I was on a discussion not too long ago in a discord forum and the conversation came up that plain Fighters are often not used in B/X OSR games. The main argument is that almost any other class is better in most ways compared to the Fighter, especially the Dwarf. The critics may have a point especially at lower level. There is very little difference in a low level Fighter and a low level Cleric when it comes to combat. The Dwarf is more survivable than the plain Fighter and is at least his equal in combat. The Cleric actually levels faster than the Fighter and gains spell access and better abilities to combat undead. The Dwarf does have to get more XP than the Fighter, but it is not that much more for great saves and a whole host of abilities.
In my most recent campaign I notices two things: One, my longstanding players always chose Dwarf over Fighter when making a martial character, and Two, players who did play Fighters often died when others did not. Is this exact science? No. This is just my limited experience with a limited amount of people. If you then use the Old School Essentials Advance Fantasy Genre Rules with Rangers, Paladins, Barbarians, etc. the Fighter really starts to lose its luster. Discussion then went on to, “How can we make the Fighter better/appealing?” I am compiling here some of the ideas tossed about in the forum, already used by other systems, or ideas that I came up with to make the Fighter a competitive choice for players.
1 - Make the Fighter utterly dominate in fighting.
This idea I know from Lamentations of the Flame Princess in that Fighters are the only class that gets better at fighting. This, to me, is the most extreme of the ways to make the Fighters better, but it certainly makes them distinct. Fighters are the only class that gets a to-hit bonus as they level up, this includes classes like Elf and Dwarf. At first level everyone gets a +1 to hit, and after that only the Fighter increases. You could do it the LotFP way and just give Fighters a +1 per level, or follow the standard progression chart in the OSE/BX books. This still makes every class special, because they all have their different perks, but fighting ends up being the Fighter’s perk.
2 – Hit Die based weapon damage
The first game I know of to use this is Dungeon World. The idea is that whatever die you use for Hit Dice is the die you use for damage regardless of weapon/attack. The rationale is that a Fighter with a dagger will likely deal more damage than a Wizard with a dagger. Different people use this rule in different ways and it is really up to the DM how they want to implement it in their game. Many people leave the idea of weapon restrictions out the door and allow Wizards and Clerics to use whatever, but the weapons do less damage. I have seen some DMs allow characters to use “oversize” weapons like polearms or two-handed swords and do one die type higher.
This has the advantage of allowing Fighters to use flavorful weapons without losing effectiveness. This generally increases the damage that Fighters do at range with that solid D8 damage. This also increases the chance of a Fighter gaining a magical weapon. Many campaigns that I have run and played the characters get a magical weapon that is less than ideal for a Fighter. Something like a +2 dagger which in many parties would go to the Thief or Wizard, but Fighters now have a D8+2 damage dagger. That is pretty nice. The biggest issue that generally surfaces with this approach is the Thief. The Thief goes down to a D4 damage and that just does not feel right. I have heard many people homebrew further and allow the Thief to do a D6 damage while still retaining the D4 hit die. Also, this does not solve any problems realistically if you are using the Advance Fantasy Genre Rules, as Paladins, Barbarians, etc still get that D8 damage and appear more appealing than the Fighter.
|Not a bad damage die.
3 - Weapon Specialization
This is the simplest and easiest to add to the existing material by allowing the Fighter class to specialize in one weapon. This rule has various incarnations in lots of different version of (A)D&D, and I am not 100% certain where it first surfaced, possibly BECMI. I am in no way advocating an entire skill system with Weapon and Non-Weapon Proficiencies because I find that too cumbersome. A simple system though that is for Fighters, and only Fighters, can be a solid addition. This distinguishes the Fighter from the other classes, and gives it that advantage that makes them feel a bit more complete.
4 – Superior Protection
So far we have only discussed making the Fighter better at killing things, what if we focused on making them a bit tougher. I have discussed in previous articles how I like the rule “Shields Shall be Splintered” from Trollsmyth. In general, this rule allows a character with a shield to sacrifice the shield in order to take no damage from a single attack. In my games I only allow Fighters to use this option. This has come in handy on numerous occasions and sets them apart from the other martial characters. This allows them to hang out in the front of group and take a beating playing up to that tough character mantra that they are often saddled with. This also allows Fighters to exist that do not roll super well on their Hit Die. They know for a fact, they can at least take one shot before they go down.
I do put a few restrictions on this so that it does not get silly. One, Fighters can only carry one shield at a time. They cannot spam shields though they can get other people to carry extra for them. Two, this rule is only allowed with “proper” shields. Basically the Fighter cannot do this with makeshift items like “I hold the Goblin corpse out in front of me like a shield to block the attacks.” I generally will give them the AC bonus, but they cannot use the specialized rule. They need a shield created by an expert to take advantage.
Shields often break in combat.
I went ahead and created a Facebook group for the blog, if you are interested the link is here.