Friday, August 23, 2013

Fighter Love

[boy, it sure has been a week for puncture wounds and bleeding. I won't go into it at the moment...we're all alive and well...but, well, take my word for it]

I know there are plenty of readers (or, at least, subscribers) who continue to play B/X as their game/edition of choice and who wish I would continue to put out more B/X content. And that’s not an unreasonable demand…I mean, the blog IS billed as “B/X Blackrazor,” right?

The thing is B/X is the origin of my “fantasy gaming” passion. B/X was the first RPG I learned and played…it’s how I cut my teeth on the hobby. Even when I (in my childhood) moved into Advanced D&D game play, I (and my fellow players) brought a lot of B/X sensibilities. When rules in the advanced game didn’t make sense or were incomprehensible to our twelve year old minds, we would default back to B/X for our rules frame despite that (as young teens) we were scoffing at the idea of “race as class.”

I still carry those B/X sensibilities with me. I’m writing new games and new rules and new systems, but I’m drawing them up in comparison to B/X. Even DMI which has card mechanics unlike anything in B/X still has pieces of B/X (like class and level and random tables, depending on the version). B/X is my foundation of gaming. When I write a game that has nothing in common with B/X, the press release in my mind is saying, “This game, unlike B/X, uses A, B, and C…”

But the "B/X" is still there. Just so you know.

Anyway, I’ve got an idea for a possible house rule B/X players might want to incorporate into their games. For the record, the basic concept is ripped off from Jon/Red Beard from a conversation we had at Dragonflight…he and his co-DM have been working on something similar for their games. I’m taking it, refining it a bit, and running with it. It addresses a couple issues/complaints I’ve heard more than once over the last couple years:

-        The “boring sameness” of B/X combat compared to later editions (specifically 3rd edition and later). And in conjunction:
-        The lack of interesting maneuvers (or “boring-ness”) of the fighter class…especially (again) compared to the customizable concept found in D20 (through the selection of “feats”).

Now, personally, I am a big fan of the fighter. I like to play fighters. I don’t often get the chance to do this (for a variety of reasons), but that doesn’t matter much since I tend to play all my characters like a fighter anyway…you know, kick-in-the-door, take-no-prisoners, etc. There’s a simple elegance to an archetype that’s the character class equivalent of a blunt object. I mean, let’s face it: the fighter is built to soak and inflict trauma. Any other use of the class is counter-productive.

Fighting is the fighter’s purpose in life. Everything else is incidental.

One of the unfortunate things about this simplicity is that this is the character class most often foisted off on the beginning gamer. Never played before? Be a fighter. They have a high survivability (good HPs and AC) and are pretty effective at the simplest method of “conflict resolution” in the game: charge the monster, roll D20. With the prime requisite of Strength…and Strength’s ability to add to both attack and damage…a 1st level fighter (with enough wealth for proper equipment) is the MOST effective human class in B/X D&D; only the demi-humans (dwarf, halfling, and elf) are more effective.

[why is the prime requisite important? Because in B/X you are allowed to raise your prime by lowering other abilities. You can, from Day 1, give yourself a boost to your fighting abilities. The demi-humans share STR as a prime req, plus they get other special abilities and saving throw bonuses…and they can still wear plate mail and shield and wield normal (D8 damage) swords. It is only over the long-haul that the fighter “out-classes” the B/X demi-humans by surpassing them in level…but that can take a long time]

But when your least experienced players are the ones playing the fighter (because the other classes are too complicate, hard to play, or risky for the newbie) it can lead to a devaluing of the class. Well, no…that’s not really what I want to say. Over time, it feels like fighter is “dump class” because that’s where newbies get “dumped” when they’re still knuckleheads just trying to learn the game.

[which, of course, is ridiculous since BASIC D&D is, by definition BASIC. So long as the level of play is under 4th level, you might as well let anyone play any class]

Now, readers may think I’m pointing fingers at their blogs or campaigns or DMing ability and may have objections to my “assumptions” of their style of play. No, that’s not the case. I’m talking about my own experiences – as a DM and as a player in D&D games – and how, at least when I was younger, I would encourage newbies to try the game as a fighter. And this despite actual evidence in play that it’s possible for the best player and the biggest badass to be a simple (SIMPLE! No feats! No weapon specialization!) fighter.

Because she was.

Having a high survivability and great ability to dish out damage in melee makes the fighter the ideal leader of an adventuring party. And do you want the least experienced player at the table leading your group? I sure don’t!

But I’ll be honest: the fighter as “heroic leader” is not something I’ve seen in play very often. In fact, in my B/X games I’d go so far as to say “almost never.” But then, a lot of times I see a lack of leadership in general (boy, that is a topic that REALLY deserves its own post!). Instead, the fighters I usually see are:

-        Big, dumb, plunge-ahead guy. “I’ve got an 18 strength and a two-handed sword.” This is the guy that leads with his foot (kicking in the door) and blade. They don’t usually last too long (though, they may be the last man standing if they, say, draw their party into a battle with a nest of troglodytes).
-        Skulking “hero.” I don’t really know how to describe this. Oh, wait…sure I do. This is the guy who takes a fighter as a character because “the party needs a fighter,” but he doesn’t really WANT to play a fighter. He might walk point, but he’s hesitant to get into combat until the battle is joined and he’s still acting in a “support” role…it’s just that his “support” is in melee. These guys tend to survive a long time (because of cautious play coupled with high survivability) unless they blow a saving throw but, man, they are armored wussies.

Maybe it’s just a guy thing. It’s funny, but when I think about it the best fighters I’ve seen in D&D games have all been controlled by female players.  Yes, yes, there are women gamers who can act dumb or who “just want to kick ass” (I’ve had that argument with people before), but if given a chance (in game) to think or interact, females playing fighters will usually step up to the challenge.

In my experience, this is in direct contrast to male players who are playing fighters. Not that male players don’t want to interact with NPCs, puzzle out obstacles and riddles, or think of clever things to do…plenty do. But (it’s weird now that I think about it) not when they’re playing fighters. It’s like they step into the role of a fighter and they decide to turn their brain to “off.” Even the “skulking fighter” described above becomes TENTATIVE in play…while the same player as, say, a cleric brings more to the table in the role. Also, it’s worth noting that this “turn the brain off” mentality doesn’t apply to fighter “subclasses” like paladins and rangers and archers and scouts (though, upon reflection, it still applies to barbarians).

Maybe, male gamers are cerebral people who are over-thinking (or under-thinking) the fighter class and don’t see the potential in being a blunt object.

Dammit…this post is getting long, and I haven’t even gotten to my whole B/X house rule I wanted to write about.  Along with my thoughts from yesterday (the simultaneous combat of melee), I think I’ve got fodder for a couple separate fighter posts.

In fact, in reading over the blog, I see I’ve written LOTS of posts on the other classes of B/X D&D and very little on the fighter, other than to justify the abstract combat rules of D&D. Looks like it’s time to rectify that situation.

[to be continued]


  1. be continued. dun dun da

    In every new game I play, RPG or video game I always play a human fighter. I guess it's my baseline on how to gauge a game. If I can't enjoy the game playing a fighter I really doubt I enjoy playing with the more specialized classes. But I prefer to play a smart fighter, if I get the right stats. I guy who can read people, gauge their abilities and find their weakness.

    Looking forward to my copy of 5AK!

    1. @ Tim:

      I managed to get your copy out in the mail Friday morning; expect it next week.
      : )

  2. Now here's something I can get pretty excited about.

  3. At the risk of pre-empting your idea, though I hope to throw some logs on the fire for you, you should check out Large Polyhedron Collider's series "A New Look At Combat" ( it has some awesome tactical choices you can drop into any game with a little work. I'm riffing off it for my own game, it's just that good.

    1. @ Homeless:

      Feel free to preempt...saves me time writing! I'll check it out when I have the chance. Right now I've got a bunch o fires on the homefront that need putting out.

  4. Lack of Leadership is something that's being played out in two groups that I'm presently running.

    They like being "rugged individuals."

    Several of them should have died already, but I intervened. Not again. Time for them to learn the hard way: No teamwork, no survive.

  5. im trying to make fighter more appealing and have post about to get up on subject - I like bx + NWP system and it helps fighters alot much like feats - modern dnd fighter could get more feats in my book

    mass combat a way to make shine too

    i would write up paladins and rangers in my game but as nobody plays fighters creating another excuse to not play them is low on my plan list