We have heard an awful lot about “fighter vs.caster disparity” and “the problems” with the melee classed characters in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. And while we have discussed the realities of class balance and the significance of workdays there is probably a bigger dire elephant in the room… GM Responsiveness to Fighter class characters.
GM Responsiveness – The Basics
Good stories don’t just have characters, they are those characters. As such, they also reflect the heroic attributes of the characters in question. The moldering tome reveals the secret conjuration that allows the mage to master the calling of phantasmal steeds just in time for the heroes to return home to save the day. The young and scrappy gutter-rat finds the courage to strike the ancient evil while the right moment is hand… and sneak-attacks the Hell out of it.
Meanwhile… the fighter swings her sword… again.
While an author may create these moments and details for their characters, a GM helps craft them at the table by being responsive. As the “all-powerful” source behind the story a GM does this in a lot of ways:
- Worldbuilding – If possible to include characters relevant abilities in building the lore or history when considering the building as setting, do it. GMs can ensure significance by ensconcing a characters religion or academic tradition in the societies of your setting. Relevant equipment or stated character needs can be planned for and create stories that are more organic and rewarding.
- Emphasis – Even established settings have elements a GM can focus on to elevate game experience for characters. John is playing a monk, so you obviously don’t make the game about a different order than the one he picked, right? Unless they are rivals which by default elevates the stakes for HIS order. Similar focus can increase significance of a character regardless of role.
- Reaction – Adventurers are an odd lot regardless of setting or situation and often are greeted strangely given anything from hostility or great deference. How NPCs react to a PC is often times as important as the PCs abilities themselves. If we had a dollar for all the hand-waved dark elf social interactions… GMs can significantly empower or de-power classes by social interactions.
- Research – GMing is a job and a commitment. Like it or not GMs have a responsibility, especially in a long term campaign, of understanding and engaging mechanically with the abilities of the characters at the table. Understanding the “build” of PCs in a GMs game makes the responsiveness of a GM more effective by the second and only gets easier the more it is done. Take the time.
- Description – Every PC action deserves a 10 cent word and an adjective. Even a miss. Building character significance and being responsive means even failures need to have weight and the best way to build that is description. Even choices to delay or take a non-attack action can be rendered in language that is exciting.
Applying GM Responsiveness to Fighters
More than power creep, workday manipulation and amazing items a GM fails fighters first in responsiveness. A responsive GM can make even sub-optimal fighters feel as amazing as any wizard, psion or whatever that multiclass nightmare Ray plays is.
Unlike magic users (divine or arcane) which have packaged descriptions and special effects or rogues that have situational prompts and moments, fighters can be particularly challenging to GMs. Mostly this is because they have passive abilities and highly modular builds. Despite dripping danger with a full-BAB and the ability to use nearly ANY WEAPON effectively, most GMs won’t really have the first idea of how to acknowledge that awesome.
Examples of Fighter Responsiveness
- Worldbuilding – If you have a fighter in the party then your world needs that to matter. Stories options are endless but the vetrans of a great war, martial traditions of the long standing settlements in a hostile undead ravaged land, or secret warrior societies. Even if the fighter character doesn’t fully engage a concept the presence of these elements is a statement by the GM that warriors historically have mattered as much as any mountain flipping archmage. Learn the weapons the fighter intends to use or that the player thinks are cool. Make sure those weapons are represented in the world.
- Emphasis – Elements of societies and mechanics are easy points to call our for your fighter player. Fencing masters and legendary schools or styles can be known names in your game lending gravitas to swings. Enemies of similar skill should recognize styles and comment when appropriate. Acknowledge the abilities of the fighter at all opportunities it makes sense to. Get into the language of their styles and describe the details of their weapons.
- Reaction – So often the fighter is ignored when more exotic comrades come into the tavern beside them. While a planetouched sorcerer who floats might steal the eye of the crowd, don’t forget the fighter’s probably carrying a massive weapon (ignore the hand and a half sword of the guy who is built like a troll in favor of the guano flinger?). Fighters have the sweet spot in social interactions from the GM perspective being both everymen that take up the sword to “do something” and people dangerous enough to consider themselves the equal to assassin and demon conjurers. Its painful that such RP goldmines usually dump-stat Charisma.
- Research – Fighters get feats. That is their thing. That means that every one of them is highly customized. GMs MUST have a handle on the feat chains selected by the fighter or they WILL fail them. Many of the classes abilities function off of commitment to single weapon. Fighter chooses a macuahuitl to specialize in? Guess who gets to become an expert in all things macuahuitl in their world. Situational triggers and abilities must be understood. If a fighter sinks three feat choices on gaining bleed don’t bury them in constructs and undead.
- Description – Fighter attacks. Hits. Misses. This can be hours and hours of the fighter’s player’s life if a GM isn’t doing due diligence. Describe each blow, and don’t hold back–as the GM you have the power to control the cirrcumstances around every aspect of the moment. “The orc’s lunge at the Aryssa slides his feet wide.He’s exposed his flank and you rush in to seize the advantage. With a lightning twist of the wrist you execute a flawless Tenassa’s Viper and puncture his lung before his greatclub can be raised to guard” is a bit more rewarding than say, “You hit the orc, it dies.”
Fighters are a core concept of the fantasy genre and if a player chooses to play one they want to engage the role fully. GMs can give them battles to remember, songs to sing and deeds worthy of their valor and bravery (it’s class feature!).