Giving fighters cool tricks!

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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?

I liked the concept of variable/flexible attacks based on in-game condition & die roll.

13A fighter does this. He's got a set of maneuvers that proc off the d20 result and are situationally more or less useful.

For instance, when the d20 roll is 15+ or when it is 11+ and you are using a shield, you can push the target of your attack (some distance).

And you have a few of these in your toolbox. Some cover odd rolls, some even, some key off "any even roll when you hit your target". Etc. it's fun.

-Brad

That's a nice mechanic, and its one I genuinely haven't seen elsewhere.  Not only is it reminiscent of classic fighter abilities, it successfully captures versatility and simplicity under one roof.  You can finally have that fighter with all his fancy maneuvers, but all he really does is roll basic attacks and wait for the dice to fall in his favor.

You'd want abilities that key off of low rolls too.  Glancing Blow...  I might bang together a little homebrew version of this, if nobody minds me stealing it.

Current Projects:

Fighter
Rogue

"Things that randomly happen" are just not my cup-o'-tea.  I'm not a huge fan of the randomness already inherent in D&D - adding more random elements on top of that just puts a bad taste in my mouth.
Feedback Disclaimer
Yes, I am expressing my opinions (even complaints - le gasp!) about the current iteration of the play-test that we actually have in front of us. No, I'm not going to wait for you to tell me when it's okay to start expressing my concerns (unless you are WotC). (And no, my comments on this forum are not of the same tone or quality as my actual survey feedback.)
A Psion for Next (Playable Draft) A Barbarian for Next (Brainstorming Still)
I liked the concept of variable/flexible attacks based on in-game condition & die roll. 13A fighter does this. He's got a set of maneuvers that proc off the d20 result and are situationally more or less useful. For instance, when the d20 roll is 15+ or when it is 11+ and you are using a shield, you can push the target of your attack (some distance). And you have a few of these in your toolbox. Some cover odd rolls, some even, some key off "any even roll when you hit your target". Etc. it's fun.



This sounds loads of fun. Does a level 1 fighter still need an 11+ to trigger an effect? And do you roll the d20 before the attack roll or is it part of the attack roll?
"Things that randomly happen" are just not my cup-o'-tea.  I'm not a huge fan of the randomness already inherent in D&D - adding more random elements on top of that just puts a bad taste in my mouth.


When the triggers are broad enough and the fighter gains access to enough maneuvers, it might be a lot less random than you think.  I usually fall into the same boat as you, Frito, but don't dismiss the concept out of hand.

Fighter player's at the table and he rolls a 15.  'Aw nice!  That means I can push this guy... or do I want to cleave into the other guy instead?  Hmm...'

Current Projects:

Fighter
Rogue

The problem there is that the fighter isn't really in control of his power use. His battlefield prowess is determined purely by dice rather than his own build or stratagems.

 
Suppose he has two maneuvers at 1st level, each triggering off of a 13+ on his attack roll, for instance.  He gets one maneuver point (stamina point, expertise point, whatever you wanna call it) per turn, so roughly 40% of his attacks (the hits, mostly) he gets to choose which one to use.

Later on, at 5th level, he has learned 5 maneuvers total!  The first two that trigger off 13+, one more that triggers off a 15+, one that triggers off a miss, and one that triggers off a critical hit.  He now has two maneuver points that refresh every turn, so depending on his attack roll he can use up to two of his maneuvers.  Are you starting to see the potential behind the system?

The Fighter as described above is the ultimate casual player class (so everybody who tells their new players to roll a fighter is finally giving good advice).  All you HAVE to do is roll attacks and sometimes you can chain cool stuff together.

That said...

I'm basically playing devil's advocate here.  I really like expertise dice and I'm currently working on a homebrew based off the current packet and the warblade that gives a fighter interesting and tactical maneuvers to spend his dice on.

I don't think this is necessarily a bad idea though.

Current Projects:

Fighter
Rogue

The problem there is that the fighter isn't really in control of his power use. His battlefield prowess is determined purely by dice rather than his own build or stratagems.

 



Probability doesnt conflict with build or strategy

A % bassed grapple/pin beats a 100% light spell in a fight and you can build and stretegize with it just the same.
To be clear, I don't think it's a bad idea - I just don't care for it (at all).
Feedback Disclaimer
Yes, I am expressing my opinions (even complaints - le gasp!) about the current iteration of the play-test that we actually have in front of us. No, I'm not going to wait for you to tell me when it's okay to start expressing my concerns (unless you are WotC). (And no, my comments on this forum are not of the same tone or quality as my actual survey feedback.)
A Psion for Next (Playable Draft) A Barbarian for Next (Brainstorming Still)
Personally I'd like to see Fighters get three different combat features: Maneuvers (At-will attacks), Stances that modify how you fight (Example: Increased crit [more interesting way to boost damage], more reactions, or some other things.), and Surges (Boosts of adrenaline and prowess that give you a boost in power for a few rounds but then impose a penalty afterward. Example: Add 10 to your strength score for up to Con mod rounds but then lose 10 strength for 1d10-Con mod rounds. Or taking an extra action now to lose your action in the next round.)
As described, the surges seem to sneak into rage's territory.

Not a bad concept, but maybe rethink what a surge does.

-Brad

As described, the surges seem to sneak into rage's territory. Not a bad concept, but maybe rethink what a surge does.


Yeah that's what I was thinking...

Suggestion:

The Fighter is the class that is all about compounding actions and multiplying the basic resources of the game.  That's why surge is essentially an action point, and they get deadly strike/multiattack/whatever it's going to end up looking like.  He just takes more actions and makes more opportunity attacks than anyone else.

The Barbarian is the class that is all about modifying basic attributes and behaviors.  He gets to beef up his speed, jack up his strength, and alter his physical composition with various rages and primal aspects (If those are ever chosen.  They could be deemed too magical).  The combat surge you describe above, Lectheron, would be a perfect jump-off point for barbarian class features.

Current Projects:

Fighter
Rogue

The guy best at fighting....would be entirely based on random chance?

Yeah, I don't think so.
What I'd like to see with rage is to have them escalate but be at-will. So a Barbarian can start every turn with a rage and then every round he attacks an enemy his rage increases to it's next level up to say three or so with increasing bonuses along the way but if he doesn't attack then it goes down a level so the Barbarian's rages would end up being more like stances mixed with surges but without the penalties for falling out. For the Barbarian I'd like to see something like these three basic features:
1. Rage: As described above.
2. Shouts: Battle cries to scare enemies or encourage allies. Maybe some AoE damage.
3. Movement: Increased ability to leap and run and to move in different ways and at different times.
@Gnarl -

A level 1 fighter picks like 3 maneuvers or whatever (higher levels unlock more powerful maneuvers) and the maneuvers proc on a specified, conditional trigger. The d20 roll is the attack roll.

So our fighter attacks Orc w/AC 15. He rolls a "natural 12" but has a +3 from Str, so he hits the Orc. Fighter looks at his maneuvers and picks, like, cleave or w/e which procs on "any natural even hit." So fighter does damage & gets cleave.

You want to pick your first 3 maneuvers to cover a wide array of possible d20 results or in keeping w/your style. Like if you use a heavy weapon, you might pick the maneuvers that synergize w/your choice.

-Brad

@EnglishLanguage

Believe me, I thought the same until I played it. It's a riot!

But I completely get the rejection. It seems too weird and too random just reading it. But it's really a bunch of fun.

Maybe not D&D material, but fun.

-Brad

@EnglishLanguage Believe me, I thought the same until I played it. It's a riot! But I completely get the rejection. It seems too weird and too random just reading it. But it's really a bunch of fun. Maybe not D&D material, but fun.


I still think it's wierd that the guy who's supposed to be a master at combat is entirely dependent on random chance to do his stuff. He should be good enough to be able to force the opponent into a position that lets him do this stuff.
It would be fun though. There would be times where he just hita a critter but roll higher do something cool. Mix this with abilities that are not random and the fighter could be hecka awesome!
It would be fun though. There would be times where he just hita a critter but roll higher do something cool. Mix this with abilities that are not random and the fighter could be hecka awesome!
Should opportunities be dictated by randomness or narrative (player) decision? I do like the notion of both. I could see (in the current game) expertise recovery based on raw dice rolls (a critical hit gives the fighter an opportunity to utilize his fighteryness next round).
Why aren't fighters just iron heroes?
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
Hmm.  Don't know anything about Iron Heroes.

Here, this is what the DnD Next Fighter's moveset would look like, ported over into Random Roll Town (next door neighbors to Crazytown, Population: Mike Mearls).

Maneuvers

Called Shot
Benefit:  You can use your action to prepare a called shot against a target you can see. On your next turn, if your first ranged attack against that creature is a hit, you may spend a maneuver to turn it into a critical hit.
 
Disarm
Benefit:  Once on your turn, when you roll a 15+ on your attack, you may spend a maneuver to disarm that creature.  In addition to any damage you deal, that creature drops one object it was holding.  If you have a hand free, you may spend a Reaction to pick that object up.
 
Evasive Movement
Benefit:  During your movement, you may spend a maneuver to gain the ability to move through other creatures’ spaces.  This movement still provokes opportunity attacks.
 
Glancing Blow
Benefit:  Once on your turn, when you roll a miss on your attack, you may spend a maneuver to deal damage to that creature equal to the ability modifier you used for the attack.  This damage is of the weapon’s type, but it delivers no additional effect associated with the weapon or the attack.
 
Hafted Weapon
Prerequisite:  Proficiency with the glaive, halberd, or pike
Benefit:  Once on your turn, when you are wielding a glaive, halberd, or pike and you roll an odd number on your melee attack roll, you may spend a maneuver to deal an additional 1d4 bludgeoning damage to a creature within 5 feet of you.
 
Hold the Line
Prerequisite:  Proficiency with shields
Benefit: When a creature of your size or smaller moves within your reach while you are wielding a shield, you can spend a maneuver to cause the creature to end its movement for the turn.
 
Interposing Shield
Prerequisite: Proficiency with shields
Benefit: While you are wielding a shield, you can spend a maneuver to impose disadvantage on the attack roll of a creature within 5 feet of you, provided the creature is attacking a target other than you.
 
Lunge
Benefit:  Once on your turn, when you roll an even number on your melee attack, you may spend a maneuver to increase your reach for that attack by 5 feet.
 
Parry
Benefit:  When you are wielding a melee weapon and would be hit by a melee attack, you can use your reaction to parry that attack.  Spend one maneuver and roll your weapon damage die.  You reduce the damage you take by that amount.
 
Riposte
Benefit:  When a creature within 5 feet of you misses you with a melee attack, you may spend a maneuver to make an opportunity attack against that creature as a reaction.
 
Shove Away
Benefit:  Once on your turn, when you roll an even number on your attack, you may spend a maneuver to push the target 5 feet away from you.
 
Trip
Benefit:  Once on your turn, when you roll a 15+ on your attack, you may spend a maneuver to knock the target prone.  The target must be no more than one size category larger than you.


Notice that many of the problematic defender specialty feats that forced you to stretch your reaction too thinly now cost maneuvers.  It is assumed in this sort of system a Fighter would get 1 maneuver a turn at 1st level, 2/turn at 3rd, etc. etc.

Current Projects:

Fighter
Rogue

No! You are going to play a boring meat shield and you are going to like playing a boring meat shield! Back in the day Mearls and his player group had someone play a boring meat shield and it worked so people playing boring meat shields are part of the core D&D system and this CANNOT BE CHANGED AT ALL.

If you try to change it then 5E isn't the game for you and you should go die in a fire play a different game you mouthbreathing casual.

Stop the H4TE

@EnglishLanguage Believe me, I thought the same until I played it. It's a riot! But I completely get the rejection. It seems too weird and too random just reading it. But it's really a bunch of fun. Maybe not D&D material, but fun.


I still think it's wierd that the guy who's supposed to be a master at combat is entirely dependent on random chance to do his stuff. He should be good enough to be able to force the opponent into a position that lets him do this stuff.

In play, the 13A fighter feels like a highly versatile and adaptable combatant that uses the openings and opportunities of his enemies to pull off different exploits. At first, I rejected the idea out of hand too (random powers? How de-protagnizing!), but once you see it in play its actually really cool and reinforces that idea of the fighter that I just explained.

.... especially when you realize that a ton of the fighter's maneuvers trigger on a hit OR miss. Even when the fighter whiffs, it feels like he's doing something to shape the fight to his advantage.

The fighter talents (which are different than the maneuvers), however, are by and large encounter powers that you can control (such as power strike and cleave) so the 13A fighter still has a handful of "time to bring the thunder!" effects he can pull of when he really needs to. 
@Heretic

Exactly!

I guess you have to play it to grok it. But it's really beautifully done.

(Don't like feats too much in that game though).

-Brad

@Heretic

Exactly!

I guess you have to play it to grok it. But it's really beautifully done.

(Don't like feats too much in that game though).

I prefer 13A's approach to feats to any other game I have seen thus far.

The purpose of feats has always been customization and they actually ARE that in 13A. They don't define your character (hello, Cleave and Robilar's Gambit) nor do they exist to make him mathematically superior (I'm looking at you, Weapon Expertise!). Instead, they tweak and modify powers and abilities your character acquires from his race and class options.

One of the major design issues that DDN is having right now is that both feats and class are basically competing in the same design space. This has the effect of watering down classes, which is clearly what we see with the rogue and fighter. 
Well dang. Threads like this always make 13A sound so good.
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
Cool tricks yes, random access no. 
Race for the Iron Throne - political and historical analysis of A Song of Ice and Fire.
It really only looks random in paper.

You ought to try it out. It ends up usually like "2 maneuvers can proc off this roll - which should I use?" Or if you miss, "glad I took glancing blow!"

It's not as random as it appears. Especially when you have 4+ maneuvers with somewhat overlapping triggers.

-Brad

I think that the combination of Feats and Expertise already gives you much of what you are looking for. With Disarming Attack you get a STR contest with a successful hit. Also think of the myriad of other uses for XD that will come later. Personally I would rather see Stances for Fighters, but that could also be a use of XD.
Heck yes on stances!!!

You need like 2 or 3 to start and maybe up to 5 at higher levels in order to really get the mileage out of it though.

Don't know if I'd trade stances for maneuvers but it might be cool if certain stances have access to certain maneuvers.

Like yes everyone can bull rush, but while in the aggressive (w/e) stance, you can bull rush as part of an attack. Or if you bill rush as your action w/o attacking, push further. Plus some other benefits as well.

-Brad

Good post.

Great insight:
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.



Message from the RP camp: could always just do cool tricks, granted you have a cool DM.

 

 

I sounds like 13th age has the right idea. Where casters attempt to brush broad paint strokes to influence the battle, martial characters work on a smaller scale. So one way is to setup DCs within the attack to have certain effects, another method is to add effects off damage thresholds, but instead of using the wizard max hit point model, the martial character can use a max damage model. And finally martial characters can captalize on the setup, so if they knock a character prone, then they can chain the next maneuver, the possibilities are endless if you consider chaining attacks or defenses depending on what maneuver hits first. And when the figther or other martial character gets really good, then some of the maneuvers chains can become permanent through stances. But with all that stated, they still need a method to make a fighter, rogue, monk or babarian distinct within the class before they choose feats. So you could have a fighter that is a slayer, defender, archer, etc.

Message from the RP camp: could always just do cool tricks, granted you have a cool DM.



I thought about the RP camp. I don't really have a preference on the mechanics that tells you when you can use the cool tricks but I do have a preference for a very open-ended RP-based set of maneuvers.

The maneuver list doesn't have to be set in stone or predefined buttons to push. The mechanics could be as simple as "you create a major opening" and the player describes how he's going to use this opening. The higher the opening, the bigger the result.
It really only looks random in paper. You ought to try it out. It ends up usually like "2 maneuvers can proc off this roll - which should I use?" Or if you miss, "glad I took glancing blow!" It's not as random as it appears. Especially when you have 4+ maneuvers with somewhat overlapping triggers.



I prefer active and self-directed choices over proccing. And I take exception to the argument that "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."

Take a look at any manual of arms from Western Europe from the Middle Ages through to the Early Modern period, or the kata of any number of Asian armed martial arts. These things are meant to bring order and rationality to combat: they break down the fighting style into stances, attacks, defenses, and counters, they break down the body into segments and quadrants that can be attacked or defended, they break down space itself into circles, lengths, squares, etc. 


 
Race for the Iron Throne - political and historical analysis of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Take a look at any manual of arms from Western Europe from the Middle Ages through to the Early Modern period, or the kata of any number of Asian armed martial arts. These things are meant to bring order and rationality to combat: they break down the fighting style into stances, attacks, defenses, and counters, they break down the body into segments and quadrants that can be attacked or defended, they break down space itself into circles, lengths, squares, etc. 



You're absolutely right, fighters do learn special technics to make the best out of every situation and they also learn how to pressure their opponents into making mistakes that will eventually lead to one of these moves.

What I was trying to say is that the fighter and casters don't function at the same level of detail. Casters make macroscopic choices: cast Fireball or cast Web. If you applied this macroscopic level of details to fighters, your choices would be attacking with your sword, using your net or throwing a flask of alchemical fire at your opponent.

You could decide to resolve the result of your attacks with a sword at a macroscopic level like in GURPS or AD&D. If you go with the GURPS way, combat is pretty much attack rolls, parry saving throws and eventually dead. If you go the AD&D way, every one of your fighter tricks is avoided and results in hit point damage.

The GURPS way might be a bit more "realistic" but you lose the heroic fantasy dimension of D&D. Every single sword hit is potentially lethal. Fighters with an at-will slay living attack at level 1? That's not the D&D experience you're looking for. If you go the AD&D way, the narrative is fantastic and truely heroic fantasy but fighters get dull pretty fast because it's just hit point damage at a mechanical level.

I think if you want to make a good game that is both interesting at the narrative level and the mechanical level, you have to go for something similar to the 4th edition model. In 4th edition, every single attack is a failure (your opponent is not dead and ultimately, that's what you're trying to do), but there are various degrees of failure.

That's what I was getting at with my introduction. Most fighter maneuvers are not "hey lets get tactical! I stun my opponent because ultimately that's what I'm trying to do". It's "crap, this orc is good, I can't kill this son of a bitch. How can I salvage this mess? *thinks* Oh I can give this mofo a headbutt and stun him. Not what I wanted, but better than nothing".
That is why a mix of "random" with controlled powers/ manuevers is something that should be tested. There are great ideas on this thread!
The guy best at fighting....would be entirely based on random chance?

Yeah, I don't think so.



Spell casting is based variously on tweaking external forces, they are affected by astrological correspondences including time of day/month and similar - locational elements including the presence of ley lines and even less predictable flows of enegy (especially in a world with lower dimensional boundaries)..many of these forces have aspects of sentience are something difficult to tame many of there effects relate to having symbolic connections/contrariness to the task desired, making magic predictable even to the degree that says one "can" pre-cast a ritual using 3e paradigm for vancian casters (which is somewhat more acceptable than amnesiacs) seems too much like science to me.

The ones having to REALLY worry about random and unpredictable ought to be the spell caster.

Not saying the fog of war doesnt introduce some hard to predict elements in the martial game but... he  isnt alone.
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

Take a look at any manual of arms from Western Europe from the Middle Ages through to the Early Modern period, or the kata of any number of Asian armed martial arts. These things are meant to bring order and rationality to combat: they break down the fighting style into stances, attacks, defenses, and counters, they break down the body into segments and quadrants that can be attacked or defended, they break down space itself into circles, lengths, squares, etc. 



You're absolutely right, fighters do learn special technics to make the best out of every situation and they also learn how to pressure their opponents into making mistakes that will eventually lead to one of these moves.

What I was trying to say is that the fighter and casters don't function at the same level of detail. Casters make macroscopic choices: cast Fireball or cast Web. If you applied this macroscopic level of details to fighters, your choices would be attacking with your sword, using your net or throwing a flask of alchemical fire at your opponent.

You could decide to resolve the result of your attacks with a sword at a macroscopic level like in GURPS or AD&D. If you go with the GURPS way, combat is pretty much attack rolls, parry saving throws and eventually dead. If you go the AD&D way, every one of your fighter tricks is avoided and results in hit point damage.

The GURPS way might be a bit more "realistic" but you lose the heroic fantasy dimension of D&D. Every single sword hit is potentially lethal. Fighters with an at-will slay living attack at level 1? That's not the D&D experience you're looking for. If you go the AD&D way, the narrative is fantastic and truely heroic fantasy but fighters get dull pretty fast because it's just hit point damage at a mechanical level.

I think if you want to make a good game that is both interesting at the narrative level and the mechanical level, you have to go for something similar to the 4th edition model. In 4th edition, every single attack is a failure (your opponent is not dead and ultimately, that's what you're trying to do), but there are various degrees of failure.

That's what I was getting at with my introduction. Most fighter maneuvers are not "hey lets get tactical! I stun my opponent because ultimately that's what I'm trying to do". It's "crap, this orc is good, I can't kill this son of a bitch. How can I salvage this mess? *thinks* Oh I can give this mofo a headbutt and stun him. Not what I wanted, but better than nothing".



   Adding to your observation about 4E.

  It really helped that the maneuvers and options didn't invoke massive penalties and were actually useful in comparison to an at-will attack.
.

   All too often, however, much of any improvisation outside of "I move over normally and hit it with my weapon" involves lots  of penalties that make the attempt far less likely to succeed. Tripping, Grappling, non-lethal strikes, etc all have traitionally had penalties that made the options unattractive unless you chose abilities/feats/items/etc to make your character into a specialized tripping/grappling/non-lethal combat specialist.


The exception is when "I move over normally and hit it with my sword" is less than viable or non-viable.  Maybe the enemy is flying and can't be reached.  Maybe the enemy is immune to a lot of the damage from their weapons.  Maybe the enemy is hiding in/behind something or has become incoporeal.  In this case, the combatant often has little choice but to improvise- even if there are penalties and it's not likely they'll succeed- simply because they can't just move over normally and attack.

    Pretty much all the dynamic RPG combat systems give players the option to temporarily do away with these penalties.  Riddle of Steel, 13th Age, and 4E give you a limited set of maneuvers that can be used rather regularly without any real penalty.  3e Eberron, Star Wars Saga edition, and Exalted give bonus dice that can be used to offset the penalty. 

    I also think a fair change would be to start invoking more penalties and conditions when spellcasters improvise.  

     Say a thief and a mage are locked in a cell and the key across the room on a hook.  If the thief were to come by a stick or some object and attempt to snag the key and bring back to the cell, they would likely incure many penalties and checks.  

   If the mage were to use a telekinetic ability, the general wisdom is that it would maneuver the key right off the hook, through the narrow bars (or into the lock itself) without a hitch, and probably without making a noise to alert anyone.

   I've seen this kind of stuff happen in far too many games.

   It's this kind of thinking that needs to be done away with. 
The problem is that mages don't need to roll to use their powers so even huge situational penalties wouldn't be useful because no dice are being rolled.

If mages had to roll attack rolls, or something to make their spells work this would be a great idea. 
The problem is that mages don't need to roll to use their powers so even huge situational penalties wouldn't be useful because no dice are being rolled.

If mages had to roll attack rolls, or something to make their spells work this would be a great idea. 



The not rolling a die roll even makes magic feel easy inspite of its flavor text.
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."