On Fighters & Fighting: Addendum

Another one? ABSOLUTELY!

…though a short one. My previous post in the On Fighters & Fighting series grew a bit too large to accommodate some of the ideas I had, and a number of people requested an Unarmed Fighting Style Generator as a companion to the one focused on fighters.

Here, then, are my final thoughts… for the moment.

Abstracting Hit Points In Melee Combat

Everyone understands, on some level, that Hit Points are meant to be an abstraction. Why? Because going up in levels does not give a character gallons more blood, extra internal organs, or bullet-proof eyes. While it is surely in-genre for many games to treat warriors who have reached a heroic status to actually be unrealistically tough in the fibre and recover from wounds that would maim others for life, that can only carry the idea of HP so far.

So what if we took a page from real life combat for some inspiration?

Here are some brief suggestions:

  • Winded – When two people are facing off in combat, one of the things on everyone’s mind is how long they can last in the fight before their performance starts to wane due to fatigue. The stronger and more enduring opponent certainly has an advantage, but the master of a fighting style can often wear down even a more powerful if inexperienced foe through the use of proper breathing techniques and far more efficient use of their energy.
    This can be reflected by describing someone who is steadily losing HP as wavering, looking desperate, and otherwise showing signs that they will not be able to stay in the fight if this goes on.
  • Collateral Damage – An exchange of blows or clash of swords is not usually a one-touch situation, where the injured side walks away with a single new wound that adds to the pile but doesn’t otherwise impact their ability to fight. Attempting to block a powerful punch might wrench a shoulder, and a battle of strength as two hardened warriors lock their blades together can lead to sliced or broken fingers, which adds up in ways that even adrenaline can’t cover.
    Reflecting this sort of HP loss is as simple as describing minor but important damage that someone can only attempt to ignore for so long before it will catch up to them.
  • Head Games – Intimidation and smack-talk has its place, but finding yourself on the wrong side of an axe and bleeding has a tendency to leave a much deeper impression. Part of fighting is having the will to press on and the confidence to seize advantages as they arise, and even if someone is very much still a threat to their opponent they might become less of one if they’re distracted by their own mortality or pride. Relating the loss of Hit Points to mental state is not common, but if HP represents the ability to stay in the fight and not get down to that last deadly wound, then increasingly leaving themselves open for such an attack – only to recover at the last moment to take a less serious wound – is entirely appropriate.
    This can be reflected by describing a character’s behavior when they lose HP as increasingly wild-eyed, uncertain, or desperate.

Random Unarmed Fighting Style Generator

Unlike the previous post I will not attempt to recreate the tables involved here on the blog, but instead will link to the random generator itself, along with the Google Document that holds the tables I used to make the generator work.

I found myself making some interesting, or odd, choices in trying to put this together and I hope you enjoy them. If not, or if you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment!

Unarmed Fighting Style Generator

UFS Random Generator Tables


On Fighters & Fighting: Part Two

Expanding On Style

The previous post on Fighters talked about the perception of the class as boring, or bland, and attempted to provide a context that shows off how interesting should probably be. This post is going to take that a step further, and look at making sure that Fighters are as engaging when throwing down as they deserve to be.

We all want combat to be something other than a drag, and for the people who play Fighters to feel like they’re doing more than hitting the “do damage” button, but there’s no universal fix or simple solution that will work for all – or even most – of the groups out there.

There are as many different ways to give added style and flavor to combat as there are people running games, and it would be a fruitless effort to try and condense all the best advice into one small blog post. Another author on this site even gave some very good advice on how to introduce memorable elements to otherwise mundane combat.

It’s for that reason that I’m going to pick one small battle and give you some – hopefully – fun tools that are flexible enough to assist anyone looking for a little help on this front.

Continue reading

On Fighters & Fighting: Part One

Fixing The Problem With Fighters

Let us begin by speaking hard truths: There is a problem with Fighters, and it’s not just the perennial concerns over how they balance against spell-casters in the long term.

It’s in the very way people think about them. If someone says that they are thinking of playing a Wizard or a Cleric or a Paladin? There are immediate implications about what type of person those characters might be and where they might come from, because even if a particular character has a non-standard origin we tend to imagine that it takes some particular training or mind-set to join those classes.

But to most people it seems that Fighter is at best just an unflavored description for a character who will be able to hit things, bring your own spice (“former soldier” “Samurai” “duelist”), and at worst describing someone who was too stupid to pursue a more demanding career.

Why? Many reasons, some of them having to do with the fact that Dungeons & Dragons has become something of its own fantasy subgenre, but the most obvious is that unless calling on a specific well-known tradition (like samurai) we don’t tend to understand or appreciate that the warriors & soldiers who inspired the class were as much dedicated experts in their craft as any scholar.

Which is not only unfair, but pretty boring.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Continue reading

Secret & Safe: A Look At Codes and Spies For Fantasy Games

The history of espionage, even in the Classical or Medieval or Renaissance periods that so frequently inspire elements of fantasy settings, is enormous and deep. It’s also probably filled with holes in information, because so many resources were probably destroyed or lost due to their covert nature.

So, if you plan to use spies and coded messages in your game, how can you turn those story elements into challenges or hooks for player characters?

Below are a few brief thoughts on the form that spies might take, along with notes on how they might be treated, and a few example methods for passing secret information that could be slipped into any game.

Continue reading

Liner Notes: The Role of Bards In A Setting

Medieval fantasy settings have bards. It’s something that many players or Dungeon Masters might not even note anymore, especially as the class has been a staple of Dungeons & Dragons for so long now. It’s been my experience, in fact, that the class really only comes up – in regards to how it fits the game – when the subject is “How do the various classes balance against eachother?”

Like any other class, however, there is a ton of potential there for character backgrounds and conflict to be found if you just go digging around enough.

Bards as presented in most fantasy games may be more than a mere performer, just as a fighter is something more than a soldier and a wizard more than a hedge-mage, but looking to their mundane origins can be very useful. So let’s start with the traditions.

Continue reading

Playing Paladins: Knights, Gods, and Broken Promises

This is the second in a two-part feature on Paladins. This part is meant to cover character options, adventure hooks, and roleplaying advice. The first part, Swear to God, covered the class’s origins, potential role in relation to other classes, and how they might fit into a setting.

Playing a Paladin says something not only about the character you are playing, but the world in which your character exists. It says that your character is martially skilled, but has devoted a part of themselves – maybe the best of themselves – to a pursuit beyond deadly skill. It also says that there is a difference between being a devout warrior (Fighter), a priest in heavy armor (Cleric), and the divinely gifted champion of a sacred oath (Paladin).

Whether that division makes sense to you at first glance becomes irrelevant, though I previously attempted to explore those dividing lines, because once the world has Paladins in it there is a difference.

The question then becomes, “How do we make that difference interesting?”

Continue reading

Swear To God: What You Need To Know About Paladins

This is the first in a two-part feature on Paladins. This first part covers the class’s origins, potential role in relation to other classes, and how they might fit into a setting. The second part, ‘Playing Paladins: Knights, Gods, and Broken Promises’ will include character options, adventure hooks, and roleplaying advice.

The hero in heavy armor, who carries a weapon like it was second nature and moves with a confidence that can only come from absolute certainty of purpose. They can be deadly combatants, expert strategists, and the most dedicated of companions.

But am I talking about a particularly dedicated Fighter, or your average Paladin?

And where exactly does the Paladin’s extra mojo come from, anyway?

Determining what it means to be a Paladin and how they are different from Fighters – or even particular flavors of Cleric – is more important than most other types of character overlap, because the Paladin’s required adherence to their oath becomes sticky when everyone is coming at it from a different context.

So, let’s begin with some context that will shed light on where they stand in relation to their sibling classes.

Continue reading