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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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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 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. Weapon Specialization is a terrible feat, and requires 4 levels of Fighter; all other Fighter-requiring feats require more than that.

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The most obvious reason to take Fighter 3 is going Dungeon Crasher (from Dungeonscape, p. 10). You will take Fighter all the way up to and including Fightr 6.

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Thanks, but I'm looking for reasons to take only Fighter 3 and no further. My question was poorly phrased - my apologies. I've edited it now. –  Dakeyras Dec 16 '12 at 14:41
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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
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+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
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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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