Among the differences, I think that
- the buy-in cost for martial disciplines is higher than for eldritch weaving;
- you gain more options from eldritch weaving than you do for martial disciplines;
- spells are generally better than martial maneuvers of the same level.
There are several things I can do about this.
On the other hand, other people may or may not agree with the above and want to shift the balance elsewise, or just have the two work differently (together or apart), so I’ll include options for that as well.
This is not intended to be a terribly coherent document because I am not trying to present a solution, but a series of options that could be taken and used to form a solution.
Add a Recovery Mechanism
In the Martial Discipline article I mentioned the recovery mechanisms available in Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords, and how I was never happy with them. The crusader mechanism seems dodgy in general, mostly because of the random selection of known maneuvers to be readied. The swordsage mechanism flat sucks. The warblade’s isn’t too bad – in fact it’s pretty effective, to the point where I wonder why they bother since most of the time you’d want to use it there’s no practical cost.
Considering the larger number of maneuver slots available to characters and the ability to ready a particular maneuver more than once, it would probably be sufficient to allow recovery of expended maneuvers between encounters.
The Trailblazer alternate rules from Badaxe Games has a more general recovery mechanism that might be appropriate. The short form is that after every rest (short period rest, not overnight, and not during a fight) a character can recover limited-use abilities such as spells as long as certain guidelines are followed. The spell-recovery mechanism might be adaptable for use here. After a successful rest period (ten minutes uninterrupted to gather themselves) you can recover all 0-level spells and any single-target spells with a duration of one minute per level or less (with a few other exceptions such as Conjuration spells).
There are other recoveries possible (heal damage up to 50% of maximum hit point total, ‘per rest’ abilities (which in other games are considered ‘per day’), and all ongoing spell effects are dispelled when the rest is complete, regardless of any duration remaining (does not apply to instantaneous or permanent, but does apply to both beneficial and harmful spells).
The spell mechanism could be expanded to include maneuver slots that have been used. There are no 0-level maneuvers, but many maneuvers affect only the adept or a single target and few have a long duration, so this would likely affect more of a martial adept’s power slots than a spellcaster’s.
This is less of an unfairness than it seems since it is a side-effect of spells being generally more powerful than maneuvers of the same level.
Equalize Buy-In Cost
While this doesn’t cause the martial adept and the dedicated spellcaster to gain the same number of abilities, charging them the same amount will at least correct that imbalance.
Eldritch Weaving Model
Both character facets could be improved using the ‘eldritch weaver’ model where the character buys up an Adept Training Bonus or Caster Training Bonus, which are used to determine Initiator Level (Adept Training Bonus plus Level Bonus) or Caster Level (Caster Training Bonus plus Level Bonus) and maximum level of maneuver or stance that can be used, or spell that may be cast. Knowledge of each area subset of powers (discipline or eldritch weaving thread) is gained from another talent that gives knowledge of two levels of powers appropriate for the tier. For instance, the Heroic Tier of Desert Wind discipline gives knowledge of third- and fourth-level Desert Wind maneuvers and stances.
This reduces the overall cost for martial adepts who take more than one or two disciplines. It may also be appropriate to remove the Combat Style prerequisite for the discipline. Spellcasting does not have such a prerequisite for spell knowledge.
Martial Adept Model
In this case the character does not pay for the general ability (spellcasting or martial discipline), though if there are ‘traditions’ (sets of related spell threads or martial disciplines) commonly followed it might be good to keep prerequisites for martial discipline access and add similar to eldritch thread access.
In both cases the various narrower sets of powers are gained using talents as described in the Martial Disciplines article. The Martial Discipline Training Bonus (per-discipline) or Eldritch Thread Training Bonus (per-thread) determines the highest-level power usable for the discipline or thread. It might also be used to vary initiator or caster level for each discipline or thread (for those who want to use this as a specialization mechanism). The character gains one bonus slot for each discipline or thread that may be used for any maneuver or spell up to the training bonus.
This increases the cost of spell knowledge (martial adepts already pay this for martial disciplines).
Right now martial adepts and spellcasters both use the “wizard spell slot table” to determine how many maneuvers they can ready or spells they can prepare. This looks fairly workable, but it’s not the only option.
It is possible (world-design decision) that martial adepts and spellcasters both tap the same internal reserves, just in greatly different ways mechanically (in-world). The spellcaster memorizes arcane formulas and the like, while the martial adept masters physical movements and mental focuses that cause special things to happen. In both cases they draw their power from the same source.
As such, it could be reasonable that both mechanisms draw on the same character resource – power slots. This could be extended to other character facets such as divine powers like turn undead or domain powers, or used to fuel magic items that must be invoked, or psychic powers, and so on. This can simplify resource management quite a bit because there is only one set to keep track of, and it ensures characters have comparable amounts of power available.
For “single-class characters” (just spellcasting or just martial disciplines) this is not important, but for mixed-classed characters (arcane warriors, ‘gish’) it becomes significant and could be used to reduce their power if they work out to be too effective.
To be honest, while I find it a potentially interesting idea, I am not excited about it.
Wizard Spell Slots
As mentioned above, spellcasting and martial disciplines both use the wizard spell slot table. The spellcaster gets bonus slots based on his Intelligence, while the martial adept gets a bonus slot for each discipline he has learned.
These could be used with the option described above for shared slots. A character might get bonus spell slots for high Intelligence and bonus maneuver slots for discipline knowledge. The bonus slots can only be used for the relevant abilities, but the core slots (up to four per power level) can be allocated as needed.
Slots by Knowledge
Instead of having slots based on a table with bonuses, the slots for each character facet could be calculated separately based on the relevant knowledge. This would probably only work well with the Martial Adept Model for buy-in. The character gets one spell slot for each spell level up to his highest Thread Training Bonus plus one per spell level up to his Training Bonus in each Thread, to be used for spells from that Thread (substituting maneuver, Discipline Training Bonus, and Discipline as needed for martial adepts). A character could accumulate a huge number of power slots, but most would be constrained to being used for one of a small number of choices.
It might be reasonable to have a general ‘extra power slots’ (extra spell slots or extra discipline slots) talent to bring up the general slot count. Alternatively or in addition, the general slot might be dynamic (choose when needed) to allow some greater flexibility, or even all slots flexible within their limits (so your ‘third-level Desert Wind’ slot could be used for any Desert Wind power of third level or lower, but only that – you can’t choose to use it for a Stone Dragon power of any level).
A common fantasy trope is that of a ‘tradition’, a body of related knowledge that tends to be taught together and often carries additional elements or power. This is currently in place for martial disciplines (you can only learn a martial discipline if you have the mundane training, a ‘Combat Style’, that uses it) but not for spell threads.
I can see several ways this trope can be applied.
Traditions don’t exist at all. You can learn whatever threads or disciplines you want as you want without a specific buy-in beyond the power. You might still need to buy up a power training talent (as currently with Caster Training) but that’s not the same thing.
Honestly, I think this is boring.
Martial Disciplines are currently done this way. In order to learn a martial discipline you must learn a combat style that uses that discipline. This would work better for spellcasting if the ‘Martial Adept Model’ buy-in was used. If this is done there should probably be other benefits to taking the gateway talent, unless it is in intended to be a tax on spellcasters (which might be reasonable, if not very tasteful, way of adjusting for the difference in power between spells and maneuvers).
I don’t mind using it as a gateway talent if it actually gives you something beyond the right to learn certain spell threads.
Instead of being a gateway talent you have to take in order to use the thread or discipline at all, perhaps a tradition talent gives other benefits that make it worth taking (and may encourage characters to stick to specific sets of spell threads or martial disciplines in order to use those augmentations).
Some possible benefits or augmentations include
- Spontaneous power selection (a Dark Wind practitioner does not need to ready maneuvers from the Shadow Hand, Desert Wind, or Stone Dragon disciplines up to his tier in the Dark Wind Tradition talent).
- Exchanging power slots (a slot dedicated to a particular discipline can be used for maneuvers from any discipline in the tradition – the Dark Wind practition has three slots that can be used for fourth-level Shadow Hand, Desert Wind, or Stone Dragon maneuvers and can ready any combination of three fourth-level maneuvers from these disciplines, while someone who is not a member of the tradition may only use those slots for the specific disciplines mentioned).
Free metamagic powers
- members of the Guild of Shadows can cast spells from certain threads up to their tier in the Shadow Guild Tradition talent as Silent Spells without paying higher costs a certain number of times per day (or perhaps all spells from those traditions up to their tier in the Shadow Guild Tradition are considered silent);
- most clerical or paladin-type traditions might have a similar deal for Still spells (so they can be used more readily in armor);
- depending how shapechanging interacts with spellcasting, Natural Spell could be considered a metamagic feat (it isn’t in D&D 3.x RAW) and thus while most spellcasters can’t readily cast spells in an inappropriate form, members of a druidic tradition may find that they can still cast some spells with natural elements or effects to them.
Reduce talent costs by providing part of the relevant Training Bonus, but it applies only to members of the tradition, and there likely wouldn’t be much other benefit. The cost is breakeven for one discipline but pays off if you take more than one discipline within a tradition.
- A Dark Wind adept might take Dark Wind Tradition talent, at which point he can keep Shadow Hand, Desert Wind, and Stone Dragon training bonuses at a maximum for only four talent slots total instead of six. If he wants to learn White Raven he’ll have to pay two slots to get it maximized.
I’m not really fond of offering breaks on costs, it messes with power estimates. On the other hand, this would probably do a lot to encourage people to focus within a single set of related powers rather than try to cherry pick, and I do like that. It’s close to a must-have for those interested in the powers of the tradition, but should achieve a goal I want. Optional/setting-specific rule, I think.
A tradition talent could carry some other benefits appropriate to the specific tradition that aren’t directly related to the spells being cast or maneuvers being used.
Personally, I prefer this option. It can make it worthwhile to stay within a set of related powers without requiring it, and allows a character to branch out without having to pay an inordinate amount.
Mixed Talents or Abilities
It was just pointed out to me that a generalization of the clerical or druidic traditions mentioned above is that traditions can reasonably span character facets. For instance, I’d initially assumed that the Guild of Shadows was just a spellcasting tradition, but it was suggested that where certain character builds would reasonably include abilities from more than one area a tradition talent might help tidy up poor fits that are otherwise appropriate.
(What he actually said was “if Shadow Hand martial adept would let you cast silent spells without adjusting spell levels I’d be all over that like syrup on pancakes”, but close enough.)
At this point I’m not mandating any particular approach. Until I can actually test this rule set and see where the balance points are I can’t say that any particular set is correct.
However, I’d like to change my initial approach to include the following:
Spell Thread and Martial Discipline knowledge are bought up with training talents for each thread or discipline.
- Should also test buying up Caster Training or Discipline Training as general construction pieces, then Thread and Discipline Knowledges as follow-up expansions to apply the training.
- Separate power slots per facet (so spells and maneuvers don’t get mixed; they’re different things in my opinion).
One slot per level up to your highest relevant training bonus, then one slot for each level of each other relevant training bonus, to be used for the spells or maneuvers of that talent. All spells and maneuvers must be prepared or readied.
- I suspect this may be more hassle to manage than I’m interested in, so it may be worth testing a variant where you get that number of slots altogether and may assign them as needed among the known spells or maneuvers, but only those spells you actually know. A character with Desert Wind Training Bonus of +7 and Stone Dragon Training Bonus of +4 could have three slots for each level for maneuvers of up to fourth level and can ready Desert Wind and Stone Dragon powers with them as needed, but the two slots for each level from fifth through seventh are usable only with Desert Wind maneuvers because he doesn’t know Stone Dragon maneuvers of those levels.
- Power slots may be recovered using the modified Rest mechanic from Trailblazer, as described above.
Tradition talents allow you to spontaneous use the spells or maneuvers of the tradition threads or disciplines in the appropriate slots. Other slots must be prepared or readied specificially.
- If the slots are pooled as described above, the character may prepare spells or maneveurs in those slots as normal and spontaneously exchange them for tradition spells or maneuvers as needed.
Each tradition should have at least one benefit, scaled by tier, that is not shared with other traditions. This is to mitigate the possibility that a character is a member of two traditions that share threads or disciplines.
- On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to limit a character to only one tradition at a time. It might be possible to change when you gain a level (upgrade a tradition talent to a different tradition with the new slot, or even trading out for a slot at the same tier).
- Traditions may (also) have similar benefits, especially when the traditions should otherwise be incompatible (such as traditions for two different religious orders).
- A tradition may span character facets (such as martial disciplines and spellcasting, or spellcasting and wildshape, or even martial training bonus and spellcasting) to provide benefits for blended characters that pure characters don’t gain from.
- Traditions do not reduce cost for related powers, they make the related powers more effective.
All in all this reduces talent cost for martial adepts (it was too high I think) and decreases the buy-in cost for spellcasters (but increases their enhancement cost – any more than two threads and it starts to get more expensive than originally written). This should smooth the power curve between martial disciplines and spellcasting.