I chanced on the weekend to be watching an original series episode of Star Trek, "Bread and Circuses." And as I listened to Flavius Maximum bellowing at Dr. McCoy to keep his weapon up and to improve his stance, something occurred to me ...
Two rules I've not mucked with in the last thirty years are the combat tables as written in the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, and weapon proficiencies. I haven't simply because there's nothing wrong with them. I have no need to reinvent the telephone. For those gentle readers not overly familiar with them, I'll need to quickly sketch out the important details.
First and foremost, there are four combat tables for the players (we'll skip the monster tables, those are not relevant to this discussion). Included is the fighter table, the cleric's table, the thieves' table and the mages' table. At first level, fighters and clerics (along with paladins, rangers, druids and monks) hit AC 5 with a 15. Thieves and mages (along with assassins and illusionists) hit AC 5 with a 16. The tables don't specify bards, but I rate them on the thieves table (there must be some note in the Player's Handbook about what bards fight as, but since the bard there is seriously fucked up, I wouldn't pay attention anyway).
As fighters reach 3rd level, their combat proficiency on their table jumps two, so that they now hit AC 5 with a 13. Clerics do not experience a similar jump until 4th level. Thieves get their jump at 5th level (needing a 14 to hit AC 5) and mages get their jump at 6th.
In other words, fighters improve every second level (3rd, 5th, 7th, etc.), clerics every third level (4th, 7th, 10th, etc.), thieves every fourth level and mages every fifth. This is obviously easier to understand if you're looking at the tables in the DMG.
I know that many people prefer to string out the combat improvement level-by-level, so that the fighter gets a jump every level, instead of every other. Thus, the fighter would hit AC 5 with a 14 at 2nd level, with 13 at 3rd level, with 12 at 4th level and so on. There's merit to this. I've never done it because of the annoyance factor of keeping the separate divisions for all the character classes in my head during a combat (the way it is now, I can calculate any player's to hit chance from the first level fighter's). I've also not had players who cared that much. There's a pleasant feeling of achievement knowing that the player has reached a certain level and gains a better table ... I don't feel there's much to be gained in reducing that improvement by scattering it through the levels. Others feel differently. They're entitled to run it their way. I'm only explaining here how I do it, because its relevant to the actual point of this post. (Alternate combat systems are not, so please don't feel the need to explain yours)
Proficiencies, as I have always understood them, allow for a set number of weapons for the characters to use effectively, according to their class. Fighters start with 4; paladins and rangers start with 3; most classes start with 2 and mages and illusionists start with 1. More are gained as one increases level.
The Unearthed Arcana began a precedent where players could improve their hit ability by doubling up - or trebling up - on proficiencies. To begin with, this never made sense to me on a rational level; I presume that to be proficient in a weapon meant already that you had trained with it to the point where you were the best you could be. A professional musician who learns to play piano practices 8 hours a day already. How exactly the pianist improves their piano playing by not taking up the oboe is a mystery to me. Once the pianist reaches their penultimate ability, they don't lose it because they go to the beach for a few weeks ... they may have to limber up upon returning, but they do rise right back to their peak form after some effort. Therefore, a pianist would have time to learn the oboe ... or anything else ... without that time interfering with their ability to play. But the pianist wouldn't improve if they decided to, say, practice 16 hours a day.
To me, a fighter is fighting as best they can at first level, no matter how many proficiencies they happen to have. But that is not logic that touches everyone, and the contrary rule was just too sweet for power players to ignore. I'm not certain, not being steeped in 2e and 3e tradition, but I seem to remember hearing that this was a practice that was carried about as far as it could go. In any case, I don't play it. A new weapon proficiency, in my game, means a new weapon ... not the same weapon over and over.
With these perameters established then, let's return to Dr. McCoy.
I've seen other depictions of one individual coaching another in the heat of a battle, or as a trainer speaking to a novice ... and added to that many personal experiences with baseball, football and hockey coaches shouting at me from the sidelines in order to make me a better player. So why not a similar rule in D&D?
I could see it working this way: if a particular character fought on a higher combat table, and was in fact coaching a character using a weapon in which the 'mentor' was proficienct, the character fighting upon a lesser table ought to get a +1 to hit. That is, IF the mentor fought on a table that gave him at least 2 better than the lesser character, and IF the lesser character was within a certain distance ... say, ten feet. That could be shortened to 5 feet if the mentor was also in combat, and shouting things over their shoulder, or increased to 20 or 30 feet if the mentor was doing nothing else at the time except coaching.
It would be an interesting rule to build up comaradarie between players, with the newer players choosing to take the same weapons as higher levels in a party, and then wanting to fight side by side with those higher levels in order to increase their effectiveness. At the same time, higher levels might be more tolerant of having the lower levels around if they can bestow some of their fighting prowess.
I think there would probably have to be other limits: a mentor could hardly coach more than one player at a time; and if a mentor was critically wounded, or in some other way severely tried, the lesser character would have to be on their own at that point. But from a roleplaying point of view, this offers a strong sentiment. The lesser player, suddenly without a tutor, must do their best anyway ... and killing the beast handily! Only to hear, of course, the mentor on the ground, bleeding, shouting at him not to strike for the chest.
- "What in hell were you thinking?"
- "But I killed it!"
- "You were lucky, kid! Listen to what I tell you."
What's also interesting, I think, is that the application does not need to apply only to fighters. A high level assassin versed in long sword ought to be able to coach a low level fighter; a cleric using a quarterstaff ought to be able to coach a mage. The only criteria for who can coach who has to be the ascendant combat ability, with the stipulation that it be a proficient weapon - and NOT the class of either the mentor or the student.
Dr. McCoy, after all, obviously wasn't a fighter.