In 2005 Malhavoc Press published Iron Heroes, written by Mike Mearls as a variant Player’s Handbook. This supplement and setting focused on martial characters, with only minor support for spellcasters and other arcanists. A great deal of work went into making for more cinematic combat in D&D, where low-level combatants got to do some cool stuff and high-level combatants got to do awesome things.
I find the philosophy behind Iron Heroes aligns rather nicely with that of Echelon, where high-level characters of all types are supposed to be awesome badasses in their own right, regardless of actual area of endeavour (magic, combat, and so on). The structure of many aspects of Iron Heroes looks fairly easy to adapt to Echelon as well.
I’ll start with perhaps the most straightforward, feats. Despite Echelon not using feats in the same form they are in D&D 3.x, they are still useful in constructing the talents that are used.
Feats in Iron Heroes
Feats in Iron Heroes come in two types, General and Mastery.
The General feats are much like those in D&D 3.x, minor abilities that just about anyone can learn with some effort (and meeting prerequisites). I quickly skimmed them and it looks like most or all of them can be found in the RSRD. I don’t find them very interesting for my purposes in this document.
The Mastery feats “represent advanced training and adherence to a particular school or method of fighting” and each has up to nine expanded options (for ten total) that improve the feat’s basic benefit. In Iron Heroes each time you gain a new feat slot you may use it to expand your use of a feat you already have. Each class in Iron Heroes has some specific mastery feats it focuses on in varying amounts. When you take a new mastery feat you are constrained to an expanded use equal to or less than your score for that mastery.
This part of the architecture looks like a very good match to Echelon.
Most mastery feats are marked with various types such as ‘Power’, ‘Finesse’, or ‘Lore’. These designators are used in part to identify how Iron Heroes classes interact with them. This is not relevant to Echelon so they are left out for now.
Feats and Token Abilities
Iron Heroes has some abilities use ‘tokens’ that can be accumulated in a manner appropriate to the ability. For instance, Beast Lore lets you use a move action to make an Intelligence check and get a number of lore tokens equal to one-fifth your check result. These tokens accumulate for a single type of monster (studying a new monster of a different type causes you to lose accumulated tokens) to a maximum of your level + 10. You may spend tokens to gain advantages for you and your allies who can see and hear you against this kind of creature. The tokens are held only until the end of the current encounter.
Other mastery feats give different kinds of tokens, such as rage tokens (used for rage such as a barbarian would have) or parry token (gained and used by the Combat Expertise mastery feat).
Power and Finesse Weapons
Some feats are limited by type of weapon used. In some cases this is based on general design (swords, axes, and so on), in others it is based on how the weapon is used. Finesse weapons are those that are believed to be used quickly and with precision. Power weapons tend to be larger and may be considered cruder, possibly attacking less often or slower, but generally doing rather more damage on a successful hit.
How to Adapt Iron Heroes Feats as Talents
This looks very easy, at least for a first pass. Each mastery feat becomes a talent, and each tier has a prerequisite based on your Martial Training Bonus, as shown below. A tier may have two separate effects with different Martial Training Bonus prerequisites; for any tier you have access to you may use any and all effects with a prerequisite equal to or less than your Martial Training Bonus.
|Expert||Martial Training Bonus +1|
|Heroic||Martial Training Bonus +3|
|Master||Martial Training Bonus +5|
|Champion||Martial Training Bonus +7|
|Legendary||Martial Training Bonus +9|
Most talents in Echelon have basically one benefit per tier, but the Iron Heroes Talents often are split into two levels. This is not entirely unprecedented, though it may not have been obvious before. Spell Thread talents (at this point) are much the same, granting access to two levels of spells as the spell slots become available, as indicated by the Caster Training Bonus.
Example Iron Heroes Talents
Here are a few example talents derived from Iron Heroes mastery feats (selected more or less at random).
You make vicious, lethal attacks that use the weight of your weapon to cleave through the enemy’s ranks. As foes fall before you, your weapon slams into additional opponents.
|Expert||+1||If you deal a creature enough damage to make it fall (typically by dropping it to below 0 hit points or killing it), you get an immediate, extra melee attack against another creature within reach. You cannot take a 5-foot step before making this extra attack, and you must make it with the same weapon and at the same bonus as the attack that dropped the previous creature. You can use this ability once per round.|
|Expert||+2||You gain a +2 bonus to your Cleave attack rolls.|
|Heroic||+3||There is no limit to the number of Cleave attacks you can make in a round.|
|Heroic||+4||You gain Cleave attacks when you score a critical hit in addition to when you drop an opponent. You can use this Cleave attack against any foe in range (including but not limited to the one you critically hit). If you score a critical hit on and drop a foe, however, you gain only one Cleave attack.|
|Master||+5||Each time you make a Cleave attack, you can move 5 feet as a free action. You cannot move more than your normal speed in this manner. This movement does not provoke attacks of opportunity, as the flying bodies and gore you leave in your wake prove too distracting.|
|Master||+6||You thrive on the destruction you wreak, and your blood thirst reaches a boil as you chop through the enemy ranks. Each time you make a Cleave attack, whether or not it hits, you gain 2 fury tokens. Normally, only characters with level in the berserker class can spend these tokens; nonberserkers gain no benefit from these tokens. (see the description of the fury token pool under the berserker’s Class Features in Chapter Three.) [It is likely I would adapt the berserker class features that use the fury token pool to a talent. –kjd]|
|Champion||+7||You slam into your enemies with enough force to send their corpses hurtling through the air. Whenever you gain a Cleave attack, all opponents adjacent to the enemy you dropped to gain the attack suffer a -1 penalty to defense as the corpse of their fallen ally slams into them. Apply this penalty before resolving your Cleave attack.|
|Champion||+8||Each time you make a Cleave attack, you gain 1 cleave token that you may spend to gain a +2 bonus to damage on a melee attack. You must spend these tokens before the end of your current action. If you gain them when attacking during someone else’s action, such as due to an attack of opportunity, you must spend them before the end of your attacks. Spend the tokens before resolving your attack; you can put as many of them as you wish into the attack. Should your attack miss, you lose any tokens spent.|
|Legendary||+9||You gain a Cleave attack when you score a critical threat (but not necessarily a critical hit) in addition to when you drop an opponent. You may make this Cleave attack against any foe in range (including but not limited to the one you critically threatened). If you score a critical threat and drop a foe, you gain only one Cleave attack.|
|Legendary||+10||Every time you inflict at least 15 points of damage with a melee attack, you gain one cleave token. You can spend 3 such tokens in order to gain an additional melee attack. You make this additional attack at the same attack bonus as the last attack you made before spending the tokens. You may attack any creature in range (not just the one you attacked). You lose all accumulated tokens at the end of your action.
Note: if you also have Cleave Expanded Mastery 8 [in Echelon you automatically do if you have Legendary Cleave –kjd], the tokens you earn from that feat can also be spent to generate more cleave attacks. Likewise, the tokens gained from this feat can be spent to gain additional damage.
Combat Reflexes Talent
You keep a sharp eye for the opportunity to skewer an opponent at the first sign of a gap in his defences. Your feel for the tactical situation and the battlefield allows you to take advantage of an enemy’s mistakes.
|Expert||+1||You may make a number of additional attacks of opportunity each round equal to your Dexterity bonus or your Intelligence bonus. Choose one of these abilities when you gain this feat; you may not change your selection afterward. You may also make attacks of opportunity while flatfooted.|
|Expert||+2||When you make an attack of opportunity, you can expend more than one attack to gain a +2 bonus to your attack. There is no limit to the number of attacks of opportunity you may expend in this way, though obviously you cannot spend more attacks than you can normally make.|
|Heroic||+3||Opponents provoke an attack of opportunity if they attempt to exist a square you threaten, even if their movement does not normally provoke such an attack.|
|Heroic||+4||As a move action, you can grant an ally within 30 feet of you one of your extra attacks of opportunity. Your ally must be able to see and hear you as you order him to attack at the appropriate moment. Your ally retains this attack of opportunity until his next action.|
|Master||+5||Any space you threaten counts as difficult terrain for opponents. They can attempt to move through them as if such spaces were not difficult, but in that case they suffer a -4 penalty to their Tumble checks and you gain a +4 bonus on attacks of opportunity against them.|
|Master||+6||When you provoke an attack of opportunity, you can spend on of your own attacks of opportunity to gain a +8 bonus to defense against it. If you suffer multiple attacks, you must select one to benefit from this bonus. You can spend multiple attacks against different attackers, but you cannot spend more than one against a single attack.|
|Champion||+7||If an opponent takes multiple actions that provoke attacks of opportunity, you can attack him for each one. You are no longer restricted to one attack of opportunity per round against a given foe.|
|Champion||+8||If you make an attack of opportunity against an opponent and your attack hits, you reduce his speed by 10. You slash at his legs, tripping him up and forcing him to slow down. This penalty lasts until the start of the target’s next action.|
|Legendary||+9||When your foe provokes an attack of opportunity from you, you may make an attack of opportunity yourself, using your full spread of attacks (normally considered a full attack action) if you have no yet made your attack of opportunity. You lose all of your attacks of opportunity until the start of your next action.|
|Legendary||+10||If an opponent provokes an attack of opportunity, he cannot complete his action after you hit with your attack. The target’s action is not wasted, unless receiving damage somehow disrupts (such as if he were trying to begin a grapple). He can attack the action again (if your attack does not waste it) unless his action was an attempt to move. In that case, he spends part of his movement allowance as if he entered the square but does not actually move.
For example, an opponent attempts to leave a square you threaten, provoking an attack of opportunity. Before he leaves the square, you make an attack of opportunity. If you hit, he cannot leave the square, but he still spends the appropriate amount of movement.
If you can attack the same target with more than one attack of opportunity, you may continue to strike him until you run out of attacks of opportunity or until you miss and he completes his action.
Improved Bull Rush Talent
You are adept at using your bulk and strength to drive an opponent backward.
|Expert||+1||When you perform a bull rush, you do not provoke an attack of opportunity from the defender. You also gain a +4 bonus on the opposed Strength check you make to push him back.|
|Heroic||+3||When you make a bull rush attack, you can choose to accept a -4 penalty to the opposed Strength check – in most cases, this merely negates the bonus provided by this feat’s base benefit. In return, the target of your bull rush falls prone after you successfully move him.|
|Master||+5||When you attempt a bull rush, you can make a single attack at your best base attack bonus in addition to the normal benefits of a bull rush and this feat. You can use either your Strength bonus and the bonus from the base Improved Bull Rush feat or the damage you inflict with your attack as a modifier to the opposed Strength check.|
|Champion||+7||You slam into your opponent with such tremendous force that, regardless of the result of the bull rush, he must succeed at a Fortitude save (DC 10 + half your level + your Strength modifier) [DC 10 + max(MTB,mStr) IMC –kjd] or drop whatever he is holding in the square he occupied before you made your rush. If the target holds a two-handed weapon or an item in both hands, he gains a +4 bonus to this save. Items he has strapped or secured to his arm, such as a shield, go unaffected by this ability.|
Overwhelming Presence Talent
With a single glare, you strike terror into others. Your mere presence is enough to make the timid recoil. While others use gilded words and clever stratagems to manipulate others, your personality strikes with the raw force of an avalanche.
This could be an example of a talent that replaces skills as used in D&D 3.x. The feat in Iron Heroes has a “Prerequisite” section saying “Overwhelming Presence relies on the Intimidate skill. You do not need ranks in Intimidate to use it, but the feat proves far more effective with them”, but the talent assumes you are a skilled intimidator.
|Basic||+0||You get a +5 competence bonus to Intimidate checks. [normally there should be an additional benefit, I’ll look later –kjd]|
|Expert||+1||At the start of an encounter, you may use a move action to adopt a menacing demeanor. Doing so grants you your Charisma bonus as an active bonus to defense. You do not gain this bonus against creatures that are immune to fear. The bonus stops at the end of the encounter.|
|Expert||+2||You can use the “browbeat target” form of Intimidate as a free action against one opponent. However, the effects of a successful use of Intimidate last only until the end of your next action. You cannot attempt to use Intimidate in this manner against the same target more than once per encounter. (This applies whether your check succeeds or fails.)|
|Heroic||+3||Your mere presence strikes terror into your foes. You can use the Intimidate skill as a move action whenever you could normally do so as a standard action. Other aspects of the skill remain unchanged. For instance, if an ability requires you to use Intimidate as a full-round action, it still takes that long.|
|Master||+5||Your intimidating presence causes others to grow tentative and nervous when they face you in battle. Any opponent in your threatened area must attempt a Will save (DC 10 + half your level + your Charisma modifier) [DC 10 + max(MTB,mCha) IMC –kjd]. Those who fail suffer a penalty to attacks against you equal to your Charisma bonus. A foe must save against this ability only once per combat. Its effects last until the end of the encounter. To keep the game flowing, it’s usually best to make a save before the creature attacks.|
|Champion||+7||Your terrifying presence can strike stark fear into your enemies. Make an Intimidate check against a shaken opponent with fewer Hit Dice or levels than you. The target opposes this check with a Will save, base attack check, or Intimidate check. If he fails, he becomes frightened.|
|Champion||+8||You can use the Intimidate skill as a free action once per round rather than as a move or standard action. Other aspects of the skill remain unchanged.|
|Legendary||+10||Your terrifying presence terrorizes your foes. You may make an Intimidated check against a shaken opponent with fewer Hit Dice or levels than you. The target opposes this check with a Will save, base attack check, or Intimidate check. If he fails, he becomes panicked.|
Power Attack Talent
You know how to trade accuracy for raw, devastating power. Your weapon draws a savage path of blood and destruction across the battlefield, but your attacks are sometimes rushed, telegraphed, or otherwise easy to avoid.
This talent may only be used with a power weapon.
|Expert||+1||On your action, before making attack rolls for a round, you may choose to subtract a number from all melee attack rolls and add the same number to all melee damage rolls. This number may not exceed your base attack bonus (Martial Training Bonus + Level Bonus). Once you set the penalty to attacks and bonus on damage, you may not change it until your next action.
If you attack with a two-handed weapon or with a one-handed weapon wielded in two hands you may add twice the number subtracted from your attack rolls to damage.
When using the Power Attack expanded mastery abilities, you can only gain the benefits of one ability from taking a high Power Attack penalty at a time. You cannot use the expanded mastery 2, 3, 5, 6, or 9 abilities at the same time. You can use only one of them on a given strike.
|Expert||+2||If you embrace at least a -3 penalty to increase your damage via this feat’s base benefit, any opponent you hit must succeed at a Fortitude save (DC 10 + half your level + your Strength modifier) or suffer a -1 injury penalty to attacks for 1 round. Your powerful attack leaves your foe in terrible, distracting pain. A specific target need make only one Fortitude saving throw per round to ignore this effect, even if you hit him more than once.|
|Heroic||+3||If you take a -5 or worse penalty to increase your damage via this feat’s base benefit, any opponent you hit must succeed at a Reflex save (DC 10 + half your level + your Strength modifier) or be knocked prone. A specific target need make only one Reflex saving throw per round to ignore this effect, even if you hit him more than once.|
|Heroic||+4||Using Power Attack, you inflict double your attack penalty as bonus damage when you fight with a one-handed or light weapon. If you fight with a two-handed weapon, you inflict bonus damage equal to 2.5 times the penalty.|
|Master||+5||If you take at least a -9 penalty to increase your damage via this feat’s base benefit, any opponent you hit must succeed at a Will save (DC 10 + half your level + your Strength modifier) or be dazed for 1 round. The savage impact of your attack knocks your opponent senseless. A specific target need make only one Will saving throw per round to ignore this effect, even if you hit him more than once.|
|Master||+6||If you take a -11 or worse penalty to increase your damage via this feat’s base benefit, any opponent you hit must succeed at a Fortitude save (DC 10 + half your level + your Strength modifier) or be stunned for 1 round. You slam your foe with a vicious, overpowering attack that almost knocks him out. A specific target need make only one Fortitude saving throw per round to ignore this effect, even if you hit him more than once.|
|Champion||+7||You make wide, deadly attacks with the Power Attack feat. Even if you miss, you may hit another target. When an attack misses, compare the attack result to the defense of a randomly-selected person (either friend or foe) within your threatened area. If your attack results bests the random target’s defense, resolve the damage against him. Choose whether or not to use this ability before resolving your attack. You also should make it clear to the DM whether you default to using it or not. If the attack against the second target misses, you do not check to see if you hit anyone else.|
|Champion||+8||Once per round, you can choose to adjust the penalty you take due to this feat’s base benefit by up to +/- 3 (but it still may not exceed your base attack bonus). You can reduce your penalty (and thus the bonus damage you gain) or increase it for a deadlier, if wilder, attack. Once you change your penalty, the new value remains in place until the start of your next action.|
|Legendary||+9||If you choose to take a -15 or worse penalty to your attack in exchange for bonus damage via this feat’s base benefit, anyone you hit must make a Fortitude save (DC 15) or immediately die.|
|Legendary||+10||Should you force an opponent to make a massive damage save due to your attack that gained bonus damage from Power Attack, the target’s save DC equals 10 + half your level + your Strength modifier (rather than the standard DC of 15).|