I may have mentioned my fourth edition players before. Four sessions in, the players are learning more about the game rules but still have questions.
“Why does the fighter have abilities they can only use once per day?”
In fourth edition, most “powers” – a catch-all term for spells, special attacks and combat techniques – are broken down into At-Will, Encounter, and Daily abilities. Wizards, for example, can use ghost sound or magic missile at will, once every round if they like, but ray of enfeeblement is an Encounter power and can be used once per combat, while flaming sphere can be used once per day.
This makes plenty of sense for the wizard, whose spells adhere to consistent rules of magic. The same goes for the cleric, paladin and warlock, whose abilities draw from deities or powerful entities and are rationed out as those beings wish. The warlord may have rousing shouts that lose their impact if used too frequently. The rogue may have sneaky combat tricks that only work when they’re unexpected and likewise mustn’t be overused, and something similar might be said about the ranger.
But where do the fighter’s combat techniques fit into this? What does it mean that the fighter can only trip once per combat or deal a triply powerful hit only once per day?
There are a few common explanations, but none really fit. It makes no sense that an exploit requires just the right “once in a combat” opportunity, because the fighter can use any ability at any time. If encounter exploits tire a fighter that he can’t use it again without resting, they certainly tire him out in a very specific way that doesn’t affect other tiring exploits. It’s not magic of any sort. There’s little reason for a class dedicated to perfecting combat arts to hold back on his most powerful abilities unless he he has to.
There’s a better explanation, I think, and it’s this. The fighter, eager to perfect the art of combat, trains himself in new and exceptionally difficult techniques of extreme deadliness. However, an earnest battle is never as predictable as the training field, and actually using these new manoevers is a wholly different experience. Once the fighter chooses the moment and commits to the deadly technique, instinct and training take over. So, even though the fighter can choose when to use his attack, he still can’t use it with great frequency – in the heat of battle, he cannot quite remember how he managed to do it.
A related topic is the fighter’s Combat Challenge ability, which lets him pull one enemy’s attention and is criticized by some as unrealistic. The theory is that unlike the paladin whose similar ability is explained by divine magic, there’s no sense in the fighter pulling more attention when he deals less damage than someone else.
I don’t agree. In the real world, consider how a boxer manipulates his opponent with feints, feigned weaknesses and so forth. Similarly, the fighter can feign an opening to entice an opponent to attack, or by intimidating battlefield presence create the impression that he is more dangerous than he really is. Don’t forget that although the fighter expects to use his most powerful attacks only once per combat, his opponent may not know that. As a master of melee combat it’s his job to watch the responses of his opponent and how to use them to his advantage, and “marking” an opponent represents that well.