Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords
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  1. #1
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    Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords

    The book with the long title, which Iíll refer to as the Book of Nine Swords, brings Ďcoolí to combat. It provides the fighting man access to new abilities through feats, and prestige classes, but these foundations are more solidly built around the new core classes introduced.

    This book is not really WoTCs answer to Iron Heroes. This book assumes the full range of magic and magic items in a standard campaign. Rather, if anything, this book is WoTC answer in game mechanics to the Ritual Warrior from Arcana Evolved.

    The book follows the dreaded 160-page format WoTC has adopted as one of their new standards. Even with the page drop from the old 192-pages, the book is still competitively priced, as itís a full color hardback. The first page is a list of credits, and then the second page is a proper credits page, while the third page is a detailed table of contents listing the major headings for the eight chapters in the book. The book includes no index.

    In terms of visual style and appearance, WoTC was paying attention to the Tome of Magic and has done an excellent job of bringing this book up to speed. Interior artists include Wayne England, who handles the headers between each chapter, as well as Michael Phillipi, one of my favorite artists since I first saw his work in AEGís Mercenaries. H. Lyon does some fantastic detailed work too. The illustration of the Deepstone Sentinel showcases a great amount of information ranging from etchings in the plate armor to patterns on the red cloth.In addition to strong art, the design of the book is top notch and is one of the better looking Ďgenericí books Iíve seen from WoTC.

    Editing couldíve probably been better. When browsing through the table of contents for example, youíll see a breakout for the human swordsage starting package, but not for other classes. Other little minor things that like pop up now and again but Iíll let another reviewer handle those issues.

    The first chapter, Disciples of the Sword, introduces three new core classes. These core classes include all the details that the Playerís Handbook does in terms of class features, but also includes those details found in the expanded format of the Prestige Classes such as methods of playing the character, including religion, combat, as well as ideas on how the class fits in the world, including Knowledge check with different bits of lore discovered for three stages (10, 15 and 20). Each section ends with a sample encounter.

    The one thing right away that sets these classes apart from other classes is maneuvers and stances. . Maneuvers are special abilities with a wide range of game effects. In a similar vein, they also know stances. These are also special abilities but generally arenít as powerful and are long term, not one shot abilities. Maneuvers have to be readied. Once readied, it can be used. Once used, itís expended. This is similar to preparing spells for a wizard or cleric as opposed to a sorcerer. One of the interesting things about maneuvers is that they have a different set of circumstances than spells.

    You recover them at each encounter. I wonder if thatís a peak into 4th edition spell casting.

    In addition, during combat, each class has itís own methodology of replenishing itís maneuvers expended.

    Crusader is a religious based core class with a good fort save, d10 hit dice, and good bab. They do not cast spells. What makes them a religious based class is that one of the schools they have access to, one of the nine, is devoted spirit. A school unique for this core class. Similar in many respects to a paladin.

    Crusaders fall into the second place in terms of maneuvers known. Their one big limitation though is in terms of maneuvers readied, they have a limited number of their maneuvers that are readied accessible to them through a random method. So in some random fashion, not presented here mind you, the GM has to determine what readied methods that the character actually has access to that round until the time for new random maneuvers to be learned passes.

    The flavor text behind the idea, which the crusader is divinely inspired, is solid. The game mechanic though is stupid. The d20 engine can be a complicated beast in and of itself. Adding more complications for no good reason is bad game design. If there were a few methods of Ďrandomlyí determining what maneuvers were readied, it might be different but unless Iím missing something in the textÖ

    To recover their maneuvers, the crusader must have no random abilities left to draw on. When that happens, all expended maneuvers are returned to the crusader and the whole random inspiration strikes again.

    The crusader gains a few other abilities but his three Ďrisingí ones are steely resolve, furious counterstrike, and smite. His steely resolve allows him to use a delayed damage pool. This delayed hit point damage that you suffer can be used to fuel a counter strike. The hit points youíve suffered donít go away but they fuel your own attack. This is a +1 bonus to hit and damage for every five whole points of damage you suffer. Remember no rounding!

    Swordsage could simply be explained as a monk who does cool things with a sword. Well, not quite but thatís the idea. They get the medium bab, the d8 hit dice, but only two good saving throws, ref and will. Theyíre the top dogs when it comes to maneuvers known and readied and stances known. They have a few schools that the others donít like Desert Wind, Setting Sun, and Shadow Hand. They have some monk abilities like an armor class bonus based on wisdom. Another class that requires a lot of high ability scores to get the most out of. But thatís okay, for evasion and improved evasion latter on, weíll live with it.

    They also have some abilities that go up as they do in level like quick to act, an initiative bonus that increases once every five levels. As the masters of maneuvers, they have discipline focus that grants them different abilities depending on which level they take it. For example, at 8th level, they can gain a +2 bonus on saving throws when using a stance from the discipline.

    The swordsage though is probably one of the worst at recovering his abilities in combat. Unlike the crusader who just has to run out or the warblade that can use a swift action to recover all expended maneuvers, the swordsage has to use a full-round action to recover one expended maneuver.

    Warblade is the glory seeking melee master grunt of the lot. The lowest amount of maneuvers known and readied with the highest hit dice (d12), good fort save and good bab. Their special school is the Iron Heart school. They gain a limited number of bonus feats and some special abilities as they rise in level. One of their unique features is being treated as a fighter, similar to how a paladin turns like a cleric. Theyíre treated as a fighter two levels lower for feats. At 6th level for example, a warblade could take weapon specialization.

    Even more powerful though is that they can adapt their chosen weapons so that theyíre not stuck with that kama specialization that they thought looked awesome at first level. Better hit dice and access to fighter only feats and access to change those feats?

    Their ability to recover all expended maneuvers with a single swift action seems to push this class over the top. Sure, they have to make a melee attack or use a standard action to do nothing else in the round, but a swift action is far too generous, especially at higher levels when theyíll be recovering five or more maneuvers. Some might say that itís okay, that their lack of ranged combat will hurt them. I wonder if those people have heard of multi-classing? I also wonder if theyíre read about the PrC in this book that focuses on throwing weapons, something that the warblade can use without multi-classing.

    Chapter two, Skills and Feats, starts off with new skills and uses. First off is Intimidate, which brings us the Duel of Wills. Not quite the skill duels from Oriental Adventurers but nice to see them bring some different use to the skill. More variants on using Local Knowledge are also provided.

    The new skill is Martial Lore, an Int based skill that can only be used trained. It allows you to identify maneuvers and disciplines. Very bland.

    In terms of new feats, many of them build off of the styles presented in the book and a few allow other characters to get in on the action. For example, Evasive Reflexes allows anyone with a Dex of 13 to take a 5í footstep instead of an attack of opportunity. One interesting thing that it does, which is rare, is act as a replacement for Combat Reflexes in terms of qualifying for others feats, PrCs or special abilities. A very good steep as WoTC has done feats that are almost the same so many times that it gets annoying to house rule these Ďallowableí replacements as house rules instead of being allowed from the get go.

    For those who donít want to stray from their core classes, such as the fighter, they can take Martial Study to learn a discipline and a maneuver in it. To learn more, they can follow with Martial Stance, which lets them learn a stance.

    Another favorite but probably overpowered, is Rapid Assault. All it requires is a +1 bab but gives you an extra 1d6 points of damage for your first round of combat.

    The book includes nine tactical feats, one for each school. I like the idea of tactical feats, as they are more than just regular feats, each capable of doing more than one thing. Shards of Granite, which requires two Stone Dragon maneuvers as well as Stone Power and a bab +6, has among itís maneuvers the ability to ignore the targetís hardness.

    Chapter three, Blade Magic, is a bit of an aberration. Itís a quick breakdown of what Ďblade magicí is without actually listing the powers. Maneuvers fall into boosts, counters, and strikes. Stances are never expended and are always available. Two separate concepts right? One shot abilities and semi-permanent ones. Selecting martial maneuvers is a little like selecting psionic powers. You can select certain power levels based off youíre level. For example, at 5th level, you can select a 3rd level maneuver and at 16th, and 9th level one.

    The good news is that many of the classes allow you to swap out the maneuvers every so often but the bad news is that none of them let you swap out your stances. A little important when looking at which stances you might want to take and having to decide between a 2nd and 3rd level stance at 5th level say.

    The nine disciplines are given a solid breakdown. This covers what they stand for, their Ďkey skillí and the weapons associated with them. This allows a player or GM to either go with the type, such as having an agile and quick master of the Desert Wind, or play against type with a quite but noble leader who has mastered the White Raven.

    Chapter four, Maneuvers and Stances, is where the organization starts to fail though. All throughout the text, maneuvers and stances have been talked about as different aspects of the same school. Here the summaries are grouped together under school in alphabetical order. So this means that the Devoted Spirit has Crusaderís Strike, followed by two stances, followed by Vanguard Strike. Not the best way in the world to organize this information.

    It only gets worse when it begins to detail the game mechanics behind the rules. Everything is broken down by school first, and then levels. This slows character creation down to a crawl, especially as some of these maneuvers have requirements, which arenít mentioned in the summaries. Spells arenít organized like this. Theyíre not organized by school. Theyíre not even organized by type in regards to divine versus arcane. Whoever was in charge of editing should have said, ďwell, letís follow the standards set in the Playerís Handbook and hey, since spells donít have requirements, letís get rid of these prerequisites on what is in effect the spells of this book okay?Ē

    I made a character and between getting my stances and prerequisites wrong, it took me about fifteen minutes. That was for a character with no game stats and no feats. I was just following the level requirements. Remember, you donít get a table that tells you which abilities of which level you can know, and then making sure that all maneuvers were maneuvers and stances were stances and that I didnít botch it on any prerequisites.

    Of course as this character was a swordsage, that might be understandable as they have access to a lot of disciplines. As it was a 5th level character though, I think itís a little much to ask GMs or players, especially if theyíre in a high level campaign. I thought wizards were bad but they donít have to worry about what level maneuvers they can take at what level nor if theyíve met the prerequisites for their spells. If any of the new classes only used one school, that might be another story, but even the warblade has more than one school.

    In Arcana Evolved, if you can use a ritual of that level, a ritual being a little spice you can add to your fighting, you can use any ritual of that level until youíve used up all your rituals. Now the rituals in that game only go up to 4th level and arenít anywhere near as cool or powerful as some of these are, but theyíre infinitely easier to use. Can I use a ritual from this level? Cool, then Iím using ritual X.

    Each maneuver has itís Ďspellí block, including; name of school (which is odd since each maneuver/stance is under itís own school and couldnít possibly be confused for another school), level, prerequisite, initiation action (most are swift actions) range, target, and duration. Most of the ranges are personal. Most of the targets are the caster. After the spell is the description in italics, describing what the effect looks like to others.

    Letís look at one of the most powerful strikes, Wyrmís Flame. Itís a 8th level Desert Wind, which means it can only be used by a Swordsage. You have to have three desert wind maneuvers. It takes one standard action to activate it, has a range of 30 feet and a cone area. Reflex save for half. After telling the reader that you spin your blade in italics, the book then mentions, under itís game effects that you twirl and spin your blades. If youíre going to write fluff into the book in one spot, donít regurgitate it immediately after it in another spot when itís supposed to be part of the game mechanics or crunch. This cone of fire deals 10d6 points of damage and requires a Reflex save (DC 18+ Wis modifier) for half damage. Itís also a supernatural ability.

    After the Ďblade magicí ends, we get to chapter five, prestige classes. There are eight PrCs here. The first one Iíll mention is the Bloodstorm Blade. Remember someone might talk about the Warblade not being Ďequalí to a fighter because of the lack of versatility in ranged combat?

    This is a ten level PrC with full bab, d12 hit dice, and good fortitude save. They gain the throw anything ability and have returning attacks with their thrown weapons. So now that they can throw anything and have returning abilities, and can be entered from having point blank shot and knowing an Iron Heart strike and Stance (the specialty of the War Blade), who has the advantage? Oh yeah, donít forget the d12 hit die either.

    Their abilities with thrown weapons include things like ricocheting their shots as a full round action. The real winner here is not even needing quick draw as they have lightning ricochet that allows the weapon to immediately return to them allowing them full attack with thrown weapons or a mix of thrown weapons and melee attacks. Hey, throw in rapid shot and we have a warblade better than a fighter with thrown weapons.

    One of the classes I like in itís design, is the Eternal Blade. A requirement of bab +10, weapon focus (any) and two devoted spirit or diamond mind maneuvers shows that either itís going to be a 10th level crusader getting into this class or a high level sword sage. Itís a showcase of the elven art of war. They gain an ability called Eternal Training, itís uses per day goes up as they go up. This can either give you a bonus equal to your Intelligence bonus on attack and damage rolls against a creature of a certain type or the use of a maneuver from the Diamond Mind or Devoted Spirit discipline, if you meet the requirements. Eternal Blades also continue to learn maneuvers and stances.

    A shorter PrC, 5 levels, is the Master of Nine. This class requires you to have 10 ranks in four key discipline skills, a host of feats, and knowledge of one maneuver from six different disciplines. They gain new maneuvers and stances but their real benefit is being able to use two stances at once for up to 2 rounds per class level per day. Theyíre abilities are also harder to avoid as the DC of their maneuvers is increased by 1 and they can change their stance as part of a counter action, even when itís not their turn. Their final benefit is a bonus on attack rolls when initiating any strike maneuver, dealing extra damage equal to the number of disciplines that you have readied maneuvers from at the beginning of the day.

    Chapter six is one I didnít expect to see in this book, The Nine Swords. A sword for each school, written up in Weapons of Legacy style, is included. Each weapon has a full range of abilities from 5th to 20th levels with notes on the various rituals needed to unlock them. They also tie into the various back-stories of the book and the Temple of the Nine Swords. Well, most of them. The first one, from Weapons of Legacy itself, seems the odd duck here as itís story is the story of itís first owner and avoids itís associated with the Nine.

    Chapter seven, magic items, is a little weak. It doesnít include any other magical swords, but rather, martial scripts, which in essence, are scrolls that allow the reader to use a martial maneuver. There are also a few new wondrous items. In a ĎTome of Battleí, Iím expecting a lot of weapons.

    Chapter eight introduces Nine Swords Monsters. Itís another short chapter. The notable monster from here is the Reth Dekala, outsiders that betrayed their master and were cursed into horrid forms. They must now finish off the reason they betrayed their master, the elimination of all their scions, which any good GM should know, can include the players. Since they advance by character class, they can easily scale with the players.

    One thing I was surprised at was the book didnít make any obvious nods to the Prince of Swords from the old Grayhawk books. I figured heíd be a perfect shoe in.

    The book is weak in the monster and magic item section. The magic items should have been merged with the nine swords but then we wouldíve lost a great illustration by Wayne England. The reduced page count from the Ďoldí 192 page format is really felt in these areas.

    In game play, when playing a spellcaster, at best you can print out the SRD spells you have. Here, there is no SRD. At worse, you can flip through the PHB in alphabetical order. Here, you have to go through each school and then alphabetical order. I can also see this as a nightmare when trying to Ďedití a character sheet as the GM know has to know if the player is taking any maneuvers he hasnít qualified for. Thereís also no character sheet here. Drop a page of the ads and give me a character sheet that follows the example characters inside with lines for boost, strikes, and stances.

    If the book was organized better, I can see giving it four stars but as actual play use is going to be a huge pain. I base this on several efforts at character creation for the character class that uses this book the most, the swordsageÖ

  2. #2
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    I nice review however those things your saying might be a problem quite actually are. I had a crusader In my game and he completely broke the game. He could do what the rest of the party could do all by himself. It was quite broken. Fine review although a little to kind.

  3. #3
    I actually disagree. This book added a year or two to me being able to stand 3E. First thing that ever gave melee classes something truly interesting to do.

  4. #4
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    There is a reason WotC released "power cards" for the maneuvers - so that they'd be easier to shuffle for the Crusader.

  5. #5
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    Great book in many ways. Really enjoyable and I do wish 4e had moved a bit more in this direction (different schemes for recovering powers rather than everyone the same).

    The only serious problem was balance. The characters that came out of this were just better that the rest. I disagree that the crusader, or any other class, was _way_ too much. Just too much. That made it hard to actually use in practice and thus the lower content score for what was otherwise a great book.

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