Level Up (A5E) Crazy fighter idea: Maneuver Specialization exertion cost reduction minimum 0

[Edit: I've decided this solution isn't going to work for me, but it helped inspire a better one I'm really excited about, described in my next post in the thread]

I like the fighter in A5e. It‘s cool.

But now that I’ve reviewed all the classes more thoroughly, I think it feels a little underwhelming. And while I haven‘t finished doing the math, my intuition tells me its combat power is less than an O5e fighter (usually A5e classes have about equivalent combat power plus increased combat flexibility and the added benefits of social and exploration pillar features).

When it comes to flexibility, it is of course king. But it‘s in the potency—the raw oomph—where it seems to lag, and I don’t think expanded flexibility is supposed to be an appropriate trade-off for potency in general in A5e design, at least to that degree.

While the fighter gets to choose from any combat traditions, they still only get the same 2 as everyone else (plus another from a restricted list later). Unless there are some really good synergies that are enabled by being able to mix any two schools (or by the addition of a third), and there are many possible such synergies, and most people will end up with some almost by accident, I don‘t think it should count for potency. I like to look at the baseline of what you expect someone to do to role-play their character, and that is to take the maneuvers that fit their concept, not to hunt for super-synergies.

And to take it to the extreme for analysis, even if every fighter knew all combat traditions and all maneuvers (supreme flexibility in an individual character), they are still limited by their Exertion. They would be like a caster that knew or had prepared every spell in the game. Yes, it would provide a power boost, but it is primarily a flexibility rather than oomph power boost.

Other A5e martial classes get almost as many Exertion points (more for Adept), and they have class specific ways of boosting their oomph in addition to that. Fighter relies on Maneuver Specialization (and therefore only derives this benefit when using their smaller list of specialized maneuvers) and Fighting Style (which is important within A5e, but doesn‘t affect power relative to O5e) to get more potency.

An idea I had was that if fighters can reduce the Exertion cost on their specialized maneuvers that normally cost 1, dropping them to have no exertion cost, that might take care of the issue (or at least most of it). Yes, that means every fighter will likely specialize in a 1 exertion maneuver that they can use at-will to add +2 damage to all their attacks, except when they are using another maneuver to attempt something more specific. When it comes to A5e classes, some of the others have some pretty nice damage boosts compared to their O5e versions, so this seems like it might just be bringing fighters up to par. Compared to an O5e fighter, their two bonus ASI/feats could grant +4 to their attack stat, which would give them not only +2 damage on all their attacks, but +2 attack bonus, +2 saves, +2 ability checks, etc. It‘s not an exact comparison, because in either edition once you get your stat to 20 you are done. But I think it does illustrate the value of those extra feats, and I think we are in the same ballpark of power.

That would basically mean that, compared to O5e, the A5e fighter’s remaining maneuver sauce (after subtracting out their free 0 exertion maneuver’s effects as roughly comparable to 2 ASIs) benefits needs to grant them equivalent pitency to the combination of Action Surge and Second Wind. I know there are fun and interesting ways to approximate that sort of build (and once you hit 20th level there is a synergy that I found that can let you get 4 extra attacks for 2 Exertion if you built precisely for it), but this is where I haven’t actually done the math to see if it checks out.

From examining the other classes, one thing I do know is flexibility to choose options other than attempting to emulate Action Surge and Second Wind—or even flexibility to take options that let you emulate those and still take other options that let you do other things instead (as long as you only have enough Exertion for one or the other during any specific short rest)—should not require a trade-off in reduced potency. Other A5e classes regularly have multiple different ways (that you only have to choose each usage, not when you gain the features) to use a feature where O5e would only give you one. That level of flexibility is part of the Level Up experience, and isn‘t a considered a potency boost.

So all of that is just to get you into my head space for this crazy idea for a house rule to make fighters feel like they are fitting more equitably with the other A5e classes and their O5e counterpart.

What do you all think? Are there issues I’m not foreseeing? Is my estimation of this house rule’s effects being roughly equivalent to 2 ASIs way off? Does the math on there remaining maneuver potency blow Action Surge and Second Wind out of the water, leaving less room than 2 ASIs to work with?
 
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Anselm

Adventurer
I think the concern with making
any maneuver 0 cost is that now that's just the basic attack for the fighter. There's no reason for them to do regular ol attacks if they have a maneuver that lets them take "the Attack action and make a weapon attack, as well as any additional attacks granted by Extra Attack" and also do the special effect of the maneuver. Maybe that is fine balancewise but it's definitely going to slow the game down if every single attack causes a saving throw.

If you are looking for a homebrew buff I'd start by giving them a certain number (prof bonus?) of the now-free per day maneuver and after that have to spend exertion.
 

Doskious

Explorer
It might be better to increase the amount of exertion a Fighter can recoup by taking a minute outside of combat and burning a hit die. RAW, that's 1d4 per spent hit die (taking 1 minute per spent die). The utility curve for changing that to 1d6 for the Fighter (perhaps at 4th level?) may provide the desired flexibility in the expenditure of exertion for the Fighter. (I can actually see this being scaled along the lines of expertise die scaling at every level that a Fighter gains an extra point of exertion from the Reserves ability, and it would seem to me to fit in nicely with the general feeling I have about the Fighter class in A5E.)

The way I see it, Adepts get more exertion specifically because of their unarmed focus in their training, that's kind of their thing (also, several of their Adept-only abilities, like Flurry of Blows, consume exertion, so giving them a larger base pool -- beyond a certain level -- seems reasonable), and therefore have more staying power in the context of a single fight. Fighters, though, seem like more the class to focus on their resilience of recovery after a draining bout.

The Duelist archetype actually does get an ability that, [CHA modifier] times per long rest, allows them to reduce a combat maneuver's exertion by 1 (minimum 0) as long as it's from a specific list of Combat Traditions. This, to me, is strong evidence that any ability to execute build-variable combat maneuvers for 0 exertion needs to be similarly limited, as @Anselm recommended.

Another point in favor of this perspective is the fact that apart from the Duelist ability, the only other instances where the existing rules provide for the ability to execute combat maneuvers with no exertion cost are almost all feats (for which the character must give up an ASI and, for some, must satisfy other prerequisites). Combat Thievery, Deadeye, Fear Breaker, Guarded Warrior, Monster Hunter, Mounted Warrior, Natural Warrior, Spellbreaker, Swift Combatant, and Vengeful Protector all grant access to specific combat maneuvers and specify that "you ... do not have to spend exertion to activate [each of them]". (Note that the specification does not nail these maneuvers at 0 exertion, or anything like that, meaning that one could still spend exertion as normal to use the maneuvers -- this is relevant when considering certain other maneuvers like Wounded Animal Gambit.)

The only other allowances in the rules that provides a character the ability to use a combat maneuver without spending exertion (that I can find in the v2 AG) as a blanket, all-the-time option, are the 9th level Ranger ability Flash of Steel and the 15th level Warden (Ranger-archetype) ability, Riding Out.

The combat maneuvers that the above features provide access to are clearly a curated list. The feats almost always also provide some other benefit, so I'm not advancing the hard notion that "the ability to use a combat maneuver at no exertion cost is Feat-level powerful" as that's not a clear conclusion from the manner in which the ability to do so in those instances where it's possible is gained. I do think that access to an ability to interact with no-exertion-cost combat maneuvers in the manner of the Duelist (in an ad-hoc, on-demand fashion) is something that deserves its own feat to obtain, though.
 

Some good points all around. After some more thought I realized that there is a bigger concern I have, and my proposed fix would actually make that one a bit worse.

The fighter is supposed to be super flexible. And they also get to specialize and be particularly good at certain things. These two things actually end up working at cross purposes (is isn’t just the case with the A5e fighter, it can show in all sorts of games, especially older D&D editions).

If you have a wide variety of options available to you at any particular time, you can benefit from using one particularly suited to your situation. But when a small number of your options are much more effective than the rest due to your specialization, the bar for another maneuver to be more effective in your situation is raised. If you are spending less exertion and doing more damage with your favorites, then a competing maneuver has to be really good to be worth the action cost to use it. So in effect, even if a fighter knows more maneuvers than another class, the ability to be particularly good with a small number of them means in practice they are most likely going to be using less of them on a regular basis. They will be a narrowly focused combatant with a broader range of occasional special use maneuvers (that they won‘t actually find as useful as another class’s special use maneuvers, because the bar for them being a better choice than their standby maneuvers is higher). It’s working at cross purposes.

My idea of letting maneuvers drop to zero would just exacerbate that issue by making your some of your specialized maneuvers even more likely to be the best option to use.

But I was talking about this with a friend and a solution hit us both at the same time. Basically, we need to change how maneuver specialization works so that it just applies to all of your maneuvers.

So here is my thought. Since you get to pick a maneuver specialization 5 times, here is an alternative version of the feature. Each time the feature comes up, instead of picking a maneuver to specialize in, you pick one of the three benefits of the maneuver specialization, and from now on that benefit applies to all your maneuvers. You would still have a lot of customization because you get to choose which feature you want to start with (and you can synergize that with the maneuvers you choose to learn). So if you want to be as good as an Adept with maneuver saves, you take that option. If you want staying power, you take the reduced cost option (which can’t reduce exertion cost below 1). If you want to hit harder, you take the damage option. I can imagine prioritizing any of those based on what my style is, and I get excited about the possibilities.

This means you will effectively have the standard version of maneuver specialization in all maneuvers at level 11 once you’ve selected all three options (you can’t select the same one more than once). I actually think thats fine at that level; some might not agree. The replacement for the next two maneuver specializations (level 15 and 19) is that you get to choose a 1st degree maneuver to cost you zero exertion, and then a 2nd degree maneuver to cost you zero exertion. Your 20th level capstone still grants you a 3rd degree maneuver with no exertion.

Of course, at first glance I have just cross-purposed myself with those 0 exertion maneuvers. But it actually works in this particular setup! At that point, three things are now true that work to prevent the issue I described. First, all of your maneuvers get full specialization benefits so they are all equally effective. Second, you have plenty of exertion to work with during your short rest, and all of your maneuvers are cheaper, so you can afford to use a lot of maneuvers. Third, when you are getting a zero exertion 1st degree maneuver, you already know 4th degree maneuvers (and have plenty of exertion to fuel them at their reduced cost), and when you are getting your zero exertion 2nd degree maneuver you know 5th degree maneuvers. With all that put together, being able to make a maneuver multiple degrees lower than your highest known maneuver be free to use is hardly going to dissuade you from using whatever higher level maneuver you know that is actually better suited for the situation. It mainly means at 15th (or 19th, depending on what kind of maneuver you pick first) you’ll be able to transform your at-will attack into a low degree maneuver (and then pick one other you want to use regularly to also get the at-will treatment). It also will make the zero exertion 3rd degree maneuver at 20th level be easier to pick, since you don’t have to choose between that 1st level maneuver you really want to be at-will because it fits your character or it’s cool, or you have a sentimental attachment, and a 3rd degree maneuver that would be an objectively more effective choice—because you already took that 1st degree maneuver at 15th or 19th level.

I know this is a pretty big change, but it’s really sounding exciting to me. I might feel differently when I work out the math and review the maneuvers for possible exploits, but so far I’m really liking this idea.
 

Horwath

Hero
For maneuvers that have base cost of 0 and you want to have specialization in them;
I suggest; raise the DC by 2 instead of 1 OR increase the damage by 4 instead of 2.

This way you are not "punished" for picking 1 cost maneuver, and still prevents that maneuver to be at-will unlimited ability.
 

Doskious

Explorer
Some good points all around. After some more thought I realized that there is a bigger concern I have, and my proposed fix would actually make that one a bit worse.

The fighter is supposed to be super flexible. And they also get to specialize and be particularly good at certain things. These two things actually end up working at cross purposes (is isn’t just the case with the A5e fighter, it can show in all sorts of games, especially older D&D editions).

If you have a wide variety of options available to you at any particular time, you can benefit from using one particularly suited to your situation. But when a small number of your options are much more effective than the rest due to your specialization, the bar for another maneuver to be more effective in your situation is raised. If you are spending less exertion and doing more damage with your favorites, then a competing maneuver has to be really good to be worth the action cost to use it. So in effect, even if a fighter knows more maneuvers than another class, the ability to be particularly good with a small number of them means in practice they are most likely going to be using less of them on a regular basis. They will be a narrowly focused combatant with a broader range of occasional special use maneuvers (that they won‘t actually find as useful as another class’s special use maneuvers, because the bar for them being a better choice than their standby maneuvers is higher). It’s working at cross purposes.

My idea of letting maneuvers drop to zero would just exacerbate that issue by making your some of your specialized maneuvers even more likely to be the best option to use.

But I was talking about this with a friend and a solution hit us both at the same time. Basically, we need to change how maneuver specialization works so that it just applies to all of your maneuvers.

So here is my thought. Since you get to pick a maneuver specialization 5 times, here is an alternative version of the feature. Each time the feature comes up, instead of picking a maneuver to specialize in, you pick one of the three benefits of the maneuver specialization, and from now on that benefit applies to all your maneuvers. You would still have a lot of customization because you get to choose which feature you want to start with (and you can synergize that with the maneuvers you choose to learn). So if you want to be as good as an Adept with maneuver saves, you take that option. If you want staying power, you take the reduced cost option (which can’t reduce exertion cost below 1). If you want to hit harder, you take the damage option. I can imagine prioritizing any of those based on what my style is, and I get excited about the possibilities.

This means you will effectively have the standard version of maneuver specialization in all maneuvers at level 11 once you’ve selected all three options (you can’t select the same one more than once). I actually think thats fine at that level; some might not agree. The replacement for the next two maneuver specializations (level 15 and 19) is that you get to choose a 1st degree maneuver to cost you zero exertion, and then a 2nd degree maneuver to cost you zero exertion. Your 20th level capstone still grants you a 3rd degree maneuver with no exertion.

Of course, at first glance I have just cross-purposed myself with those 0 exertion maneuvers. But it actually works in this particular setup! At that point, three things are now true that work to prevent the issue I described. First, all of your maneuvers get full specialization benefits so they are all equally effective. Second, you have plenty of exertion to work with during your short rest, and all of your maneuvers are cheaper, so you can afford to use a lot of maneuvers. Third, when you are getting a zero exertion 1st degree maneuver, you already know 4th degree maneuvers (and have plenty of exertion to fuel them at their reduced cost), and when you are getting your zero exertion 2nd degree maneuver you know 5th degree maneuvers. With all that put together, being able to make a maneuver multiple degrees lower than your highest known maneuver be free to use is hardly going to dissuade you from using whatever higher level maneuver you know that is actually better suited for the situation. It mainly means at 15th (or 19th, depending on what kind of maneuver you pick first) you’ll be able to transform your at-will attack into a low degree maneuver (and then pick one other you want to use regularly to also get the at-will treatment). It also will make the zero exertion 3rd degree maneuver at 20th level be easier to pick, since you don’t have to choose between that 1st level maneuver you really want to be at-will because it fits your character or it’s cool, or you have a sentimental attachment, and a 3rd degree maneuver that would be an objectively more effective choice—because you already took that 1st degree maneuver at 15th or 19th level.

I know this is a pretty big change, but it’s really sounding exciting to me. I might feel differently when I work out the math and review the maneuvers for possible exploits, but so far I’m really liking this idea.
I like the math, it's elegant and tidy, as applied to a uniform distribution of abilities. I'm not sure that the actual maneuvers, as they advance through degrees, hold up their end of "being sufficiently uniform" though.

All Combat Traditions have 4x 1st degree maneuvers, 2x 5th degree maneuvers, and the rest of the degrees each have 3x maneuvers.

The maneuvers are, a lot of them, very different even within their respective Traditions, and there's no intrinsic guarantee that higher-degree maneuvers will be applicable in the same scenarios as lower-degree maneuvers, meaning that the rate at which they could get used cannot be assumed to be uniform. In the analysis of the efficacy of the proposal, I don't think that assuming sufficient uniformity is any more feasible than assuming uniformity over spells would be to contemplate similar sweeping alterations to the Wizard class.

I suspect that this is the reason that the list of maneuvers, for which unlimited access at no exertion cost is obtainable, is a curated one.

It's an interesting idea, but I suspect that there will be issues arising from applicability.
 

I like the math, it's elegant and tidy, as applied to a uniform distribution of abilities. I'm not sure that the actual maneuvers, as they advance through degrees, hold up their end of "being sufficiently uniform" though.

All Combat Traditions have 4x 1st degree maneuvers, 2x 5th degree maneuvers, and the rest of the degrees each have 3x maneuvers.

The maneuvers are, a lot of them, very different even within their respective Traditions, and there's no intrinsic guarantee that higher-degree maneuvers will be applicable in the same scenarios as lower-degree maneuvers, meaning that the rate at which they could get used cannot be assumed to be uniform. In the analysis of the efficacy of the proposal, I don't think that assuming sufficient uniformity is any more feasible than assuming uniformity over spells would be to contemplate similar sweeping alterations to the Wizard class.

I suspect that this is the reason that the list of maneuvers, for which unlimited access at no exertion cost is obtainable, is a curated one.

It's an interesting idea, but I suspect that there will be issues arising from applicability.
I went ahead and took a look at the maneuvers with this in mind. Since the only place for issues should be if a zero Exertion 1st-degree maneuver is overpowered at 15th level, or if the three maneuvers (one 1st, one up to 2nd, one up to 3rd) that you get could have some interactions that make them overpowered.

From what I can see, the only maneuver that might be an issue in isolation is Catch Your Breath (Adamant Mountain 1st-degree). In combat, I'm not sure if this is any better than a Champion's 18th level feature, since this requires a bonus action to use, but outside of combat it is more powerful than the Champion's feature, and it comes online at 15th rather than 18th level, which is meaningful.

While I personally think it's a little stronger than ideal, I can probably allow it, since it's the only problem I saw and I'd rather not make a house rule for one maneuver that is strong but not game-breaking.

The only issue I saw in interactions between maneuvers is at 20th level, exists in RAW, and won't be made any worse with my house rules (as it involves two 3rd-degree maneuvers and my house rule doesn't grant any more of that degree). That's the combination of Heightened Reflexes (Mirror's Glint 3rd-degree) with Instinctive Counterattack (Razor's Edge 3rd-degree). Choose Instinctive Counterattack as your zero Exertion maneuver. You can now take 4 additional attacks a round at a cost of 2 Exertion (total). That gives you essentially 8 Action Surges per short rest if you do nothing else with your Exertion. (They aren't quite as good as Action Surge, because they take your bonus action, your reaction(s), and they only give you at total of 7 attacks instead of 8--but it's 8 of them instead of 2!) I can't really think of any other interactions you could pull off that could compete with the power of that, and that makes it a bit of a problem.

So the house rule to fix that RAW issue that I'm considering is that the fighter's 20th-level feature that grants a zero exertion maneuver (and I'd extend it to the additional zero exertion maneuvers I'm granting) only allows you to use the lowest cost version of variable cost maneuvers. This is figured on a round by round basis, so one of the maneuvers that can be used multiple times a round or that you can spend extra Exertion at a certain point when using to get increasing effect, would all count. In this case, it would prevent using Instinctive Counterattack more than once per round, and it makes the cost of that "Action Surge" now 5 Exertion rather than 2. So you can do that 3 times per short rest, which is more than the 2 times the O5e fighter gets, but it's also not as good. And you can still get one extra attack with Instictive Counterattack every turn without exertion cost, letting you mimic 4 attacks at 20th-level. That seems like a pretty good fit to me. (Of course, that same character can also have unlimited Catch Your Breath, but pulling this off requires taking Adamant Mountain, Mirror's Glint, and Razor's Edge, so you lose a lot of choice.)

I should also add that the game is young and I haven't examined the combat maneuvers with the sort of rigor needed to spot all potential issues. I have read through them all more than once, but it takes time for certain issues to become apparent.
 

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