Ailments for the Poor Fighter

I discussed the poverty of options for the poor fighter recently.

And concluded that extra attacks seems to be the go-to solution for giving the fighter something extra. I think it's a poor solution. For one, I think breaking the action economy is generally undesirable. It makes it the impact of a lot of other bennies exponential, it slows down combat and adds tactical decision-points that mostly don't really add anything to the combat experience, other than the fighter being better than he was.

I also think it is a bad fit for the low resolution of the D&D combat round. A round is already 6-60 seconds long (depending on edition) and we are supposed to understand that the attack roll and subsequent damage roll is the sum of a rally of blows exchanged.
So how does extra attack fit into this? It seems to me a high-resolution manoeuvre retrofitted into a low-resolution attack sequence. As I see it, extra damage is a mechanic that plays much better into this abstraction.
Four Extra Attacks or just a very high damage roll?

For similar reasons, I prefer the S&W approach to dual-wielding. Just add +1 to hit on your attack roll for the round, rather than start fiddling with the action economy because you're wielding a main-gauche in your offhand.

Which is why I believe Cleave is the only coherent multi-strike option in D&D. You did enough damage to down one opponent, rally over, and are now free to move on to the next. Sure, it breaks the action economy, but in a bounded way that works well within both fiction and the low resolution of the D&D combat round. 
And fun-wise, it's a nice reward for downing a foe, whereas extra attacking against the same foe can get to be a bit of a slog, better handled with simply higher damage.

It's curious to me that more damage is something D&D has generally been reticent to give to the fighter, favouring hit bonuses, hit points and extra attacks.

Yet, across all editions (excluding 4e, can't be arsed to look that up), damage-bonuses are rare and by and large tied up in limiting conditions where you have to sacrifice something in order to get the damage bonus.

Straight up extra damage seems a rare thing in D&D, which is strange to me as it is the easiest way to improve a fighter in a way that still keeps things interesting (still need to hit first) and actually speeds up combat rather than slows it down, as extra attacks are wont to do. If anything, D&D would be well served by being a bit stingier with hit bonuses (which are freely given without limiting conditions) and adding a few damage bonuses.

Here are my two suggestions for class abilities one can add to any TSR fighter to good effect in place of various extra attacks and weapon specialisations, or simply to beef the poor B/X fighter who still has to get 2000 XP to level up same as the much superior AD&D fighter.
They can be applied as a base class feature regardless of level since they scale with level, though I personally think they fit better from 2nd level (which is where cleave actually kicks in) and I like the idea of keeping the 1st level fighter more basic.


Whenever a fighter kills or otherwise disables a foe with a melee attack, they may immediately make an additional melee attack against another foe, provided the new foe is within 5 feet reach.
A fighter may attempt as many such additional cleaving attacks as his level, minus one (ie, total number of possible attacks is equal to level).

Devastating Blows

Whenever you land a hit and your modified attack roll is higher than 20, you deal an extra amount of damage equal to your attack roll-20.


In combination, I think these two abilities will speed up combat well without adding much extra tactical or numerical complexity, whilst beefing up the fighter in a way that scales very nicely as one levels.


  1. Particularly... I would like some drawbacks for fighters, specially on non-combat situations. Because, on OSR, combat is the only situation that is not dice-avoidable... A rogue can't use a big, fancy description as a way to avoid to roll a die trying to kill a dragon, like a barbarian can do a big, fancy dialogue (not supported on his low mental stats) can convince a king

    1. I am not sure I understand your point - Thieves can do a bunch of stuff out of combat that a fighter can't? And require much less xp to level up.

  2. I'm using Sweep (1 attack per level vs 1HD foes) in my game. So far, it doesn't slow the game down much. Everyone seems to pay attention to all the die rolling, and it probably speeds up combat in the end by eliminating monsters more quickly.

    I do like the idea of more damage for fighters at higher levels. 4E DID do that. Fighter "basic powers" did weapon damage+mod at low level, double weapon damage +mods at mid level, and I think triple damage at high level.

    1. Yeah, this cleave is based off the same ad&d mechanic, except the condition is "cut down a foe" rather than "a 1 hd foe is in reach".

      The latter either requires or delivers a certain meta-game knowledge to the player I dislike. I'd rather players act based on what the characters experience than game artifacts.

      The combination of higher damage and cleave ought to functionally achieve the same result of cutting down mooks with one hit and moving on to the next. Downside - you miss the extra attack if your first attack didn't actually cut anyone down. Upside - you can get extra attacks from cutting down more than mooks.

  3. I have for quite a while favored just giving old school fighters a flat damage bonus as they level. Couple this with a cleave rule and you've got higher level fighters able to mow through lower level mooks with ease, but still challenged by more powerful monsters.

    1. That's the basic idea.

      I went with a 'roll over 20 on attack roll' bonus to damage, as I am not quite sure how to scale a static damage bonus and with this, it scales automatically with the to-hit bonus and a decent roll. How have you sized up the damage bonus and how is that working at the table?

      But I do think this is the neatest way to help the fighter in a way that doesn't mess too much with the action economy.

  4. If you haven't seen it, ACKS does give fighter-types cleave and a damage bonus that scales with their level. The general fanbase seems to regard these changes quite positively; my personal experience echoes that.


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