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A Guide to the Two-Handed Fighter (Pathfinder)

Kevin has been playing tabletop games for almost as long as he can remember and currently edits for Jon Brazer Enterprises.


Most fighter archetypes are specialization options in that they tailor the fighter more specifically to a chosen fighting style, and the two-handed fighter archetype (Advanced Player’s Guide) is no exception. Archetypes like this one (as well as the knife master, musket master, and many others) are sometimes seen as no-brainers for the appropriate characters, though that’s not always quite the case. The two-handed fighter gives up all of the fighter’s defensive abilities (aside from proficiencies), resulting in a far less well-rounded character than the baseline fighter. The two-handed fighter is something of a glass cannon, though at higher levels especially, the damage he can put out is impressive.

At 2nd level, the two-handed fighter gains shattering strike in place of bravery, granting him a scaling bonus to his combat maneuver bonus on and combat maneuver defense against sunder attempts, as well as on rolls made to damage objects. Overall, bravery is probably a more useful ability to have, as the fighter’s Will save is generally low, and any abilities that bolster it (even if only for certain types of effects) are welcome.

3rd level sees the two-handed fighter giving up armor training 1 for overhand chop, letting them deal double their Strength bonus with two-handed weapons on charge attacks and single attack actions (though not attacks of opportunity or the attack during Spring Attack). For a fighter with 18 Strength, that’s an additional +2 damage, and the extra damage will only increase over time. That’s slightly better than a feat (given that it ultimately scales), but it’s probably hard to give up the fact that armor training 1 allows you to move your full speed in medium armor.

At 5th level, the two-handed fighter gains weapon training as normal, with the special caveat that the bonuses only apply to the two-handed weapons in any weapon group selected. For fighter archetypes, this is the sort of thing nearly every one of them does, so there’s not a lot to say here.

At 7th level, the two-handed fighter gains backswing, which is something of an extension of overhand chop. Whenever the fighter makes a full-attack (with a two-handed weapon, of course), he adds double his Strength bonus on damage rolls for every attack after the first. Like overhand chop, the bonus you're adding to damage here will scale well as your Strength increases. Keep in mind that you don't get to add double your Strength bonus on the first attack (as overhand chop doesn't apply for attacks made as part of a full attack). As with overhand chop (and indeed, the rest of the two-handed fighter's abilities), you're giving up further advancement of armor training here, which includes losing the ability to move your normal speed in heavy armor.

11th level sees you gaining the piledriver ability, which gives you another option whenever you're caught needing to make a move action before you can attack. As a standard action (which means you don't trigger overhand chop), you can make an attack and, if that attack hits, you get a free bull rush or trip attempt as part of an attack. If someone's been getting away from you. This comes a little late, all told, as by 11th level, many enemies are too large to reliably be subject to combat maneuvers, but in a game heavy with nonplayer character enemies, you should be able to get some more use for it. Piledriver comes at the cost of armor training 3.

Greater power attack, which the two-handed fighter gains at 15th level, improves your Power Attack damage bonus for using a two-handed weapon. You now gain +4 points of damage (and the normal -1 penalty) per four points of base attack bonus you possess, as opposed to the normal +3. Since you long ago gave up armor training, you probably won't miss your last armor training.

Finally, at 19th level, you trade the 5/- DR you get from armor mastery for devastating blow, which gives you another standard action attack. If devastating blow hits, your attack is an automatic critical threat, though it doesn't trigger weapon special abilities like vorpal if you confirm the critical. Confirming the critical hit here gives you far more damage than a Vital Strike would, since you also get to multiply your Strength and other weapon damage bonuses, so it's a pretty solid way to spend a standard action. Like piledriver, it's kind of a shame you don't get devastating blow earlier, as it'd do a lot to make you more mobile on the battlefield while keeping your damage respectable.

Sample Build

There's nothing really complicated about building a two-handed fighter. You need Power Attack, and your options past that point are pretty open. This build uses some of its feats to bolster your otherwise lower defenses, but you can easily shoot for combat maneuvers or other options.

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Human Two-Handed Fighter 5
Ability Scores (15 Point Buy):
Str 17, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 8
1 Iron Will, Power Attack, Weapon Focus
2 Cleave
3 Cleaving Finish
4 Weapon Specialization
5 Great Cleave

That'll get you started with a two-handed fighter. You'll want the obvious feats past level 5, like Greater Weapon Focus and Improved Critical. Once you have the piledriver ability (or before that, if you please), Improved Trip and Improved Bull Rush would be good choices to consider, as well as the Greater versions of both of those feats. Just be sure to remember that, in the long run, you're less of a meatshield than a traditional fighter, so don't go playing hero for the rest of the group if you want to have a long and successful adventuring career!


AlphaWolvesGamer on April 03, 2019:

Haha, no worries, we all make mistakes. To error is to be human after all. I just did some more research, and there appears to be another small mistake with your Sample Build. Cleave and Greater Cleave are a Standard Action - not an Attack Action - and do not benefit from Overhand Chop (or Backswing).

Cleaving Finish technically still works, but all sequential attacks afterwards triggered via Cleaving Finish do not receive these bonuses. These are still great options - don't get me wrong. Just make sure you don't include the Overhand Chop to damage if you choose to Cleave or Greater Cleave.

(If you take requests, maybe you can post an Article about how busted Shikigami Style is with the Sledge Hammer? haha).

(*Woopsie... misspelled my name in my previous post...)

Christina A Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on April 03, 2019:

I just double checked and as far as I can tell, you're correct! I wrote this years ago now, so why exactly I marked it as not working with Vital Strike I can't say. Thanks for pointing that out, and I'll get it fixed momentarily.

AlphaWolvrsGamer on April 03, 2019:

Great guide! I can see that you researched the RAW behind this archetype extensively. That being said - you might want to reread the Vital Strike feat. Hint: Vital Strike works with Overhand Chop because it is an "Attack Action".

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