Fighters & Flapjacks

If you ask me what my favorite D&D classes are, it’s hard to pick one. My tastes range from the mildly offbeat (Psions/Psionicists, Bards), the specific (Paladins but only if I don’t have to deal with a damn horse), the edition-specific (2e Wild Mages and 4e Ninjas), and exactly one true classic: the Fighter.

However, I’ve been playing RPGs a long time now. I’m quite experienced at playing RPGs and games of all types. This is why I react poorly to statements implying that the D&D fighter should be the class that you give the new player, because they’re so simple. I don’t necessarily want a class that’s overly complicated (and we all know a few of those out there in D&D history) but I do want one that gives me plenty of decisions to make inherent in the class itself. I want to think like a Fighter, choosing what move (and maybe, what weapon) is most appropriate to the situation. I want to think like Batman in Dark Knight Returns and (paraphrasing) “There’s 9 different sword strikes from this position. 5 of them kill. 4 of them paralyze for life. The last one… hurts.”

Why is this? I point to what I want in D&D classes as a happy marriage between concept and mechanics. The Fighter- the tough, armored guy that uses weapons to fight monsters- is one that appeals to me for whatever reason. (Possibly because Con is my dump stat in real life.) The concept is awesome and there’s many, many examples of it out there in heroic fiction. Mechanics help reinforce that concept, but also serve with how I interface with the “game” portion of RPG, in giving me interesting decisions to make, and a specific outlet for creativity interpreted through those mechanics. (Slight digression: I think D&D needs better mechanics for improvised weapons and using stuff from your environment. There have certainly been rules and classes that attempt this, but it’s never quite clicked for me, and I think that could help some characters a lot, as well as having the side effect of powering cool descriptive background stuff from the DM and making the situation overall more dynamic.)

This doesn’t mean I’m against the simple Fighter. By all means: if simplicity is what you want in a class, whether you be new or whether the game portion of an RPG doesn’t appeal as much to you, you should have that option. The “Slayer” build in 4e Essentials vs. the core 4e Fighter is definitely one way to handle it. In fact, I’d love to see that option the other way for other classes like the Wizard and the Cleric. In fact, in a recent Design & Development column, WotC talked about developing the “Slayer” equivalent for the Sorcerer, which I think is a great step in the right direction. I’m not even saying that all classes need a full simplicity/complexity toggle (though if that could be pulled off in an easy way, awesome!) At least for the core classes, or archetypes, or whatever they are, regardless of game system even, don’t automatically assume that one concept only appeals to someone with a specific taste in complexity. Let me choose between my simple to play (and for me, boring!) Fighter and a more complex one. Obviously, this was brought up in the context of the new D&D, but I think applies to many RPGs, just with different names. (I’ve never been in love with the name Fighter anyway, as literally someone who Fights. Might as well call someone who uses magic… well, you get the idea.)

Just be sure no matter what to give me a Fighter that’s hungry for battle. And flapjacks.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, the Geek's Dream Girl.

Comments

  1. Absolutely agree with your tangent about improvised weapons – everybody has that story about the time their character got into a bar fight and was using bottles and chairs and candelabras oh my.

    Aside from that, I think what I like most about the concept D&D Next (or 5e or whatever) presents is the core concept of “everything is a simple core, and from there you can build it out how you want it”. A good example of this is the Berserker class in Heroes of the Feywild in 4th edition, I think; it’s a defender, it’s a striker, it juliens fries! At times I might want that simple slayer feel, where my fighter takes a stance and deals the damage out with perhaps a mild effect here or there. Other times I might want to be a full-on fourth edition grapple fighter, complete with the complexity that comes with it. And the fighter, of all classes, SHOULD be able to have that choice to make at just about every juncture – each level up, each fight, the fighter should be able to do something different involving his weapons and armor. It’s the archetypical “fighting man” who’s good with a bow, good with a sword, good with a spear, trained to move in armor, trained to ride a horse, able to adapt to any combat situation.

    A good analogy, I think, is the swiss army knife. You can just have more knife until eventually your fighter is a veritable machete and every problem looks like low-hanging brush, or you can diversify and have a corkscrew, a knife, a philips head screwdriver, and even a magnifying glass if you really want to have one. I want that choice to make not only at character creation, though, like with the slayer versus core fighter in 4e, but at each level up, or even each encounter. This brings me back to the berserker – at the drop of a hat you can sacrifice all of your defender power for a big burst of damage. I’d love to see that sort of concept brought to the D&D Next fighter – for this encounter I really, REALLY need to use a bow, so I drop all of my marks, auras, and stances, and just do a full attack with my bow instead.

    Of course I hate full attack since it reduces fights to standing still throwing dice at each other, but that’s a rant for a whole ‘nother comment, I think.

  2. Well, there’s a reason the original three classes were Fighting Man, Magic User, and Cleric (well, cleric is a bit specific, but it is an oddball archetype anyway). The class names, and the classes, were only originally meant to be general archetypes that you built on in play. I think that makes ‘fighter’ a GOOD name, as it conveys that. What was maybe not so good was making a bunch of entirely other classes that implement aspects of that archetype, like ‘barbarian’. Various editions have gotten this more or less wrong or right…

    4e kinda almost managed to get things like improvised attacks and such. The tools are there anyway (inherent bonuses and ‘terrain’ powers and such, plus page 42). I’d hope that 5e at least will spell out the use of that stuff a little better, take away the last remaining burrs in the implementation, and put more focus on it. They went a HUGE long way by finally cleaning up the core mechanics enough that hurling a chair at someone is mechanically just another way of attacking. Most improvised attacks and non-weapon type attacks in previous editions were ludicrously badly implemented.

  3. HydraDM: Full attack stuff is indeed a whole other issue, but I think it would be cool if the environments were dynamic enough that you really needed to move around during your turn, or at least continue to adjust what you’re doing so it’s actually a disadvantage to stand still and swing.

    Alhazred: Good point about 4e being almost there: the math started to approach the point where it was at least an effective way to go, but other pieces of the game disincentivize sometimes. If we get to the point where you really need to think about the barrel in the corner and the crumbling wall ahead in order to be the most effective (in a way that doesn’t just force you on one path) while making the damage worthwhile, I think they could have something.

  4. I’d like to see the fighter put in the best position to take advantage of any tactical rules added to the combat system. Things like flanking for advantage, opportunity attacks, striking with reach weapons, moving near opponents without getting whacked; these are all elements that have been farmed out to other classes in the past but I believe better belong to the fighter.

    As to improvised and environmental weapons – somewhere along the ‘realism’ line these all got reduced to things that are less likely to hit and then do less damage than your regular weapon. I think this is inside out. There should be plenty of occasions where the surprise advantage of an improvised attack outweighs a simple sword strike. Sand in the eyes, a gauntlet to the chin or a kick to the offspring should be options in the arsenal.

    I’ll pump Goodman Games notion of the fighter in the upcoming DCC RPG as a great take on this. Specifically, all fighters get a “Mighty Dead of Arms” ability which essentially allows you to describe any cool effect you wish and have a chance for it to happen in addition to your regular attack and damage. The potential impact of the effect varies by level as well. Anything from tripping, to sundering weapons to forcing an opponent backwards to gouging out their eye can be *added* to your regular routine of attack and damage. I’d love to see D&D adopt this concept pretty much wholesale.

  5. I have very good hopes about the Fighter in D&D Next. The scalable complexity is something that appeals very well to the Fighter. You can make it extremely simple or extremely complicated. I think they have learned a lot from Essentials and the way it balances with non-Essentials things. That won’t be a problem.
    What I’m a bit worried about is the true identity of the Fighter. Focusing on just one tactical role (4e’s role) is wrong IMO, for the Fighter as for any other class. I’m a proponent of the Strategic Role, a “super role” or “meta-role” that can possibly include all the 4 tactical roles. For the Fighter, it would be “staying in the thick of the battle”. That’s their strategy. I’d add the clause “as much as your weapon allows it”, so as to focus a bit on the fact that their weapon choice affects their strategy a bit. A Fighter with a spear doesn’t want to stay as close to the enemy as one with a short sword. So here’s another thing that should distinguish the Fighter: weapon mastery and versatility. While the Rogue and Ranger specialize in just a few weapons (or weapon styles) that suit their strategies best, the Fighter should be able to switch weapons and styles to adapt to different configurations of the battlefield, different enemies. After all, a Rogue has to use agile weapons, apt at striking weak spots; a Ranger has to use weapon styles that allow a lot of movement and skirmishing strategies; so a Fighter needs to use all those styles and weapons that allow him to win a battle without resorting to a lot of movement (Ranger) or a lot of trickery (Rogue), or a lot of allies (Warlord).

    Now, I’m quite ok with the simple, even dumbed-down “striker Fighter” for a Basic version of D&D Next. But right from the first PHB, I also want the Fighter’s identity I described to be represented mechanically in multiple ways. All in all, I don’t worry at all, I think they have too many good and bad examples of Fighters. They won’t screw it up.

  6. I definitely agree with the idea of a ‘simplified’ wizard! I’d love to see the whole “simple” idea be applied across the board, and applied (or offered) to each class. From a 4e standpoint, you could start each class like the slayer, and allow the option to choose between the at-will stances and a daily power, or the power strike or an encounter power. You could even adapt the power strike option into other things, such as a flat bonus to all attacks (eg +1 damage to all attacks per power strike you would normally have; raise it a little at each tier). Each player could find their comfortable position between the “slayer” and original fighter.

    -hvg3

  7. Lanethan says:

    Great article! I think you would be interested in checking out the Elementalist from the new Elemental Heroes book… it is an “essentials-style” sorcerer, very akin to a slayer.

    I recall during the last years of 3.5 that there were some 4e proto-concepts introduced… I really hope that material like this elementalist is proto-5e, in the sense that I want them to consider having simple and complex options available for every class style, and this is a fantastic way to do it.

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