Jun 10, 2009
The handling of the Warlord in Next is obviously a controversial topic. On the one hand, you have 4e fans who feel generally slighted and ignored, and who have a great deal of affection for the Warlord class in particular for various reasons (think its fun to play, feel it fills a niche not handled well by other classes, etc.). On the other, you have people who object to it for various reasons, typically: they think it should be folded into the fighter, nonmagical healing bothers their sense of verisimilitude in some way, they think it is too inherently tied to the battle grid, or they believe it causes too much action bloat or slows down combat.
I personally fall somewhere between the two camps. 4e has been my system of choice for the last few years, and my favorite character in that time was an Eladrin Battle Captain I played from level 1 to level 24. I have a lot of affection for the warlord. I think its the best 4e class, I think it absolutely fills a niche that historically has not adequately filled by other classes (which I'll get to in a minute), its an archetype I very much want D&D to continue to explore. But I'm also sympathetic to those who feel that martial healing doesn't always "feel" right, and I can certainly sympathize with anyone who feels like 4e combat in later levels became a slog when it got too bogged down with fiddly bonuses and extra actions and whatnot--making sure that classes don't turn combat into a slog is definitely a valid concern IMO.
That said...I think there's a way to resolve this tension between those who really value what the Warlord brings to D&D, and those who have issues with the implementation of the archetype.
First, let me start off by delineating by what I love about the Warlord, and what I'm looking for D&D Next to explore (I touched on this in another thread, but its worth repeating for the point I want to make here):
The ability to play a "tactical genius" or "master strategist", and actually have significant mechanical support for that designation. The great thing about D&D is that it lets you take on roles and competencies that you don't actually possess in real life. You might be an awkward person most of that time, but play that high charisma bard and you can be the most charming guy around. The rules let you do that, you don't just have to "rp it out" and hope for the best with your DM. You might be weak, and you probably don't know magic, but you can play that badass fighter mage (although what exactly that's called has varied from edition to edition). The warlord is wish fulfillment for people like me who like the idea of getting to play the master tactician, without requiring that we actually be master tacticians (cause as anyone who's played chess against me could tell you, I'm no strategic genius). Maybe other people have just played D&D very differently than I have, but in my games in any edition fighters have rarely received much in the way of mechanical support for tactical brilliance. In some earlier editions they eventually got the followers and castle, but that isn't at all the same thing as rules support for the strategic mastermind archetype. I don't see Warlords taking away anything from Fighters, because frankly they let me play out one of my favorite archetypes in a way that no version of the fighter class has.
The ability to actively employ that tactical brilliance in combat. Passive bonuses and the like are fine as far as they go, but they don't give the player anything additional to do in a fight--or at least, not in a way that reinforces the archetype. The fun thing about the Warlord is he has all these little "aha, but I actually have this brilliant tactical trick up my sleeve", and the mechanics give you some mechanical tricks to employ. Using them intelligently still helps, of course, but as a player you aren't just expected to be this genius who's constantly inventing brilliant strategies in order to play one in the game, there is mechanical support for when you "want a plan to come together"/Hannibal. It gives you something to do as a player, beyond going "I"m attacking like a fighter, but with a passive aura!"
The ability to neatly slot into and effectively contribute to a small party. To me (and others may disagree, this is just my imo), the important thing about Warlords' having healing ability in 4e wasn't that "tactical geniuses with healing go together like PB and J", it was that D&D parties tend not to have a ton of people, so there are always tradeoffs when bringing classes along--if you've got 4 players, and someone wants to play a warlord, that means someone isn't playing one of the core 4 or some equivalent. If the Warlord can't fill in for the cleric, then that means swap him for the fighter (which can be counderproductive or gimp the warlord's ability to actually do warlordy things, since warlords tend to do best when they have fighters to support), or do without a rogue or wizard, which can really screw you. Hoiwever...if the Warlord can't "true heal", but could inspire temps and defense bonuses balanced to be on par with decent amount of healing, I'd frankly be fine with that, so long as the ultimate result is a character that you can play in a small party without creating headaches.
So, for me at least, any D&D Next implementation of the Warlord class absolutely must deliver on these points. However, what I'd also like to see is an effort made to satisfy some of the objections to the class, namely:
Create some distinction between Warlord healing and Cleric healing, ideally in a way that helps preserve versimilitude for those who believe HP should have a meaningful physical component. A warlord who can't keep a party on their feet can easily have problems finding a place in a lot of D&D parties, as I outlined above. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that warlord "healing" has to be identical to Cleric magic. There have been numerous games that have successfully balanced damage mitigation and avoidance against true healing, such that two different "support" characters can be effective, but in different ways. If a Warlord could give out temp HPs for example, that could simulate getting people more amped up and ready to fight on through anything (and, unlike actual healing, it can be used preemptively rather than reactively--the big speech that inspires everyone before the battle, for example. which fits better with the Warlord as strategic leader more than reactive medic). But if characters do take true damage once the adreneline surge from the speech wears off (i.e. temps have been worn down), that would still require magic or rest to heal--someone down to their last few HP could be temporarily induced to keep fighting (i.e.give them a bunch of Temps), but after the fights over and the adrenaline wears off, they're worn out and ready to fall over. There are other ways Warlords can "buff defenses" without doing anything to infringe on suspension of disbelief. For example, a perfectly timed "Get Down!" or "Snap out of it!" could be used to give a bonus or advantage to an ally's saving throw or AC. If balanced properly, I absolutely believe you could end up with a character whose support abilities end up being as effective as those of a Cleric, but without directly imitating Cleric healing. Now, obviously balancing these mechanics isn't as simple as just saying "Inspiring Word and CLW are the same", but I think it'd be worth taking the time, because it could be very helpful in reconciling what some people really want in the Warlord class with what some people really don't.
Avoid action bloat, lots of fiddly bonuses, and a reliance on the grid. A warlord who slows down play or forces groups to play with a grid hurts everyone's fun--luckily, there's no reason either of these have to occur with a well designed class. The three components to this have pretty straightforward solutions:
To avoid action bloat, simply require action "tradeoffs" such that the overall number of actions being taken remains the same. For example, if a Warlord gets a manuever that lets an ally move, require that the Warlord give up their own movement. If the Warlord gives out a "bonus" attack to an ally, make that attack require either the Warlord's standard action, or the ally's Opportunity attack. Now, to make these tradeoffs worthwhile you can give bonuses--for example, the Warlord forgoes his attack to give an ally an attack that adds the Warlord's Int bonus to damage (sound familiar?). After all, the intent of this sort of design is not to "gimp" the Warlord, but simply to keep play moving quickly by cutting down on extra actions. "Give up action x, in order to give an ally a similar sort of action but with a buff" is a good way to do that.
To avoid lots of fiddly bonuses, endeavor to make the warlord's buffs resolve immediately. "Give up your move, an ally within 50 ft. can move their speed+20 ft." Doesn't require any tracking beyond the resolution of that action. "Give up your move, an ally within 50 ft can move their speed, and gains +1 to AC and +20 ft. to movement until the end of your next turn is the sort of stuff that requires additional tracking--not that its too complicated in of itself, but problems set in when there are a ton of little buffs with different durations like this, so IMO they should be avoided whenever possible. The rule of thumb is if the Warlord lets someone do something cool, try to fold as much of that into one easily resolved action rather than ongoing bonuses.
To avoid relying on the grid, just avoid powers that rely too much on the grid. A simple rule of thumb is that if you're letting allies do better versions of stuff they already do, the game shouldn't suffer at all. "An ally within 50 ft. can make an attack" doesn't need a grid (unless you think the simple 50 ft. designation necessitates one, in which case any nonmelee class makes a grid mandatory, which I don't believe). "An ally within 50 ft. can move their speed." Doesn't need a grid. "As long as the party can hear you, they gain advantage on Initiative rolls" Doesn't need a grid. Nothing about the Warlord concept makes a grid mandatory, so long as you design with that goal in mind.
So, putting it all together, what might some of these hypothetical Warlord abilities look like? I like the idea of giving Warlords their own dice mechanic in the way that other martial characters/nonspellcasters get stuff like manuever or skill dice. Call them "tactical dice". I'd like to see a Warlord with a suite of abilities that looks something like:
Plan of Action
The Warlord spends at least one extended rest with his allies, during which he goes over plans and strategy.
All allies gain advantage on Initiative rolls, so long as they can hear the warlord.
As a standard action, give an ally within 50" who can hear you a free attack. They add your tactical dice to their damage role
Make an attack and spend a tactical dice to give an ally a melee opportunity attack against your target (ally must be within melee range). For each additional dice you spend, an additional ally may make a melee opportunity attack against your target, provided each additional ally is within melee range.
Give up your move action, an ally within 50" who can hear you can move their speed.
Motivate the Troops
Once per day, you can spend 5 minutes giving an inspirational speech. Allies gain temp HP equal to the maximum result of your tactical dice. These last until destroyed by damage, or until the party takes an extended rest.
Give up your opportunity attack, add your tactical dice to an ally's AC or saving throw.
As a standard action, give an ally within 50" who can hear you Temp HP equal to your Tactical Dice. These last for the next 5 minutes.
Voila. None of these require a grid. None of them add to action bloat, or involve tracking lots of fiddly bonuses. There are interesting tradeoffs with the Warlord "healing" vs Cleric healing--warlords get more of it (since dice are at-will), and via their "Motivate Troops" ability they can use it preemptively. They can also, via their "warning" manuever help allies avoid getting hit or tagged with spells in the first place. On the other hand, restoring true HP damage remains the province of the Cleric. The dice mechanic presents interesting tactical considerations (do I hang back to use inspiring word and commander's strike? or should I close the distance to give my allies opportunity attacks? should I spend my dice now on offense, or save them in case I need to help an ally with a save?), without requiring lots of finnicky positioning.
Now, there's one final thing I want to address, the "Warlord is just a Fighter" point.
As I said earlier, no version of the fighter class has ever provided mechanical support for tactical brilliance. Depending on edition they might get followers and a castle, but that is entirely different from the game giving them tools to let players play the "brilliant strategic mastermind" even if the player is not themselves the second coming of Bobby Fischer.
However, if WotC felt like this is something the fighter should get, I wouldn't have an objection to that. (I think the fighter's sole schtick being "guy who hits things hard" is sort of crummy anyway)..with one critical caveat. Namely, that in giving these tactical and support to the fighter, they not be watered down at all. If the designers want the fighter to be able to replicate the warlord, then it should replicate the warlord. It shouldn't be a minor, secondary watered down role to supplement him being a beatstick--if the fighter as warlord can not hang back and deliver orders and play purely as an ally support if he wants and still be effective, then the class has failed to deliver what I and many people want from the warlord.
In other words, if the designers say
"You know what, fighters just being the dudes who are skilled in personal combat (but not as angry as barbarians) is sort of a lame and limited schtick. We're letting them keep all the manuevers they already have to let them be good at that for people who prefer that, but we're also giving them an entire set of tactical manuevers to reflect their mastery of all levels of war. That means defensive buffs and "healing" (whether temp HPs or true healing), manuevers to give allies additional mobility or attacks, etc. Whether your fighter is on the front lines keeping the orcs away from the back line, or he is the back line, calling out orders to keep the party functioning like a well oiled machine, he can do all that and be effective. You aren't gimping yourself if you play your fighter like a warlord, because he gets to do all the awesome stuff warlords do."
Then I'm ok with that.
However, if they say
"We see warlord as sort of a weak schtick for a class, so we're making it a theme fighters or anyone else can take. Because its just a theme supplementing other class abilities, we're watering it down to one or two fairly weak manuevers, stripping out the abilities that put the warlord on par with other support classes."
Then I am very much NOT ok with that.