I come at it from the perspective outlined below (and bulwarked by someone who has DMed only in his playing "career" - 20 + years):
This originally reared its head in the first long term 2e campaign I DMed. However, I'm going to use the 3e example as the most instructive to me on the issue.
My last 3e campaign ran from level 1 to level 24. This spanned the course of 5 years. The group waxed (6 total players) and waned (2 players). However, through levels 9 thru 15 there were 3 primary players (Characters 1 and 2 below and a Diviner/Summoner that made my life as a DM utterly miserable...as much in prep as in play...but I've spoken of my disdain for unconstrained Divinations RaW in a few other posts and it is not relevant to this discussion of Fighters so I will leave this character out) and through levels 16 thru 24 this narrowed to 2 (characters 1 and 2 below...these being relevant to the discussion due to their martial roots and their subsequent branching and the impact on their relevance/potency by way of said branching). I will do my best to outline their respective Theme/Role in play, their Deployable Resources/Build Attributes and then I will examine the archetypes' respective mechanical framework, its impact on the game and end with obnoxious, Socratic rhetoric device.
* To head one concern off at the pass, both of these gamers are extraordinary tactical and strategic thinkers, devoutly committed to their favored archetypes, and understand precisely how to optimize for and accurately represent those archetypes through PC build resources. Lets get to it:
Character 1) Human Fighter/Rogue/Illusionist/Shadow Warrior Prestige Class (basically an amalgamation of a Fighter Rogue with limited shadow jump capabilities and Illusionist/Necromancy Spell progression).
Theme/Role in play
- As Batman as it gets in DnD (which was basically the archetype he was drawing upon). As he evolved he became a Swiss Army Knife, able to resolve virtually any situation and always having the right tool for the job:
6) Impossible to pin down Lurker
7) Devastating Nova...er (and would have surprise and catch enemies flat-footed perpetually - see below and above roles)
8) Master of subterfuge that could dictate when fights would occur, how they would occur and if they would even occur at all
Deployable Resources/Build Attributes
- At-Will dual wielding, multi-attacking, melee crit-factory with heavy sneak attack damage.
- Vancian Shadow Caster with all of your standard fair illusion and Necromancy spells up to 7th level. The character made extreme use of all of the Image line, the Invisibility line, the Alteration line and worse yet...the Shadow Conjuration line. The Necromancy line was standard fair, and potent to be sure, but he primarily made use of his Illusion spells. He primarily had Necromancy spells for ranged control/damage/AoE.
- Mediocre HPs/Defenses. However, this weakness is rendered obsolete when you are able to dictate most fights to your terms, you are wherever you wish to be, able to escape instantly when the fire is turned up, and you are able to render an enemy's action economy inert through illusory subterfuge and conjuration lockdown, and are more or less undetectable.
- Limited Use Shadow Jaunt.
Character 2) Elven Fighter/Ranger/Monk/Mage/Bladesinger - cheese factory
- As one would expect, this was your standard Elven Fighter/Mage archetype with a few levels of Ranger to round out the character archetype (Basically a Jedi/Shaolin Monk with a smattering of Legolas).
1) Lightly Armored Skirmisher
3) Secondary Scout
4) Serviceable Artillery (Archery line of feats)
5) Devastating Melee Burst Damage/Crit-Factory
Deployable Resources/Build Attributes
- At-Will blade flurrying, multi-attacking, melee crit-factory that made heavy use of Arcane Strike/Power Attack while Spellsonging True Strike and/or one of his few attack spells (Telekinesis or Magic Missle).
- Outrageous Armor Class and Defenses (Improved Expertise, High Dex and Int and Wisdom - Bladesong plus Monk, and an absurd number of buffs).
- Wizard Vancian Caster with the ability to cast 6th level wizard spells making primary use of the Abjuration line (buffs), the Illusion line (Displacement/Blink), Transmutation (Buffs/Slow/Telekinesis), Dimension Door and Magic Missle to Spellsong now and then.
- At-Will Multi-Shotting Artillery to harass targets at range.
Ok. Now onto the examination of the archetypes respective mechanical framework, its impact on the game and the obnoxious rhetoric. These characters began their arcane tracks at roughly the same level (7 and 8 respectively) applied to a strictly Martial platform.
- One of these character's spell lines (willfully done to create archetype) focused primarily on becoming an undetectable, enemy-action-denier (through conjurations and illusory subterfuge), infiltration master (proxy for Divination), guerrilla tactician who dictated the terms of almost all engagements (or if there even were to be any engagements). He was primarily an unstoppable Paper and fantastic Scissors (both of these being primarily due to his spell line but Scissors was also due to the synergy with his martial background) but he could be plenty Rock when required (primarily due to his spell line).
- One of these character's spell lines and class features (willfully done to create archetype) were constructed to make him a more potent melee combatant. These spell lines made him absurdly more powerful as said melee combatant than if he would have just retained his martial path at level 8 and continued on in Fighter or Ranger or Monk. He was Rock and Scissors through and through (intentionally so) but had absolutely no ability in the Paper arena. But what a Rock and Scissors he was.
Guess which of these two characters primarily moved the fiction (in a mechanical sense)? Guess which one of these two characters was the out of combat problem solver (via mechanics)? Guess which one of these two characters gave me sleepless nights trying to extrapolate how my plot points would be circumvented and my climactic combats would be rendered anti-climactic and dull? Which one of these two characters maps to the pinnacle of the mundane fighter and which one of these characters maps to...perhaps a mythical fighter?..and most importantly, how was this achieved within the PC build resources and within the game mechanics?