Friday, June 6, 2008

Pity the Poor Fighting Man

"Mook" rules seem all the rage these days in roleplaying games. Even the new edition of D&D has them. I find it interesting that this is considered some sort of innovation, given that Dungeons & Dragons has had such rules since OD&D (stemming from Chainmail, I believe). Under OD&D, a fighting man can attack a number of times equal to his level when facing foes of 1 Hit Die or lower. This rule carried over into AD&D in modified form, with multiple attacks being allowed only against foes of less than 1 Hit Die. Philotomy suggests (correctly, I think) that the change occurred because a 1st-level OD&D fighting man has 1+1 (d6) Hit Dice, while a 1st-level AD&D fighter has 1 (d10) Hit Dice.

In any event, it was only with 3e that this rule went away. I think that's unfortunate, because not only did it speed up combat in certain situations, but it also added powerful distinctiveness to the fighter class. Only the fighter had this ability and it helped to solidify the notion that the fighter was, as his name suggested, the melee combatant par excellence. The loss of this ability isn't the end of the world, of course, at least not any more than Greyhawk's allowing Thieves to wield magic swords, previously the sole province of the fighting man. But it's another example of the slow whittling down of the class's uniqueness in favor of "sexier" options.

This is not a new phenomenon; I'm not laying the blame solely on newer games. The trend began right there in Supplement I, where the paladin is like a Fighter+ and the Thief stole the stealthy combatant role away and claimed it as its own. So, I'm actually sympathetic to the notion that the fighter needs some beefing up compared to other classes. At the same time, I'm well aware of the history behind the diminution of the fighting man and I see most modern attempts to address this as absurd hypercorrections. The fighter is a very primal, "pure" class and I'd like to see it stay that way. What it needs is not lots of mechanical bells and whistles or a role beyond its true raison d'être -- combat -- but a simple focus on making the class better a fighting, whether melee, missile, or stealth, than any other class.

This vision of the fighter was lost a long time ago, but that's no excuse not to return to it.

15 comments:

  1. I really hate mook rules...

    ... and I don't think the early D&D editions had mook rules, really... because the enemies themselves don't change and don't weaken... it's the fighter that gets better.

    But mook rules? Where enemies are suddenly weaker than they'd normally be simply for the purpose of making the PCs look cooler? Fuckin' hell, that's "new school" narrative editing crap if I've ever seen it.

    A character is either a badass, or he isn't. He shouldn't get rules help to *appear* to be a badass. He should just *be* one. Or not.

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  2. I don't mind Mooks / Minions when they're things like Kobolds with 1-4 hit points that would probably go down in one hit anyway. That just means less accounting and speeds up the game! Something that *wouldn't* commonly go down in one hit... I don't think that should be a mook / minion. No Bugbear Minions. :)

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  3. while a 1st-level AD&D fighter has 1 (d8) Hit Dice.

    Hmmn, don't you mean (1d10)?

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  4. Hmmn, don't you mean (1d10)?

    Yes, I do. Been reading too much Supplement I lately and it's seeped into my brain. I shall fix that now.

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  5. Interesting thoughts. I have to admit, I recently started allowing the Fighter to attack at a rate as though specialised with all weapons.

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  6. JimLotFP wrote:

    "He shouldn't get rules help to *appear* to be a badass. He should just *be* one."

    I'm going to assume the operative word there is "appear." The thing is, the rules of a role-playing game only exist as a channel through which the players can modify the fictional level.

    Your character cannot "be" a bad-ass, because the character and the world in which he or she operates does not exist. Whether this fictional entity is a bad-ass because he or she has hit Name Level, or because the rules say so, it's ultimately the same effect.

    Complaining about Mook Rules as Mook Rules (as opposed to the particular implementation) assumes that the rules are supposed to model the real world. I think that's a questionable assumption, and one cheerfully thrown out in generations of escapist literature, going back to Howard's Conan stories if not earlier.

    For what it's worth, I kind of miss the obsessive attempt at realism in D&D 3.5, but I think it's an area where reasonable men can differ.

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  7. The character - and the game world - certainly does exist for me, at least while I'm playing... otherwise a game just will not work for me. Just like any fiction I read or movie I see had better establish its reality to me or I will reject it. Part of that in a game is that characters are defined by who they are in the game world, not what their role is in the "story" we're playing. The PCs are the focus of the activities at the table, but they certainly are not the center of the game world.

    Conan vs the horde of opponents... is that so much as Howard thing as a "revisionist" thing?

    And for me, emulation isn't something I strive for. Avoiding storytelling methods and "memes" and such are a key reason I like playing RPGs in the first place... I can explore unreality without having to bend to standard straightjackets of plot and characterization to retain some third party's (reader, viewer) interest. No plot protection and no assumed endings...

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  8. JimLotFP wrote:

    Conan vs the horde of opponents... is that so much as Howard thing as a "revisionist" thing?

    "Queen of the Black Coast" and "Red Nails" both explicitly involve Conan busting zillions of heads at once; there's a very strong implication that he does this on a regular basis in "Frost Giant's Daughter," "Scarlet Citadel," and "Beyond the Black River," though it's usually reserved for "cut-scenes." Elric and Tomoe Gozen both are one-person slaughter machines. So that's a good 40-50 years of Sword & Sorcery continuity right there.

    We could throw in Gimli & Legolas's orc-killing contest at Helm's Deep if we wanted to reach into High Fantasy, or the countless Storm Troopers or Enterprise Red Shirts if we wanted to deal with it in Science-Fiction. And it is, of course, rampant in superhero comic books, blockbuster movies, etc.

    The fact is, escapist fiction isn't very democratic.

    JimLotFP wrote:
    The PCs are the focus of the activities at the table, but they certainly are not the center of the game world.

    I don't entirely disagree with this--but in its own way, it's weird as hell, right? We're going to spend, say, 30-100 hours imagining the adventures of your characters, which eats up a huge chunk of your energy. And you'll kill Ogre Chieftains and Liches and things. But don't go thinking you're important! You're important when I tell you you're important.

    Surely you wouldn't have this problem if you were doing an OD&D campaign where people begin the game with, say, 40,000 XP and thus are embedded and bad-ass within the game world? This is sort of what 4e is trying to achieve.

    (I think that's too bad, because the terrifying gamble of old-skool low-level characters is sort of a fun game in itself. But I don't begrudge anybody starting around 6th level if that's the style of play they want. It's not a crime.)

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  9. Well I can't argue against the uselessness of a lot of foes in most fiction... I was just not recalling the specific incidences in Howard (but remembering the many times in Savage Sword...) but it does usually bother me. Not in Elric's case, since he was an inhuman sorcerer with the most evil and powerful weapon ever... but in most of those other cases, yeah. And I try to keep that out of my games.

    For one example, I try to keep the town guard as something to be evaded and avoided... for as long as possible, anyway. I hate playing D&D as a superhero game...

    .. of course, one of these days I'm going to run a campaign for people who realize "Hey, we're tough enough to take this place over!" And then it'll be my job to have some group of adventurers take the usual PC role and come into their territory to attempt to liberate these poor peasants from their conquerors. :P

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  10. Well, 3E did have the Cleave feats and friends that could amount to mook mass slaughter (esp. with damage bonus inflation..). But they didn't give Fighters enough feat advances to really claim their birthright. They shouldn't have kept the split-off Rangers, Paladins, and Barbarians..

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  11. IMHO if a character is slaughtering mooks just for the hell of it, then he isn't much of a hero.

    There is no glory in that, and it is below your skill, not to even mention that most of the time, if you slaughter all of the kids who fill in the guard ranks, then you are a criminal and SOMEBODY will be hired to catch you, and see that justice is done.

    Playing in a living world doesn't mean that you aren't a big deal. It means that the world is happening around them, if they commit a crime then they will be held accountable.

    Every action has an equal reaction. At least that is the way that I prefer to play it.

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  12. Have any of you ever played EPT?

    That venerable childe of OD&D lacks "mooks" but has two rules that when put togheter give Fighting Men the "Conan vs. Horde" feel *if* there is a wide enough level difference between him and his foes.

    We saw that just last night, where the heavy-hitters of the party where downing up to 3 un-nerfed lower-level foes with one attack roll.

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  13. The problem is that 4e is kinda missing the point, when it comes to Mooks.

    The point isn't that they have to be significantly weaker (to the point of pushovers) than the PCs- you don't need Mook rules for that, you can just scale the opponents back stat-wise to achieve the same effect without any special "mook rules".

    The point is to have a system where you minimize the book-keeping when handling these opponents (i.e. making them binary- either you take them out or you *don't*- rather then tracking the hit points of all 50 Skeletons individually).

    In all the good games of this bend (Savage Worlds, Feng Shui, 7th Sea...) it is ridiculously easy to just tweak the mooks stats so they are suddenly a very real treat to the heroes, without changing anything about them being mooks.

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  15. The misconception from AD&D on is somehow each class is balanced by combat - as if that were the only focus of D&D. The new edition has fallen for this lie hook, line, and sinker.

    Actually, every class has their own individual focus and XP is awarded as such. In real D&D, the Fighting-Man owns combat.

    That fact, and the requirement each new PC start at 1st level, made one class far more popular than the others. Fighting-Man!

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