A human in clanging plate armor holds her shield before her as she runs toward the massed goblins. An elf behind her, clad in studded leather armor, peppers the goblins with arrows loosed from his exquisite bow. The half-orc nearby shouts orders, helping the two combatants coordinate their assault to the best advantage.
A dwarf in chain mail interposes his shield between the ogre’s club and his companion, knocking the deadly blow aside. His companion, a half-elf in scale armor, swings two scimitars in a blinding whirl as she circles the ogre, looking for a blind spot in its defenses.
A gladiator fights for sport in an arena, a master with his trident and net, skilled at toppling foes and moving them around for the crowd’s delight—and his own tactical advantage. His opponent’s sword flares with blue light an instant before she sends lightning flashing forth to smite him.
All of these heroes are fighters, perhaps the most diverse class of characters in the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons. Questing knights, conquering overlords, royal champions, elite foot soldiers, hardened mercenaries, and bandit kings—as fighters, they all share an unparalleled mastery with weapons and armor, and a thorough knowledge of the skills of combat. And they are well acquainted with death, both meting it out and staring it defiantly in the face.
Fighters learn the basics of all combat styles. Every fighter can swing an axe, fence with a rapier, wield a longsword or a greatsword, use a bow, and even trap foes in a net with some degree of skill. Likewise, a fighter is adept with shields and every form of armor. Beyond that basic degree of familiarity, each fighter specializes in a certain style of combat. Some concentrate on archery, some on fighting with two weapons at once, and some on augmenting their martial skills with magic. This combination of broad general ability and extensive specialization makes fighters superior combatants on battlefields and in dungeons alike.
Not every member of the city watch, the village militia, or the queen’s army is a fighter. Most of these troops are relatively untrained soldiers with only the most basic combat knowledge. Veteran soldiers, military officers, trained bodyguards, dedicated knights, and similar figures are fighters.
Some fighters feel drawn to use their training as adventurers. The dungeon delving, monster slaying, and other dangerous work common among adventurers is second nature for a fighter, not all that different from the life he or she left behind. There are greater risks, perhaps, but also much greater rewards—few fighters in the city watch have the opportunity to discover a magic flame tongue sword, for example.
Of all the adventurers in the worlds of D&D, the fighter is perhaps the greatest paradox. On the one hand, a singular feature of the class is that no two fighters ply their craft in quite the same way; their weapons, armor, and tactics differ across a vast spectrum. On the other hand, regardless of the tools and methods one uses, at the heart of every fighter’s motivation lies the same basic truth: it is better to wound than to be wounded.
Although some adventuring fighters risk their lives fighting for glory or treasure, others are primarily concerned with the welfare of others. They put more value on the well-being of the society, the village, or the group than on their own safety. Even if there’s gold in the offing, the true reward for most fighters comes from sending enemies to their doom.
Fighters typically do battle for a cause. Some fight on behalf of kingdoms besieged by monsters, while others quest only for personal glory. In either case, a fighter often displays a heraldic sign that represents that cause, either adopting the symbol of a nation or a royal line or creating a crest to represent one’s self-interest.