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I've heard a lot about how Fighter 3 is a bad level to take. However, are there ever any circumstances in 3.x where it is a good idea for optimisation purposes?

I'd appreciate hearing the reasoning behind it, if someone can justify it. If there never is any good reason ever, and you can justify it, that would also be appreciated.

I understand why in general terms it's a bad idea, but I was wondering whether there was a weird build where it's a good idea.

To clarify: I'm looking for reasons to take Fighter 3 and then change classes, not Fighter 3, then 4, ect.

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Extremely related OotS strip –  Angew Aug 12 at 17:26

4 Answers 4

up vote 24 down vote accepted

There is absolutely no reason to take exactly 3 levels of Fighter.

Strictly Superior Alternatives

Assuming you go by non-fractional saves/BAB – which I refuse to do personally, but it is the base rule – the level gives you ~5.5 HP, +1 BAB, +1 Ref, +1 Will, and 2+Int skill points.

Taking Barbarian 1 at that point instead would get you ~6.5 HP, +1 BAB, +2 Fort, 4+Int skill points, and Rage, which effectively grants you +2 Will, +4 Strength, +4 Constitution. You also get +10 ft. movement speed, which is more minor. In effect, you are trading +1 Ref for: +1 HP, +1 Will, +2 skill points, +10 ft. movement, +4 Strength, +4 Constitution. Yes, you can only Rage once per day, but Extra Rage (Complete Warrior) is a good feat, and even without that Raging once per day is enough for me to favor the Barbarian here.

And you don’t even have to worry about multiclass penalties – another rule I despise – because Fighter 2 and Barbarian 1 are within 1 level of each other and the multiclass penalties don’t come into play.

With sane (read: fractional) saves and BAB, Fighter 3 gives +½ Fort, +⅓ Ref, +⅓ Will – Barbarian 1 gives +2½ Fort, +⅓ Ref, +⅓ Will to make it strictly superior to Fighter 3. It’s pretty common to houserule that you cannot get the +2 to a good save more than once per save, especially with fractional BAB, but in this case Barbarian 1 is literally equivalent to Fighter 3 plus 1 HP, Rage, and Fast Movement.

This is the purely-Core answer. If you add more supplements, there are far more answers available as options. If full-BAB isn’t strictly necessary, there are even more options: Barbarian 1 becomes better when you can get Pounce instead of Fast Movement (Lion Spirit Totem, Complete Champion). Cleric 1 is the best dip in the game (Domains/Devotions, spells, Turn Undead/Divine Feats). Crusader, Swordsage, or Warblade 1 are excellent (though best to take at ECL 5 if you can). Psychic Warrior can get you another Fighter Bonus Feat (or Psionic Feat), and also gets you some powers (like expansion). And so on.

Obscure Benefits of Fighter 3

I will point out that it is possible to get class features at Fighter 3 – the Zhentarim Soldier substitution levels from the Champions of Valor Web Enhancement grants Skill Focus (Intimidate) for free at Fighter 3. Doesn’t cost you anything, either. But +3 to Intimidate doesn’t really change matters in terms of which is better between Fighter 3 and Barbarian 1. Properly using Zherntarim Soldier means going to Fighter 9, for the ability to Intimidate as a Swift action.

I’m not aware of any great feats or prestige classes that require Skill Focus (Intimidate); if you found one, that might be a reason to take Fighter 3, but I’d certainly be loathe to do so. With all you can get from a dip in another class, I’d rather just take it as my normal feat. You already have two levels in Fighter; if you’re still that desperate for feats, something is very, very wrong. And for that matter, you might be able to get Skill Focus (Intimidate) from the Otyugh Hole (Complete Scoundrel); 3,000 gp for the opportunity to take something other than fighter for a level is a steal.

Additionally, the Dead Levels Character Class Companion allows fighters to get +1 to Strength checks to break inanimate objects, +1 to Dexterity checks to balance (but... not Balance checks? The wording is really unclear), or +1 to Constitution checks to continue running or to avoid damage in a forced march, at each odd level except 1st. So yeah, +1 to your choice of a single very-niche ability check. One of which doesn’t really make sense in the rules. Enjoy.

And that is literally it as far as things that affect or key on Fighter 3. No other ACF, substitution level, or whatever else affects Fighter 3. And even if one or both of these give you a good enough reason to take 3 levels of Fighter, as Matthew Najmon points out, at that point you probably want to take the 4th level, so even these are not good reasons, by themeselves, to take exactly three levels.

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For 3,000 gold (or equivalent) you can get Skill Focus (Intimidate) from an Otyugh Hole. Just an FYI for the OP. It is extremely hard to argue a benefit for taking exactly 3 levels of fighter. I think everyone on here has explained it in very lengthy detail. Good job @KRyan. –  Ruut Aug 18 at 13:43
@Ruut Huh, I didn't even realize that was an option; usually Otyugh Hole is used to get Iron Will. Interesting point. I'll add that in. –  KRyan Aug 18 at 13:49
Yeah, Otyugh offers Extend Rage, Menacing Demeanor, Skill Focus (Intimidate) and Iron Will. If you were an Orc or a Half-Orc barbarian - and the DM allowed multiple applications of an Otyugh hole... Getting 4 feats for essentially 12,ooo gp would (and should) be awesome. Purely for a "Pimp my Intimidate" point of view, if you were a Half-Orc, and took Half-Orc Paragon Racial Class... But that is "min/maxing" and is not for everyone. Having Intimidate checks in the 40-50's at mid level could get a DMG thrown at someone. –  Ruut Aug 18 at 13:57

The obvious reason to take 3 levels of any class is in order to take 4 or more levels; in order to want to take exactly 3, the 3rd-level features have to offer something, and then we must have some reason to not take the 4th level.

So this answer is less "why take 3 levels?" and more "why take 3 levels and not take 4?"

There is one trivial1 reason: metagame requirements.

For example, suppose the DM has stipulated that, for plot-related reasons, all of the PCs must start out with 3 levels of fighter as their first 3 character levels (and, hopefully, is treating this as the massive party nerf it is, and adjusting challenge difficulty accordingly). This is a (weak) answer of why one would take at least 3 levels of Fighter. But even in this case, one could simply accept one's fate, and continue taking fighter levels.

A less trivial reason to take 3 levels of Fighter, but still quite contrived: as @KRyan pointed out, Zentarim Soldier grants you Skill Focus (Intimidate) at Ftr3. If you desperately need a lot of feats, including Skill Focus (Intimidate), the three feats from three levels of Fighter may be exactly what you need. But then, if you are so starved for feats, you probably also want another level of Fighter for yet another feat.

In both cases, you have a reason to have 3 levels of Fighter; both are very unlikely, but they are reasons. Now you need reasons to not take Ftr4.

The first case is actually more likely: the first 3 levels of Fighter were foisted on you; you probably didn't want or need them. Now that you have a choice, you want to get on with whatever you wanted to do in the first place. You probably don't need feats that badly after the first 2 levels of Fighter.

The second case has to get even more contrived. To take three levels of Fighter willingly, you have to be desperate for feats, including Skill Focus (Intimidate). But you have to be exactly so desperate as to take three levels of Fighter (which you probably wouldn't if you could get them any other way), but not so desperate as to take the fourth level in Fighter. That combination is even more unlikely than the original contrivance of needing three feats, including Skill Focus (Intimidate), that badly.

This sort of insanity is pretty much the only way this will ever happen.

1 As it has come up as an issue in the associated chat, it seems necessary to mention that I meant "trivial" in the math sense, not in the sense of it being irrelevant; see definitions 5 and 6 at Wiktionary. Sorry about the cross-discipline jargon, don't know any other term that fits.

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You could try this "offical" house rule from the "Dead Levels" article by Kolja Raven Liquette (WOTC Archives):

Physical Prowess (Ex): Starting at 3rd level, a fighter gets a bonus to some aspect of his ability checks that makes him a better warrior. The fighter gains an additional bonus at 5th level and every two fighter levels thereafter (7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 17th, and 19th). The bonus must be drawn from the following list.

Applied Force (Ex): A fighter can administer force to the weakest points of inanimate objects effectively, giving the character a +1 bonus on Strength checks to break or burst items (see page 165 of the Player's Handbook).

Combat Bearing (Ex): A fighter can steady himself to fight in precarious situations, giving the character a +1 bonus on Dexterity checks to avoid falling when damaged while balancing or moving quickly across difficult surfaces (see Balance on page 67 of the Player's Handbook).

Stamina Reserve (Ex): A fighter can push his body more than normal, giving the character a +1 bonus on Constitution checks to continue running (see page 144 of the
Player's Handbook) and to avoid nonlethal damage from a forced march (see page 164 of the Player's Handbook).


Since a big reason (and for many the only reason) for taking fighter levels are for Fighter Bonus Feats... Something feat intensive, such as a Shocktrooper Build, taking the 3rd level of Fighter could provide a +1 bonus to Balance checks to avoid obstacles during a charge attack (the meat and potatoes of the build). That is a flat and unnamed bonus that will stack with anything else. Also, considering that Balance, for the majority of Shocktrooper builds, will be a cross-class skill, all possible bonuses are a good thing.

As an aside (and my opinion)... Taking 4 levels of fighter, in that instance will provide another bonus feat that can be used for the overpowered Spiked Chain. Taking 1 level of Barbarian whether it be at 4th level, 5th level, or 6th level (Shocktrooper requires a +6 BAB), is really up to the player for when he/she decides to gain a rage. As I have never met, or spoke with anyone, that cares about trap sense - the 1st level ability of Rage that a barbarian gets is the only thing that matters to most people. Around the +6 BAB is already when people start to decide on whether or not they will prestige class or stay core.

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@KRyan Balance (Accelerated Movement) You can try to walk across a precarious surface more quickly than normal. If you accept a -5 penalty, you can move your full speed as a move action. You may also accept this penalty in order to charge across a precarious surface; charging requires one Balance check for each multiple of your speed (or fraction thereof) that you charge. –  Ruut Aug 12 at 3:56
@Ruut Huh, missed that. Still a weak argument (for example, a dip in ranger could get you +2 from cross-class ranks in Balance with the extra 4 skill points you get, plus you’d get better saves, track, and favored enemy), and still an ability that makes no sense since you don’t make Dexterity checks for that in the first place (you make Balance checks). –  KRyan Aug 12 at 4:26
@KRyan Well, it isn't the strongest argument, I admit. But if the OP is playing with a DM that actually enforces XP penalties... I don't know. Your answer is better than mine. Main purpose of my answer was mainly to show that there is a "something" rather than purely nothing at the 3rd level of fighter. But overall, no one should ever stick with an odd level of fighter, unless it is Level 1. –  Ruut Aug 12 at 5:04
Where did you find anything allowing for charging across precarious surfaces with a Balance check penalty? The penalty your citation seems to be referring to only applies to increasing how fast you can move across the surface, it still does not negate the clause in the charging rules that forbids charging across bad terrain, because that clause doesn't limit itself to cases where the terrain in question slows you down, it simply says if rough terrain, then no charging. –  Matthew Najmon Aug 14 at 22:43
Then where did you find anything preventing charging on "precarious surfaces" at all? I'm still not seeing where there's a limitation to Charge that this particular Balance check with penalties can negate. –  Matthew Najmon Aug 15 at 14:28

The only reason I could see someone saying not to stop at level 3 is because you don't get the bonus feat since it's an odd level. Otherwise, it's the level your Ref and Will saves first get bumped, you always get extra BAB and HD, and the universal level 3 feat. The only level I ever thought was unfortunate for a fighter was level 5. No saves change, no bonus feat, not even the bonus attribute for the 4th level or feat for the 3rd level. It's just kind of dead weight but you can push past it because level 6 makes up for it, but I digress.

Really, I don't see it as a bad level to take but I wouldn't just stop unless you have a specific multiclass or prestige you're shooting for (IE one of the Fighter skills at skill rank 7)

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How does Fighter 6 make up for Fighter 5? Dungeoncrasher is pretty good, but other than that, yet-another-bonus-feat is not really an amazing feature. –  KRyan Dec 16 '12 at 16:29
+1 all saves at level 6. –  CatLord Dec 16 '12 at 16:44
Oh, and the second attack. –  CatLord Dec 16 '12 at 22:31
Any full-BAB class gives the second attack at that point. Base save bonuses, too, are hardly unique, seeing as every class has them, nor is +1 to all saves particularly impressive. None of these things is particular about Fighter 6, just facts of being a 6th-level PC. –  KRyan Dec 16 '12 at 22:46
I think you're getting a little too into this. I am saying that empirically the class has a "lull" level then a "booming" level. –  CatLord Dec 17 '12 at 7:22

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