Knight in tarnished armor
Back in the halcyon days of 2006, when the 3rd Edition line-up was coming to an end, the game designers were coming up with new subsystems to interact with the base D20 game. One of them was a new martial system which operated off of a per-encounter format, where characters could execute attacks and actions known as "maneuvers" a limited number of times much like Vancian casting. A lot of these ideas would later be adopted into 4th Edition, but the core system was first brought to the public as the Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords.
This sourcebook was divisive, to say the least. People who cared about game balance and loved martial archetypes saw it as the best thing to happen to noncasting fighters in what was probably the most unbalanced Edition so far. People who hated it viewed it either as an unwelcome intrusion of "Asian tropes" into D&D (which had the Monk class since the late 70s) or horribly overpowered drek. The truth of the matter is that the classes and maneuver system made for competent, versatile, and fun to play martial characters who did more than charge or full attack. Aside from a few problematic maneuvers such as White Raven Tactics or the infamous Ironheart Surge, Tome of Battle succeeded where so many other 3rd Edition Fighter fixes failed. It didn't bridge the gap between casters and noncasters completely, but it did make noticeable progress.
Among the GiantITP and Min-Max community, Tome of Battle homebrew was a common sight, and Chris Bennett (known by the username of ErrantX) devoted a lot of time and effort to making cool material online for others to use in their games. Eventually he was contacted by Dreamscarred Press, a 3rd Party Publisher famous for updating the Psionics Handbook to the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game. They wanted him to help them make their very own Tome of Battle for Pathfinder. As the original Wizards of the Coast book had no Open Game Content, they needed to start from scratch, but over the course of a year and a subscription service they persevered and brought the Path of War into the world.
You can see their design decisions and descriptions in the Introduction, which I'll repost here:
A Note From the Author
First off, I want to say: Wow! Second, I want to say: Thank you! Third, I want another resounding: Wow! This past year has been exciting. When Andreas reached out to me last year I thought it was a joke, like, this couldn’t possibly be real. My head was spinning! I started this on a dare from a friend over four years ago, and the Libram of Battle was born. This was a dream of mine since I was a young boy reading the original run of AD&D books my friend’s older brother had stashed in his closet. Since then, gaming has been a part of my life in a major way. I’ve always been writing new and different content, altering rules to better suit my style or the style of my group. Writing and designing game content has always been a thing in my life, and getting someone I respected for writing what I felt was the definitive rewrite of the psionics rules (they even made me like Wilder, something I never cared for!) to notice me? Too much!
But here we are. Through all the drama and ups and downs the last year has given me, the Path of War has marched on. I couldn’t do it alone. First and foremost, my wife Sabrina and family/friends were supportive beyond words. Then the amazing support of the folks on the Paizo forums, the GitP forums, and of course the Dreamscarred Press forums. My good friend Jade Ripley, and last but certainly not least Andreas and Jeremy themselves. I’ve made a lot of friends this last year, and I couldn’t have gotten here without the support of my people, online or here in person. You all mean the world to me, and I’m glad we’ve been able to get the Path of War out there. There’s more on the horizon, and the Path of War marches ever onward! Hope to see you all there!
Chris “ErrantX” Bennett
Lead Designer for the Path of War
These folks are speaking my language.Introduction
If you’ve played one of the martial classes, you might wonder why spellcasters get all the cool new toys. Sure, playing a fighter or rogue or monk can be fun, but they pretty much always have the same options - melee attack, ranged attack, full attack. There are occasionally things to make those interesting, such as cleave or grapple, but those options aren’t always the best option.
So why should spellcasters and manifesters get all the fun abilities? Path of War is here to give fun, but balanced, options to the martial classes so that roleplaying interactions aren’t the only time you get to do cool things with your character!
What is the Path of War?
To put it simply, the Path of War is a new way to look at martial combat in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. At its basic roots, the Path of War allows for martially-inclined characters to harness new abilities to aid them in combat. These new abilities are known as maneuvers, a specific technique that allows a martial disciple to enact a powerful attack, erect a defense against an attack, or improve his overall fighting ability or the abilities of others. By initiating these in combat, the martial disciple has a powerful edge that can even rival the powers of the spellcasters of the world.
Maneuvers are grouped into disciplines, with each discipline having a group of associated weapons that fit the use of that discipline. In addition, disciplines have an associated skill that is often used with many of the maneuvers themselves.
Once used, a maneuver is considered expended, not unlike a prepared spell for spellcasters. But where the difference between a spell and a martial maneuver lies is the martial disciple’s ability to recover that expended maneuver for use again and again over the course of the day.
All characters have the potential to learn these maneuvers, either by being a martial disciple or by being someone who has taken up martial training in addition to their class’ normal training. Martial disciples are those who have taken the stalker, warder, or warlord classes, and all others must learn martial maneuvers through training (such as by taking feats) or through specific training in their class (by taking up an archetype). Once learned, a character is forever a martial initiator, a warrior with skills beyond the abilities of most others of his kind, and the potential to master these arts lies before him along the Path of War.
A New Method Of Battle
So, there is a question that begs to be asked: Why make a new book of martial maneuvers? Well, from the days of 3.5, there was a certain book that did drive a wedge into many gaming tables as it challenged the philosophies of many who sat around it. “Was it okay to give fighters spells?” they’d say. Some would say yes, some would say no. Almost everyone had an opinion on the matter. Since the inception of the maneuver system in 2006, many people still use the parent book that inspired this work in the every day games and with good reason to; it was a great new set of options. Some didn’t like it, and as those who would agree with the utility of this book would say it’s because “they don’t want fighter to have nice things.” The Path of War is designed to give nice things to everyone and to bring a ton of new options to every class that relies on their strength of arms to survive an adventure.
The Path of War offers a number of new things that could fit into any campaign setting, from classes and archetypes, feats, items and monsters, to organizations that are fundamentally connected to cultures of martial disciples that have learned, developed, and spread disciplines of maneuvers to their members for mutual benefit. By adding the Path of War to your campaign, you’re adding an exciting wealth of new opportunities and options to the Pathfinder game system, breathing new life in to combat as well as into classic monsters that will suddenly have new tricks that veteran players will enjoy as much as new players. Martial disciples are here at last for the Pathfinder game system, and they’re determined to change the face of combat forever.
Now, the Path of War does draw a lot of influence from Tome of Battle, but unlike the Psionics' Handbook it's not just a simple reprint. The classes, feats, and maneuvers are entirely new. And best of all, the game mechanics are entirely Open Game Content, meaning that they can be imported wholesale into other 3rd Party Products (and even Paizo, if they so desired). There's a list of all of them on the Pathfinder SRD already. If you like what you see and make extensive use of it in your games, be a nice person and toss Dreamscarred Press some money once you're financially able to do so; they're one of the few 3PP publishers out there who care about game balance and the quality of their work.
If I just jump right into the classes, readers unfamiliar with the original Tome of Battle might be confused about certain things referenced. To that end, I'll be briefly going over Path of War's new martial mechanics. Basically it's like a "martial spellcasting" system: maneuvers are actions and attacks that can be used in combat a limited number of times before being replenished either via spending an action in combat (specifics depend upon class or feats) or until the encounter ends (in which case all of them are regained). A character's maneuver load-out can be changed through 10 minutes of activity like prayers, meditation, weapon drills or the like.
Stances, meanwhile, are always-active effects which grant benefits to the user, but only one can be maintained at a time. Maneuvers are further divided by what they do in combat (strikes are direct attacks, boosts are buff effects, and counters are triggered by an enemy action). Every maneuver and stance belongs to a martial discipline, a fighting school style whose abilities are thematically linked based upon common effects, philosophies, weapon groups and the like.
Those trained as martial disciples can pick and choose which ones to learn upon leveling up or gaining the right feats. A character can only "ready" a limited number of maneuvers they know to use in battles, and cannot use unreadied maneuvers in combat except under special circumstances granted by certain feats or class abilities. Each class in this book uses a specific mental ability score known as an initiation modifier, which help enhance the power of many maneuvers and stances.* Finally, Initiator Level represents general knowledge and experience of the art of war and determines the most powerful maneuvers and stances they can learn. A person's initiator level equals their character's level in a Path of War class + 1/2 levels or Hit Dice in any other class.
*I like this touch; it encourages the cerebral warrior as a valid and mechanically useful character concept.
There are three new 20-level base classes, all of which make use of the maneuver system outlined in this book. In addition to being skilled combatants, they all make use mental ability scores and have diverse skill lists to make them able to contribute to out of combat encounters as well (although not to the same extent as a dedicated caster). One thing to keep in mind here is that judging by this chapter alone the classes might not sound so stellar. Much like how the Druid and Sorcerer cannot be wholly analyzed by their class features alone, so too is the same for the Path of War classes. We'll be covering the maneuvers in their own chapter.
The Stalker is a mobile warrior who fights with a mixture of finesse, stealth, and mystic arts to bring low their foes. Ranging from slum-born rogues to members of esoteric orders of assassins, the stalker's art is a versatile one seen among all walks of life.
Stalkers are the weakest class in terms of hit dice and base attack (d8 and 3/4 level), but they have a versatile assortment of rogue-like skills and can learn and ready the largest amount of maneuvers of all the classes. They can learn maneuvers from the Broken Blade (unarmed combat), Solar Wind (missile and throwing combat), Steel Serpent (poison and pain-based anatomical attacks), Thrashing Dragon (daredevil acrobatic fighting), and Veiled Moon (mystical otherworldly trance state) disciplines. Their initiator modifier is Wisdom, and when they recover maneuvers in combat they gain a +4 armor class bonus as their ki defends their form as they re-center themselves.
A stalker's class features include a Ki Pool, a limited resource value which spent allow the stalker to gain insight into their opponent. At first grants bonus on Perception and Sense Motive, but can eventually allow the Stalker to apply a bonus to saving throws as an immediate action, apply their Deadly Strike damage on all strikes made against a single opponent, and even the ability to trade readied maneuvers around!
The Stalker also gains Deadly Strike, which is a lot like Sneak Attack except that it activates for a number of rounds equal to their Wisdom modifier after they score a critical hit against a target. I sort of have mixed feelings on this: on the one hand, it pretty much requires any Stalker build to become a crit-focused combatant with certain weapons. On the other hand, the Stalker doesn't need to be hiding in order to use it and it can work by spending Ki.
Other class features include Combat Insight, which over a period of levels allows the Stalker to add their Wisdom to armor class and rolls to confirm critical hits, as well as blindsight and uncanny dodge among other things; a Dodge bonus to armor class; Blending which grants a bonus to stealthy skill as the stalker hones their ki; Dual Strike at 10th level which allows them to use two strikes at once as a full-round action; and Retributive Ki as the capstone 20th level class feature, which allows him to initiate a martial strike whenever they're targeted by an enemy's spell, attack, or harmful ability. What's coolest about this last one is that it has the same range as the enemy ability, meaning that an echo version of the Stalker rushes forth to deliver the attack if they're well out of reach!
But the real meat of the class features are Stalker Arts. Stalker Arts are cool things a Stalker can learn at 1st, 3rd, and every 4 class levels thereafter which represent learned talents, fighting arts, and near-supernatural abilities. There's 19 in all and I won't list them all, but a few of the cooler ones include Concealed Recovery (the stalker's form becomes shimmering and gains concealment while recovering maneuvers), Deadly Ambush (may now apply Deadly Strike against flat-footed opponents), Ki Vampirism (gain 1 ki point when you knock an opponent to 0 hit points), Murderous Insight (spend a ki point as a swift action to roll twice and take the better roll for a single attack), Phantom Reach (spend 1 ki point to turn a melee attack into a ranged attack by manifesting it as a phantom echo). Some pretty cool stuff here!
Libertad's Thoughts: The Stalker class can just as easily serve as a replacement for the monk or rogue in terms of both game mechanics and flavor. In spite of their lightly-armored mobile nature, the multiple ways of gaining armor class and concealment in combat does a fine job of turning away attacks.
Part tank, part genius tactician, the Warder uses their mental acumen to defend others and foil enemy maneuvers. They're d12 hit dice and heavy armor and shield proficiency makes them tough as nails, and their skill list includes several social and knowledge-based skills to better cement the concept of "leader of men" and "master strategist." They range from chivalrous knights to holy warriors, and make for natural champions of nations and causes.
Their initiation modifier is Intelligence, and when she recovers her maneuvers in combat as a full-round action she sets up a defensive perimeter around herself which make it hard for enemies to get past them. This class feature is known as Defensive Focus and does a number of things, such as granting them a greater reach for provoking attacks of opportunity (5 foot increase per 5 levels!), turns threatened squares into difficult terrain, and adds her Intelligence bonus to her Combat Maneuver Defense. This is really great because it creates a semi-large radius around the warder which allows them to attack passing opponents. Give a warder a polearm and a size enlargement spell, and you'll be hitting foes as far away as 20, even 35 feet!
Warders gain access to the Broken Blade, Golden Lion (leadership teamwork tactics), Iron Tortoise (shield and phalanx fighting), and Primal Fury (animalistic, hunter-like natural attacks) disciplines. In addition to Defensive Focus, their class features include Combat Reflexes as a bonus feat which uses Intelligence instead of Dexterity; Aegis, which grants bonuses on Armor Class and Will saves to nearby allies (inspiring presence);
Armiger's Mark brings to mind the 4th Edition Fighter, where the enemy must direct hostilities to the Warder or else bad things happen to them. The Armiger's Mark is a limited use-per-day well-placed attack or taunt which forces the enemy to directly engage her or suffer a massive penalty to attack rolls (-4 to -8 based upon Warder's level) and Arcane Spell Failure. At higher levels she can affect multiple opponents at once with an Armiger's Mark as an area attack.
Tactical Acumen, which represents scholarly knowledge of historic battles and quick wits which add her Intelligence modifier to Reflex saves and initiative (replacing Dexterity in the latter case); Extended Defense which allows the Warder to initiate a counter maneuver as a free action.
Adaptive Tactics, which allows the Warder to spend one use of Armiger's Mark to switch out up to her Intelligence modifier in readied maneuvers during combat.
A lot of the later class features are defensive abilities such as Stalwart (which allow her to reduce the effects of a harmful effect which targets Fortitude or Will to no effect at all) and Steel Defense (which redirects a killing blow to target a held shield or armor instead). The 20th level captsone ability is Deathless Defense, which is activated by expending 2 uses of Armiger's Mark. Once activated, the Warder enters a resolute juggernaut-like state of iron will: they can maintain Defense Focus as a move action, gain the benefit of her own aegis, is unable to die due to hit point damage, and is immune to mind-affecting effects (their devotion's so strong). Deathless Defense's duration is one round plus one per additional use of Armiger's Mark, and once ended the Warder's exhausted and must rest for 8 hours before being able to use it again.
Libertad's Thoughts: The concept of a brainy armor-clad tank is a novel one I honestly can't remember seeing elsewhere in D20 products. I like the battlefield control and debuff aspects of the class. The teamwork tactics of the Golden Lion can let her allies do cool stuff, and the charge-based maneuvers of Primal Fury can give them some much-needed mobility. I don't understand how the Primal Fury fits thematically, but I ain't complainin'.
The Warlord is a fight-loving daredevil who lives for the thrill of danger. Their recklessness makes them a sort of lovable scoundrel, and their presence on the battlefield can provide inspiration to others by lifting their spirits. With a d10 hit dice and proficiency in martial weapons and medium armor, they're fighters through and through. Their skill set is lackluster in comparison to his two class counterparts, but is still leagues above the Pathfinder Fighter by including things such as Acrobatics, some Knowledges, Perception, and Sense Motive among other things. If you read Order of the Stick or the Three Musketeers, then they're pretty much the Dashing Swordsman writ large.
A warlord's initiation modifier is Charisma, and their methods of recovering maneuvers is more restrictive: spend a standard action to regain a single readier maneuver, or perform a Gambit and recover a number of maneuvers equal to his Charisma modifier if said Gambit is successful. Warlords gain access to maneuvers from the Golden Lion, Primal Fury, Scarlet Throne (noble duelist), Solar Wind, and Thrashing Dragon (wild and reckless two-weapon fighting) disciplines.
The warlord's major class feature is the Warlord's Gambit. Warlords are at their best when they're daring, so they gain actual benefits when performing riskier-than-usual actions in combat. There are several Gambits a warlord can learn, learning more over the progression of levels. Each Gambit is activated as a swift action and requires a certain action in combat such as a trip, a charge, a ranged attack on a moving mount, etc, which is known as a Risk. If the warlord is successful, they gain benefits known as a Reward in addition to regained maneuvers. On a failure they suffer the penalties known as a Rake, which are universal as a -2 penalty on all d20 rolls for one round. However, a warlord regains one maneuver even on a Rake, so it's not all bad.
There are 15 gambits, and a lot of them grant some kind of bonus equal to the warlord's Charisma modifier, and quite a few benefit the warlord's allies in some way. A few of the more interesting gambits include Deadeye Gambit, activated by a successful called shot which grants temporary hit points to nearby allies as the attack fills them with renewed spirit; the Gatecrasher Gambit, activated by a successful bull rush which imposes a penalty on all 20 rolls equal to warlord's Charisma mod as they're so rattled by the attack; and Sweeping Gambit, activated by a successful trip attack which grants an immediate attack of opportunity against said foe with a Charisma bonus added to the damage roll.
I really like the Gambit system; it gives good in-game incentives in the form of bonuses for the party and debuffs on the enemy. Furthermore, it encourages the Warlord to perform unorthodox tactics in combat which are rarely if ever used by Pathfinder players (let's face it, nobody really uses overrun).
Tactical Presence is the warlord oozing raw Charisma, aiding himself and his allies on the battlefield in an effect which is a throwback to the Marshal Auras from 3.5's Miniatures Handbook. By activating a certain Presence, the warlord and allies within 30 feet may add his Charisma modifier to certain saves and even temporary hit points.
Warleader is a limited-use-per-day ability which allows the warlord to share the benefits of a Teamwork feat with all allies within 30 feet, even if they don't meet the prerequisites.
Force of Personality adds the warlord's Charisma modifier in addition to Wisdom on Will saving throws (doesn't stack with Paladin's Divine Grace). Tactical Flanker is another Charisma-based benefit, in that it allows the warlord and an ally to substitute his Charisma modifier for the +2 bonus on attack rolls for flanking an opponent. Tactical Assistance does the same thing, but for Aid Another actions instead and is gained at 12th level.
If Stalkers could activate two Strikes, and the Warder's the master of Counters, then the Warlord's game is Boost, where they can activate two of them at once with the Dual Boost class feature gained at 6th level.
The warlord's later class feature mainly involve enhancing existing class features. Dual Tactical Presence allows him to maintain two Presences at once; Warlord's Presence activates three at a time; Master Warleader allows him to activate Warleader as a swift action; and the capstone ability at 20th level is Dual Stance, which allows the Warlord to gain the benefits of two different stances simultaneously.
Libertad's Thoughts: Like the Stalker and Warder, the Warlord's mechanics are nifty and fun, and the overall flavor text of an arrogant yet personable warrior is great role-playing opportunity.
Thoughts So Far: Path of War is shaping up to a promising start. I like how Dreamscarred made each class reliant upon mental as well as physical acumen; their class features, combined with maneuvers and stances, provide no shortage of cool tricks for players to choose from in combat.
Next time, Chapter 2: Skills and Feats!