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Monday, 11 May 2020

"Human Fighters Are Boring!" A rebuttal of the idea to nobody in particular

Well, this is going to come off as a bit rambling and somewhat oddly specific to a few people. I imagine anyone reading this blog who is more into OSR-related stuff and plays with older people doesn't deal with this mentality. This is very much a byproduct of Generation Y and Z that plays modern D&D, I've noticed.

I'm sure this is how this post will come across.
There's a bit of a stigma on the Fighter. Especially if its a 'Human Fighter'. The term is sometimes used as a joke by people who like the more fantastical aspects of D&D and fantasy RPG in general. Now I'm not going to shame people who play odd races and more exotic classes, provided that player does it well and in a way that doesn't hurt the game setting. This isn't what I got a beef with. My beef is with this idea that the 'Human Fighter' is a boring character. The idea on the surface has some merit, as it implies a very 'average joe' character on the most surface of level. The character is implied to be some guy (and its usually even more leveled at a guy) who has a sword and maybe a bow. He's that: a guy who is good with a weapon, in a party that usually include things like Tiefling Paladins, Dragonborn Barbarians, Goliath Sorcerers or Gnomish Hexblades or even more bizarre and nonsensical things. Yet in this parade of oddballs and freaks stand one man, an average man, a mortal man with nothing but his sword, his wit, his skill and hopefully a bit of luck.

One would think such a character actually has an innate cool factor. Yet apparently, the appeal of the 'everyman' character isn't what it used to be. To make a comparison to something which these people still find currently very popular, the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the 'human fighter' is Steve Rogers, Hawkeye or even arguably The Falcon (as he's just a guy with a bird jetpack). While some of these aren't the most popular of the Avengers, they're not exactly hated last I checked. Now I know people will bring up that Steve is a super soldier but really, his 'power' is that he was chemically given really good stats all around without being fully superhuman, if you really think about it. And a special shield. Steve is just a Fighter with really good stats all around and a special shield. He doesn't shoot fire, he doesn't levitate and he doesn't have magic. Yet, somehow, when you take these people who are fan of this you'd have to tie them to a chair and torture them to play a 'human fighter'. Pathetic.

I've come to realize the problem isn't 'exotic' races by themselves or even oddball classes. The problem is a fundamental inability to craft anything compelling, character-wise, without the crutch of a character's very state of being. Now I'm not saying everyone should come to a table with 26 pages of backstory, this is often quite useless in any game where you apply a modicum of Old School thinking and remove plot armor. However people have a certain inability to have a certain hook to their character which doesn't require a special exotic race and/or class. To prove my point I've collected a series of ideas, some my own, some found elsewhere to create a compelling 'Human Fighter' backstory that accomplish the following goals:

  1. It provide a fairly simple, yet efficient hook or 'gimmick' to showcase that the character's class lend itself to more than playing 'Mike the generic human guy with a sword' and to show that the class and/or race itself is not the backstory.
  2. It explains why the character is currently adventuring.
  3. It's simple enough to be usable to add roleplay flavor without forcing the game world to bend to an overly complex backstory should the game focus more on dungeon crawl, hexcrawling and/or sandboxing.
In order to do so and be relevant to the currently most popular RPG, I have built these basic character ideas from the Backgrounds as outlined in various Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition books. As an additional limitation, these Fighters will be assumed to be either Champions or Battle Masters as anything else is too 'fancy' and different from the Fighter of older editions.
  • Acolyte: A non-spellcaster disciple of Kord or similar non-evil gods of war and physical might. Big burly dude with high CHA who love history, religious songs and weird fighting techniques like hitting people with a sword's pummel. A bruiser but hardly a brute or an idiot, but possibly lacking in Wisdom.
  • Charlatan: An asshole walking around with very fancy, very polished armor and nice, clean weapons. Pretend to be some holy knight-errant, some prince of a faraway land raised by elves or some other fancy shit. Is really just a charlatan that's good at fighting, a mercenary who over-inflate his prices.
  • Criminal: The usual tough and morally dubious thug. He's a fighter and not a rogue, so that makes him some hired muscle. Alternatively, a bow-focused fighter who is a cold blooded assassin.
  • Entertainer: A professional actor, specializing in re-enacting the plays of the greatest warriors, heroes and demi gods of the land. Fell on some bad times and now is using his weapon and skills to fight actual monsters and not stage props.
  • Entertainer (Gladiator): Need no explanation.
  • Folk Hero: He's from the same mold as humble heroes, farmboys-turned-chosen one and shonen protagonists alike. Good heart, good guts and as dense as a sheet of adamantine master crafted by dwarven smith.
  • Guild Artisan: A smith and craftsman of weapons and armors who has fallen on hard times and, like the entertainer, has turned his skills to more practical goblin-slaying or whatever use. He knows how to maintain his gear perfectly.
  • Hermit: Perfect for the battle master, this guy is some weirdass hermit taking cues from wuxia, living in the woods and trying to master weird sword techniques. His techniques are peerless, or will be with enough practice.
  • Noble: Plenty of possible ways to implement this background, as historically speaking a fighter would have been from nobility.
  • Outlander: Not every guy-from-a-more-primitive-background is a ranger or barbarian. Like the noble this can be done in a variety of ways, from Conan ripoff to even something slightly closer to Aragorn-minus-the-ranger-class.
  • Sage: Not every scholar is a Wizard and not every area of research is safe. With both brain and brawn, this adventuring scholar knows how to fend for himself just fine. While this type of backstory work even better for a Rogue, whose to say this one doesn't prefer a more blunt solution to problems?
  • Urchin: Born in the mean streets, he rely on his raw skill and guts. Unlike other Fighters, he prefer to use crappier weapons rather than nice swords and armors. Probably a concept best reserved for games where Feats are available to further customize in some weird ways. Probably a battle master whose 'special techniques' who are actually cheap tricks like hitting someone in the balls.


  1. I really don't understand why people don't like Fighters - they're the best. I almost always play fighters.

    Anyways, the background list is neat. A good idea spark!