However, I find myself unsatisfied with several of the classes as they are presented in the PHB. At first I thought my grievances were unique to each class and unrelated. But as I continued to think about it and play the game, I found my disappointment grew out of one central idea: the classes I don't like are the ones which have lost their core meaning.
So, that gave me the idea for a series here on the blog, which I am calling "D&D Classes without Math," because I don't intend to deal with numbers and such, so that you can apply this to any tabletop RPG you would like. Also, I plan to cover every class I can, not just the lack-luster 5e ones.
Ultimately, the goal is to put into words what each class from our beloved game really is, down to brass tacks. Clearly, a +1 damage bonus doesn't define a character. There is something implied by the term "fighter" or "rogue" or "wizard" that, in my opinion, must be reached through the class's mechanics to make a successful and fulfilling piece of the game. (Much work is done by the players and how they chose to role play their character, of course, but I am still a staunch believer in the theory that mechanics inform player behavior, even in areas where the mechanics are silent.)
So, without further delay, here is the first installment.
D&D Classes Without Math: The Fighter
Most of all, they know the tools of their trade. They know that you can attack with every inch of a greatsword. They know you can grapple with a quarterstaff. They know carrying a shield increases their chance of surviving a battle in open fields, and decreases their odds of surviving a skirmish in the woods.
How does each fighter know all this? Beats me. Years of training? Killer instinct? Blessed by the god of war? Doesn't matter.
All that matters is that the fighter is the combatant extraordinaire.
Aside: what does that mean for the barbarian, ranger, paladin, etc? Should they just be worse at fighting? Simple answer: yes. Complex answer: their primary job should not be fighting, because if it is, then they are fighters. You want to make a 5e-style barbarian? Make a fighter that wears animal furs and fights with utter abandon. Not every minor stylistic choice deserves a new class. Only new roles in the game deserve new classes. This is more flexible than it sounds, but also much more rigid than late editions of D&D have been. You'll see as this post series develops.
Anyway, back to the fighter. How do we pack all of that awesome combat-know-how into a class, and scale it a bit with level so that fighters aren't done with all their training by first session? What class features embody the soul of the fighter? In my opinion, they are (in no particular order):
1. Fighters should have multiple attacks per turn, though not necessarily from the get-go.
This is not to represent the many, many weapon swings the fighter makes each round of combat. This is so that a fighter can attempt to hit multiple targets each round, thus making him/her one of the few (if not only) character-types that isn't quickly overwhelmed by throwing down with a few foes at once. This also easily translates into the fighter's higher damage output and accuracy. If you just want to deal a lot of damage to one enemy, attack it three times. You aren't guaranteed more damage or hits, but you certainly have a good chance of it. Last but not least, you can add a simple trade-off between using attack rolls and maintaining a solid defense. Something like "for each attack a fighter does not expend in a round, they get +1 to Armor Class" or maybe "they can roll to parry one attack." Or, you could just include a simple attack bonus-AC trade off choice that the fighter can make once per round.
2. Fighters should be able to exert themselves to do more on their combat turn.
A la the 5e action surge, giving the fighter a bonus something to do in combat is a good idea, but I would focus it more. I would say "the fighter can (x number of times per unit time, you decide) get an additional attack on their turn, even if they have not made any other attacks that turn." So, the fighter could choose to attack on his turn, and then get an extra attack on top of the previous ones. Or, the fighter could use their turn to do something other than attack, but still get in a quick swipe at an enemy while they do so.
3. Fighters should get a small bonus to hit against creatures they have defeated before.
Pretty self-explanatory. Fighter's owe their survival to remembering how to win fights. If they don't improve from each bout with a creature, they aren't long for this world. This wouldn't be cumulative, of course. So killing three goblins over three days does not grant +3 vs. goblins. It would be +0 agains the first, and then +1 against the goblins on days 2 and 3 (as well as all subsequent goblins). It's the DM's job to decide how broad or specific each bonus is. Is any goblin good for "+1 vs. goblins" or would it be "+1 vs. goblin stabbers" and then "+1 vs. goblin slingers," etc....
4. Fighters should be able to accomplish feats of strength.
All fighters are athletes, though some may be more akin to dancers and others to football players. They are all powerful, in that they can focus their bodily strength to accomplish physical tasks with great success. This should be represented with well-rounded Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores, of course, but throwing in a class feature for fun is a good idea, in my opinion. Simply put, this feature would be "(x number of times per unit time) the fighter can attempt a feat of strength, significantly increasing their chance of succeeding on a strength-based test." This could be done in a number of ways. It could be a large bonus or advantage, but one that must be applied before the roll. Or, it could be a moderate advantage, but one that can be applied retro-actively, therefore doubling as a fail-safe. I love the image of a burly or physical character busting down a door or lifting a portcullis because they are desperate and the party is in dire-straights. It gives the fighter some unskilled, but non-combat niche to fill.
5. The basics: fighters should have higher HP, and access to all weapons, armors, shields, etc.
Again, self-explanatory. I only include it as a footnote, really. This allows fighters to confidently wade into battle, and look forward to many, many usable goodies after the fact. This also represents where you might have stuff in your system that you think fighters should also get. Bonuses to hit. Bonus to initiative, perhaps? You get the idea.