Friday, October 21, 2016

The Gearhead Fighter

Every class has something it's inherently good at. Sorcerers are born with magic at their fingertips, wizards are masters of the arcane, clerics have the gods on their side, and monks have the capabilities to unlock their true potential through the study and practice of bringing the mind and the body into perfect harmony. But fighters? Well, what do fighters have? They are warriors. They are artisans of battle, and skilled dealers in the iron trade. Blow-for-blow, when battle is joined, the fighter is going to be the class that is the most comfortable in the maelstrom of chaos.

But what is a fighter without his weapons and armor? Little enough, actually. So why not use that to create a singular personality archetype that can make your fighter more than just another sellsword, bowman, or gunslinger?

It doesn't work for everyone, but a reverse-grip tower is ideal for someone with shoulders like mine.

The Gearhead Fighter

We all know this guy, in one guise or another. He's our uncle who will talk about the differences in air intake valves, and their effects on the gas/air ratio in your engine, and how that will make a difference in speed, efficiency, and response time. He's that friend we made in computer sciences who built his own gaming PC from the ground up, and could list everything from the ideal amount of RAM to the processor he had installed, and why he'd made every, individual choice. And since we're all RPG fans here, he's also that guy you met at a con who could lay out an ideal character build, complete with traits, feats, and edition notations, before you were halfway through your first sentence.

What you need to do is take that attitude, and apply it to your character, and their personality.

Why so many different swords? Well, let me tell you...
The Gearhead doesn't have a bastard sword. The gearhead has a full tang, hand-and-a-half with seven-inch quillions, a beveled fuller, and an alternating wire-wrap hilt. Every aspect of a weapon, piece of armor, and their maintenance, is something the gearhead knows. Not just knows, but loves. Whether it's in a, "let me show you how much I know about fighting," kind of way, or a, "these are my tools, this is my trade, and I would never dream of doing anything else," kind of way, the interest is one the gearhead goes on about at length.

It doesn't matter what sort of weapons or armor the gearhead favors, either. Archers may talk about preferred woods for bows and shafts, or preferred fletchings for their arrows. The merits and flaws of different arrowheads, a full versus partial draw, and how often a bow should be oiled, as well as with what kind of oil, are also good topics. When it comes to armor, the age-old debate of strength versus mobility is sure to be a factor, but there's more detail to get into. What kind of pattern does a chain shirt have? Was it left to blacken? What sort of maintenance needs to be done on it? What kind of metal was used to make the links?

And, most importantly, who is the artisan behind the work?

Just as there are signature surfboards, comic books, and cookware, so there is signature adventuring gear. It isn't just that your short sword is a piece of masterwork artistry, oh no. It came from the personal anvil of Ciril Greene, the finest craftsman in elven steel outside of Kyonin itself. Every detail, from the slight curve toward the tip, to the ironwood grip, would tell a fellow gearhead what they're looking at. They wouldn't need to see the maker's mark on the ricasso, but that gently floating leaf is enough to confirm just how masterfully that weapon was made.

A true gearhead would also be able to tell the genuine article from a forgery. A simple heft and swing, along with running his thumb and eye along the steel, would be enough to tell him whether or not the weapon was real, and if it was worth the cost.

Race, Culture, and Preferences Among Gearheads

Gearheads are shaped by the cultures they come from, as well as by their race. For example, dwarven gearheads may focus more on the composition of a weapon's steel, the forging techniques, and where the ore was mined. Five Kings steel, for example, might be the preference for a dwarf from the Five Kings Mountains. Even if that gearhead acknowledges the strength of metals smelted from other parts of the world, he may not trust it, or rely on it, as much as he would if it were his own people who had made it.

It just sits better in your hand.
The more exotic the race, or the weapons, the more unusual these gearheads can become. Mithril and adamantine might be recognized by most gearheads, who have only heard tales of these fabled metals, but there are even more unusual elements out there. Infernal and celestial weapons might be legendary, both for their craftsmanship, and for the inherent powers imbued into them by their inhuman smiths. Mortal gearheads have likely heard tales of these weapons, though, and may know more than many sages when it comes to named weapons and armor that hold prominent places in the history of war. Gearheads raised among the celestial realms, though, may have first-hand experience of such weapons.

Gearheads Can Be Other Classes, of Course

While the fighter is the class which is perhaps most closely tied to the gear they use, it's far from the only class that can be made as a gearhead. A magus, for example, might be able to go on at length about the enchanter's weave in his mithril rapier, showing how the spells were anchored at the weapon's balance point to create a singular effect. A ranger will be able to tie unique weapons and armor to their favored enemies, creating a synergy between their knowledge and specialization that gives them an edge against any prey they've studied. Even wizards, with their intense study and ability to craft potent magic items, may be able to rattle off the advantages and disadvantages of different weapons and armors. Even if they can't use them in the field, that doesn't mean they haven't studied them.

Gearheads don't just bore their companions to death with intricate discussions about honing techniques and flange styles, though. Their knowledge and familiarity can allow them to integrate into certain spheres to gather information. Weapon smiths and armor merchants will recognize an enthusiast, and may be more willing to cut prices (a little) when it comes time to find a buyer for their goods. A gearhead might even be able to evaluate a foe before initiative is even rolled by taking in their accouterments. To the rest of the party, the sneering prince is just another spoiled noble. The gearhead sees the iron eagle on the prince's blade, though, and he recognizes that as a high honor, that particular blade given only to those who've killed more than fifty men on the battlefield.

Which might mean he can smooth some ruffled feathers, and make a powerful friend.

If you're looking for further inspiration, check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Fighters!

That's all for this week's Unusual Character Concepts. I hope you all enjoyed, and if you plan on using this idea, feel free to let me know how it goes! If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave a bit of bread in my jar. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, well, why not start now?


  1. You just gave me the need to play this kind of fighter at my table. The iron veteran who've seen "war" who is not only a fighter or a mere warrior, but also a tactician and master of the battlefield. Any tips toward building this kind of master of arms ?

    Good article and good reading as always, M. Litherland !

    1. I'd honestly say that cavalier would do you best. The bonus teamwork feats, combined with Banner and Tactician abilities are just what you're looking for.

    2. Tactician fughter archetype in Pathfinder. Should honestky be the standard for fighters.

      Sharing teamwork feats and extra skill points is just what they needed to stop the dumb brute with sword cliché.

  2. To those that have no qualms against 3.X material, and would like to add some crunch to their gearhead characters, there's a great article in page 38 of Dragon Magazine #358 called The Master's Forge, that adds a little more nuance to the qualities of amor and weapons in D&D. It offers options like segmented armor, which increases the amor's maximum Dexterity by +1. Or serrated weapons, which deal +1 point of damage each round for 1d4 rounds in a critical hit. There's other options like folded metal or perfect balance that you can see for yourselves, each of these qualities increase the cost of the item, and the Craft DC to forge them.

  3. A very good and inspirational article. Fighters need more love and support.