When the early access for Baldur’s Gate 3 (the most recent installation of Dungeons and Dragons’ preeminent videogame series) opened, it was soon followed by the publication of a graph showing players’ character creation choices. People all over the internet laughed at the revelation that, while the game allows for a wide variety of different race and class combinations, the most popular character was the relatively ‘normal’ human fighter.
“Boring”, many called it.
But even looking at the data for tabletop DnD, the human fighter character is unusually common. And if it’s so boring to play, the question must be asked: Why?
Character Design for Different Playstyles and Party Roles
Many people who view the human-fighter as a dull option are roleplay style gamers. What they want from a game of DnD is to tell a story, of which they are the main character, alongside their friends. To such players, a standard soldier doesn’t seem terribly compelling.
This is, of course, perfectly understandable. If you’d rather play the much more melodramatic tiefling warlock or aasimar artificer, burdened with magical talent and with blood of power flowing through their veins – go for it. It’s not hard to see the appeal.
But not everyone wants to tell that kind of story. Even more aren’t concerned with telling a ‘story’ at all. They play DnD for the problem solving, strategy, and number crunching. For the politics, the combat experience, and the application of their historical and fantastical knowledge.
And even if they are playing a game with a group of obvious main characters (not that a human fighter, designed and played correctly, cannot be just as dramatic and complex), it can help to have at least one player who can ground the group and guide them through the non-roleplaying elements of the game.
To do that, it helps to have a character that is simple but versatile. And a human fighter is just that.
Fighters build as high-stat, physical damage dealers, who can use a variety of weapons, armor, and martial skills. They’re usually fairly well learned in war and strategy as well. Their abilities, even to start with, are constant bonuses to the group – you can’t run out of ‘attack slots’, after all. And in terms of party composition (not always a necessary factor for your group, but certainly useful if you’re looking to cover your bases in terms of expertise and efficient combat), they’re invaluable.
Furthermore, their generally high ability scores mean that they’re one of the most versatile classes in terms of skills and abilities. Even if they don’t have proficiency in that many skills, you can build their stat bonuses up enough that it doesn’t really matter. Combine that with the fact that humans can get a boost to ever ability score in the game (or lack negative bonuses, if you’re playing older editions), and a human fighter is actually incredibly useful and versatile as an archetype.
Ease of Play
In combination with the versatility of human fighters, they’re also pretty easy to play.
Humans have pretty few racial features, since they’re used as the ‘baseline’ by which other races are given comparison - this is because everyone playing the game, in real life, is a human. Fighters have few-to-no spells or overly complex features. Combined, this makes for a character that is easy to keep track of, and easy to play.
Newer players, players who feel the need to teach/focus on newcomers, players who might have to split their attention with household matters, and even just players with bad memories, all would find it appealing to have relatively little to keep track of.
They’re simple, for sure. But that's also their strength and their appeal.
Human Fighters are Extremely Effective – in Older Editions
Edition Differences for Fighters
5th edition fighters are super simple. So are pretty much all of the classes in 5th edition – it’s the most commonly sited complaint about 5e by people who play other version of the game – but fighters were particularly hard-done by the streamlining of the class playstyles. There isn’t much room to customize them.
And that’s a shame, really. Fighters are built to be masters of combat, highly educated in all things martial, with heavy specialization into their own personal style. It’s a great opportunity for an extremely fine-tuned character. And in previous editions, they were.
3rd/3.5th editions had you essentially build your fighter from the ground up, making them the single most customizable class in the whole of the game. Instead of predetermined features, you chose from a huge list of ‘fighter feats’, letting you decide the playstyle of your fighter down to individual attacks. This also had the side-effect of making them extremely effective for multiclassing and prestige classing.
Differences for Humans
There’s a similar reason for the popularity of humans in 3rd edition as well.
In 3/3.5e, races usually have negative modifiers. Since humans are considered to be the baseline for which base 10 stats are the average, it makes sense that orcs, who are huge, are generally stronger, but generally slower. Or halflings, who are tiny, are faster but pack less punch. This means that, unless you have a plan for compensating for the negative modifier, certain race-class combinations can be tricky.
Humans, though, as the simple standard, don’t get any stat bonuses in 3e, either positive or negative.
So, while they aren’t the ideal for any class, they aren’t the worst choice for any of them either. This makes them a popular choice, since you don’t have to deal with pesky negative modifiers.
All of this means that, while human fighter might be ‘basic’ in 5e, they’re actually a pretty shrewd choice for people playing other editions. So much so that it was Regdar (the human fighter featured on images throughout this article and the 3e sourcebooks) who was the posterboy of Dungeons and Dragons for years.
Have you played a human fighter? What was memorable about them? Let us know in the comments below!