While the Rogue and the Bard will forever be my favorite classes, I can’t deny the romanticism of the man-at-arms.
The dashing swordsman, the mighty warrior with an ax, the peerless archer, the bruiser with the maul… it’s all pretty badass and exciting in books, movies…
…but not in most of DnD.
The issue is always that spellcasters get to have more fun via effects and options while those who use ‘real’ (as real as a ‘longsword’ is anyway) weapons are chained to the old ‘realism’ boulder and thus limited to ‘hit things’ with a little sprinkling of trips, sunders, and if you can stomach them, grapples. Most feats really just give them more plusses and call it a day rather than letting them do cool things and that makes them inherently weaker than spellcasters.
And that would be fun if the point of the game were realism (because magic wins against mundane), but it’s not: it’s to have fun in a heroic fantasy (or somewhere in that neighborhood) setting when in the books, the biggest badasses are, in fact, sword-swingers.
Fourth Edition did a lot to fix that, but in some cases introduced more problems (Daily. Powers.) and its predecessor, The Book of 9 Swords was fun on a bun, but in some cases too complicated. They both take the approach of just plain treating the martial classes like another kind of spellcaster where ‘spells’ in this case translates to ‘fightin”.
This is also the approach Pathfinder takes, elevating classes more toward the level of spellcasters rather than making spellcasters more blowful (looking at you, DnD 3.5). It’s also the approach I’m taking, but not the methodology.
4E had the Daily spells thing which… no. The Bo9S fell into the paperwork-heavy Vancian spellcasting thing and treated their classes like wizards/clerics who had to prepare their asskickings for… some reason? I have no idea.
Me, I like feats. So my approach is going to be to make techniques more feat-like. Rather than clear-cut levels, they have prerequisites (techniques and stances [which are feats] you need to know before you can take them. And instead of having slots, performing more powerful techniques takes up more of your focus (represented by focus points: 10 plus the highest score of your Con/Int/Wis, plus 2 per combatant level for all character). As a fight goes on and you wear down your body over the day, you find it harder to focus and thus can’t pull off more involved techniques (FP regenerate after combat at a rate equal to you Con mod pluss your Wis mod).
Battle stances are taken as feats, but techniques come from having Combatant level (or taking a feat to get a single new technique because, modularity.). Going into a stance usually gives you a bonus (and sometimes drawbacks) and enables you to take advantage of other feats an techniques.
For example, Rage is a Battle Stance in WoED20:
Rage [Combatant, Battle Stance]
You are able to channel your boundless rage into brutal and powerful attacks.
Benefit: While in this stance, you gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls, +3 to all STR-based skill rolls, and temporary hit points equal to 2 per character level. Additionally, you can benefit from Rage feats while in this stance. You may only assume this stance once per combat; if you stop using the Rage stance for any reason, you cannot use it again in that combat.
Drawback: While in this stance, you cannot use any Techniques except Basic Strike, Charge, Grapple, Sunder, techniques granted by your Weapon of Choice class feature, or techniques granted by Rage feats. You are also incapable of dealing precision damage such as Sneak Attack.
Special: Failing a save vs. any spell or effect that calms emotions ends this stance immediately.
Yeah, all Barbarians are now combatants that took Rage as a feat. Just take the ax as your Weapon of Choice and watch out (more on Weapon of Choice later).
Techniques range from all-purpose stuff like the Basic Strike all characters can perform that costs 0FP, to weapon specific ones like bouncing your daggers off walls to catch your enemy on their blindside, wrapping your whip around the enemy’s neck, or pining someone to the wall with an arrow. I’m currently working on balancing costs and such, but all of them are designed to scale (much like the magic, but we’ll talk about that some other time), so the technique you picked up at first level will still be useful at 20th.
You gain techniques via feats or form two features of the Combatant Class: the Techniques Known table that lets you know X techniques at Y level, and Weapon of Choice.
Weapon of Choice is a first level feature that allows you to pick a weapons type (Short Blade, Long Blade, Polearm, Axe, Bludgeon, Bow, Crossbow, Small Arms, Long Arms, Flexible, Improvised, Thrown—yes, Improvised. Jackie Chan capabilities ship right in the box.)
This nets you a special ability with that type of weapon, for example, fast-loading for Small Arms, or not taking the penalty to Parry if you take Long Blades; and a free technique that has that type as a prerequisite. Every five levels, you can get another free technique, or choose an extra Weapon of Choice.
Thanks to the Weapon of Choice mechanic, plus stances, every Combatant you make will be a different type of fighter and play differently. Flexible weapon users control the battlefield by entangling and forcing movement on enemies while polearm users are great at holding enemies at a distance (the Defender type role from 4e) and Small Blade users are brutal wetworks fighters who, if they can close with their foes will strike incapacitating blows if not outright assassinating people on the spot (and yes, at higher levels, Short Blades users can do that).
Combine with the Rage feat path’s ability to blow through multiple opponents (which gets meaner with an ax!) and do your Hulk Smash thing on objects (and constructs and maybe Loki)…
…or the Martial Trance feat path (think Gun Kata as applied to swords) combined with the superior defensive ability of the Long Blade weapon of Choice, and you’ve got the making for some memorable and powerful characters.
Oh yeah, and:
Martial Trance [Combatant, Battle Stance]
Your focus in battle is supreme, making time appear to slow down around you.
Benefit: While in this stance, you gain a +1 dodge bonus to AC, a +2 dodge bonus to reflex saves, and a +2 bonus to attack rolls. You also gain the benefits of any Martial Trance Feats.
Drawback: While in this stance, you cannot speak, use items, or make any active skill rolls*. You also cannot end this stance voluntarily for the first five combat rounds after entering it, minus a number of rounds equal to your Wisdom modifier.
*Passive skill rolls are those you are automatically entitled to, like checks to avoid slipping and falling, or to avoid an obstacle. Active checks are ones you ask for like feints, complicated climbing maneuvers, etc.
Also, you all might remember me talking about Two-Weapon Fighting and Sword and Board as stances before. Well, I realized later that you want to be able to TWF while raging or trancing, and so those stance feats now say that you can enter a second stance while using them. They’re also re-worded to only work when properly armed.
Combatants also get bonuses to Combat Maneuver Bonus and Combat Maneuver Defense (after looking it over, I decided just to use the Pathfinder version because it’s easier to make monsters backward compatible). Some techniques also let you either use an advanced form of maneuvers like trip, or let you take advantage of successful maneuvers like grappling. And yes, unarmed fighters can specialize in locks and throws while grappling and the ‘did you manage a grapple?/can you break the grapple?’ approach to grappling where all the other crap like dragging, choking and pinning are techniques and hog-tying is a skill use (still trying to figure out how to make it so Use Rope isn’t a skill by itself), lends itself to this b making grapple something that won’t waste five minutes of game time whenever it happens.
I haven’t hammered out the FP costs of techniques or even how they’re formatted, but here are a few I’m considering:
You are skilled at delivering brutal, precise take-downs.
Weapon Types: Flexible, Unarmed
Action: Standard (attack)
When you use this technique, make a Trip attack with a +2 bonus to the attack roll. If you succeed, the target also takes damage as if normally hit by your weapon.
Once your foe is in your grasp, a powerful bear hug crushes the life out of them.
Weapon Types: Unarmed
Action: Standard (attack)
You may only use this technique if you have a creature grappled. Make a Basic Strike attack vs the target’s touch AC. On a hit, deal damage accordingly.
Nailed to the Wall
A well-placed shot pins your foe to an object, forcing them to break free before they can move.
Prerequisite: Point Blank Shot
Weapon Types: Bows, Crossbows, Thrown
Action: Standard (attack)
You may only use this technique against targets in squares adjacent to an item suitable for pining them to (eg, a wooden door, a tree, a dirt floor, etc). The target must also be wearing, holding or otherwise attached to something for them to be pinned by (clothing, hair, etc).
Make an attack roll against the target at a -2 penalty. On a hit, you do no damage, but the target it pinned to an adjacent object, and considered to have the entangled condition. Escaping requres a move action that provokes an attack of opportunity.
These are basic, low-level techniques that don’t do anything all that special, but as the Combatant grows more powerful, they get to do more awesome stuff with their weapon, including multiple attacks, more damaging attacks, forced movement, bestowing conditions, etc. For example:
You unleash a flurry of shallow thrusts with your polearm.
Weapon Types: Polearms
Make one attack plus an additional attack per three combatant levels. All of these attacks suffer a -2 penalty to attack and damage (minimum 0 damage) and only threaten a critical hit on a 20 regardless of chosen weapon.
Grievous Harm With a Body
Your foes become your weapons—whether they want to or not.
Prerequisite: Improved Grapple
Weapon Types: Improvised, Unarmed
Action: Standard (attack)
You may only use this technique if you have a foe grappled and have another foe n an a square adjacent to either you or the grappled foe (the adjacent foe is the target).
Make an attack roll at BaB +1/character level against the target. On a hit, deal twice your unarmed damage to both the target and the grappled foe. Both must succeed in a Reflex save DC 10 +STR + 1/2 combatant level or fall prone in the target’s square. The grappled foe is no longer grappled.
Nothing stands between you and your goal when there’s an ax or hammer in you hands. At least not very long.
Weapon Types: Ax, Hammer
Action: Full Round
Move up to your speed. For each foe whose square you pass, make an attack roll with a -2 penalty. On a hit, deal damage as normal and push them 5ft away from you. They much make a Reflex save DC 10 + STR + 1/2 combatant level or fall pronein that square. Opponents who are hit in this manner cannot make attacks of opportunity against you for this movement, but may attempt to parry or block as normal.
Oh, did I mention that you can add magic to that too with feats in order to get magic knight style techniques?
Eldritch Weaponmaster [Combatant, Mage, Rogue]
You have been taught at a mystic martial school to combine magic with martial combat.
Prerequisites: Affinity with one type of magical energy, know at least one martial technique
Benefit: You may learn one technique that requires Eldritch Weaponmaster as a prerequisite.
Thousand Ton Hammer
You imbue your hammer with the force of a rogue cerato.
Technique 5FP, 3SP
Prerequisites: Vox Affnity, Eldritch Weaponmaster
Weapon Type: Hammer
Action: Standard (attack)
Make an attack roll against the target. On a hit, deal twice your weapon’s damage and the target must make a Fortitude save DC 10 + STR + 1/2 combatant level, or be pushed a number of squares equal to your STR modifier +1 (minimum 1). If the target strike an object before they are pushed the full distance, they stop moving and both they and the object both take 1d6 damage per square of movement left for them to move.
Whenever you lock weapons with an opponent, you can choose to have your weapon shower your enemy with blinding sparks.
Technique 1FP, 1SP
Prerequisite: Flaer Affnity, Eldritch Weaponmaster
Weapon Type: Long Blade, Short Blade
You may choose to use this technique as a swift action whenever a target successfully parries you attack. The target must make a Fortitude save DC 10 + STR + 1/2 Combatant Level or become dazzled for a number of turns equal to your CHA modifier +1 (minimum 1). If the target parried with a natural weapon, they take 1d6 fire damage.
Overcast: If you pay 3SP to use this power instead of 1SP and the target fails their save, they are set on fire.
You conjure ammunition made of ice, ensuring that you leave no evidence behind while also freezing your target from the inside out.
Technique 1FP, 2SP
Prerequisite: Akua Affinity, Eldritch Weaponmaster
Weapon Types: Small Arms, Long Arms, Bows, Crossbows
Action: Standard (attack)
Make a Basic Ranged Strike attack against the target. On a hit, deal your weapons damage plus 1d6 cold damage. The ammunition melts into water immediately, leaving no evidence of the murder weapon, thought a magical detection spell will show that the water is magical.
Again, I’m still working on balancing costs and prerequisites, so these are all just ball-park ideas when it comes to that. The point is, that techniques will be varied enough to give plenty of options and combinations. I think everyone that wants to create a martial character will fnd what they want with the Combatant.
Before I go (with a very special message), I did want to show off one little fun thing I’ll be introducing into some techniques that works like actual physical wounds:
Injury Points – Certain techniques deal damage that is unmistakably physical and cannot be healed by anything short of magic or wound treatment. These wounds are represented as Injury Points.. When a character is deal injury points, non-magical attempts at healing that don’t involve heal checks can only heal the injured character to a maximum of their max HP minus their injury points.
If a character has more injury points than their Con score, they gain the staggered condition.
Aaand that’s it for this week. Now for the very special message:
The Pen and Cape Society is doing a second anthology: The Good Fight 2: Villains, and it’s coming out on the 30th of the month. This time, it’s 99 cents, and all profits we make will be going to comic writer James Hudnall (Alpha Flight, Age of Heroes, The Unauthorized Biography of Lex Luthor), who recently fell on hard times. You can pre-order the book here and here. And if you haven’t gotten the first The Good Fight, you can get it free here.