Martial Disciplines, Take 1

I mentioned in a comment yesterday that I might take a run at talents to implement the martial disciplines from Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords published by Wizards of the Coast.

I’ve reviewed the book this evening and decided that a close match for the initiate classes (Crusader, Sword Sage, and Warblade) isn’t really feasible, mostly for the reasons that annoyed me about playing these classes in the first place (mostly to do with how the powers are recovered).

Basics

I think the core of the martial disciplines is pretty straightforward. Each discipline is a pair of talents that provide a discipline-specific training bonus (much as Martial Training talents do for the Martial Training Bonus). The first Discipline Training talent has Martial Training at the same tier as a prerequisite, and the Improved Discipline Training talent has the first as a prerequisite.

You have knowledge of and can ready any maneuver (or use any stance) in the discipline of a level equal to or less than your training bonus. All stances available to you are usable at all times, one at a time. You may ready a number of maneuvers equal to your highest Discipline training bonus plus the number of disciplines you have at least one Discipline Training talent for.

The recovery rules always annoyed me. I’d like to make the maneuvers not be expended on use so recovery is no longer an issue. Failing that, finding a decent recovery mechanism would be a good option. I still remember a fight where I was the only one with a fire attack (that I had readied once) so the entire fight consisted of me attacking and spending a round recovering. Laaaaame.

Your initiate level for each discipline is equal to your level bonus plus your training bonus for that discipline.

Discipline Training

This talent exists for each of the nine talents in the Book of Nine Swords.

Tier Prerequisite Benefit
Expert Expert Martial Training Your Discipline Training for this discipline is increased by +1.
Heroic Heroic Martial Training Your Discipline Training for this discipline is increased by +2.
Master Master Martial Training Your Discipline Training for this discipline is increased by +3.
Champion Champion Martial Training Your Discipline Training for this discipline is increased by +4.
Legendary Legendary Martial Training Your Discipline Training for this discipline is increased by +5.

Improved Discipline Training

This talent exists for each of the nine talents in the Book of Nine Swords.

Tier Prerequisite Benefit
Expert Expert Discipline Training Your Discipline Training for this discipline is increased by +1.
Heroic Heroic Discipline Training Your Discipline Training for this discipline is increased by +2.
Master Master Discipline Training Your Discipline Training for this discipline is increased by +3.
Champion Champion Discipline Training Your Discipline Training for this discipline is increased by +4.
Legendary Legendary Discipline Training Your Discipline Training for this discipline is increased by +5.

This structure would mean that at 20th level a character could have Legendary Martial Training (+5 to Martial Training Bonus, or +10 if he has Improved as well), +10 Training Bonus for two disciplines, +8 for two more, +7 for one more and +6 for two more, and +4 for the last two (disciplines range from Legendary down to Heroic). This is pretty expensive, so it’s probably worth skipping some. The build could also be done so he has +9 access to four disciplines (or five if he can accept having only +8 Martial Training Bonus) and the other four at +5. He would be able to ready 19 or 18 maneuvers depending which build is used.

Other Considerations or Options

As mentioned above, this is only a superficial treatment of the source material. If I were to do a deeper treatment of The Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords I would more likely mine it for abilities for use by other talents. These might be incorporated into combat style-specific talents or talents to replace skills. For instance, the Shadow Hand talents could perhaps be made part of the Hide skill, among others.

Alternate Training Talents

Another approach to the disciplines would be closer to that used by spellcasting, but would increase the buy-in cost (and reduce the overall cost for those who use many disciplines). The Discipline Training talent above is for the character as a whole and the character has only a single Discipline Training Bonus that gets applied to all disciplines he has access to. There would be for each discipline a talent that gives access to the maneuvers and stances of the discipline, just as the Thread talents give access to the spells (and minor and major powers) of a thread.

I’d probably remove the Martial Training prerequisite (I can’t imagine a character would invest in martial disciplines without at least a little bit of martial training when they can free a slot for it). This would let a first-level character taking martial disciplines to have access to the first-level maneuvers and stances of a single discipline and be able to use the stances and ready two maneuvers (one for Discipline Training Bonus, one for the discipline he has access to).

At 20th level a character could have full Martial Training Bonus (two talents), full Discipline Training Bonus (two talents), and full access to two disciplines, plus up to five disciplines at Champion tier and the last two at Master. He would be able to ready 19 maneuvers.

Limitations on Maneuver Use

The maneuver use looks okay for the low-level characters, but high-level characters get to ready more maneuvers than the source material allows, and readied maneuvers not being expended means that they are all available until changed. This is a step up in power. However, it seems to only be a potential problem if the character invests a lot of his talents into the martial disciplines, so perhaps he should benefit this much from it.

Multiple Ability Scores

Part of the reason I would be more inclined to use the discipline maneuvers to implement skill talents is that it could be reasonable to link specific disciplines to different ability scores. That could still be done by using different ability scores for determining save DCs and the like for the various maneuvers. This could encourage characters to tend to stick to the disciplines that best suit their ability scores, at least until maneuvers with high enough levels come into play (see Recalibrating Saving Throws for more on saving throw DC calculations).

Conclusion

This is only a first pass at incorporating Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords material into Echelon, and a superficial one at that. It is not how I would prefer to incorporate the material, but it would give me something to start with while I work on something deeper.

5 Comments

  1. hadsil

    I love you, man!

    I really, really like Book of Nine Swords. To see it in Echelon … ok calm down Hadsil.

    The crusader only has access to three disciplines, and the warblade can only be efficient with three, so there’s no loss in Echelon only managing three to the highest level. Allowing for some maneuvers of other disciplines is more than what they get, even if not the highest level, is a major bonus and a nice taste of Master Of Nine.

    While I’m ok with the crusader’s recovery method, the warblade’s is the better one overall and works fine. I think a recovery method is necessary. Even though high level characters should be bad-ass, Time Stands Still/Girallon Windmill Flesh Rip combo every round would be a bit much. Since the character readies 19 maneuvers, he still has plenty of cool stuff to do before the need to recover applies, and even a few low level maneuvers are still useful. Emerald Razor, a second level maneuver, is terrific for a 20th level character to use with Power Attack.

    There’s also the other class abilities to consider such as the crusader’s Steely Resolve/Furious Counter Strike and the warblade’s Intelligence modifier added to stuff. I don’t think they’re that important. You can make talents for them if you want, but a character is free to choose any non-maneuvers stuff he wants anyway. He may want evasion of Steely Resove. He may want to boost Strength. Mimicing the classes exactly isn’t necessary, but it’s fine if possible.

  2. Expending/recovering is a sticky point with me. I haven’t used Bo9S enough to predict where fail points are, and I haven’t played a Warblade. I know already from experience that the Swordsage recovery method sucks (especially compared to the Warblade’s), and the Crusader mechanism always struck me as dumb.

    However, maneuver is expended but can be regained with a swift action means that you do have the option of using a readied maneuver from round to round if you need to (which it turns out I did) but breaks up combinations if needed.

    I agree and already decided that most of the other class abilities could be simulated through other talents if needed, or another talent entirely taken.

    Your attitude toward modeling existing classes is pretty close to my own — if I can get exact (or even close) that’s nice, but it’s not important to me. This is in part because I’m already doing this work in part because the existing classes don’t necessarily do what I want. I’m happier if I can model the thoughts behind the classes.

  3. hadsil

    Swordsage recovery does suck. Big time. Perhaps your experience with it is an unintentional bias against the concept of recovery. I’ve seen warblade in play. It works fine. A player still got to use his normal feats such as Power Attack and the Combat Focus tree from PHB II. It will encourage players in Echelon to spend some talents on non-maneuvers stuff so they can still do something nifty on the round they recover.

  4. Entirely possible. I *know* Swordsage recovery sucks because I’ve played it. I haven’t played a Crusader but the whole random power thing puts my teeth on edge — I like the character concept, I don’t like random power selection. I never played a Warblade, but that one didn’t look bad.

  5. hadsil

    The crusader randomness does put people off. Simplest method is to use cards, but some people just can’t get past doing even that much. Some people don’t like the possibility of not having a maneuver granted they want to use at that moment. The counter strategy is not have to have one particular maneuver you must, must have. I think that’s why the charge maneuvers in White Raven and Stone Dragon don’t provoke attacks of opportunity for movement, since the wannabe charging crusader can’t control when he gets to use them.

    Having played a crusader, such randomness never bothered me. What I liked about the recovery method is that I don’t have to spend any actions to recover. I can use a maneuver every round. I became a Master of Nine. With Extra Granted Maneuver feat, I had 11 maneuvers readied, 9 granted to start, and recovered every three rounds for free. I hardly noticed the randomness and very rarely never used a maneuver in a combat round, and only because I just needed to Do Something besides attacking.

    Still, the warblade method is the better one. You control what maneuvers you have and when. When you recover you can still attack normally using whatever feats you have, so you’re not sucking for it. Since in Echelon you would have more maneuvers readied than a warblade, you don’t need to refresh as often and you feel the worth of doing it when you do.

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