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Against Fighters

Against Fighters

"Fighter" should not be a class.

There, I said it. The sentence above has been in my head for a few days now, unformed but growing. It has spawned from a discussion which has been had by others within the OSR and GLOG communities. The discussion is deciding on what makes a "fighter". The problem which often arises is that what makes a "fighter" is often shared by other classes which are built from the "fighter" - ranger, barbarian, paladin, knight, etc. Or, alternatively, creators do not want to exclude other classes from tripping or disarming an enemy or making more than one attack, and so those distinct "fighter"-y abilities are given to all.

Version 1.0

  • Paladin - fighter with a code and an order
  • Ranger - fighter with survivalist skills, an animal companion, and potentially magic
  • Barbarian - fighter with anger issues and potentially a vastly different cultural background in the setting
  • Veteran - fighter with a lot of experience and skill
  • Soldier - fighter with some experience and skill
  • Gish - fighter with magic
  • Monk - fighter with inner peace and lethal body parts
  • Rogue - fighter with stealth and specialization
Generally, this is how these classes are conceived. And yes, people can argue 'til their dead about the nuances of a "barbarian" or a "monk", but this is largely that to which these classes are reduced. This is the first problem with the "fighter" class - it is the basis. What differentiates a "ranger" from a "gish" is not the fighter aspect, but everything else stuck to the class. Fighter is the foundation from which the classes are built; the interesting aspects of the class are created afterwards.
    I think of the "fighter" as version 1.0 of classes some may call "martial". In the "mathematics" of a paladin, it is FIGHTER + ORDER + CODE = PALADIN; a ranger is FIGHTER + SURVIVAL + MAGIC = RANGER; and so and so forth. Take the FIGHTER out of the equation and you have...something, but it isn't a paladin, a ranger, or whatever else the class should be.

Specifically General

Player: "Why can't I trip my opponent?"

GM: "You aren't a fighter. Only fighters have the ability to trip opponents."

Player: "But why can't I at least attempt to? I can stick my leg out and push as well as anyone else."

GM: "If you wanted to do combat maneuvers, you should have played a fighter."

An overly simple example, but one that often revolves around the fighter in combat situations. How do you make "fighter" unique from all the other classes which are built from them? The second problem of the "fighter" is in the question: how do you make what is general unique? Simple! You begin limiting what others should be able to do so that the fighter has a place to shine! This is bad design. In limiting things any person could do - tackle, trip, taunt - to only one class, you exclude any other classes from doing those options. Options which anyone should be able to do. This limitation kills creativity, enjoyment, and frankly, a portion of internal consistency within the setting.
    I'm of the opinion the "fighter" should be your base for all your "martial" classes. Your ranger should be flavored a certain way, your rogue should be flavored a certain way, your paladin should be flavored a certain way, but all of them should come from the same source. The idea of a "fighter" is general because a "fighter" can be anyone - a boxer, a soldier, a mixed martial artist, a crazed psychopath, a drugged up berserker; all are fighters, just with different stuff in addition to the basic "fighter". 


In fact, I'd even go so far as to say "fighter" should be the floor for any adventurer. Can't swing a sword? Can't block a spear thrust? Can't defend oneself in a basic, reliable manner? Don't adventure. If one can't fight those things which creep and crawl in the darkness, if one can't carry their own weight, they are not an adventurer - they are a liability. A liability to everyone with them; the weak link which will break; and the first body to be carried out, if one's team should even decide to reclaim one's body.
    If all one is good for is studying books, reading dead languages, or playing a soft tune, one should not adventure. Instead, one should be hired by adventurers to do things, but not to adventure. One should instead be an NPC or hireling. Is this a harsh assessment? Yes. Is it an honest assessment? Yes. Every adventurer should be assumed to be a fighter, which makes a "fighter" unnecessary.
    Imagine with me, if you would, you're going to delve into some deep dungeon of untold horror, but also untold riches. Who do you want with you? Someone who knows basic self-defense or martial techniques or someone who has never wielded a sword but can read dead languages? Someone who knows how to absorb blows and use random weapons and armor or someone who wouldn't be able to tell a dagger from a mace but can make good music? If you're risking your life for wealth, you'd better make sure you're at least coming back with your life. Those who read dead languages or play good music will be waiting on the surface, ready to serve for the right price. Those who can keep you alive should go with you.
    Or, to flip it, imagine you've no fighting skill whatsoever and someone comes to you explaining the plan - adventure into a place of deadly beasts and foes to get gold. Constantly have your life threatened in an incredibly dangerous environment, knowing you can't fight back should something come for you. No sane individual would agree to this; and no insane individual would last that long once they begin.

A Vestige of the Past

The "fighter" once had it's place, when creativity was limited to four classes. It was distinct then, for nothing else existed. But it isn't 1975 any longer and there are more classes built from the "fighter" than I can count, which is good. "Fighter" should not exist as a class, but should exist in every adventurer or in every martial class. If ever I've committed TTRPG heresy, it is most likely now.
    What say you, O nameless Void? Have I gone beyond what is orthodox and blasphemed against our beloved hobby? You know better than I.


  1. I agree with your sentiments. Anyone should be able to swing a sword and be creative in combat. If some new combat class is added, it has to bring something new to the table, or alter the gameplay loop. Well said, nice post.

  2. hell yeah play a fuckin' inquisitor avengeant or a gutter knight or even a FIGHTMASTER, don't play a fighter

  3. I believe equipment is a real gatekeeper to fighting ability, personally, so classes that don't revolve around violence (which should be most classes) should only get a dagger and no armor. Maybe some duct tape.
    Fightery types would get flare guns, flak vests, zweihanders, helmets, etc.
    I do believe there is merit to taking people who can't fight into a dungeon - it's interesting to see how they come out.

    1. From a "human being coming to play a game" perspective, I'll concede that the challenge of having a combat-weak character can be enjoyable. However, from a "character within the setting" perspective, I don't think anyone who doesn't know their way around a blade or shield would willingly risk dying, or something worse. The break in the internal consistency never sat well with me.

  4. I find your argument sound - in a game with classes that represent the specific and not the general, there is little reason to include a generic fighter (or a generic wizard, for that matter).

    However, it's a fundamentally different paradigm than having only generic archetypes as classes, where the fighter is supposed to represent Arthur, Conan, and Robin Hood (to the degree the game represents anything beyond itself).

    I'm not convinced about your "floor" argument, though, because I see fighting as just one facet of adventuring. Not everyone needs to be able to fight properly, just like not everyone needs to be able to disarm traps, read dead languages, or fast talk their way out of trouble.

    1. I almost went after the "generic wizard" as well, but didn't want to get yelled out too much. I agree that fighting is only one facet of adventuring, but I consider fighting to be the most important facet of adventuring. Eventually the silver-tongue tarnishes and the fighting starts, and then being able to fight is the only thing that matters for the next few minutes, or the last few minutes, of your life.

  5. I'm with Ynas Midgard, what you're saying makes sense if you start from the premise that players need specific classes to be able to play a concept. In other words, paladins won't exist without a paladin class.

    But, I can give you the example of my own game where I kind of did the opposite and it worked well. In my game I only have three classes Fighter, Magic-user, and Divine-petitioner. The last is because I got tired of the cleric as Christian concept and wanted room for pagans, shamans, ancestor worshippers etc. So, each of my players that picks Divine -petitioner picks their own god and even the rules they should follow to stay in that god's good graces. It lead to someone that worships Captain Morgan, and someone that worships Victoria's Secret and it's been funny and fun. You could achieve the same thing that they are playing out in my game if you offered players the option to be specific classes like Swashbuckling Pirate Cleric and Glamour Angel, but I didn't need to.

    I think I do agree with you that, at least in my creepy adventure game, combat is always a threat, so characters need to be able to survive it somehow. But my basic three classes do okay when working together with others.

  6. One should strive to not have any classes monopolizing the
    game’s actionspace.

    This holds true not only for fighters but all classes that operate in the ”a non-magical character could do this” level. The trick is to have abilities that just makes them better, not enable abilities that are taken for granted.

    Flavourful takes on fighters can be great as a tool to impart worldbuilding. But its easy to forget that most players are interested in their and the other players little bubble in the world, not the setting as a DM often does.

    Being a Prismatic Paladin of the Five Moons is not a character concept the player spawned. It’s one the DM is enforcing. And the more it is distanced from the ”guy with a sword” concept, the harder it will be for the player to make their own character and easier to take on a pre-defined role.

    Good read, and I see some merit for the exclusion of the fighter. But I see it as really only an option when the players begin invested in the setting and are not bringing D&D expectations to the table.

    1. I think being as general as "fighter" is bad, but also being as specific as "Prismatic Paladin of the Five Moons" is also bad. Ranger, barbarian, monk, etc. I think is the sweet spot/happy medium. Provides enough distinction without shoe-horning.

  7. (Sorry for deletion, had to fix a few things I missed)

    How do you feel about thieves?

    I’ve always seen them as a class that intrudes upon the shared actionspace by simply existing. Typically their implementation is more troubling than fighters since it pushes characters away from thiefly skills, which in some dungeon crawls is the majority of the game.

    I’ve played around with the idea of a hack of classes that don’t fulfill any roles in a party, but rather just have a chain of Electric Bastionland style abilities/tools. I find it exciting, but it also loses the entire notion of characters having clear roles. If it’s for the better or worse I’m not sure.

    1. Giving thieves abilities at the exclusion of other classes is bad. Giving thieves are greater level of skill compared to other classes regarding things all classes are able to do is better.


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