Ragnar leaps forward, axe rising and falling to clear a path through the goblins. Yet even as the first rank falls, more foolhardy warriors spill out of the darkness, with war cries to Maglubiyet rising above the combat’s din. One, two, three goblins fall, and Ragnar feels a song to Moradin rising in his chest as he falls into the battle’s rhythm.
Multiple attacks have, historically, allowed fighters and other warriors to keep pace with spellcasting characters. In 1st Edition, for example, a fighter gained increasing accuracy and damage increases with each additional attack he or she made. Thus when the fighter hit 7th level, he or she could hit Armor Class 0 more reliably and had three chances every 2 rounds to attack. In addition, a fighter could also make one attack per level against monsters with less than 1 Hit Die, such as kobolds and goblins. So while a 7th-level wizard could clear a couple of rooms of such vermin, a fighter of equal level could do so consistently room after room, provided his or her AC and hit points were both high enough to absorb the attacks.
Although 2nd Edition did not drastically alter the fighter’s performance (later books allowed the fighters to do even more), the 3rd Edition rules allowed fighters to make multiple attacks more gradually. When a character’s attack bonus reached +6, the character could make a second attack at a +1 bonus. These bonuses increased as the character gained levels, so that a fighter might have four attacks at +16/+11/+6/+1, not including Strength or other modifiers. Scaling attacks in this way meant that the extra attacks did less damage over time. Because monster Armor Class increased, these extra attacks rarely made an impact in the game. Most characters who could make three or four attacks each round never fought goblins and orcs as they did in the low levels of the game. The result was that many players felt these attacks were wasted when tackling enemies of a Challenge Rating appropriate to the party’s level.
Multiple attacks were no longer necessary in the power system present in 4E. Powers allowed fighters to make multiple attacks through power design. If you wanted to attack two enemies, you might use passing attack. If you chose to focus all your strength into one strike, you could use brute strike.
As we work on D&D Next, we’ve moved away from power design and have returned to a more simplified fighter. Although we fully intend to introduce combat maneuvers as optional elements (think martial exploits), the fighter you might hand to the new player would just swing his or her sword, axe, or flail from round to round. The question, for me, is should the fighter (and other warriors) have multiple attacks built into the class’s progression?
What do you think?