Fighter's Handbook: Taking it to the Face and Loving It

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This handbook is a work in progress. I’ll add to it as I have time and as other people add their perspectives.
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Introduction:

So, you want to be a fighter, grunt? Well, you've come to the right place. I'll be teaching you how to take a hit and not cry like a child, how to protect your allies and how to protect yourself. In short, I'm going to be hitting you in the face a lot. If you don't like that, don't worry. I will. Most of you probably will too by the time we're done.



Things You Should Know Up Front:

1) You’re going to get hit. It’s going to hurt. You may even die. If someone has to die, you’re the one who signed up for the job. Man up or go home. If the wizard dies before you do, you’re doing it wrong.

2) People are going to expect you to defend them because you are a defender. Don’t get any grandiose notions about leaving the weaker party members undefended while you wreak havoc on the enemy. That is, unless someone else is playing defense well enough without you. In short, know your role, and shut your mouth.

3) Don’t tick off your party members. They know things you don't and can do things you can't. They’re also nasty, devious folk that don’t fight fair. That Rogue might wield a sissy’s dagger, but try letting him stab you in the spine one good time. The Wizard might not take a hit too well, but if he puts you to sleep and rearranges your pretty face, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

4) Surviving is your own responsibility. Don’t take on more than you can handle. The leader will help out if he gets a chance, but you'd better be tough enough for it to be worth his time – don’t neglect defense! If he didn't wince when you took that last blow, or at the sheer number of blows, then don't expect any sympathy; you signed up to be a tough guy. You only get to be a wuss if you went to school. And no, Eladrin, that doesn’t get you off the hook.

5) Don’t be afraid to let your party members get whacked about a bit, but remember that they are wusses! A bit of toughening won't do them no harm, but you’d better make sure they don't get overwhelmed. If the boss-man is healing the Wizard, he ain’t healing you. Even worse, if the Wizard can’t do his job, you might find yourself in a lot of trouble.

6) Always carry a javelin. Always. If you can't get to your enemies, you'll be crying softly while the Wizard and archer show you up. Try to get a Thunderburst javelin for when hordes of weaklings run from you. If you have Weapon Focus, Dwarven Weapon Training or Deadly Axe, it may also be worth carrying a throwing hammer or handaxe, as appropriate. You can't throw these as far though, so don't forget your javelin.



Races:

Each of you meatheads have some advantages and disadvantages. Learn to use them appropriately. (The star values below are generalizations about fighters of that particular race. Individual builds within a given race may exceed these values.)

Dragonborn: (5 stars)
Being strong, both in muscle and in halitosis, can give you an edge. Being a pretty-boy isn’t going to help much, but you can intimidate your enemies with the best of them. You also heal quickly if you work on your constitution. Consider wielding an axe or hammer to capitalize on your strengths. You might even want to get some of that fancy plate armor.

Dwarves: (5 stars)
Wise and hardy, you make excellent fighters. You aren’t as strong as some of us though, so keep that in mind. You’re hard to push around, and you can catch your breath and waylay your enemies at the same time. It takes effort, but Dwarven Durability can go a long way to keep you alive. Hammers and axes suit you well, and plate armor may also be useful.

Eladrin: (3 stars)
Smart and agile aren’t exactly on the high priority list, but you work with what you’ve got. You can teleport, so put it to good use to confound your enemies’ efforts. You make great look-outs since you don’t sleep. Consider using a spear to push enemies around the battlefield or a longsword to hit them easily. A scimitar might be handy too if you take dexterity to the limit. You should probably focus on scale armor in most cases. By the way, I hope that you learned something useful at that fancy Eladrin college.

Elves: (4 stars)
You’re wise and fast, so make it count. Use your mobility to gain advantageous positions on the battlefield. Despite being a little weaker than some of us, you seem to have an uncanny ability to hit your targets when it really counts. I’d recommend scale armor and a heavy blade or spear.

Half-Elves: (2 stars)
Hardy and pretty… At least half of that is useful. You can dabble a bit in another profession (suggestions to come.) Your primary advantage is that you can learn the tricks of the trade for both Humans and Elves, as well as Half-Elves. Unfortunately, Elven and Half-Elven tricks aren’t that great for fighters. Focus on axes or hammers, and get some shiny Plate Armor. Make sure you keep it pretty so you can impress all of the boys.

Halflings: (3 stars)
You’re fast and pretty. You also have small hands like carnival folk. Stick to one-handed weapons (for you) – probably a scimitar – and plan to use scale armor. Where you excel is in those combat tricks like avoiding a critical attack or hiding behind medium or larger sized enemies. It might be worth your time to work on acrobatics eventually so that you can move through an opponent’s legs to gain an advantageous position. Unfortunately for you little guys, size matters. Your weapon choices are limited, and don’t go trying to push anyone much bigger than a human. However, a scimitar-wielding Halfling with a heavy shield can make a better fighter than some opponents might expect.

Humans: (4 stars)
You’re good at one thing, and it had better be strength! You tend to learn an extra attack, but that’s not so useful for most fighters. You’re good at one more skill, so yippee. You are a bit more able to dodge attacks, which is good. You can also learn some nice tricks for making attacks count when it matters and shrugging off nasty effects. Use whatever weapons and armor you want. I don’t even care any more.

Tieflings: (1 star)
Smart and Pretty. Man, am I glad that I ain’t you! Unfortunately, you don’t have a lot going for you as a fighter. Use a flaming weapon and try not to, err, die. Maybe you should look into another line of work. Otherwise, use whatever weapons/armor you want and pray to whatever gods you believe in. Try to focus on keeping the useful party members alive and cleaning up enemies that they were nice enough to bloody for you.



Attributes: (All numbers are before racial modifiers)

Choose a weapon-group below and then figure out what attributes you need to make the most of it. Then, choose two attributes to put extra emphasis on. One of them should be strength. Period. If you don’t like it, find someone else to train with. The other will probably be dexterity, constitution or wisdom, depending on your weapon choice and what you want to focus on.

Strength: 16
There is no excuse for skipping your physical training. If you’re going to be a mama’s boy about it, find another line of work. You need to be strong to hit things, to hurt things, to lug around weapons and armor, to carry fallen comrades to safety, etc. Suck it up and drive on.

Dexterity: 8-16 (recommended: 10+)
If you’re using spears, flails, heavy blades or light blades, you’ll want to work on some agility training. Otherwise, just practice getting out of the way of fireballs and getting the jump on people if you have some spare time. If you want to specialize in scale armor, plan accordingly.

Constitution: 10-16 (recommended: 13+)
If you’re going to be standing there smashing people with a maul, wind sprints should be your bread and butter. If you use axes, you may want to go run up some hills. If you want to wear plate, you pansy, you’d better build up your wind as well. For the rest of you maggots, try to at least get a brisk jog in from time to time if it isn’t too much freakin’ trouble. You’re of no use on the battlefield if you can’t take some solid hits and keep soldiering on. This is particularly true if you choose not to use a shield.

Intelligence: 8-13 (recommended: 8)
You get hit in the head for a living. What’s the matter with you? If you’re some kind of warrior-scholar, the Warlord academy is over there.

Wisdom: 10-16 (recommended: build specific)
Common sense, on the other hand, can be invaluable on the battlefield. When some guy thinks he can just run past you, it will help you capitalize on his foolishness. Pit Fighters put this to especially good use. Oh, and if you want to stick an approaching opponent with a polearm, it helps to know which way is the business end. I used to write “this side toward enemy,” but apparently, half of you bucket-heads can’t read.

Charisma: 8-13 (recommended: 8-10)
If you signed up to take it in the face, chances are that you don’t care about maintaining those boyish good-looks.



Weapon-Groups:

If you are planning to dabble in another profession, I’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s just look at the weapons as if you were going to be a straight fighter. And no, I’m not talking about playing for the other team. (Currently, weapon-specific exploits are not taken into account for the star ratings. When they are, the ratings may change.)

Axes: (4-5 stars)
These are good because they rely on constitution which is good for us. It’s especially synergistic if you happen to be a Dwarf or Dragonborn. What? Synergistic means its good, dummy. If you like really wrecking your enemy’s day once in a while, this is the weapon-group for you. The reason to select axes over hammers/maces is that you can get by with less emphasis on constitution.

Flails: (3 stars)
Good for getting around shields, which can be nice if your enemy is using one. The problem is that they rely on dexterity, but heavy blades are generally more useful.

Hammers and Maces: (5 stars)
Two words, nimrod: Hammer Rhythm. If you miss your opponent, hit him on the back-swing! The only real downside is that it requires a very high constitution to make this work well. Of course, that’s all to the good for most of us, especially for you Dwarves and Dragonborn. Your reflexes and/or will defenses will probably suffer though.

Heavy Blades: (4-5 stars)
Longswords and bastard swords make it easier to hit your enemies. That’s particularly nice if you are focused on exploits which injure them in interesting ways. Blade Opportunist can add to our “stickiness” if you’re short on wisdom. If you want to really focus on dexterity, you can put out some serious damage with Scimitar Dance. The one pitfall is that Heavy Blade Opportunity isn’t as useful as it first appears. If you have some way to make it better, such as Warpriest’s Challenge, then Heavy Blades can rival any weapon choice.

Light Blades: (2 stars)
Why the heck are you using a light blade? Pick up a real man’s weapon, wimp. Nimble Blade and Light Blade Precision are ok, but you are going to need a ton of dexterity to master the thing. If you are going to use a light blade, at least make it rapier.

Picks: (1 star)
You’re better off with a hammer or an axe unless someone comes up with some crazy new pick-based fighting style.

Polearms: (4 stars)
Reach, Polearm Gamble, dual weapons and Spear Push are the draws here. I don’t know why you’d want to use Polearm Gamble as a Fighter though. The whole idea is to get things to attack you! Otherwise, why not be a Ranger or something? For Spear Push to work, you have to use an attack that pushes your enemy. That would normally be Tide of Iron or Shield Push, but it's hard to use a polearm and a shield at the same time. That means you'll have to devote some of your more precious exploits to pushing people in order to get good use out of Spear Push with a polearm. Reach might be useful for you nancy-boys out there, but real fighters like to get in close. *toothless grin* (Currently, there’s an argument on these boards as to which square you end up in if a fighter uses polearm gamble on you and hits. Please don’t bring it to this thread.)

Dual-Weapons - There are three polearms which also count as part of another weapon group:
--Glaives count as polearms and heavy blades.
--Halberds are polearms and axes.
--Longspears are polearms and... Spears?
Glaives are good if you are dexterous and you want to use Heavy Blade Opportunity and/or Blade Opportunist. Halberds are good if you want to use the axe feats. I don't see much use for Longspears though. You might as well use a Glaive or a Halberd unless you are just dying to use a polearm AND use one of the few exploits which work best with spears but not polearms. See the relevant weapon-group sections to see what you can do with each.

Spears: (4 stars)
These things are good for pushing people around the battlefield. Ideally, you’ll use a shield with one of these puppies so that you can get some extra bang out of Tide of Iron and Shield Push.

Staff: (1 star)
What are you, a Wizard? Put the stick down, genius. Pick up something heavy and possibly pointy.



Guardians vs. Great Weapon Fighters:

I don’t like these terms. EVERY fighter should be a “guardian,” whether you use a two-handed weapon or not. I’ll address why that is in a moment. Also, despite what you may have heard, whether or not you use a two-handed weapon isn’t the primary reason why you should favor dexterity or constitution – that’s mostly going to be based on your weapon-group. However, a two-handed weapon does mean you’ll get hit more often, so constitution becomes relatively more important.

Whether you focus more on damage or defense should be based on the role you are trying to fill. If you want to be a striker, focus on damage. Always remember that dealing slightly more damage is never worth taking a lot more damage. In any case, if no one is on defense, get your ugly butt into position. A fighter with a maul will get hit more often than a fighter with a shield, but it’s better than seeing the Wizard’s head on a pole.

Tossing aside your shield for a two-hander should be carefully thought out. Shields make you harder to hit with conventional weapons and reflex-based attacks. They also give you more options like Distracting Shield, Shield Push and Tide of Iron. If you want to be a tactical defender, use a shield. If you want to pretend you are a Barbarian, consider it carefully. If you need to, ask someone smarter than you. I’m looking at you, Quarterstaff-boy.



Defenders Should Take the Hits:

Look, Paladins and Fighters can take more damage and shrug it off more easily than anyone out there. This is especially true if you happen to be a Dwarf or Dragonborn, and/or you put an emphasis on your constitution. Additionally, we are among the hardest to hit with conventional attacks. On top of all that, we have more control than anyone else in the party over which enemies will focus their attacks on us. A final thought is that you can and should specialize in exploits and magic items for dealing with damage while your party members probably won’t and shouldn’t. These reasons are why those glory-hogging strikers, leaders and wizards will always come crawling to us when they want to go adventuring.


Defenders Shouldn’t Take ALL the Hits:

Now I know that some of you just got images in your tiny brains of eight enemies circling you while the rest of the party has a picnic. Get that right out of your head. You can’t take every attack that is ever thrown at your party. Even if you could, what good are you if you die six seconds into the fight? It’s important to learn when you should get an enemy’s attention and when you should focus on a different one. Here are some examples to think about. Try not to hurt yourself.

1) You're fighting three opponents when the wizard slows them all. If all other party members can get out of their range, you probably should too – even if it means giving up an attack so that you can shift and then move away. Your job is to take hits instead of the weaker party members, not to take hits when no one else would. Either go attack something that’s still up, or just back out of the way and let the party kill them at range. Of course, if they fall asleep, go have your fun.

2) You’re running low on healing surges while your party members are as fresh as a summer’s day. For heaven’s sake, let some of them take a hit once in a while. If you end up in this situation, focus less on making sure they don’t muck up their hair. Focus more on making sure none of them gets mobbed or prevented from doing their job. You’re of no use if you are dead.

3) You’re focused on strength and constitution and you are facing three enemies. One attacks vs. armor, one vs. reflex and one vs. fortitude. Well, guess what? Most of the time, whoever you are defending will have better reflexes than you do. If that’s the case, I say let the guy attacking your reflexes get past you.


How to “Tank”:

There are four major ways in which you can encourage your enemies to leave your allies alone:

1) Mark them, probably with Combat Challenge. Close Bursts are especially effective here, as is a Dragonborn’s bad breath. Seriously, suck on a mint or something, would ya’?

2) Take away the option of attacking whoever you are defending. Get in their way, immobilize them, slow them, stop their movement with Combat Superiority, etc. Do what needs to be done to keep them from getting to your allies. Those wielding weapons such as longswords and bastard swords will have an easier time since they can hit more often. Blade Opportunist helps here as well as does a good amount of wisdom. You can make it quite difficult for enemies to get away from you. This is often called “stickiness.”

3) Punish them for trying to get away or attacking your ally. This is typically accomplished with the attack you get from Combat Challenge. “Great Weapon Fighters” are going to hit harder, and thus the penalty for ignoring them is more severe. On the other hand, shield fighters make up for this with Distracting Shield and Shield Push.

4) Be a major threat. If you splattered my friend’s brain all over me with a giant hammer, I’d probably want a piece of you. Not that any of you sissies would have the guts. “Great Weapon Fighters” might have a shot at this, but it is our weakest area in general.
Skills: This section is new. I'm particularly interested in comments on it as it probably needs some work.

Class Skills:
Look, there's more to life than fighting. We'll be giving classes on the following skills. You can learn three of them. If you're Human, we'll teach you four. Why? Because I hate them a little less than the rest of you.

Athletics (Str) (5 stars)
Jumping, climbing, swimming and escaping from grapples are all likely to be useful to you at some point. I’d take this one if I were you.

Endurance (Con) (2-5 stars)
The benefit of a high endurance depends on what you are going to be doing. If you'll be in the desert, on a ship, etc., it can be quite useful. Otherwise, resisting disease is probably the biggest benefit. However, if there's an able healer who can watch over you, enduring diseases becomes less important.

Heal (Wis) (5 stars)
This is a particularly good skill to have. Keeping your allies alive is a good thing. You may be tempted to retrain this into something else eventually once you get better at it. However, if your allies lack endurance, I'd stay in practice to treat any diseases they contract. And remember kids, always use protection.

Intimidate (Cha) (3 stars)
Scaring the heck out of people – what's not to love? Most of us aren't exactly social butterflies, but that doesn't mean you can't spend some time in the mirror practicing that winning sneer of yours. Just be aware that the Cleric, Warlord, Rogue, etc. may be more intimidating than you, even if they aren't in practice. I'll never understand why people find an ugly fighter crushing a rock in his bare hand less scary than a pretty Cleric polishing his nails.

Streetwise (Cha) (2 stars)
If you want to schmooze with the locals, this is your chance. While useful for finding information on the streets, that isn't typically part of our job description. Still, it's probably a good idea to work on either intimidate or streetwise since you never know when some sort of social skill might be handy.


Non-Class Skills:
If you want to learn these skills, do it on your own time. For the most part, I wouldn't worry about them unless you can pick them up without too much additional effort. This would include dabbling in another class or being an Eladrin college-boy.

Arcana (Int) (2 stars)
Identifying magical enemies and their spells is useful, but someone else should be able to do this better than you can anyway. If not, maybe one of the pansy caster types should pick it up.

Bluff (Cha) (1 star)
Let the Rogue be a con-man. Just stand behind him and look menacing. There, that's a good boy.

Diplomacy (Cha) (1 star)
Tact, subtlety and social grace – yeah, that's right up our alley.

Dungeoneering (Wis) (1-4 stars)
If you plan to spend a lot of time underground, someone should be trained in this. If you have a lot of Wisdom, you're not a bad candidate. If you aren't going to be underground much, this skill will rarely come into play.

History (Int) (1 star)
Real Fighters make history, not study it.

Insight (Wis) (3 stars)
This can be useful when dealing with shady characters. It's also nice to avoid being distracted and seeing through illusions.

Nature (Wis) (1-3 stars)
Carry rations or a magic item which dispenses them. If you're going to be in natural environments and/or dealing with animals, it's a useful skill. It's just not really your job.

Perception (Wis) (5 stars)
Spotting traps and hidden enemies should be high on anyone's to-do list. Tracking enemies is just gravy. Someone had better be good at this, but more is better in this case.

Religion (Int) (1-2 stars)
Someone should be versed in religion. Ideally, it's a Cleric or Paladin. Otherwise, it's probably still better for it to be someone other than you.

Stealth (Dex) (3 stars)
Hiding is useful for ambushes. It's probably not so useful for us in combat though. If the enemy can't see you, it's probably going after whoever you are supposed to be protecting.

Thievery (Dex) (3-5 stars)
Someone had better have this or your life will be much more difficult. Particularly if you use a Scimitar, you may be a good candidate. It's better to have a striker handle this though so that you can focus on defending them if they have to do it in combat.
Builds:

My Top Recommendations: (In no particular order)
The builds here have seen some board scrutiny and I feel confident recommending them.

Human Fighter/Warpriest(Paladin PP)/Demigod
--My (C_A’s) build. An extremely sticky sword/board build focused on defense with some healing. An example of when Heavy Blade Opportunity is actually quite useful.

MC Hammer – Minotaur Fighter/Kensei/Demigod
--Titanium Dragon’s build. This is probably the highest damaging build for a fighter, and possibly for any class. It uses a two-handed maul.


Other Builds Worth Looking At: (In no particular order)
These builds either haven't seen enough scrutiny or there's some other issue preventing me from recommending them for play.

Holding the Line, a Glaive Fighter Build
--Squirrelloid's build. It's really more of a build guide than a single build. It attempts to make a Glaives a strong option for a Fighter. Unfortunately, it needs an at-will that pushes enemies and doesn't require a shield. If such a thing comes along, these builds become more viable.

Elf Fighter/Kensei/Demigod
--Smerg's build. Uses a heavy flail and focuses on damaging one or two targets at a time. It is very detailed and shows his thought process for each decision. It hasn't been scrutinized very closely yet, so I can't make a recommendation on it.


If you know of any good fighter-based builds that aren’t listed, please let me know and provide a link.
Feats: (coming eventually)

Powers: (coming eventually)

Multi-Classing and Paragon Paths: (coming eventually)

Epic Destinies: (coming eventually)

General Tactics: (coming eventually)



Other stuff will be added when it’s suggested or I think of it.
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If I use your work in this guide, I’ll probably re-word it to match the style used above. I’ll definitely credit you though. If you use my work, please give me the same courtesy.


Credits:

-Wizards of the Coast: All your base are belong to them
-Squirrelloid: Dual-weapons and Spear Push with polearms
-blargney the second: Great point about why fighters should take the hits
----Bringing up the importance of con for 2-weapon fighters
-bogus_accountus: Convincing me to re-word the heavy blades section
-Timlagor: Things you should know 4, 5 and part of 3
-sCRuLooSe: Convincing me to re-word the heavy blades section
----Good tactical advice when I get to that section (not yet up)
----Lots of stuff for the Guardian vs. Great Weapon section
----Advise on opportunity costs related to raising damage
-Seeker_Of_Truth: Examples 1 and 2 of Why Defenders Shouldn’t Take ALL the Hits
-Spiku: Convincing me to give Halflings some extra love
-Michael Tree: Things you should know 6


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This is my first try at something like this. Let me know if any of my points aren’t clear. I was trying to make it a fun read rather than a textbook, but I’m afraid that it might not be obvious what I mean sometimes.
Reserved.
Hopefully this is enough reserving.
I think you might want to consider multi-type weapons in weapon choices a little bit more. Ie, Longspear, glaive, halberd all count as two types, which potentially means more weapon-specific feats you'll care about and thus more tricks. Glaives in particular are both heavy blades and polearms, which strikes me as particularly useful. Halberds are probably marginally better than either component type (polearm + axe). Longspears don't seem to gain anything (spear + polearm is featwise equivalent to just polearm, at least at present).

Also, spear push works with spears and polearms, so I find it hard to credit spears rating higher than polearms ever as spears have no advantage relative to polearms.
this seems to be going well. I can also see that my Dragonborn Greataxe fighter isn't a piece of scaly dragon turd. quite the contrary.
Thanks for the comments, guys.

I think you might want to consider multi-type weapons in weapon choices a little bit more. Ie, Longspear, glaive, halberd all count as two types, which potentially means more weapon-specific feats you'll care about and thus more tricks. Glaives in particular are both heavy blades and polearms, which strikes me as particularly useful. Halberds are probably marginally better than either component type (polearm + axe). Longspears don't seem to gain anything (spear + polearm is featwise equivalent to just polearm, at least at present).

Also, spear push works with spears and polearms, so I find it hard to credit spears rating higher than polearms ever as spears have no advantage relative to polearms.

I covered glaives under heavy weapons, but I'll move (and expand upon) that discussion under Polearms, since all dual-weapons currently are polearms.

I credit spears higher than polearms because you can use them with a shield, but I was unaware that polearms also qualify for spear push. I'll make the correction shortly.
What a great read! That's just plain old fun.

Something I've noticed about hit points and defenders: because healing surges heal about a quarter of your max hp, it's much better for a high-hp fighter or paladin to take smacks in the face than anyone else. A Con 12 rogue heals 9 damage with a surge and a half, while a Con 14 dragonborn fighter only needs one surge. The damage:surge ratio makes it proportionately much cheaper to funnel attacks into your defenders.
-blarg
great start. Thanks C A.

p.s. What does it say about me that reading this makes me want to see what I can do with a teifling fighter?
Thanks for all of the kind responses.

What a great read! That's just plain old fun.

Something I've noticed about hit points and defenders: because healing surges heal about a quarter of your max hp, it's much better for a high-hp fighter or paladin to take smacks in the face than anyone else. A Con 12 rogue heals 9 damage with a surge and a half, while a Con 14 dragonborn fighter only needs one surge. The damage:surge ratio makes it proportionately much cheaper to funnel attacks into your defenders.
-blarg

Great insight! That never occurred to me. I'll have to add a section on that. Thanks.

great start. Thanks C A.

p.s. What does it say about me that reading this makes me want to see what I can do with a teifling fighter?

Heh. The same thought occurred to me while writing it. The truth is that they aren't as bad as I made out, but they are pretty bad in comparison to the other races. If you really want a challenge, have him use a Quarterstaff and not multi-class into wizard. ;)
Thanks for writing this, C_A. If I come up with any builds I'm really proud of, I'll let you know.

One thought (maybe you actually mentioned it, but I'm not sure): are you planning to get into multiclass options?

-marick
Thanks for writing this, C_A. If I come up with any builds I'm really proud of, I'll let you know.

One thought (maybe you actually mentioned it, but I'm not sure): are you planning to get into multiclass options?

-marick

Thanks, and please do. Multi-classing is on my to-do list. My current plans are to cover multi-classing and paragon paths in the same section since they are closely related. That's going to be a big undertaking though, so I'll probably do it a few at a time and rate them once they are all posted.
Great insight! That never occurred to me. I'll have to add a section on that. Thanks.

I'm glad to contribute! I really appreciate these handbooks.
OK, I have to ask: why the dis to heavy blades? You say they're not as good as they seem, but I'm curious why.

It seems to me that longsword is one of the best choices for a classic "sword & board"-type battlefield controller. With Heavy Blade Opportunity, you can stop an opponent in its tracks, using Tide of Iron with the fighter's Combat Superiority to position it where you want it.

Realistically, you'll probably have a 12 in Wisdom -- I'm assuming maxing Str and Con, and wanting a 15 Dex for Shield/Scale Armor Spec and Heavy Blade Opportunist. With Blade Opportunist, you're probably looking at a +3 to hit on opportunity attacks above and beyond what any other builds give -- they might have a slightly higher Wis, but a heavy blade build has the extra bonus from longsword and the feat bonus. On paper, that looks crazy good to me for controlling the battlefield.

Also, you may want an additional section for MM races. Frankly, I hate the Dragonborn, though I tend to agree they and dwarves make the best fighters. A few of the other races are no-brainers for fighters as well (minotaurs and bugbears, I'm looking at you) but I haven't looked at them too closely overall.
It's proportionately cheaper for the defender to take hits, yes, but he can't take all of them.

I spent a while trying to come up with useful rules on how much any given party member should be doing the tanking, but wasn't able to turn up something readily generalizable; the rule of thumb is definitely that the defender takes the hit over the non-defender, but no single defender can afford to do that all the time. The limit case - a tough, durable, dwarven durable demigod paladin with 30 con - can soak over 1800 points of damage. It rises to well over 2100 with a competent cleric. This is about four times as tough as a wizard of equal level, depending. In the most extreme case - that paladin, and four wizards - the paladin would only want to take half the damage. In more usual cases, the defender only wants to take 1/4 to 1/3 of the damage.

Worse, defenders are mainly tougher over the long run, and are nearly as vulnerable to focused fire as any other character: they only have 50-80 hit points on other roles at level 30 - call it two to three hits, so they go down in 7-8 hits instead of 5-6.

[section removed on preview; bogus_accountus covered the virtues of heavy blades. Significant to-hit boost; huge boost to opportunity attacks; chance to use at-wills.]
Love the style.
I have a suggestion for 5. It's pretty strong but good advice nonetheless and fits your style reasonably well (do reword by all means).


5. Surviving is your own responsibility. The Leader will help out if he gets a chance but you'd better be tough enough to make him think it's worth his time -that means investing in good defences and having the Surges for him to help you use. If he didn't wince when you took that last blow, or at the sheer number of blows then don't expect any sympathy: you signed up to be a tough guy; you only get to be a wuss if you went to school.


..now that I've read the thread, this is quite close to blargney's point but it could be worked in better; I'll let you do that ;)
For your consideration, my thoughts on why glaives are good, in build form: Holding the Line, a Glaive Fighter Build.

ok, not everything in the build works as yet... so, the combo needs a non-shield push at-will to be released - bets on how long that will take?
I'll definitely follow this topic, it's well written and you obviously have a firm grasp on the subject matter.

I'd be interested in some analysis on the benefits of reach (and especially the longspear) in this edition - to me it seems somewhat contrary to many defender abilities... But I'm sure there are good uses for it somewhere.
Excellent beginning, C_A. The style is also worth a few chuckles, though the fact that you haven't noticed that Cha is force of personality and strength of will rather than good looks grates on my perfectionist nature. :P
Ha! I love this. Well done!

Though my lightly armoured, high Int, high Cha Tiefling Fighter is most offended. And embarrassed.
Ok, lots of new comments. I'll try to address them all, but it may take me a few posts. Thanks, all.

OK, I have to ask: why the dis to heavy blades? You say they're not as good as they seem, but I'm curious why.

It seems to me that longsword is one of the best choices for a classic "sword & board"-type battlefield controller. With Heavy Blade Opportunity, you can stop an opponent in its tracks, using Tide of Iron with the fighter's Combat Superiority to position it where you want it.

Realistically, you'll probably have a 12 in Wisdom -- I'm assuming maxing Str and Con, and wanting a 15 Dex for Shield/Scale Armor Spec and Heavy Blade Opportunist. With Blade Opportunist, you're probably looking at a +3 to hit on opportunity attacks above and beyond what any other builds give -- they might have a slightly higher Wis, but a heavy blade build has the extra bonus from longsword and the feat bonus. On paper, that looks crazy good to me for controlling the battlefield.

Ok, I obviously need to reword that section because my point isn't coming across. Looking at the build you proposed, I would argue that in most cases, you'd be better off using either an axe or hammer. If you use a hammer, you can dump dex, boost con and pick up Hammer Rythm. So you you have -1 to hit, but your average damage per round shoots through the roof. This includes OA's, but you will stop their movement a little less often. If you are a dwarf or dragonborn, it gets even better because your con will be higher for racial synergy.

If you go with an axe, you can move the points from dex into wisdom. Your OA bonus stays about the same (maybe -1), and you have -1 to hit on regular attacks. Depending on how highly you value critical hits, this may or may not be desirable. In either case (axe or hammer), you grab plate for a net +1 to AC (and -1 speed if not a dwarf). Yes, you are down a feat, but feats are cheap for most fighter builds.

You do lose the ability to use Tide of Iron on an OA, but so what? Unless you have something like Warpriest's Challenge, what OA's were you planning to use it on? When someone tries to run past you, you can stop their movement anyway. Someone using a ranged attack probably doesn't care if you push them. A push here might help a little, but I'm not sure it's enough on it's own to put it over the top vs. hammers, for example.

Now, compare Heavy Blade Opportunist/Reaping Strike to Hammer Rhythm, for example. For an equal str/con build, they are equivalent with a 2-handed weapon. However, with a 1-hander, Hammer Rhythm clearly takes the day.

In short, my point isn't that heavy blades are bad. I scored them as 3-5 stars. What I mean by that is that with no synergy, they are a 3 and you'd be better off with an axe (can dump dex) or hammer (can dump dex, and con goes to damage) most of the time. With synergy, they are a 5 and are on par with hammers.

My build in the builds section uses heavy blades because of the synergy with Warpriest. It also uses Human, though I only rate them as 4 stars. I'll probably put a tip at the top somewhere that says that the things below are guidelines, not laws. Break them when it makes sense to do so.

If anyone disagrees or has suggestions for rewording or adding to the section, please let me know. I could also be convinced to change the rating to 4-5 stars if you guys think I'm off in my assessment.

Also, you may want an additional section for MM races. Frankly, I hate the Dragonborn, though I tend to agree they and dwarves make the best fighters. A few of the other races are no-brainers for fighters as well (minotaurs and bugbears, I'm looking at you) but I haven't looked at them too closely overall.

I'll get to the MM races at some point, but I'll probably express it flavor-wise as what to watch for in enemy fighters. It's just not high on the priority list. If you're pulling races out of the MM, I assume you can figure out what I would suggest based on the PHB races section in this guide. Con bonus = hammers/axes/plate, Dex bonus = heavy blades/spears/scale. Str is good, wisdom isn't bad. Int and Cha are mostly worthless unless you have some sort of crazy multi-class. In that case, it would be discussed in the multi-classing section anyway.
It's proportionately cheaper for the defender to take hits, yes, but he can't take all of them.
...
Worse, defenders are mainly tougher over the long run, and are nearly as vulnerable to focused fire as any other character: they only have 50-80 hit points on other roles at level 30 - call it two to three hits, so they go down in 7-8 hits instead of 5-6.

Yeah, I didn't say so, but I did plan to to mention this as well. If your wizard buddy is fine and you're about to buy the farm, you might consider letting him take a hit or two. Load balancing is good. Other characters have HP and healing surges for a reason. It's also not a good idea to open the battle with move-charge into the middle of 10 guys for exactly the reason you mention. These points will probably be talked about in the same section as why you should take hits.
Love the style.
I have a suggestion for 5. It's pretty strong but good advice nonetheless and fits your style reasonably well (do reword by all means).


5. Surviving is your own responsibility. The Leader will help out if he gets a chance but you'd better be tough enough to make him think it's worth his time -that means investing in good defences and having the Surges for him to help you use. If he didn't wince when you took that last blow, or at the sheer number of blows then don't expect any sympathy: you signed up to be a tough guy; you only get to be a wuss if you went to school.


..now that I've read the thread, this is quite close to blargney's point but it could be worked in better; I'll let you do that ;)

I like it. I'll probably adjust and add to it a little bit, but it's a great point and well presented. Thanks.

I'd be interested in some analysis on the benefits of reach (and especially the longspear) in this edition - to me it seems somewhat contrary to many defender abilities... But I'm sure there are good uses for it somewhere.

For your consideration, my thoughts on why glaives are good, in build form: Holding the Line, a Glaive Fighter Build.

ok, not everything in the build works as yet... so, the combo needs a non-shield push at-will to be released - bets on how long that will take?

To be honest, I just haven't played enough to really examine the merits of reach. In 3.5, they were obvious since they extended your AoO range. Losing that in 4th, I'm not convinced that range is particularly good for fighters. I do have a gambling glaive Paladin/Hospitaler build I'm working on though. It's all about giving the enemy a no-win situation. Either you attack my friend (at -2 to hit, and he heals from hospitaler) and take Divine Challenge damage, or you attack me and suck an OA from Polearm Gamble (and I give you -2 to hit with my at-will, which uses Cha vs. AC haha).

My guess on when a fighter at-will ability allowing you to push without a shield comes along is, uh. Not soon. I'm not sure about putting it in with finished builds since, as you note, it doesn't quite work. However, I think I may add a section on further reading, or something to that effect, and it would fit very well in there.
Excellent beginning, C_A. The style is also worth a few chuckles, though the fact that you haven't noticed that Cha is force of personality and strength of will rather than good looks grates on my perfectionist nature. :P

That's just to do with the writing style. The narrator likes to deride charisma because he can't find a good use for it. It's like how he makes fun of plate wearers, despite the fact that he recommends it often. He thinks plate is for sissies.

Ha! I love this. Well done!

Though my lightly armoured, high Int, high Cha Tiefling Fighter is most offended. And embarrassed.

Wow. I really hope he is mutl-classing.
Ok, I obviously need to reword that section because my point isn't coming across. Looking at the build you proposed, I would argue that in most cases, you'd be better off using either an axe or hammer. If you use a hammer, you can dump dex, boost con and pick up Hammer Rythm. So you you have -1 to hit, but your average damage per round shoots through the roof. This includes OA's, but you will stop their movement a little less often. If you are a dwarf or dragonborn, it gets even better because your con will be higher for racial synergy.

If you go with an axe, you can move the points from dex into wisdom. Your OA bonus stays about the same (maybe -1), and you have -1 to hit on regular attacks. Depending on how highly you value critical hits, this may or may not be desirable. In either case (axe or hammer), you grab plate for a net +1 to AC (and -1 speed if not a dwarf). Yes, you are down a feat, but feats are cheap for most fighter builds.

You do lose the ability to use Tide of Iron on an OA, but so what? Unless you have something like Warpriest's Challenge, what OA's were you planning to use it on? When someone tries to run past you, you can stop their movement anyway. Someone using a ranged attack probably doesn't care if you push them. A push here might help a little, but I'm not sure it's enough on it's own to put it over the top vs. hammers, for example.

Now, compare Heavy Blade Opportunist/Reaping Strike to Hammer Rhythm, for example. For an equal str/con build, they are equivalent with a 2-handed weapon. However, with a 1-hander, Hammer Rhythm clearly takes the day.

I really don't understand the reasoning here. Doing damage as a Defender isn't meaningless, but who cares what happens when you miss on an opportunity attack? If you miss an opportunity attack, you aren't doing your job...the point was to stop the enemy, not to deal 4-8 damage to them, and you've failed at that.

I'll admit that my opinion of Heavy Blade Opportunity has gone down recently as I've looked more at exactly what you can use it for. Blade Opportunist, however, is an incredible feat for any Fighter that wants to be really sticky. With that feat considered, no other weapon group comes close to blades in terms of making a Fighter hard to get away from.

One should also consider that dumping Dexterity isn't a virtue for a Fighter. Not only is it valuable for Heavy Blade Opportunity (which still isn't bad at all) but a moderate Dexterity investment is good for Reflex defense, Initiative, and Scale Armor Specialization.
D&D rules were never meant to exist without the presence of a DM. RAW is a lie.
There are several points in that guide where I couldn't help laughing. Great work.
Polearms are GREAT!
Polearms Suck!

The extra reach is really nice for pretty much everyone except the fighter -whether it's nice enough to be better than alternatives depends on the individual of course.

Fighters are at their best when adjacent to the enemy; polearms discourage this. I reckon they are a Warlord or Paladin weapon really (Paladin's challenge has nothing to do with being adjacent).


Now it is possible that your Fighter is really a Striker at heart -which is ok if there's an actual defender in the group- ...but then they probably want a maul or something anyway.
It's proportionately cheaper for the defender to take hits, yes, but he can't take all of them.

I spent a while trying to come up with useful rules on how much any given party member should be doing the tanking, but wasn't able to turn up something readily generalizable; the rule of thumb is definitely that the defender takes the hit over the non-defender, but no single defender can afford to do that all the time. The limit case - a tough, durable, dwarven durable demigod paladin with 30 con - can soak over 1800 points of damage. It rises to well over 2100 with a competent cleric. This is about four times as tough as a wizard of equal level, depending. In the most extreme case - that paladin, and four wizards - the paladin would only want to take half the damage. In more usual cases, the defender only wants to take 1/4 to 1/3 of the damage.

Worse, defenders are mainly tougher over the long run, and are nearly as vulnerable to focused fire as any other character: they only have 50-80 hit points on other roles at level 30 - call it two to three hits, so they go down in 7-8 hits instead of 5-6.

[section removed on preview; bogus_accountus covered the virtues of heavy blades. Significant to-hit boost; huge boost to opportunity attacks; chance to use at-wills.]

I agree with everything said here, but thought I would add a caveat. Defenders should have a higher AC than the other characters. This translates as a smaller percentage of hits and consequently increases the ratio of attacks that a defender should be taking over the squishies. In addition, fighter positioning is vital, at least for shield/polearm fighters. If an ally is being attacked, you want to be in a position to negate the attack through a push (if possible). This may put you into the position of making the decision between maintaining your ratio of hits taken or sacrificing yourself to extra blows knowing that the ratio will be skewed but overall you have prolonged the combat through extra negations.

I am also going to argue on the side of heavy blades for an entirely different reason than the ones noted so far. A synergy that has not been noted so far is that the extra 5% chance to hit for a heavy blade synergizes with exploits that have status effects. Any defender that wishes to concentrate on status effects over raw damage should take up the heavy blade, the increased chance to hit means the status effect will be that much more likely to go off. Since many status effects require a to hit and many also vastly enhance your roll as a Defender, I think that this weapon type should be given extra consideration.

Finaly I think the human deserves a second look as a defender. The loss of a +2 to one stat hurts, however, the +2 overall to non-AC defenses (+1 to each defense -1 to one defense due to loss of attribute boost) and boost to saves (assuming the extra feat goes to human preserverance) could reduce the overall damage a tank takes significantly. More importantly, this may prevent a fighter from being effected by a status effect that prevents him from doing his job. This in turn, may be worth sacrificing a point of damage on a miss or an extra +1 on an attack of opportunity.

A couple of things that might be worthwhile to add to the handbook, if you have the time.

1) The importance of skills to a fighter. What skills should a fighter focus on and why. For example, I tend to thing that stealth is a wasted skill for a fighter, both not a class skill and opposing the defenders roll. However, are acrobatics or insight worth a feat.

2) How does a charging build stack up for a fighter, especially given the importance of charging in 3.5.

3) How important is extra damage for the defender? What about criticals? Mathematically, I am uncertain how many resources a fighter should put to putting out damage when damage is his second or third priority.
I really don't understand the reasoning here. Doing damage as a Defender isn't meaningless, but who cares what happens when you miss on an opportunity attack? If you miss an opportunity attack, you aren't doing your job...the point was to stop the enemy, not to deal 4-8 damage to them, and you've failed at that.

I'll admit that my opinion of Heavy Blade Opportunity has gone down recently as I've looked more at exactly what you can use it for. Blade Opportunist, however, is an incredible feat for any Fighter that wants to be really sticky. With that feat considered, no other weapon group comes close to blades in terms of making a Fighter hard to get away from.

These are good points and worth mentioning. If your Wis isn't terribly high, Blade Opportunity becomes extremely helpful in that vein. If you're str/wis focused, it loses a lot of utility at higher levels. The build I've been focusing most of my efforts on is Str/Wis, so I think that's why I'm probably glossing over it. I'll fix it up soon.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that I haven't discussed guardian vs great-weapon fighters. When I do, that will have a (probably large) impact on weapon choice. I think this is going at the top of the to-do list. Hopefully I'll have something up about it today.

My primary reasoning in the first place for "dissing" Heavy Blades in the first place was that I don't want less experienced players to think that they are an automatic slam-dunk choice. When I said that they aren't as good as they first appear, I didn't mean that they aren't good. I meant that they aren't teh ubahness.

One should also consider that dumping Dexterity isn't a virtue for a Fighter. Not only is it valuable for Heavy Blade Opportunity (which still isn't bad at all) but a moderate Dexterity investment is good for Reflex defense, Initiative, and Scale Armor Specialization.

It's just a question of opportunity costs. Would you rather have what you listed above, or: more hp, more healing surges, better healing surges, more damage with hammers, plate armor specialization and synergy with the two "best" PHB fighter races?

As far as a high initiative bonus goes, it's nice have it, but it's not mandatory. Ideally, the wizard goes first and keeps the battlefield from going to hell. Then, the striker does something nasty to something. Now is your turn. Feats are "cheaper" than stat points, so you can get what you need from Danger Sense and Improved Initiative.

The people you are "protecting" will often have a higher reflex defense than yours. You also can't intercept every attack that comes at the party, so you have to choose which ones you go after. You can't always get your way, but you may be better off letting the wizard, rogue, warlord, ranger, etc. "tank" the guy with the reflex attack when possible while you handle AC/fort (and possibly will, depending on your build).
I agree with everything said here, but thought I would add a caveat. Defenders should have a higher AC than the other characters. This translates as a smaller percentage of hits and consequently increases the ratio of attacks that a defender should be taking over the squishies. In addition, fighter positioning is vital, at least for shield/polearm fighters. If an ally is being attacked, you want to be in a position to negate the attack through a push (if possible). This may put you into the position of making the decision between maintaining your ratio of hits taken or sacrificing yourself to extra blows knowing that the ratio will be skewed but overall you have prolonged the combat through extra negations.

Good material for the tactics section when I get to it.

I am also going to argue on the side of heavy blades for an entirely different reason than the ones noted so far. A synergy that has not been noted so far is that the extra 5% chance to hit for a heavy blade synergizes with exploits that have status effects. Any defender that wishes to concentrate on status effects over raw damage should take up the heavy blade, the increased chance to hit means the status effect will be that much more likely to go off. Since many status effects require a to hit and many also vastly enhance your roll as a Defender, I think that this weapon type should be given extra consideration.

A valid point.

Finaly I think the human deserves a second look as a defender. The loss of a +2 to one stat hurts, however, the +2 overall to non-AC defenses (+1 to each defense -1 to one defense due to loss of attribute boost) and boost to saves (assuming the extra feat goes to human preserverance) could reduce the overall damage a tank takes significantly. More importantly, this may prevent a fighter from being effected by a status effect that prevents him from doing his job. This in turn, may be worth sacrificing a point of damage on a miss or an extra +1 on an attack of opportunity.

I could have sworn that I covered all of that in the Human section, except for Human Perseverance (will be covered in feats). I gave them 4 out of 5 stars. If they had some sort of synergy with str, con or dex, they'd get 5 stars.

A couple of things that might be worthwhile to add to the handbook, if you have the time.

1) The importance of skills to a fighter. What skills should a fighter focus on and why. For example, I tend to thing that stealth is a wasted skill for a fighter, both not a class skill and opposing the defenders roll. However, are acrobatics or insight worth a feat.

Coming soon to a handbook near you.

2) How does a charging build stack up for a fighter, especially given the importance of charging in 3.5.

Someone else might have to handle this. I don't have the experience to address it very well.

3) How important is extra damage for the defender? What about criticals? Mathematically, I am uncertain how many resources a fighter should put to putting out damage when damage is his second or third priority.

I'll cover some of this in the great weapon vs. guardian fighter section. The rest will be in the feat section. My take on it is that you (mostly) have four ways of getting things to attack you instead of your allies. The first is to mark them. Second is to remove the choice, via forced movement, immobilization, etc. Third, you can punish them for not attacking you, such as with your immediate action from Combat Challenge. Fourth, you can splatter their friend's brain all over them with a giant maul.
One should also consider that dumping Dexterity isn't a virtue for a Fighter. Not only is it valuable for Heavy Blade Opportunity (which still isn't bad at all) but a moderate Dexterity investment is good for Reflex defense, Initiative, and Scale Armor Specialization.

I've come to the conclusion that you should get your Dex to the point you get all the feats you want to get and then start pumping up your Wis. Initiative is easy enough to increase with feats like Improved Initiative, Quick Draw and Danger Sense.

I'm not much of a optimizer, though. :P
My initial impression is that Charging sucks at low level and only goes downhill. You want to be using you powers when you attack. Charging is what you do when it's the only way you can get an attack in this round and waiting for them to come to you isn't a good plan (eg they're archers)
what about warforged?
I think it's worth a mention in the strategy section that there are times you don't want to be the target of attacks.

Examples:

1) You're mixing it up in melee vs 3 or 4 opponents when the wizard drops a sleep spell and hits most of them and slows all of them. In this circumstance if all other party members have the means to get out of range of the enemies attacks then you should too ... even if it means giving up an attack so that you can shift and then take a move action. Your goal it to take hits instead of the squishies, not to take hits when no one else would.

2) You've been doing a stellar job and are down to your last healing surge while the squishies are still full. In this situation it's OK to let the enemies slip through to the squishies as long as their damage is manageable. HPs are are party resource so when you're running very low, don't be afraid to dip into the pool of the full HP squishies.


I just bring this up because I've encountered some people that get stuck in the mindset of "My job it to take hits" and pursue it with the such a singular focus that they lose sight of the larger picture.
Should builds be EXPECTED to make room for Toughness and/or Durable?

There seems to be a growing list of feats that are "required" for the Defender role. I see some folks talkign about the necessity to squeeze in Lightning Reflexes, Iron Will and Great Fortitude. I see others suggesting that Toughness and Durable are no-brainers.

Despite the fat that feats seem "cheap" they truly are powerful abilities and I can't seem to fit in 18 that I want in my builds.

Likewise, it seems that Demigod is the "optimal" Epic destiny for everyone, but I'm enthralled with Deadly Trickster.

And again, the majority of Fighter builds I'm seeing are focusing on bludgeoning Con-based Hammers using Dwarves and Dragonborn. Very few are using Elves and Humans.

Based on what I'm reading on the CO boards, there seem to be only one or two "accepted" paths for Defenders. It's seeming a little boring to me, at the moment.
Ok, some minor re-writes to the guide are posted, including a major re-write to Heavy Blades. I also bumped the score of Axes and Heavy Blades, both to 4-5 stars. Let me know what you think of the Heavy Blades section now.

what about warforged?

First off, my position is that anything in Dragon magazine doesn't exist unless it makes it's way into an official book. In my experience, Dragon's crunch is almost always poorly balanced. Obviously not all DM's are going to agree with me on that. In that case, you can probably figure out what I'd recommend just based on what's in the guide already.

That being said, whenever I get around to doing MM races, Warforged will be included. I may mention the feats, I'm not sure yet.

I think it's worth a mention in the strategy section that there are times you don't want to be the target of attacks.

Examples:

I just bring this up because I've encountered some people that get stuck in the mindset of "My job it to take hits" and pursue it with the such a singular focus that they lose sight of the larger picture.

I agree completely. As has already been discussed a little bit in the follow-up comments, I will be addressing these points in the future. Thanks for the examples, and I'll probably use them.
Should builds be EXPECTED to make room for Toughness and/or Durable?

There seems to be a growing list of feats that are "required" for the Defender role. I see some folks talkign about the necessity to squeeze in Lightning Reflexes, Iron Will and Great Fortitude. I see others suggesting that Toughness and Durable are no-brainers.

Despite the fat that feats seem "cheap" they truly are powerful abilities and I can't seem to fit in 18 that I want in my builds.

Likewise, it seems that Demigod is the "optimal" Epic destiny for everyone, but I'm enthralled with Deadly Trickster.

And again, the majority of Fighter builds I'm seeing are focusing on bludgeoning Con-based Hammers using Dwarves and Dragonborn. Very few are using Elves and Humans.

Based on what I'm reading on the CO boards, there seem to be only one or two "accepted" paths for Defenders. It's seeming a little boring to me, at the moment.

It probably isn't quite as bad as it seems right now. The list of required feats probably should include Lightning Reflexes, Iron Will and Great Fortitude for Defenders since they are trying to be targeted and defenses only scale so well. I wouldn't put Toughness in the same category, however, and especially not Durable. I think most Defenders will find that they have enough healing surges per day unless their defenses slack and/or they try to regularly go through five combats before taking an extended rest. Leaders can also help to make up for a lower Constitution and/or the lack of Durable by taking abilities that heal players without using healing surges.

Side note: Toughness is a lot more of a "no-brainer" at level 1, which is still a slightly more dangerous period in the life of a character since the party has no utility powers ect. Retraining out of it afterward or not taking in the first place shouldn't make or break the entire build.

As far as which bulids people emphasize, you probably won't find too many Fighter builds that aren't Human/Dragonborn/Dwarf in the Optimization subforum. Those races have a lot of good things going for them when it comes to Fighters. That doesn't mean, however, that other races don't have a lot of attractive features as well. Elves have bonuses to Dexterity and Wisdom (both good things for Fighters) and can make excellent blade fighters, especially with Wild Step and Elven Accuracy. I've even seen convincing Eladrin Fighter/Wizard builds. It all depends on what you want to do. Most of those builds won't be all that optimal, but most of them will be viable.
D&D rules were never meant to exist without the presence of a DM. RAW is a lie.
Should builds be EXPECTED to make room for Toughness and/or Durable?

Expected is a strong word. I would say that Toughness is desirable as it not only increases your HP, but also the value of your healing surges. Durable may also be desirable, depending on how many encounters your group tends to go without an extended rest and whether or not you are typically the one who needs it most. Both of these choices can be made once you've played your character a few times. Since retraining is so easy now, I don't think you have to over-think it too much.

There seems to be a growing list of feats that are "required" for the Defender role. I see some folks talkign about the necessity to squeeze in Lightning Reflexes, Iron Will and Great Fortitude. I see others suggesting that Toughness and Durable are no-brainers.

Despite the fat that feats seem "cheap" they truly are powerful abilities and I can't seem to fit in 18 that I want in my builds.

You have to look at the big picture and ask yourself some questions: What role am I trying to fill in this group? What feats (along with paragon path, class features, powers and epic destiny) will help me fill that role in the best possible way? The answers aren't clear cut and they depend both on your build and on your party composition.

Likewise, it seems that Demigod is the "optimal" Epic destiny for everyone, but I'm enthralled with Deadly Trickster.

I love Deadly Trickster myself. The problem is that the majority of fighters aren't going to meet the pre-reqs. If you can qualify without giving up too much, I'd take it. 3-rerolls / day is awesome, and epic trick is tasty beyond words for a defender.

And again, the majority of Fighter builds I'm seeing are focusing on bludgeoning Con-based Hammers using Dwarves and Dragonborn. Very few are using Elves and Humans.

Based on what I'm reading on the CO boards, there seem to be only one or two "accepted" paths for Defenders. It's seeming a little boring to me, at the moment.

Part of that is that this is the CO board, and a lot of people seem to be in a 3.x mindset. It's an obvious choice to optimize damage. It's less obvious to optimize for your party role. I think a lot of people were also disillusioned with melee characters, and particularly fighters, in 3.5. Their favorite class became druid, mage, cleric, etc. So we may just not have quite as many people pouring their thoughts into the cauldron as other classes might. Hopefully this guide can address some of those issues.

My own fighter build (linked in the builds section) features a human with heavy blades. I've seen "mobile elf fighter" builds around here too. People are also using polearms (I think misguidedly, but they obviously don't) with fighters. I'm still waiting for the uber-axe build though. ;)
A basic hammer and shield dwarf fighter/iron vanguard/demigod with str and con is a very, very solid and easy build for a defender. I don't know if anyone has written up a build, but I think it should have a place in the build section if there is one floating around.
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