Fighter Roles

In this post, I’ll be taking a look at the role Fighters have played in D&D as well as a few idea on how those roles could develop.

Basic D&D

Let’s start by taking a look at few choice quotes from the Rules Cyclopedia entry for the Fighter:

  • “A fighter is a human whose main ability is fighting skill.”
  • “fighters protect their weaker friends and allies”
  • “In group adventures, the fighters should stay in front and act as the “front line” in combat situations.”
  • “A fighter character should be able to use a variety of weapons.”
  • “Unless your conception of your fighter character limits him to one class of weapons, you should equip him with both hand-to-hand and missile weapons.”

This gives us a combat oriented character who protects allies by standing between them and enemies. This points to a “meat shield” role that’s been around single pretty close to the beginning of the game.

One reason this was so effective is many old school dungeons had a fair number of narrow halls or choke points which made it hard to go around the fount line.

Another factor that helps was the larger parties (supplemented by henchmen) that are popular in these games. This provides enough warriors to provide a solid front line and possibly a rear guard to protect the middle ranks very effectively.

Later Editions

The classes entries in AD&D and 3rd Edition D&D seem to make little mention of how the class is meant to operate.

However, as wide open spaces and smaller parties became more popular it did become harder for fighters to act an impassable front line. Indeed, in 3E they often ended up as specialist in a single combat trick such as charging or tripping opponents.

4th Edition

The next clear statement of intended class roles would show up in 4th Edition D&D.  This edition formalized four combat roles for player characters and assigned the “Defender” role to the fighter.  Defender features include:

  • High defense and hit points to minimize the impact of enemy attacks.
  • A “marking” mechanic and supporting feature to punish “marked” enemies when they attack allies.
  • Heavy use of melee ranged attacks.

The actual class entry for the fighter expands on this by saying:

  • “You are very tough and have the exceptional ability to contain enemies in melee.”
  • “Fighters are determined combat adepts trained to protect the other members of their adventuring groups.”
  • “Fighters define the front line by bashing and slicing foes into submission while reflecting enemy attacks through the use of heavy armor.”

Some of these features will seem very familiar. After all, the fighter is still acting as the front line and protecting allies.

One addition that stands out is the defender’s marking mechanics. Earlier fighter’s protected allies by blocking off terrain. In short, defense was by controlling territory. In contrast, marking singles out specific enemies to be influenced.

Another interesting point is the 4E fighter’s abilities are centered around preventing enemy movement through extra attacks. In fact, the only way for most marked enemies enemy to avoid suffering extra attack to stand right where they are and trade blows with the fighter. The fighter focuses a bit like a snare or bear trap and very effective in shutting down enemy movement.

Role Ideas

First off, it’s evident the fighter’s classic role is a combat oriented one. That’s not to say fighters can’t have other roles within the party, but all fighters should (as the name implies) have a strong combat role.

Second, that role should favor the classic “meat shield” position they’re so well-known for. In short, the fighter should be good at protecting allies by placing themselves between those allies and enemies.

While the 4E fighter has some good features for doing this, other options are worth looking into. For example, a given fighter might be good at intercepting enemies, pushing them away from allies, and/or interrupting their attacks.

In fact, fighters could specialize in interrupts and readied actions. Sudden interrupts could be very useful in countering enemies attacks. In contrast, having readied actions declared before hand can influence enemy actions as they may change their plans to avoid threatened punishment. These readied attacks can also be tied to allies or protected areas instead of or in addition to specific enemies.

Another useful option is to give fighter hits with useful control effects. For example, hits that stagger, pin, or slow enemies can be very effective in keeping enemies at bay. This can also be combined with other tricks. For example, a counter attack could inflict a penalty on the attack it interrupts.

On aspect I’d like to see played up is the fighter’s ability to act as a mastery of many weapons. A fighter who can engage enemies both at range and up close has a definite appeal. I also like the idea of making the fighter adaptable and an expert at countering and adjusting to match enemy tactics.

Published in: on June 28, 2010 at 9:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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