How To Build A Cavalier Fighter In DND

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The Cavalier is an iconic class archetype in the history of Dungeons & Dragons to the extent that for some time paladins were a subclass of cavalier. The archetypical mounted knight has a precious place in the memories of many of the game’s current and new players who wish to channel that Don Quixote energy.


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While no longer its own class and now a subclass of fighter, the cavalier retains its identity as being the paragon of mounted combat while also becoming more capable in the unfortunate scenarios where you cannot reasonably bring along a 1,400 pound warhorse in full plated armour.


What Are The Best Species For A Cavalier?

Dwarf Fighter Cavalier atop a horse
Dwarf Fighter Cavalier via Wizards of the Coast

When it comes to selecting the most suitable species for a Cavalier, the right choice can make all the difference. It’s crucial to consider factors such as ability scores, size, weapon proficiencies, mount compatibility, and the intended role within the party.

Species/ Species Type

Benefits and drawbacks

Small humanoids (halflings, gnomes, kobolds)

Small species can make use of smaller mounts. A halfling or gnome riding a war mastiff is able to fit into places that a horse mounted cavalry simply cannot go.


The drawback of this is that they are unable to use heavy weapons such as polearms.

Winged humanoids (aarakocra, tieflings, aasimar)

Winged creatures such as aarakocra and fairies can make use of an additional dimension of space when considering their positioning and formations. This can make clever use of features such as Hold The Line.


Flying species will have to choose between mounted and flying combat or swap between them as the situation demands.

Bugbear (bugbear)

The Long-Limbed trait of a bugbear extends the reach of all weapons by five feet. Your Hold The Line feature benefits from a longer melee reach, allowing a bugbear cavalier to protect a wider area than any other.

Non-humanoids (plasmoids, thri-kreen, satyr)

Non-humanoid species are immune to effects that specifically target humanoids, such as many spells and charm effects. A Cavalier can protect their team more effectively if they are immune to effects that would turn you against them. The thri-kreen is treated as a monstrosity, while fairy, centaurs and satyrs are treated as fae.


Be aware that this does also impose new weaknesses, such as spells that specifically protect against fae or monstrosities.

A centaur cavalier sounds like clever idea: you can never be dismounted because you are your own mount. Unfortunately official rulings are that centaurs are unable to make use of any mounted features unless they are riding another larger horse.

Discuss with your DM their stance on centaur cavalry. They might allow it outright or create a homebrewed feat that enables centaurs to qualify for mounted combat benefits.

What Are The Best Ability Scores For A Cavalier?

DND characters riding horses with shields across their enemies
Valiant Endeavor by Antionio Manzanedo

Paladins riding into battle on horseback

Fighters typically have the versatility to spend their ability scores more freely due to their increased number of Ability Score Increases and the ability to choose between strength and dexterity weapons.

The Cavalier gains multiple features that scale to specific ability scores, limiting their ability to make these substitutions.

Ability Score

Value

Benefits

Strength

First priority

Strength improves your Unwavering Mark, allowing you to use its special attack more frequently. This makes the cavalier well suited to using strength weapons, but you can choose to favour dexterity if you do not care strongly about using this special attack. If so swap the placement of the two when ranking your ability scores.


Strength also improves your animal handling skill, which is important to a class that heavily relies on mounted combat.

Constitution

Second priority

Constitution improves your survivability and Warding Maneuver feature. Your Unwavering Mark taunts enemies into attacking you, requiring a strong investment in your personal survivability. Warding Maneuver gains additional uses the greater your constitution modifier.

Charisma

Third priority

Charisma is not directly utilised by the Cavalier fighter but is an important part of their roleplay. Cavaliers are equal parts courtiers and soldiers, and charisma will allow a cavalier to play at court intrigue and politics effectively.

Intelligence

Fourth priority

Intelligence is similar to charisma. A Cavalier fighter might be expected through roleplay to have had an upper class education and upbringing, being proficient in history or familiar with military strategy.

Dexterity

Fifth priority

Dexterity does not benefit most cavaliers, who will favour heavy armours and strength based weapons. Dexterity will still be required for most ranged weapons, but your mounted speed should reduce your reliance on ranged weapons compared to other melee fighters.

Wisdom

Last priority

It is said that discretion is the better part of valour, but the cavalier falls more in the tradition of Charge of the Light Brigade or Don Quixote than an accurate depiction of cavalry’s role in military history. Wisdom will improve your ability to resist mind-altering effects and should be prioritised higher if playing a module that heavily features them.

What Are The Best Weapons For A Cavalier Fighter?

Split image of older D&D cover with knight art

Cavaliers gain several unique features that can be strengthened by the use of specific weapons and fighting styles.

Weapon Type

Class Features That Benefit

Best Application

One-handed weapon with a shield

Unwavering Mark

The Unwavering Mark ability at level three requires you to remain within five feet of an opponent but taunts them to have disadvantage attacking anyone other than you. A one-handed weapon alongside a shield improves your own defences to make better use of this taunt.

Reach Weapons

Hold The Line

At level ten Cavaliers gain Hold The Line, which grants an opportunity attack whenever an enemy moves five feet while within your reach and allows you to stop their movement if the attack hits. This ability benefits from a weapon with the reach trait, as it allows you to cover a larger area with this feature. Most reach weapons are two-handed however and cannot be used with a shield.

Lance

Born To The Saddle

Born To The Saddle allows the Cavalier to make use of the Lance, a weapon that can only be properly used when mounted. This special weapon has the reach trait but struggles to attack enemies that close within five feet.


It is lighter than most reach weapons and can be used alongside a shield.

A Cavalier can select versatile weapons and adapt their combat style based on the situation. In tight corridors, long-reach weapons are less useful, but on an open battlefield, a halberd’s extended reach can defend in multiple directions, safeguarding the team.

One weapon that is both one-handed and has the reach trait is the whip, although it has a lower damage than any other weapon.

What Are The Best Feats For A Cavalier Fighter?

D&D: Most Iconic Fighters

Fighters gain a much greater number of feats than other classes, allowing you to customise them more heavily and refine their playstyle further.

Feat

Application

Mounted Combatant

This feat leans into the traditional theme of the cavalier as a mounted class. Previous editions had the cavaliers mount be as important as a beastmaster ranger’s animal companion, so people trying to recapture that feeling should invest heavily in a quality mount. A quality mount however can easily die without the ability of Mounted Combatant to redirect attacks to themselves.

Polearm Master

Polearm master gives you a new way of making opportunity attacks that benefits a cavalier. It overlaps in its utility with Hold The Line, so you could ask your GM about retraining the feat once you reach level ten.

Shield Master

Shield Master can completely negate the damage from area spells such as fireball. Since many cavaliers will already be fighting with a shield, this empowers them in doing what they are already specialised at.

Fighting Initiate

Additional fighting styles allow you to make use of a larger array of weapons. Since a Cavalier might need to change quickly between fighting with a lance, sword or glaive this allows them to gain the benefits of multiple fighting styles that improve only a subset of their weapons.

What Are The Best Backgrounds For A Cavalier?

A Bard, a Human NPC, and a Vampiric warrior, from Dungeons & Dragons

The Cavalier has several choices for background that lean into different ways of roleplaying the class.

Background

Roleplay

Noble

The Noble background has several variants that are well suited for a cavalier.

  • Position of Privilege, the default noble feature grants you access to higher social circles and can be wielded as a symbol of status. This allows a cavalier to perform well in courtly situations that are normally suited to high charisma classes such as bards.
  • The variant Noble (Knight) grants you retainers who can handle the more mundane parts of the cavalier lifestyle (caring for your horse, polishing your armour and dramatically announcing your name as you enter a room). One of your retainers serves as a squire, who can either be a narratively important NPC to your character or your backup character in case your Cavalier gets clobbered in the first encounter.

A noble background can also explain the higher expense of training a cavalier: A noble can be expected to learn horse riding, several martial disciplines, and courtly etiquette.

Entertainer

Leaning more into the Cavalier as a larger than life figure an entertainer can embody the exaggerated role of a fighter with stage presence. Reciting or exaggerating tales of heroic battles can allow a cavalier to play the role of a more legendary hero while still being at the same level and skills as the rest of the party.

Folk Hero

The Folk Hero background lets you work with your GM to create a dramatic moment that defines your characters legacy and reputation. Rather than tilting at windmills your Knight Errant could have faced off an actual invasion of giants.

Soldier

A Cavalier with a high intelligence or other form of strategic prowess could reasonably hold a position of military leadership. Your character could also have been a message runner, mounted scout of heavy cavalry depending on other decisions you’ve made while building your character.

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