I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Monday, June 10, 2024

Fixing B/X fighters

Now I'll analyse some solutions - these are already implemented in AD&D, BECMI, and other games, but I'll discuss some and show which ones I use in B/X.

Better numbers

Easiest way of improving Fighters without making them more complex is just raising their numbers. E.g., giving them 1d10 HP or a better attack progression (AD&D), better saves, etc. 

This is a matter of fine tuning and taste; I like just giving fighters +1 per level as it simplifies things and it's just intuitive to me that a level 9 fighter has +9 to-hit (in my games, a 9HD monster also has +9). 

I'm not a fan of 1d10 HP because it leads to some HP inflation, but it is not bad either.

More damage

This is also "better numbers", but deserve special attention because, unlike HP and THAC0, damage doesn't usually raise with level (unless you use magic items).

A fighter that gets extra attacks increases damage output, but I always felt that Conan should be able to kill a sorcerer with a single blow occasionally.

We could give the fighter a damage bonus (level/3, round down?). 

Or just say that if you hit AC by 10 or more, damage is maximized or doubled. This will improve damage gradually with attack bonus, encourage the use of bigger weapons, give more importance to armor, and also give the thief a boos because of backstabbing (which is well deserved).

Better items

This is not exactly a solution, but a concern. Magic items in B/X are extremely important to Fighters, but not as common in my own games (which have a lowish fantasy, S&S feel). 

This is my own fault, of course - but I thought I should mention this here so you don't fall in the same trap. 

In other words, if you are limiting magic items (especially the intelligent swords of B/X), give the fighters something else to compensate.

Fighting minions and "cleaving"

The OD&D and fighter can attack multiple times against a horde of foes with less than one HD (e.g., goblins). I find this so important that I will write a small post on the subject next. 

My main objection to this is that it is binary; maybe the fighter can attack ten times against an horde of goblins but only once against a bunch of orcs.

"Cleaving" is a great substitution: when you reduce an enemy to 0 HP, you get an extra attack. This will often allow a high-level fighter to attack multiple goblins and even get some advantage against a group of reptile man. No calculations needed and it just feels cool.

Weapon specialization

Weapon specialization as described in AD&D and BECMI cover a lot of these grounds: better numbers, more damage, more attacks, etc. Which is good and also allows fighters to be archers, duelists, etc., giving players more archetypes to play with.

My issue with making weapon specialization a focus is that fighter often rely in magic weapons they've found, so they cannot always choose which weapon they'll use, and it is sometimes disappointing to find a cool magic axe that deals less damage in your hand than an ordinary sword.

My solution is that a "weapon master" gets a bonus with ALL weapons, and a SMALL bonus to a single fighting style, as suggested here:

Weapon master. You get +1 to attack, damage, and AC. Choose a type of weapon or a fighting style (blades, two-handed weapons, light weapons, missile weapons, dual wielding, sword and shield, grappling, etc.). When using this style, you get +2 to attack, damage, or AC (choose one when you pick this feat), instead of the usual +1.

Weapon maneuvers

BECMI has some cool weapon maneuvers (mostly starting at 9th level for fighters and mystics). 

The one I remember the most is smash: you get -5 to hit but add your entire Strength score to damage! From the Rules Cyclopedia:

For example, a Strength 17 fighter ( + 2 to attack and damage) using a sword +2 ( + 2 to attack, 1d8 + 2 damage) would perform a smash this way: He rolls to hit with a net penalty of -1 ( + 2 + 2-5). If he hits, he rolls 1d8 + 21 (17+ 2+ 2) for damage!

1d8+21 damage?!? With this, Conan can DEFINITELY kill a sorcerer with a single blow!

The only problem with this maneuver is that it is so obviously overpowered for strong fighters that you will never make a regular attack again!

Notice this was partly incorporated in 5e as a feat: a simple -5 to-hit and +10 damage. Other OSR games have their own rules for special maneuvers (more notably DCC, LotFP, and Low Fantasy Gaming).

Multiple attacks

This is the most notable and popular of fighter enhancements, present in almost every edition other than B/X. It enhances damage, number of targets, options of maneuvers (maybe you can trip AND bash).

One small issue is that the second attack DOUBLES damage output, which is an abrupt boost (in 5e, for example, a 3rd-level fighter has some hope against a 4th level one, but neither can beat a 5th level fighter).

The third attack enhances damage by 50% so it is not as dramatic.

AD&D has "one and a half" attacks, which is a decent solution if you prefer less dramatic changes. The second attack comes every other round, but if you don't like this solution make the second attack deal half damage, or only take place when you roll an odd number for the first, etc.

My favorites - to use with B/X

I'm running a game that is mostly inspired by B/X, although with many house rules

Here are some of my favorites, for fighters:

* +1 THAC0 per level.
Feats that include cleaving, multiple attacks, weapon specialization, etc. - the fighter gets more feats than other classes.
* Simple weapon maneuvers. Usually, -4 to-hit and choose a benefit. Examples: +4 to damage, or AC (against a single foe), or to an ally's AC, or to cause an effect in addition to damage (e.g., trip, disarm, etc. - the enemy usually gets a save). But it doesn't come up often.
* If we get to level 10, I'm giving fighters 10d8 HP and so on (explained here). If a 12th level magic-user causes 12d6 with a fireball, I think it is fair to give the fighter 12d8 HP.
* Strength affects how much you can carry.
* Natural 20 deals maximum damage.

One thing I haven't used in the current campaign is "cleave" (as no one picked the feat), but I'm feeling I should have given this to everybody. This is what my next post is about.

No comments:

Post a Comment