The Fighter Across All Editions of TSR D&D

Ok, it's time to get back to elf-games. And why not look at the class that is simultaneously the most beloved and under-appreciated class in the history of D&D?

I was going to include assessments of WotC fighters too, but honestly, they end up being so different, and embedded into different systems, that it's like comparing apples and oranges. I would still like to look at the 3e fighter, as that has at least a little continuity with TSR D&D but I think that's for a different post on why feats aren't so bad after all and have a place in all versions of D&D... Moving ON, let's dig in:

OD&D: Fighting-Men, as they are called.

  • They get d6 hit die like everyone else, but they start at HD 1+1 and gain more HD as they level than clerics or magic-users (at level 10, the fighter has 10+1, cleric 7+2 and and magic-user 7).
  • They have no armor or weapon restrictions. For weapons, this only matters in regards to which weapons are typically magical (swords, fighter only).
  • Their fighting capability also starts better ("man+1" as opposed to "man" for other classes) and progresses faster.
    If using the alternate non-chainmail system that we know today, their to hit starts the same as everyone else, but they gain +1 every third level, compared to every fourth level for clerics and every fifth level for magic-users.
  • At 3rd level, they become immune to multiple attacks from high HD monsters (6th and 7th level for cleric and magic-users.
  • "High level fighters" are aware of the presence of invisible creatures like pixies.
If using Chainmail, as one might, the following perks also come online:
  • at 4th level, the raise morale of friendly troops.
  • at 8th level, they force morale checks on enemy troops as if they had taken excessive damage, whenever they enter charge range.

Greyhawk: From Greyhawk onwards, the HD system is changed. All classes now get 1 hit die per level, as all other editions of D&D would subsequently use.  In all other ways, it simply expands on the rules in the three brown books. Which means:
  • fighters now get d8 as magic-users and thieves (new class) drop to d4 and clerics get 1d6. 
  • As the only class, they get to hit and damage bonuses from strength and AC bonuses from dexterity. percentile strength for strength 18 is also introduced for fighters.
  • If you bought The Strategic Review, Volume 1, No 2, released a few months after greyhawk, it is clarified that fighters also gain mook mowing abilities, allowing them to attack a number of 1 HD creature per round equal to their level.
  • New rules for variable weapon damage and weapon vs. armor tables now means that their access to all weapons packs a bigger punch.
Paladins and thieves are also introduced here. Meaning that comparatively speaking, the currency of some of the fighter's abilities begin to drop. The thief can also use any weapon, so here's another class to pick up those magic swords that formerly only the figher could use.

And the paladin can do all the things a figher can and so much more. Up yours, fighting man!

Holmes: This is a Basic game and the fighter follows suit.

  • d8 hit die. 
  • no armor or weapon restrictions. 
  • to hit increases at 4th level, but holmes doesn't go that high, so doesn't matter.
A very basic class really, for better and worse.

B/X: Much like Holmes, a very basic fighter. 

  • D8 hit die
  • no armor or weapon restrictions. 
  • To hit increases at 4th level and every 3rd level. 
That's it, except a promise that beyond 14th level, they will gain extra attacks. But the companion volume never arrived. 

BECMI: Same as B/X up till 14th level. When the companion volume arrived, we get more. 

  • Those name level fighters who elect to travel rather than build a domain can become paladins, knights or avengers, which comes with some cool perks, like possible spellcasting, turn undead etc. Unless you're neutral and became a travelling knight. Then you just get a few social perks.
  • They, alongside land-owning fighters who swear fealty to a ruler, gain additional combat options like multiple attacks, parry, disarm and smash.
    So if you are a land-owning knight who didn't swear fealty, that makes you worse at fighting. Why? Because SCREW YOU. 

AD&D, 1e: The AD&D fighter is basically evolved from the Blackmoor fighter. They similarly have 

  • no armor or weapon restrictions (with expanded weapon options and a broader AC range for heavy armor, this matters even more) 
  • access to percentile Strength (though combat bonuses from STR and DEX now apply for everyone),
  • the same mook mowing capability as given in The Strategic Review.

  • They now have d10 for hit die, so are clearly made to last longer. 
  • And from 7th level onwards, they start getting extra attacks. 
  • And their to hit improves at +2 every other level. 
  • Fighters with Constitution of 17-18 get even higher bonuses to hit points than other classes.

With unearthed Arcana, this changes with the introduction of 

  • weapon specialization, granting +1 to hit and +2 to damage with that weapon. And one up on the rung of extra attacks with that weapon. It's pretty massive, all things told.

    Meaning 1st level fighters can multi-attack. The downside is that this is in context of a weapon proficiency system, meaning that everyone now have more weapon restrictions. The days of picking up any weapon and using it to full effect are over.

Of course, they have all of this in common with the ranger (new in AD&D) and paladin (except paladins can't specialize), who have a truckload of other abilities on the side. So fighters continue to look worse for the wear in comparison to the new classes in the game.

AD&D, 2e: The AD&D 2nd edition fighter is essentially the same as the 1e fighter, except that 

  • their THAC0 now progresses on a smoothed curve of +1 pr level, 
  • mook-mowing is now an optional rule for warrior classes and 
  • weapon specialization (which is an optional rule, baked into the optional weapon proficiency system) is only for fighters. 
Which means if you want fighters to have their spot in the sun compared to rangers and paladins, you better use weapon proficiencies, as specialization is what sets them apart.


The B/X/Holmes Basic fighter stands out like a sore thumb here. The only one who gets no special perks up at any point and have the shittiest progression To Hit to boot. I understand the class design in Basic. Keep it simple, leave to differentiated attack tables for the Expert game. 
I think Cook/Moldvay dropped the ball in the Expert set by not giving any bennies to the fighter from 4th to 14th level other than more hit dice and better attack rolls.

Here are some of the features that stick out as interesting to me:
  • Greyhawk - only fighters benefit in combat from high STR and DEX.
This is an interesting way to make fighters really stand out in combat.
  • BECMI - Mentzer screwed the pooch. What a shitty class design.
Seriously. Let's ignore the "you can only parry if you swear fealty" it also engages in the shitty design of gatekeeping standard combat maneuvers behind a high level class feature.
  • AD&D - Weapon specialization is pretty cool, and massive at lower levels
Sadly embedded into a very uncool weapon proficiency system. I wish they had given guidelines for how to use it without weapon proficiencies, because the fighter needs it regardless to hold his own against paladins and rangers.
  • Mook-mowing rules exist from greyhawk, through AD&D1e to AD&D2e. On top of extra attacks.
Fair to say that breaking the action economy is a defining feature of the fighter here. B/X-Holmes is the only fighter that never gets more than 1 attack pr round, and they were meant to in the never published Companion. Like I said above, I think Cook dropped the ball by not introducing it in the expert set. 

What also stands out to me in all this is that the XP requirements for gaining levels remains exactly the same across all editions. Even though the AD&D fighter is clearly superior to the B/X fighter in all ways, they both need 2000 XP to get to second level. I don't think that's right. Either beef up the B/X fighter or give him a lower XP progression table. It makes wonder how much thought TSR actually put into XP progression tables.

Likewise, if you use the optional weapon proficiencies in AD&D2e, the fighter begins to hold his own with specialization. But if you don't use it, he sucks compared to rangers and paladins, but the XP cost to level up remains unchanged.


  1. I recently wrote a post focusing exclusively on the B/X fighter and how it gets a raw deal, and your analysis lines up pretty well with my own. I especially appreciate your comparisons across other editions, as I'm less knowledgeable about those.

    1. I've only just discovered your blog now. Going into the blog roll for sure and I have a backlog to catch up on. Looks like good stuff.

      One thing - at some point, you really ought to expand on your nugget from "the good, the, the ugly" about how you don't really need initiative to run combat.

  2. Interesting analysis. My TS&R house rules tried to include what I thought were the important elements of the Fighter across TSR editions of the game. The system is mostly BECMI, but the Fighter is pretty weak if other warrior classes are available. I never considered the Chainmail morale effects though. I really should have, because they did appear (in modified form) with 1E OA's Samurai class, and I think the Masters Set weapon mastery rules (which I don't use) had some intimidation effects as well.

    And with regard to the Companion Set rules that landowning Fighters who don't swear fealty to a lord can't learn the fighting maneuvers, we always overruled that with another line that says a Fighter with the maneuvers can teach them to a Fighter without them. All of our high level Fighters back in the day could parry, smash, etc.

  3. Fighting with an untrained weapon is only a -1 penalty. So basically THAC0 in an untrained weapon is a level behind current level in 2e.

    1. My issue with weapon proficiency is broader than that. It adds a number of decision points between a very large number of choices, are largely uninteresting decision points (imo) and end up restricting characters in annoying ways.

      Use a sword because you trained like hell to be even better with it than anything else. Works.

      Choosing the short sword over the polearm from the dungeon armory after breaking out of your cell unarmed, because you invested that slot in short sword as your backup weapon at 1st level - not an interesting consequence.

      Introducing a system that immediately makes everyone less capable than not using the system is not a good system to my mind. IMO, it's axiomatic to the Dnd fighter that they are proficient with anything they pick up.

    2. I'm not defending it, just pointing it out. Aside from the Weapon Specialization, fighters got nerfed. Then specialization could be extended to rangers in 1e per Unearthed Arcana and in 2nd Ed, using the players option rules - if used, could allow other classes to specialize. Instead of penalizing "non-proficiency or unskilled", just start at a base 0, and add bonuses for skilled, specialized, and/or mastery.

    3. Fair enough. -1 is still a net damage bonus for that +1 weapon you aren't proficient in I suppose. It just goes against what I believe to be central to the fighter class.
      Though your "start at base 0" is not a bad way to flip that script.

      Player's option was really interesting as it was a first real attempt, aside from the class building tips in the 2e DMG, at a glance under the hood of the hood of class design.

      It also kinda showed how gimped the fighter was. You could do all sorts of shenanigans with other classes. Not so much with the fighter's 15 points, compared to the ranger and paladin's 60 points for just +10% XP, or the rogue's 80 (which included an option to weapon specialize. groan) for even less XP.

      There was a basis for a road-not-taken 3rd edition there though, if they had properly de-constructed the various classes this way (including HD, THAC0 etc) and connected those points to XP progression. As an aside, I think the inevitable result would have been fighter feats similar to the 3e fighter (even if you didn't have feats for anyone else).

  4. Nice summary. I've quite enjoyed the approaches taken by some of the more popular B/X derived games to beef up the fighter a bit. At my table they don't get multiple attacks a la AD&D, but they do get the ability to attack again on a kill and a flat damage bonus that helps the former to be more impactful against higher HD enemies as the fighter gets to the upper levels (the asymmetry in the TSR "mook mowing" ability between HD 1 enemies and all other enemies that makes e.g hobgoblins waaaay more dangerous than orcs is something that always bothered me, and is less of a problem with the "cleave + damage bonus" rule).

  5. Interesting summary. I rather like Matt Finch's approach to OD&D Fighters in Swords & Wizardry: "Players who are familiar with later 'Advanced' editions of the Original Game may notice that Swords & Wizardry uses a strict interpretation of the Original Rules in one very important respect: even though Paladins and Rangers are considered types of Fighters, they do not have some of the key advantages of the true Fighter class. They cannot parry as Fighters do, they cannot make multiple attacks against creatures of less than 1 hit die, and they do not gain Strength bonuses to their to-hit or damage rolls. The Original Game does not specify that Paladins and Rangers have these abilities of the Fighter class, and given the additional powers of the Ranger and Paladin classes, there is no reason to stretch the rules to give them more benefits. 'Advanced' versions of the game allowed attack bonuses (based on high Strength) to all character classes, but in
    the Original Game and in Swords & Wizardry, attack bonuses are a specific attribute of the Fighter class."


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