Transcending the mundane. How to make martial classes epic.

Meatboy

First Post
The over specialization of the mundane classes didn't occur as the result of realism. It occurred as a result of failure to rectify bad design, which resulted in more bad design.

Yeah. Not sure I can articulate my thoughts on this. Maybe the problem is that over the years design issues have just sort of piled up without any meaningful attempt to fix them.

I have my own d20 that I play that fixes the issues I have with the game but such things only go so far as to help me make a game my friends and I enjoy. Maybe at the end of the day that's all it needs to be.
 

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mmadsen

First Post
The truth is that the fighter has pretty much always hit things with a pointy stick well enough, and that no amount of giving him bigger sticks really fixes the problems.
As kids playing AD&D, my friends and I liked both the fighter and magic-user archetypes, but we definitely had the impression that the high-level magic-user was far more powerful.

Whether the fighter was too weak or too powerful though, there was always the issue of how his fighting prowess improved.

His hit dice increased, which always strained credibility: "Go ahead, stab me! You can't kill me with one hit!"

His damage didn't really increase -- except that every fighter found a girdle of storm giant strength and gauntlets of ogre power -- and a +5 longsword, of course.

His to-hit didn't really increase much, either -- except through those same magic items. This made a Robin Hood-style archery contest awkward.

(Robin Hood-style sword-play was also awkward, as was Ivanhoe-style jousting. Star Wars-style sword-play was also awkward, come to think of it.)

The problem is that - even within the archetype of 'fighter' - there are a broad range of capabilities associated with the idea which instead of being seen as the proper business of 'fighters' instead have been silo'd off into an increasing number of variant classes.
Exactly. I thought 3E had solved the problem with its Fighter class and bonus feat list. At a glance, I saw that you could build an archer, a knight, a samurai, etc. It didn't really play out that way though.

And the same flawed philosophy continued into 4e, when classes like the Marshall or Warlord silo'd off the notion of a leader and commander away from the Fighter who had always held those notions but had never been allowed to capitalize on them mechanically.
Unforgivable, really.

The fundamental problem is similar to the problem posed to OD&D by the introduction of the Thief. The very fact that the thief could now pick locks, climb walls, and move silently seemed to imply that the fighter (or any other class) could not do those things.
This is particularly odd when we look at the source material and see how many fantasy characters should be multi-classed human fighter/thieves, which the rules didn't (really) allow.

D&D traditionally provided no concrete rules for tripping, pushing, grappling, parrying, dodging, feinting and so forth. This led to situations where such things were either not possible (because they weren't specifically allowed) or else, if a DM did allow them, they were done in an ad hoc manner (like picking a lock prior to the thief class).
Also, the rules didn't lend themselves to such ad hoc calls; they didn't provide "hooks" for variations on the normal to-hit, then damage routine. If you want an archery contest, or a joust, or a light-saber battle, where do you begin?
 

Here is what I think of with an epic fighter; Quigly down under

He was so specialized with that buffalo long gun that normally shot good to 900 yards[?] and his shot a bit further.

the way Q used that buffalo rifle was just plain epic.

Epic story, but in D&D this would be reflected with higher numbers. He has a higher attack bonus and/or range (increment), letting him hit targets very far away. He does high damage too. That's... about it.

that kind of story would get boring if it kept happening.

Celebrim said:
And the same flawed philosophy continued into 4e, when classes like the Marshall or Warlord silo'd off the notion of a leader and commander away from the Fighter who had always held those notions but had never been allowed to capitalize on them mechanically.

I don't agree with this one. If a fighter has loads of natural fighting talent but poor mental stats he shouldn't ever be commanding anything.

I like to use Three Kingdoms as an example. Many of the greatest warriors were in theory military officers. The biggest badass of the early part of the series, Lu Bu, held the rank-equivalent of major. However, Lu Bu was practically a moron, and on a battlefield, he was dangerous because he was dangerous, not because he was a good leader. He ended up leading a faction which got curb-stomped by the much more intelligent warlord, Cao Cao, even though Lu Bu could probably kill Cao Cao with one of his fingers.

Speaking of which, while Cao Cao could fight with a sword or an axe, anytime he ran into a big name champion he ran away. Why wouldn't he? His mind was much sharper than his sword. I'm not seeing fighting prowess correlating at all with leadership abilities.

Of course, there were quite a few good warriors and commanders. These tended to be the most famous, but were also very rare.

Because Chinese feudalism seemed to work much like European feudalism in those days, pretty much every great warrior became a feudal lord and got at least a small army. Even Xu Zhu became a noble, but he was just Cao Cao's bodyguard (he technically led Cao Cao's bodyguard unit), occasionally rushing forward and slaying enemy officers when Cao Cao seemed safe.

For something more inclusive than 4e's warlord, you might want to look at the Book of Nine Swords as a better inspiration. The warblade could be a leader if they took the higher mental stats (flavor text only, IIRC) and the White Raven techniques. However, they might take a completely different set of techniques, be the most badass warrior on the battlefield, and stay away from the command tent. The only real problem I had with Bo9S were the abilities seemed too "magical", although at least a subset of them could be reflavored to be "martial" instead.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Whether the fighter was too weak or too powerful though, there was always the issue of how his fighting prowess improved....This made a Robin Hood-style archery contest awkward. Robin Hood-style sword-play was also awkward, as was Ivanhoe-style jousting....I thought 3E had solved the problem with its Fighter class and bonus feat list. At a glance, I saw that you could build an archer, a knight, a samurai, etc. It didn't really play out that way though.

It didn't I think for one primary reason - the designers had come up with a simple elegant system and it was so simple and elegant that they loved it as a formal designist solution and couldn't bring themselves to change it. The reasoning seemed to be, "But this is so beautiful and elegant, it has to be right." But off on the other side, the Wizard is hardly beautiful and elegant - it's the same crazy complex design that organicly grew to allow that literary range of apprentice to deus ex machina plot device we see in wizards. They ported the Wizard in from earlier editions out of the general philosophy of trying to attract back their former 1e loving fans.

They created...
1) A simple elegant solution.
2) A new innovative system.
3) An addition to a class already considered by many one of the strongest in the game.

All of that added up to being overly conservative. Compare what they did to the fighter, with what they did for the Cleric - previously considered a somewhat weak and boring class useful mainly as a hit point battery.

If you look at the 3e fighter, it's clear in three ways that it can't keep up with the Wizard in the long run. It's a remarkably good class up until about 6th level, but then Wizards start adding more and more spells, more and more powerful spells, and those spells that they have already known become more and more powerful as they increase in caster level. But the Fighter's simple elegant LINEAR design does none of these things. He doesn't get more feats as he levels up. The feats he does get access to don't significantly increase in power. And the feats that he's already taken don't scale up. Up until maybe 11th level, the inherent strengths in the class still roughly compensate, but when the 6th level spells start arriving, it's really over for the fighter except as a support character and henchmen for the parties spell casters.

Fundamentally there is nothing wrong with the idea of customizing the fighter to become awesome at something, and in fact it's actually pretty brilliant. It just didn't go far enough, especially when they were making the Wizard simplier and more elegant by removing most of 1e's balancing features on spellcasting. The problem was that you couldn't actually make the fighter awesome because you didn't have enough resources to spend.

I think that by the time 3e went to press, Monte already knew something was wrong with the existing system. And we see him toying with an additive solution in the form of a 'Prestige Classes'. By the time Sword and Fist is released, solving the problem of the fighter not having enough feats is firmly centered around the idea of the 'Prestige Class'. But for the most part, usable Prestige Classes - for any base class - turn out to look a lot like the base class with a feat every level. Only, unlike the fighter base class, that feat isn't generally customizable. You take a fixed progression of feats that are exclusive to your class. This just isn't a satisfying solution, and its really far from their initial elegant design. Worse, they create 'Prestige Classes' that are 'base class + feat every' level for the arcane classes as well, losing whatever balance they might have otherwise gained.

I believe the Prestige Class was far and away the worst design decision of 3e, and it really sowed the seeds for the systems eventual self-destruction. It was the wrong approach. I haven't fully solved the problem, but I knew I was at least partially achieving my goals when a player of RAW 3e played my game and had the revelation, "You don't take a prestige class... you BECOME a prestige class."

This is particularly odd when we look at the source material and see how many fantasy characters should be multi-classed human fighter/thieves, which the rules didn't (really) allow.

Someone on the boards made the observation that 1e AD&D had got the multiclassing system backwards. Humans should have been allowed to be multiclassed, and demihumans allowed to dual class. I think that's a particularly insightful observation if you are going to fix 1e while retaining its basic character. However, I believe that 3e is ultimately more elegant, and any fix of 1e would adopt so much of the philosophy of 3e that you might be better off porting what you wanted to keep of 1e into 3e than the reverse.

Also, the rules didn't lend themselves to such ad hoc calls; they didn't provide "hooks" for variations on the normal to-hit, then damage routine. If you want an archery contest, or a joust, or a light-saber battle, where do you begin?

AD&D begins as a tactical skirmish level wargame, and at that level it does it pretty good job of simulating the visuals of that sort of chaotic bloody melee from literature or cinema. But it has never done a good job of simulating the ebb and flow of a cinematic one-on-one duel or contest. It just didn't evolve out of that, and it never really considered it until too late.

I think you actually do not so bad with an archery contest, especially by the time you get to 3e and fighters of similar levels can so greatly distinguish themselves from each other in terms of skill with a bow. The problem you might have left is that in archery contests in the movies or stories, luck doesn't seem to play a role - it is foreordained that the hero cannot lose this contest regardless of the luck which his rival or the villain might have. The villain can 'roll a 20' (and as a trope, always does), and the hero will STILL win. And I think that this points to one of the tropes you might consider as part of your solution to balancing the mundane classes with the spellcasters - Mundane heroes always succeed when they have to. They seem to have a pool of resources that lets them 'roll a 20' when they have to, and they generally seem to have greater access to this pool than there supernaturally powered colleagues (who must rely on their powers). In other words, we need to at least consider a mechanic for simulating 'luck' or 'destiny' and we need to consider making this mechanic favor the mundane classes.

However, I agree with you fully that the cinematic 'duel' isn't really easy to do even in 3e - especially the duel that is to 'first blood'. You can work it, sorta, but really only if all heroes are built with the feats that let them be effective duelist. That being said, realistic first blood duels rarely last more than a few seconds anyway. And some source material, say John Carter, has gorier duels typically marked by a large number of small pricks and flesh wounds over the course of the battle. But we also want to capture the long panning shot of swords flashing that marks the classic bloodless fencing duel of cinema, we are going to need to do something. And we are going to have to do I think is as much about extending the combat system as it is about fixing a class. So again, I think the solution has to come from multiple directions - more options in combat, more restrictions on spellcasting, more resources for the mundane classes.

As far as providing more explicit options in combat, I think both 3e and Pathfinder are on the right track. But the problem typically is that they both try to extend the combat system via the feat system, providing feats that add options. The proper approach I think is to add the the option to the combat or skill system, and then provide a feat that makes you good at it. If you look at Ultimate Combat or the 3.X fighter splatbooks, so many of the feats should never have been feats at all. Instead, they should be interacting with existing combat and skill mechanics or simply added directly to the combat and skill options so that the everyone is expanded in options without the need for a feat and every class with good BAB and the right skills gains on the caster classes.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
I don't agree with this one. If a fighter has loads of natural fighting talent but poor mental stats he shouldn't ever be commanding anything.

That's not disagreeing with me. That's merely noting that there ought to be more options which play on the strengths of having a fighter with high intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. In other words, what does a fighter with low natural fighting talent but great mental stats, understanding of command, and knowledge of tactics and strategy look like?

I think 1e didn't even consider this because it was fixed (and to a certain extent quite rightly) on the player as the primary thing whose skill was being tested, rather than the character. The player was expected to make the choices that reflected good tactics, and to a certain extent it is right that this is true. But it was never really considered how you might have the characters intelligence and wisdom influence the battle and expand the players options, and there was only a small amount of consideration for how charisma influenced the battle.

I'm not seeing fighting prowess correlating at all with leadership abilities.

It doesn't have to, any more than skill with the bow needs to translate into skill with the sword. My point is that 3e begins to provide explicit means for us to differentiate the fighter who excels at the bow from the fighter who excels at the sword. It can also allow us to differientiate betweeen the fighter who excells in mental understanding, and the one who excells in physical prowess. My point is ultimately that if you can't build both Cao Cao and Lu Bu, and arguably with the same class, then you aren't giving enough thought to the design of the class.

Of course, there were quite a few good warriors and commanders. These tended to be the most famous, but were also very rare.

Sure. Point buy normally prevents you from having an 18 STR and an 18 INT and an 18 DEX and an 18 CHR at the same time, and randomly determining stats would make a commander with such native talent in both command and personal combat very rare. That is not surprising.

For something more inclusive than 4e's warlord, you might want to look at the Book of Nine Swords as a better inspiration.

Oh please no.

The warblade could be a leader if they took the higher mental stats (flavor text only, IIRC) and the White Raven techniques. However, they might take a completely different set of techniques, be the most badass warrior on the battlefield, and stay away from the command tent.

Why are you so willing to see this in the Warblade, but when I suggest it ought to be the native province of the Fighter that you are swift to disagree with me?

The only real problem I had with Bo9S were the abilities seemed too "magical", although at least a subset of them could be reflavored to be "martial" instead.

That's just one of several problems. Anyone that looks at the Bo9S and doesn't see it primarily as a supplement on 'sword magic' is willfully fooling themselves. Now, I've said before, it might be really cool to run a campaign where the Bo9S classes (and classes inspired by them) were the ONLY classes, but in terms of making them the model of a generic martial class - no way do they remotely accomplish that goal. They are interesting primarily in that as you noted, they are one of the few attempts at a martial class that is willing to consider the martial class as something potentially more than 'hits things well with a pointy stick'. As far as adopting the mechanics of mystically preparing mystical gnostic fighting techniques, which are expended then have to be recovered, and which are exclusive to those that know them, that's almost the opposite of what I'd like to do.
 

mmadsen

First Post
If you look at the 3e fighter, it's clear in three ways that it can't keep up with the Wizard in the long run. It's a remarkably good class up until about 6th level, but then Wizards start adding more and more spells, more and more powerful spells, and those spells that they have already known become more and more powerful as they increase in caster level. But the Fighter's simple elegant LINEAR design does none of these things.
To build on that, the fighter's fighting ability increases so dramatically at low levels, because his hit points increase at a high linear rate -- a second-level fighter has twice the hit points of a first-level fighter! -- and just when this really slows down, his hit points are already so "unrealistically" high that it doesn't seem like they should be climbing even faster to keep up with other classes' power progressions.

Now, if the fighter's hit points and damage both increased at the same blistering pace, a second-level fighter would be as effective at two first-level fighters, a third-level fighter would be as effective at three first-level fighters, etc., because you need to increase offense and defense at the same linear rate for that to be true.

Conversely, to progress at a fighter-like rate, a spellcaster wouldn't get more spells per level, that do more damage (or have other, greater effects) against more targets at once; they'd only increase one of those factors: more spells or more damage or more targets at once.
 

lendalvaro

Villager
Another thing in that topic. Creatures have abilits and special actions. Take a Black ancient dragon, by normal meas it looks preety defeatable. Then, draconic fear, as much of the combat finisher spells in the game, uses winsdom (others use inteligence or charisma). That means that by default martial class will do poorly against it. if a caster fail, it can use spells to help itself to recover, but the martials get dependant on anyones help. If you uses the standart array on martials you'll get one of the lower stats on any mental abillity. So basically any caster enemy or enemy with mind control capabilities can simply one shot you out of the battle in a way you cant recover. If a caster is put in any situation where it is in absurd disadvantage like it, he can use magic to flee. Dnd is a group game, but instead of a colective being effective togheter, it sometimes look like the casters are simply the parents taking care of martial children who cant compete.
 

lendalvaro

Villager
Another thing in that topic. Creatures have abilits and special actions. Take a Black ancient dragon, by normal meas it looks preety defeatable. Then, as much of the combat finisher spells in the game, it uses winsdom (others use inteligence or charisma). That means that by default martial class will do poorly against it. if a caster fail, it can use spells to help itself to recover, but the martials get dependant on anyones help. If you uses the standart array on martials you'll get one of the lower stats on any mental abillity. So basically any caster enemy or enemy with mind control capabilities can simply one shot you out of the battle in a way you cant recover. If a caster is put in any situation where it is in absurd disadvantage like it, he can use magic to flee. Dnd is a group game, but instead of a colective being effective togheter, it sometimes look like the casters are simply the parents taking care of martial children who cant compete.
One idea was making fighters and barbarians strong minded. Someone who face meelees to live are hard to be afraid. But not simple advantage, wich is simplier but if you doenst have proficiency in a save, it ill almost end you, give a plus number, where can increase chances more reliably.
 

Haiku Elvis

Explorer
I think one of the issues that I saw get mentioned a couple of times (at least tangentially) but am too lazy to go back and quote is the general power increase across the game as a whole over the higher levels. Once you get to the point that regular humanoid enemies stop being a threat (orcs, bandits, soldiers from that invading kingdom etc.) you enter what I always thought of as the monster inflation phase. You need a big magical monster (or NPC) to challenge the party which leads to more XP and power which leads to bigger more magical monsters wash, rinse and repeat. Until everything you're fighting has various damage resistances and spell effects and disintergration rays and mind beams and interdimentional tentacles* or whatever which naturally favours the magic wielding characters who can respond in kind.
Just standing next to a betentacled behemoth going hacky hacky stabby doesn't seem to cut it#.

*I may have made these up but I know some of the oldest monster manuals were wierd so maybe not.

#OK it probably would cut it unless it was resistant to slashing damage but you know what I'm getting at.
 


(wow thread necromancy!)

I've always been for giving martial warriors the same kind of supernatural and superhuman abilities that you see in games like Exalted.

I particularly like how the newer 4e-influenced games don't separate "magical" from "nonmagical." Games like ICON by Tom Parkinson-Morgan (it's a free download, take a look) allow the melee types to fling shields that bounce off heads and slam enemies across the battlefield, or to leap so far that they temporarily gain flight. They get these abilities from starting levels.

 

Haiku Elvis

Explorer
Despite the fact that Superman has better powers, Batman is a better character (cue outrage), precisely because all he has is training, wits, drive, and a boatload of money, nothing supernatural.
I belive this was covered in the Lego movie 2.
If I may quote Batman himself -
"We worked for our powers (Whoo) 'cause we're self-made men.
We didn't just get them from the sun like an entitled alien"
 


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