Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Fight Over Fighters

               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.
                To me this works well within the LotFP ideology of play, and the fact that it focus on a lot of non-combat dangers. When combat comes, the Fighters are dominant, but combat is a bit rarer and more lethal. LotFP also tends to focus on lower level play, which I think supports this method a bit more. A 4th level Fighter with a +4 versus a 4th level Dwarf with a +1 while different, is not extremely different. A 9th level Fighter with a +9 versus a 9th level Dwarf with a +1 is a very big difference, especially when you consider the creatures you might face at that level. As mentioned above, this is a bit of an extreme method, but I promise you will get Fighters in your party if you use this system. If you are using the expanded classes from Advance Fantasy Genre Rules this becomes even more tricky, but still possible.

Devastating Opponents 

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.
                This can be accomplished in several ways, the simplest I have seen is having the Fighter pick a weapon at level 1, that cannot be changed later, and get a +1/+1 non-magical modifier with that weapon. Voila, you are done. You might not think it is much, but when you have a character that already has a high STR adding an additional +1/+1 it really starts to stack. This begins to make the Fighter a combat master. Personally, I allow Fighters to specialize and get a +1/+2. It is a holdover from (A)D&D 2nd Edition which I played so much in my youth and it makes it extra tempting. For those that are feeling brave you can add something for Fighters down the line like slightly expanding Weapon Specialization. I have not tried yet giving Fighters an additional Specialization at 5th level, and then an extra attack with a Specialized weapon at 10th. The original BX books talk about giving extra attacks at some point, but it is vague as to when to do it.

Pick one!

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.

                Overall these are just a few ways you can make some adjustments to have people want to play Fighters in OSE/BX. I would not recommend using all of them combined together, but find what works for you and your table. The Fighter is a classic, and one of the three original classes which I think has been expanded now in 5th edition to around 13 now. We need our old friend to stand out, and be the expert martial warrior.

I went ahead and created a Facebook group for the blog, if you are interested the link is here.


  1. As I was reading this, I thought fighters only rerolling a 1 when using a one ahnded weapon with two, and two handed weapons causing an extra die, but specialization and fighters only for the Shields shall be splintered rule seems like the most well rounded call, at least for me. Also, I can't help laughing when that old lady gets the money shot (the price of front row seats to a duel).

  2. Those are my preferred as well.I love the 13th Warrior!

  3. I always liked to play Fighters when I played back in High School, but I agree there is more "chrome" in other classes. I like the option of giving the Fighter melee bonuses as they advance in levels.

    One could equate them to style bonuses (2nd edition term). For example, Weapon Specialization could be an initial, level 1, proficiency costing two slots. Further proficiency bonuses could be Broad Group Specialization (as the 2e rule from the Fighter's Handbook) and Two Weapon Fighting (not allowed to others or allowed to the Fighter with less penalty, something like the first weapon hits with no DRM, the second at -2 DRM). Shields Shall Be Splintered could be another option costing two proficiencies. Simply allow the Fighter to "save" proficiency slots as they earn them in order to gain these at every other level or so.

  4. I may actually work on some options for Proficiency/Style bonuses for Fighters that allow them to increase in ability as they level up.

  5. One last thing: I don't see the Thief as being cheated by HD based weapon damage (I don't care for it anyway, but...). Thieves should not be (even marginally) effective front-line fighters. They make their living by stealth, not fighting. So light damage is not an issue for me. Besides, they do their real damage via back-stabbing, not melee. Just my thoughts.

  6. I have some options in the upcoming, yet to be named combat and tournament option book.

  7. As someone who nearly always plays a fighter (and a human one at that) in RPGs, I found this a very interesting and thought-provoking piece. Thank you.

    For my own Frankengame, I've taken your idea that the "shields shall be splintered" rule (which I already use) is only available to fighters (and barbarians).

  8. I have to disagree, more than half our players back our Basic D&D game played fighters. Most of all, Fighters were cooler than Dwarves. Elves and thieves after that.

  9. I was thinking about that too these past days. Even the Halfing is a better choice for a "light fighter" (limitation in level is the the main drawback). I want to add a simple basic change to make the fighter more appealing (no special capabilities etc. Just basic). At the creation, the player choose a profil :
    - killer : the fighter roll 2D and choose the best when rolling for damages.
    - Or Tank : when you roll for damages aginst a fighter, roll 2D and choose the worst.

  10. Those are solid ideas, the tank one is really good, but won't come into play as often.