Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fighters: Swords & Wizardry

Fighters are the neglected children of Dungeons and Dragons.

Fighters have been chronically underpowered, compared to the other D&D fighting classes, such as the Ranger, Barbarian, Monk and Paladin.

I'm likely opening myself up for criticism here, but I feel very strongly that there should be some modicum of balance, if not between classes, then between the sub-classes within a class.

I'm not advocating some perfectly balanced, mathematical symmetry, as is trying to be achieved in 4e (though I am not critical of that attempt), but I don't think that a player electing to play a fighter should be disadvantaged in her "in-game performance", as compared to someone who selects a ranger or paladin, having the same ability scores.

In at least one of the iterations of D&D (it may have been AD&D and/or 2e) attempts were made to power-up the fighter class. Those power-ups included weapon specializations rules and extra attacks as you increased in level. You may be able to identify several other attempts.

The Swords & Wizardry Core Rules gives Fighters a special ability to power-up the fighters. When fighting monsters with less than one hit die, fighters get one attack per fighter-level, per round. So, if I am a 7th level figher, and I am confronted by a host of kobolds, I get 7 attacks against the host of kobolds, each round. Of course, if it is a host of gnolls, i'm limited to only one attack per round.

I like the idea of extra attacks for fighters, based on their level, as it is a simple mechanic, that simulates the additional combat proficiency gained as one levels-up. But why should the extra attacks be limited to situations involving monsters of less than one hit die?


Christian said...

I hear you.

I played in a long term AD&D 2e campaign as a human fighter. At higher levels it sucked. The wizard was blowing things up with magic, the cleric could cast spells and fight, while the ranger had some cool abilities. Me? I just rolled twice to hit, did d8+5 for damage and sat there until my turn came around.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I'm mulling over tweaking the S&W rules, and giving all fighting characters (fighters, rangers, paladins, etc) one attack per level per round, regardless of the level of the foe. Obviously not all the attacks will succeed, but it does give the fighting characters a little extra "ooompf" at higher levels.

In addition, the fighter class would have the exclusive ability to attack and move again. For example, if an 8th Level Fighter and kills an Ogre after 5 of his 8 attacks, he can move again, and make a second, third or more attack on other targets, until he exhausts his 8 attacks that turn.

The other fighting types would have the multiple attacks per round, but if they killed their first opponent, their turn would end, even if they had more attacks left.

Norman Harman said...

I like to call that ability to mow through cannon fodder "Slaughterhouse". There's also "Bloodlust" which d20 calls Cleave. Using cool names that the fighter's player can yell out is 1/2 the fun/benefit of playing a fighter.

I let fighters roll two damage dice, keeping the larger. I also have very simplified damage; 1h weapons do d6, 2h weapons do d10. Unless you lack martial training then you only do d4 regardless of weapon.

1 attack per level all the time is insane! Lots of rolling, bog down game. Maybe let fighters keep rolling attacks until they miss one. Call it "Rampage!" No need to keep track of how many attacks used/left. But easy to hit critters will get annihilated quick. Maybe number of attacks limited by level or only allowed vs lower level *1/2?) critters, maybe requires a round of rest/no attacks afterwords.

Akrasia said...

For what it's worth, here is my own attempt to give fighters in S&W/0e a bit of a boost:

A Paladin In Citadel said...

"1 attack per level all the time is insane! Lots of rolling, bog down game."

I was initially thinking the same thing. Except you wouldn't roll them one-at-a-time, but all at once.

Ie., you are 5th level paladin, using a morningstar (d8), and so you roll 5d20 for your 5 attacks. Depending on how many hits you get, you roll that many d8's for damage.

The only difference, for the fighters, would be that the player chooses how many dice to roll in each combat. In a battle, a player with a 5th level fighter chooses to roll 3 or his 5d20s, against his first opponent. If those 3 attacks result in a kill, the fighter moves again, and uses some or all of the remaining 2d20 on the second opponent. In this example, since he chooses to only use 3 attacks on the first opponent, if he does not kill the first opponent with his first 3 attacks, he can still use his remaining 2 attacks on that opponent, but does not get to move again this turn. This forces the player to hedge his bets, by allocating extra rolls against an opponent, or take a risk that he will not win the first combat and will get bogged down as a result.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

@Akrasia: those are some great ideas. I will be using something quite similar for my sub-classes. For example, the swashbucker will use Dex instead of Str for damage bonuses, will probably get a Dex bonus to AC / get a dodge ability, forcing his opponent re-roll to attack, and/or will get a main-gauche, attack-blocking ability.

The Berserker / Barbarian will have an overbearing ability and/or may use Con as an attack and or damage modifier (his higher endurance means he can out-last his opponent, and thus strike when the opponent is fatigued)

Rod said...

Something that occurred to me recently was that the weapon damage table in Greyhawk (and carried over to AD&D), which gave huge damage vs. large creatures for the 2-handed sword and other fighter-only weapons, represented a sort of unstated fighter special ability. You could make up some sort of functionally similar "Giant-Killer" ability (double damage vs. Large creatures with 2-handed weapons, e.g.) without necessarily needing an entire chart.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

@Rod: Good point. The weapons that really benefited from the Large-creatures boost were the long, bastard and two-handed swords, and many of the polearms, including a significant boost to the damage inflicted by the Trident. Go figure.

For some reason, the battle-axe, flail and morningstar, all fairly heavy weapons, got no extra damage boost when attacking larger creatures.

banter said...

TALLY HO… I love to play fighters. Barbarian's, berserkers, and battle-ragers, oh my.

And I love being the "meat shield" provided I have a cleric or two willing to patch me up. With this in mind we used to allow fighters to staff NPC to carry support (pages, clerics... chiropractors... plastic surgeons... nutritional consultants)

I agree that an attack per level would bog it down too much, though I do think they should get more than one chance, say 1 per 3 levels. I also think as xp goes up they should have an increasing chance at an instant kill regardless of hit points. That big gamble aspect makes it worth while being aggressive.

Also, I think as to your previous discussion on psionics, a fighter should have the possibility of ESP, in terms of sensing an attack or avoiding unseen strikes etc - spidey sense.

Epic battlers should also have the chance at gaining the favour of their deity... no?

Finally I think strength and agility, etc. should increase with experience, say 1pt/3xp levels... after all they are athletes and are developing their bodies, no? That could level the playing field in terms of development.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

@Banter: Yes, I think the extra attacks for fighters, at certain intervals, was the approach 2e used, ie. 3 attacks every 2 rounds at 4th level, 2 attacks per round at 8th level, 5 attacks every 2 rounds at 12th level, and so on. They certainly did not give an extra attack, at each level, like I am musing about, above.

Akrasia has an interesting post on fighting styles, that could enhance the fighter class (I was thinking of applying those sorts of upgrades to the sub-classes, but Akrasia's approach works well if you use only the original 3 - or 4 - classes).

As for psionicist class, they are effectively fighters, since they can use any weapon, and any shields and armor. I had proposed that they use a d6 for hit points, which does make them less robust than a fighter (depending on what hit point die you use for the fighter). The Psionicist, like the Fighter, is bit of a work in progress, i'm interested in the feedback!

Chris said...

But why should the extra attacks be limited to situations involving monsters of less than one hit die?

IIRC (I think from Sham's read through of OD&D) the 'one attack per mook' rule was originally written as "1HD or less", then changed to "less than 1HD" either in a supplement, or in Holmes.

It originated in Chainmail as a heroic-vs-non-heroic combat mechanic. So Mr Hero could, purely by virtue of level, mow down #=lvl normal men/orcs/goblins per round, but anything more powerful than a man (ie: >1 HD) counted as a heroic combat that had to be fought one-on-one.

On apersonal note, I added some weapon qualities from WFRP2E to my Labyrinth Lord fighters, and gave them extra attacks at levels 5 and 9. No-one thinks they're the dull class anymore.