Kevin has been playing tabletop games for almost as long as he can remember and currently edits for Jon Brazer Enterprises.
With two hardcover Pathfinder books now full of fighter archetypes, deciding whether to use one when creating a new fighter can be a daunting task. Once you’ve made the decision that you want an archetype for your character, narrowing down which one to use is no less daunting.
This guide collects the fighter archetypes from all of Paizo’s core books all in one place, along with the basic information you’ll need to decide which archetypes deserve a closer look when it comes to your fighter. These descriptions may not always discuss each ability the archetype grants or loses, but they do hit the highlights of each one. Many of them, for instance, modify the bravery ability in some way (changing the type of saving throw bonus, for instance), but that isn’t likely to make or break an archetype. If an archetype seems like it might work for you, be sure to check out the full thing.
As time goes on, some of these archetypes will receive more detailed guides, including sample builds and more in-depth analysis. As they’re written, they’ll be linked to from this guide.
Archetypes in the Advanced Player's Guide
Hyper-specialized in the bow, the archer fighter gives up nearly all of the standard fighter’s breadth in favor of wider versatility at range. In lieu of armor training, he gains the ability to perform Combat Maneuvers with a bow. Instead of gaining weapon training in a variety of weapons, the archer sticks to bows (gaining the normal weapon training bonus with them). Eventually, he’ll no longer provoke attacks of opportunity while firing his bow, gain some extra Armor Class and damage reduction against ranged attacks, and be able to fire a volley of arrows that strike a number of opponents in a small area.
If your fighter’s afraid of close combat and you never intend to use anything but your trusty composite longbow, this archetype casts off things you likely won’t have much use for. It’s a solid choice.
As the name suggests, the crossbowman specializes in the crossbow. Like the archer, the crossbowman gives up breadth for greater versatility with this chosen weapon. Armor training gives way to a series of abilities making the fighter better at attacks as readied actions with the crossbow while later weapon training bonuses morph into a bonus on Stealth checks while sniping, the ability to avoid attacks of opportunity when making attacks with crossbows, and the ability to combine an attack with a bull rush or trip maneuver.
All in all, the crossbowman doesn’t make off as well as the archer does, as most of its abilities encourage making single attacks, which greatly hinder your damage-dealing ability.
Free Hand Fighter
The witty fencer has always been something of a problem in the Third Edition rules, as there’s no good way to make it a competitive option for the fighter. The free hand fighter archetype does nothing to buck this trend, and in fact, actually lowers your damage output by taking away some of your weapon training bonus. Avoid this one.
A lot of a fighter’s damage potential requires the ability to perform full attacks, and starting at 11th level, the mobile fighter can make a limited full attack (giving up his best attack) with a move action. This benefit doesn’t kick in until fairly high level, though, and the mobile fighter’s leaping attack ability, which replaces weapon training, is strictly worse than weapon training because you only get the damage bonus on a round when you move at least 5 feet.
Overall, the mobile fighter probably won’t do much for you relative to just playing a standard fighter.
This archetype gives you the ability to use a spear as a one-handed weapon while wearing a shield, which is fairly nice. It trades weapon training for a range of abilities focused on granting adjacent abilities various bonuses.Fighting as a densely packed unit can often set up your group to taking a lot of damage from powerful area of effect attacks like fireball, though, so these benefits are likely to bring too much risk to make them worthwhile at higher levels.
For a low-level game, this archetype works well if you want to use the spear and shield combo, though (and you can always multiclass out after getting that ability at level three).
The best part of the polearm master is the ability to switch your grip on your reach polearm and use it against adjacent foes, but you take hefty penalties while doing so (the penalty becomes smaller as you gain levels). You give up armor training for bonuses with readied attacks and attacks of opportunity, which you’ll get a lot of if you’re making good use of your reach.
While this isn’t a perfect archetype, if you’re set on using a polearm by itself, it gives you some nice benefits.
This archetype gives you a number of solid bonuses for mounted combat. Your mount gains scaling bonuses to armor class and saving throws, your weapon training bonus is morphed into a bonus that applies whenever you’re mounted or adjacent to your mount. Leap from the Saddle and Ride Them Down provide you with more ways to attack on the move in exchange for armor training.
Overall, the roughrider ends up far more mobile than the mobile fighter, so if you’re already thinking about mounted combat, this archetype’s worth the look.
Only of interest to fighters with natural weapons of their own, the savage warrior archetype provides a number of bonuses for using natural weapons. Since natural weapons don’t gain iterative attacks, this archetype won’t be useful to most fighters at all. For those fighters looking to use their fists, the unarmed fighter archetype (see below) is probably a better choice.
Unfortunately, the shielded fighter gives up his weapon training bonus for a damage bonus that only applies to shield bashes. Since most shielded fighters will be attacking with both shield and weapon, this ends up causing a notable damage dip. They do, however, gain bonuses while fighting defensively with shields and can boost adjacent allies’ AC. For a fighter with the Antagonize feat and buddies that can dish out a lot of pain, this archetype can work out, but it’s not highly recommended.
Giving up a well-rounded approach, the two-handed fighter trades his armor training bonuses for pure damage. When making single attacks with two-handed weapons, they gain double their Strength bonus to damage, and later do the same for attacks made after the first in a full attack. The big win, though, is greater power attack, gained at 15th level, which increases the base Power Attack damage bonus to +4 (instead of +3) for two-handed weapons. This is a great archetype for a fighter that doesn’t ever leave his greatsword behind.
Unlike the two-handed fighter, the two-weapon warrior doesn’t gain a lot in raw damage, but he does mitigate some of the inherent problems with two-weapon fighting. Armor training is swapped for a shield bonus to AC gained while full attacking (and later, reduced penalties for two-weapon fighting). Weapon training is traded for a scaling damage bonus while full attacking as well as abilities that let you make one attack with each weapon as a standard action and later one attack for each as an attack of opportunity.
Overall, this archetype is probably about equal to a standard fighter that uses two weapons, since you do lose out on your weapon training bonus when you’re not full attacking (which will be more and more often as you gain levels).
This archetype requires focusing on a single weapon type, which is problematic in some campaigns and not an issue at all in others. You gain weapon training starting at level 3 (replacing the armor training you normally gain there), and trade the later weapon training abilities for the ability to reroll certain weapon-related rolls (including miss chance checks!), as well as being able to increase your critical modifier a few times per day at higher levels.
Archetypes in Ultimate Combat
If you really want to play a tank fighter, armor master’s for you. For starters, you gain a bonus to AC versus touch attacks (normally a problem for you since your Dexterity is likely low). Your weapon training abilities give way to damage reduction while wearing armor (as high as DR 12/- in heavy armor at level 19!) and resistance to critical hits and sneak attacks (which turns into complete immunity at 20th level).
You won’t be doing anywhere near the damage of a standard fighter over time, but you’re going to take a while to bring down. This archetype all but requires the Antagonize feat for you to get the best mileage out of all your impressive defense, though.
For the fighter that prefers really getting in people’s faces, the brawler provides bonuses with the close weapon group (including daggers, gauntlets, and others) and bonuses with bull rush, drag, and reposition maneuvers. One of the more interesting abilities, menacing stance, gives adjacent enemies a scaling penalty on attack rolls and concentration checks. You also gain attacks of opportunity against foes that try to get away from you starting at 9th level, and the Stand Still as a bonus feat at 13th level. All around, the brawler works well at what it does, and provides some decent battlefield control as well.
The cad gains a selection of rogue-like skills, bonuses when making some combat maneuver checks, and some other abilities centered around confounding opponents, but trades weapon training for a similarly-scaled ability that triggers against any enemy that’s attacked the cad since his last turn. Overall, that’s probably not a great trade, so the cad doesn’t come recommended.
The dragoon archetype is a bit like a combination of the polearm master and the roughrider, granting the ability to fight with a polearm close up, while also providing some greater mobility while mounted at higher levels. The archetype’s biggest plus is spear training, though, which functions as weapon training for the spear group, but the damage bonus is doubled over the normal ability, which means the dragoon does major damage on mounted charges.
Even without the mount (such as when you’re stuck in a dungeon), the extra damage means you won’t be completely helpless. The dragoon’s all around a great archetype for a mounted character.
The gladiator is a relatively simple archetype that lets you take performance feats as fighter bonus feats, grants Perform as a class skill, and provides extra victory points for use with performance combat. If you’re not planning on focusing on performance feats, you can safely skip this one.
If you’re interested in playing a more leadership-oriented fighter, the tactician is worth a look. You trade some of your armor training and weapon training to gain the cavalier’s tactician ability as well as some limited ability to buff your allies through aid another and a special battle insight ability gained at higher levels. You also gain more skill points per level and some social class skills, making you better equipped for games that are less combat heavy.
This rather strange archetype is centered around eliminating the downsides to wearing a buckler while either using a two-handed weapon or fighting with two weapons. The abilities it grants aren’t anything earth shattering, but if you had this fighting style in mind, you’ll probably want this archetype.
Tower Shield Specialist
As you might have guessed, this archetype makes you better with tower shields. All of the abilities are defensive in nature, and you give up weapon training for them, so be sure to take Antagonize so you can get the best mileage out of your improved defenses.
The unarmed fighter gives up proficiency in heavier armors, but gains proficiency in all monk weapons, as well as weapon training bonuses with the monk and natural weapon groups. Additionally, the archetype grants a number of abilities related to combat maneuvers, allowing you to combine maneuvers with other maneuvers and also with critical hits. If you’re looking to play a martial artist without all of the supernatural flavor of the monk, this is a decent choice for you.
The unbreakable fighter is all about being self-sufficient, able to remove harmful conditions from himself and fight off exhaustion and other ongoing effects like poison by making extra saving throws. You give up all of your weapon training and armor training abilities, though, so these abilities come at a pretty heavy cost. In general, a barbarian with proper rage powers would capture much of the same feeling while maintaining better damage potential than an unbreakable fighter.
That covers all of the core archetypes for the fighter in broad scope. With more archetypes on the way in the Advanced Race Guide, this guide will likely be expanded to include them sometime in the future. Also remember that it’s by no means necessary to take an archetype to be successful. The core fighter is a well-rounded combat character with decent ability at both offense and defense, so if you’re worried about having a lower Armor Class because of losing armor training or you want to be skilled in multiple weapons, stick with the base class and prosper.
Christina A Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on October 04, 2012:
Spellcasters tend to have fewer archetypes, yes, as do those classes that weren't released in the Core Rulebook, but as you said, they don't need them near as much as the other classes do.
Valatsar on October 04, 2012:
Not true some actually have very few archetypes Magus and Summoner both come to mind as well as Clerics and Sorcerers. too be fair this classes are commonly referred to as tier 1 or tier 2 classes which means they have typically fewer needs to branch off with archetypes as all the real customization with them stems from spell selection over class feature options.
Christina A Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on May 07, 2012:
Just about all the classes have a similar number of archetypes. Some of the classes fare better than others with regards to how useful all the variants are, though.
William157 from Southern California on May 07, 2012:
I had no idea there were so many variations of Fighter in Pathfinder. Excellent overview. Voted up and useful!