The Fighter – A Fantasy Born in Violent Expertise
August 24, 2016
A samurai plucks arrows from her quiver and looses them toward an enemy before her, peppering the vicious ogre before dropping from her horse, drawing her sword, and moving in for the kill.
Fighting for his life, the gladiator bashes the first swarming goblin with his shield then throws the shield at the next. His sword cleaves a third goblin as he picks up one of their crude spears and uses it to old the mass back as he figures out his next move.
Plumes of smoke erupt from the guns of the small band of musketeers, picking off the flanks of the advancing force of armored knights. They keep in formation, shooting and falling back, until finally the knights number less than they and their swords leap into their hands for the final struggle.
All of these are fighters. Each and every one of them. They all stem from a single, pure ideal. A fantasy of the warrior who is an expert in all forms of warfare and combat. In Dungeons and Dragons, we call that warrior The Fighter.
The Fighter is kind of the basic building block of a military, no matter what that military is. The Fighter is the soldier in the field, the general in the war room, and the ravenous horde they face down. The Fighter is the inheritor of thousands of years of warrior culture and the boy on the street who uses a simple club to stay alive. There are more Fighter ideas than there are stars in the sky. They only have one thing in common – they are experts in how to injure others and ensure no injury comes to them.
The basics of that fantasy are easy to approach from a rules perspective in D&D – give the Fighter access to every kind of weapon and armor. Which, yes, is important. Not just the old categories of “Basic and Martial”, though – every kind of weapon and armor. A Fighter worth her salt would be able to pick up any strange and exotic weapon and figure out how to use it to kill someone in a minute or so. Beyond that, though, the Fighter has to continue to feel like an expert in the use of arms and armor.
To accomplish this, we need to look at class abilities broadly. When you look toward the fantasies of other classes, one of the biggest differences in class abilities is Magic. Wizards cause fire to spring from their hands to demolish their foes, clerics call down divine healing to restore the health of their companions, and bards and lace their very words with powerful compulsions, illusions, or destructive energies. Fighters, though, are not magicians. How can we ensure they feel competent and complete next to these purveyors of otherworldly force?
Our first stop should be myth and legend. These are the building blocks of the stories we’ve been telling as a species for millennia, and as roleplaying is about telling stories, they will be the building blocks of our classes.
Warriors in myth and legend could fire arrows thicker than a tree, reroute rivers by picking them up, cleave solid rock in two with a well placed cut, and weather attacks of immense intensity through their will and training alone. While none of this is a good power to hand a level 1 character (and there probably won’t be much use for “Once per day, The Fighter can reroute a major river” in regular play), this gives us a good constellation of ideas to use to start to shape the particulars of the Fighter fantasy for D&D.
Instead, I think we should think about how a warrior might get to the point that they’re able to do this. What steps they’d have to take, what incidental abilities they’ll gain along the way, and what advantages they’d have in combat because of that training. Class abilities that spring out of this could be giving Fighters defensive bonuses just for standing in melee with someone (as they learn to read their opponents and use their weapons not only to strike but also to create defensive boundaries and make it difficult to strike at them effectively), swapping weapons quickly as the situation demanded a better answer, and bypassing the defenses of their opponents with carefully aimed and expertly timed strikes.
Taken together, these things coalesce into a theme – Expertise. When we look toward what the Fighter does in game, what rules there are that govern the Fighter, what advantages the Fighter has, they should all be able to be reduced to that one concept. All Fighters are experts at combat. Not just one type of combat – all of it. Their expertise in combat grows as they do, of course, but that means that the trajectory of the Fighter is toward being equivalent to the god of war or any pantheon you choose.
As a seed for where we’re going to go in the design post, that’ll come after we establish all this fantasy stuff, our goals are going to focus on a few ideas; using more weapons more often, using more “Opportunity Attack” style options, having more value from combat, and having more options on styles, techniques, and actions as an attacker. Fighters are all about having answers to problems that involve hitting something or being hit. They’ve got to be masters of that.
And that mastery will lay the foundation for even greater, even more Prestigious paths.