Well, it appears that the current series of Legend & Lore articles are finally getting down to the nitty-gritty of defining the design goals for each class in D&D Next. Last week, Monday’s Cleric Design Goals finally nailed down the aspirations of WotC’s plans for that class in D&D Next – even if it took them a year and six design articles to get there!
The new L&L this week is taking a stab at discussing Fighter Design Goals in D&D Next, and it seems that the fighter is giving the design team far less problems with class design than the aforementioned “holy roller”. Fighters have been the focal point for only two articles and blogs prior to this current one: L&L Fighters vs. Wizards from April 2011 and a blog by Robert Schwalb in February 2012 entitled Fighter A-Go-Go. Although, technically, the blogs started a year ago, the design team has not seemed to have quite the reservations about the class that they showed with the Cleric. And personally, I find that fact fairly interesting, as both Schwalb and Mearls have come forward as proponents of fighter characters.
In my analysis last week, Wizards Watch: Cleric Class Confusion & Designer Dismay, I mentioned that there was no “class hero” on the design team rooting for the Cleric, but it appears that the Fighter has at least two designers in its corner. That’s good news for the Fighter Class indeed, but it underscores the need for how important it is to have someone on the team championing the design goals of a class. Actually, now that I think about it, “Class Champion” might be a better term than “Class Hero” is, but the role is the same. Every class needs to have at least one designer on the D&D Next Team that is willing to say “I LOVE THIS CLASS! IT’S ALL I WANT TO PLAY!”. Otherwise, I fear that some classes will simply end up better designed than others.
And one other point that I find a bit ironic about the two classes, Cleric and Fighter, and how “easy” it is for the D&D Next Team to design them for the new edition. In many respects, both the Cleric and Fighter started as fairly simple classes to play in original D&D, and while the Cleric did have a spell list to deal with, it was a fairly basic and easy to parse stack of healing and utility spells for the first few levels. Over the successive editions, both classes grew in complexity, with increased options first from Dragon Magazine articles and Unearthed Arcana during AD&D, and with more options as the successive editions grew more complex.
So which Edition’s Fighter and Cleric is the one that seems the most D&D “back-to-basics”?
Drawing the battle lines…
Mike Mearls’ new Legend & Lore article outlines six design points that he hopes will give the D&D Next Fighter that Back-to-Basics-D&D-Fighterness feel. But sadly, some of the design points he covers are not taking the Fighter back-to-basics, which somewhat defeats the purpose of D&D Next.
Looking at the points in the L&L article, only three-and-a-half of the talking points on Fighter design really apply to the class throughout the history of D&D. You’re probably wondering at which point is half right, but bear with me for a bit and I’ll get to that.
First off, I’d say that the design goal of The Fighter Is the Best at . . . Fighting! is absolutely true. In all instances of D&D, Fighters have had the best “to hit”, and gains the ability to hit more than once per round at the same or multiple targets. This has been true in every version of D&D prior to 4E, although arguably, he began to slip a bit here in 3.5 what with weapon focus, specialization, and multiple attacks became available to almost every melee class.
For the most part, The Fighter is Versatile is also true, with fighters being able to pick up and use any weapon in the game and kill effectively with it. Unfortunately, this asset started going away in AD&D and 2nd Edition when Fighters were offered weapon specialization from Unearthed Arcana and Skills & Powers. Sure a fighter can use all weapons, but he suddenly only became really good at one maybe two of them, and started using them exclusively.
And it’s hard to argue that the Fighter is the Toughest Character when he’s rolling massive d10 hit dice and usually having a stunning CON bonus to make a ton of hit points, which is then wrapped in the heaviest armors in the game. There were a few exceptions to this rule even as far back as AD&D, such as the Cavalier which popped into the game with as much as twice a Fighter’s hit points at first level, and on a warhorse, and in full field plate! But I know several DMs that laughed would-be Cavaliers right off their gaming tables when one was presented for play. The Barbarian was also another tough class, rolling d12 hit dice, but their armor limitations prevented them from being quite so obnoxious as the Cavaliers.
But from here, the Fighter Design Goals aren’t really living up to the reality of back-to-D&D-basics, because many of them run counter to what we all experienced through several editions of the game.
To start off, Mearls states in The Fighter Draws on Training and Experience, not Magic that:
They don’t need spells or some sort of external source of magical power to succeed. Fighters do stuff that is within the limits of mundane mortals.
Sadly, that is only HALF true, because while the Fighter does not study arcane lore, pray to a god for power, or make pacts with otherworldly creatures, he’s also not going to be very useful in a party without a serious dose of magic at regular intervals. Fighters have been potion junkies from the very start of D&D, utilizing a wide range of them in combat in order to stay alive and augment their abilities. And they have always been dependent on magical armor and magical weapons in order to keep doing their jobs well, although the dependence on magic armor and weapons has never been as pronounced as it has been in 4E. Oh sure, a Fighter can get away with mundane gear, but even under AD&D rules, there were some creatures which ignored the blows of mundane weapons entirely, leaving a Fighter worthless unless he had magic in his hands.
And at higher levels, Fighters would often end up with pretty potent magic items like a Fill-In-The-Blank–Slaying Weapons, Sharpness or Vorpal Swords, a Mace of Disruption, or a Rod of Lordly Might, all of which gave them the ability to do substantial damage in combat against foes with a lot of hit points, sometimes killing them instantly. Heck, there have been Fighters in some old AD&D and 2nd Edition campaigns literally bristling with weapons of several of the types mentioned, and MORE! And this also is a lead-in to the point Mearls makes about The Fighter Exists in a World of Myth, Fantasy, and Legend. Sure he does, but without magic items of a certain caliber, the Fighter has never been able to do the super-heroic feats mentioned in the article:
Beowulf slew Grendel by tearing his arm off. He later killed a dragon almost singlehandedly. Roland slew or gravely injured four hundred Saracens in a single battle. In the world of D&D, a skilled fighter is a one-person army. You can expect fighters to do fairly mundane things with weapons, but with such overwhelming skill that none can hope to stand against them.
In fact, the one-man army has never been part of the Fighter’s bailiwick, although in older editions of the game, he could stand toe-to-toe with tons of low-level critters and kick-butt. The “old school” rules allowed for a well-equipped Fighter to stand up to a pack of Giant Rats, Kobolds, and Goblins because they were all below a single hit dice, and they could usually only hit a Fighter one-in-ten or even one-in-twenty swings. And the Fighter got to return with a swing that could attack as many less than one-hit-dice monsters as he had levels – i.e. the 10th level Fighter could attack 10 kobolds in a single round! But against higher level monsters, he could only kill them one at a time, which made many players I know seek out magical gear like Javelins of Lightning, Helms of Brilliance, and Necklaces of Missiles, just so they could whip out an area of effect attack when it was necessary to kill a lot of monsters on the battlefield.
In essence, “old school” Fighters quite often made themselves into what the late-great-Robert Aspirin might have “mechanics” in his Myth Adventure Series – grabbing up what magic items they could to produce spell-effects like Wizards already do naturally.
Which brings us to the final Fighter Design Point of A High-Level Fighter and a High-Level Wizard Are Equal. Great design goal, but COMPLETELY counter to the back-to-basics design goal of D&D Next. Only in D&D 4E was there some balance in capabilities of Fighters and Wizards, and that was accomplished several ways: the At-Will/Encounter/Daily power structure; substantially reducing the damage of Wizard AoE effects; offering the Fighter some limited AoE attacks and attacks which have special effects like stunning, dazing, slowing, etc. None of these 4E character designs fit with the back-to-basics design paradigm which is at the heart of D&D Next.
If we truly take both the Fighter and Wizard back-to-D&D-basics, Fighters will be able to strike a single target several times in a round, but probably not kill it, while a Wizard will unleash an area of effect attack, roll a dozen dice, and kill several monsters in a single round. This is the heart of the Fighter-Linear-Wizard-Quadratic problem which has plagued Dungeons & Dragons Editions since the Basic Set.
The only way to solve this discrepancy is begin making design decisions which will increase Fighter damage against multiple targets and add special effects like stunning, dazing, and so forth, like 4E did – definitely not back-to-basics. Conversely, the Wizard could be limited in scope by reducing their damage dice, curtailing the number of special effects on their attacks, or by making spellcasters hit with their spells – or a combination of all of these. Again, this goes against the back-to-basics canon of D&D Next, because the design team would be utilizing class power structure from 3.5 and 4E. Oh yeah, and I should include Pathfinder along with 3.5 and 4E, as their non-back-to-basics innovations to melee classes have helped to somewhat resolve the Fighter-Linear-Wizard-Quadratic in that game system.
While I am in favor of the design goals for the Fighter class as put forth in today’s Legend & Lore article, I am still concerned how this will get implemented given the overall goal of creating a new edition of D&D that gets “back to basics”. As with last week’s L&L article, several of the changes proposed to the Cleric were very not-Cleric, and therefore not fitting with the D&D Next design paradigm. Likewise, the Fighter goals are solid, they don’t seem to be able to be accomplished without using design innovations we’ve seen in only the latest editions of D&D – 4E and Pathfinder – which will be a major turn-off for the old school gamers who love AD&D and Second Edition. And much of the complexity of Fighters battle style requires that we leave behind “Theatre of the Mind”, pull out a battle mat, and write rules for handling complex melee maneuvers – again, something which is inherently counter to a “back-to-basics” design goal for D&D Next.
So I want to finish with a couple of questions for readers to ponder and comment upon, if you will:
- How much innovation is allowed in the game elements before the WotC Design Team diverts from the “back-to-basics” goal of D&D Next?
- How can the Fighter-Linear-Wizard-Quadratic issue be solved without over-charging the Fighter Class or over-limiting the Wizard Class? And will that still be “back-to-basics”?
As always, your comments and feedback on my blogs are most welcome, and I’d love to hear what ideas the community has about the class design of D&D Next!
So until nect blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Illustration by Wayne Reynolds.