for being the only fighter subclass with no active abilities, which makes champion-fighter pretty much the gold standard of blandness in 5e;
- Battle Master, whose superiority dice allow them to perform maneuvers in combat to control the battlefield, help friends and inconvenience enemies. It's generally considered the most powerful and versatile Fighter subclass, and for a good reason. So much so that these maneuvers were even made as a special fighting style in the Tasha's Cauldron of Everything splatbook;
- Eldritch Knight, who casts spells and swings swords, and eventually can cast and swing at the same time;
- Purple Dragon Knight (whose setting-neutral name is given as "Banneret"), whose gimmick is that he can give other party members fighter powers and so he basically serves as an option to play a Warlord;
- Arcane Archer - an archery-focused archetype that allows to imbue fighter's arrows with magical properties, such as ability to go through cover or to redirect your shot at a different target in case of a miss);
- Cavalier - a mount-based archetype that specializes in protection and control of the battlefield;
- Samurai - an archetype that allows fighters to get both advantage on attacks AND temporary hitpoints as a bonus action three times per long rest and boosts their social abilities;
- Monster Hunter like the Battle Master makes use of Superiority Dice, but his are more limited in use; add one to an attack roll, add one to a damage roll, add one to an Int, Wis or Cha saving throw, or add one to Wisdom check made either to detect a hidden creature/object or to determine if someone is lying. He gains bonus proficiencies in skills useful for monster hunting, can cast Detect Magic as a ritual and Protection from Evil & Good once per long rest as a spell-like ability, and at 7th level gains the Monster Slayer trait. This A: lets him spend two superiority dice for extra damage instead of one, and B: means that when he does so against an aberration, fae, fiend or undead target, superiority dice deal their maximum bonus damage automatically;
- Echo Knight is a curious subclass built around creating 1 HP magical time-clones of yourself and teleport-swapping with them, making attacks through them, eventually making attacks alongside them and healing when they get destroyed.
- Brute is exactly what the name suggests: a simple brute force warrior that deals more damage and generally behaves like a cruder version of Champion with a bit of Barbarian charm sprinkled on it. Someone aptly described it as the go-to subclass for playing Gregor Clegane or WHFB Khornate Champion;
- Rune Knight is a battle smith carving magical runes into his equipment that give him potent passive effects and one-use active effects by invoking those runes. Surprisingly not connected to Dorfs in any way, it actually draws power from Giant heritage, and even lets you roid-rage twice per long rest, during which you grow larger and hit harder.
- Scout is for when you want to play a Ranger but you're allergic to classes that suck ass. It also uses superiority dice, but for much weaker effects than Battle Master and Monster Hunter. In return you get a ton of out of combat utility for scouting, foraging and survival in the wilderness and tools for setting up ambushes, making the most out of them and avoiding getting into one yourself.
- Psi Knight is a fantasy Jedi that comes stock with psychic shields for damage reduction, psychic strikes augmenting one of his attacks per turn, and psychic jumps (that only cost 1 foot of movement) for extra mobility, and later grows to force push/trip for control, resistance to psychic damage and poisons, force barriers for sweet sweet half cover in the open and finally full on telekinesis. It all gets powered by funky psychic dice which get weaker if you roll too good but grow back if you roll too bad, while some of the stronger abilities lower it just for using them or using them more than once, so the more you use your Jedi powers the more they fluctuate with a chance to run out of them till the long rest if you consistently roll too good or overuse powerful abilities.
Other classes might spike higher, but between the largely-short-rest-recharging powers and high natural sustain, fighters can operate at near-peak efficiency even on grueling grinder-days. And when one of the biggest problems with the 3.5 fighter was his bland lack of class features or nice skills, between the reworked skills and backgrounds system and his cannibalization of nice things from 4e, the fighter is certainly his own man this edition, able to contribute outside of combat as well as any other non-spellcaster.
What's pretty great about this set-up is that it makes sense from a fluff perspective and gives the fighter an edge it's been lacking since 2e, namely that it is the best in terms of martial skill. Your extra attacks reflect your expertise, and the special abilities other classes get are meant to compensate for your superior skills; Paladins smite, Rogues sneak attack, Barbarians Rage, Monks use Ki and Rangers get killed so the player can roll up a better class.
Mike Mearls created four new archetypes that exist exclusively on his stream so far, but mechanics can be found on the 5etools website. These include the Slayer (a big monster-killer specialist), the Weapon Master (who gets its own sub-subclasses!) and 5eifications of the Warlord and the Psychic Warrior.
Class Feature Variants
While the Fighter is a more than competent class in 5th edition, a common house-rule among players is to give any Fighter, regardless of subclass, a few maneuvers from the Battle Master subclass. The Battle Master is widely regarded to be one of the best subclasses for the Fighter, and also the most fun of the subclasses, as it allows you to do a whole lot more than swing a sword around. With the November 2019 UA, this house rule has (sort of) become canon! In addition to the slew of Fighting Style choices the UA delivered, the Fighter gets an exclusive Fighting Style that nets them a free maneuver from the Battle Master. In addition, they added a wide variety of powerful maneuvers that let the Fighter skill monkey hard, twirl blades around, and lie like a silver-tongued Rogue! Because really, everything is improved with a small dose of weeaboo fightan magic. Obvious downside, of course, is obvious: they buffed the most brokenly overpowered subclass and made it the "default" option, while offering almost nothing to anyone else.
The Tasha's Cauldron of Everything splat sees these all effectively canonized though not fully integrated in case of GM fiat forbidding this book because "reasons" (Read: Your GM is a whiny bitch who loathes the idea of Fighters being able to do things aside from swinging swords).
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Classes|
|Player's Handbook 1:||Cleric - Fighter - Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Warlock - Warlord - Wizard|
|Player's Handbook 2:||Avenger - Barbarian - Bard - Druid - Invoker - Shaman - Sorcerer - Warden|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Ardent - Battlemind - Monk - Psion - Runepriest - Seeker|
|Heroes of X:||Blackguard - Binder - Cavalier - Elementalist - Hexblade - Hunter|
Mage - Knight - Protector - Scout - Sentinel - Skald - Slayer - Sha'ir - Thief
Vampire - Warpriest - Witch
|Settings Book:||Artificer - Bladesinger - Swordmage|
|Others:||Paragon Path - Epic Destiny|
|Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Classes|
|Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Warlock - Wizard
|Tasha's Cauldron of Everything:||Artificer - Expert - Spellcaster - Warrior|
|Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft:||Apprentice - Disciple - Sneak - Squire|
|The Classes of Pathfinder 1st Edition|
|Core Classes:||Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
|Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
|Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist |
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
|Ultimate X:||Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante|
|The Classes of Pathfinder 2nd Edition|
|Core Classes:||Alchemist - Barbarian - Bard - Champion - Cleric - Druid |
Fighter - Monk - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Advanced Player's Guide:||Investigator - Oracle - Swashbuckler - Witch|
|Secrets of Magic:||Magus - Summoner|
|Guns and Gears:||Gunslinger - Inventor|