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D&D 5E Thoughts on Improving Martials

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
So one of the biggest problems in 5e is how limited Martial type characters (Fighter, Barbarian, and Ranger, to a lesser degree Monk, Rogue, and Paladin) can be both in combat effects (not effectiveness) and out of combat interactions. We see this sort of thing discussed obliquely in things like Spellcasting discussion threads, often discussing how OP Spellcasters are.

5e at it's base "Attempts" to offer alternatives by allowing players to sacrifice attacks from their attack action to initiate grapples or push targets, but very little else that doesn't require a Subclass. Advanced 5e provides each class a list of potential Combat Maneuvers from which they can select a handful over the course of their leveling and have a limited number of uses per turn, creating a new, separate, economy.

What if, instead, we made it so that Combat Maneuvers (Like Grapple or Shove) didn't negate your damage potential from a given attack based on your level?

For example, a Shove attempt at level 1 could deal your Strength Modifier in damage. If you have Extra Attack, 1d6+Strength. If you gain 2 or more attacks from Extra Attack, 1d6+Str+Proficiency Bonus. (I chose 1d6 because Monks deal 1d6 with unarmed strikes at level 5, so it isn't stronger for a monk to spend all their attacks on Shoves)

A Fighter might still miss out on bonus damage from their weapon, but it would certainly make combat maneuvers more attractive. Particularly if we expand those combat maneuvers to cover additional situations, or more accurately use a simple method that can be adapted to other options, such as Dirty Tricks, Disarming targets, or Tripping them as the Player makes suggestions and the DM determines whether it's valid. (No disarming a Dragon of it's claws, for example... unless the DM is cool with lopping off limbs!)

Forced movement, temporary shutdown of Legendary Action options, removing the target's ability to perform reactions, throwing sand in their eyes to give them disadvantage on perception checks and attack rolls for a round... Lots of options for Players to creatively use the Combat Maneuver option, and potentially increase the damage die, effect, or saving throw DC through environmental actions. Such as swinging on a chandelier to "Shove" a target resulting in the target getting pushed farther, taking two dice of damage, or having a +2 higher DC for the Strength Save to resist.

This would put a bit more weight on the shoulders of martial characters who intend to do more than strike their target, but so long as the method of handling the maneuvers is simple (A saving throw or skill check against a fixed DC to avoid either the effect or the damage) it shouldn't be significantly troublesome.

You could even create Feats or Class Features that allow a subclass to explicitly use a Combat Maneuver as a Bonus Action, or possibly reaction.

Out of combat functions are trickier. And should probably be tied to individual class identities. If anyone has suggestions, I'd love to hear them. But I think I might include this general improvement to combat maneuvers in my games going forward, including those involving Advanced 5e/LevelUp play, since it has a "Combat Maneuver DC" built in to make the whole matter easier.

Bonus Points: It encourages Strength Martial Builds for people who want to do a bunch of Combat Maneuvers. Including Strong Monks.
 
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The first problem isn't a real problem. It's an internet problem. It exist only on chat threads
Far and away the most popular class is the fighter. The simplest martial. With the rogue next. And the cleric and wizard last of the base four. In the secondary classes, ranger and barbarian are at the top along with the simplest spellcaster, the warlock

The problem exists for people who like complex characters wanting all the characters to be complex for them. When some (probably most) people just don't like complexity and enjoy martials as is

From a gameplay perspective, it is always better to do 100% of your damage. The best condition is "dying"
Anything that trades an attack for <100% damage is a poor trade
Unless you can push a creature into something that does more damage than your sword, it's just shuffling tokens about the board. It doesn't DO anything (Just add a rule where if you beat a creatures AC by 10 or more you knock them back 5 feet)
And as for being OP, that's mathematically not true. The best reliable damage in the game can come from barbarians, fighters, rogues, and even paladins. The only full spellcaster that can excel in damage is the warlock, and it's just a magic archer

The second problem IS more of a real problem. But that's the one where your solution is 🤷‍♂️
Making backgrounds larger would help. Give everyone a set out of combat role
The other solution is to tape on a bunch of extra exploration rules and social combat subsystems. But that's adding complexity to the game for little gain. It would only slow down exploration and travel as you'd need to resolve travel actions or something, and reduce roleplaying for a social mechanic
The real solution would be making characters with personalities. Play characters that don't fade into the background. Do the work and don't just expect the system to pick-up the slack for the fighter who has no motives beyond murder and doesn't take an side skill to allow them to track or diplomatize
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
The first problem is a problem. They only become great damage dealers if you use a specific set of feats which are an optional system by core rules. And even those of us DMs who do use feats sometimes say "No GWM, No SS". I've also -had- this problem at my table, where fighter types feel like their only option is to stand in melee and hit a target in the face, repeatedly, with no real and meaningful choices.

It has even caused problems when the party needs to do something (Like get through a door in order to have a chance at survival) because the party's fighter-type just stops moving and starts swinging instead of working toward the group's actual goals. Autopilot play, essentially.

As to "The best condition is dying"... Meh. If your entire game is based exclusively around maximizing metagame that's it's own separate issue. This is meant to increase options, not completely replace martial combat with "Everything you're already doing, plus a whole lot more!" as that would be much more likely to create significant balance issues. "Shoving Tokens" is useful for making sure your party members can avoid opportunity attacks, knocking enemies off cliffs, removing disadvantage from ranged attack rolls... the list goes on. It's also much cooler to swing in on a chandelier than stand in front of a guy and trade punches until someone falls over.

As to the second problem, yeah. I'm pretty well stumped. I like A5e's class-based improvements to social and exploration skills, but I also feel like it's not quite "Enough"... you know?

Like it's great that Fighters can get bonuses to a couple of skills every few levels, but I feel like there needs to be more than that. More than just increased skill use. Mainly because Martials are much less likely to have decent bonuses to out of combat skill use (Due to their ability-score placement preferences) compared to Wizards who -also- gain out-of-combat knacks for exploration and stuff in the A5e system.

But the best I can think of is explicitly allowing Martials to use Strength for Investigation Checks instead of Wisdom as they "Toss a Room". Literally flipping tables and yanking out dresser drawers to make a big mess. Which could work, I guess? But it just feels so very -narrow-.

I sincerely feel like the skill system needs some kind of overhaul since it's covering two whole pillars of gamplay... Or maybe to be broken apart so there's Skills for Exploration and some new system for Social Interaction Skills?
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
The first problem is a problem. They only become great damage dealers if you use a specific set of feats which are an optional system by core rules. And even those of us DMs who do use feats sometimes say "No GWM, No SS". I've also -had- this problem at my table, where fighter types feel like their only option is to stand in melee and hit a target in the face, repeatedly, with no real and meaningful choices.

It has even caused problems when the party needs to do something (Like get through a door in order to have a chance at survival) because the party's fighter-type just stops moving and starts swinging instead of working toward the group's actual goals. Autopilot play, essentially.

As to "The best condition is dying"... Meh. If your entire game is based exclusively around maximizing metagame that's it's own separate issue. This is meant to increase options, not completely replace martial combat with "Everything you're already doing, plus a whole lot more!" as that would be much more likely to create significant balance issues. "Shoving Tokens" is useful for making sure your party members can avoid opportunity attacks, knocking enemies off cliffs, removing disadvantage from ranged attack rolls... the list goes on. It's also much cooler to swing in on a chandelier than stand in front of a guy and trade punches until someone falls over.

As to the second problem, yeah. I'm pretty well stumped. I like A5e's class-based improvements to social and exploration skills, but I also feel like it's not quite "Enough"... you know?

Like it's great that Fighters can get bonuses to a couple of skills every few levels, but I feel like there needs to be more than that. More than just increased skill use. Mainly because Martials are much less likely to have decent bonuses to out of combat skill use (Due to their ability-score placement preferences) compared to Wizards who -also- gain out-of-combat knacks for exploration and stuff in the A5e system.

But the best I can think of is explicitly allowing Martials to use Strength for Investigation Checks instead of Wisdom as they "Toss a Room". Literally flipping tables and yanking out dresser drawers to make a big mess. Which could work, I guess? But it just feels so very -narrow-.

I sincerely feel like the skill system needs some kind of overhaul since it's covering two whole pillars of gamplay... Or maybe to be broken apart so there's Skills for Exploration and some new system for Social Interaction Skills?
I don't think it's a bad idea, but I think a caveat of this approach is that you (probably) don't want to go so far that you end up with something like the 3.x spiked chain trip master. It was effective, but there were so many rolls every time that thing rolled an attack that its turn would sometimes take longer than all the other players combined.

I disagree with @Disgruntled Hobbit about 0 HP being the be all end all. I mean, it technically is. However, if I only need to sacrifice 1 or 2 points of damage to trip a creature and gain advantage on every subsequent attack, that's well worth the trade off. Advantage will more than likely pay back the lost damage with interest, and even if it doesn't, that damage loss only matters if you fail to kill the target by 1 to 2 HP (you could just as easily overkill the creature by a few hp, rendering the "sacrifice" moot).

One option would be something along the lines of what DCC does. It's been a while since I last looked at that system, but iirc fighters have a stunt die (d6 I think). If they roll a 1 or 2, they can pull off a stunt (like what you described in your posts). Otherwise, the stunt fails but otherwise there's no loss (the attack can still succeed even if the stunt fails). That way they can perform stunts, but they're not bogging down the turn with an endless slew of them.

As for what martials can do out of combat, I would look to heroes of legend. Maybe the fighter has a knack for turning a tavern room of wary strangers into friends who are happy to share a pint and a rumor. Maybe they can perform feats of superhuman endurance, like running for an entire day or diving for an hour with a single deep breath. Not OoC per se, but maybe after X amount of time using a weapon, it functions as a magical weapon simply based on the martial's legendary stature. At high levels, martials could probably make impossible leaps (which also helps deal with flying opponents).
 

Unless you can push a creature into something that does more damage than your sword, it's just shuffling tokens about the board. It doesn't DO anything (Just add a rule where if you beat a creatures AC by 10 or more you knock them back 5 feet)
This isn't true. It's "Unless you can push a creature into something where the effect does more than the difference between the damage and that of a full power attack." The 4e at will fighter attack "Tide of Iron" wasn't the most damaging of the at will attacks but it wasn't far off - and it included a push in addition to the normal baseline damage.

A 5e equivalent would be to hack the fighting styles; if the great weapon fighter gets to reroll 1s and 2s on the damage dice, the "bully" fighter gets to drive someone back in its place. The difference between a greatsword wielding fighter in each style is about 1.33 damage per attack. The question is whether there are enough fires, pit traps, docksides, etc. to make it worth it.

And I'm sure you can see there's a huge difference between the opportunity cost of 1.33 damage per attack and your entire damage per attack.
 


Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Big part of why I'm looking at just making it a saving throw against a set Combat Maneuver DC that functions ort of like a Spell Save DC, @Fanaelialae. That way if a Monk at level 6 decides to spend both regular attacks, a ki point, and both bonus-action attacks to shove a target they can without actually slowing play down at all. Instead of rolling attack and damage, the DM rolls a save and the Monk rolls damage.

And for a Monk at that level, there's no Damage Loss for doing so, since their Unarmed Combat damage dice is a d6. Well. Unless they're a Dex-Monk instead of a Str-Monk.

Way simpler to handle than any Spiked Chain 3e nonsense to avoid slowing down play except to decide which direction the target gets shoved. (Or whatever other combat maneuver effect results)

Wondering if maybe "Social Skills" shouldn't be Skills but Reputations... Like having your Background assign you a value in several different Reputation Scores like Honesty, Humility, Generosity, Cruelty, Scandalous, Pious, Violence. Just a whole mess of them... And as you go, the DM can award "Free Points" based on things you do. (Or you can try to get bards and the like to change your reputation through rumors, stories, and songs)

And then instead of rolling Skill Checks for social situations, you can leverage your reputation. Wanna be persuasive? Have a decent honesty score. Wanna be intimidating? Have a high Violence or Cruelty score. Wanna be deceptive? Get yourself some "Cunning" reputation score. Want to try and defer the advances of a salacious noble without offering offense? Humility.

Wanna convince someone to help you on the promise of coin at the end of the task? Get known for that Generosity, baby.
What the OP describe is the 4ed!
Equality of combat effect for all classes!
As well all classes where able to perform equally in skill challenge.
It just went into a dead end.
No. I didn't describe 4e. I described an expanded and streamlined combat maneuver option for 5e that doesn't create the additional complications of a secondary (or tertiary) resource system while not wiping out a martial character's damage for the turn.
 


Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
On that, @Krachek you might be right.

We'd need to create a short list of possible combat maneuver results.

1) Make the target Prone
2) Push or Pull the target 5ft
3) Disarm the target of a manufactured weapon
4) Impose disadvantage to their next attack roll
5) Cannot take reactions 'til the start of your next turn
6) Impose Disadvantage on a specific type of skill or ability check (Concentration Checks, Perception Checks)

And I think that about covers them all...
 

Composer99

Explorer
To my mind, in-combat, most martials lack the capacity to engage more with saving throws or impose conditions on a reliable basis if they don't have spells, with a few exceptions. Their gameplay is to engage with AC and hit points, with a few exceptions. Grappling and shoving are okay, but as you say there is a high cost to be paid.

Edit to add: Also to my mind, this does not necessarily mean caster supremacy in combat, 3.X-style. It just means martials could stand to have more ways to interact with the game world in combat, for those players as want such a thing.

In my homebrew, I'm toying with the idea of martials getting reliable access to... let's call it a "Prowess Die" generally speaking, but in practice each class will have a different name for it. Each class can use this die to straight-up boost damage or to achieve some kind of special effect, ideally one that reinforces the theme and flavour of the class.

This has the benefit of allowing people who want a simple playstyle to have it - just roll that die for damage once a turn or what-have-you - and those who want more options to have them.

Here's an example of something along these lines that I did up and posted over at Giant in the Playground. Barbarians can use this Rage Die to hit harder, or to do barbarian-y things. I'm reasonably satisfied with how it turned out, although I am sure it needs further design iteration. A hypothetical warlord class, by contrast, could have a Leadership Die, which they could expend to get other characters to hit harder or do tactical things. Rogues could have a Cunning Die that, when they hit with a Sneak Attack, they could chuck on for a little bit of extra damage or spend in order to cause mischief. Paladins could have a... I dunno, a Sacred Die?... that they could tack on to a divine smite for extra damage, or spend to cause an effect similar to those of the various smite spells (which could then be removed).

I would probably restrict using a Prowess Die to once per round.
 
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Pathfinder's CMB and CMD work well as 'Martial Saving Throws'.

My system gives martials Techniques, abilities that they can spend a resource on to make Combat Maneuvers easier/more effective. So 'Bring Them Down' lets you make a melee attack and if it hits, immediately roll CMB vs CMD to trip for example.
 

My feeling on this is: 5e has these issues (assuming you consider them issues), but anything you do to fix them will be very un-5e in feel.

PF2 and 4e DnD both present elegant, balanced, workable fixes to these problems, because the basic idea is both completely in line with the design philosophy and baked-in to the core rules. Frankly all the suggestions you're taking are already in PF2, but better defined and supported.
PF2 might have overcorrected (casters can feel a bit weak), but that's the only core flaw (as opposed to 'design decision not everyone will enjoy')

But, in the interest of being positive: you can add maneuvers to martials if you like. I don't think there's a ton of subclasses that don't have complexity that aren't right next to sufficiently complex options - ie Champion might not work for you but Battlemaster probably will - and if you allow combat stunts you don't need a ton of rules to handle every special case.

Social encounters don't seem to be as bad - most people don't rely on class features for those anyways. They rp, lean on backgrounds and reputation, and so on - if there's a 'balance' problem, it's most often players talking over each other.

The issue I actually see sometimes is exploration being horribly unbalanced - rangers just win (boring), casters have a bunch of toys to play with, fighter hope Athletics will somehow be useful. I don't know how to solve this, but making trips slightly easier to pull off won't do it.
 

Stalker0

Legend
Frankly, my players use the Shove and Grapple manuevers all the time. The opposed rolls means that many monsters are just not great at them, and so players can accomplish them with ease.

Getting advantage on all attacks for the party (shove) can effectively do lots of damage. Grapple can shut down certain monsters and let the "defenders" really defend their fellows.

I don't think adding damage there is going to fundamentally change anything. If you think spellcasters are OP, you still will after this change.
 

I think the point of adding damage is due to the fact that damage is always preferable to adding an effect, especially with such narrow design space as 5e where everything is non-stacking advantage/disadvantage. So damage + effect is an incentive to actually using effects.
 


The first problem isn't a real problem. It's an internet problem. It exist only on chat threads
Far and away the most popular class is the fighter. The simplest martial. With the rogue next. And the cleric and wizard last of the base four. In the secondary classes, ranger and barbarian are at the top along with the simplest spellcaster, the warlock
Nope. I've seen it IRL.

The thing is that at low level fighter-types are fine. No one truly cares that the fighter's stabbing people while the wizard moves up from firebolt and burning hands to fireball. Both are cool in their own way and do different but related things. And the casters have few enough spells that the non-casters can keep up.

It's when the wizard starts restructuring things that there are problems. To me the spell that marks the beginning of the end is Wall of Stone. It's when the wizard gets the ability to make permanent changes to the environment and to do useful things that can't be matched at all under lightly pressured conditions. (Under heavily pressured ones skills work and dead is dead - things just differ as to how).

So for most of the single digit levels things are fine and the rogue and fighter get excellent features at level 11. It's really when the levels hit the teens that we have problems. Most games do not, however, go that far.

But this is entirely independent from the issue:
  • Some people like mechanically simple characters and others like mechanically complex and tactical ones
  • Some people like martial characters and others like spellcasters
  • The people who want to play characters that are both martial and simple and the people who want to play characters that are both castery and complex are fine
  • The people who want to play simple spellcasters tend to gravitate towards the warlock although this could be made better
  • The people who want to play complex tactical fighters struggle.
This thread is about that last group.
 

ART!

Hero
On that, @Krachek you might be right.

We'd need to create a short list of possible combat maneuver results.

1) Make the target Prone
2) Push or Pull the target 5ft
3) Disarm the target of a manufactured weapon
4) Impose disadvantage to their next attack roll
5) Cannot take reactions 'til the start of your next turn
6) Impose Disadvantage on a specific type of skill or ability check (Concentration Checks, Perception Checks)

And I think that about covers them all...
Imposing certain Conditions should be another one (Blinded, by sand in the eyes; Deafened, by a blow to the head; Prone; Stunned)
 

But the best I can think of is explicitly allowing Martials to use Strength for Investigation Checks instead of Wisdom as they "Toss a Room". Literally flipping tables and yanking out dresser drawers to make a big mess. Which could work, I guess? But it just feels so very -narrow-.
Sometimes ya gotta be the Bad Cop.
 

One idea/house rule I've thought about/allowed is allowing Martials to gain access to the Battlemaster's Combat Maneuvers via spending Downtime/Training. However, only the Battle Master can learn the amount that the Battle Master can learn. At most, I'd only allow a Martial to learn two or three. That way the Battle Master isn't overshadowed if a player is one.

Some Subclasses, like the Scout, Monster Hunter, Cavalier/Knight, have Combat maneuvers basically. But like only 3 specific ones for them IIRC. So letting martials access to a few Combat Maneuvers don't seem like it would break anything tooo much.
 

On that, @Krachek you might be right.

We'd need to create a short list of possible combat maneuver results.

1) Make the target Prone
2) Push or Pull the target 5ft
3) Disarm the target of a manufactured weapon
4) Impose disadvantage to their next attack roll
5) Cannot take reactions 'til the start of your next turn
6) Impose Disadvantage on a specific type of skill or ability check (Concentration Checks, Perception Checks)

And I think that about covers them all...
Still missing
stunned
restrained
blinded
frightened
incapacitated
vulnerable to a specific damage type

slowly but surely we are heading to 4ed!
 

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