Wisdom-Based Fighter

What does a Wisdom-Based fighter look like?  In response to this prior post, Andy talks about avoiding the pidgin-hole of classes tied to ability scores.  He gives the example of a Wisdom-based fighter.

To me what would really open things up (in theory) is the idea that some fighters might be awesome because they have high wisdom (i.e. they’re very observant and notice their enemies tendencies), because they have high intelligence (i.e. they’re very tactical). Certainly I could see a quarterstaff using fighter archetype be a high wisdom/high intelligence character with moderate strength, for example.

I wanted to expand on what that looks like.  There are a multitude of ways to accomplish this, but all of them add some level of complexity to the design and/or the player.

Combat Rolls based on Alternate Ability Score

This is the shallowest, but simplest, way to handle a wisdom-based fighter.  Treat the fighter exactly as a normal fighter, but have them use their wisdom bonus to replace their strength bonus for attacks and damage.  One thing to be careful about with this method is that it effectively allows a character to receive double benefits from one ability score, while ignoring another.  This is why the dex-based attack feat is so popular for rogues in D&D, since they can maximize one stat using their starting resources rather than needing to spread out the wealth across their scores.

Different (Custom) Class

We can avoid the optimization problem by simply deciding to allow a player to play a custom class that has powers built around and thematically in-line with using wisdom instead of strength.  This is certainly more complex in the design, but provides a nice vehicle for differentiating the two.  Here, again, we have the challenge of allowing more maximization of a single attribute, but this time, you have space to even that advantage out a bit with the set of powers you grant.  This route could take some significant effort on the part of both the GM and the player.

Custom Prestige Class

To me, prestige classes give the player the ability to really show how their character changes over time, to make allegiances and discovery important to the game, and to allow for near-infinite customization.  The problem with prestige classes is that you have to handle them just so in order to avoid a massive optimization problem.  With this method, you can have a steady-even start for all of the characters, but allow this mid-game customization reward.  The difficulty with this is how that low-strength fighter succeeds and survives in such a dangerous world before he can figure out how to use that high wisdom to his advantage.

Weapon Powers

Each weapon could have a series of powers you can unlock when using it.  You could have attribute requirements to unlock certain powers, or even without requirements, you could have those powers use attributes to measure success.  So, for example, you could have a quarterstaff power like:

Measured: Trigger (Even Roll) – Your intuition tells you to delay your action for a moment is right to strike.  Reduce your initiative by 1, but deal your wisdom as bonus damage.

Note that the power above could just as easily be a power used for a specialized class, but this makes it more a nature of the weapon, allowing anyone using a quarterstaff with high wisdom to unlock that power with sufficient level of skill.

Simplification of Attributes

The game could simply do away with Strength and Wisdom, and instead you could have a wise fighter by having a high “fight” attribute along with an aspect that describes your fighter’s wise qualities.  This is a bit of a new-age approach for RPGs, since it allows you to both describe your character while leaving the game balanced and a bit simpler to run (since you only have a “fight” attribute).  In such a game, your attributes might be Fight, Magic, and Sneak.  You’d then use your aspects to provide some framework on how exactly you are such a good fighter, or sneaker, or caster.

Feat Trees

The last approach I can think of is a classic skill-tree.  As you level, you gain access to some sort of skill/feat currency, and you can decide what skill-trees you want to start building to customize your character.  Often, these trees are related to a specific class, but they don’t have to be.  The Mobility skill-tree from D&D 3.5 is a good example of a feat tree most often used by rogues, but available to any class.

The downside of the feat tree approach is the old optimization problem.  This is probably the most complex solution because it requires balances these powers amid hundreds of other pre-defined powers, as well as balancing how they might be selected across all of the different classes.  Once that is done, it then requires the player to review all of the hundreds of options, and challenges the player to find ways to combine these feat skill-trees in optimized ways.

Thoughts?

Do you have a preferred method of handling a Wisdom-Based Fighter?  Did I miss any methods that you think would work?

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