Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sage Abilities for Fighters

Before launching on this subject, I'd like to thank the members of my online campaign - long in mothballs - for their vigilance in pushing me to expand my ideas about sagework to include fighters, rangers, paladins, thieves, assassins, bards and monks.  I feel that contribution - compelling me to change my mind about something - has made a shattering difference in the way I view the development of all player characters in my world.

It may be that with so many new abilities that players have a chance to obtain that I may have gone a bit too far.  With just the two classes done (acknowledging that the first are always the hardest), I know that my players already feel overwhelmed and drowned in detail.  My clerics have already shown that it is a massive amount of memory work just to remember that they have skills that apply to given situations.  The tendency is to forget and muddle through in the old, guessing way, where no parameters used to exist.  I have to remind them that they have this knowledge, now.  The reality is, it may take years for players to get truly comfortable with the system.

And yet I feel confirmed in my forward movement with this.  When people remember, they love it; they love that they know what exactly it is that their characters know - even if they often forget their characters know it.  This is just an adaptation problem.  D&D has so long ignored these details, it has trained players to think that the only way to cope is the grab-ass way.  This is not an attitude that can be changed overnight.

Very well, Fighters.

I see fighter knowledge being divided into five basic fields.  Each field is composed of studies.  The studies are, in turn, composed of abilities, as highlighted in the long list I wrote out in yesterday's post.  These abilities are gained as a character accumulates knowledge.  This knowledge is accumulated slightly differently from class to class, but the description below the Fields/Studies list on this page should help sort the process for the new reader.

The five fields that a fighter could choose from would be Training, Leadership, War, Prowess and Cavalry.

Of all these, I am least pleased with the last description, Cavalry.  We simply have no English word that comprises all the different animals of war that a character might ride - all such words are animal specific, such as equestrian and mahout, and obviously there is no English for a Hippogriff rider or for any of the various mounted lizard creatures that have been dreamed up by artists.

The field would obviously start with simple things like mounting a warhorse and maneuvering it into battle, but from there it would progress to pivoting with the animal in combat, improved use of the lance, ability to ride flesh to flesh in cavalry (as Tolstoy describes in War and Peace), so close that the horses flanks brush together.  We then add in all the other possible mounts we can think of, ways to manage them, ways to fight from them, progressing ultimately to oliphants (where presumably the animals could be trained to behave more rationally and effectively than they are portrayed in Lord of the Rings).  I have often had players ask, "How can I get started on these animals?"  Yet the rules for management and proper development for these, particularly for air combat, aren't there; so this is bound to be a lot of work, as specific rules are sorted out for their employment.

Prowess is bound to be the most popular with munchkins.  However, unlike the simple-minded rule systems I've seen in the past, where the only benefit that can be imagined is more attacks for more damage, I have a fairly tactical combat rule system that I think I can elevate without remaking fighters into indestructible heroes.

I think the real key here is just in allowing fighters to do things they ought to be able to do, but which are not included in the rules.  For example, using the shield as a weapon.  Hanging onto the shield without it having to be strapped on.  Using a second weapon as a shield, so that the second weapon improves armor class.  I know these are all things that many combat systems have incorporated, but these things do not exist in AD&D.  More to the point, I'd like a combat system where the development of these abilities is not guaranteed for all fighters!  If the fighter wants to employ their knowledge points into Prowess, they have to surrender what they might gain from Cavalry or one of the other fields.  I am, in effect, allowing the creation of five distinct fighter classes - with the recognition that, as the fighter gains levels, in time other fighter class abilities could be added to what the player has already learned.

I think my fighter players are going to LOVE this.

Another aspect of Prowess that I want to incorporate is unit formation.  This is an aspect to fighting that is virtually ignored by every system except mass combat systems, which assume every unit fights this way.

I have long had a rule in my combat system that limits the number of combatants per 5-foot diameter hex to one individual.  I adjusted that recently to enable two medium persons to fit into one hex (there is room, after all), but due to the need for practically swinging a weapon, persons cannot attack out of a hex they are sharing with another person.  In turn, enemies attacking into a hex with two persons gain a +2 to hit due to the disorder I am assuming exists in that hex.  This has worked out very well, as players enjoy being able to maneuver from hex to hex more easily during combat, as they can move through another player's hex, while at the same time it retains the rigor of keeping a line of combat buttressed against an enemy group.

Prowess will contain rules that enable two persons (one being trained and the other being subordinate) to both defend and fight out of one hex, thereby potentially doubling the number of defenders and attackers along the same length of front.  While weapon choice will be an issue, it will mean that fighting a trained army unit will be very different than fighting untrained skirmishers, as a single individual will now be faced by four persons in two fronting hexes instead of two.  Given that the party will, in turn, NOT have this benefit (particularly in lower levels, as this sort of training will not be easy to obtain), soldiers and palace guards are bound to become a lot scarier if faced.  Moreover, since every pairing of two persons will only require one trained individual (with sufficient knowledge) to enable the two person per hex rule, there will be a stronger desire for fighters to work together, for fighters to take fighters as henchpersons and for characters to hire shieldmen and shieldwomen to defend their flank.

That is going to massively change a lot of the dynamic of many game battles.

This brings us to War.  Here I'm going to use modern terms, though I'll likely change the descriptions to give a little more of a medieval flavour.  There are three basic sections in war: strategy, the implementation of political goals through war; operations, the planning and management of provisions, forces and intelligence in order to bring force to bear where desired; and tactics, the engagement of the enemy.  I could argue that logistics should be separate, but for a medieval setting, we can reasonably include logistics in operations (since the science of logistics was considerably lessened in pre-Baroque warfare).

I don't have much to say about this right now.  My vision of what makes an 'ability' in these fields is pretty vague for the moment; to make any of it work, there will have to be rules incorporated for mass movements of troops - not merely on the level of carrying out a single battle with mass combat rules, but on the scale of World in Flames or even Axis & Allies.

A D&D Combat Map, courtesy of Squad Leader?

That's because things like strategy and operations only matter in terms of very large numbers - where it happens that it doesn't matter if a single unit wins or loses against another single unit in some small part of the general theatre, the enemies have already destroyed the supply line for the area and everyone on the one side, win or lose, will be starving by Tuesday.

This is something many casual D&D players will bridle at, but there are elements of the big picture that are necessary for players who are interested in playing the so-called End Game.  For them, there are no hard and fast rules for where their particular fantasy ends - killing a dragon and sending a force of ten thousand to kill 100 dragons is all part and parcel of the same fantastical tapestry.

Of course, just because I make the rule doesn't mean anyone has to pursue it.  Thankfully, since I'll only be working on amateur level abilities in the next few months (not authority or expert level), this isn't going to be anything like the headache it could be.

Leadership fills out a great many chinks and holes that have always existed in the game.  Here I expect to spend time on making rules for hiring and keeping followers, determining who should do what, how to draw more people to the player's banner, how to know that NPCs can be relied upon and so on.  For game play, I see this being a way to control and manage morale, as the rules on the link define.  It would include raising and improving each hireling's morale, encouraging them to go the extra mile, gaining their loyalty and trust . . . pretty much everything a commander does.

It also means that there would be rules for NOT being a leader, so that many players who presume that after they've said, "I hire him" it means they've basically purchased a hammer with brains to match, that can be swung mindlessly in every direction without consequence.  That is, the way D&D typically works.  Failure to be a leader is going to be much more of a thing than someone who chooses this path in organizing their fighter character.  Well managed, a leader could become quite the overlording prick in a party, pushing everyone else around with their private company of sixty steadfast, fervently-loyal troops.

But I'll be there to see that doesn't happen.  No player-vs-player.

Finally, Training.  I honestly expect no player character to take up this field, but at the same time it has to be there.  There is a huge problem with the difference between an untrained person and a leveled character - I expect that the sage abilities I create will be there to solve this problem.  I wrote the post discussing the issue back in 2015 so I won't go into the difference between untrained, combat trained and level-trained persons.

But I will talk about a different aspect to training that the sage abilities system itself creates.  With clerics and druids, we can assume that their abilities are learned through practice, reading, communication with others during campaign downtime.  With fighters, however, more of the skills are hands on.

Therefore, who is it that trains the fighter to ride the animal?  Who trains the fighter to use a shield in combat?  Who trains the fighter to recognize a good piece of ground and who trains the fighter how to speak to men?  The Trainer does.

For player characters, I don't plan to make this system into something Gygaxian, where they must return to a Trainer to get upgraded (fuck p. 85).  However, if a character wants to train an ordinary NPC whom they've met and come to like as a combat soldier - and then ultimately as a leveled ally - then it also follows that a character would like to train an NPC how to ride a warhorse or how to lead soldiers into battle, yes?  Those are also bits of knowledge that a fighter would like to translate into reality through other people - so rules have to be designed that permit fighters to do that (limited by what knowledge they have in other fields and studies, obviously).

So, there's the schedule, for those readers who have come this far.  There's a lot to do.


  1. A little confused about the Training field. Let me check my understanding: the Trainer sage field governs the teaching of other Fighter sage fields (e.g. Cavalry) to non-Fighters? With one player-usable purpose being that a Fighter with the Training field could improve his men-at-arms and followers through teaching them?

  2. Wait, no, hang on: is it about 'transforming' non-Fighters into leveled Fighters?

    Is it both this AND my previous comment?

  3. Maxwell,

    It is both - but with some limitations.

    First, yes, it is about transforming non-leveled persons into choosing the path of fighter. This is also a skill I intend to add to all the classes, but for fighters the skill path between what used to be called zero level and first level is much shorter and therefore something the fighter class gains sooner than all other classes. A fighter only needs to be an Authority; I am judging that all other classes require the character to be an Expert. Why? Because there are more fighters in the world, because it is less cerebral, because the fighter is the youngest class where age is calculated, because the real test of a fighter is in surviving fights.

    So, there's this. You can take your nothing-special peasant driver and make him combat-trained. Then you can put him in some actual combats and if he survives, you can help him attain leveled status.

    Point 2:

    You can train someone how to perform a skill IF you have that skill, IF the student is going to be a fighter, and IF you have sufficient mastery.

    For example, to teach someone to fight from horseback, that person must be a fighter, they must not be spending their "eggs" in other studies and you, the trainer, must be an Authority if you're teaching an Amateur. You must be an Expert if you're teaching an Authority skill. You must be a Sage if you're teaching an Expert skill.

    Point in fact, however - NPCs will generally learn such skills on their own, if left alone; but left alone, they will RANDOMLY determine which skills they gain. The training skill primarily allows you, the player, to direct the gain of the skill in your own ability, rather than leaving that decision up to chance.


  4. LOL. Was hoping you'd say you liked it, Maxwell.

  5. Oh, that too! Gonna go up and read the Animal Riding post now.


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