D&D General Payn's Ponderings: The Fighter's identity; or, what's left after the combat pillar?

payn

Legend
Greetings,

Fighter discussions are all the rage right now. The discussion most on my mind are the pillars of play and the fighter's role. While never exactly hardcoded into the game, pillars have been described as combat, exploration, and social. Some systems have tried to tie mechanics to the pillars (I.E. 4E skill challenges, XE social combat, or PF2 exploration mode) but none have explicitly defined or hardcoded mechanics to systems holistically. My aim is not to do that here in this thread. I am quite comfortable with the ambiguity as both player and GM in the pillars of play. What I do want to talk about are things to do in each pillar and how some classes have greater choice than others. Most importantly, how does the fighter get out of the combat only space? What does a fighter look like in exploration and social pillars of play?

First lets talk about what exploration pillar means. I have heard from many folks they don't really know exactly what to consider exploration. Is it delving dungeons and navigating traps? Is it overland travel and surviving deadly elemental conditions? Is it solving riddles and puzzles? Discovering long lost temples and esoteric knowledge? Tracking animals, monsters, and NPCs? To me the answer is all of that. The skill system since at least 3E, has included a number of skills that assist in these areas. Skills that wont be effective or even useable in combat situations. For example, knowledge skills, disable device/lockpicking, perception, etc... The traditional method is to apply a skill roll to a situation and determine result. If danger is present, immediately or sustained, then saves are used for defense.

Now lets talk about the social pillar. This one tends to make more sense to folks. Working with or against NPCs. Finding information, convincing others, role playing actual personality and interaction. Skills like sense motive, diplomacy, and intimidation have come to be expected in social pillar play. There is also quite a bit of passive methods of social play in feats, backgrounds, traits, etc... Essentially, minor mechanical benefits that are flavored in various ways. Social play tends to move inconsistently between rules and rulings in practice at various tables. This makes social an easy to identify pillar of play, yet a much more ambiguous pillar than exploration and combat. Skills and saves are used for defense often in this pillar of play.

Finally, the combat pillar. The most obvious of pillars. Class, race, feats, skills, means combat receives the most mechanical support. I don't feel its necessary to dive in since its not part of this discussion.

I'll start with casters in the pillar discussion. Casters are easily the most versatile in pillars. Not only do they get access to skills, feats, and backgrounds, but their class feature spells also allows them access to complete utility. You have combat focused spells like magic missile, you have exploration spells like divination, and you have social spells like charm person. Not only can a caster choose tools to help in any given pillar, they can do so every single day. Perhaps that is the essence of a caster class? Magic shapes them in any way they see fit and grant versatility, albeit, in a limited fashion (that becomes less and less so with level..). Casters are the least in need of pillar versatility. In fact, they can be strong or weak at any given time. The most free in mechanical game space of all class types.

Lets move on to skill focused classes like the Rogue and Bard. These classes have a lot of room in skill choice and play to move between pillars. They often sacrifice the ability to be strong or strongest in combat for this versatility. Unlike casters, skill classes make their choices and live with them going forward. Choices only come at level up and possible retraining rules based on system and or table GM allowance. One thing interesting with skill classes, they often have built in class features that give them a boost in pillar play that casters and martials often do not have. Rogues have their sneak attack and skill boosts, Bards their performance based buffs and debuffs etc..

Finally, we have the marital classes. Some are heavily defined by class abilities like the ranger and paladin. Others, a little less so like the barbarian. Then, you have the fighter who usually has no class abilities granted outside of the combat pillar. To diversify in ability, fighters have to rely on the skill system, which they often have precious few resources to do so. Even with classes like the ranger and paladin their features focus heavily on the combat pillar. There is little choice to interact in the other pillars of the game even at level up and with retraining. Attempts to open things up a bit have been made, such as backgrounds, but still the martial classes remain the tightest in choice of pillar terms of the classes.

Let's get to the discussion already, Payn!!!
Lets examine the martial classes even deeper. I'll set skills aside for now as all classes can use those. Lets look at class abilities. The paladin (whether you see them as holy knights of goodness or just armored dudes with magic) often are granted bonuses against mind effects, ability to detect evil, auras to protect their allies, etc... They are granted abilities that lean into the social pillar of play. The ranger has traditionally been given class abilities that focus on living in nature, tracking, and wild empathy. These all lead to being good in the exploration pillar. Fighters? I am having trouble thinking of a single class feature not focused solely on combat. In past editions, fighters eventually become squires and knights and leaders of people. That idea has almost entirely been abandoned in modern D&D.

All balancing of versatility aside, the glaring problem I can see is the fighter class. Casters have variety in type and choice of features. Skill classes have a mix of class identity and utility choice. Martials are often tied heavily to class features. The fighter is in desperate need of some of everything. Where to start? How about with class features? What can you imagine as being the role a fighter plays in every pillar? Solider or Mercenary backgrounds? Weapon skills to accomplish more than killing? Leader type ability that leads to assistance and bonus for their partners? What is the fighter identity; or what could it be?

A couple of ground rules I wish folks would respect;
This thread is NOT to discuss how to balance fighters with casters mechanically. This thread IS about giving the fighter more space in the exploration and social pillar.

-Cheers
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
I think there's plenty of design space to improve the fighter outside combat, depending on how crazy you want to get with it.

A relatively simple option with plenty of precedent would be giving the fighter followers.

I think one of the big reasons it fell out of favor was because it was a pain to manage. You had to build a keep, and then pay your followers and maintain morale lest they leave/betray you. Ever seen a wizard have to maintain the morale of their spells? Nope. For players who didn't enjoy that kind of domain management, it was a nuisance, potentially more of a hassle than a benefit.

The solution? Make the followers self-sufficient (a seasoned mercenary company whose loyalty is born out of respect). They don't require upkeep, but rather are purely beneficial. They could scout areas for the fighter, deliver messages/act as translators, and maybe even take on low level adventures in the fighter's stead. The feature could detail a few concrete uses for the followers, while leaving it open for the DM to permit more creative uses as well.
 

payn

Legend
I think there's plenty of design space to improve the fighter outside combat, depending on how crazy you want to get with it.

A relatively simple option with plenty of precedent would be giving the fighter followers.

I think one of the big reasons it fell out of favor was because it was a pain to manage. You had to build a keep, and then pay your followers and maintain morale lest they leave/betray you. Ever seen a wizard have to maintain the morale of their spells? Nope. For players who didn't enjoy that kind of domain management, it was a nuisance, potentially more of a hassle than a benefit.

The solution? Make the followers self-sufficient (a seasoned mercenary company whose loyalty is born out of respect). They don't require upkeep, but rather are purely beneficial. They could scout areas for the fighter, deliver messages/act as translators, and maybe even take on low level adventures in the fighter's stead. The feature could detail a few concrete uses for the followers, while leaving it open for the DM to permit more creative uses as well.
I like this angle. I kept thinking maybe they are so experienced that they got the thousand yard stare. Nothing scares them, but oh thats a paladin deal. Then, I was like their training taught them to survive in the wild and find their way around and read maps...oh thats the ranger. Everybody eats the fighters lunch.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Greetings,

Fighter discussions are all the rage right now. The discussion most on my mind are the pillars of play and the fighter's role. While never exactly hardcoded into the game, pillars have been described as combat, exploration, and social. Some systems have tried to tie mechanics to the pillars (I.E. 4E skill challenges, XE social combat, or PF2 exploration mode) but none have explicitly defined or hardcoded mechanics to systems holistically. My aim is not to do that here in this thread. I am quite comfortable with the ambiguity as both player and GM in the pillars of play. What I do want to talk about are things to do in each pillar and how some classes have greater choice than others. Most importantly, how does the fighter get out of the combat only space? What does a fighter look like in exploration and social pillars of play?

[...]

A couple of ground rules I wish folks would respect;
This thread is NOT to discuss how to balance fighters with casters mechanically. This thread IS about giving the fighter more space in the exploration and social pillar.

-Cheers
Thanks for starting this, and I will try to respect those ground rules because (1) it's a thread you started for a specific purpose, so I figure they're your rules, and (2) I think they're good rules in any case.

The several recent kerfuffles over this have taught me a lot this past week or so as I'm new to both DMing and tuning game mechanics, so I have more to learn than to say, surely. Still, it's got my li'l mind runnin', y'know? And so I was thinking about this last night and this morning and while reading your opening post, and it occurs to me there are two important skills a Fighter naturally would have (to my mind), but in which they have no special buffs in RAW 5e: Intimidation and Perception. Intuitively, I'd think a Fighter automatically would be, prior to stat bonuses and minuses, stronger in these two skills than any other class, no? I mean, who learns to have eyes in the back of their head more and faster than a soldier?? And for Intimidation, it just.....does anyone need me to explain my justification for that??

Those were two areas that seemed obvious to me ten minutes ago when I started writing this.
 
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payn

Legend
Thanks for starting this, and I will try to respect those ground rules because (1) it's a thread you started for a specific purpose, so I figure they're your rules, and (2) I think they're good rules in any case.

The several recent kerfuffles over this have taught me a lot this past week or so as I'm new to both DMing and tuning game mechanics, so I have more to learn than to say, surely. Still, it's got my li'l mind runnin', y'know? And so I was thinking about this last night and this morning and while reading your opening post, and it occurs to me there are two important skills a Fighter naturally would have (to my mind), but in which they have no special buffs in RAW 5e: Intimidation and Perception. Intuitively, I'd think a Fighter automatically would be, prior to stat bonuses and minuses, stronger in these two skills than any other class, no? I mean, who learns to have eyes in the back of their head more and faster than a soldier?? And for Intimidation, it just.....does any need me to explain my justification for that??

Those were two areas that seemed obvious to me ten minutes ago when I started writing this.
I've thought the same for Barbarians (so did the 3E designers). Another fighter lunch eaten?

I've thought of barbs as the wild untamed damn the torpedoes type. So, maybe they soak damage and keep going. While the fighter is the more tempered alternative, so they react quicker and avoid danger? Its a tough nut to crack.
 

A relatively simple option with plenty of precedent would be giving the fighter followers.

The early edition premise that Fighters attract the most followers the easiest or what have you is also where my mind went, not because I think followers are necessarily the solution per se, but because thinking about when I have seen 5e fighters work well as social characters it has been for similar reasons to the underlying premise, they have a social advantage.

The social advantage may be because they are non-magicians with powerful but fundamentally mundane abilities whom the common people can relate to more readily than those other weirdos. It may be because the pseudo-medievalness of most gameworlds had imported a little bit of the element of the lords of actual medieval society being expected to all be high level fighters (whatever degree they actually lived up to that) and hence fighters fit in with the upper classes and match the expectations of whom the lower classes should show deference to. It may be because they are the well-muscled guy festooned with weapons, and are more palpably intimidating than some skinny, bearded guy with staff, even in a world where people know, with the rational part of their mind, that Mr. Wizard can do unnatural things to them that would make them yearn for a simple beating from Mr. Fighter. It may be because, as someone who can take a few hits without issue, they meet potentially dangerous strangers exuding more confidence than some of the more fragile classes.

I'm not sure how to hardcode a social advantage in without limiting settings too much, followers rules may well be one of the better solutions (and has a lot more potential to help in the exploration tier than any other social tweak I can think of), but I think incorporating some of the underlying social assumptions behind fighters getting followers definetly makes fighters a lot more satisfying in the social pillar whether they actually get followers or not.
 

At first fighter need a good character creation in term of background, motivation, desire for challenge.
for class design there is a need to present the fighter as having a huge will to compete. That should require some mental stat or feature and thus lead to better interaction into social and exploration.
in first edition the fighter main social feature was to attract followers and build a strong hold.
we should take some hint from that making the fighter a natural leader, showing no doubt for his will the win for or protect his people.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
I've thought the same for Barbarians (so did the 3E designers). Another fighter lunch eaten?
Kind of, I think.
I've thought of barbs as the wild untamed damn the torpedoes type. So, maybe they soak damage and keep going. While the fighter is the more tempered alternative, so they react quicker and avoid danger? Its a tough nut to crack.
It absolutely is. One thing I won't advocate is cutting any existing classes: I like Barbarians (both in the game and IRL). Damage-soaking strikes me as the most natural thing for them, and I think you're right that Intimidation should be easy for them in places where it isn't for clerics, you know?

It seems to me that the sort of intimidation a Barbarian exerts is different from the sort an expert Fighter exerts. With Barbarians, you immediately notice the muscles, the big weapon, and the bar-room brawler attitude. With Fighters, I think, you notice the self-possession, the physical grace, the general fearlessness, and the quick reflexes (though that last one might encroach on Rogues).

I've no quarrel with giving Barbarians strong bonuses on Intimidation checks; that seems obvious to me. I will contend that Fighters ought to get them, too. Swords, maces, and the like are just innately intimidating, aren't they? They are to me, anyway.
 

HammerMan

Legend
I would love a way for a martial class to get things like "jump" "Knock" "Arcane lock"

x times can jump 3x distance
kick in a door auto break into a door even if arcane locked but makes a ton of noise
block/break a door so it is not openable without an ability

also things kinda like alarm...
when you rest you have a 6th sense are become alert as soon as anything dangerous comes within 20ft even if it is invisible or intangible.

give them an auto go up sheer surfaces (like spider climb)

give them some cool combat things too... death blow (save or die) knee cap (slow)
 

payn

Legend
Kind of, I think.

It absolutely is. One thing I won't advocate is cutting any existing classes: I like Barbarians (both in the game and IRL). Damage-soaking strikes me as the most natural thing for them, and I think you're right that Intimidation should be easy for them in places where it isn't for clerics, you know?

It seems to me that the sort of intimidation a Barbarian exerts is different from the sort an expert Fighter exerts. With Barbarians, you immediately notice the muscles, the big weapon, and the bar-room brawler attitude. With Fighters, I think, you notice the self-possession, the physical grace, the general fearlessness, and the quick reflexes (though that last one might encroach on Rogues).

I've no quarrel with giving Barbarians strong bonuses on Intimidation checks; that seems obvious to me. I will contend that Fighters ought to get them, too. Swords, maces, and the like are just innately intimidating, aren't they? They are to me, anyway.
I love this. I immediately thought of the scene in Game of Thrones with The hound and Bronn. The hound is intimidating due to his size and appearance, Bronn is clever and shifty you dont know what to expect.

I also agree, I want to keep all classes, but make them unique and give them mechanical space. A little overlap is ok, but try to limit redundancy.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Maybe, similar to the Warlock (Patron and Pact Boon), the Fighter could essentially get two subclasses. The second might be chosen at a later level, not unlike the Paragon Paths of 4e. This higher level subclass could supplement the fighter's capabilities. You might have a Mercenary Captain path that commands followers, a Legacy Wielder that gets a weapon of legacy that improves as they level, or a Heavenly Scion that unlocks the power in their blood from a divine lineage. These might have some combat abilities, but would ideally be focused on expanding the fighter's utility. Barbarians might also get similar options (or even reuse the same subclasses, to save on design space).

This would allow a range of options, from the mundane to the supernatural, which could cater to a broader range of preferences.
 

A few aspects that would be useful in the non-combat pillar that I would associate with Fighters:
Teamwork: Matching an allies movements and rhythm or directing and exhorting efforts from a larger group. Co-ordination with others , whether fighting or working could be something that Fighters train in extensively.

Focused effort: It doesn't have the duration of the barbarian's Rage, or use magic like the feats the monk can achieve, but Action Surge exemplifies the burst of effort that a heroic individual can bring out from deep inside them when the chips are down. The hysterical strength to flip a car off an injured person, smash a barred door, or drive a spear into solid rock to use as a handhold could be similar manifestations.

Tools use: The same depth of training that let the fighter master every weapon might also manifest in the use of tools. Not just proficiency, but also innovative and improvised use.
 

payn

Legend
A few aspects that would be useful in the non-combat pillar that I would associate with Fighters:
Teamwork: Matching an allies movements and rhythm or directing and exhorting efforts from a larger group. Co-ordination with others , whether fighting or working could be something that Fighters train in extensively.

Focused effort: It doesn't have the duration of the barbarian's Rage, or use magic like the feats the monk can achieve, but Action Surge exemplifies the burst of effort that a heroic individual can bring out from deep inside them when the chips are down. The hysterical strength to flip a car off an injured person, smash a barred door, or drive a spear into solid rock to use as a handhold could be similar manifestations.

Tools use: The same depth of training that let the fighter master every weapon might also manifest in the use of tools. Not just proficiency, but also innovative and improvised use.
Now were talkin! I especially like the tool use. Makes sense in a way that fits a fighter.
 

ART!

Legend
The paladin (whether you see them as holy knights of goodness or just armored dudes with magic) often are granted bonuses against mind effects, ability to detect evil, auras to protect their allies, etc... They are granted abilities that lean into the social pillar of play. The ranger has traditionally been given class abilities that focus on living in nature, tracking, and wild empathy. These all lead to being good in the exploration pillar. Fighters? I am having trouble thinking of a single class feature not focused solely on combat. In past editions, fighters eventually become squires and knights and leaders of people. That idea has almost entirely been abandoned in modern D&D.

All balancing of versatility aside, the glaring problem I can see is the fighter class. Casters have variety in type and choice of features. Skill classes have a mix of class identity and utility choice. Martials are often tied heavily to class features. The fighter is in desperate need of some of everything. Where to start? How about with class features? What can you imagine as being the role a fighter plays in every pillar? Solider or Mercenary backgrounds? Weapon skills to accomplish more than killing? Leader type ability that leads to assistance and bonus for their partners? What is the fighter identity; or what could it be?
I've been thinking about this sort of thing a lot lately, in part because of how Level Up expands the exploration and social pillars, so thanks for starting this thread.

One way to think about this might be to think about action heroes in film and tv and what abilities they tend to have in common.

So, in very general terms, a fighter should:

  • come across as someone who's not to be messed with, physically; even when not actively trying to intimidate, they have the bearing of someone who could be trouble in a fight.
  • be hard to intimidate.
  • be good at using their environment in a fight, or to prevent a fight; this could include flashy swashbuckling things, but also just basic taking advantage of the physical space and nearby objects.
  • be good at tactics, and maybe even long-term strategy
  • be able to assess the combat capabilities of opponents
  • be able to assess the quality of weapons, armor, and other fighting gear
  • be able to know when a fight is about to happen
  • know how to prevent a fight

A relatively simple option with plenty of precedent would be giving the fighter followers.

I think one of the big reasons it fell out of favor was because it was a pain to manage. You had to build a keep, and then pay your followers and maintain morale lest they leave/betray you. Ever seen a wizard have to maintain the morale of their spells? Nope. For players who didn't enjoy that kind of domain management, it was a nuisance, potentially more of a hassle than a benefit.

The solution? Make the followers self-sufficient (a seasoned mercenary company whose loyalty is born out of respect). They don't require upkeep, but rather are purely beneficial. They could scout areas for the fighter, deliver messages/act as translators, and maybe even take on low level adventures in the fighter's stead. The feature could detail a few concrete uses for the followers, while leaving it open for the DM to permit more creative uses as well.
The sidekick rules get us partway there, but it probably wouldn't take much to expand that into rules for groups of "sidekicks".

I would love a way for a martial class to get things like "jump" "Knock" "Arcane lock"

x times can jump 3x distance
kick in a door auto break into a door even if arcane locked but makes a ton of noise
block/break a door so it is not openable without an ability

also things kinda like alarm...
when you rest you have a 6th sense are become alert as soon as anything dangerous comes within 20ft even if it is invisible or intangible.

give them an auto go up sheer surfaces (like spider climb)

give them some cool combat things too... death blow (save or die) knee cap (slow)
Many have argued that all fighters (and even other classes) should have access to maneuvers, and I agree.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Tools use: The same depth of training that let the fighter master every weapon might also manifest in the use of tools. Not just proficiency, but also innovative and improvised use.
This makes eminent sense to me.

Suppose we have a veteran fighter who across his life has been in as many battles as you and I have lines for coffee: we're supposed to believe this chap has no idea how to repair his own weapons and armor??? Metalsmithing is just completely foreign to this guy, is it?? I have trouble believing that.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
The sidekick rules get us partway there, but it probably wouldn't take much to expand that into rules for groups of "sidekicks".
It's not a bad idea, as it isn't unreasonable that some fighters might want to bring their mercs along on adventures. However, the original idea was more utility oriented. As in, you never even need to even stat them up, and the mercs are nonetheless useful. The reason is that not everyone would necessarily want to have to run multiple characters.
 


FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
In terms of social the only real fix is to either have magic, be able to primary charisma, or gain boosts to social skills like expertise or bardic inspiration. I think the Tasha’s Battlemaster manuevers have really helped there. For the generic fighter you might could add a single superiority dice and give them those skill boosting manuevers.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
The main concept split within the Fighter is between a knight and a skirmisher. The knight (heavy infantry) tends toward social (and aristocracy). The skirmisher (light infantry) tends toward exploration (and athletics).

The Paladin and Ranger were - and in some sense still are - gishy Fighter subclasses for these two concepts.

By the way, the "exploration pillar" is when the DM describes where the players are (sights, sounds, smells) and asks what they want to do.

Re tactics and teamwork. Maybe something like granting a +1 x the number of team members to each member, up to a number equal to the Intelligence bonus. In other words, a mass help to skill checks and similar.
 
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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
One thing I think fighters should really have IMO is when they take an ASI they get an additional +1 that can’t be placed in the same stat they’ve already chosen. (Maybe exclude con).

This could help bring a fighter up to competence of caster classes in int/cha/wis skills Or alternatively it would help the str+dex fighter concepts.
 

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