s part of the D&D Next playtest, we’ve received a ton of feedback. Most of that feedback comes from our surveys. We have thousands upon thousands of responses—enough to form a good picture of what people are thinking about the game in general. One thing that came through loud and clear was that the fighter was too dull in battle.
Although the fighter effectively dealt out damage to monsters, many players told us that they wanted more options from round to round. With this feedback in mind, we first thought about giving the class an additional theme and, with it, access to maneuvers that any class could take. That path turned out to be unsatisfactory because it didn’t address one of the basic concepts we want to tackle in each D&D Next class: What makes this class unique from all the other classes? What makes this class stand out in the D&D world?
After some discussion, we settled on a new mechanic, called combat superiority, which emphasizes the fighter’s combat talents without using static bonuses to attack rolls and damage rolls. Although those static bonuses worked well enough in terms of effectiveness, they fell short of the mark in making the fighter stand out.
Combat superiority represents a fighter’s combat skill. On a fighter’s turn, the player receives a number of dice to represent that fighter’s skill at arms. For example, a 1st-level fighter might allow a player to use 1d4 and a 5th-level one could provide 2d6. A player can choose to spend these dice in a number of ways, depending on his or her character’s fighting style. The default combat superiority option that all fighters can use allows the player to spend the dice as bonus damage on a successful weapon attack.
Things get a little more interesting when you look at other options you can choose in addition to a bonus to damage. For example, a fighter whose player focuses on defense can choose the option to roll dice to reduce the amount of damage that the fighter takes from an opponent’s attack. The player rolls the dice, totals the result, and subtracts the total from the damage taken.
Other options require a player to expend dice without rolling them. These represent a fighter’s sudden surges of energy or strength to complete difficult maneuvers. For instance, the player of Alarin the swashbuckler might spend dice to have Alarin make an immediate attack when an opponent misses him with a melee attack. Bethany the shield specialist, whose player focused on having Bethany protect her allies, might spend dice to reduce the amount of damage an ally takes. The player also has the option to turn a successful attack made against Bethany’s ally into a miss.
The combat superiority system drains some of the elements we had originally intended for the maneuver and theme system, but we’re fine with that. In our minds, the fighter is an expert with weapons. Other classes can attempt to duplicate these abilities, but few can match a fighter’s effectiveness. For example, a fighter might have a combat superiority option that allows for two-weapon fighting that is better than the version offered by a feat.
In a manner similar to backgrounds and themes, the fighter class presents a set of combat superiority options in prebuilt packages, such as archer or duelist. You’ll also have the option to pick and choose abilities to build your own fighting style. In the current design, you gain two options at 1st level and one option each at 3rd, 7th, and 9th level.
The goals with the combat superiority mechanic are to present something that can range from the fairly simple to the complex based on player choice, to turn a passive mechanic (a flat bonus to damage) into something a little more active (rolling dice is fun!), and to give the fighter an iconic mechanic. Hopefully, this either pays off in your playtesting or you poke holes in it and lead us to an even better place.
Bonus: Evolving Chaos
As those of you participating in the D&D Next playtest know, the playtest materials come with an adaptation of the Caves of Chaos from the classic adventure B2 Keep on the Borderlands. Just to help you spice things up a little (and keep your players from feeling too confident that they know exactly what’s going on), here’s a little advice from Robert J. Schwalb on how to tweak the material and create fresh, interesting situations to challenge your playtest characters.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He has worked on the Ravenloft board game along with a number of supplement for the D&D RPG.