My most current blog series is Long Division, a theoretical reorganization of power sources, classes, archetypes, and subclasses. In my last article on the topic, I suggested a new division of magic. In this article, I discuss the orgnanization of martial power.
Divisions are necessary to ensure that classes have distinct identities. I divided magic based on the effects they can generate as it is a natural division and, given the historical use of power sources, more or less how magic has been divided in all of the prior editions. Divisions are just as necessary in martial classes. We could simply have a single class called "Fighting Man" (and that's how the game started) who can use any weapon wear any armor, and is simply distinguished by the gear and feats that can let him be a sneaky backstabber, a stalwart defender, or a brash duelist. But D&D has not, ultimately, chosen that route. It demands a variety of classes, each with their own bailiwick.
For martial, however, it makes little sense to divide classes on the type of effects that can be generated. Unlike magic, martial classes are limited in the types of effects that it can cause, because martial classes are, at least at lower levels, expected to comport with the sort of fantasy heroics that a nonmagic character might be expected to pull off. While this isn't necessarily limited to things that are actually physically possible, it is limited to what is generally considered physically possible.A History of Martial
First, let's look at how martial classes have been distinguished in prior editions.
In OD&D, there was one martial class: the fighting man. He could use any weapon and any armor, and pretty much was allowed to improvise anything the DM felt was reasonable given that he was the only class that didn't have any magical powers. There was no martial distinction in original D&D.
In Basic D&D, there were three classes: fighting man, dwarf, and thief. There wasn't much functional difference between the fighter and dwarf. They could use any armor and weapon (and were presumed to seek out the biggest armor and weapons) and got the best hit points. The thief, in contrast, used light weapons, had terrible hp, and wore light armor. Here we see the first division of martial classes. One is strong, which means heavy armor and weapons and poor mobility, and the other dextrous, which means light armor and weapons and good mobility.
In 1e, we get four martial classes: fighter, thief, assassin, and monk. The monk had supernatural powers, but these were generally considered to be martial powers that grew to supernatural extents through training. In that sense, they were the forerunner of "impossible" martial exploits we will see in the end of Third Edition and throughout Fourth Edition.
We've doubled the martial classes, but the distinction remains: the fighter is strong, and the thief, assassin, and monk are dextrous. In fact, most of what distinguishes the thief, assassin, and monk from one another are the weapons they use and their incidental abilities. All are highly mobile, lightly armored, and use light weapons. The thief is sneakier, the assassin gets paid and has a few more deadly attacks, and the monk get Asian-themed noncombat abilities, like immunity to disease and unaging.
With Unearthed Arcana, we also get the barbarian and thief-acrobat. The thief-acrobat is a less stealthy, more agile thief. The barbarian introduces the third martial fighting style: light armor and heavy weapons.
In 2e, we get two martial classes again: fighter and thief. The monk, assassin, barbarian, and thief-acrobat are gone, and will only appear as variations of these two classes in kits. The barbarian's fighting style is gone, and we are back to heavy (fighter) vs. light (thief).
3e returns the three fighting styles last seen in Unearthed Arcana. The edition starts with four martial classes: fighter, rogue, barbarian, and monk (not including all the NPC classes). Supplements add some new purely martial classes, like the the knight, marshal, samurai, scout, and swashbuckler. At the end of the edition, the Tome of Battle sourcebook adds classes like the crusader, swordsage, and warblade.
Most of these classes, however, are simply variants on the three basic fighting styles of heavy armor/heavy weapon (fighter, knight, crusader, and warblade), light armor/heavy weapon (barbarian, samurai, and swordsage), and light armor/light weapon (rogue, monk, scout, and swashbuckler). Each class may have gotten some flavorful abilities, but each basic concept fits into one of these three styles.
Third Edition also gave us our fourth fighting style in the marshal, a class that only appeared in the obscure Miniatures Handbook. The marshal had armor and weapon proficiencies, but these were somewhat irrelevant to the core class concept, which was using strategy and verbal inspiration to boost allies.
4e continued with these four fighting styles. In fact, the game starts with four martial classes that correspond to the four fighting styles established in Third: fighter (heavy armor/heavy weapon), rogue (light armor/light weapon), ranger (light armor/heavy weapon), and warlord (leader). Essentials converted these classes to subclasses of similar archetypes (weapon master, thief, ranger, and marshal) and the new classes that were introduced fit into these same styles. 4e did not introduce a new fighting style (though it brought the leader-style to the forefront with the Warlord).
Should future editions continue the tradition of these four fighting styles? I think they should, though, as I did for magic, I think the martial power source would benefit from a more intentional division among these styles, as well as an expansion.A New Division
In the fantasy novels, myths, videogames, tv series, and films that make up the source material from which D&D draws, weapon-users' styles are most often based on their most prominent physical attributes. Burly men use big weapons that deal more force. Short wiry fighters use light, quick weapons, and maneuverability. Smart warriors fight strategically.
This makes sense. People play to their strengths and this feels natural in fantasy fiction. However, in D&D, characters don't begin with strengths (unless you randomly roll attributes). Players choose what they want to play and then give the hero the attributes he needs to fulfill that vision. Nevertheless, D&D should follow the tradition of building martial classes around the primary attributes of the PC.
Normally, fighting men have one of two main Abilities. The heavy weapon users take Strength and the light and ranged weapon users take Dexterity. I propose unshackling martial classes from these Abilities. Instead, I would require all martial classes to take minimum Strength of 13 to represent the physical strength necessary to weild any wepons in the arduous conditions of fantasy combat. Characters who choose a class where Strength is primary would also need a Dex 13 to make the Ability requirements balanced. (Magic-using classes would have similar requirements, giving a primary Ability and a secondary threshold Ability that must be at least 13.)
But once this minimum threshold is met, the class one chooses should be based on your character's primary Ability. More precisely, the character's primary Ability will be determined by the fighting style that the player chooses for the character. Each of the six Abilities will be assigned a fighting style that plays to the traits associated with that Ability. In addition, each fighting style may have a variety of subclasses, builds, or what have you. A diagram of the Abilities, and their associated styles, classes and subclasses follows:
A short description of each of these fighting styles may be helpful. As you can see, each class has three subclasses/builds. One build will be primarily defensive in nature. (This build usually has "guard" or "mark" in the title.) A second build will be primarily offensive in nature. The third build utilizes a specialized form of equipment. Of course, as the game develops, additional builds may be introduced.
Two-Handed Fighting (Fighter/Strength). The strong wield weapons that best rely on muscles, and two muscled hands are better than one. Fighters can carry the heavy armor, but not shields, as they need both hands free for their weapon. The defensive vanguard uses his mighty reach to keep people at bay, while the more aggressive warrior concentrates on lopping people in two. Another variant for this class is the pikeman, who uses polearms to obtain additional reach.
Armor and Shield (Sentinel/Constitution). The "sword-n-board" style goes to the combatant who can heft a heavy shield as well as a weapon over and over. This class wears the toughest armor and wields the biggest weapon one can lift with a single hand. The defensive guardian uses his shield to protect himself and his allies as a living wall. The knight, in contrast, is a living juggernaut, using his heavily armored frame to barrel through enemies. Another variant for this class is the armorier, who employs weaponized armor, utilizing shield bashing and armor spikes to maximum utility.
Two-Weapon (Rogue/Dexterity). It takes a nimble hand (well, two) to control two weapons at once. The dextrous rogue will use light armor to maximize the agility needed to avoid blows, while striking with light weapons that can be quickly drawn and employed at dizzying speeds. The defensive blackguard often one weapon to parry a blow while the other thrusts. The offensive scoundrel is adept at finding openings in opponents' defenses. A variant of this class would be the acrobat, who uses double-weapons rather than two weapons, for a different style of effects. The staff, for example, may allow the rogue to vault about the battlefield.
Versatile (Weapon Master/Intelligence). The smart fighters can change tactics to address the weaknesses of opponents as well as playing to their own strengths. The weapon master favors flexibility in gear, using medium armor that maximizes flexibility and protection, along with defensive grieves and bucklers, and versatile weapons that can be used either one-handed or two-handed as the situation demands. Truly, however, the weapon master's weapon is the enemy itself. The defensive avant-garde gets into the enemy's mindset, countering and anticipating attacks even before the enemy consciously chooses to employ them. The more aggressive duelist uses the enemies' own strengths against them, causing them to overreach and create openings. A variant of this class will be the fencer, who specializes in feints and misdirection to get the enemy to attack itself and one another, thus weilding the enemy as a veritable weapon against itself.
Ranged (Ranger/Wisdom). The best archers are those with a keen eye to match their steady hand. The ranged attacker wears more mobile light armor because distance is the best defense, and wields light weapons to be drawn quickly in case an enemy manages to close. Primarily, the ranger specializes in ranged weaponry. The defensive marksman uses suppressive fire to foil the enemies' advance and precise shots to interfere with their attacks. The offensive sniper devastates the enemy with fatally accurate artillery fire. A variant on this class would be the gadgeteer who uses exotic ammunition to increase the variety of attacks available to it.
Allies (Warlord/Charisma). It is said a barbarian wields axes, but a warlord wields barbarians. The warlord may wear any armor and use any weapon with proficiency, but will more effectively offer assistance and counsel to allies in order to better address the enemy. The preceptor keeps allies out of harm's way by anticipating enemy strategies and outmaneuvering them. The marshal musters allies to coordinate deadly assaults and offensives against the enemy. A variant on this class may be a cavalier who can turn his and his allies' mounts and other companions into deadlier weapons and more effective defenders.Culture Shock
I think people will find that this division of classes is even more intuitive than what I chose for magic classes. However, some of my choices for nomenclature may raise eyebrows. For example, "blackguard" is now the name of a rogue subclass/build, rather than the shadow-powered antipaladin of 3e and 4e. First of all, I think the name "blackguard", as actually used in English, describes a rogue better than an anti-paladin. Second, I like that the defensive builds mostly have "mark" or "guard" in the name, to make it easier to identify.
The biggest change is that the rogue, and not the ranger, is the two-weapon fighter. I understand that this is likely to get the harshest criticism, especially from fans of a certain scimitar-wielding dark elf. But the whole purpose of this exercise is to make the division of classes consistent. Rangers being both two-weapon fighters and ranged fighters was always a hodgepodge of abilities born from a clumsy attempt to make a single class that could shoot like Legolas and fight with two torches against the ringwraiths on Weathertop like Aragorn. This would have been a minor point if Mr. Do'Urden hadn't cemented the idea of a two-weapon fighting drow ranger into the geeky zeitgeist. I think, however, it is worth rebuilding Drizz't as a scoundrel instead of a ranger in order to keep the classes more distinct and easier to design and define.
You may also notice that I do not address unarmed combat. I do think there's a place for unarmed combat, but I don't think it's here. Instead, I plan to have a future article to discuss the Division of Weapons, and unarmed combat will be discussed there.
In the next article, we'll merge martial and magic with a discussion of "gish" characters.
Read all the articles in the Long Division Series:
A New Division of Magic
A New Division of Martial
A New Division of Gish
A New Division of Spellcasters
A New Division of Weapons
A New Division of Implements