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Fighter Design Goals
Legends and Lore
Mike Mearls

L ast week, we announced that the D&D Next playtest will become open to the public on May 24th. This week, I’d like to talk a bit about the overall shape the playtest will take and what we need to get out of it.

The playtest materials will initially consist of the basic core rules and a limited selection of classes and races. We’ll roll out the fighter, cleric, wizard, and rogue, along with the human, elf, dwarf, and halfling. In the earliest stages of the test, we’ll provide you with pregenerated characters.

We are intentionally starting small so that we can collect feedback on specific portions of the game. To start with, we want the core rules to receive a thorough inspection. Obviously, if the basic rules of playing and DMing the game aren’t working, we need to know that sooner rather than later.

As we collect feedback on the core rules, we’ll also release more material for players. We’ll start from a set of pregenerated characters, and then we plan on leveling up those characters to walk everyone through the first ten levels of the game. Once that is done, we’ll then loop back and release material for building your own characters.

In general, the playtest will start with the broad and then zero in on the specific. We want to make sure that the game feels right in terms of classes and races, ease of play at the table, the level of danger present in the game, and the flexibility of basic task resolution. Once we’ve established those baselines, we can start to look at player options, from classes to specific abilities, in more detail.

Depending on the nature of feedback, we hope to maintain a relatively brisk pace of pushing new content out into the wild.

Why are we going along this path rather than releasing the entire game at once? First of all, the game isn’t close to done. Second, we want to make sure that each part of the game is thoroughly tested. Releasing the material in small, controlled doses ensures that the feedback we receive is focused on a few specific areas. It makes both our work and your testing efforts more efficient.

With that in mind, let’s keep talking about what you’re going to see in the upcoming playtest packet. Last week, I wrote about the cleric. This week, it’s the fighter’s turn.

Fighter Design Goals

The fighter is one of my favorite classes, so I’m a little biased. I also think it is a class that has always suffered a bit compared to the spellcasters in the game. Fighters represent the most iconic fantasy heroes, and it is perhaps the most popular class in the game. Therefore, it’s important that we get the fighter right.

You can take a look at last week’s article to get a sense of our general approach to the classes. Here are the main points we’re looking at for the fighter.

1. The Fighter Is the Best at . . . Fighting!

This might sound like an obvious point, but the fighter should be the best character in a fight. Other classes might have nifty tricks, powerful spells, and other abilities, but when it’s time to put down a monster without dying in the process, the fighter should be our best class. A magic sword might make you better in a fight, but a fighter of the same level is still strictly better. Perhaps a spell such as haste lets you attack more often, but the fighter is still either making more attacks or his or her attacks are more accurate or powerful.

2. The Fighter Draws on Training and Experience, not Magic

Fighters master mundane tactics and weapon skills. They don’t need spells or some sort of external source of magical power to succeed. Fighters do stuff that is within the limits of mundane mortals. They don’t reverse gravity or shoot beams of energy.

3. The Fighter Exists in a World of Myth, Fantasy, and Legend

Keeping in mind the point above, we also have to remember that while the fighter draws on mundane talent, we’re talking about mundane within the context of a mythical, fantasy setting. Beowulf slew Grendel by tearing his arm off. He later killed a dragon almost singlehandedly. Roland slew or gravely injured four hundred Saracens in a single battle. In the world of D&D, a skilled fighter is a one-person army. You can expect fighters to do fairly mundane things with weapons, but with such overwhelming skill that none can hope to stand against them.

4. The Fighter Is Versatile

The fighter is skilled with all weapons. The best archer, jouster, and swordmaster in the realm are all fighters. A monk can match a fighter’s skill when it comes to unarmed combat, and rangers and paladins are near a fighter’s skill level, but the fighter is typically in a class by itself regardless of weapon.

5. The Fighter Is the Toughest Character

The fighter gets the most hit points and is the most resilient character. A fighter’s skill extends to defense, allowing the class to wear the heaviest armor and use the best shields. The fighter’s many hit points and high AC renders many monsters’ attacks powerless.

6. A High-Level Fighter and a High-Level Wizard Are Equal

Too often in D&D, the high-level fighter is the flunky to a high-level wizard. It’s all too easy for combinations of spells to make the wizard a far more potent enemy or character, especially if a wizard can unleash his or her spells in rapid succession. A wizard might annihilate a small army of orcs with a volley of fireballs and cones of cold. The fighter does the same sword blow by sword blow, taking down waves of orcs each round. Balancing the classes at high levels is perhaps the highest priority for the fighter, and attaining balance is something that we must do to make D&D fit in with fantasy, myth, and legend. Even if a wizard unleashes every spell at his or her disposal at a fighter, the fighter absorbs the punishment, throws off the effects, and keeps on fighting.

Mike Mearls
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.
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