D&D 5E The Fighter/Martial Problem (In Depth Ponderings)


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ECMO3

Hero
If more people played to or started at post level 8 play, 80% of martials and 90% of fighters would hit the Ability score cap and specialize with their level 12 ASI.

I have played quite a bit above 8th level, including 2 full campaigns to 20th level and many more to 12-15th and I have never seen this. When I have seen people take PAM it is usually at low level, not at high level.

With experienced high level gamers the most common feat for fighters after strength or dex is maxed is undoubtedly resilient-wisdom. If you do not have this by 16th level you are going to have a very hard time playing a fighter, especially a melee fighter.

Specialization is also less incentivized at high-levls because magic becomes far more dominant. For example your 12 level feat, you have GWM that you took at 8th level and you are running around with a versatile Flame Tongue longsword. Do you really think this character is going to continue to specialize with PAM? He gets some benefit from GWM with his long sword (not a full feats worth), but getting more specialized would be foolish. He could take Slasher I suppose (and raise his 8 dex to 9), but then that feat is wasted if he picks up a Vorpal Short Sword or a hammer of thunderbolts a few levels later.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Just to reiterate

The 3 classes would look like this

Fighter
LevelClass FeatureCritical Bonus
1stFighting Style, Second Wind
2ndAction Surge
3rdMartial Archetype, Deadly Critical1d10
4thASI1d10
5thExtra Attack1d10

Weaponmaster
LevelClass FeatureCombat ManeuversDegree
1stFighting Style, Combat Maneuvers21st
2ndMaster Focus, Master's Legacy31st
3rdWeaponmaster Build31st
4thASI32nd
5thExtra Attack42nd

Gish

LevelClass FeatureCantrips knownSpells Known1st2nd3rd4th5th
1stFighting Style, Spell Casting, Weapon Bond121
2ndAegis232
3rdGish Archetype233
4thASI233
5thExtra Attack2442
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I have played quite a bit above 8th level, including 2 full campaigns to 20th level and many more to 12-15th and I have never seen this. When I have seen people take PAM it is usually at low level, not at high level.

With experienced high level gamers the most common feat for fighters after strength or dex is maxed is undoubtedly resilient-wisdom. If you do not have this by 16th level you are going to have a very hard time playing a fighter, especially a melee fighter.

Specialization is also less incentivized at high-levls because magic becomes far more dominant. For example your 12 level feat, you have GWM that you took at 8th level and you are running around with a versatile Flame Tongue longsword. Do you really think this character is going to continue to specialize with PAM? He gets some benefit from GWM with his long sword (not a full feats worth), but getting more specialized would be foolish. He could take Slasher I suppose (and raise his 8 dex to 9), but then that feat is wasted if he picks up a Vorpal Short Sword or a hammer of thunderbolts a few levels later.
Taking GWM is specialization.

That's the point. By level 8, at a table with magic weapons, you will have one. And now you can take feats for it.
Taking feats before level 8 is not the power move unless you are V-Human. Before level 12, it's a flavor choice.

  1. MAX STR or DEX
  2. Take Resilient Wisdom or Your Weapon feat
  3. Take whichever of Resilient Wisdom or Your Weapon feat that you didn't already take
  4. MAX STR or DEX or CON or take Skill Expert or Fighting Adept or Damage feat
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Taking GWM is specialization.

That's the point. By level 8, at a table with magic weapons, you will have one. And now you can take feats for it.
Taking feats before level 8 is not the power move unless you are V-Human. Before level 12, it's a flavor choice.

  1. MAX STR or DEX
  2. Take Resilient Wisdom or Your Weapon feat
  3. Take whichever of Resilient Wisdom or Your Weapon feat that you didn't already take
  4. MAX STR or DEX or CON or take Skill Expert or Fighting Adept or Damage feat

Feats are often better than an ASI.

Also depends on the situation and party make up. -5/+10 feats are trivially easy in some parties so 18 +feat is better than a 20.
 

Trasvi

Explorer
Be specific. What is something the game design clearly intends for fighters especially to do?
I can't remember what the specific term for it is, but there's a concept in game design where you put the pieces in front of the player and so long as they have a cursory understanding of the mechanics, the synergies and intended gameplay are obvious. You are playing a fighter, your class abilities revolve around attacks, -> the obvious intent is that you're supposed to be attacking.

When you roll stats, you're specialising in a certain subset of weapons. Melee for STR, Ranged/Finesse for DEX. The game explicitly tells you to make eone of the two your highest stat.

At lv1, you clhave to choose a Fighting Style. They're all presented equally as equivalent choices, and all bar 1 in thr phb enhance fighting with a particular subset of weapons, but you can only take one*. You're encouraged to specialise.

At lv4 you can choose a feat, and you read through and see that for most combinations of weapons there's an equivalent feat. They take what you're supposed to be doing (weilding weapons) and make you better at one of them. Theyre all presented as equal, and most of these are mutually exclusive. They also match well to your fighting style: and you think, if i take both ill be even better! If I team up Archery style with PAM, then I might be diverse...but at every stage you'll have a feature not being used. You're encouraged to specialise.

I say fighters especially because the increased # of feats guides you towards feats: it's supposed to compensate for low number of class abilities by letting you pick up weapon abilities.

If we then have people who have followed what the game design seems to be encouraging them to do, and then say "Wow what an idiot you fell in to the trap, shouldn't have overspecialised!"... the problem is with the game for allowing the trap, not with the player for doing what the game told them to do.


But it really sounds like your implication is broader than this - that you believe the game is designed such that a fighter that specializes in a weapon subset should be guaranteed to be better at fighting than a fighter that doesn't. That's why you think it's a trap if that doesn't occur. But the idea that's a trap is based on a presumption I don't find anywhere in the game design - not implicitly, not explicitly, not from developer communications, etc - that presumption being that fighters that take weapon specialization feats will be guaranteed to be overall better at fighting than those that don't.
Honestly yes. I don't think it needs to be said explicitly by a game designer. I think its so obvious that it's almost tautological.
It's part of the game contract with you: that if you have abilities, barring exceptional circumstances, you should be able to use them and use them effectively. Maybe not 100% of the time, but it should be the default.
Edit: to clarify, I'm not saying that PAM should unequivocally be better than any other given feat or asi; I'm saying that going from some baseline to that baseline + some other ability (feat, asi) should be an increase in power, so long as I'm doing something vaguely sensible with the build. Weapons feats are unique here because they cause some level of lock in with a different aspect of your character build.

I think that DMs should be very careful when negating or superseding a feature: if a player has effectively 'spent' part of their character on that feature, it should be contributing something to the game. If it somehow becomes optimal to do something other than that feature, its a bad frustrating feeling, especially if you cant spec out of that other thing. It can be something you use sparingly - eg flying enemies every now and then is interesting - but if you roll a STR fighter and encounter mostly flying enemies, that's a conscious choice by the dm to negate your features.

For things like GWM/PAM, they're not traps as such. They're so overturned and clearly superior to most other options that you probably SHOULD take them, but in doing so it locks you in to particular weapons and out of the "magic weapons" pillar of the game. Not the biggest deal, but again, frustrating to potentially be cut out part of that aspect of the game unless you want to sacrifice some of your power budget.


The particular example that sparked this tangent was a player who was obviously outwardly frustrated that their character was more effective using a magical mace than the polearm they had specialised in. If that was the case, then they have abilities that aren't doing anything, and fighter is short enough on abilities as is that losing any, as stated, frustrating for the player.
I'd say it goes so far as to be a failure of DMing if one player is obviously unhappy and the DM holds they keys to resolve the situation but refuses to.
 
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Trasvi

Explorer
The game does not encourage one fighting style or feat over others, and when it comest ot feats the game actually encourages ASIs.

It is not the game designers that encourage these hyper specialized builds, it is the white room optimizers.

It is not damage, but then damage is not the best metric of power. Casters have plenty of extremely powerful feats.

Metamagic adept is pretty darn powerful (although not spammable). I would say Warcaster is pretty close in terms of being an extremely powerful martial feat.

Really though Fey Touched is probably the most powerful feat in the game, letting a caster get an off-list spell, Misty Step, niether count against concentration cast it for free once and then spam it. Hex, Dissonant Whispers and Command being three awesome spells mechanically. Because Dissonant Whispers usually causes AOOs on a failed save it is a very effective spell from a damage point of view too.

Shadow Touched is also very good and with Cause Fear on a Fey Wanderer Ranger using a 2nd level slot it is borderline OP.

I would put any of those four feats up against PAM in terms of power, even if you get the unicorn Halberd or Glaive.

I know there are some great caster feats that are more powerful than others. That's not in dispute and isn't anywhere related to what I was
The issue is that the martial feats cause lock-in. You spend a portion of your characters power budget on a feat, you expect it to be useful for the rest of your characters build, and at some point it might not be, depending on what magic weapons are available. None of the caster feats you listed have that problem, where you may end up in a situation where the feat is no longer useful.


The most straightforward way is to change your build or change how you play regardless of the sunk cost in your build.

If your DM is not letting you change fighting styles at an ASI I would agree with you. But that is fundamentally different than altering the story and plot to focus on a choice you made on your character.

Choices are choices for a reason and putting a magic polearm in a room because I chose pole arm master is akin to making a Troll vulnerable to Radiant damage because I brought holy water with me instead of acid and oil.

Two examples from in actual campaigns -
1. we walked into a study and decided to search it instead of going straight to the next room. The BBEG in the next room heard us (or maybe he was told by his familiar) in any case he escaped with the loot, we weren't abole to bring him to justice, the bad guys won that day. Shoudl the DM have fudged this and just had him attack us instead so we could have the climactic battle and go back to the town heroes?

2. My Artificer walked into a room without checking it for traps, she sprung a trap became paralyzed, enemies came out and over the course of 2 rounds was killed dead and other party members could not get to her. This was the lowest point in my 5E playing career. It was worse than the two other characters that died. Should the DM have just changed it up somehow so I would have survived.
I don't think these examples are related at all to what I was discussing.

3. The PCs were all captured and stripped of their gear (this actually has happened to me twice). In one of those we escaped through the sewer without gear and my Rogue was running around attacking enemies with a broken longsword hilt we found (as an improvised weapon). Should there have been a Rapier lying in the sewer muck so he could sneak attack?

These kinds of things, and giving a PC a specific item for no reason, would make the choices you make trivial. It would take it from shared storytelling to DM story telling and it would not be as fun IMO.
Prison break scenarios are one of the few situations where denying character abilities can be fun, with the understanding that it's not a permanent condition. And tbh yes, I would have the 1st or 2nd group you encounter during the break have a dagger that the rogue could take if you defeat them with the sword hilt, because that seems imminently reasonable.



I know I brought it up initially, the weapon trap problem isn't that bad. It's a small annoyance, that only happens if you get a magic item so good that it can overcome your other advantages; it's just one more problem that affects martials and not casters; and its something that will rear its head again with Weapon Mastery in OneDnD.
I brought it up in the context of someones story of a player that was obviously unhappy with how their character was working, for a considerable time. As a DM, regardless of the source, if a player is unhappy with their play experience inwould be something that I would work with them to resolve if possible.
 
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Trasvi

Explorer
The game designers did encourage these hyper specialized builds with these unbalanced feats.

It's just that 90% of campaigns end, collapse, or is wrapping up before specialization becomes incentivized.

If more people played to or started at post level 8 play, 80% of martials and 90% of fighters would hit the Ability score cap and specialize with their level 12 ASI.

Honestly PAM and GWM are at the most powerful in the early game. Even at lv4, it provides a consistent use of bonus action AND a relatively reliable reaction, for +100-200% damage. Dueling PAM is legit.
Even better, it starts letting you have a fun turn early on. Instead of "I hit it with my sword, next player", it's "I stab it with my spear, I whip around and bash with the blunt end, and i set to defend so I can stab the next one who approaches". It's not just a white room power build, it's a fun build.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Honestly PAM and GWM are at the most powerful in the early game. Even at lv4, it provides a consistent use of bonus action AND a relatively reliable reaction, for +100-200% damage. Dueling PAM is legit.
Even better, it starts letting you have a fun turn early on. Instead of "I hit it with my sword, next player", it's "I stab it with my spear, I whip around and bash with the blunt end, and i set to defend so I can stab the next one who approaches". It's not just a white room power build, it's a fun build.
Nah.
TWF with a ASI is better than PAM alone at low level. And GWM doesn't come to power until you have a high bonus or reliable source of advantage.

If you don't have that reliable accuracy buff or high stats, PAM/GWM isn't worth it.
 

Trasvi

Explorer
Nah.
TWF with a ASI is better than PAM alone at low level. And GWM doesn't come to power until you have a high bonus or reliable source of advantage.

If you don't have that reliable accuracy buff or high stats, PAM/GWM isn't worth it.
That doesn't contradict what I said... I didn't say pam was the best, but it was at its best, because proportionally its giving the most extra attacks.
Even so it doesnt end up much behind twf, duelling giving a good damage bonus on your butt attacks, and its ahead if you can pull off the reaction once or twice per combat. Plus duelling gets the shield, which is nice.
Plus the whole thing about giving you more to do during the combat round.

Edit. Probably right about GWM though, I'll need to match out when it gets really good.
 
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