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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fighters, Rangers, Paladins

Also Barbarians and Cavaliers I guess.

I have a few things to say about fighter types, kind of as a counterpoint to my earlier post about Magic-Users.

First off, Fighters and their associated sub-classes are by far the most favored classes in any game I have ever run and most that I have played in. I don't really know why this is but I have a few guesses.

First- I may be subtly encouraging my players to choose fighters simply because they are my favorite class. I am not sure if my games became combat heavy and trap/puzzle light because I find the Fighter stuff to be easier and preferable or if it's because my players chose to mostly play Fighter types. Kind of a chicken/egg issue with both sides tending to evolve towards a more Fighter heavy milieu. In my games people tend to get "stuck" playing the party Cleric or Thief. My increased use of published material may combat this development.

Second- I think most people playing D&D want to be the hero. Our culture supports this in the myths and legends of the past from ancient Greece up through the Arthurian myths, not to mention sword and sorcery stories. There aren't a lot of cultural archetypes for heroic adventuring Wizards, in fact sorcery of any sort is usually at best tolerated and most often actually employed by the antagonists. Remember Merlin was neither a popular guy at court nor a main character. He was essential to the plot, but a secondary character. Morgan LeFey was the bad guy (girl? at least it's an important and fairly well developed female character from the medieval period, there aren't too many of them).

Anyway, my point was- nobody wants to play the supporting cast. Also, the Wizard may ultimately become the most powerful class, but the Fighter has class specific abilities to use in every round of combat right from level one. Take that Wizard (and Cleric and Thief)!

My third point I want to discuss here is the slow degradation of the Fighter. I have a couple of things to say on this topic.

First- In my first experience with D&D (Holmes Basic) there were no sub-classes. You were a Fighter, a Magic-User, a Cleric or a Thief. Yes you had some race options and Elves were multi-classed. First edition AD&D introduced the Ranger and the Paladin (and eventually the Barbarian and the Cavalier) it occurs to me that they were the first kits. Yes, I used the K-word. Kits from 2nd edition were supposed to be just a way of playing the class you chose. They were exactly like all of those unofficial classes they used to have in the Dragon or White Dwarf. So, in my opinion, Paladins and Rangers were just like 2nd edition kits (or 3rd edition prestige classes)

I had a long running 1st Edition AD&D character named Mandark the Barbarian. As soon as Unearthed Arcana came out I had to change his name to Mandark the Wild and my entire character concept, as played for years, was called into question. That irked me. Stupid Barbarian class shows up and now my “barbarian” character is somehow wrong?

In the old books it says that being a Fighter covers everything from being a gladiator to a samurai to a knight, adding Rangers to emulate Aragorn or Paladins for Holger Carlsen (sp?) was maybe a good idea for EGG when one of the guys wanted to hyper-specialize a Fighter but in the long run it meant that every unique character concept was going to have to have it's own class. Honestly that seems to have been the way EGG was headed with the proliferation of classes in post-core 1st edition AD&D.

Unfortunately, that leads to my second point- class ability inflation. Fighters are supposed to be the best fighters, right? I mean it's the name of their class. Thieves get to be the best thieves. Sadly, Fighters don't get to be the best fighters. The early sub-classes are only better under certain circumstances. Paladins are better at fighting evil, Rangers are better versus giant class foes (which quite perversely include some creatures that are much smaller than humans) and both of them have clear restrictions and need more experience points to level up. Still most people wanted to play the sub-class if they got the stats for it and newer stat rolling methods made getting those stats, even without cheating, not too difficult. So the Fighter got an upgrade- weapon specialization. Weapon specialization was originally only for single classed Fighters. That got thrown out pretty quick (read almost immediately), suddenly sub-classes and multi-classed characters both showed up with it in published AD&D materials. Annoying. For Cavaliers they just cloned the ability and gave it a different name when they decided that they weren't a sub-class of Fighter.

I get all ranting about the slow demise of the Fighter class. Every edition tries to make the Fighter be the best fighter and every edition decides to screw it up. This makes me want to just play OD&D, but the rest of the family insists the earliest edition they will play is 1st edition AD&D. To be fair that's the last edition they will play too. They tried OD&D and it was too lethal for their tastes. They tried Cyclopedia D&D and just didn't like the taste.

In other Fighter news, my son John has refused to play his 3rd level Fighter, the highest level character he has ever had, because he wants to play a Ranger instead. I told him he didn't have to play his old character if he didn't want to, but he'd have to roll up a new one and, if he didn't get the stats for it, he couldn't be a Ranger. With that news he picked up his dice and left the table. He turns sixteen later this month. Did I handle that poorly?