D&D General The Linear Fighter/Quadratic Wizard Problem

Celebrim

Legend
B) All martial classes in D&D need to be skill monkeys.

The traditional model of class archetypes is fighter, skill-money, and spell caster. Each of these three has generally been seen as occupying equal design space and offering equal utility. And in a hypothetical system that might well be true, but it’s definitely never been true of D&D. D&D has always been very conservative in its skill design and unwilling to make them important to the game, while at the same time hard punishing skill-monkeys by making them pay high prices for access to skills. The longer the game goes the more this has become true. If you roll the game back to 1e, the fighter gained more NWP than any other class, extending how it was advantaged in almost every aspect of the game over every other class.

Conversely, D&D has never been especially conservative in its spell design and been very willing to make them important to the game. Even in 5e where the power and scope of magic has been drastically toned down, the legacy of that still means powerful spells and weak skills. Spell casters in D&D are neither weak in combat nor weak in skill. Instead, they excel in both. Indeed, they tend to not even have to pay a large price in access to skills in exchange for spell power, as Wizards for example are as likely as not to have robust access to intellectual and knowledge-based skills, meaning that even as mundane skill monkeys they are quite useful.

Fighters conversely are seen as good at fighting and nothing else, and fighting is not seen as skillful. Fighters are seen as properly dominating “the one thing they are good at” a phrase that makes me want to pull my hair out. Fighters are not good at one thing. Fighters are filled with martial prowess and martial prowess goes well beyond just winning a fist fight. It’s just that the areas that it extends into were not seen as skills when the 3e design team decide what D&D skills were, mostly because they were trying to translate the thief of 1e into a skill system. They didn’t pause to consider whether being a fighter also meant a bundle of skills, and unlike the wizard the fighter didn’t inherit a skill set because the design team never considered it or if they considered it they decided it would be too complex to implement.

As a result, what we’ve seen over the years is things that properly ought to be a part of martial class skills tend to become class abilities that the base or core martial classes then don’t have access to.

What then are some of these things that are part of martial prowess that didn’t become part of the lexicon of D&D skills?

As some examples:

Porter: The skill of bearing weight without encumbrance.
Running: The skill of moving fast.
Endurance: The skill of continuing in the face of hardship.
Tactics: The skill of understanding the nature of combat and how to gain a marginal advantage over the opponent.
Command or Leadership: The skill of providing encouragement, organizing groups, and providing helpful advice in stressful situations.
Demolition: Breaking things

That’s six skills on the fighter’s skill list! Maybe not all of those things are best served up as skills, but they could be. And all of those things are well within the idea of some having martial prowess. Indeed, they are things still taught to modern soldiers in addition to the skill of wielding a weapon. They are in fact probably as important to being a good soldier as the ability to protect yourself in combat. If you arrive to the battle without gear and fatigued, and with no understanding of what you need to do and no organization, you probably aren’t going to be very good to anyone even if you can shoot your weapon effectively.

But these things, so basic to martial prowess have come to be seen as so far outside the purview of the fighter that we’ve seen the creation of actual classes like Warlord that take over the entire field of martial skillfulness and silo it away from a fighter. Then people complain that fighters are just big dumb brutes as if we haven’t stripped them of all else.

A fighter needs to not only have enough skills to be skilled at a good portion of that list, they need a few left over for other things that a fighter might be good at like being alert, riding a hose, being stealthy, or being intimidating or any of the other things that a fighter might conceivably have in his background. A fighter is indeed just as much of a skill monkey as a rogue, the focus or concentration of abilities just differs a bit.

If this isn’t the case, then there will be no balance between martial classes and spell-casters. The martial classes must have broad out of combat utility and must bring things to the table in terms of skillfulness that they can shine in where the academic wizard perhaps can’t.
 

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Zardnaar

Legend
Problem is magic is ermmagiv fights can't really do that without a subclass that has explicitly magical or supernatural explainations.

And you can't really fix it without accusations of thatts not D&D. Everything keyed off short rests/encounters would do it but the daily thing is a huge part of product identity by now.

Building a better fighter eg more skills, saves, feats or access to supernatural abilities is fine though imho. As long as it fits the in game logic eg has a reason it has those abilities eg Eldritch Knight, divine bloodline, psychic etc.
 

Having played every edition except OD&D, I've seldom seen the complaints that most have made about the rift between the martials and casters. In BECMI and AD&D, casters were slow to level, often being 2 or even 3 levels behind the rogue, and as mentioned the HP were a huge problem for survivability. 3E was were the issues were notable, but since my group at the time tended towards casters (including ranger and paladin), it didn't come up as often as it could have. 4E was the perfect balance between them, which was part of the reason some hated it.

5E's disparity largely consists of the fact that the expected for of game (resource attrition) is not the most common form of play. Everyone uses skills as the primary method of resolving social and exploration encounters, but casters have the additional option of spending a limited resource to help. If the party is performing the expected number of encounters, these resources will dwindle until they're no better than anyone else outside of combat, and less useful in combat. Instead, in most games the casters can use some spell slots to help in non-combat situations, then still have plenty of spell slots left to nova in the 1-2 combats they face before a long rest. The solution requires a method of draining spell resources to match the expected amount of overall encounters for an adventuring day, but this either allows the casters to dominate non-combat encounters or artificially limits resources for no in-world reason. Adding an additional skill or two to all martials would help alleviate this, since they'd generally be more helpful in non-combat situations without spending resources (which is generally what martials are supposed to do).
 

Celebrim

Legend
5E's disparity largely consists of the fact that the expected for of game (resource attrition) is not the most common form of play.

In my experience, it's very hard to dictate play according to an expected number of encounters per day. If the party is travelling, they might have 0-3 combats in a day depending on how deep into the wilderness they are, but more than that is going to strain credulity. If the part is in a town, there tends to be single big combats as opposing forces are confronted, but rarely is there a reason for multiple combats. And in a dungeon, you have to have some reason why the party keeps pushing forward despite diminishing resources. If you are going for a natural organic play style all sorts of different things will turn up. And this shows up even in WotC's adventure designs. They don't have a forced number of encounters per day all the time.

So if you are building parity on the expectation that a spellcaster can only spend a small portion of their spells on a combat, you're basically lying to yourself.

There is an even more subtle thing going on here that is equally bad. Martials tend to have unlimited access to their abilities as opposed to spells tending to be 'once a day sort of thing' So in theory crafting you might think that the ability to do something all the time is better than the ability to do it once. But it turns out that in a typical adventuring day you probably only encounter one need for stealth, or one need to climb, or one need to search things. If a spell caster can cheaply and effectively do that one thing for the cost of a spell, then it turns out that the skill has no use. This for example was a major problem in 2e, where the thief skills were less reliable and less useful than spider climb, invisibility, find traps, clairaudience and so forth. The amount of utility in all the thief skills in a typical day was typically smaller than the number of slots you'd have as a caster. So it was almost always an upgrade to replace the thief with another caster, choose a few utility spells and then have utility left over for other things the thief would be useless dealing with.

So in short, not only do you need martials to be good skill monkeys, but you need to try to write spells such that they enhance skills rather than replace them.
 

If a spell caster can cheaply and effectively do that one thing for the cost of a spell, then it turns out that the skill has no use. This for example was a major problem in 2e, where the thief skills were less reliable and less useful than spider climb, invisibility, find traps, clairaudience and so forth. The amount of utility in all the thief skills in a typical day was typically smaller than the number of slots you'd have as a caster. So it was almost always an upgrade to replace the thief with another caster, choose a few utility spells and then have utility left over for other things the thief would be useless dealing with.

So in short, not only do you need martials to be good skill monkeys, but you need to try to write spells such that they enhance skills rather than replace them.

That last sentence is often exactly the problem - in many campaigns, non-magical attempts have significant penalties for failure or absurd requirements strapped onto them. Picking a lock and failing to unlock it permanently makes future attempts harder. Doors which are barred can't be non-magically unlocked at all. So on and so forth. Meanwhile Knock requires no check and bypasses the barrier regardless of type or DC. Pass without a Trace doesn't just give advantage on Stealth, it gives a +10, which Stacks with all other bonuses, taking even the most mediocre of results well outside of passive perception range for most foes. Climbing can get you over to the other side of the ravine, eventually, albeit with check after check for each round of movement, and a failure means you fall and likely die. A fly speed will get you there with zero hassles in but a moment's time.

It is often the case that magic will completely oblivate the need for a check, or provide such strong bonuses as to render the check effectively meaningless. Conversely, when a non-magical attempt is even allowed on a magical puzzle At All (like a Rogue picking a magical lock) it's often Exceedingly difficult and unlikely to succeed. It's like while writing spells they were thinking about the puzzles non-magical characters might encounter and had the song 'Anything you can do I can do better' running through their head.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
In my experience, it's very hard to dictate play according to an expected number of encounters per day. If the party is travelling, they might have 0-3 combats in a day depending on how deep into the wilderness they are, but more than that is going to strain credulity.
That's why the lesser sin in my opinion is just to give long rests only after 6-8 encounters, whether that's after 1 day or 1 month of in-fiction time. When the options are 1) let the PC's run roughshod over the game by not balancing the encounters right, 2) having 6-8 encounters in every 24 hour adventuring day, or 3) having long rests occur after the requisite number of encounters, number 3 seems to be the lesser crime.
 

Undrave

Hero
I'd say the Fighter's relatively fine, it's the WIZARD that continues to be the problem, and not just in relation with the Fighter in particular: it's also a problem when relating to other spell casters. The Wizard is too loose of a concept. At this point, the only thing that seems to define a Wizard are that it has lots of spells and has a spell book.

When you try to homebrew a new class, there will always be someone to tell you to not invent a new class just to fit a mechanic... the Wizard is barely above naked mechanic. If you take away the spell book feature and just abstract its spell slots progression as 'can cast spells' what are you left with exactly? Nothing but a vague 'book smart' thing? Something that could be applied to ANY character class?

The Wizard needs to be rebuilt as an interesting class without the undercurrent of 'the Best Spellcaster' that actually exist, barely hidden in the Wizard's design. It's abilities need to be reined in and limited, because its vaunted flexibility is more a liability than a character trait.
 

Undrave

Hero
That’s six skills on the fighter’s skill list! Maybe not all of those things are best served up as skills, but they could be. And all of those things are well within the idea of some having martial prowess. Indeed, they are things still taught to modern soldiers in addition to the skill of wielding a weapon. They are in fact probably as important to being a good soldier as the ability to protect yourself in combat. If you arrive to the battle without gear and fatigued, and with no understanding of what you need to do and no organization, you probably aren’t going to be very good to anyone even if you can shoot your weapon effectively.
They do say that good logistics win wars. We've seen what happened early on in Ukraine when it was revealed that all the maintenance money of the Russian army was embezzeled away by rich oligarchs.
But these things, so basic to martial prowess have come to be seen as so far outside the purview of the fighter that we’ve seen the creation of actual classes like Warlord that take over the entire field of martial skillfulness and silo it away from a fighter. Then people complain that fighters are just big dumb brutes as if we haven’t stripped them of all else.
I've been saying for a while that the Warlord should just eat the Fighter and steel his name because the Warlord is more in line with the Fighting Man of old who could command troops (or just keep Warlord because it's a cooler name than 'Fighter' who is way too generic :p). The much vaunted 'Simple Fighter' that's apparently SO popular and SO essential to 'real D&D' should just either be its own independant thing or be absorbed by the Barbarian who is already the 'Hit things hard with a big stick' class anyway.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
That's why the lesser sin in my opinion is just to give long rests only after 6-8 encounters, whether that's after 1 day or 1 month of in-fiction time. When the options are 1) let the PC's run roughshod over the game by not balancing the encounters right, 2) having 6-8 encounters in every 24 hour adventuring day, or 3) having long rests occur after the requisite number of encounters, number 3 seems to be the lesser crime.

Thedesign of having PCS being based to endure 6-8 encounters was a mistake. It is design assumption from a different time with simpler encounters, Restrictive spellcasting, and longer sessions.

Perhaps the spell per day tables and long rest features, could be modified for a 4-6 or 3-4 base assumption.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
I don't feel that there is a strong in game universe explanation for why you can't repeat a mundane effect all the time.

I don't feel that there is a strong in game universe explanation for why fighters should be untiring robots who can repeat exactly the same effect all the time.

I think it's a bit funny that while you apparently have opposite ideas here, there are actually already mechanics in 5e which could work for both of you.

One of them is second wind, which isn't exactly mundane but it's also not magical either. While I had myself a lot of serious issues with 4e martial powers, second wind never bothered me in the first place even if limited, because to me it sounds very reasonable that it requires a short rest to recharge, as the narrative is somewhat tied to fatigue. I think this is one of the key narrative devices that can be used to create usage-limited non-magical abilities that don't break suspension of disbelief. Similarly, combat superiority works for me because you have a pool of resources you can freely use to activate your maneuvers in any combination you want, and depleting the pool feels pretty much like getting tired. But a mechanic where a specific flying kick can be used exactly once per short rest and another shoving attack can also separately be used exactly once per short rest totally doesn't work for me in terms of getting tired.

But then as you say, another possible narrative device could be "you can't fool me twice". And here an example we already have in 5e is dragons' frightful presence. If it works, it works only once every 24 hours against the same target, or otherwise it fails and still can't be used against it for another 24 hours. This idea could help make credible even some individual tricks, but it's important that the narrative backs it up strongly to make it work.
 

Hussar

Legend
Funny thing is that 2e got around the issue simply by making fighters so much more powerful. A fairly big standard fighter at second level could solo an ogre with no problems. It’s unlikely the ogre would live more than a single round.

You want to fix the LFQW issue? Triple fighter damage.

Done. Now fighters are easily as powerful as any caster and are probably the go to classes for players.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Overall, if D&D's tradition is 9 levels of powerful spells, the ultimate solution to the Linear Fighter problem is to

  • List each aspect of the fighter
  • Scale each aspect to from Tier 1 to Tier 4
  • Allow DMs to ban an aspect that doesn't match their campaign, setting, or liking
  • Allow players to choose any aspect still allowed.

Or in big dumb dumb language. Create a seperate feat-like sub-system for martials that scales the same way as spells.

For example, let's steal terminology from 4e: Exploits

  1. Might Exploits- Focuses on feats of Strength and Power
  2. Agility Exploits- Focuses on feats of Dexterity and Speed
  3. Toughness Exploits - Focuses on feats of Constitution and Endurance
  4. Melee Weapon Exploits -Focuses on skill with melee weapons
  5. Ranged Weapon Exploits -Focuses on feats of ranged weapons
  6. Armor Exploits -Focuses on skill with armor
  7. Tactics Exploits -Focuses on Intelligence and Planning
  8. Leadership Exploits -Focuses on Charisma and Morale
And if you doesn't like the fighter chucking orges around like ragdolls, the DM bans Might Exploits. And the player can choose Melee Weapon Exploits and just cut the ogre's head off with a sword.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Done. Now fighters are easily as powerful as any caster and are probably the go to classes for players.

Honestly, I don't think it is mostly a combat problem at all. To the extent that it is a combat problem, it's mostly a color problem. If a fighter is still just swinging a big pointy stick round after round but doing triple damage, you still have all the worst problems with the design of the game going on.
 

Zubatcarteira

Now you're infected by the Musical Doodle
It does feel like spells are on a big pedestal and that they treat it as a very special thing, they're the only system that truly scales with levels and such (say, if there's a magic disease, it can say it needs a 6th level Heal or similar spell to cure it, even though there are non-spell disease curing abilities in the game, you just won't know if a Lay on Hands could work or not).

I was looking at it the other day, on the "tiers of play" part of the DMG, where it talks about the amazing abilities that you unlock as you level up that let you change the world around you. At tier 1, you get some weaker spells and normal items. At tier 2, you get some cool spells and magic items. Tier 3, cool spells and magic items. Tier 4? Cool spells and magic items. It's talking about the abilities that can definite the game, and it's all spellcasters or whatever the DM decides to give you for items, no one is gonna pretend that Brutal Critical or Indomidable will definite how the campaign is played.

But the tier 4 part also talks about level 20. A Cleric can ascend to the heavens and become their god's right hand. A Warlock could straight up become a patron for other Warlocks. A Wizard becomes immortal and expends eons exploring the multiverse. A Druid becomes one with nature and turns into a spirit of the land. The other classes aren't even mentioned by name, but the rest can't really compare to the above . . .
 

Celebrim

Legend
I've been saying for a while that the Warlord should just eat the Fighter and steel his name because the Warlord is more in line with the Fighting Man of old who could command troops (or just keep Warlord because it's a cooler name than 'Fighter' who is way too generic :p). The much vaunted 'Simple Fighter' that's apparently SO popular and SO essential to 'real D&D' should just either be its own independant thing or be absorbed by the Barbarian who is already the 'Hit things hard with a big stick' class anyway.

I don't think this is an either/or sort of issue. By the principle that "Feats are a fighter's spells" the same "Fighting Man" class ought to be able to build tank like brutes and cunning warlords and every combination thereof. If your had a Tactics skill in the game that fighters could be proficient in, even if I didn't take a bunch of Feats that focused my combat around the support I could give to my party and the advantages of my intelligence in combat, my fighter still could outline a battle strategy in that scene where we helping the garrison resist the siege of the orc army even though he's not normally played as a 'warlord'. This would actually be on point with how Conan is presented in the books for example. Conan doesn't normally lead, but when he's pushed into that roll he finds that the knowledge he's picked up from countless battles is useful.

The idea that I'm trying to fight against is something we've seen creep into the game since 3e, which is that martial classes are defined by really narrow concepts like "Pirate" or "Chain Wielder" or "Warlord" and they do that one thing that they do, but spellcasters do everything.
 

dave2008

Legend
f) If you want real balance, spell-casters need to be made to feel the pain.

What those principles mean is by no means obvious. I’ll delve into the first of them in the next post.
I almost started a thread a few days ago that the purpose was to suggest the fix to martial / caster balance was to make casters squishy again. I was going to suggest at least return them back to d4 HD. Then I realized that was only 1/2 the issue and decided not to explore it further.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
It does feel like spells are on a big pedestal and that they treat it as a very special thing, they're the only system that truly scales with levels and such (say, if there's a magic disease, it can say it needs a 6th level Heal or similar spell to cure it, even though there are non-spell disease curing abilities in the game, you just won't know if a Lay on Hands could work or not).

I was looking at it the other day, on the "tiers of play" part of the DMG, where it talks about the amazing abilities that you unlock as you level up that let you change the world around you. At tier 1, you get some weaker spells and normal items. At tier 2, you get some cool spells and magic items. Tier 3, cool spells and magic items. Tier 4? Cool spells and magic items. It's talking about the abilities that can definite the game, and it's all spellcasters or whatever the DM decides to give you for items, no one is gonna pretend that Brutal Critical or Indomidable will definite how the campaign is played.

But the tier 4 part also talks about level 20. A Cleric can ascend to the heavens and become their god's right hand. A Warlock could straight up become a patron for other Warlocks. A Wizard becomes immortal and expends eons exploring the multiverse. A Druid becomes one with nature and turns into a spirit of the land. The other classes aren't even mentioned by name, but the rest can't really compare to the above . . .
Well that's the issue.

A percentage of the fandom want a cap on where people can go without magic. So therefore in this model, the fighter and other martial classes would be defined in Tier 3 and 4 by magic items.

However a percentage of the fandom don't want to be forced to give martials 1 legendary and 3 very rare magic items of their choice.
 

Hussar

Legend
Honestly, I don't think it is mostly a combat problem at all. To the extent that it is a combat problem, it's mostly a color problem. If a fighter is still just swinging a big pointy stick round after round but doing triple damage, you still have all the worst problems with the design of the game going on.
Meh, we know how to fix the problem. 4e did it. It fixed the problem completely. To the point where you could have an entire group of non-casters and play would have zero problems. There's no "need a spell level X to fix a problem" in 4e.

But, of course, we're not allowed to have fighters or fighter types like that, so, we keep spinning our wheels trying to fix a problem with all these different solutions, none of which actually work.

You cannot balance a game where you have fundamentally two different games being played at the same table. It's irreconcilable. So, we either accept it (as 5e has done) or we fix it (which is what 4e and various other games which grant all sorts of meta-game power to the players to offset their lack of in-game power).

But, ultimately, until everyone at the table is playing the same game, there is no way to fix this.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Meh, we know how to fix the problem. 4e did it. It fixed the problem completely.

LOL. Ok.

To the point where you could have an entire group of non-casters and play would have zero problems.

There were no non-casters in 4e. There were just casters skinned in various ways.

There's no "need a spell level X to fix a problem" in 4e.

Arguably, because the exploration pillar was removed from 4e.

Look some of us don't have this problem in 3e. The idea that the 4e "fix" is the only solution just means you haven't played very many different ways.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
I'd say the Fighter's relatively fine, it's the WIZARD that continues to be the problem, and not just in relation with the Fighter in particular: it's also a problem when relating to other spell casters. The Wizard is too loose of a concept. At this point, the only thing that seems to define a Wizard are that it has lots of spells and has a spell book.

When you try to homebrew a new class, there will always be someone to tell you to not invent a new class just to fit a mechanic... the Wizard is barely above naked mechanic. If you take away the spell book feature and just abstract its spell slots progression as 'can cast spells' what are you left with exactly? Nothing but a vague 'book smart' thing? Something that could be applied to ANY character class?

The Wizard needs to be rebuilt as an interesting class without the undercurrent of 'the Best Spellcaster' that actually exist, barely hidden in the Wizard's design. It's abilities need to be reined in and limited, because its vaunted flexibility is more a liability than a character trait.
A liability to the rest of the game, not to the wizard's player, who is probably fine with it. If your solution is to take toys away, you're going to face an uphill battle.
 

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