i DungeonCrawl brought up the radical idea that maybe it’s time for Fighters to go away as a class in D&D. Of course, as a sacred cow of Dungeons and Dragons, it’s hard to imagine the game without fighters (or imagine that WOTC would consider it). But then, when you look at the average party in a lot of groups, how many fighters are actually there?
In the old days of Advanced D&D, fighters were the poor man’s choice. People wanted to play rangers or paladins, cavaliers or barbarians, but needed high attributes to qualify (not that that stopped many people). But if played RAW, those classes were rare and supposed to be special. So fighters were the most common character that got rolled up (actually, interestingly, you had a greater chance of rolling a mage, but that’s by the by).
In OD&D and B/X Fighters represented the entire gamut of warrior, from swashbucklers, to heavy knights, to barbarians. Unfortunately, the core game assumptions (heavier armor is always the best) works against this idea. Playing a leather clad fighter is an almost always suboptimal choice without some additional mechanic to bolster the character’s defense. In addition, the ONLY thing a fighter does well is fight, something that all classes get better in over time, so they share their primary function with everyone. Further, once skills were sort of introduced via the thief, the physical character lost some of his physical capability. And with each specialized class, more and more of the fighter ‘design space’ gets used up to let the special types shine while the basic ‘grunt’ becomes more and more vanilla. What sets the Fighter apart is what they ARE NOT, rather than what they ARE. Because Rangers and Barbarians were the ‘skilled/perceptive’ warriors, fighters in 3E couldn’t even do a good job as guards thanks to how skills worked (no Spot or Listen as class skills).
That seems like bad design work.
None of the other classes are defined by what they aren’t. Their aren’t 4 different versions of rogues or wizards (even specialists in later edition still didn’t dilute the core archetype of the wizard).
So what does ‘Fighter’ mean? I think the class needs to be reworked so that there is something significant to the class that sets it above other ‘warrior’ classes, so that they become something specific. But honestly, the most likely specificity that fighters would get is ‘Weaponmaster’. That’s ok, I don’t have a problem with that, let’s just call them that. Or Knights maybe. I don’t know.
I’m not sure how much of this heavy lifting should be done by Themes, because Themes get applied to any class and therefore are ‘less special’.
Now, in a conversation on my blog earlier, Iron Heroes was mentioned. Iron Heroes was an interesting 3.X game in which nearly everyone played fighter characters. All the classes had specific tricks they could play, but they were essentially non-magical and mundane. There was a Men-at-Arms class that was the closest IH came to ‘just a fighter’. What made this class interesting was that it had a sort of floating feat mechanic, so the PC could, when faced when an unexpected situation, spend time (or maybe some other resource… it’s been a long while since I read it), and then he would have the feat he needed. Now, if the only thing that sets the fighter apart is his ability to wield everything and be generic, then this seems like a really good idea to me. I’m not sure how it would be implemented in D&DNext, but then I’ve not seen many moving parts just yet. I also realize it has the danger of being accused of ‘hurting verisimilitude’ or whatever, but frankly I’d rather have a fuzzy mechanic representing the ability to remember some trick from ages ago that you don’t normally use, then the lameness that is requiring fighters to specialize in feat tracks or whatever.
Oh, and fighters need to be more badass. Hands down.
Since I wrote this, WotC has told us a bit more about D&DNext, specifically their intention of keeping ‘Bounded Rolls‘ (meaning difficulty does not scale, but remains static in the world…like it used to in oldschool games). It might be interesting if one of the ways fighters get differentiated is that they are more accurate and do more damage than other melee characters. But if they did that, what makes the barbarians and rangers special?