Martial Disciplines, Take 2

I’m really tired tonight (less than eight hours sleep in the last two nights together) so I’m going to keep this one short.

A few days ago I posted an article titled “Martial Disciplines, Take 1” to incorporate Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords into Echelon. It looks more or less workable with a few details yet to be settled, mostly to do with expending readied maneuvers and their recovery (I’d probably just go with the Warblade mechanism).

As the title of this article may suggest, I realized another way to incorporate the Book of Nine Swords material in Echelon that might be a little more consist with the spellcasting system (which may or may not be a good thing, of course).

Given my current fatigue this might be a really screwy post, you never know. But let’s give it a try anyway.

Basics

This is more a variant of the scheme presented in my previous post on this topic.

At the risk of making spellcasters and non-casters too much alike (a complaint I’ve heard about D&D 4e, and I’m aware of a bias in places that ‘different powers deserve different mechanics’), what if the maneuvers were prepared something like spells are?

Instead of readying a fixed number of maneuvers based on the Discipline Training Bonus of your best discipline then adding to that for additional disciplines, use the spellcaster table for ‘maneuver slots’. Your initiator level (and thus the level used to determine the maneuver slots you have available) is equal to your Level Bonus + best Discipline Training Bonus. For each discipline, you have access to all maneuvers and stances of that discipline equal to or less than your Training Bonus for that discipline. I don’t know yet what ability score would be most appropriate to use to determine any bonus slots. See below for a few possibilities.

You must ready your maneuvers before use, much as spellcasters prepare spells, and you can populate the slots as you will. As you use the maneuvers they are expended until recovered. I have not decided what the recovery mechanism would be. I have considered only allowing recover between scenes (fights), or possibly as a significant action during the round (probably not a swift action, maybe move or standard; you can ready the same maneuver more than once and will end up with a slew of slots to do this in, so I don’t know that you need it to be that fast). You have access to all the stances as needed without readying.

The Discipline Training and Improved Discipline training still work as they did in the previous article (increase the Training Bonus for the selected Discipline, and have Martial Training at the same tier as a prerequisite).

It would not be inappropriate to have a Combat Style prerequisite instead or in addition to the Martial Training prerequisite (Combat Style has Martial Training as a prerequisite already, but I haven’t decided if all prerequisite talents should be listed or only the last in the set, if there is more than one). This would mean, though, that you can’t get a martial discipline talent for a tier until at least the second level of a tier. I’m not sure I like that.

I suppose I could just remove the Martial Training prerequisite on Combat Style. It’s possible to learn a few tricks (Combat Style, Martial Discipline) without being quite so generally good in a fight. Anyone serious about pursuing a career in creative carnage will want to get their Martial Training Bonus up anyway… and Swordsages have +3/4 progression in Book of Nine Swords and therefore wouldn’t have a Martial Training Bonus until third level anyway, and have the best access to maneuvers and disciplines in Book of Nine Swords.

Why not give this a try? Remove the Martial Training prerequisite on Combat Style, it’s still something you want but it’s possible there are more interesting things right away… and I like that.

Bonus Maneuver Slots

I can see several possibilities for bonus maneuver slots (as spellcasters get bonus spell slots from high Intelligence scores).

No Bonus Maneuver Slots

This is dead obviously the simplest way to go. It’s hard to measure natural talent or training (all characters with Level Bonus +5 and Discipline Training Bonus of +6 have the base slots of an 11th-level spellcaster). I’m not really fond of this idea.

Bonus Maneuver Slots by Combat Style

It might be reasonable to grant bonus maneuver slots for levels equal to or less than your Training Bonus in a prerequisite combat style. For instance, a Training Bonus of +5 for Cutting Wind gives a bonus slot for each maneuver level from 1-5 that can be used for maneuvers from the disciplines dependent on Cutting Wind. If you also have a +3 Training Bonus for Iron Chicken [an actual fighting style used in the SCA, heh] you could also have a bonus slot for each maneuver level 1-3 that can be used for maneuvers from the disciplines dependent on Iron Chicken.

I think this is getting too complex, though, especially since Combat Style doesn’t actually have a Training Bonus (it provides weapon use benefits based on tier but doesn’t use a Training Bonus).

Bonus Maneuver Slots by Discipline

It would be possible to give bonus slots for each discipline. I think giving one bonus slot for each level equal to or less than the Training Bonus of each discipline would get way too big, but one bonus slot usable to prepare a maneuver of a level equal to or less than the Training Bonus for each discipline might not be out of line. A character with +6 Level Bonus, +7 Discipline Training Bonus (Desert Wind) and +5 Training Bonus (Stone Dragon) would have the base slots of a 13th-level spellcaster (-/4/4/4/4/3/2/1 – there are no 0-level maneuvers), plus one slot usable for any Desert Wind maneuver of 7th-level or less and one slot usable for any Stone Dragon maneuver of 5th-level or lower.

To be honest, I’m coming to like this idea. In fact, I’m somewhat tempted to move this back to spellcasting so that you get one bonus slot for each Thread usable for a spell equal to or less than your Training Bonus with that thread.

Except Thread Talents don’t have training bonuses, they just give access to spells of up to a particular level for the tier, that is within the levels you can cast. Bummer, this looked good, but it won’t work for spellcasting as the Eldritch Weaving article describes.

I don’t know about the bonus slots for high ability scores (Intelligence for spellcasting, something else for martial disciplines), but I suspect keeping them for spellcasters and not for martial adepts might be reasonable considering martial adepts can probably recover expended maneuvers more often. A more broadly trained character has more mojo, but not an unmanageable amount.

Examples

This is just off the top of my head and working more from memory than detailed examination of the Book of Nine Swords, so here’s where it might get weird. Let’s say that each combat style gives access to three disciplines (four might be better, but let’s go with three for now).

Dark Fire Combat Style

This combat style is centered on swords and makes use of stealth, mobility and swift attacks. It grants access to the Desert Wind, Stone Dragon, and Shadow Hand disciplines.

Kirar al’Hajir im Altora

Kirar al’Hajir im Altora is a third-level martial adept with five Expert talents. One is spent on Martial Training, one on Dark Fire Combat Style, two on Desert Wind Discipline Talent and one on Setting Sun. He has the maneuver slots of a third-level spellcaster (two first-level and one second-level), plus a slot that may be used for a Desert Wind maneuver up to second level and one that may be used on a first-level Shadow Hand maneuver. At any given time he could have two second-level Desert Wind maneuvers, one first-level Shadow Hand maneuver, and two first-level Desert Wind or Shadow Hand maneuvers readied. He also has access to both first-level stances from these two disciplines.

To compare, a third-level Swordsage could know eight maneuvers and two stances (Kirar knows eleven and two respectively) and can ready five of them (Kirar can also ready five). The Swordsage knows only one second-level maneuver, Kirar knows four (all from Desert Wind). The Swordsage can ready freely from the maneuvers he knows, but Kirar has a broader selection and while each maneuver slot is somewhat constrained in what can be readied in it he has as many and can prepare the same maneuver more than once if needed.

Kirar doesn’t have the Quick to Act ability (ooh, +1 to Initiative), Combat Style is better than Weapon Focus, and doesn’t get to add his Wisdom modifier as an AC Bonus when wearing light or no armor, unencumbered, and not using a shield.

So far, looks good.

Kirar al’Hajir Altora-kan

So, let’s pretend Prince Kirar didn’t get killed in battle (be aware than Minotaur Barbarians armed with greataxes are a bad thing to play with. Knowing is half the battle, Yo Joe!) and outlived his father, his six older brothers (four legitimate, two by favoured concubines), and the efforts of the temple that tried to subvert the one he was previously a temple guard in. He’s now a Champion martial adept (13th level) and has learned a slew of new tricks that have helped keep him alive to take the throne.

As a 13th-level character he has two Champion talent slots and five each for the tiers below that.

  • Champion Combat Style (Dark Wind)
  • Champion Martial Discipline (Shadow Hand) +4
  • Master Martial Training (+3)
  • Master Improved Martial Training (+3)
  • Master Improved Martial Discipline (Shadow Hand) +3
  • Master Martial Discipline (Desert Wind) +3
  • Master Martial Discipline (Stone Dragon) +3
  • Heroic Improved Martial Discipline (Desert Wind) +2
  • Heroic Combat Style (Steel Raven)
  • Heroic Martial Discipline (White Raven) +2
  • Heroic Improved Martial Discipline (White Raven) +2
  • Heroic Martial Discipline (Iron Heart) +2
  • Expert Improved Martial Discipline (Stone Dragon) +1
  • Expert Improved Martial Discipline (Iron Heart) +1
  • Expert Martial Discipline (Devoted Spirit) +1
  • Expert Improved Martial Discipline (Devoted Spirit) +1
  • Expert
  • Basic
  • Basic
  • Basic
  • Basic
  • Basic

Yeah, he’s a pretty dedicated warrior. I was tempted to give him Basic Caster Training (ooh, cantrips!) just to mess with things, but it’s not worth it. I’ll leave the bottom slots empty for now.

So, what does this beast look like?

  • Level Bonus +6
  • Martial Training Bonus +6
    • Effectively Base Attack Bonus of +12
  • Champion Combat Style “Dark Wind”, so eight weapon use improvements for swords over martial proficiency, no more than four of which can be spent on a single improvement. For the sake of argument let’s say Dark Wind gives more frequent criticals (threat range increased by +4, so threatening with a scimitar on 14-20), two units of extended reach (15′ reach – he might actually stretch, but his mobility lets him ‘reach’ and affect a rather large area around himself), and two units of increased damage (base of 1d10 points of damage).
  • Heroic Combat Style “Steel Raven” (spear-based style, tough and inspiring – Kirar’s become a leader). Four weapon use improvements for spears, let’s say improved critical multiplier (x4), immediate range (can use in the same square), tripping (+2 bonus to tripping attacks, one-handed use (spears are usually two-handed weapons).
  • Martial Discipline Training Bonus +7 (Shadow Hand)
  • Martial Discipline Training Bonus +5 (Desert Wind)
  • Martial Discipline Training Bonus +4 (Stone Dragon)
  • Martial Discipline Training Bonus +4 (White Raven)
  • Martial Discipline Training Bonus +3 (Iron Heart)
  • Martial Discipline Training Bonus +2 (Devoted Spirit)

Okay, so he’s 13th-level and has the base maneuver slots as a spellcaster would have base spell slots, so: -/4/4/4/4/3/2/1. He can also ready one additional maneuver of up to seventh level in the Shadow Hand discipline, one of up to fifth level in Desert Wind, one each of up to fourth level in Stone Dragon and White Raven, one of up to third level in Iron Heart and one of up to second level in Devoted Spirit. In total it could look like -/4/5/5/6/4/2/2. He can double up and prepare individual maneuvers more than once.

I’m not even going to count how many maneuvers and stances he knows.

Heh, who am I kidding?

  • Shadow Hand +7 gives him all Shadow Hand maneuvers and stances up to seventh level. This makes (3/1 + 3 + 2/2 + 2 + 2/1 + 3 + 2 =) 17 maneuvers/4 stances
  • Desert Wind +5 gives him all Desert Wind maneuvers and stances up to fifth level. This makes (4/1 + 4 + 3/1 + 3 + 3 =) 17 maneuvers/2 stances
  • Stone Dragon +4 gives him all Stone Dragon maneuvers and stances up to fourth level. This makes (2/1 + 2 + 2/2 + 3 =) 9 maneuvers/3 stances
  • White Raven +4 gives him all White Raven maneuvers and stances up to fourth level. This makes (2/2 + 2 + 2/1 + 2 =) 8 maneuvers/3 stances
  • Iron Heart +3 gives him all Iron Heart maneuvers and stances up to third level. This makes (2/1 + 2 + 2/1 =) 6 maneuvers/2 stances
  • Devoted Spirit +2 gives him all Devoted Spirit maneuvers and stances up to second level. This makes (2/2 + 2 =) 4 maneuvers/2 stances

This results in a total of 61 maneuvers and 16 stances known, and he can prepare up to 28 maneuvers of varying levels at once.

Ooookay. To compare, a 13th-level swordsage knows 18 maneuvers from up to six different disciplines and can ready up to nine of them at once and knows up to four stances. He also has a handful of other minor abilities that I won’t bother going into.

I am not yet convinced this is a problem. Let’s also compare this to a dedicated spellcaster of the same level.

  • Champion Caster Training (+4)
  • Champion Thread (A) 7th-level spells
  • Master Caster Training (+3)
  • Master Thread (B) 6th-level spells
  • Master Thread (C) 6th-level spells
  • Master Thread (D) 6th-level spells
  • Master Thread (E) 6th-level spells

Assuming three spells per thread level, no overlaps and no extra training or research, this wizard has a caster level of 13 and knows (21 + 18 + 18 + 18 + 18 =) 93. That’s fifteen spells of each level up to sixth level and three of seventh level, all without dipping into Heroic or lower tiers, and one major and five minor thread powers. I think he’s a little touched up compared to a D&D 3.x wizard.

Huh, maybe I will want to keep a recovery mechanism for martial adepts. I thought they might have a little too much but it looks as if spellcasters may still have an edge.

These are not entirely realistic builds, I think, since neither of them has done anything to improve their saves or key ability scores. I would expect at least a little bit to be spent there for each of them, probably from medium-tier slots.

All things considered, I suspect this isn’t as utterly insane as it first seems, but a lot depends on the effects and power of the discipline maneuvers. If they are comparable to spells then I think the increased cost puts the martial adept at a slight disadvantage still, if they are better than spells the builds might approach balance.

Okay, I’m done for today, whatever I had planned for tomorrow will, I think, be replaced with some gish builds to see how they turn out.  I’m… hopeful.

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6 Comments

  1. hadsil

    If an Echelon Adept cared about his saving throws, he’d use the saving throw maneuvers from Diamond Mind with a minor in Iron Heart and mostly ignore the saving throw talents. (Power gaming :) )

    Knowing all these maneuvers and readying so many takes a bit getting used to. My crusader/master of nine had a lot, and Echelon has it more than that. Not complaining, just whelmed.

    Even though spells are more powerful than maneuvers and warriors are entitled to nice things, spellcasters just might have cause to grumble about maneuver recovery with this system while they can’t recover spells. This system might justify not recovering during combat but allowing recovery afterwards to have everything available next combat. I’m not advocating that, but with so many maneuvers available to use, especially allowing a maneuver to be readied more than once, the need for a recovery looks lessened.

    This needs to be playtested, both with recovery during combat and without. As the levels progress adepts needs the higher damage the higher level maneuvers bring. Some low level maneuvers are still useful, such as the Diamond Mind saving throw maneuvers, Emerald Razor, White Raven Tactics, Ironheart Surge, but these tend to be utilitarian, not for damage. On the other hand, not allowing recovery during combat may encourage a player only to spend talents on three or four disciplines total (as per the By The Book adepts) and spend other talents on a couple of combat styles a non-adept warrior would use to still be able to do significant stuff and/or damage when they’re out of the high-damage maneuvers.

  2. I’d forgotten about the saving throw goodies in Diamond Mind, yes. On the other hand, the opportunity cost to get there can be fairly high. Once you get into Master tier your skill bonus is likely to be lower than in D&D 3.x (though I’ve been considering having Master tier increase the competence bonus) and saves are almost certainly higher for most people.

    As it stands, in Echelon you can be trained in Concentration and at 10th level will have +10+mCon to your check (D&D 3.x RAW you can have as much as +13+mCon), but for a Master tier slot you can have +11+mCon to your Will save, plus some extra baggage that may be useful (D&D 3.x RAW it’s likely to be +3+mWis or +7+mWis).

    To the left, the martial discipline means you could do something else instead (ready another maneuver), but you only get to apply the maneuver once before it is expended. To the right, you commit a higher-tier slot forever, but have the benefits at all times.

    Perhaps an interesting tradeoff.

  3. And yes, the sheer number of disciplines (known and slots to ready them) had me boggled for a bit. I do have another possibility in mind that might adjust things a little, but I want to get it written down and think about it a bit.

    As for how this will play out, I agree that really the only way to be sure is to actually try it. Thankfully, I’m starting to feel that I’m getting close to actually be able to do that.

    One thing I’ve noticed (and I expected it) is that it is frightfully easy to replace or modify entire subsystems without damaging other stuff. I’ve already done two different versions of spellcasting, and two variations on Bo9S, and can see ways to tweak each of them in place without disturbing other game elements.

    I really, *really* like that.

    I can see ways to handle a bunch of different abilities in a rational way (wildshape can be done in a way that makes sense, woohoo! I expected that to be hard, but it really shouldn’t be now) and just add them in.

  4. hadsil

    Unclear: If a person spends no talents on saving throws, his saving throw would be +1 better than using a Diamond Mind maneuver? If so than the maneuvers are a waste unless you’re absolutely paranoid about rolling a 1.

    I’m ok with one character spending talents on Diamond Mind and another character spending talents on saving throws to have the same saving throw.

  5. I was unclear. At 10th level you can spend a Master-tier slot to get Master Will (for example). Level bonus is +5, bonus from the talent is +2 per tier for +6, making +11 in total.

    So, Master-tier slot for better than the Diamond Mind “use Concentration instead”, and it’s always active, but that’s just about all you get. The Diamond Mind maneuver comes with a lot of other options (because of how you get it — you’ll have all DM maneuvers up to at least that level) so there’s a lot more flexibility, but you don’t necessarily have that maneuver handy when you need it.

  6. hadsil

    Ok, that’s fine. The talent for Will gives you a +1 better will save. Spending that talent instead on Diamond allows you to save on a 1 and also have other Diamond Mind maneuvers.

    The question is would rolling a 1 on Moment of Perfect Mind actually make the save in Echelon a significant amount of time. When I played my Crusader/Master of Nine by the early teen levels I easily got to +20, +25. When the campaign ended at level 18 I was over +30. Granted, it was a high-powered campaign and my Constitution was high.

    Then again, you’re also changing how the DC for various things, such as spells, are calculated so maybe. Also the opponent matters. I wouldn’t expect a 1 to save against the BBEG, but against his lower level lieutenants, sure.

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