So you want to play a Fighter in 1st Edition? Let’s talk about what to expect, how to use it, and how to make it your own (besides personality, of course).
Fighters are ubiquitous across all races, but with level limits for all non-humans (most notably level 4 for most halflings and level 5 for most gnomes, level 6 in the case where they have 18 strength, up to 10 for Half-Orcs). These level limits can be forgiven due to the opportunity for all of these races to multi-class as at least thieves, sometimes clerics and magic-users, and even illusionists and assassins. However, with level 9 as the target to gain the title of Lord and establish a stronghold, only humans, half-orcs, and the strongest of dwarves can reach this level. This can be limiting to the character’s late game play.
To be a Fighter, the character must have at least 9 Strength and 7 Constitution, but 15 Strength or more buys you a 10% XP bonus. Above this, damage and hit bonuses start to kick in. Most importantly, Fighters (including their Paladin and Ranger subclasses) are the only class that gets access to exceptional strength, which is the ability to roll 1d100 for significant bonuses to Strength related abilities (and at least a small boost is guaranteed with even a 1 turning out a +1 to damage and +250 pounds carrying capacity over non-Fighters with 18 Strength).
You will want some Dexterity. Anything below a 7 starts to damage your armor class, surprise reaction, and ability to hit with missile attacks; however, you don’t start to get bonuses to these things until you achieve a Dexterity of 15 or higher, so no need to stress a middling Dexterity on your Fighter.
Fighters get more hit points on average than any other class, progress more rapidly in their ability to hit, can wear any armor, and perhaps most importantly can wield any weapon and get the most weapon proficiencies and the smallest penalty for using weapons without proficiency. Don’t underestimate the value of the weapon selection as this gives them access to the best ranged weapons by far, the highest damage weapons, and armor countering weapon options. Especially when using Far Realms (which I highly recommend) the Fighter gets the option to stack proficiencies in a favored weapon for greater benefits.
I shouldn’t downplay the Fighter’s ability to gain extra attacks at higher level, but this never exceeds 2 attacks and thus progresses somewhat more slowly than in newer editions.
Another benefit to the Fighter is it’s access to so many magic items in the form of weapons and armor. In 1e, there is no doubt that the Fighter is intended to be the leader of the party while others play a supporting role.
If you’re coming from later editions of Dungeons and Dragons, you may be surprised at how standardized the Fighter is in 1st edition. On the one hand, this enhances the focus on character personality as a differentiating characteristic. On the other hand, you probably want something mechanical. Let’s see what we can come up with.
First of all, and we already mentioned this, weapons in 1st Edition have a wide variety. Your Fighter’s weapon choice can greatly change how he plays, especially with (again) Far Realms to give you that stacking proficiency. By way of example, my first true AD&D character (a Half-Elf Ranger/Cleric) was proficient with a spetum (which has a special disarm attack) and that weapon made the character. Whether your Fighter’s weapon and armor selections make him a mobile ranged specialist, expert in dishing out damage against bigger creatures, a terror when mounted, capable of smashing armored foes, or deadly against unarmored enemies, there is a lot of variety to choose from.
Connected to this, but admittedly less under your control and later in the character’s life, is the wide range of magical weapons and armor your Fighter can acquire. Find a Potion of Super-Heroism (usable only by Fighters) and it can become a moment that makes that character stand out in your mind forever.
If your DM is using the Wilderness Survival Guide and/or the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide, then like all classes your Fighter can present a wide variety of expertise in survival proficiencies. While Fighters have a fairly modest start with proficiencies, they get new proficiencies more often that any class but Monks, along with their weapon proficiency additions.
Finally, while all characters are intended to have henchmen, the Fighter can really mix up his options with spell casting henchmen that support him with something he can’t do himself.