Linear Fighters, Quadratic Wizards…ACKS Style

Great minds think alike, apparently.  I’ve been rolling around a post relative to the LFQW problem for awhile now, and what do I find in my blog roll today but an excellent summation of the problem in The Mule Abides.  There, it is rightly pointed out that LFQW is less of a problem for older editions of D&D because the rules on casters were far more restrictive.  Specifically, casting a spell forbade all movement and any damage at all negated the caster’s spell.  As spells were the most critical form of resource management in a game devoted to resource management, this made sense.

However, earlier editions and OSR games still suffer from this problem.  Caster’s out of combat utility, and the tremendous disparity in the amount of damage they can inflict versus what the martial characters are capable of, make them a far superior class overall.  Yes, they need their meatshields, but still it’s not a big deal as everyone has henchmen.  A flying, invisible spell caster is still a giant ‘win’ button, no matter what edition you are playing.

I was thinking about the level based damage of spells like lightning bolt and fireball and I had an epiphany about the disparity of those effects and what a fighter/rogue can do.  It all goes back to OD&D and Chainmail, interestingly.  In OD&D, you were supposed to use the combat chart from Chainmail to resolve combat and the whole d20 chart was an afterthought.  In that system, a fighter rolled as many d6 for attacks as their level.  So, an 8th level fighter could inflict as many ‘hits’ as an 8 die fireball could.

I’m not really sure how you could bring that back into D&D, or if it’s even desirable to do so (the image of an 8th level fighter rolling 8d20 for attack is kind of amusing to me though).

Optional Thought: Instead of ‘Cleave’ which depends on a character actually killing a target to activate, how about this.  All fighters get 1 attack per level/cleave (so Thieves and Clerics have ½ the attacks of a fighter).  It costs as many attacks as the target has HD to launch an attack against them, with a minimum of 1 attack.  Fighters are considered to be able to move up to their combat move during these attacks so can hit any target.  Attacks are typically made versus lower HD targets first.

So a 4th level Hero with 3 1st level henchmen, runs into a band of 10 kobolds and an Ogre.   The Hero can make 4 attacks versus the kobolds, or one attack versus the Ogre.  The henchmen could make 2 attacks versus the kobolds or one against the ogre.  The Ogre can attack the hero once, or attack all three of the henchmen.

This would be an interesting experiment I think.  I’d love to see how it played out.  Combats versus ‘mooks’ would certainly go faster.  It would make positioning and formation difficult to run I think, which could suit some styles and be a problem for others.

It’s funny.  I’ve been ranting about the Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard problem for so long now, that I never stopped to think about how it affected ACKS.  For those unfamiliar, the LFQW problem is the idea that fighter

See, one of the reasons I got so enamored with ACKS was that it tried to fix the Old School Fighter, which is a poorly designed class (though not as bad as 3.X/Pathfinder by ANY means).  The static damage modifier and cleave are a huge hand up to the fighter, and the proficiencies are great.  Not having spells increase the difficulty of saving throws also goes a long way to helping fighters, at least, versus casters.  Unfortunately, they still fall into the Feat Trap.

The Feat Trap is what I call the idea that customization of the fighter through specific moves and abilities of limited scope, while fun and good on paper, never matches up to the breadth and utility of caster abilities.  It’s further exacerbated by the fact that the ‘Fighter’ type proficiencies are not equal in power to the ones available to casters (well, some of them).  One of my players, upon realizing that Precise Shot needed to be taken three times to negate the penalty pointed out how bad that was compared to other ‘one is all you need’ proficiencies.   His complaint made me think about how much of your resources you need to spend to be ‘a really good archer’.  A RAW archer can’t do it until level 6.  That seems an awfully steep cost in resources at a time when the mage is dishing out 6d6 damage with Fire or Lightning.

For example, Weapon Style is a great proficiency for differentiating fighting styles and their advantages, granting a +1 to intuitive, to hit, or damage when fighting with a specific style.  That doesn’t measure up when you compare it to something like Divine Blessing which grants a +2 to all saves, all the time.  What about Apostasy, which grants a caster 4 additional spells to their repertoire, further expanding their options dramatically (see any Cleric with ‘Call Dragon’ on their spell list…).  Black Lore of Zahar grants characters a unique class-based ability (Control Undead).  Ambush is another such proficiency (backstab) which is very potent but denied to core fighters.  I suppose the worst culprit is Combat Tricks, which improves your chance with a single maneuver.  That is so far away from the benefits of magic I can’t even compare it.

Now, I realize that a lot of people might be ok with this disparity and that’s cool.  Certainly the game itself from the LBB days actually states that Mages are supposed to be dramatically more powerful than other characters at high level.  Having recently started a campaign at first level, I can certainly say that it’s difficult surviving as a low level caster, so maybe having the higher levels be your oyster is a fair trade?

However, if you’d like to see the martial proficiencies increase their potency and make your characters, maybe you can try some of these:

Ambush: As written, Ambush only applies to surprise.  Instead, treat it as full Backstab.

Blindfighting: The character suffers no penalty when fighting an opponent they cannot see in melee.

Combat Trickery: This proficiency is not subdivided.  It applies to all maneuvers equally.  Alternatively, a character can focus exclusively on one trick and perform it at no penalty.

Fighting Style: In addition to the benefits as described in the base style, pick either a +1 to attack, initiative, damage, or AC (this cannot be the same as the benefit the style already provides).  When fighting with that style, you gain both benefits.  You must name the style and place it into a cultural context.

(X) Slaying: This proficiency also grants a +1 to damage versus the targeted type of creature.

Precise Shooting: The character can fire into melee at no penalty.

Weapon Finesse: You also gain your Dex modifier to damage rolls with applicable weapons.

Weapon Focus: You score double damage on a 19+.  Alternatively, it can apply to all weapons but still only trigger on a 20.

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10 thoughts on “Linear Fighters, Quadratic Wizards…ACKS Style

  1. Adam Skipper says:

    This is well thought out and I think it would work to give fighters an edge over wizard types without it seeming too contrived. I feel in some ways the wizard types got hosed in Pathfinder, I really like how it is done in ACKs, to me it makes sense and not like trying to fit a cube in a triangle. Great job bro!

    • Thanks for that!
      That’s interesting about Wizards in Pathfinder. I’d love to hear more because it’s definitely been my experience so far that they are still the top dog class in PF.
      Anyway, hope life is going well!

  2. Prior to adapting the “Cleave” rules, ACKS actually asked the rule of one attack per level, with attacks against monsters requiring a number of attacks equal to their Hit Dice. For a variety of reasons that really only become apparent in play, we didn’t adopt that rule and went with Cleave instead.

    At least insofar as my three ACKS campaigns have shown (1-14, 1-9, and an ongoing 1-6), ACKS does not suffer from the “linear/quadratic” problem. If anything, high-level fighters are scarier than high-level mages. Mages are always at risk of having their spells disrupted from a single attack. I’ve seen a high-level fighter over-run an entire room full of guards to engage to a max level mage, and once he’s engaged, the mage is dead meat.

    • Hey Alex! Thanks for the comments.
      I’m curious as to why you guys didn’t go with the multiple attack idea. Was it just too cumbersome in play? I can imagine it would get difficult and maybe a bit too time consuming especially at high levels.
      I guess I see the LFQW thing two ways. A high level anybody can still be dropped by a 1st level mage (charm person) or a 4th level cleric (Hold Person). The mages and clerics have tons of out of combat utility which the fighter has zero ways of matching. Granted, a high level caster can get ‘stun-locked’ if forced into combat by a high level fighter, but that seems like poor life choices by the wizard in question! Where was his Mirror Images, Flight, and Invisibility spells? There are numerous ways to keep the fighter from ever getting a chance to melee the wizard I suppose. I mean, yeah, if the fighter gets the jump on him, that might be all she wrote.
      But that 1st level fighter will never take a 14th level wizard or cleric. Nor will a 4th level one.
      I don’t know, I’m probably overthinking it.

  3. Michael "Gronan" Mornard says:

    Hmm. The default in OD&D was that fighters over 1st level got one attack per HD against 1 HD opponents. So an 8th level fighter cut down orcs like wheat. Gary in fact would just roll an 8 sider to see how many orcs you killed.

    And your “flying invisible wizard” has just burned a 3rd level spell and a 2nd level spell, and Invisibility goes away when he attacks and Flight lasts one turn per level + 1d6.

    And any magic user throwing that much magic for a single encounter is going to be out of spells fast. And our party would not wait and rest after one encounter, we’d beat the magic user silly and find somebody who knew what they were doing.

    A high level fighter has impressive saves; Charm Person and Hold Person MIGHT work, but once in melee, the magic user is dead in two to three rounds maximum, especially since the fighter probably has something to boost damage.

    I don’t know.. considering the highest level character in Greyhawk was a FIGHTER, and so were a number of the other high level characters, I’ve never understood where the “fighters are useless” idea came from.

    • Being able to kill a ton of mooks that are practically zero threat is hardly a useful ability. 1st level wizards can do that too…with Sleep.

      Yes, the flying invisible wizard has used 3 spells, so would need to be 6th level. But he could decimate a party of roughly equal level (at the very least killing the majority of the henchmen) all by himself. Neither a fighter, thief, nor cleric of equivalent level could hope to accomplish the same. And 6 Turns+1d6 Turns is over an hour…our flying mage can always escape if the initial fireball left too many to finish off with charm persons and magic missiles.
      While yes, a high level fighter has impressive saves, it only takes one bad roll to lose even a high level character…and this can even be to a first level caster, while a first level fighter would only wipe a high level mage in the most bizarre circumstances.

      Also, you make an interesting point and is one of my main concerns with ‘standard’ fighters. They are mechanically uninteresting. In OD&D, if you aren’t using Chainmail combat, they do not get any better at ending fights. Without ‘something to boost damage’ in the form of an external magical item, the fighter brings nothing to the table. They function the same at level 10 as they did at level 1. Meanwhile, casters continue to get new and interesting toys throughout their career, regardless of how high or low magic the campaign is.

      Granted, ACKS does a lot for this problem with the static damage modifier, cleaving, and proficiencies, but I wonder if it could do more.

      As for a Fighter being the highest level character in Greyhawk… the game has changed a lot since then and every book added more. I don’t think it actually says much about the game in general other than one group of players. That data point does nothing without knowing how good the players of the other classes where, how dedicated they were, how available they were for sessions and numerous other details we lack.

  4. Michael "Gronan" Mornard says:

    If “ending fights quickly by yourself” is your only criterion you might have a point.

    We preferred teamwork. I’ve been playing for 40 years — I have a design credit in Supplement 1, Greyhawk — and this “linear fighter quadratic wizard” nonsense is just that; nonsense.

    • Never said anything of the sort so I don’t know where that comment came from.

      I’ve been playing the game for 30 years. Pleased to have another long timer on the blog.

      If by nonsense you mean objectively noticed phenomena across a broad base of players then sure. It might not be your experience that there is an imbalance or problem but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

      You might not mind that fighters are mechanically uninteresting or diverse compared to casters. Personally I think they are weak and boring and consistently made useless by their casting peers. Both opinions have followers and neither are nonsense.

    • Tony says:

      I’ve played a lot of the D&D editions and once you start getting to higher levels, magic users have more options.

      I don’t see how it is equally as fun or as compelling for someone when their martial character has precisely one option – vanilla combat. Compare that to the tricks that casters can pull.

      I personally got bored of fighters very quickly. And that boredom is the problem. And that problem is because of poor design.

      Your mileage may vary but why shouldn’t martial characters be able to pull off some epic stunts? That would be a heck of a lot more fun. And a better game too.

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