D&D 5e: Battle Master Fighter Guide

D&D 5e: Battle Master Fighter Guide

Role in the Party

All adventurers have to be handy with their chosen weapon, but some take combat to an art form. 

Whether surrounded by enemies, dispatching them in a flurry of flickering blades, or putting a single, fateful arrow into the weak point of a rampaging dragon, the Battle Master is exactly as its name suggests. The master of battle. 

Comfortable leading the charge, tanking hit after hit, wielding every possible weapon to deal massive damage, or hanging back with ranged weapons and barked commands, the Battle Master is the quintessential fighter, and there’s no one a party would prefer to have at their side when combat is joined. 

This guide explains the Battle Master Fighter subclass, including its abilities, some possible build paths, multiclass options, feats, and everything else a player should know. 

Epic

Good

Meh

Bad

Battle Master Features

Combat Superiority: From level 3, the Battle Master learns to execute skilled Combat Maneuvers that allow them to perform mini-feats while fighting. 

This is the core ability of the class, and it’s powerful enough that it defines not just the Battle Master, but every other Fighter subclass. The ability is reasonably complicated, so it’s broken down below. 

  • The Fighter learns multiple Maneuvers. It learns 3 Maneuvers at level 3, then learns 2 more at level 7, 2 more at level 10, and a final 2 at level 15.

  • Maneuvers are fueled by Superiority Dice, and the dice are spent when used. 

  • The class starts with 4 Superiority Dice and gains one more at level 7 and level 15. 

  • All Superiority Dice are refreshed on both short and long rests. 

  • Some Maneuvers require the enemy to make a saving throw. The DC of this saving throw is 8 + Proficiency Bonus + STR or DEX Bonus

Battle Master Maneuver List

  • Ambush: Add the superiority die to a Stealth or Initiative check. Both of these are worthwhile uses of a regenerating resource, especially to get an important first combat turn. 

  • Bait and Switch: Switch places with an ally, then add the superiority dice to one character’s AC. You have to build towards this, but it’s surprisingly handy for getting allies out of reach and turning you into an impressive tank. 

  • Brace: Hit an enemy that moves into your reach. Situational, and just a worse Polearm Master feat. Mostly not worth it, find space for the feat and do this for free instead.  

  • Commander’s Strike: Give up one of your attacks to let an ally spend their reaction to attack. If you have a Paladin or a Rogue in the party, this moves to purple because of the damage those classes can deal, otherwise you might as well just hit them yourself. 

  • Commanding Presence: Add a superiority dice to the result of any of the three social skills when you make a check. This is a great out-of-combat option for the second or third set of Maneuvers the character learns.  

  • Disarming Attack: Force an enemy to drop what it’s holding if it fails a STR save. A lot of enemies don’t hold weapons (why is that Dragon holding a dagger?) and the ones that do are normally great at STR saves, making this too situational to be good.  

  • Distracting Strike: After hitting an enemy, spend a die to grant the next attack against that same enemy Advantage, without needing a save. Decent in a party full of strikers, but it’s important to make sure that the right person follows in initiative order. 

  • Evasive Footwork: Add one superiority dice to your AC. Against opportunity attacks. For one turn. This isn’t ever going to come up. 

  • Feinting Attack: Spend a dice and a bonus action to gain Advantage on your next attack against a target. It’s normally better to find a way to use that bonus action to just hit them, instead. The same amount of attack rolls and more potential for damage. 

  • Goading Attack: Force an enemy to make a WIS save. If they fail, they have Disadvantage to attack anything, not you. If you’ve built to be a tank, (and as a Fighter, that’s easy to do) you want enemies to be hitting you and not the squishy casters. 

  • Grappling Strike: After hitting with an attack, spend a bonus action to grapple, but most importantly, add the superiority dice to the check. The last point makes this great for wrestler builds, and grappling is a very powerful effect if it can land.  

  • Lunging Attack: Spend a dice to increase the range of an attack by 5ft, and increase its damage by the dice roll. One attack. On a class that can potentially make 4 in one turn as early as level 5. No. Take one step forward. Now hit them. Well done. 

  • Maneuvering Strike: Adds bonus damage and an ally can spend a reaction to move up to half their speed without taking opportunity attacks. The use case will be rare, but this can save an ally’s life when it comes up. A great later pick. 

  • Menacing Attack: Force the Frightened condition on an enemy for a turn. Frightened is a debilitating debuff, and they can’t move closer to you, either. Pack a bow or a polearm for maximum fun. 

  • Parry: Spend a reaction to reduce the damage from a hit by the dice roll + DEX mod. Strong early, but the damage reduction falls off very fast.

  • Precision Attack: Add the result of a superiority dice to a hit roll. And it can be done after the attack roll is made, so you can roughly work out how close you were to hitting the enemy. This is amazing, especially with big, smashy feats like Great Weapon Master. 

  • Pushing Attack: Force a STR save or push an enemy up to 15ft backward. The times when this amount of movement is going to matter can be counted on one hand. 

  • Quick Toss: Draw and throw a weapon as a single bonus action, adding the superiority dice as extra damage. You’re a Fighter. Take the Thrown Weapon fighting style and get this for free

  • Rally: Spend a bonus action to give an ally temporary HP equal to the Superiority Dice roll + your CHA modifier. At first glance, this sounds bad. But temporary HP doesn’t run out until you long rest. So any spare superiority dice can be converted into mini-shields for party members every time you short rest because they’ll all refresh anyway. Plus, temporary HP in an emergency is never a bad way to spend your bonus action. 

  • Riposte: If an enemy misses you with an attack, spend a reaction to attack them right back, with the superiority dice as bonus damage. That’s already nice, but certain multiclass builds (Rogue…) make this straight purple

  • Sweeping Attack: Spend a superiority dice to attack a creature that’s within 5ft of your primary target. It takes damage equal to the dice roll. That’s a maximum of 12 damage at level 20. This is just awful. 

  • Tactical Assessment: Add a superiority dice to Insight, Investigation, and History checks. Pseudo Bardic Inspiration is nice, as are more non-combat uses for Superiority on days were swinging a sword seems unlikely to happen.  

  • Trip Attack: Prone is a powerful effect, but this requires a save, and only works on targets that are a maximum of Large size. Still, knocking an enemy prone and then popping Action Surge to slam all of your remaining attacks into them with Advantage is a great use of a superiority dice. 

Student of War: Also at level 3, the character gains proficiency in one type of Artisan’s Tools. The intent here is obvious. Learn to use Smith’s Tools and keep your gear fresh, or take up painting and become a warrior-philosopher. It’s a nice flavor, and we already got our big ability at this level, so this is just a free proficiency. 

Know Your Enemy: From 7, the Battle Master learns to size up their enemies before they fight. After a minute of non-combat interaction, the character can ask the GM to tell them if the target is better, worse, or equal to them in two choices picked from a big list. 

Realistically, this isn’t that useful. Intuition can regularly tell you whether a humanoid creature is strong. A mercenary leader’s normally stronger than their mooks, for example. Most parties also don’t have the capacity or inclination to stick around for a minute watching monsters, just so the Fighter can go “Ah ha! I have a higher AC than that goblin! Victory is assured!” 

In summary, a nice idea is poorly executed, and probably won’t be used often.  

Improved Combat Superiority: From level 10, Superiority Dice become d10s, and from level 18, they’re d12s. 

This isn’t a major boost, but it’s a welcome one. A higher ceiling and overall average damage on every Maneuver the character performs adds up over time, even if the individual bonuses are minor. 

Relentless: From level 15, if the Battle Master rolls initiative without any Superiority Dice left, they gain one. 

Simple and effective, this ensures the character always gets at least one Maneuver in every combat. It’s only green instead of elite-level purple because, by this level, the class isn’t particularly resource intensive. 


Strengths

The Battle Master is a Fighter without equal. No other Fighter subclass can come close to its ability to control the battlefield and adapt to situations, especially once the character has a few levels under its belt. 

Combat Maneuvers are simply that good. With it, the class has a collection of tools that are adaptive to multiple situations, with wide enough breadth that they can be turned into almost any build or combat style. 

Do you want to be a frontline damage dealing, dealing terrifying amounts of hurt every single turn? You can do that. A sneaky archer, skirting the edges of the battlefield and hampering enemies with conditions when you’re not scouting ahead. You can do that too. 

Shrugging off damage, aiding allies, and even giving the character boosts to non-combat skills. This one ability can do all of this and more. It pays to specialize, at least early on, but as the class gets stronger and learns more Maneuvers, it definitely has the space to take some of the less used, utility picks. 

Beyond all of this, the Battle Master is still a Fighter, one of the most consistently useful combat classes in the game. Even without Maneuvers, the class will happily deal damage and take hits, turn after turn. 

The Battle Master is also one of the most flexible characters in the entire game when it comes to multiclassing. Almost any other class in the game can happily be bolted onto the Battle Master’s chassis and still somehow create an effective build. 

On top of that, a three level dip is all that’s needed to get the core abilities of the subclass, and there are very few martial classes that aren’t improved by the addition of the Combat Maneuver ability. So even if you aren’t playing this class, you might want a few levels just to learn combat superiority. Everyone’s a fighter now. Even you, squishy wizard. Good luck! 

Weaknesses

The same thing that makes the Battle Master so strong is also their weakness. 

Combat Maneuvers. 

Until mid-level, the class only has 4 superiority dice, and it’s technically possible to blow all four of those in one round from level 5 if you Action Surge and use a Maneuver on every attack. 

While superiority dice come back on a short rest, those aren’t guaranteed, so learning a little restraint and managing resources is an important concept for the class, and one that should come naturally after learning how bad walking into a fight without resources feels.  

The out-of-combat abilities of the class are also slightly disappointing. Or at least, the baked-in ones like Know Your Enemy are. Maneuvers can help with this, but it’s also worth making smart skill, background, and racial choices to gain skills and abilities that are always going to be useful.

Best Race Options

Bugbear: Everything this race does is incredible for Fighters. Long limbed gives +5ft reach on every single melee attack. A 10ft threat range with a greatsword, or 15ft with polearms, is strong enough to be a bit silly. Increased carrying capacity is great for grappling. Big bonus damage if you surprise enemies is nice if it happens, and free proficiency in a useful skill, Stealth, is obviously great. 

Metallic Dragon: Variable stats are good, as are damage resistances. The big deal is scaling AOE elemental damage and a second, once-per-day cone of crowd control. 

This adds a way for the character to deal with hordes of low-HP enemies, and each breath weapon only takes the place of a single attack roll from an attack action. Interestingly, this means that Action Surging allows two breath weapon blasts in one turn, plus however many attacks the Fighter has left to take out what’s still standing. 

Warforged: Immunities against a whole bunch of common issues, not needing to sleep, bonus proficiencies, and a flat +1AC is a suite of abilities that can turn any Battle Master into a walking tank. Awesome flavor, too. 

Choosing the Right Skills

Every Fighter probably needs to take Perception, one, as it’s the most rolled skill in the game, and two, because it helps the party not get stabbed in the back by a goblin ambush. 

Battle Masters with high Strength will also almost definitely want Athletics. This governs physical movements like jumping and climbing, but also grappling, which can utterly shut down a single enemy on a single successful skill check. 

Many Fighters also have enough stat points spare to drop some into their mental stats. Charisma is useful if the Fighter wants to take part in social situations. Intelligence governs most of the knowledge skills. And Wisdom helps with surviving in the great outdoors. 

It’s generally a good idea to pick one or two skills that rely on your highest stat, and if possible, skills that your party isn’t already covering, to ensure that you’re going to get use out of them.  

Fitting Feats

Sentinel: Gain the ability to spend reactions to attack enemies that swing at your friends instead of you. More attacks equal more Maneuvers, which equals more dead enemies. 

That would be enough, but ignoring the Disengage action to still hit enemies, and your opportunity attacks reducing enemy speed to 0, utterly immobilizing them, just sweetens the deal. 

Great Weapon Master/Sharpshooter/Polearm Master: The Battle Master can use any fighting style in the game and still thrive, so these are all listed together. Choose your favorite combat tactics, pick up your weapon, and go blender some poor unfortunate soul. 

Crossbow Expert: A whole mess of benefits here. Ignore the Loading quality of a weapon, so you can reload crossbows instantly, shoot in melee without Disadvantage, and shoot a hand crossbow as a bonus action when you make melee attacks. 

All of those are great. The reason this is in our list of premier feat choices? It lets melee characters apply Maneuvers to enemies at a distance, even when they’re otherwise engaged or using melee weapons. A well-timed maneuver can shift the entire tempo of a battle, so having this on hand is fantastic.  

Optimal Backgrounds

Urchin: You learned to fight on the back streets. Two deceitful skills and two Roguish toolkits, including the important Thief’s Tools, which are especially essential if your party doesn’t already have them. 

Folk Hero: Two solid skills the character might want, plus a set of Artisan’s Tools and Land Vehicle proficiency just adds a ton of out of combat flexibility. 

Gladiator: Two interesting skills, including one the Fighter, doesn’t have access to, a social Toolkit, and a musical instrument add up to a lot of background flavor for a Battle Master.  

Multiclassing Options

Swashbuckler Rogue: This build revolves around landing a sneak attack after a sneak attack, no matter what your opponent does. With a rapier and shield in hand and the dueling fighting style, the build already does decent damage with its attacks, especially when using Maneuvers, before you even factor in sneak attack dice from the Rogue class. Swashbuckler is essential, as it lets the class sneak attack even when it’s fighting solo.  

By taking the Sentinel Feat, the build also gets to attack enemies who attack their allies, and with the Riposte Maneuver, every time an enemy misses the character with an attack, they can spend a reaction to swing back. And both of these trigger sneak attack damage as well. If an enemy does hit you, just spend that same reaction to halve the damage. Simple. 

Tough, mobile, with skills and Expertise to use out of combat too, this build does almost everything. It comes online at 10 (Fighter 5 Rogue 5) but is fun to play at every level leading up to that, too. 

Undead Warlock: Add some spell power to the build with a dip into Warlock. 3 levels offer 2 level 2 spell slots and access to the Warlock spell list, including stand-outs like Hex, which adds damage and ruins enemy stat checks. (Hello grappling, old friend.)

We lean towards the Undead patron in particular because it offers a scaling transformation that adds a temporary HP shield and the ability to Frighten an enemy once per turn when you hit it with an attack. Even more crowd control, especially one that activates for free on things you were already doing, is fantastic. 

You also gain a pact boon, a permanent and powerful buff. My choice would be the Pact Familiar, because having the best familiar in the game following you around, whispering things in your ear, when it’s not invisibly scouting for you, is pretty impressive, as well as offering some great RP potential. 

Ancestral Protector Barbarian: Double down on damage and tankiness with some levels in Barbarian. Three is enough to get a subclass Rage power, as well as twice per day Rage for bonus damage and damage resistance. 

Ancestral Protector in particular almost forces enemies to hit you by giving resistance against damage to your allies against the enemy that you’re fighting. The ability to just switch on Advantage when needed to land your choice of Maneuvers is also incredibly handy to have in your pocket.  

Would I recommend playing a Battle Master Fighter?

Despite being one of the first subclasses ever released in D&D 5e, and is attached to a class that’s traditionally seen as straightforward, and even kind of dull sometimes, the Battle Master remains one of the most fun and effective ways to play a martial character in the entire game. 

The basic ability of the class is simply so flexible, and so well designed, that it can be built around almost any combat style. Content expansions have only made the class better, adding several more options to the mix and opening up the Combat Maneuver ability to be useful outside of combat, as well as in it. Not that the class needed to be any better. 

In summary, if you’ve somehow avoided playing the Battle Master until now, or you’re new to D&D and wondering about the class, then yes, it’s absolutely worth playing. 

Sage Gamers

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