D&D General The Linear Fighter/Quadratic Wizard Problem

Undrave

Hero
I don't believe that there is a "I just want to attack" class. I don't think that's a class concept. I don't think that's a character concept. "I want to be a master of weapons" is better, but hardly sufficient. For that to be sufficient the whole game just has to be about combat with no exploration, no social interaction and intrigue, etc. Or else the things that aren't combat have to be so trivial that you can get away with having one member of the party useless in everything that isn't combat.
Mind you, I don’t believe so either, but whenever you try to add interesting systems to the base Fighter we get told by a certain faction of fans that the game NEEDS the Champion and it’s SUPER popular. That we need a Fighter for the guy who’s favorite gameplay loop is “I attack that guy!” or the newcomers who need a simple class. We’re told that character ABSOLUTELY needs to be named ‘the Fighter’ for no discernable reason (and that Barbarian Rages are SOOOO complicated). We’re told that the archetype of the weapon master has to be dumbed down as much as possible and be super simple, that the level of mechanical engagement you want with the game has to be dictated by your archetype. Spellcasters are for the SMART and SERIOUS and EXPERT gamers you know?
You need to have a class that can cover everything from being a pirate to a courtly knight. And that's not that hard. That's just selection of skills and feats with the core idea of, I'm a competent warrior in every respect. Because both those characters as they level up can transition into being lords. The pirate is captain of his own ship. The courtly knight gets a castle and retrainers and an army. You don't want a class that is forced into being a lackey - some more important figures meat shield. If the player wants to go that way, then fine but that's not what the Fighter class should be designed for.
Some type of pirates could totally be Swashbucklers. That said, I think an aspiring Pirate Captain is a fine Warlord concept. That’s why I’ve suggested that the Warlord just take back it’s original role as the Fighter. Stab the remnant of the 3.x Fighter (AKA Mister Pile-o-Feats) and wear its name. The Fighter should be good at synergizing with other combatants and have skills that lead them to leadership and inspiring roles.

Now, I don’t think of a 4e Defender style character as a lackey and I think that type of support, someone who can grab the enemies’ attention and keep them in place, should totally exist (playing a 4e Defender is its own type of tactical challenge that can be pretty fun!). I think it’s possible to design a class that would exist on a spectrum between a full on Defender (call him ‘The Sentienl’ or ‘The Bodyguard’) and the Lazylord. I don’t know if you could build such a character with the weighted 5e Fighter as a skeleton, I think it’s too weighted toward multiple attacks and has little room for utility and tactical abilities. There’s a lot of concession made to let the 5e Fighter turn into the Champion at level 3. Maybe if the Fighter’s subclass just kicked in at level 1 it would be possible?
As for your spell lists, I think you are using legitimately bad design to justify more bad design.
It's not MY spell lists, that's the 5e designers' spell list. And I don't think it's bad design to restrict what spells are available to certain class to enforce a thematic feel. And unique spells can really spice up a spell list to make characters more uniques.
Like what if my player comes to me and says, "I want to play Elsa". In my system, I say, "Great. You want to be a natural Cryomancer. Get a sorcerer. Take the Frigid bloodline. Take the Elemental Mastery feat and choose 'Cold' as your element. Take Spellcasting Prodigy as your trait, and then pick up any spells that you think complement your cold theme. When you do magic, we'll flavor it as if everything you are doing is ice based. So like when you cast Mage Armor, we'll flavor that as you are covering your body with ice in response to attacks."

But if have the same player come in and I have 5e, well "Wall of Ice" and "Freezing Sphere" is exclusive to the Wizard list for who only knows what reason.
That said, yeah, 5e doesn’t support elemental themed character that well. Except maybe if you’ll looking for Radiant, Fire or Lightning damage (Clerics, Sorcerers AND Barbarians all have a storm themed subclass!)

I can't answer that with knowing how much design space your 20 classes cover. What your system should be going for is covering basically any type of character concept that player brings to the table that fits with your fantasy theme. And if your 20 1-2 page classes do that, then great. But my suspicion is that either the classes will be so narrow that you are just fitting into one of 20 inflexible archetypes, or else that your system is so generic that everyone is using the same mechanics with different color, or both.
I was pulling numbers out of my ass, I dunno what that would look like, but the point is that there's more than one way to streamline a system and it's all very subjective.
 

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Celebrim

Legend
Mind you, I don’t believe so either, but whenever you try to add interesting systems to the base Fighter we get told by a certain faction of fans that the game NEEDS the Champion and it’s SUPER popular. That we need a Fighter for the guy who’s favorite gameplay loop is “I attack that guy!” or the newcomers who need a simple class. We’re told that character ABSOLUTELY needs to be named ‘the Fighter’ for no discernable reason (and that Barbarian Rages are SOOOO complicated). We’re told that the archetype of the weapon master has to be dumbed down as much as possible and be super simple, that the level of mechanical engagement you want with the game has to be dictated by your archetype. Spellcasters are for the SMART and SERIOUS and EXPERT gamers you know?

WotC says a lot of dumb things. I've been arguing with MaRo for like 20 years now.

Some type of pirates could totally be Swashbucklers.

Pirates can literally be any class, which is why you want to be able to build them out of configurable pieces.

The Fighter should be good at synergizing with other combatants and have skills that lead them to leadership and inspiring roles.

If people want, then sure. I mean Leadership is literally a skill in my homebrew, and one of the few class abilities that Fighters have that isn't a bonus feat is a bonus to the Tactics skill when working with others. So I feel we are on the same page on everything except your insistence in maintaining your one idea of what a class can be.

You don't need all these classes to do the things you are asking for in battlefield control, defending allies, providing leadership and so forth. You are literally describing one class, and the only difference between characters is where you weight and focus your particular build. We don't need Warlords, Defenders, and 45 other martial classes splitting up what a fighter can do into this little narrow niches. That's literally the opposite of what this thread is about.

In practice you rarely see that narrowed themed crap from a spellcasting class. I mentioned someone wants to play "Elsa" but in my experience the biggest problem with those concepts is that the classes are so broad and the goodies so tempting that invariably the player eventually dips outside of the original concept to pick up new cool powers in the form of spells that don't quite fit the concept. Imagine that being a fighter was that wonderful, that you started out with, "I'm going to be an archer", and then after a while you were like, "Oh, and I'm going to be a Swashbuckler", and then after a while you were like, "But I'm also a Warlord", and you are at that point only like 9th level.

It's not MY spell lists, that's the 5e designers' spell list.

And as much as I respect what the 5e designers were trying to do with the edition, they made tons of mistakes and did tons of really short sighted things.

And unique spells can really spice up a spell list to make characters more uniques.

Spellcaster have almost no problems feeling unique because they have 100's of spells to choose from to define their particular thing. Every spellcaster is going to end up slightly different, and the more open your spell lists are the more that is going to be true. The only reason to silo spells is to avoid classes that can do literally everything, as for example keeping healing magic out of the wizard list and big splashy things largely out of the cleric list. But sorcerers and wizards have no problem feeling different, and can largely have the same spell list and still feel really different. There are only a handful of spells on my list that can't be cast by multiple classes, because the test is "Is there a good reason NOT to have this spell available to all classes?"

That said, yeah, 5e doesn’t support elemental themed character that well.

5e barely supports any character concepts. On some levels it is a wonderfully elegant system and on other levels it's just absolutely terrible. If you want to build a 5e character and you don't know the system at all, you don't start with a concept because if you do you are just going to be frustrated. Instead, you go look at the list of things you are allowed do and you pick one.

I was pulling numbers out of my ass, I dunno what that would look like, but the point is that there's more than one way to streamline a system and it's all very subjective.

Yeah, but it's not that subjective. You've already set some reasonable standard - fewer pages is all other things being equal better than more pages.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
You don't need all these classes to do the things you are asking for in battlefield control, defending allies, providing leadership and so forth. You are literally describing one class, and the only difference between characters is where you weight and focus your particular build. We don't need Warlords, Defenders, and 45 other martial classes splitting up what a fighter can do into this little narrow niches. That's literally the opposite of what this thread is about.
Except you do because the class called 'fighter' isn't allowed to do that. They have to be weaker than the man at the gym and so simple you can drown their class features in a bath tub.

So we need a Not Fighter to do the things a fighter should.
 

Undrave

Hero
If people want, then sure. I mean Leadership is literally a skill in my homebrew, and one of the few class abilities that Fighters have that isn't a bonus feat is a bonus to the Tactics skill when working with others. So I feel we are on the same page on everything except your insistence in maintaining your one idea of what a class can be.
It’s just that I think that, when designing a class, it’s much better to start with a strong foundation. You start with one archetypical guy with a clear concept and goal, an idea of what that character would look like in play, build that guy to have solid mechanics… And THEN you work backward to find all the spots where you can branch off. Like building a tree or something.

You have a trunk in the middle that’s solid and you hook branches onto it and then more branches from there until you get a full healthy tree.

Sometimes you can realize your tree is getting too big and could collapse so you spin it off into another tree. And sometimes you realize you can’t find more branches so you might be better off seeing if you can attach it to an existing tree.

If you just start from a bunch of disparate ideas with no real plan, you end up with the Ranger or the Monk: just a bunch of vaguely thematic features with no coherence or synergy.

The 5e Fighter’s ‘trunk’ is just the guy that goes ‘I attack faster and faster in one round then spend my action surge to attack again and then that one guy’s dead’. While I think the trunk should be the Squire-Knight-General-Lord pipeline. Once you have figured out how that Knight works, you can start working out what parts you can trade for damage to make the other guy or what parts you can trade for more leadership abilities, or maybe some spells, or Psionic powers.

So, when I discuss a class’ design I tend to think in terms of a core archetype, and not specifically what each and every single version of the character with that class should be like. When I say I want the Fighter to be the Warlord in disguise, I just mean that they should figure out how to make an interesting battlefield commander before they simplify him into the Champion or turn him into an Eldtrich Knight for people who want to play the Fighter that way.

Yeah, but it's not that subjective. You've already set some reasonable standard - fewer pages is all other things being equal better than more pages
Yeah, having less page is simpler (is simpler always BETTER? Now that's subjective...) but the way to get to fewer page isn't a one size fit-all thing, hence why it's subjective.
Spellcaster have almost no problems feeling unique because they have 100's of spells to choose from to define their particular thing. Every spellcaster is going to end up slightly different, and the more open your spell lists are the more that is going to be true. The only reason to silo spells is to avoid classes that can do literally everything, as for example keeping healing magic out of the wizard list and big splashy things largely out of the cleric list. But sorcerers and wizards have no problem feeling different, and can largely have the same spell list and still feel really different. There are only a handful of spells on my list that can't be cast by multiple classes, because the test is "Is there a good reason NOT to have this spell available to all classes?"
The problem is that some spells just end up way better than other. Have you ever played a 5e Cleric? You have to basically self-nerf yourself to stand out because the good options are just SO good compared to the fun but weak options. You're level 1 with +2 WIS and it's like "Oh, I might want a ranged option so I should pick up the ONE attack Cantrip I can pick (Sacred Flame) and Guidance is just SO good I gotta have it. I should probably prepare Healing Word in case of emergency, and then maybe Bless or Shield of Faith as my second spell and then I'll prepare a ritual because it would suck to not get to use this feature."

Every damn time I played one, the same options just jumped at me simply because I'm just a LITTLE aware of the optimal way to go (at least for my play style). I get 1 Cantrip to play with.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
5e very much was focused on cutting down on the game complexity and being very approachable for young players.

Yes, they cut down the complexity some, but not for "young players".

Young players can handle the depth and breadth of Magic: the Gathering, and all its exceptions. Complexity is not an issue for a young player.

Complexity is an issue for NEW players, of any age bracket. Complexity is a barrier to entry into the game for people who are not familiar with RPGs. Reduction in complexity is likely central to overall adoption of the game in the broader market it now enjoys.

Edit to add: This is not just for players - it holds for new GMs too.
 
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So I want to try to tackle the linear fighter/quadratic wizard problem under my own terms. This is going to take a while. I realize as I sit down to write this that I could require 20 pages to even describe what I’m thinking.
...
Fixing this in my opinion requires applying a number of important principles which I’ll list before trying to explain what they actually mean.

b) All martial classes in D&D are skill monkeys.
d) Any spell that duplicates a skill needs to be balanced against having that skill.
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.
Very interested in your thoughts on this, and those three items in particular.

I feel very strongly that "skill monkey" is a game mechanic and not an archetype. Either skill use is a part of the game system or it isn't, and I don't see why one class should have more skills than the other. I think I'm pretty alone in this regard, however.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Yes, they cut down the complexity some, but not for "young players".

Young players can handle the depth and breadth of Magic: the Gathering, and all it's exceptions. Complexity is not an issue for a young player.

Complexity is an issue for NEW players, of any age bracket. Complexity is a barrier to entry into the game for people who are not familiar with RPGs. Reduction in complexity is likely central to overall adoption of the game in the broader market it now enjoys.
Simplicity might help bring in new players, but it doesn't do much to keep them.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I said it before.

D&D should have 2 new classes fully designed to be the simple classes: Barbarian and Warlock.

Barbarian Tactics: You run forward and attack. If target is scary, you rage then run forward then attack.

Warlock Tactics: Choose 2 of Dire Radiance, Eldritch Blast, Hexslash, Occult Bolt, or Shadow Claws. Spam them.
 

I just wanted to add something to this issue, no problem if you disagree. The fact is, RAW you can Disarm an enemy an unlimited number of times (DMG, page 271); what the Battlemaster is enabling is disarming while still doing damage at the same time. But as the words in parenthesis imply, the option being in the DMG and not in the PHB is the same as the option not existing.

Maybe the issue with Fighters would be lightened if those options/actions, among other Battlemaster's Maneuvers stripped of the damage, were in the PHB as 'Combat Maneuvers' -- being part of the Attack action, replacing one attack, or maybe a Bonus Action like Overrun (DMG, page 272, or even a 'Once per turn'. And this is something very cheap the 2024 PHB could do.

Of course, this doesn't "fix" the Fighter as a whole, but much of the discussions seem focused on the 'not just rolling an attack/damage' part.

Entirely agreed, in that it being in the DMG is the same as the option not existing, I can't begin to tell you how many times I've seen disarm attempts auto-fail unless being performed by a battlemaster. I also agree they should be in the PHB as 'Combat Maneuvers', and there should be a section detailing some of those basic actions which is at least reasonable in length. The part I disagree with is the 'replacing one attack'. Personally I'd propose a Bonus Action available to all characters, with those with martial prowess such as the fighter being able to just incorporate it into an attack and do those things While dealing damage. The trouble with having those abilities in lieu of dealing damage is too often, the advantages obtained are too minor to offset the lack of damage dealt, so even if someone starts out trying to utilize those abilities, they get ditched the moment the mental calculus determines just mindlessly whacking at the opponent as the 'more optimal' strategy.

I'd say a good example of what martial combat in D&D could be and likely should be is the pen fight from Bourne Identity. Both defensive grapples to restrain limbs and prevent weapons from being used against them and offensive grapples to gain positional advantages and subdue, shoves to create space, terrain and furniture coming into play as they hit each other Into them to increase damage done. They're not just aimlessly whacking at each other, the attacks also serve a secondary benefit and advance their attempts at strategic leverage over each other, until that advantage becomes decisive. To have combat actually go like that, you just need the advantages of 'Combat Maneuvers' to be quite significant to where it's as good or better than a standard attack, -or- just let those options be incorporated into standard attacks.
 

Hussar

Legend
LOL. Ok.



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



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.
No, I'd say that your experiences in the game really, really don't match up to mine. You mentioned never seeing a caster in early editions surviving to higher levels. For me, this was never true. The casters rarely, if ever died, and, most of the time, by about 4th level onwards, you simply raised them anyway. It's not like the groups were starving for cash.

I mean, the fact that you'd claim exploration was removed from 4e just shows how little you actually understood from the game. It's simply not true. But, I'm going to chalk this mostly up to the fact that you and I have never, ever played the same game - despite having the same books at the table. So, any solution either of us will propose will be pretty much automatically rejected.

For me, the obvious solution to non-casters vs casters is out of game meta-currency. If you're a non-caster, you get meta-game currency (action points, Bond points, whatever you want to call them) that the player can spend that will create effects that are just as strong as a spell of that level. So, a 9th level meta-currency effect would be the equivalent of Meteor Storm, or Wish or Gate. In other words, the fix that's used in many other games where you have this disparity between the in-game power of different characters. Whether it's games like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or various superhero genre games or a variety of others.

But, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this will never, EVER fly in D&D. So, I just accept the disparity and not worry about it. I solve the problem by ignoring it entirely. After all, fighter is still one of the most popularly played classes, so, obviously, not that many people actually care about this problem, so, why should I? I know how to solve it. It's been solved in a dozen games right now. But, the solution will be 100% rejected by D&D players, so, there's no point.
 

Hussar

Legend
Simplicity might help bring in new players, but it doesn't do much to keep them.
Yeah, because we're seeing droves of people dropping out of the game? Totally shown by the record breaking sales of books and the huge growth of player bases on things like Fantasy Grounds or Roll20.

I really gotta ask where your evidence is that 5e is failing to keep players.

Also, just to add to my last point about playing different games:

@Celebrim said:
I find that even playing 25-30 times a year, we only go up 2 levels or so a year. A 1-30 campaign for me would be like 15 years with the same group gaming every other week. I'd have grandkids by then.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you really, really don't have your finger on the pulse of what a typical table looks like.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you really, really don't have your finger on the pulse of what a typical table looks like.
I have to agree, although I can respect @Celebrim simply plays at a slower pace.

The one 1-20 level game I ran took two years IRL and about 50 "extended" sessions (i.e. 8-12 hours per session), playing about every other week (the last few sessions were level 20 though). It took us about a year to reach 10th level and another year to reach 20th.

The levels took the following number of these "extended" sessions:

1661304708344.png


The average is about 2.5 sessions per level, but again these are 2-3 times the length of what other groups play IME.

With more typical groups you could double the number of sessions for 4-6 hours.

For most groups, if you are playing every week, I think you can expect to level at least once a month (4-6 weeks maybe?), and more earlier on, of course.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
One thing I think D&D has really struggled with is:

Trading Damage for Effects.

The warrior could with their attack:
  1. Deal damage
  2. Shove
  3. Grapple
  4. Disarm (optional)
  5. Battle Master Maneuver without weapon and bonus superiority damage (DM adjudication)
    1. Command
    2. Distract
    3. Goad
    4. Feint
    5. Lunge
    6. Menace
The issue is only damage is cumulative. 3 hits for damage deals 50 damage puts a 2255 HP adult blue dragon closer to death or surrender. 3 Shoves or a Grapple & 2 Disarms does not. A martial's effects don't get better.


A caster as they get high level get better effects.
  1. The Divinations see more
  2. Their Conjurations summon stronger allies and teleport them better
  3. The Enchantments affect more of the mind
  4. Their Evocations deal more damage
etc etc

So what if Martials could get a stronger Shove or Disarm or Goad or Lunge? What is a 20th level Shove? What is a 11th level Disarm?
 


Micah Sweet

Legend
Yeah, because we're seeing droves of people dropping out of the game? Totally shown by the record breaking sales of books and the huge growth of player bases on things like Fantasy Grounds or Roll20.

I really gotta ask where your evidence is that 5e is failing to keep players.

Also, just to add to my last point about playing different games:



I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you really, really don't have your finger on the pulse of what a typical table looks like.
I said what I said. Simplicity does nothing to keep players interested in the game. People do that.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Question: are they at-will or limited use?
I've been pondering on a Special attack System: The Dragonstrike system.

If you chain X number of nondamaging attacks (Shoves and Disarms) in a row, your last attack can be converted into a Dragonstrike. There are 10 Dragonstrikes, one for each dragon. It's a risk and reward system as if you miss, you lose the opportunity to Dragonstrike AND dealt zero damage.

DragonstrikeChainEffect
White23d12 damage
Brass2Knocked out (aka Sleep)
Black3????
Copper3Hamsturng (aka Slowed)
Green4Poisoned plus XdY damage per turn
Bronze4Knocked back 50 feet and stunned for 1 turn
Blue5????
Silver5Paralysis
Red6????
Gold6Stunned then Weakened
 





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