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The Cavalier Fighter Subclass: D&D 5e Review

This article’s featured image for the D&D 5e Cavalier Fighter review is from Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica. This article contains affiliate links that add gold to our coffers.

The Archetype of the Cavalier Fighter was introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. This archetype has simple but effective features and lends itself well to mounted combat or a defensive play style (or both!).

In this review, we’ll review the Cavalier features and how these synergize with the Fighter class features, then assess suitable feats, races, and multiclass options and finally combine these into some build concepts.

As always, these are just my thoughts. If you have any other ideas about the Cavalier please cast Message in the comments below!

Bonus Proficiency – 3rd Level Cavalier Fighter

You can learn one language of your choice or pick up proficiency in Animal Handling, History, Insight, Performance, or Persuasion. Animal Handling is the obvious choice if you wish to fight while mounted.

A bonus proficiency is nice for a Fighter who doesn’t often excel outside of physical skills such as Athletics or Acrobatics. Fighters get the most ASIs so you can afford to invest in one of Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma if it suits your character concept. 

Born to the Saddle – 3rd Level Cavalier Fighter

You gain some minor benefits to help you with mounted combat, including landing on your feet if falling no more than 10ft while falling off, advantage on saves to avoid falling off in the first place, and a reduced movement cost to mount or dismount – 5ft rather than the usual half your movement.

These all help if you want to fight while mounted, although none are as impactful as the Mounted Combatant feat (see Feats later).

Unwavering Mark – 3rd Level Cavalier Fighter

The main ability you get at 3rd level is a melee ability that debuffs enemies if they attack anyone else other than you. You mark a creature whenever you hit it with a melee attack. While marked and within 5ft of you, any marked creature has disadvantage on any attack roll that doesn’t target you.

In addition, if any marked creature deals damage to any other creature it grants you a special bonus action attack on your next turn. You get advantage on this attack and deal extra damage equal to half your Fighter level. You can use this special attack ‘Strength mod times’ per long rest.

The disadvantage effect has a really short range and doesn’t play that well with using a lance or a reach weapon, which would normally suit a mounted combatant. The extra attack is one of the best bonus action attacks in the game but does push you towards a Strength-based build if you want to make use of it regularly.

Warding Maneuver – 7th Level Cavalier Fighter

You get a new reaction option, which you can use Constitution mod times per long rest. If you or a creature within 5ft of you is hit by an attack you can add 1d8 to the AC, and grant resistance to any damage if the attack still hits.

This is a fantastic defensive ability that boosts your durability (or that of a melee-focused party member). Fighters will want to have a decent Constitution score anyway.

Hold the Line – 10th Level Cavalier Fighter

Creatures that move 5ft or more within your reach provoke an opportunity attack from you. If you hit, their speed is reduced to zero until the end of the current turn.

A great lockdown ability. Normally creatures can move freely as long as they stay within your reach, which can allow an enemy to sidle around you, potentially negating some of the benefits of having you in the front line. This ability benefits from a reach weapon such as a glaive or halberd, giving you more chances to trigger this opportunity attack. However, if you hit a creature more than 5ft away you won’t be able to trigger Unwavering Mark.

Usually forced movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks, so it’s reasonable to assume that would also apply here. However, party members can still maneuver enemies into your reach and you can lock them down on subsequent turns.

Ferocious Charger – 15th Level Cavalier Fighter

Once on each of your turns, if you move at least 10ft in a straight line before hitting a creature with an attack, the target must make a Strength save (vs your Strength mod) or be knocked prone.

This looks like it could be used with a ranged attack, although again it promotes high Strength. A thrown weapon might be a fun option here. This ability seems a bit more aimed at a mounted charger than a stationary defender.

Vigilant Defender – 18th Level Cavalier Fighter

You get a special reaction that you can use once on every other creature’s turn to make an opportunity attack (except if you use your regular reaction). 

This is an astonishing ability and synergizes amazingly with Hold the Line, allowing you to potentially lock down multiple enemies, and also greatly increase your damage output. It also works great with Unwavering Mark – providing creatures are within 5ft of you, you can potentially Mark many creatures at once. This feature also synergizes really well with feats that grant you extra opportunity attacks such as Polearm Master or Sentinel.

Again, this ability works best if you’re in the thick of melee.

Cavalier Fighter Subclass Summary

The Cavalier can’t seem to decide if it’s a mounted charger or a melee controller/tank. It’s possible to be both melee focused and be mounted but with so many of your features suited to being very close to an enemy, you won’t really be making full use of any extra mobility your mount provides.

You basically get pushed towards a Strength-based build in order to get extra uses of your bonus action from Unwavering Mark and to improve the chances of the prone effect from Ferocious Charger.

Although the Unwavering Mark debuff has only a 5ft range you get a lot from using a reach weapon, at least from level 10 onwards once you gain Hold the Line.

Feat Options

With a Cavalier, you are likely focusing on melee combat and a Strength-based build. Your choice of feats will reflect this. Fighters get more ASIs and can potentially get more feats than any other class.

Polearm Master is a stand-out feat for a Cavalier. If you are using a reach weapon the extra reach and extra opportunity attack – when a creature enters your reach – combines really well with Hold the Line at 10th level. Until then though you might want to consider using a spear (or quarterstaff) and shield instead. Adding Great Weapon Master to a heavy-weapon-wielding Cavalier is also a great option for boosting your damage. 

Continuing the Polearm Master theme you could pair a spear with Shield Master, which would give you a slightly more defensive focus, with reduced reach and fewer shenanigans but a better armor class. The Shield Master bonus action can shove enemies prone which can help you lock them down even more.

An alternative to Polearm Master would be to pair Shield Master with Slasher and wield a longsword or battleaxe. Slasher reduces an enemy’s speed by 10ft, and if you then knock them prone with the Shield Master bonus action many enemies will not be able to move more than 5ft once they get back up. This helps to keep one enemy in range for your Unwavering Mark debuff, getting a lot of value for that feature, and making you ‘sticky’ and hard to get away from, always a great feature for a tank. A whip is also an interesting option here – it doesn’t do as much damage but does have extra reach for Hold the Line and still combines with Slasher.

Sentinel is another great option for a defender, although the Cavalier gets one of the better features for free at level 10 (setting target speed to zero after an opportunity attack), so you don’t get as much benefit as usual. You can maybe pick this up if you’re heading into the late game to give you yet another potential trigger for Vigilant Defender.

If you do go for mounted combat then Mounted Combatant is a must-have. Getting advantage on attacks if your mount is larger than the creature you’re fighting is great, and being able to direct attacks against your mount towards yourself instead greatly improves the survivability of your mount.

Race Options

Pretty much every race will work well with the Cavalier. Smaller races are not the best wielders of heavy weapons but have more options for mounts – including potentially other party members.

As always, Custom Lineage and Variant Human are great choices with yet another feat.

Half-Orcs and Goliaths have nice defensive features that work well with a tank role.


Barbarian is an interesting multiclass combination, Rage combined with the defensive features of the Cavalier can make you very tanky indeed. Warding Maneuver can counter the downside of Reckless Attack for one incoming attack.

Multiclassing into a Paladin matches both the theme and mechanics for a mounted Cavalier and you can Smite your enemies from horseback just as well, plus if you go far enough into Paladin you get spells to provide you with a mount.

If you’re small you could multiclass 3 levels into a Battlesmith or Beastmaster to get a free mount that has actions and abilities of its own. A Drakewarden can do the same, although 7 levels are required to get there.

Build Ideas

There are many builds that will work out just fine with the Cavalier.

I like the idea of a whip-wielding Cavalier with Shield Master and Slasher, concentrating on defending and controlling enemies and not worrying too much about damage output.

A Halfling Cavalier with Mounted Combatant riding a Centaur Monk sounds like a really fun combination. You can lock down creatures with a combination of stuns and reduced movement, get fantastic maneuverability, and mitigate any defensive deficiencies of the Monk.

For the more damage-dealing end of the scale, a Goliath Cavalier with Polearm Master and Great Weapon Master would have a great mix of offensive and defensive abilities, and could control large parts of the battlefield with their reach. If you go with a Duergar (or have a spellcaster who can cast Enlarge on you) you can become large and extend your area of control even further. 

Cavalier Fighter Review Summary

That wraps up my review of the Cavalier! In summary, it’s a strong defender and tank that can tie down enemies and gets even stronger in the late-game where it can potentially attack on every turn.

Please cast Message in the comments either here or on YouTube if you have any questions or suggestions! You can explore our other content about Fighters here.

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