Let's talk the basics. Fighters vs Magic-Users vs Clerics vs Thieves.
Fighters and Thieves suck. They suck at first level, they suck at mid-range levels, and they suck at high levels.
What is the role of the Magic-User? To cast spells. Can they? Yes. 100% of the time, when they want to cast a spell, unless opposed by the situation (damaged while in the middle of casting), they can cast their spell. For the class that's supposed to be the weakest at low levels, they are the only class that can be counted on to actually do their jobs 100% of the time. And they just get bigger and badder from there. No subclass duplicated the powers of a Magic-User... an Illusionist has a different spell list.
Clerics? Well, depending on your version, they might not get that first level spell at the beginning. But they get to wear any armor, that "no sharp weapons" rule hardly limits them so much (especially in something like BFRPG where there are blunt weapon equivalents in damage to anything with a blade), plus they get to turn undead, and in AD&D they get followers and collect taxes just like fighters. No subclass duplicates the powers of a Cleric... the Druid is a completely different beast, just under the umbrella of "believing spell-caster."
Fighters... what can they do that's unique? Use an axe? ooooo. Clerics get to wear just as much armor, and a cleric's to-hit chart is very competitive for the first ten or so levels. Fighter saving throws suck ass compared to everyone else's. Fighters get on average 1 more hit point per level than clerics, 2 more than thieves. That's not really a lot. As they increase in level, their non-combat capabilities don't increase (unless we're talking followers, and clerics get those too), and clerics and magic-users begin to be able to combat mass amounts of foes, while a fighter might someday get 2 attacks. The "one attack for every level versus opponents of lesser HD" rule is useless. ooo, a 10th level fighter gets 10 attacks against goblins, is that supposed to be a power? Or just something to expediate the foregone conclusion?
And their basic competency... swinging a sword. Against a completely unarmored foe, everything else being average... 55% chance to hit. Right about half the time. A weak-at-first magic user casts his spell 100% of the time. A cleric with a crap wisdom, if using an unadvantageous edition, has an 80% chance to get their spell off (funny that the versions where a first level cleric can't cast a spell at first level don't have this spell failure for low wisdom, either), and the same chances to hit as a fighter does at first level, *and* can turn undead. yoinks, not such a great class here, and especially not at *fighting*.
And then the subclasses of the fighter give added abilities, with precious few drawbacks. They aren't "different flavors entirely," like the illusionist is to the magic-user or the druid to the cleric. They are power-ups and add-ons. The ranger is better at fighting a large selection of enemies, including all of the most usual low-level suspects. The paladin is far an away superior in abilities. You might point out the experience point requirement difference, but that breaks down.
At 5000 experience, you have a 3rd level fighter, 2nd level paladin, or 3rd level ranger.
At 25000 experience, you have a 5th level fighter, 5th level paladin, or 6th level ranger.
At 100000 experience, you have a 7th level fighter, 7th level paladin, or 7th level ranger.
I do not believe the "restrictions" on the paladin and ranger are meaningful unless we agree that the fighter has no compelling qualities of its own. "Sorry, you're not a paladin anymore, you're just a shit fighter now!" The magic item restrictions of a paladin? HAH! Yeah, what other magic items is a fighter going to use? Paladins don't retain wealth... except enough to support themselves, their entourage, and their hold. Gee, how very restrictive, they can't blow all that money on whores and stuff like a real fighter. (Do paladins get experience for the discarded wealth and tithe? If not, how is it a meaningful sacrifice? Simply not being able to give it to the magic user for research?) Does anybody, anywhere, enforce the "will join a party with non-evil neutrals only on a single-expedition basis," or do we get the "Bob's a paladin, *groan* everyone's got to be Good." As far as ability score requirements... doesn't it compound the effectiveness (or pitiable quality) of ability scores to give their basic bonus AND then give access to whiz-bang class abilities?
I think the fighter itself should be beefed up. UA's weapon specialization is there, someone obviously saw the problem, but it takes up an extra proficiency (and that is one of the fighter's few advantages in AD&D, the breadth of possible weapon usage, certainly not the effectiveness once using a weapon), and they go ahead and give it to rangers.
But that's only AD&D, and shit, it's UA, and if you start introducing UA stuff, you'll get some dunderheaded fucknugget demanding to be a Barbarian and that's a shitwagon nobody wants to start riding. ("Our barbarian and our paladin can only adventure together once because the barbarian is neutral, and the cleric has to pretend to be a fighter that 'just happens' to like a mace and the magic user is just some guy hanging around because the barbarian will kill them both if they start being useful and casting spells.") (And what kind of half-ass design cancels out the restriction on using magical weapons at the exact same time that the ability to hit creatures affected only by magical weapons?) (ARRRRGGGGHHHHHHH)
Thieves... oh my god, what is this? Combat effectiveness is zero. Yeah, they can backstab, but they need to strike by surprise. Look at a first level thief's class ability chances.
Pick Pockets... 30%, if everyone involved is the same level. Open Locks? 25%. Find/Remove Traps? 20% (and TWO ROLLS to get the trap cleared). Move Silently? 15%. Hide in Shadows, 10%. Hearing a frickin noise is only 10%, and that caps out at 55%, for the highest level of thieves. Climb Walls actually looks useful at 85%. These are AD&D numbers, mind you. In Mentzer D&D, most are even worse.
Really, when thieves were introduced in the Greyhawk supplement, it's almost like Gary was screwing around with people. "It's too arbitrary to figure out if we find traps or pick pockets! Our referee is unfair! We need rules!" And Gary said... "OK, here's a class! It's CRAP! Hope you're satisfied never succeeding instead of figuring it out yourself!"
Seriously, what is a thief's core function to a D&D party? If your answer is anything different than "climbing that wall right there," then there's a problem.
And yeah, thieves have the "most advantageous" experience point table... but really... let's do another comparison.
At 100,000 XP each, you will have a 7th level cleric, a 7th level fighter, an 8th level magic-user, and an 8th level thief. That "quick advancement" crap doesn't get you very far, does it?And as an 8th level thief, you're still at 57% to open a lock and 55% to find and remove traps. Wow! Aren't you supremely friggin useful to a party closing in on Name Level! Your cleric, wisdom granting, might be able to cast Find Traps SIX TIMES! Your magic-user can cast knock and/or levitate only three times though. I hope your 62% Move Silently and 49% Hide in Shadows gets you close enough for your one-time Backstab attempt... which will have less of a chance to hit than your fighter friend performing a normal attack, and if you're seen, which you will be 50% of the time, your crappy armor class is going to leave you quite exposed to the kind of enemies you're all fighting at 7th-8th level.
... and let's hope there's no Assassin or Monk in the party (who, at 100,000 experience, will be 7th level, with the assassin needing 1 measly point of XP more to get to 8), or you're completely redundant.
So... can we agree that there is a problem? And I do have a couple of solutions that I can think of off the top of my head, and these solutions are based on making the characters more generally useful and effective without making anybody a superman.
For fighters, and just the core fighter, not any subclasses... give an extra attack. So levels 1-6, it's 2 attacks per round. 7-12, 2 attacks per round, and 13+ it's 5/2. And fighters use the monster to-hit matrix, which doesn't give much of a bonus for most of the level spread compared to what the fighter was before, but for example a seventh level fighter is going to be measurably better at, you know, fighting, than a 7th level cleric. Extraordinary strength scores will no longer be necessary to be an effective fighter, although frankly a fighter with such a stat might be friggin scary with these new rules. Maybe best to use this in place of the 18/xx scores in AD&D.
The thief... Easy. Start the thief off with 10% in all categories, and give all the increases as optional points to move around. For example, AD&D, 10% base in all abilities, and then 125 percentile points to distribute as desired. If a thief's going to be a one trick pony, let the poor dude choose which trick it's going to be. And then as levels increase, maybe the guy can become a two-trick, then a three-trick pony instead of some wandering mass of mediocrity while every other class is whomping ass. Is the process of play or the balance of power going to chance because Sneaky the Thief has a 90% open locks at first level? Or can actually be counted on to find a trap? I think not.
Or, if those solutions for the fighter and thief seem too radical... be simpler. Just say fighters use the matrix four levels higher, and use thief skill charts for the character's level +4. Surely a +15% chance to hit at first level for the fighter, and a +20% chance to find traps for a thief, won't kill anything? But at 7th level... the fighter is hitting 30% more often than a cleric (and having an extra attack every other round to boot), and the thief has a 70% chance to hide in shadows for his one effective combat move.
Your thoughts would be appreciated.