I personally would like fighters to be able to do cool things in combat. I’m very indecisive on how though. All I know is that I don’t like the way the current fighter is. It’s very gamey and quite boring because he doesn’t have any cool dramatic tricks.
Fighters are not like casters. When you cast a spell, you use a formula with a predictable result. It’s perfectly fine to have casters with known spells that they use in combat so designing casters is quite easy. You have buttons to press and you press them. The success might be random but the effect is not.
Melee combat on the other hand is random. No fighter is stupid enough to aim for the leg if he wants to kill his target. No fighter is dumb enough to slam his opponent with a shield or push him, grab him or trip him if he’s trying to kill his opponent. He only does these things because an opening presented itself. It’s not totally random though, a skilled fighter is better at creating these openings.
My first question is how to model this randomness in combat. Would you prefer having these opportunities arise randomly during the fight or would you rather model this randomness with a more deterministic mechanic?
In a random model, you use the die to determine whether opportunities arise or not. It could be any system really. Roll 1d20+martial level and beat a DC of 11+opponent’s martial level. Roll for damage and roll more than X. Roll 15+ on 1d20 and confirm the success. Hit by a margin of X. You can have fun as much as you want; it’s just a dice trick. Ideally, you would have various degrees of success to for fighters to get anything from minor effects to gory finishing moves.
In a deterministic model, there is no randomness. This is typically the AEDU fighter. In the AEDU model, the fighter is so skilled in combat that x times per encounter and y times per day, the right opportunity arises to land a special effect. I know a lot of people complain about the AEDU fighter because he doesn’t make sense. AEDU fighters don’t make any sense but who cares. Fighters that spam improved trip every round don’t make sense either (and from a narrative perspective, it looks more like a Mel Brooks movie than Lord of the Rings). Tome of Battle didn’t make sense either but it was fun. Fatigue-based system don’t make sense either. It doesn’t have to be AEDU. It could be a vancian fighter :p. Or a fighter that gets X expertise dice per encounter to produce funky stuff (and not a lame ass +1d6 to damage).
The second question is how much versatility would you like these fighters to have. These are the possibilities I can think of:
1) Maneuvers are set in stone. This is similar to what you have in the 4th edition AEDU model. Your fighter reuses the same tricks over and over. Every combat, he creates an opening to produce X effect.
2) You know X maneuvers of each level that you can use whenever you feel like it. You have level 1 maneuvers known, level 2 maneuvers known, etc… If you tie this to a random model, sometimes you’ll get to use a level 1 maneuver, sometimes a level 3, etc… (it’s random). If you tie this to a deterministic model, it becomes exactly like the D&D Next spell casters.
3) Maneuvers as guidelines. Do you really need special training to smash your shield in your opponent’s face or hit your opponent in the leg? Do you need training to kick your opponent in the groin? Is knocking your opponent back the result of a special training or a lucky well-placed blow? In this system, you assume that fighters are good at combat and know how to perform an endless amount of maneuvers. “Maneuvers” are categorized as very easy, easy, average, hard and very hard (or maneuver levels) and then you let your imagination do the rest. You have a few guidelines to give you an idea of the kind of stuff you can do.
4) A mix of 2) and 3). Every fighter knows how to do basic combat tricks but only a skilled martial artist knows how to grab your opponent’s arm and turn it into a throw. In this model, fighters either learn new martial tricks, either improved tricks that every fighter knows.
Not everything is random in a fight. You can use your sword to swing in random directions to keep your opponents at bay, you can focus your defense on one opponent and neglect the others, you can rush in there and primarily focus on offense, etc… We also need something to model this. I think the stances are good enough though. If you have other ideas, don’t hesitate to share!
Do you guys have any thoughts or ideas on non-casters you’d like to share?