"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.
- 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.
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.