Saturday, March 23, 2013

D&D Next March Playtest - The Fighter

Bonus Feats
No.  Hated this "class feature" in 3.x, and I still hate it.  It's made all the worse when feats vary so greatly in power level (as has always been the case in D&D), and as more supplements increase the power creep this "balancing" mechanism will only get further off-balance. 

The "basic" version of the game is also supposed to be designed with the idea that feats are optional.  So either the Fighter gets shafted by losing one of his class features, or the player who didn't want to deal with feats in the first place is forced to.

Another issue I have with this has been covered in my post on feats.  By only providing access to bonus feats from the Martial category what you're doing is giving Fighters a choice of maneuvers in this messy "maneuvers as feats" system.  The system ends up being "fake universal" (sure, anyone can buy into these maneuvers, but how many PCs will give up feats that are more on-theme for their given class?).  Or maybe a PC decides to buy into this whole system and chooses Trip Attack, but then a situation comes up where an enemy needs to be disarmed.  In a true universal maneuver system (where anyone can try anything plausible without having to pre-purchase the ability with character-building resources) this isn't a problem.  Giving the Fighter bonus feats is supposed to show that the Fighter is better at these types of things, but it really doesn't do much good.  A Fighter that doesn't choose Trip Attack (for example) is just as hopeless at tripping people as any other class, but if he takes it when he levels all of the sudden he becomes a tripping savant (see my argument in the feats post on why it makes sense to use it constantly once you buy it). 

It's a simple fix, really.  Put back the "anyone can attempt it" universal maneuver system, get rid of the "maneuvers" feats, and instead of bonus feats let the Fighter pick a maneuver to gain skill dice with.  Anyone could pull those types of tricks but the Fighter is still the best at it.

Expertise Dice
This mechanic has come a long way since the original packet that introduce Expertise Dice for the Fighter (which was the last time I'd really paid much attention to the playtest).  Conceptually I think I like this version better than the original, as it gives the Fighter interesting choices via an encounter-based resource system.  That said, it's really only appealing if that universal maneuver system is implemented.

With the old Expertise Dice being refreshed each round the Fighter had the option of doing something cool each turn.  Maneuvers would also provide that opportunity, with encounter-based Expertise Dice ramping it up even further.  Furthermore the options, while all mechanically very similar (Death Dealer options all add damage, Superior Defense options all provide AC boost) and thus easy to balance, are different enough to highlight different playstyles.  Granted the choices are pretty limited at this point, but that can be refined in the future.  As it stands if you're a shield user, for example, you'll probably choose Slam (because it's flat-out better than the universal Deep Wound), though some might go with Strike Command to emphasize the "Warlord-lite" theme.  All "shield builds" won't really be clones, though, because the shield-based Superior Defense option only works against ranged attacks.  Honestly all 4 choices are useful in very different situations, with the exception of Nimble Dodge basically being Parry+, but even that choice remains interesting because you'll need to swear off heavy armor for the ability to become more mobile. 

In-game you'll still have to make the tactical choice of using your "encounter power" for offense or defense on-the-fly regardless of your build choice.  While this sounds pretty simple (and largely it is), the Warlord-lite and the shield options both make things more interesting since you'll also need to determine which allies need your help.  While these class features are certainly no substitute for a full Warlord class, I really like what they add to the Fighter.  Because the best warrior having the option to be a tactical leader on the battlefield just makes good sense, even if he's spending most of his energy trying to cut down his opponents (unlike an actual Warlord, whose primary goal is to aid allies). 

When I first heard that Fighters were getting this I was extremely concerned.  Multiple attacks as a full round action was exactly what made 3.x combat so dull!  Anything that discourages movement is a bad idea.  I was happy to see that this wasn't the case for the Next Fighter.  Basically all it does is let you split any extra damage you'd normally gain from Deadly Strike across multiple opponents.  This is great for mowing through minions that will go down from a single damage die anyways and keeps the pace of battle quick as you level up.  Because part of reason for bounded accuracy is so that low-level monsters will always be a threat if they have great enough numbers.  Now as those numbers start to increase, so does the number of enemies you can attack without affecting the amount of total HP damage that you dish out.  Color me convinced!

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