Defenders suck. Well, maybe not ALL defenders. There are those rare exceptions where a player has come up with a particularly imaginative build like a Warden/Druid hybrid that turns into a swarm of bees and embraces the primal forces of nature. The defenders I’ve got a real beef with are Fighters, specifically any Fighter built like our good friend Conscore McSwordy.
Today we let Bauxtehude off the reigns. He’s got some very strong opinions about defenders. After listening to his ranting at the game table for the past year I buckled and let him have his say on Dungeon’s Master. I may not agree with everything he says in this article but I wanted to give him a chance to rant about it. I leave it to you, the readers, to put him in his place and let him know just how wrong he is about his stance on Fighters. – Ameron
I think we all have a Conscore McSwordy at our gaming table. You’ll recognize him by his heavy armor and shield (giving him an incredibly high AC), a starting Constitution score of 20 or higher and very little going on upstairs. Fighters built like Conscore McSwordy are simply annoying. I particularly hate that they can lock down combat with abilities like “if you attack anyone but me, I get to stop your attack, stop your movement and then pound you for 1W damage” and “I have the highest defenses and hit points, smash my skull all day, Int was my dump stat so I wont even notice.” Fighters are ruining D&D. I say we just get rid of them all together.
If you’re looking for a way to make D&D combat intentionally boring just add a Fighter to the party. When hostile combatants move around the map the party has to cope with the new tactical positioning. Fighters prevent this kind of movement, keeping combat stationary and boring.
Why even have controllers at all if there are Fighters in the game. The Fighter wants all the monsters surrounding him and once he’s got them marked he doesn’t want them going anywhere. Defender who lock down opponents (again, the Fighter being the prime culprit) all but eliminate the controllers forced movement powers making these classes feel particularly useless.
Strikers built to jump from the shadows and hit unaware opponents moving past them must give up the advantages that come from stealth once the Fighter marks everyone and keeps them in place.
The leader’s role becomes trivialized as well. Not only is their expertise as a battlefield commander inconsequential, but any tactical choices about who to heal are completely removed. With Conscore McSwordy taking all the punishment it’s safe to say we know who’s getting all of the Inspiring Words.
As an RPG, D&D at its best is high flying and explosive. Characters can swing dramatically from the brink of death to making a heroic, tide-turning, daily-using, action-point-spending surge to victory unlike any other game. However, without major alterations it’s not the best game system for political intrigue (if you want that play Houses of the Blooded) nor is it ideal for cloak & dagger (if you want that play L5R). Where 4e D&D does excel is in its combat mechanics which rely heavily on the grid. Dynamic tactical movement is a huge part of what makes D&D combat great. The defenders (Fighters) are the antithesis of what D&D does well. Remove Fighters from the combat equation and things will get a lot more interesting and likely a lot more fun.
Hogging the Spotlight
The Fighter begins his turn by marking everyone, but then further hogs the spotlight as he continues to act and react on everyone else’s turn. Your gaming table becomes the Conscore McSwordy show. The Fighter keeps jumping in to remind you about the penalties affecting each opponent. This slows down combat and makes the monster’s turn very boring. DMs find that their best course of actions for the monsters is to just say “I use ‘nothing happens this round.’ Oh look, I got a 12 does that hit your insanely high AC?”
TPK? Not While I’m Here
With a Fighter in the party there is almost no chance of the PCs even facing a truly desperate situation. The Fighter easily soaks up damage that might otherwise decimate any other PC involved in the combat.
The only solution is to have every monster use blasts and close bursts that include the Fighter in the attack. But this gets boring and is overly punitive to everyone not playing a Fighter. It’s like using a shotgun to kill a fly. It may solve the problem but it’s not going to be pretty.
Strong Defense, Weak Offense
In order to try and maintain some kind of balance between classes and roles, defenders have really high defenses and comparatively low damage output. This combination makes standard combat encounter drag on forever.
Add to this that fact that monsters in general tend to lack danger and any sense of dramatic flare in 4e D&D. Fighting the biggest and baddest opponent becomes a long drawn out combat against a docile creature. I can’t tell you how often a one attack per round solo monster is stunned or dazed for the first half of the encounter and then fails to hit the defender for the second half.
Even the players find this kind of encounter boring. I sometimes wish that the rest of the party would just join forces with the solo monster and gang up on the Fighter. He’d be caught unaware and you may even pull off a coup de grace. Once he’s down the rest of the party can actually play D&D and have some fun.
Have you ever seen a Fighter actually try role-playing his character? Defenders in general offer very limited range in role-playing possibility. The classes themselves encourage a min/max mentality when assigning ability scores. They practically demand competitive feat selection. Players running Fighters can always just say “To hell with what’s on paper, I’ll role-play the character I want to role play!” but that’s a very rare exception to what I’ve seen in practice.
If you build your Fighter competitively, min/maxing his defenses and ability scores, you don’t have the points to spare to round out his non-fighting abilities. He’ll lack the Charisma to form words, the Intelligence to actually have anything to say or the Wisdom to notice that anything is going on around him. From a mechanics perspective, most of his skills will be so awful he’ll hurt the party every time he’s forced to make a skill check.
People like playing Fighters. I don’t get it myself, but they are certainly popular. So even as I rant on about all of the reasons for removing Fighters from D&D I know that many people will ignore me and keep on playing their own Conscore McSwordy. That’s your call.
In these cases I hope that you’ve got a great DM who has found clever things for your character to do or you may have found an exciting way to redefine the role in combat that is a hip manifestation of your character concept. But I plead with all of the Fighter-lovers out there to try playing other classes and other roles. Stop slowing down the game and just build a striker already. Be the envy of the table and roll the big damage dice for once in your life.