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Fighting-Men
D&D Alumni
Bart Carroll

From the Original Edition Volume 1: Men and Magic:

There are three main classes of characters.

  • Fighting-Men
  • Magic-Users
  • Clerics

Fighting-Men includes the characters of elves and dwarves and even halflings. All magical weaponry is usable by fighters, and this in itself is a big advantage. . . . They can use only a very limited number of magical items of the non-weaponry variety, however, and they can use no spells. Top-level fighters (Lords and above) who build castles are considered "Barons," and as such they may invest in their holdings in order to increase their income. Base income for a Baron is a tax rate of 10 Gold Pieces/inhabitant of the barony/game year.

With the release of Martial Power (which provides further options not just for fighters, but also rangers, warlords, and rogues), we wanted to look back at the Fighting-Men of editions past -- with two specific goals in mind. First, let's follow the evolution of the fighter class itself, since it reflects the mechanics of the various editions. In addition, we also wanted to take a look at a subset of the fighter as it relates to a recent Dragon Magazine offering: the Gladiator.

1st Edition Fighter

Players who were new to the game -- at least, in this author's experience -- were often instructed to start off with a fighter for ease of learning the system. Players were also "stuck" playing a fighter because their randomly rolled stats didn't qualify them to be anything else; the fighter simply had the lowest stat requirements.

The 1st Edition fighter was described in its entirety as follows:

The principal attribute of a fighter is strength. To become a fighter, a character must have a minimum strength of 9 and a constitution of 7 or greater. A good dexterity rating is also highly desirable. If a fighter has strength above 15, he or she adds 10% to experience points awarded by the Dungeon Master. Also, high strength gives the fighter a better chance to hit an opponent and causes an increased amount of damage.

Fighters have a ten-sided die (d10) for determination of their hit points per level. No other class of character (save the paladin and ranger (q.v.) subclasses of fighters) is so strong in this regard. Fighters are the strongest of characters in regards to sheer physical strength, and they are the best at hand-to-hand combat. Any sort of armor or weapon is usable by fighters. Fighters may be of any alignment -- good or evil, lawful or chaotic, or neutral.

Although fighters do not have magic spells to use, their armor and weapons can compensate. They have the most advantageous combat table and generally have good saving throw (q.v.) possibilities as well.

Fighters can employ many magical items, including potions; "protection" scrolls; many rings; a few wands; one rod; many other magic items; and all forms of armor, shields and weapons.

When a fighter attains 9th level (Lord), he or she may opt to establish a freehold. This is done by building some type of castle and clearing the area in a radius of 20 to 50 miles around the stronghold, making it free from all sorts of hostile creatures. Whenever such a freehold is established and cleared, the fighter will:

  1. Automatically attract a body of men-at-arms led by an above average fighter. These men will serve as mercenaries so long as the fighter maintains his or her freehold and pays the men-at-arms; and
  2. Collect a monthly revenue of 7 silver pieces for each and every inhabitant of the freehold due to trade, tariffs, and taxes.

In other words, fighters were meant to be strong, hit well in combat, and -- if they survived long enough -- have the opportunity to build their own castle . . . and that's about as complex as the 1st Edition fighter developed.

2nd Edition Fighter

The fighter is a warrior, an expert in weapons and, if he is clever, tactics and strategy. There are many famous fighters from legend: Hercules, Perseus, Hiawatha, Beowulf, Siegfried, Cuchulain, Little John, Tristan, and Sinbad. History is crowded with great warriors and generals: El Cid, Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Spartacus, Richard the Lionheart, and Belisarius. Your fighter could be modeled after any of these, or he could be unique. A visit to your local library can uncover many heroic fighters.

The fighter did not change significantly in 2nd Edition. Strength remained the prime requisite, a good Dexterity remained highly desirable, and a 9th-level fighter still became a Lord and attracted men-at-arms. In addition, these 2E Lords also gained an elite bodyguard ("household guards"), who offered greater loyalty in exchange for better treatment and higher pay.

That said, 2nd Edition did begin to explore greater class options; the fighter, for instance, could make use of weapon specialization by devoting extra weapon proficiency slots in exchange for a +1 to hit and +2 damage bonuses. The 2E fighters also retained their additional attacks per round at the same progression, though without the particular restrictions of the 1st Edition fighter (limited to attacks with thrusting or striking weapons):

Levels 1-6: 1/round
Levels 7-12: 3/2 rounds
Levels 13+: 2/round

Later supplements further increased character options; for the fighter, these included The Complete Fighter's Handbook (naturally), and Player's Options: Combat & Tactics. The Complete Fighter's Handbook, for example, offered numerous kits (precursors to 3rd Edition prestige classes and 4th Edition builds), including the gladiator.


The Gladiator

The gladiator is a showman-warrior from a society where public combat competitions are a popular sport. The gladiator is a professional warrior in this high-profile arena; for the delight (and bloodlust) of the crowds, for his own personal wealth and aggrandizement (or, if he is a slave, for the profits of his owner). He fights organized matches against human, demihuman, and even monstrous opponents. There are no special ability score requirements to be a Gladiator.

Role: For the Gladiator to appear in a campaign, the DM must establish that at least one culture has gladiatorial combats, and the Gladiator character must come from such a culture. (He need not have been born there . . . but he will either have been a slave there or, if he was a freeman, will feel like a naturalized citizen there.) A Gladiator player-character can be an active gladiator in the arena, one who adventures in his free time (or within some other context of the current adventure), or can have formerly been a gladiator now living the life of the adventurer.

In the campaign, the Gladiator is going to be a showy, high profile warrior. He performs dangerous stunts in combat. He attracts the attention of crowds of admirers. He receives a lot of credit for brave deeds whether he deserves the credit or not. A Gladiator can be a callous brute, a dirty arena fighter with no interests other than killing his enemy as quickly as possible and making off with his prize: or he can be a clean-limbed, heroic figure, a hero who always fights honorably in the arena and never kills when he does not have to. DMs take note: a Gladiator character is not likely to be Ranger. You can permit it if you wish, but Rangers are very wilderness-oriented characters, and Gladiators are very urban. A Ranger could have been captured, enslaved, trained as Gladiator, and then escaped . . . but still, the Ranger and Gladiators personalities don't seem to work very well. Allow this only if you really wish to.

It's up to the DM to decide whether there are female gladiators on his world. Unless his campaign is already rigidly set up to prevent it, he might as well allow it: a she-gladiator character could be a very interesting one.

Weapon Proficiencies: Required: short sword (gladius), trident, net. Gladiators should learn an even mix of normal and unusual weapons: the DM is within his rights to insist that the Gladiator learn one strange weapon proficiency (such as whip) for every "normal" proficiency (like sword, spear, etc.). (Also, see the Equipment chapter, under "New Arms" and "New Armor," for weapons and armor especially appropriate to Gladiator characters.)

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Bonus Proficiencies: (Warrior) Charioteering, (Rogue) Tumbling (for the combat showmanship that characterizes arena fighting). Recommended: (General) Animal Handling, Animal Training, Etiquette, Riding (Land-Based), (Warrior) Armorer, Blind-Fighting, Endurance, Gaming, Weapomsmithing, (Priest) Healing (double slots unless Paladin).

Special Hindrances: Gladiators tend to be recognized -- as Gladiators, at least, if not by their own names -- wherever they go. This makes it more difficult for them to do things in secret; some troublesome NPC is always remembering "the tall, fair-haired gladiator'' who was at the scene of the action, which makes it very easy for the authorities to follow the heroes' trail. (This is something the DM will have to enforce scrupulously if the Gladiator is to have hindrances offsetting his benefits.)

Also, and this is strictly a roleplaying consideration, promoters and managers are always interfering in the Gladiator's life: wanting to hire him to participate in certain-death events, to fight people the Gladiator doesn't want to fight, to force him to participate in events taking place at the exact time the Gladiator needs to be somewhere else, etc. These promoters will go to any length to get their way; they may blackmail the character, kidnap his followers, use the time-honored bait of a gorgeous romantic interest (whom the Gladiator doesn't immediately realize is an employee of the promoter), and so forth. To make sure this is regarded as a hindrance, the DM should make it clear that these promoters are mostly of the sleazy variety who will cheat, rob and betray him at the drop of a hat.

3rd Edition Fighter

The questing knight, the conquering overlord, the king's champion, the elite foot soldier, the hardened mercenary, and the bandit king -- all are fighters. Fighters can be stalwart defenders of those in need, cruel marauders, or gutsy adventurers. Some are among the land's best souls, willing to face death for the greater good. Others are among the worst, with no qualms about killing for private gain, or even for sport. Fighters who are not actively adventuring may be soldiers, guards, bodyguards, champions, or criminal enforcers. An adventuring fighter might call himself a warrior, a mercenary, a thug, or simply an adventurer.

When 3rd edition released with its wealth of skills, feats, and options, the fighter still existed as a rather basic class, with excellent base attack bonuses and many extra feats . . . but little else in terms of special class features. Their number of attacks per round, however, did increase fairly dramatically:

Levels 1-5: 1/round
Levels 6-10: 2/round
Levels 11-15: 3/round
Levels 16-20: 4/round

That said, new 3E prestige classes offered fighters the chance to walk more specialized paths; both the gladiator (Sword and Fist), and the following Thayan gladiator (Champions of Ruin).

Thayan Gladiator

"I've wielded every weapon man and dwarf have invented, but nothing compares to these."
-- Elak, minotaur gladiator, while cleaning the gore of his last opponent off his horns

Popular and skillful gladiators fill the arenas of Faerûn from Calimshan to the Dragon Coast, but the brutal Thayan gladiators are the best of the best. Thayans see the misery of humans day in and day out, so they demand more out of their entertainment. The slave pits of the Red Wizards and the tharchions (the civil rulers in Thay) are filled with monsters and humanoids from around the realms -- the sharper the claws and the longer the horns, the better. Minotaurs and lizardfolk from the Thayan plateau, yuan-ti from the Jungles of Chult, wemics and gnolls from the Shaar -- all of these creatures fight in the arenas of Thay's cities. The greatest and most vicious of these fighters are sometimes pulled out of the pits to serve a Red Wizard or other powerful master; the weak are left to fight and die.

Becoming a Thayan Gladiator

Thayan gladiators are taken from all over Faerûn by slavers who know the captives will fetch a high price on the plateau. Some, however, enter the gladiatorial contests voluntarily, either to avoid work they find frustrating or demeaning or to attempt to win a better life as a Red Wizard's guard or an adventurer. For creatures of a more savage nature, the arena might be the only place where they can revel in their true nature without being killed on the spot for their transgressions. Most gladiators are fighters or barbarians, although a few levels in rogue can grant additional mobility and teach them dirty tricks. Strength (for brutalizing opponents), Dexterity (for avoiding blows), and Constitution (for withstanding assaults) are key abilities for a Thayan gladiator.

Class Features

Thayan gladiators train to kill quickly and efficiently with their natural weapons. Improved Natural Attack: When you enter this class, choose one of your natural weapons to gain the benefits of the Improved Natural Attack feat. The natural weapon you choose is affected by the rest of the abilities you gain through advancing in this class.

Study Opponent (Ex): You prefer to circle your opponents before engaging them in melee, searching them for weaknesses and noting the way their bodies move. You can study any opponent within 30 feet as a standard action for a number of rounds equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum 1 round). For each round you study, you gain a +1 bonus on attack rolls and AC during the round that you first engage them in melee combat.

Improved Critical: At 2nd level, your improved natural attack gains the benefit of the Improved Critical feat.

Natural Armor: Beginning at 2nd level, your natural armor improves by 1 point to help you withstand the awesome blows of your gladiatorial opponents. At 5th and 8th levels, your natural armor improves by an additional point.

Stunning Critical (Ex): Starting at 3rd level, any time you make a successful critical hit with your chosen natural weapon, your enemy must succeed on a Fortitude save (DC 15 + your Str modifier) or be stunned for 1 round.

Silver Strike (Ex): At 3rd level, attacks from your chosen natural weapon overcome damage reduction as if they were silvered weapons.

Natural Weapon Focus (Ex): At 4th level, you gain the ability to make an additional strike at a -5 penalty with your chosen natural weapon when you use a full attack action.

Imbue Natural Weapon (Su): At 5th level, your chosen natural weapon gains a special ability as if it were a magic weapon. Choose one special ability from the following list and apply it to your natural weapon(s): flaming, frost, ghost touch, shock, or thundering.

At 10th level, the ritual you underwent upon becoming a Thayan gladiator grants you a final power from the following list to apply to your chosen natural weapon: anarchic*, axiomatic*, disruption, flaming burst, icy burst, shocking burst, speed**, unholy, or wounding.

*In order to choose one of these, the Thayan gladiator's alignment must match the appropriate ability (the character must be chaotic to choose anarchic or lawful to choose axiomatic).

**The effect of this ability stacks with the additional attack gained from the natural weapon focus ability (see above).

Adamantine Strike (Ex): At 6th level, attacks from your chosen natural weapon overcome damage reduction as if they were adamantine weapons.

Savage Strike (Ex): At 7th level, the critical multiplier for your chosen natural weapon increases by one. Thus, if you had a critical multiplier of x2, it would become x3; if it was already x3, it becomes x4.

Natural Weapon Mastery (Ex): Starting at 8th level, the extra attack you gain from natural weapon focus is at your highest base attack bonus.

Magic Strike (Ex): At 9th level and higher, attacks from your chosen natural weapon overcome damage reduction as if they were magic weapons.

4th Edition

Fighters are determined combat adepts trained to protect the other members of their adventuring groups. Fighters define the front line by bashing and slicing foes into submission while reflecting enemy attacks through the use of heavy armor. Fighters draw weapons for gold, for glory, for duty, and for the mere joy of unrestrained martial exercise.

Regardless of your level of skill and the specific weapons you eventually master, your motivations determine who you defend and who you slay. You could be a noble champion who pledges your blade to gallant causes, a calculating mercenary who cares more for the clink of gold than praise, a homeless prince on the run from assassins, or a blood-loving thug looking for the next good fight.

Your future is yours. When you unsheathe your weapon, what battle cry flies from your lips?

The design philosophy behind 4th Edition clearly enhanced the capabilities and choices offered to the fighter -- giving them a wealth of powers on par with any other character class, with the mindset of making them not only as effective as ever in combat, but more interesting then ever to play.

As for the gladiator, Dragon Magazine recently published the two-part series:

"We Who Are About to Die": Explaining how to build a gladiator, with character concepts, new feats, new paragon path, new multiclass options, and new gear to customize a pit fighter.

"Fight!": Detailing gladiatorial combat, including various victory condition, skill challenges, sample venues, tricks, traps, and tactics.

Poll Results

Last month, we asked you what starter set you first learned the game from. Here now are the results:

1983: 33.6%
1991: 18.6%
1977: 18.3%
1981: 17.5%
2004: 8.9%
2006: 3.0%
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