Art of the Genre: The Fighter

Art of the Genre: The Fighter

My stolen hero, Sir Alec Fleetwood, by Jeff Easley circa 1983
My stolen hero, Sir Alec Fleetwood, by Jeff Easley circa 1983
Do you ever wonder why we fight? What is it in our DNA that makes us want to pound something if the mood strikes? I suppose I’d say it’s simple human nature, because what other reason makes sense? I mean, I always hated the saying ‘boys will be boys’ and yet when my son was two I took him to a park to play and got an odd wake-up call. You see, my wife and I took every pain and precaution to be sure that he never, ever, saw or was around a gun, and yet he walked right up to two abandoned squirt guns, lifted them up like he was in a John Woo movie and started pretending to shoot stuff. Seriously, I was looking around for the release of doves and a slow motion jump from the slide to the sand-pit.

I guess at our very core there’s a fighter in all of us. It’s probably the reason why Jon Schindehette over at ArtOrder was so surprised with the response to his art request for an ultimate fighter art composition. People just plain like human fighters, and the numbers involved in the impetus of the competition hold to that fact.

Certainly, the groundwork for many a gamer starts with the fighter. He’s essentially the ‘easy one’, the character class you give the new player because all you have to do is swing a weapon and hope the dice are lucky. There are no magic spells to learn, no prayer lists, holy symbols, or thieves tools. It’s just put on some armor, grab a sword, and go, and you know, I really love that!

So, when I started my rather epic quest in the realms of RPGs, just like discussed in my discourse on Basic D&D’s Red Box, I of course played a fighter. As a matter of fact, I was so obviously unoriginal, I stole Frank Mentzer’s Sir Fleetwood name example right along wth Jeff Easley’s image for the fighter I wanted to play and went from there.

The intriguing part for me, however, was when I went back and looked at the 1st Edition AD&D Player’s Handbook very recently I discovered that there was no picture for a ‘sample’ fighter. Nope, nothing, just text, and this phenomena was repeated for most of the primary classes save the unfortunate paladin pictured fighting demons on a cliff [an image currently being used on a great gaming blog called A Paladin in the Citadel].

I'd write a caption, but I'm too busy crying for the armor and sword...
I'd write a caption, but I'm too busy crying for the armor and sword...

Still, pictures or no, fighters were seemingly everywhere, all adorned in platemail that made me want to weep with jealousy. I remember finding a particular piece in the very first Dragon Magazine I ever flipped through, #88, that set me on a road to fighter adoration that goes on even today. This piece, done by Roger Raupp, in my opinion should have been the AD&D fighter iconic, even if that dastardly and wholly evil rust monster is ruining the beauty of it all.

There is something about armor that makes a man feel powerful, and I can still remember strapping on shoulder pads and a helmet for my first football practice while channeling my best Monty Python Black Knight with a feeling that ‘I’m invincible!’. To actually put on a set of full plate must give you a sense of euphoria, although I’m sure I’m romanticizing it. Still, fantasy artists make it seem so very comfortable and stylish, the characters represented never wanting to take it off no matter what scene they’re depicted in.

Give Gondor the weapon of the enemy. Let us use it against him.
Give Gondor the weapon of the enemy. Let us use it against him.

With the advent of the AD&D Unearthed Arcana, simple fighters could be ‘upgraded’ to cavaliers and barbarians [pictures included!], but these were just veneer over the pre-existing spell-casting rangers and paladins from the Player’s Handbook. I looked over the new classes, rolled them up, played them, enjoyed the oddity of it all, but somehow I always found my way back to the standard fighter.

And by fighter, I’m talking a human fighter, not a dwarf or elf or any other race. Nope, just the human bastion of martial combat, the guy we really all wanted to be. Human fighters, you see, are mirrors of ourselves. We’re not wizards by nature, we’re trudging muggles, and we can only hope to bash about with blade and brawn until we find the treasure and maiden we all truly seek.

As a whole, we don’t innately strive to live by a code of honor, the sacrifices of paladins and samurai better left for the movies. Our woodsman side isn’t really that eco-friendly because as a species we look to build cities and nations to find an ease of life well away from any true wild frontier, so rangers aren’t really our bag either. Barbarians? Come on, there are no pure body-builders here, bare-chested warriors are better enshrined by Robert E. Howard while us normal folk cover up the imperfections of flesh with heavy armor.

Laubenstein's Earthdawn warrior has a 'gift' for any swordmaster who wants it
Laubenstein's Earthdawn warrior has a 'gift' for any swordmaster who wants it
See, being a fighter has it all, and yet has nothing, the quintessential component to male human nature. The true ideal here is to start from nothing and become great by your own strength, your personal drive, and not be burdened by the regulation of an outside force or politic. There’s a reason straight fighters are so lovingly referred to as ‘tanks’, because it’s what they’re all about. They drive forward straight into the teeth of the fight, armored like a juggernaut and using heavy damage weapons; they take and deal punishment because it’s their whole purpose for being.

They’ll not trick you like a thief, spell you like a wizard, or show piety like a cleric, and for that we respect the honest commitment of their purpose. It’s why they get the girl, because in the end they earned her with the sweat of their brow and strength of their heart. For all purpose and definition, it’s why Gygax listed the title of a fighter as he levels in 1st Edition D&D as ‘hero’ because that’s what they are.

The hero… I mean, who doesn’t want that? Even the venerable Middle-Earth Role-Playing Game had their fighter version with their ‘Warrior Profession’ if you honestly preferred the tragic Boromir to his ranger brethren Aragorn and Faramir. This surely has to be the reason we also loved Caramon Majere in Dragonlance, because he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed but he was unbreakable and retired with his fiery-haired love to become the salt of the earth as proprietor of The Inn of the Last Home. That’s a fighter’s life, brother, and a darn good one if you can get it.

In Valeros, Wayne Reynold's cup runneth over
In Valeros, Wayne Reynold's cup runneth over

When I purchased 2nd Edition AD&D I was struck by the lack of characters images in it as well. Once again Basic D&D was the only format that brought forth character class images, or as they’re now called, ‘iconics’, until FASA started in with ‘archetypes’ in cyberpunk’s Shadowrun that steamed over into their fantasy system of Earthdawn.

Here, FASA brought their own fighter to the battlefield with the simple ‘Warrior Discipline’. Now, I’d never accuse Earthdawn of being D&D, the system a catastrophic rules jumble, but their warrior still held some common semblance to the basics of combat and could never be as flashy as their more empowered swordmaster, sky raider, or cavalryman.

It wasn’t until AD&D 3rd Edition rolled around that fighter images again came into vogue for the grandfather of RPGs. These were done by Todd Lockwood, but they failed to live up to the billing because we were given the dwarven fighter, Tordek, as the lead, and I’m sorry, but everyone knows that dwarves can’t be heroes [see Thorin Oakenshield] for a purely human psyche.

This occurrence was remedied somewhat with the addition Lockwood’s Regdar the human fighter in the 3.5 upgrade, but I feel I wasn’t fully comfortable with the new-blood fighter imagery until Paizo and Wayne Reynolds brought us Valeros in the Pathfinder Adventure Paths.

A fighter's dream complete, Sir Alec Fleetwood moves from novice to king
A fighter's dream complete, Sir Alec Fleetwood moves from novice to king
Now here is a fighter to be proud of! He carries a sword, because what self-respecting fighter doesn’t, a dagger for ‘close encounters’, and wears his platemail with pride. All this, however, pales in comparison to his belt-bound tankard! Really?! A tankard?! Talk about falling in love at first sight. I mean, this guy ‘gets it’, because only a serious fighter understands that at the end of every campaign [and if you’re lucky during the campaign] there’s an inn waiting to serve you enough ale to kill a goat. He’s ever-ready, this symbol to the very nature of his venerable class shown with pride to all those who care to take notice.

You know, I can see Valeros as a king someday, carving out his own country someplace in Golarion, and although everything about him will have changed, that tankard will still be there. In a mighty hall, his +5 longsword hung above a gilded throne, crown atop his head and vestments from the finest clothiers in Magnimar, Valeros sits with Seoni at his side, and yet at his feasting table his trusty and battered tin tankard awaits yet another challenge.

This is the course of the fighter, his destiny, and I’m reminded of my own Valeros version, the stolen Sir Fleetwood, and what he went on to become in his later years after my countless adventures with him. Thanks to Jeff Easley, who did me a fantastic favor with this never before seen contribution, I can now show you my very own Sir Alec Fleetwood as he was when I retired him in 1986 at 30th level. Ah, here is the hero I always dreamed of him becoming, and so he goes into the good light, but is never, ever, forgotten…

Long live the fighter!

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I’ve also always been a huge Fighter-fan. Though admittedly the 3E Barbarian has come close to supplanting him. Still, I can remember having the same dreams and goals for my 1st and 2nd Edition Fighters (remember the random follower rolls when you establish a stronghold?).

Btw, it’s Caramon Majere, not Cameron. 😉


Scott may say he loves the fighter, but those of us who have played with him know he’s a rogue by heart.

Sadly, my Kuni died before he could pull the ronin warrior Tsuzuki from the draw of the Scorpion in our L5R campaign. Just one of many examples where Scott’s ‘fighter’ would rather fight in the shadows than on the battlefield.



I do indeed recall that cover, though I never owned it.

I might see if I can convince my DM to adopt some house-rules about followers along the lines of those 1E rules.

[…] Taylor over at Black Gate has put together another great article about the Fighter class in RPGs in Art of the Genre: The Fighter. Not only does he include some great artwork, but there’s some great overview of how the […]

[…] not look awesome if your helmet has a mustache? Anyway, back to task. I posted a piece last year on The Fighter, and in it I included one of my all-time favorite images concerning armor. That Dragon Magazine […]

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