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D&D 5E Thoughts on Improving Martials

Azuresun

Adventurer
If your group uses fewer than 6-8 encounters per long rest (which is very common, but outside of the game design), then adding these boosts helps to rebalance martials with casters.

Read the DMG. You will see it uses the 6-8 encounter as an example, if the encounters are at a certain threshold of difficulty. 6-8 was never ever presented as holy writ that you must adhere to or you're Doing It Wrong. Every time I read this, I become steadily more convinced that most people never read the relevant section themselves, they just read someone else say that online and accepted it without checking. I believed that too for a while, before I went back and read it for myself.

Seriously, read the DMG.

Hey look! This thread again!

Obviously, the solution is to make every class as complex to play as a fully optimised wizard or sorlockadin. That's what everyone who plays D&D secretly wants.
 

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If the fighter's player feels like their only option is to stand in melee and hit a target in the face repeatedly THEN THEY SHOULDN'T PLAY A FIGHTER. Or, crazy thought here, play the Battle Master fighter and get powers
If someone hates managing lots of spell slots and reading through dozens of spells every level to pick the best option then they shouldn't play a wizard. The solution isn't to make the wizard simpler and less complex
The solution for the wizard player is to play a warlock - who's both a caster and pretty simple. I see no remote equivalent for fighting types. 4e had the fighter as complex. 3.5 had the Warblade and Crusader (and as far as builds were concerned the Fighter) as complex and the Barbarian as simple. The closest to a complex martial class is the monk.
You can't fix bad players making bad decisions with more rules

And the Shove action is already in the game. You can already do that in place of attacking.
But no one does because dealing damage with the sword is more effective
Which just demonstrates the opportunity cost of shove is too high. You can make players make boring decisions with poor rules.
Then swing on the goddamn chandelier
What's stopping you? The absence of a Chandelier Swing power?
The only rules it has is an acrobatics check or fail and by default it provides no bonuses. D&D 5e feels as if it wants to be a cinematic game - but there's neither rules nor guidance to make cinematic stunts work. Swinging on the chandelier is just penalising yourself with no benefit by the RAW and so if the DM puts them in the players are encouraged by the rules to leave them alone.
If you want more interesting battles the DM needs to PUT IN THE WORK and make interesting battlefields. With cliffs and chandeliers

...

And what does pushing a target 10 feet actually do?
In 4th Ed it worked because creatures could only step 5 feet without taking a reaction. In 5e they'll just circle around the fighter to where they were.
Unless there's a pit or a brazier or a pool of slime, pushing a creature is just shuffling tokens on the board. It's the illusion of doing something cool
In 4e it worked because (a) flanking was a thing and (b) because because forced movement was everywhere 4e DMs were encouraged to use actually interesting terrain. You made a firepit and someone would be put into it. You made a pit trap and someone was going into it. But because 5e was set to use "theatre of the mind" (while having distances designed for battlemaps) they took away the forced movement. With fewer ways of interacting with the background the backgrounds reverted to green screens as putting in the actual work had a lot less point as you couldn't do as much with it. A brazier it's not worth interacting with or a pool of slime people just walk round as if it was a mud pit is the illusion of there being something cool that might as well just be CGI'd in.
 


Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Obviously, the solution is to make every class as complex to play as a fully optimised wizard or sorlockadin. That's what everyone who plays D&D secretly wants.
Big part of why I'm trying to make it a non-optimized non-class-specific not-full-maneuver system and instead just some minor combat options that a player can ignore without "Nerfing" their character class.

Though the real problem for Martials is out of combat and in skills. Because the current skill design of the game has one system trying to uphold two entire pillars and it effectively disadvantages martials twice in it's structure.

First their skill options are very limited and have few selections. And second that it often relies on Int/Wis/Cha which Martials don't prioritize because their three-pillar priority is on the Str/Dex/Con axis of stats. Yeah, backgrounds exist and the Skilled feat exists (for those tables that use feats), but that doesn't solve the underlying problems of the system it just adds in an opportunity cost to playing a less skill-centric class.

Skills in general being the Rogue's thing and the Wizard being good at Knowledge skills and the Bard/Sorcerer/Warlock being good Faces leaves Barbarians and Fighters, and to a lesser degree Monks, Paladins, and Rangers largely twiddling their thumbs for skill-use sections of the game. It's a very heavy sacred cow.

In retrospect it probably goes a long way to explain why the Social Aspects of the game are largely meant to be weighted by RP and Arguments with the actual charisma skills largely useless except in expediting that process in games where RP is less important to the players, or when trying to make a swift argument in the middle of a combat sequence, and similar situations.

The more I think about it, the more I feel like Skills in general need a radical overhaul as a design space. Maybe make skills into a "strictly" exploration pillar function with a separate Social System? I've been running over options all night in my head. Minimal sleep.
 

Composer99

Explorer
The solution for the wizard player is to play a warlock - who's both a caster and pretty simple. I see no remote equivalent for fighting types. 4e had the fighter as complex. 3.5 had the Warblade and Crusader (and as far as builds were concerned the Fighter) as complex and the Barbarian as simple. The closest to a complex martial class is the monk.

I don't think the warlock - like the sorcerer - is particularly simple. Not at the same scale as, say, a step or two above champion fighter. Even as early as 3rd level, options and complexity start scaling up (and up).

If you want a dead-simple caster, I think it'd be better to have a class with, say, two combat and two utility cantrips (that the class chooses for you), three "spell-adjacent" abilities that you pay a resource for that refreshes on a long rest (such as healing, buffing, and radiant damage for, say, a simple cleric) - again, that the class chooses for you - and then, over a 20-level path, a handful of actual spells that you get to cast at will (or almost at will) - again, with the options chosen for you. This would be a dead simple caster class, even so, the class would still be more variegated than most baseline 5e martials.



On topic, I think having the baseline martials, a full-on manouevre/exploit system (accessible via subclasses and maybe one specialised class), and Steampunkette's proposed adjustment:
Big part of why I'm trying to make it a non-optimized non-class-specific not-full-maneuver system and instead just some minor combat options that a player can ignore without "Nerfing" their character class.
would go a long way to making the things work for any kind of player who wants to play non-magical characters to their desired level of mechanical complexity.
 

The solution for the wizard player is to play a warlock - who's both a caster and pretty simple. I see no remote equivalent for fighting types. 4e had the fighter as complex. 3.5 had the Warblade and Crusader (and as far as builds were concerned the Fighter) as complex and the Barbarian as simple. The closest to a complex martial class is the monk.
There's the Eldritch Knight, the Battle Master, and the Paladin. Plus adding feats that grant additional spells or a level dip into a spellcasting class
We don't four or five new classes just to provide every conceivable option with a complex and simple version. We don't need a complex rogue and barbarian as well as a simple cleric and bard
Which just demonstrates the opportunity cost of shove is too high. You can make players make boring decisions with poor rules.
When it's worthwhile shoving people, you do so. But 5e isn't a tactical combat game. Positioning matters less and forced movement adds little
My GM gave my fighter a magic sword that lets them shove 10 feet for free with every attack. I almost never use that property because it just means I need to burn 10 feet of movement

Try it. When your players make an attack and roll a 1 or 2 on a damage die, let them push a creature 10 feet. It makes the 1s and 2s more exciting and adds movement to the game. And it shouldn't break balance because forced movement don't do anything
See how much it gets used
The only rules it has is an acrobatics check or fail and by default it provides no bonuses. D&D 5e feels as if it wants to be a cinematic game - but there's neither rules nor guidance to make cinematic stunts work. Swinging on the chandelier is just penalising yourself with no benefit by the RAW and so if the DM puts them in the players are encouraged by the rules to leave them alone.
Nobody plays entirely by RAW
Even adventurer's league encourages their GMs to adjudicate for fun
The book can't include 60 pages of interacting with every conceivable bit of terrain

If your GM is so inept that they can't think of a bonus to grant when a player spends their action swinging on a chandelier then find a new GM
In 4e it worked because (a) flanking was a thing and (b) because because forced movement was everywhere 4e DMs were encouraged to use actually interesting terrain. You made a firepit and someone would be put into it. You made a pit trap and someone was going into it.
And because the 5e DMG doesn't encourage you to use interesting terrain you can't do so?
Fire pits don't exist in 5e because there's no RAW?
But because 5e was set to use "theatre of the mind" (while having distances designed for battlemaps) they took away the forced movement. With fewer ways of interacting with the background the backgrounds reverted to green screens as putting in the actual work had a lot less point as you couldn't do as much with it. A brazier it's not worth interacting with or a pool of slime people just walk round as if it was a mud pit is the illusion of there being something cool that might as well just be CGI'd in.
Theater of the mind is just the default
You can still use minis with braziers and slime pools if you want
 

I don't think the warlock - like the sorcerer - is particularly simple. Not at the same scale as, say, a step or two above champion fighter. Even as early as 3rd level, options and complexity start scaling up (and up).

If you want a dead-simple caster, I think it'd be better to have a class with, say, two combat and two utility cantrips (that the class chooses for you), three "spell-adjacent" abilities that you pay a resource for that refreshes on a long rest (such as healing, buffing, and radiant damage for, say, a simple cleric) - again, that the class chooses for you - and then, over a 20-level path, a handful of actual spells that you get to cast at will (or almost at will) - again, with the options chosen for you. This would be a dead simple caster class, even so, the class would still be more variegated than most baseline 5e martials.
The warlock chassis I'd call only a step or two above the fighter chassis - but there are no actively and aggressively simple subclasses, and character creation (as opposed to play experience) is harder. I really must put out some version of my Arsonist...

Fundamentally just as the Warlock is capable of saying "I hit it" in combat with everything pre-calculated so they don't have to worry too much about other in-combat actions. Unlike e.g. the sorcerer they don't have to worry about things like slots and spell levels; they have two slots and that is it and their spells are always max level so you recalculate at level up. And only one spell per level, something that only grows slowly.
 


There's the Eldritch Knight, the Battle Master, and the Paladin.
Two of the three of which are only complex because they are casters and you need to juggle spell slots and spell levels. Can you not see how irritating it is to reply to "there aren't complex martial characters" by giving casters as your examples of complexity. And I'd hardly call the Battlemaster complex; with the right choices it's easier to remember the things it does than the Champion is.
Plus adding feats that grant additional spells or a level dip into a spellcasting class
Once more you are offering casters. You are making people choose between concept and execution.

Someone who understands and engages within the details of their environment such as the unevenness of the floor and minor distractions should be more complex than someone who merely opens their pre-canned magical effects.
We don't four or five new classes just to provide every conceivable option with a complex and simple version. We don't need a complex rogue and barbarian as well as a simple cleric and bard
"All martial characters" aren't "every conceivable option". An actual martial expert is not obscure.
If your GM is so inept that they can't think of a bonus to grant when a player spends their action swinging on a chandelier then find a new GM
And I trust you will follow your own advice and find a new DM because your DM can't think of a bonus to grant when you throw someone ten feet across the room?

Spending an entire action to swing on a chandelier is in most cases daft. You're not actively stabbing. And it's an extremely stingy DM who wouldn't just take your move action and object interaction.
And because the 5e DMG doesn't encourage you to use interesting terrain you can't do so?
Fire pits don't exist in 5e because there's no RAW?
Apparently they don't in your game. You were after all complaining that your magic sword that pushes people ten feet isn't worth using.

But there's a feedback loop going on. Almost no one has forced movement therefore interactive terrain isn't really worth spending the effort to use. And because interactive terrain isn't worth spending the effort to use DMs like yours don't so forced movement becomes almost worthless
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
So I had an idea a few pages back I'd like to revisit...

Each Background gives the player a Reputation Value in a set of different types of Reputation. Could change the term "Reputation" to better fit different settings, it's just a placeholder term, right now, because I'm tired. Other options could be "Presentation" or "Assumptions" or "Character" or whatever.

Reputations function kind of like your standard Attributes, except instead of being measured on a 20 point scale with modifiers every 2 points, it's -just- the modifiers. Ranging from 0 to +5. Just need to find 5-6 different Reputation angles to go on. I'm thinking 2 positive, 2 negative, 1-2 "Neutral" trait(s).

Every background gives a total of 11 points pre-assigned to the different traits. At level 1 you can modify your background by a number of points equal to your Charisma Modifier. So if you're a Half-Elf Bard with an 18 Charisma you can move 4 points around in your Reputations, making you more flexible in that regard.

Every level gained, a character can change their reputation by 1. Moving one point of reputation to another type of reputation to represent their reputation changing. Other things can allow you to change your reputation by spreading rumors/stories/songs about your character... You can also make a Performance Skill Check to temporarily take on the point allotment of a different background or character. Doing so allows you to use that reputation's trait scores with your proficiency bonus for a "Scene" or until you give up the ruse. Opposed by Perception or Insight.

When you would normally do a Social Skill you instead roll your Reputations instead of a skill check with proficiency always added on to represent your reputation "Growing" with your character level. With the reputation being applied to the situation.

Sincerity: Honesty or Seriousness
Pluck: Playfulness or Courage
Violence: Readiness to engage in combat.
Temper: Displays of Ire or Anger.
Reverence: Piousness or Deference

So the Folk Hero Background might start out with:
Sincerity: 4
Pluck: 3
Violence: 2
Temper: 1
Reverence: 1

A person with a Charisma mod of 3 could adjust 3 points of that. Maybe moving 2 points of Violence and 1 point of Temper to Reverence, giving them a 4 in that score. Or a 3 in Reverence and a 4 in Pluck.

And at level 2, they could move 1 point from any of those traits to any other trait they choose, showing how their reputation has changed.

Meanwhile a Bard who fancies themself an Actor could walk into the Thieves Guild, roll a Perform check, and pretend to have the Criminal Background. Changing their entire Reputation tree... so long as they act it out. Of course a Fighter could also roll that perform check but might have a harder time pulling it off.

And someone who rolls a good enough Perception Check would recognize the ruse. Because that's skill vs skill.

... It probably needs a lot of work. But this is where I'm at, right now. And after going over the idea of the Bard using Perform I'm really thinking it should be "Character Presentation" rather than Reputation, or something similar.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Ohhh... I thought you were referring to the idea of maneuvers by school, as has come up previously in this thread. I apologize.

That's my mistake, Quickleaf.

I'm keenly interested in your noncombat idea, though I'm not sure I grasp what you're carrying and where.
Oh, I totally missed that part of the conversation.

So I should have been clearer: I think you can totally surmount the "combat maneuver" issue you have. There's no shortage of ideas there between suggestions here, your own ideas, Level Up, PF2e, and so forth. Not that it's not a design challenge, but for me the far greater challenge is conceiving what the non-combat mechanics might look like (without rewriting 5e).

For some context, I've been "armchair designing" my own Fighter class for years – mainly for my own enjoyment and to fix issues that I perceive with that class (fully recognizing that survey data shows I'm in the minority). First was The Warrior and then more recently a Fighter rewrite (not sure why that second link has my text all greyed out in dark mode – I made sure to remove color formatting from the post 🤷‍♂️).

The issue with creating those "8 Schools" would be that every one of them would just translate to a set of skills.

Infiltration as Stealth and Deception, maybe Disguise kit. Leadership as Persuade and Intimidation, maybe Deception... etc etc etc.

Because skills are meant to be 5e's version of 2e's noncombat proficiencies -plus- all of the old Thieves Skills put together in one comprehensive "Everything that isn't combat" setup, it's damnably hard to break it apart in a nonmagical way.
I think if you're willing to get a little funky with your design and think outside of the box, that's a surmountable issue.

Leadership as an example... yes that's skills, but it can also be...
  1. changing starting NPC reaction (Hostile, Indifferent, Friendly, or even more precise categories) based on reputation & circumstance (whereas Charisma-based skills work within the assumption that the DM solely defines a NPC's reaction)
  2. helping others (Help action or some variation thereof) even across great distances or across extend time periods... perhaps translating your success to another via a "lead by example" feature (useful in exploration, extended negotiation, and skill challenge type scenes)
  3. acquiring a sidekick or getting narrative control over determining when a NPC or animal companion transforms into a sidekick (merging d20 Leadership feat with sidekick rules from Tasha's)
  4. a feature allowing you to call upon and command your henchmen (e.g. torchbearer, shield-bearer, man-at-arms, animal tender) using concentration or downtime (tapping some of the ideas in the OSR)
  5. calling upon aid of friendly NPCs who you've previously performed a quest for, attaching a quantity of gold & scope of services that increases as you level (the d20 Star Wars Noble class had something very much like this IIRC)
  6. boosting crew morale on ships (the old AD&D Leadership nonweapon prof from Spelljammer basically did this) – other vehicular / crew boosts could be incorporated into this besides just morale
  7. a boost to certain downtime actions associated with rulership or governing an organization / group (domain management "lite")
I think it's also worth noting that there are still game elements without clear mechanical implementation in 5e: Etiquette, Ventriloquism, Rope Use, and Decipher Script come to mind. For instance, I've seen a DM rule courtly etiquette as a History check, another DM tying it to the noble background, and another letting it just be role-play.

For instance, maybe Etiquette becomes part of the Leadership "martial school" (for lack of a better term), while Rope Use becomes part of the Campaigner "martial school", and Ventriloquism becomes part of the Infiltrator "martial school."
 

Azzy

KMF DM
Obviously, the solution is to make every class as complex to play as a fully optimised wizard or sorlockadin. That's what everyone who plays D&D secretly wants.
Re-read the thread. Because that's not what's going on here.

Also, apparently people wanted fighters to do more interesting stuff since at least 2e's The Complete Fighter's Handbook.
 

Re-read the thread. Because that's not what's going on here.

Also, apparently people wanted fighters to do more interesting stuff since at least 2e's The Complete Fighter's Handbook.
I would at least like variety for the fighter, barbarian and rogue in combat and the former two need more to do out of combat.
with the monk, I really want to upgrade as I can kinda see where it could go and that version seems awe inspiering.
 

Einlanzer0

Explorer
I agree that it's something of an issue, although I think the problem is as much that casters & spell choices are too convoluted as it is that martials are too simple (one reason we need a witch and/or shaman class!) I also always use feats, which mitigates it to a large degree.

Otherwise, I've done a smattering of things partially motivated by wanting to add depth and partially to rebalance some aspects of the core rules (some of which feed into this problem):

-Added a tactical improvisation skill tied to Int and also add a bonus proficiency for higher Int, which helps add "tactical gameplay" options for any character with higher Int (and makes Int less of a dump stat). Note: while any class can use this, martial classes get more practical benefit from it. I like incentivizing smart fighters =P

-reorganized knowledge skills so that more classes could get practical benefit from them more often.

-separated grappling from athletics and expanded it quite a bit to make it more dynamic.

-use a much more robust homebrew weapon/armor custom table that adds a lot of properties and makes weapon choices more impactful (I think this one is big - having a simple/underdeveloped weapon/armor table is a major contributor to this perception.)

-use a homebrew set of rules (someone else authored) for secondary and tertiary ability scores that have a variety of uses in and out of combat: courage, sanity, allure, luck, style, wit.

-utilize more items with spell-like properties and diversify magic items as much as possible.

I think the next thing I want to tackle is working in craftsmanship & masterwork mechanics and setting up rules to give a better feeling of ownership for martial character's gear.
 
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Rabulias

Hero
-use a much more robust homebrew weapon/armor custom table that adds a lot of properties and makes weapon choices more impactful (I think this one is big - having a simple/underdeveloped weapon/armor table is a major contributor to this perception.)
Care to share more details of this? I go back and forth on simple vs detailed weapons, so I would be interested in seeing what you have, and I know a few other posters here have lamented that official 5e did not provide this. Thanks!
 

Like I said: Allow Martials to learn maybe two or three of the Battle Master's Combat Maneuvers. Only just allow them to stay at D6 or upgrade it to a D8. The Battle Master is the only one who can fully max their Combat Maneuvers dice or gain the amount they can compared to regular martials.
 


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