Dragonmarks: The Fighter

It’s 2018, and what better way to start the new year than by continuing the series of articles I began in 2017? I’m currently running a 5E Eberron campaign, and that means I’m digging more deeply into 5E and how it works with Eberron. As a result, I’m going through each class and considering how it fits into the setting, along with the new options from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. So far I’ve looked at the Bard and the Barbarian, and in this article I want to think about the Fighter.

Let’s start with a basic point: just as most priests aren’t clerics, most soldiers aren’t fighters. Eberron is based on the idea that PC classes represent exceptional skill – that even at low levels, a player character is remarkable because of that. In the original 3.5 Campaign Setting, most soldiers were warriors – possessing proficiency with martial weapons and armor, but lacking the unique abilities of a fighter. 5E doesn’t have NPC classes as such; it’s up to the DM to decide what traits to apply to an NPC. The Fighting Style ability is a logical thing for any warrior that has a specialty; if a soldier is called an “archer,” it’s reasonable to give them the benefits of the Archery fighting style. I could also see adding a feat to represent further specialization. As noted in a previous article, many Aundairian soldiers might be Wand Adepts, while a Thrane archer might be a Sharpshooter and a Karrnathi knight could be a Heavy Armor Master.

So what are the unique aspects of the Fighter – the traits not possessed by the common warrior?

  • Second Wind. You can regain hit points in the middle of battle. Is this sheer physical toughness? Mental discipline that lets you ignore pain? Or something else?
  • Action Surge. You can take an extra action when you need it most. Is this due to remarkable reflexes? Combination moves tied to your particular style? A surge of morale?
  • Martial Archetype. Each archetype provides its own set of unique skills, each supporting a different story.
  • Feats and Ability Scores. A warrior might get a single feat to reflect specialization, but a fighter gets more Ability Score Improvements than any other class… which translates to more feats if you’re using them.

So: You’re a fighter, someone possessing exceptional martial skills. Where did you acquire these skills? What did you do with them before you became an adventurer? This is especially important in Eberron because as of 998 YK, the world is barely out of a bitter, all-consuming war. What was your role in the conflict? Consider the following questions.

  • Did you fight in the Last War? 
  • If so, in what capacity? Did you serve in the army of one of the Five Nations, and if so, which one? Were you a mercenary, and if so did you serve House Deneith directly or work with a smaller independent company?
  • If so, why are you no longer serving? If you take the Soldier or Noble background you may have left honorably and still have recognized rank; otherwise, you may have left dishonorably, whether this was justified or not. Perhaps you disobeyed orders to protect innocents – something that cost you your rank, but may have left you as a Folk Hero. Perhaps you discovered corruption in the ranks, and deserted in disgust… or perhaps you were framed by your corrupt commander, blamed for the crimes of others. Or perhaps you were a soldier of Cyre, and no longer have a nation to serve.
  • If you didn’t fight in the Last War, why didn’t you put your remarkable skills to good use? Perhaps you were fighting your own war on the mean streets of Sharn as an enforcer for a gang or as a member of the city watch. Maybe you ignored the war, pursuing opportunities as a settler in Q’barra or Stormreach. Or maybe your duty took you in a different direction, as you trained for a specific mission.

Essentially, if you’re a fighter you likely learned your skills by fighting. What was that conflict, and why have you left it behind for the life of an adventurer? Or are you somehow still pursuing that original path as an adventurer?

Now, let’s take a look at the different Martial Archetypes and different ways you could take them. If you’re starting at first level, of course, you won’t have a Martial Archetype right away. But if you know the archetype you want to take, you can still develop your backstory with that archetype in mind.


In many ways Champion is the simplest archetype: it simply makes you good at fighting. Combine Soldier and Champion and you might have been an elite warrior on the front lines of the Last War. Blend Criminal and Champion if you want to be a gang enforcer who’s looking to do more with your life.

Generally speaking, the Champion reflects martial skill. But consider a few alternatives.

  • Revenant Blade. If you’re playing a Valenar fighter, your abilities can reflect martial excellence… but they could also reflect the guidance of your patron ancestor. When you take your Second Wind it’s your ancestor giving you strength and encouragement. Your Action Surge is your ancestor guiding you in a perfect action. Your Improved Critical likewise reflects this guidance. This idea could apply to any archetype, and there’s no mechanical difference; it’s just up to you to describe these benefits as the voice of your Ancestor… and it’s up to the DM whether to do more with that, perhaps granting you visions that guide you on the path to adventure.
  • Warforged Champion. Your abilities could be the result of design as opposed to training. When you engage Second Wind, you are triggering swift healing enchantments. Action Surge is a form of overdrive, temporarily pushing beyond your limits. If you take the Heavy Armor Master feat, that could reflect your actually growing thicker armor plates. Again, mechanically there’s no difference here; it’s a matter of how you think about your abilities.

Battle Master

The flavor of Battle Master really depends on the maneuvers you choose. Combine the Noble or Soldier background with Commander’s Strike and Rally and you have a sound basis for serving as an officer in the Last War. On the other hand, you could blend Entertainer with Feinting Attack and Disarming Strike to reflect a career as an swashbuckling duelist, renowned for your showmanship in battle (a path that could also work for a College of Swords bard). Karrnathi soldiers might be known for Menacing Attack, while Aundairians might prefer lighter armor and Evasive Footwork. This is another easy path for a Valenar revenant, with your chosen maneuvers reflecting the specialties of your patron ancestor.

Eldritch Knight

Arcane magic forms the foundation of Aundair’s military strategy, and this is an easy path for the Knights Phantom of Aundair. But they weren’t the only Eldritch Knights in the war. In Karrnath, the knights of the Ebon Skull blended swordplay with necromantic magic. And House Cannith could easily have experimented with warforged designed to supplement martial skill with arcane power. I could also imagine a Greensinger champion who studies the arts of war in Thelanis. For me, a critical question with an Eldritch Knight is who teaches you. Do you suddenly learn the arts of magic spontaneously? Or do you have a mentor – whether an old soldier, a fey knight, or even an elderly artificer who helps your warforged Eldritch Knight unlock its arcane potential?

Arcane Archer

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything presents this as an Elvish tradition, and it certainly works as a Tairnadal technique. But there’s no reason this archetype has to be Elvish… or even arcane. Archery is a devotional practice of followers of the Silver Flame, and Thrane was renowned for its archers during the Last War. The Silver Bows could be an elite order of templars who infuse their weapons with the power of the Flame. If you take this route, Arcane Archer Lore should provide proficiency with the Religion skill and the Thaumaturgy cantrip. All other abilities remain the same; just bear in mind that the Archer of the Flame is charging their arrows with devotion instead of arcane power, and that their mystical bolts are wreathed in silver flame. If you take the Soldier background, you could be an active agent of the Church, with your Military Rank being recognized by any who follow the Flame.

The Nature/Druidcraft approach is well suited to warriors of the Eldeen Reaches. You could be a serious Warden of the Woods or a carefree Greensinger, blending primal magic and martial skill. It could even be a specialty of the elite hunters of House Tharashk, with the seeking arrow drawing on the power of the Mark of Finding.

What about Aundair? Personally, I prefer to keep “Arcane Archer” as a Thrane archetype, and to have Aundairians focus on the Eldritch Knight. We’ve called out Thrane as the preeminent archers in the Five Nations, and this supports that; meanwhile, I see Aundair as placing a greater emphasis on the use of wands and offensive cantrips than on archery, even arcane archery. But I could see a fighter/rogue tradition using the arcane version… perhaps developed by House Thuranni, perhaps by the Dark Lanterns or Royal Eyes.


The Cavalier is an easy path for the Valenar, who are known as the finest cavalry forces in Khorvaire. But there’s other cavaliers of note. Talenta halflings may not fit the typical image of the knight, but a bold warrior with a close bond with his clawfoot could definitely follow this path. Within the Five Nations I personally see the Karrns as having the strongest chivalric tradition, but I could see cavaliers tied to any of the Five Nations. Setting aside the cavalry aspect and focusing on the Cavalier’s talent for defending others, this is also a plausible path for a champion of House Deneith.


There’s no culture in Eberron that is a simple match to feudal Japan. But here again the issue is to ignore the name and look at the mechanical elements that define the archetype: a talent for Persuasion and courtly manners; proficiency with Wisdom saving throws; and most notably, Fighting Spirit – a surge of temporary hit points accompanied by advantage on an attack role. Here’s a few ways I could interpret those abilities…

  • A Karrnathi chivalric order. The “fighting spirit” is a literal spirit conjured to guide and protect the knight.
  • The gift of an Archfey of Thelanis; the warrior who swears allegiance to the Prince of Swords can call on his favor on the battlefield or in the court.
  • As suggested above, a Tairnadal could call on their patron ancestor for guidance and strength.

Random Ideas

Setting aside specific archetypes, here’s a few ideas for fighters I might play…

  • The Fallen Paladin. Once I believed in the righteousness of the Sovereigns. Once I believed I had a calling. Then I discovered the web of lies surrounding the people I’d trusted and realized the terrible things I’d done in Dol Arrah’s name. The Sovereigns and I… we’re not on speaking terms any more.  Mechanically this character is a fighter, probably a Cavalier or warlord-style Battle Master. But in theory he began as a paladin, who lost his divine powers when he lost his faith. Now he’s just trying to find his way on the mean streets. He’s got a good heart; it’s just been shaken by failure and betrayal. Think Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly. Can he regain his faith in himself and humanity over the course of the campaign? If so, might return to a divine path? For a background, I’m probably do Criminal or Mercenary Veteran with the idea that he’s been doing grunt work in the underworld… but there’s many backgrounds that could work here.
  • The Survivor. You used to be the sheriff of a small town… a town that was wiped out by war criminals/Droaam raiders/brigands. You’re not going to rest until you’ve avenged your fallen family and friends… and you’re looking for a posse who will help you get the job done. This is a character with a very specific story to tell, and I’d want to run it past the DM before I dove into it. There’s a number of ways it could run. As written, you could be a “Soldier” (a recognized law enforcer) seeking vengeance against a specific villain, something that could potentially drive low-level adventures. On the other hand, the target could be something too powerful to easily face. You’re a Karrnathi Noble/Cavalier, whose family was scapegoated by Kaius and brought down in disgrace; now you’re determined to bring down Kaius himself. You’re a Cyran folk hero whose village was destroyed in the Mourning, and you’re going to find out who was responsible for that devastation. But at the end of the day… you’re a fighter with a mission.

That’s all I have time for now, but share your ideas and questions below! As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters, who make this blog possible.

12 thoughts on “Dragonmarks: The Fighter

  1. I think one source mentioned that samurai were a Dhakaani tradition back in 3.5, and that’s an idea I’ve always been partial to.

    Your Eldritch Knight idea actually draws on a Warlock concept I’ve been sitting on; a knight of Galifar, lost to the fey for a century and recently returned to a world they no longer recognize.

    • Certainly, a blade pact warlock or a College of Swords bard could also play with the idea of the Thelanian knight; 5E is quite flexible with story.

      And you’re correct: I’ve previously suggested the Dhakaani as a place to use samurai. However, I don’t personally see the 5E interpretation of the Samurai as especially Dhakaani in flavor. It’s not mechanically about honor or martial excellence. It emphasizes social graces (skill with Persuasion), which isn’t part of the Dhakaani martial tradition; and the “Fighting Spirit” seems less inherently Dhakaani to me than Battle Master, either following the warlord path (Rally, Commander’s Strike) or a chainmaster with Trip Attack, Disarming Strike and the like.

    • Bear in mind that Droaam has no united traditions; the country is a newborn thing. We’ve generally depicted medusas as following the ranger path, but I could certainly see a few arcane archers in Cazhaak Draal. The tieflings of the Venomous Demesne could have an order of eldritch knights. I tend to see the Znir as more rangers than fighters, but I could see a few warlord-style Battle Masters directing troops. Likewise, I tend to see minotaur champions as barbarians instead of fighters. The typical ogres and trolls don’t have any sort of formal training and rely on brute strength, not martial discipline; however, Maenya’s finest war trolls could include Battle Masters with Menacing Strike and the like.

  2. I love the way that you take the stereotype class and turn it on its ear. I so hope that we see 5E Eberron announced in 2018. It is what brought me to D&D.

  3. Completely unrelated question: Can warforged be raised as undead? and if so, would it use a different spell, like how repair damage substitutes cure wounds?

    • Here’s my answer from a previous time the question came up:

      Warforged are constructs, not humanoids. As a result, by the rules (depending on edition), they cannot become vampires or liches. I’d rule out skeletons because the effects of the skeleton template don’t make sense with the non-decaying warforged body (even if a warforged has something mimicking a skeletal system, it would never rot away until only its skeleton was showing). Given this, my inclination would also be to leave out warforged zombies — while they may be “living creatures with a skeletal system” on some level, I think the intention of the restrictions is “flesh and blood”. I’d be more inclined to create an entirely new template for an undead warforged.

      • I’ve used modified Quorforged stats to represent an undead warforged in my games. Since a warforged was never flesh and blood to begin with, an “undead” warforged would be a lot closer to a nonsentient golem than a true undead, with the exception that it would be vulnerable to positive energy and immune to negative energy. Does that make any sense?

  4. I don’t do 5E, but these concepts are all still relevant for Pathfinder. Although, I might try playing some 5E if they put out some Eberron content for it.
    Good topics, Keith.

  5. Hello Keith, as usual, thank you for taking the time to look into this 5E Eberron (we hope) to be.
    I have a couple of questions, maybe not directly related to this post, but tied to it nonetheless.
    Reading your posts and many canon sources (Besides the madness of Thrane army, I think even Forge of War had some pretty interesting ideas, especially on the “items of war” part) I can get the gist of many national armies: Aundair is the more arcane-bent, with extensive use of wands and magic weaponry and a good cavalry (after all, it’s a country full of fields!). Karrnath may be the more traditionally warlord style army, with powerful heavy infantry and cavalry, and the added boon of extra staying power and morale from their undead creatures and the best tacticians thanks to Rekkenmark. Thrane is famous for its archers and the followers of the flame are bound to be a group of dedicated and capable warriors, especially since many of them fight evil, no matter if it’s in war or at peace. Finally, Breland may be the nation that fields a more ‘modern’ army (with our definition of ‘modern’ in mind) with specialized troops and more black ops and use of asymmetric warfare (if I remember well, you dsecribed them as the ‘rogue’ of the group in the nations-Characters metaphor).
    So, that brings me to my questions:

    1) Peasant armies: honestly, I see Aundair and maybe Breland as the two nations with more viable peasant groups ready to fight for their nation; It may be because Aundair sometimes reminds me of feudal France and Beland is the more progressive nation, but I see them as more capable of rallying “the people”. If I wanted to play some kind of ‘folk hero fighter’ bracing his pitchfork against enemy occupation, I believe that they would be the more appropriate ones (with an interesting role reversal in North-western Khorvaire, where Aundarian would be the assailant and the Eldeen rangers another kind of folk heroes).

    2) What to do with Cyre? I love Cyre, if I had to choose my favourite nation, I’d choose them without even thinking twice about it. The concepts of loss and despair, of fighting against poverty, of the pride of a once amazing nations are really interesting and can play very well for tragic characters.
    That said, I have many problems in visualizing a Cyran army. what it was, and what it could be again. Let’s say I want to play an aristocratic Cyran warrior who decides to take a more direct approach in coping with the loss of his nation, and starts assembling a mercenary band reminding him of the past glory of his nation. How would it look? With all the love for Cyran society, the only things we know for sure is that they had Cannith at home, meaning they were the first ones fielding warforged and possibly other interesting technological implementations. And we know they spent a lot of money in mercenaries, and the thing often backfired (Valenar and Llesh Haruuc come to mind). But how would a Cyran veteran feel? What could be different in his experience from a Brelish commander? What set him apart in his memories of the fields of battle?
    I”m especially interested in what could have been the technological race between the Cannith funded Cyre (or at least for their advantage in having first-hand experience with prototypes) and the Arcane Congress Aundair.
    I think their differences (and the underlying ‘mostly Artificer based-mostly Wizard based’ difference of their researches) can offer interesting considerations.

    • 1. I’m not sure I understand the question. Honestly, I see the potential for the peasant hero in ALL of the Five Nations. I’ve always called out Thrane has having the strongest peasant militia, because a) they have a strong unifying faith that is based on the principle of defending the innocent and b) archery is a devotional practice of the faithful. So even the farmer who has no plans to be a soldier may practice with the bow, and be prepared to fight should demons arise. The Silver Flame is fundamentally a militant faith, based on the principle that evil forces exist and we must be prepared to deal with them. I’d tend to look to Karrnath next simply because the people take pride in the martial heritage of their nation. But that’s essentially the point: you can find a basis for a peasant hero in any nation.

      2. This is to large a topic for me to address in a comment on a thread about fighters. 😛 I’ll point out that I tend to call out Cyre as the Bard in the party of nations – where the other four are strongly specialized, Cyre does a bit of everything and is proud of that versatility. They were the crown of Galifar, and in is in their land that you see the best of ALL things (or so THEY say). Cyrans have the foundation of having been in the right from the very beginning of the war, and of having had to fight harder than any other nation. One reason they turned to mercenaries is because they had to cover so many different fronts. And bear in mind that the mercenary strategy worked for a long time; the Valenar served loyally for decades before they seized land.

      Likewise, it’s not unreasonable to say that while Aundair had the arcane congress and the best wizards, through the long-time presence of Cannith Cyre most likely had the best ARTIFICERS.

      Anyhow, that’s as much as I have time to say right now, but it’s a good question.

      • 1. thanks, that clarifies it!

        2. Yeah, I know that’s a pretty large topic, but you covered the basis well enough, I like to think that the long time with different mercenary groups has been an added bonus, meaning they were able to incorporate many different tactical option in their army, due to external influence.
        I see the presence of Cannith in Cyre similar to the Krupp industries in Prussia-Germany: a lot of extra production capability.

        I hope you’ll have enough time to elaborate on the topic in the future; as of now, thank you again for your answers!

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