One of the great virtues of Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, and similar ‘old school’ games, is that elaborate rules are not relied upon in order to distinguish different fighters from one another. Whether a player’s fighter character is like Aragorn, Conan, Robin Hood, or Sinbad the Sailor is determined primarily through role-playing. Nonetheless, some groups may wish for some way to distinguish their fighter characters in game terms. This optional system of ‘fighting styles’ for fighters is intended to satisfy this desire, while remaining easy and fast. Using this system, not only will a Conan-like character differ from a Robin Hood-like character by means of role-playing, but also, as a tactical matter, through those characters’ somewhat different combat abilities.
If you use these rules, a first level a fighter can choose two different fighting styles. The ‘berserker,’ ‘shield master,’ and ‘swashbuckler,’ styles can be chosen only once each. The ‘unarmed combat’ style can be chosen only twice. The ‘weapon mastery’ and 'weapon grandmastery' options can be chosen multiple times, but only once per weapon type (so a fighter could not choose weapon mastery in spears twice in order to gain a +2 bonus to hit with spears).
An additional fighting style can be chosen by a fighter character once he/she reaches level 4, level 8, and level 12 (so a 12th level fighter will have five fighting styles in total).
Seven fighting styles are available (although, of course, the Game Master is free to design others for players to select):
1. Berserker. The fighter gains a +2 bonus to hit and damage for the duration of one combat (melee weapon only), but suffers a +2 [-2] penalty to his/her AC while berserk. Afterwards, the character is exhausted, taking a -2 penalty to all actions. One hour of complete rest (no walking) eliminates the exhaustion.
2. Shield Master. The fighter gains an extra -1 [+1] bonus to his/her AC when using a shield.
3. Swashbuckler. So long as the fighter is wearing ‘light’ armour (no heavier than leather), is not using a shield, and is not using a large weapon, he/she gains a -2 [+2] bonus to his/her AC. Also, when using two weapons the fighter gains a +2 to hit (instead of +1).
4. Unarmed Combat. The fighter can do 1d6 of normal damage with only his/her fists and feet. If he/she takes this fighting style a second time, this damage increases to 1d8.
5. Weapon Master. The fighter gains a +1 to hit with any one type of weapon (axes, bows, broad & long swords, clubs, crossbows, daggers, darts, flails, great swords, halberds, hammers, javelins & spears, maces, quarterstaffs, short swords, slings, etc.). Each type of weapon may be chosen only once by a character.
6. Weapon Grandmaster. If a fighter is already a weapon master of a particular type of weapon (axes, bows, broad & long swords, clubs, crossbows, daggers, darts, flails, great swords, halberds, hammers, javelins & spears, maces, quarterstaffs, short swords, slings, etc.), he/she may become a ‘grandmaster’ of that weapon type. A grandmaster gains a +1 bonus to damage in addition to the +1 to hit he/she already enjoys as a master of the weapon type in question. Each type of weapon may be chosen only once by a character.
(An earlier version of this article appeared in Knockspell #1. The 6th fighting style is new.)