The Fighter/Mage: a series

April 19th, 2010 | Tags: , ,

Eldritch Knight.  Arcane Trickster.  Spellsword.  Red Mage.  All of these names grasp at the idea of an arcane warrior, a master of martial and magical prowess. Those who walk this road follow a ridge between two valleys, each with its own verdant fields and riches.  A mage might study in his tower and a fighter spar on the tourney field, but what sort of person seeks to do both, to pull himself in opposite directions simultaneously? The level of dedication and discipline that resides in such an individual goes beyond the everyday, and is uncommonly equalled even by others of heroic stature.  Sacrifices are made, but for the fighter/mage, they result in a net gain.

A player, too, must exercise discipline when fashioning a character of this bent.  With few exceptions, the martial and the arcane occupy vastly different mechanical spheres.  A martial character will use primarily Strength or Dexterity, while an arcanist most often utilizes Intelligence or Charisma.  But a generalist array can support both primary attacks at the cost of diminishing a secondary stat, and wise feat and power choices can leverage common abilities.  This series of articles will explore the nature of a fighter/mage character in D&D 4E and describe some of the choices to be made in fashioning an effective master of two worlds.

Introduction: Character

The fighter/mage’s domain rests across several overlapping concepts.  From street rat to city watch, from a nobleman’s hired entertainer to the nobleman himself, and from urban dweller to a wanderer on the plains, many possible origins exist.  A sly rogue prepares himself with a few tricks up his sleeve to aid in stealing the Duke’s gem unnoticed; a disciplined city guardsman hides the secret that makes him ready for more than just a barroom brawl.  An ascetic, high atop a mountain bald, might practice alone the craft her master taught her from birth.  A gladiator discovers welling up from within him forces almost beyond his control.

Some races are innately possessed of magic, while others do not expect even to cultivate it among their members.  Some are exemplars of a set of evenly-balanced skills. Others hone a talent on the side to complement a more focused main approach.  Still others have perfected a seamless unity of might and magic, and even the most inept wizard’s apprentice might manage to pick up a few tools for his belt before choosing another path. Who are you?

First and foremost, a fighter/mage is a capable melee combatant.  He can take advantage of range, but when push comes to shove (and it will), he’s the one doing the shoving back.  He may wear armor or not, depending on his style, but usually it will be lighter armor; heavy armor doesn’t necessarily interfere with casting, but more often than not it represents a larger investment in martial training than is possible.  (At higher levels this becomes less of a concern, and indeed, a mage in full plate, slinging spells and cracking skulls, is a potent image.) His weapons have the greatest variance, being more of a personal nature–sometimes even attuned to him through magical bonds.

How a fighter/mage approaches the magical craft is a double-edged question: how, too, does he approach his swordplay?  For some, these two questions are both facets of the same gem.  Magic is intimately connected with the physical world; all force contains in it potential for magic, and vice versa.  Others see magic as a tool, one of many to be used when a specific situation calls for it. Hurriedly-uttered incantations, gestures long since relinquished to muscle memory, and perhaps a slight incuriousness, a tendency not to delve too deeply, speak to this.  It is important to get a sense of how your character sees magic, for that will inform your choices in building the mechanical foundation.

Three mechanical paths lay open: single class, multiclass, and hybrid.  Choosing this first will help you decide which stats will be most important, and consequently your race.  Each provides useful options for the fighter/mage, but by no means are they equal in utility.  These three paths will be a topic for each of the posts in the series, with each article touching on class and power selection, feats, and other tools.

One useful paradigm that 4th edition brings to the table is the division of the classes into one of four roles (Defender, Striker, Leader, Controller). This will help you better characterize what sort of path your PC walks.  Leaders tend toward a more nurturing approach, either through gentle healing magic or a more gruff inspirational style.  Defenders are stolid sorts, able to draw threats to themselves to protect their allies.  Strikers concentrate their efforts on taking down the clear and present danger in the shortest time possible, and Controllers are best at attacking groups of enemies or bending enemies to their wills with status effects.  A fighter/mage can be any of these, and is most likely a mix of two–Defender (or Leader) and Controller (or Striker).  I shall also touch on these in each of the articles in the series.

Well, how do you view the fighter/mage?  What other traits do you view to be essential to the arcane warrior?

  1. Sparrow
    April 22nd, 2010 at 21:43
    Reply | Quote | #1


    I wonder, sir, if you’d be kind enough to examine and explore the inherent differences, if you perceive any, between a fighter-mage and a swordmage. Also, do you see other classes melding martial attitudes with arcane skill as intimately as the swordmage, or is the blend of arcane and martial always to be an unequal partnership?

  2. Steve Killen
    April 22nd, 2010 at 22:13
    Reply | Quote | #2

    You presage me: the swordmage takes front and center in the next article, accompanied by the other single-class approaches. I’ll not tip my hand too low, but I’m inclined to pursue the material from a more neutral perspective. For instance: before the duskblade, before the bladesinger, even, came the bard. ;-)

  3. Gauk
    April 25th, 2010 at 22:28
    Reply | Quote | #3

    Mechanically, I’ve always looked at the fighter/mage as a combination that tries to make up for the shortcomings of each other’s classes. Wizards are notoriously fragile and fighters lack the ability to project power more than the reach of their weapons. Both are very powerful classes in 4e. The essential trait of the fighter/mage is this sifting, this choosing the best that each class has to offer – survivability and flexibility. Controllers and defenders do largely the same thing – keep the uglies away from your strikers and leaders. So the classes have a common purpose, but can often conflict in execution. Unless you have something that lets you cast spells while being threatened with the business end of a pointy object, the class combination is likely to play out like a revolver wielding civil war officer – take your shots carefully while enemies close distance, then draw sword and deal with the rest up close and personal.

    From the character’s perspective, it’s a bit like majoring in computer engineering while playing college Division 1 sports. The character is likely to view ‘free time’ like the Japanese do – the time before kindergarten and after retirement. A person who devotes so much time to study and training has a very compelling reason to do so – an escutcheon to clean, a grudge to settle, or something to prove (even to his/her self). Maybe even world domination. Irreconcilable forces may squeeze the character at cross purposes – giri vs ninjō, family tradition vs modern circumstances, or a hybrid in a rigid class system.