Fighting The Good Fight

Fighters are a tricky business. I remember in older editions (ie, 2nd and 3rd Edition) it was the go-to class for the new guy, a kind of simplistic training-wheels archetype that let you get your game on and pick up the rules as you go. 4th Edition gave it a major overhaul, finally putting its power consistently on par with spellcasters, making it a viable option at all levels of play. Scaling damage, multiple attacks that could actually hit, the ability to actually stop monsters from attacking your allies and impose conditions required that it become more complex. This move was either a feature or a bug depending on who you ask, but the slayer and knight subclasses (introduced in one of the Essentials books) proved that you could make a less complex class that was still viable.

In preparation for a potentially sucktastic new edition (or ideas to pitch whenever the playtest actually starts going), my group is cobbling together a kind of 4th Edition hack using some of the stuff I've talked about previously. One of the things I am stuck on is just how complex to make a 1st-level fighter. In past editions they basically made melee attacks over and over again, gaining multiple attacks at higher levels. 3rd Edition added in attack-like options in addition to feats and feat-trees that could modify attacks and actions, as well as give you entirely new things to do. At the end run Tome of Battle brought in a fighter-esque class that got stances and recharging special attacks. Some people were upset that 4th Edition gave the fighter daily abilities (despite there being plenty of mundane classes with daily features in both 3rd Edition and Pathfinder), though later subclasses removed all of these in lieu of encounter-based exploits. much is too much? I think that as a baseline a fighter should be wear any armor and wield most any weapon, as well as some feature that lets her focus on a weapon (or weapon group) at the start...but what then? Bonus feats? Talents (with talent trees)? Class features? Stances? Some kind of special attack/exploit/maneuver(s)? An entirely new mechanic, like stamina or stunt points?


  1. I think it would be cool if the fighter could do special things with weapons and armor that other classes can't. Not something like specialization, which is boring and only leads even more to the fighter doing exactly the same thing each round (as it is only optimal for them to attack with their specialized weapon). Something that gets at the idea that different weapons have different uses and strengths.

    Stances are not bad as long as they don't require too much bookkeeping.

  2. I think it would help if you made a list of design objectives for your fighter version. What would it be trying to fix or improve? From the post, I guess the following issues are important:
    - Manageable complexity
    - Combat effectiveness on par with other classes (particularly casters).

    Other than that, there are a lot of moving parts. Whether or not it should have dailies is mostly a matter of how big of a deal it is for players in your target audience. The degree of customizability is also pretty much a matter of player taste.

    You can also take a hard look at existing implementations, and try to figure out whether they work for you, and why. From your stated requirements, it would seem like the Knight and Slayer are pretty much what you are asking for. Can they work as is, or serve as a design baseline? Or do you have any problems with them that you didn't mention in the article?

  3. I suggest you take a look at the Weapon Mastery rules in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (or BECMI). These are optional rules which key certain abilities to each type of weapon. They really let the Fighter stand out as he gets the most weapon 'slots' (4 at 1st level, gaining another one at levels 3,6,9,etc. Other classes start with two, and have a slower progression).

    Weapon Mastery is either Unskilled, Basic, Skilled, Expert, Master and Grand Master. We allowed the Fighter (if the player wanted) to use 2 of his Weapon Choices to have one weapon at Skilled at 1st level, and 2 at Basic. Otherwise they can take 4 different weapons at Basic.

    As we were using these rules, we also removed the weapon restrictions on other classes. If a Magic-User wanted to spend his 2 precious Weapon Choices on Sword and Crossbow, that's cool too.

    With Basic Skill Mastery with a Sword, the user does your regular 1d8 damage. Raise them to Skilled, is it's now 1d12, they have -2 AC against the first opponent (which is a good thing - this is Classic D&D with descending AC), are at +2 to hit against Humanoids (and +1 against Monsters) and can attempt to disarm foes or deflect blows. In other words, the Sword is a good all round weapon which is particularly effective against Humanoids who are also wielding weapons.

    Some weapons (axes, for example) are better against monsters. Every weapon has different characteristics and abilities, and it's brilliantly implemented. It's Weapon Specialization done right, and puts Fighters who focus their training on a certain set of weapons back in the game.

  4. i am up for a system that rewards the fighter when he kills or scores a critical and that allows him to do other stuff when he achieves this. Something like an auto cleave when he kills an enemy or scores a critical hit against it or maybe burns an action point to cleave and do something else.

  5. @Brendan: My thought process is that the fighter should be able to pick up any weapon and be pretty good with it, and go through feat/talent trees to do other things with them (though I'd probably stick to categories to make them more applicable and avoid corner-cases). I like the idea of specializing in armor. It makes me think of Skyrim, and could be nice for a player that wants to emphasize defense instead of offense. As for stances, I am thinking Book of Nine Swords/Essentials, where they give you minor benefits, or potentially a benefit and a drawback.

    @Perico: I'll have to get back to you on that, as I don't have enough time to get my thoughts out before lunch ends. >_< Basically I am trying to find a good middle ground for how complex to make a fighter (or how complex it needs to be in order to be a compelling, viable option at any level).

    @Greywulf: So far in our "hack" we are greatly flattening scaling bonuses, so giving the fighter attack bonuses would mean quite a bit more. Damage bonuses are definitely on the menu, and I could see doling them out at certain levels so that the fighter can pick which weapon (or weapon category) gets the bump. I think that some other classes would get this option, but have fewer weapons to choose from (rogues with light stuff, wizards probably not at all), but a fighter-type feat could open that up as an option.

    As it happens I have access to that book, so I'll take a closer look at that section. :-)

  6. Another method that I've come to like using in many circumstances recently is "roll 2 dice and take the highest" (or, 2DTH). This provides a benefit without actually inflating the highest number possible (I currently use 2DTH for both dual wielding and two-handed weapons rather than bigger damage dice, multiple attack rolls, or bonuses). One could also use something like 3DTH for an even more extreme bias towards the top of the scale. The lowest number on the scale also remains possible, though much less likely.


    Thanks for mentioning those RC rules. I have a copy, but I don't think I have ever read them.

  7. @Perico: I think that the slayer and knight are great examples of relatively simplistic fighter archetypes, and mechanically they can keep the pace with spellcasters given that they basically enter every encounter with a full suite of abilities. Good, but...maybe not as dynamic as I'd like?

    I guess I am trying to get feedback on how another person's ideal fighter would play like (or what elements are necessary for your fighter). I had been considering a stamina system, by which you spend points to use exploits (kind of like power points in 3rd Edition), potentially burning healing surges to keep going. Another was a kind of "Momentum" mechanic, where you gain points to spend on special attacks by doing stuff like bloodying or killing an enemy, stopping an attack on an enemy.

    The baseline is being the best with any weapon that you choose to use, as well as being a pretty tough cookie to crack. For that I am going with having the most frequent attack and damage bonus. I suppose that if we were going to playtest, that I should see if my players like this class and see how well it holds up to the wizard and cleric that we got going.

  8. Well, my ideal fighter would take the Knight/Slayer chassis and spice it up a bit to include all the great things about the original 4E fighter. This would involve the following:
    - Have the class based on basic attacks plus stances, just like Essentials fighters
    - Provide an option for either a defender mechanic (something like Defender Aura works much better than marks, in my opinion) and a straightforward extra damage mechanic.
    - Have a variety of Power Strikes. I like how the Knight/Slayer power strike works as an added effect on top of your basic+stance attack, but it's the lack of choice that ruins it for me. I would like fighters to eventually have 3-4 different encounter attacks, which they could apply by spending a use of Power Strike. This would be optional, so that players could still choose to have a single encounter attack for added simplicity, gaining a small bonus in return.
    - Have daily attacks as an option. Likewise, I would leave open the possibility of players taking daily attacks for their fighters, or gain a small flat damage bonus instead.

    So, basically, my fighter would have an adjustable complexity meter ranging from Knight/Slayer to full fledged 4E fighter... but by keeping the more flavorful and friendly Essentials mechanics.


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