Making Your Own Martial Archetype

You may decide that you want to create your own fighter subclass that best fits your campaign. Before embarking on this task, you want to be sure that no existing fighter subclass meets your design goals. One of the greatest flexibilities offered in 5e class design is how open it is to reflavor the features. If there is a subclass that can meet your mechanical needs and stylistic vision, it is best to simply use that and save a lot of time in designing, writing, and playtesting.

If, however, you find that no existing subclass achieves the fantasy or has the mechanics to match your visions, this section will guide you toward making an artificer subclass that fits the 5e D&D model. The guidelines will help you create the features for your subclass and detail how you should balance the class to fit within the official options and those offered by Therin Creative and similar content creators.

Please note that despite the guidance offered herein, your subclass may need further tuning. Be certain to spend the time to playtest your subclass.

Class Chassis

The fighter is focuses on armor and weapons. At the core, every fighter needs to employ its armory as its central tool, even if it gains other sources of power, such as magic or guile. A fighter typically will have high Strength or Dexterity, as well as decent Constitution. Many fighters can keep three ability scores reasonably high, which you see in fighter subclass that use another ability score, such as Intelligence.

Martial Archetypes should generally be weapon-agnostic, but in certain cases you may bolster a particular weapon type, such as one-handed weapons or ranged weapons. Don’t limit a fighter to a single weapon, as the fighter’s ability to use nearly every weapon is its core strength. Flexibility is the fighter’s niche.

Hit Dice

With a d10 Hit Dice, the fighter can endure combat, particularly when paired with high Constitution, which most fighters have.


The fighter can use any armor and weapon (except Firearms in campaigns that either don’t use them or require special training). This gives the fighter a lot of options on what weapons it uses and how it approaches combat. This versatility also allows fighters to switch their approach up in the middle of battle to use the best weapon for a given foe.

Fighters also have a range of skill proficiencies that round it out or help it focus on physical feats to a greater degree.

Ability Score Improvement

The fighter gets the Ability Score Improvement (ASI) feature more frequently than any other class (4th, 6th, 8th, 12th, 14th, 16th, and 19th level). This frees it to pursue more feats or increase tertiary ability scores. This allows you leniency to design a subclass that uses Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma.

Action Surge

This is the signature feature of the fighter, allowing it a second action once (twice from 17th level) per rest. This can double a fighter’s offense on a turn or allow it to take both the Dodge and Attack actions in a turn for more defensive play. Remember this feature when adding new action options for a subclass.


The fighter has a number of built-in defenses it can draw upon when needed with the Second Wind and Indomitable features.

Extra Attack

In tier 3, the fighter gets one more attack than its martially-inclined peers. This lets the fighter do more with its weapons (about a 50% boost) that stacks with Action Surge. The capstone boosts this to a total of four attacks when taking the Attack action. Keep this in mind if you add attack riders to the class.

Martial Archetype Features

Fighter martial archetypes grant features at 3rd, 7th, 10th, 15th level, and 18th level. This gives you a lot of points to add interesting features or to enhance them.

Building a Martial Archetype

Once you understand the class chassis, you’re one step closer to building a subclass. You’ll also want to review existing subclasses to get a feel for their design and balance. This section will aid you in understanding what your subclass features should accomplish.

Before starting on the formal work to build your subclass, devise its theme and role. What is your subclass’s purpose? What roles does it fill in an adventuring party? How are its mechanics interesting and unique? Why would a player choose your subclass?

Let’s start by looking at some existing fighter subclasses.

Champion. The simplest fighter to play, granting a host of passive benefits, including its signature trait of increasing the range it scores a critical hit. This subclass offers more versatility than power, and is among the hardier fighters. Players choose this archetype because they want more frequent critical hits or prefer fewer decision points in advancement.

Eldritch Knight. This archetype gains the Spellcasting feature as a one third spellcaster. Its features encourage it to mix both weapons and spells, but many players opt to focus on buffs despite its capabilities to supplement its party’s other capabilities. While it’s not a primary spellcaster, it can bring many tools to the table that other fighters can’t. Players choose this archetype to gain access to spells while retaining the armor and weaponry of the fighter.

Cavalier. Representing the knight on a charging steed, the Cavalier martial archetype has features that focus on leading the group from the middle. It also gains benefits when mounted, but isn’t dependent on having the mount. Players choose this archetype because they want to be the knight in shining armor that stands firm against the wave of its foes.

Psi Warrior. Inspired by the psychic warrior class from 3rd edition, the Psi Warrior martial archetype leverages psychokinesis as its signature ability. While not as versatile as a manifesting class, such as the Transcendent, the Psi Warrior has a fair number of options to spend on its resources. Players choose this archetype to tap psychokinetic powers as a fighter that adds a range of offensive, defensive, and utility options.

Defender. This martial archetype is another relatively simple option with more emphasis on protecting its allies. It can confidently enter into the midst of a chaotic battle and remain stalwart in its aims. Players choose this archetype to be the party’s shield and enter the fray without hesitation.

Each fighter subclass adds a new mechanic to the class, often with an associated resource, allowing it to play in a more unique way, but at its core, each is a fighter, able to use a wide variety of arms and combat styles.

Building the Subclass

This guide covers building a Martial Archetype consistent with official published material. Each Martial Archetype adds an interesting mechanics to the class. Each fighter will always be an armored weapon specialist, but each engages in and out of combat on its own terms.

Subclass features are granted at 3rd, 7th, 10th, 15th, and 18th level. Except for 3rd level, each Martial Archetype feature level should only grant one subclass feature. Consult the Martial Archetype Features table for when you should grant features.

There are exceptions for the rule of only granting a single subclass feature:

  • Ribbon features are frequently weak on their own, so in certain cases you may grant a second, minor feature, which could be another ribbon feature.
  • The feature has some complex interactions that are much clearer when separated. Often this is indication that something should be cut, but in rare cases, it makes sense to split a feature for comprehension.
  • You are expanding an existing feature in a minor way. Sometimes it’s better to include the enhancement in the core feature, and at other times it could be a note in another feature.
Martial Archetype Features
Fighter LevelFeature
3rdSignature Feature, Ribbon Feature
7thExpansion Feature
10thFighter Pool Feature
15thFighter Pool Feature
18thFighter Pool Feature

Signature Feature

3rd-level [Your Fighter Subclass] feature

This feature adds a completely new tool to the fighter kit that skews the way it can play, often leaning the fighter to a particular role or party function. The signature feature should add a new layer of play experience to the class and drive or expand the character’s choices at a tactical level.

This feature should increase the fighter’s damage across the adventuring day by around 10% to 15%.

Ribbon Feature

3rd-level [Your Fighter Subclass] feature

This feature mainly serves to add flavor to the archetype. It should mostly affect the exploration or social pillar. This can include skills modifiers or bonus proficiencies. If the feature is especially niche, such as with the Cavalier’s Born to the Saddle feature, you might want to include a second ribbon. Ideally, the Ribbon feature should come into play more than a few times in a campaign.

Expansion Feature

7th-level [Your Fighter Subclass] feature

This feature should enhance the kit of the fighter class or the Martial Archetype. Depending on your concept, it may be prudent to modify the signature feature or to add a new mechanic that supports the core concept.

Fighter Pool Feature

10th/15th/18th-level [Your Fighter Subclass] feature

Fighters are somewhat different than other classes in the structure of their mid and high level subclass features. Unlike most other classes that follow a more streamline arrangement of Auxiliary, Defensive, Enhancement, Expansion, Resource, and Utility features, fighter subclasses are flexible in having three of these types of features, sometimes all three being the same general kind of feature. This gives you a lot of flexibility in how you create your fighter subclass, but also adds additional challenge in crafting balanced features for the level it is gained and that fits smoothly in the kit of the subclass.

A simple arrangement will have an Enhancement feature, often for the Signature feature, at 10th level and a Defensive feature at 18th level, leaving the 15th-level feature open for any other kind of feature. If the subclass adds a new, nonstandard resource with its Signature feature, granting it a resource feature at 15th-level is generally appropriate.

If the subclass is built around a central gimmick with its Signature feature, you may also opt to have two or three Enhancement features for the Signature feature, such as the case of the Rune Knight archetype.

You might also have a more in-depth 3rd-level feature that includes portions of several options that would normally be in the 10th, 15th, and 18th-level features. You want to ensure that a complex feature isn’t obscuring feature-bloat. With a complex feature, such as Psionic Power, you should aim for the Fighter Pool features to be explicit and focus on utility or defenses.

Looking at existing Fighter Archetypes can help you create fitting features for your subclass.

Archetype10th Level15th Level18th Level
ChampionEnhancement (Fighting Style class feature)Enhancement (Signature feature)Defensive
Battle MasterEnhancement (Signature feature)Resource (Signature feature)Enhancement (Signature feature)
Eldritch KnightAuxiliary (props up spellcasting)Enhancement (improves Action Surge)Enhancement (improves 7th-level Expansion feature
SamuraiResource (Signature feature)Expansion (new option to trade advantage for additional attack)Defensive
Psi WarriorDefensiveDefensiveExpansion (free spell cast)
DervishEnhancement (Signature feature)Resource (Signature feature)Defensive

Fighter Pool Feature options include the following features:

Auxiliary. This kind of feature allows one part of the kit to prop up another part of the kit.

Defensive. With this feature, you expand or enhance the defensive ability for the class.

Enhancement. This feature improves upon part of the class or subclass kit. It can be as simple as a boost in uses or damage or even add a new layer or decision to another feature.

Expansion. The point of an expansion feature is to add something new to the class. Examples include adapting a class feature from a different class, such as the Spellcasting feature.