Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Figuring Out Fighters     

Sometimes I feel like a kid in a candy store when it comes to D&D character classes: "That's my favorite, no wait, that's my favorite!  No, wait..."  But truly, I did not come to love fighters until the Second Edition kits came out, and even then they did not hold my interest long.  Fighters, well, fight.  They are fighting men (as the class was originally called), later expanded to fighting folk of all kinds.  They are as diverse as the weapons that they wield.  However, it is clear that, until Third Edition, a lot more effort went into designing the different weapons than did into designing the fighters themselves!

Third Edition fighters look a lot like the components that I have shown thus far.  They are endlessly customizable, with an extensive list of abilities (combat feats) to choose from.  Pathfinder increased the abilities of fighters even further, giving them even more bonuses to combat actions when using certain groups of weapons.  But really, the focus is still on: what sort of weapon do you use?  That's what distinguishes one fighter from the other.

The fighter is a class that I feel has so much potential, but designers seem to have never quite figured out how to express it.  Is the fighter designed to be specialized in one weapon or fighting style?  Or is it designed to be versatile and use many different weapons and fighting styles, switching between each depending on the situation?  The latter is much more appealing to me, but the rules simply do not support it.  Let's look at the different class abilities of the fighter with respect to which support specialization and which support versatility:
  • Proficiency with all simple and martial weapons (supports versatility)
  • Bonus feats (supports versatility in building the fighter, but not in play)
  • Armor training (supports specialization in a fighting style, i.e., heavy armor)
  • Weapon training (supports specialization in a fighting style)
  • Armor mastery (fairly neutral)
  • Weapon mastery (supports specialization)
And, of course, when it comes to feats, the big feat that only a fighter can take is Weapon Specialization.

This is not to say that Pathfinder did not add other options for fighting styles!  The use of the Combat Maneuver system to replace the incredibly archaic grappling chart of Second Edition, and the confusingly complex grapple algorithm of Third Edition, was very welcome.  But all characters have those options available to them.  Which leaves the fighter with the versatility of being able to pick from a long list of things, but still having to choose which individual thing they want to be good at.  Ultimately, the choice to create a fighter that splits their attention between two or three different fighting styles, is the choice to create a sub-par fighter.  And the system does not really reward such versatility.

Rewarding Versatility

Let's say that, as a design goal, I want fighters to be making more decisions during combat, instead of having one particular tactic that will almost always be the most effective for them.  Several things have to be considered to make this happen.

1.  More choices need to be made during combat, rather than during character creation.  As it stands, many of the various tactics (tripping, charging, grappling, tumbling) often require feats in order to be effective, and those feats are often part of a tree with several pre-requisites, not to mention the ability score pre-requisites for those feats!  Trip is a great example of this.  It is a maneuver that, without the feats, a character is unlikely to try.  Essentially, you are giving up your attack for an opportunity to knock your opponent prone.  Without feats, you will incur an attack of opportunity.  But in order to get the Improved Trip feat, you need to have Expertise, which also requires an Intelligence of 13.  Assuming that you take these things, you will also want to choose a weapon that can perform trip attacks (only some can) and you will probably want to focus in that weapon.  You will also probably want to take additional feats or abilities so that you can actually take advantage of an opponent who is prone.  Tripping opponents becomes the big tactic that your character can use, and unless you are planning to build your character this way, you are unlikely to ever try to trip someone.

2.  Weapons need to be more versatile tools.  Three of my favorite weapons are the dagger, the quarterstaff, and the halberd, because they are some of the most versatile.  A dagger can be used as a piercing melee weapon, a slashing melee weapon, or a piercing thrown weapon.  A quarterstaff can be used as a blunt melee weapon in two hands, a blunt double weapon, or it can be used as a monk weapon.  A halberd can be used as a piercing melee weapon, a slashing melee weapon, it can be used to brace for a charge, or it can be used to make a trip attack.  All weapons should follow the example of these three.  Instead of having a huge list of different weapons, we should have a smaller number of more versatile weapons.

3.  Combat maneuvers need to have a serious effect on combat.  As it stands, monsters who have weaknesses tend to be weak against a particular energy type.  This means that spellcasters have the best opportunity to plan their attacks to target a monster's weakness.  Only a few monsters are weak to particular non-magical weapon damage or combat maneuvers.  By changing who we think about when we build monsters (fighters, as well as spellcasters), fighters will get more of a chance to demonstrate tactics on the battlefield.  In addition, the battlefield itself is a great source of tactical advantage and disadvantage.  For example, a fire pit in the middle of the cave provides an opportunity to use bull rush.  Encounters that introduce battlefield features are going to often give fighters more to do.

Thus, changes to improve the fighter may depend on other system changes: to feats, to weapons, and to monsters.  But we should also consider, once these things are modified, how fighters will be able to take unique advantage of them in order to stand out as a character class.

Components of the Fighter

Fighters are fairly generic characters.  They are often multiclassed or given archetypes or unusual races in order to give them more flavor.  But looking at the fighter as it stands, here's how I believe the components should break down:
  • Primary Versatile Fighter:  This ability will give the fighter the opportunity to use weapons in a wider variety of ways than other character classes.  It will also give them proficiency with all martial weapons, as well as increasing their base attack.
  • Secondary Armored Fighter:  This ability will enable the fighter to wear heavy armor.  In addition, the Armor Training and Advanced Armor Training abilities will be a part of this component.
  • Secondary Weapon Specialist:  Ideally, this will not be a component called "weapon specialist", but will rather be a choice of components, each for a different combat style.  So, for example, Archer would be a component that could be chosen here.  This will reflect some of the feats that fighters gain, as well as weapon training and advanced weapon training.
  • Tertiary Soldier:  This will grant most of the fighter's skills, as well as their bonus to Fortitude.
Next post, I will look at some weapons and how the Versatile Fighter can get the most use out of them!

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