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Busting Stereotypes Part 1 – The Fighter

Playing a stereotypical character takes about as much creativity as eating a pizza.  Sure, you can do it creatively, but there’s only so much room to play with.  In D&D especially, stereotypes exist for every race and class.  If you’ve read this blog much at all, you probably know that I’m not real big on fitting into stereotypes.  Ravyn has written a bit about this on her blog, and she makes plenty of good points that I don’t need to go into.  Go read her blog, then book mark it.  She always has some good stuff there, you won’t be disappointed.

Now, the purpose of this series is to talk about about how to bust the stereotypes.  Busting the typical stereotypes for any class can be fun for both yourself and the rest of your group.  For example, I’m currently playing a character named Merrick.  Merrick is a fighter.  He wears plate armor and is strong as an ox.  Pretty stereotypical, right?  Not really.  He’s also pretty smart, and enjoys reading a variety of subjects.  He’s got ranks in Knowledge (Arcana), Knowledge (Religion), Knowledge (Nobility), and a variety of other subjects.  Why?  Simple…he loves to read.

The stereotypical fighter is intersted in war, and skills that relate to war. They usually wield a sword or maybe an axe (especially if they’re a dwarf), maybe a shield, and wear the best armor they can.  They tend to be a little dull, not that great with people, low will saves, and probably more interested in getting laid than most anything else besides hitting people with their weapons.

All the crunch in every edition of D&D supports this.  While I feel 4th Edition is the worst offender, even it can be worked around.  Fighters are given skills like climb and swim.  The idea is that no one is skilled in anything that can’t directly affect their class.  Frankly, this is a pet peeve of mine, and a house rule I’m instituting when I DM will be outlined soon doing away with this system.  However, now is not the time for that.

Now that we know what the stereotype is, how can we break it?  Well, there’s a lot of ways we can go about it.  So, let’s create a character.  We won’t worry so much about stats right now since they are pretty unimportant all things considered.  After all, most of the time your fellow players don’t even know what your stats are!

First, let’s name him.  How about Joe (I am NOT using my cool names here after all ;)).  Joe is a 1st level fighter.  Let’s start with his skills.  He gets four.  Well, his background says he was raised as a farmer, so let’s give him Profession (Farmer).  As a farmer, he had animals, so he gets Handle Animals as well.  He had to tend to his family’s illnesses and injuries, so let’s give him Heal as well.  Now, let’s give him a hobby.  According to his background, he spent a lot of time in the nearby village talking with a scholar about the planes, so he gets Knowledge (The Planes).  Now, that skill set is hardly typical and it helps round out the character.

Next, let’s look at equipment.  The typical weapons of the fighter, the sword and axe, are pretty typical.  However, they’re typical for a reason…they work damn well.  On equipment, it’s important to decide why is this part of the stereotype.  With the sword and axe as weapons, it’s because they work well, are priced reasonably, and frankly they fit the model of the fighter everyone is used to.  Now, a memorable and cool fighter can still fit with this stereotype if necessary…or you can look at some unusual weapons.  For example, as Joe was a farmer, the scythe makes an interesting weapon opportunity for him.  Not only that, but they can be pretty nasty as well 😉

As for armor, there is a simple reason why fighters wear the best armor they can.  It’s because they can! Fighters take a lot of pounding, and they need the armor.  Don’t feel to bad about going the typical route and wearing whatever armor you want.  However, it can be fun to stick to one type of armor simply for style.  I’ve got a character, my first, who is now an NPC in my world.  He wears nothing but scale, even at 20th level.  Why?  Style baby!  He likes the look better! Not always the best route to go, but it sure can be fun.

I’m not going to sweat feats right now, because frankly they can all customize your character and I can’t really think of a feat that is stereotypical for fighters.  Just with skills and equipment, you can create a pretty unique character that has some life in them.  Not only that, but they don’t fit the conventional stereotypes at all which will make them seem that much more real to you and to the rest of your group!

September 1, 2008 - Posted by | RPG | ,


  1. Definitely a good start to what looks to be a very interesting and promising series. I particularly like your reasons behind his skills and weapon choice – there should always be more good reasons out there for men to carry scythes around!

    Comment by Ishmayl | September 1, 2008 | Reply

  2. Amen to this. I’ll take interesting, fun and original over stereotypically over-optimised any time.

    Oddly enough, we’re finding it easier to create unique characters in 4e D&D than 3e. The introduction of Powers has freed the Feats system up to be used for such things as Skill Training and Skill Focus (we use those a lot), and the Ritual Caster Feat means even that Fighter can pick up a few simple spells should they so choose.

    Add in simplified multi-classing where you can add a twist to a character’s backstory without burning a whole level, and there’s plenty of scope for fun tweakery.

    Regardless of the rules used, it’s always worth spending time to come up with someone special. After all, he (or she) is all yours.

    Comment by greywulf | September 1, 2008 | Reply

  3. @Ishmayl: I have a tendency to look at the background for skills rather than the class. With even a simple background, there’s plenty of direction to look for skills.

    @greywulf: True enough, but the problem I have is that the 4e rule system still requires one to take skills that I personally consider dumb. You have to take typical fighter skills, in addition to burning feats to take different skills. But I see what you’re saying and you’ve got a good point. So long as the character is unique, that’s what’s important. It doesn’t matter the system…what matters is that he/she doesn’t look like anyone else out there!

    Comment by Tom | September 1, 2008 | Reply

  4. I definitely like the approach to weapons and armor. I tend to avoid swords like the plague, personally; there’s one system in which I’ve played something like ten or twelve different characters and only started a game with anything even remotely resembling a sword once.

    And thanks for the link and recommendation; I’ll be sure to live up to it.

    Comment by Ravyn | September 1, 2008 | Reply

  5. @Tom: Nothing in 4e requires a fighter to take typical fighter skills, any more than anything in 3e did.

    You’re still free to switch up class features a bit, provided your GM agrees to play along.

    As far as weapons go, swords and axes tend to be mechanically superior. This is less the case in 4e, although some of it’s still there. I’ve always liked spears and polearms, though they’ve mechanically been a mixed bag.

    Comment by Scott | September 2, 2008 | Reply

  6. @Ravyn: You have so far, so I wouldn’t sweat it 😉

    @Scott: True. I should have specified that the RAW lays it out that way (so far as skills go). If I’m wrong, then please let me know where the rules are for taking “cross class” skills with the exception of using feats to take them, since you only get so many feats. If I’m wrong on this, I definitely want to know.

    As far as swords and axes being mechanically superior, I assume you mean game mechanics, correct? If so, I tend to agree. It’s sort of the annoyance that gets me about the weapons, that the mechanic supports a type of fighter that fits the stereotype much, much more than anything unique. However, I’ve been known to go with what’s not mechanically superior just because 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 2, 2008 | Reply

  7. @Tom: No, I believe you’re right, although the DMG mentions the option at some point (as did the 3e DMG).

    Game mechanics, yes, although real-world mechanics do too. (Spears and polearms are very effective… when used by many warriors in formation. Not so great when used by individual warriors, as compared to swords and axes.) There are reasons why swords became so ubiquitous in reality, after all…

    Comment by Scott | September 3, 2008 | Reply

  8. @Scott: Good to know I’m not going crazy there 😉

    As for real-world superiority, spears were actually the primary weapon for most people for many, many years with groups like the Celts and Norse who weren’t big of formations. Swords and axes are great too, but what always really mattered was the warriors hands. Still, I agree there was a reason why the sword is still thought of as the primary melee weapon for the day.

    As far as game mechanics go, unfortunately you’re right. Still, a skilled fighter is deadly with any weapon more or less 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 4, 2008 | Reply

  9. I think the benefit in 4E comes from not having hugely deep trees of feats with prerequesites in order to get Improved Disarming Sundering Spring Attack or whatever else you’re aiming for that means every single other feat is already planned out if you ever want to get the top tier before you retire the character. Options like this are almost exclusively taken out of Feats and placed in Powers for the classes, so you really don’t sacrifice any large degree of combat effectiveness to round out your characters skills.

    On top of this, they remove the cross-class skill penalties. Admitedly, you can’t easily access the full skill list at first level, but after a feat or two, there’s no reason why your mage hunting fighter can’t be as well versed (or even better) in arcane lore as your friend the wizard. Not to mention that any class can become able to handle traps and pick locks without even going near multi-classing into Rogue.

    But I think the biggest advantage to “break the mold” for 4E characters is the removal of Profession, Craft, and the rest of the Knowledge skills. Want Joe to have been a farmer in 4E? You write on his background that he was a farmer and you’re done: no debating whether you can afford to spend skill points, no taking a feat so you can even allow yourself the option, no sacrificing a chance to be better in combat to give your character more colour. There are pointers in the DMG that suggest the DM should account for backgrounds and either give bonuses to rolls (DM: “Joe gets an extra +5 bonus on his Nature check to distinguish between the two breeds of cow…”) or automatic success (DM: “But, with his background in farming, Joe is well aware that strawberries are out of season…”).

    Comment by Craig | September 5, 2008 | Reply

  10. Craig, you may well be right, but I really want to steer these discussions away from 3.5 versus 4e 😉 There’s good in both systems, and I’d like to steer away from anyone going on about the advantages of any system over another. In all honesty, the stereotypes exist in all games, regardless of who puts it out. We, as role players, need to bust the hell out of them, regardless of what they’re called 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 5, 2008 | Reply

  11. Good point. I’ve always found the worst “offender” to be the Rogue, to the point that I purposely create characters of such a class that have never broken the law in their lives: the gnome clockmaker to explain the disable device skill; the stage magician who used slight of hand and lockpicking in his daring escapology tricks; and the dwarven trap maker, who was shamed when her trap failed to prevent an important family relic from being stolen.

    Comment by Craig | September 5, 2008 | Reply

  12. @Craig: I agree completely! Rogues will definitely be covered in the near future, and I plan on using your examples as one way to do it. I hope you don’t mind 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 5, 2008 | Reply

  13. Not at all: please feel free!

    Comment by Craig | September 6, 2008 | Reply

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