Master the Secret Magic of Steel
Nine are the disciplines of the Sublime Way - the path of martial supremacy in which the perfect combination of devotion, lore, and practice allows a warrior to achieve feats of superhuman prowess. The Desert Wind master strikes with the speed and fury of a raging fire. The Tiger Claw master tears his foes apart with the primal fury of a beast. The Diamond Mind master acts in slivers of time so small that others cannot even perceive them. Each discipline unlocks exciting new options for a combat-oriented character.
This supplement for the D&D game describes a new system of combat maneuvers that blend fantastic weapon techniques with pious devotion and mystical blade magic. Within the nine disciples of the Sublime Way are more than 120 daring martial maneuvers. In addition, this book presents three new standard classes that perform martial maneuvers, as well as new feats and prestige classes.
For use with these Dungeons & Dragons core books: Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual.
If you want a fun but controversial product, you've come to the right place.
Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords (2006) was published as 3.5e D&D was nearing the end of its initial production life cycle. Tome of Battle was the first public execution of the design philosophies that would come to embody 4th edition D&D. It approached cinematic D&D combat in a completely different way than we'd seen previously, giving warriors the martial equivalent of spells so that they had a variety of diminishing options to manage during combat. It did this through maneuvers, specific one-shot effects that the Tome of Battle martial adept could initiate. The vaguely Asian-themed maneuvers are the 4e equivalent of Encounter Powers, used up over the course of a melee combat and recharged through a specific action that each class can take. The intent was to give martial characters meaningful choices to make each round.
This approach seemed to catch some D&D traditionalists off guard. Concern in the D&D community focused less on "this isn't fun" (especially because many players loved it) and more on "this is a new sub-system in a unified rules system" (always a tricky sell) and especially "this is unbalanced when compared to the fighter class." The latter objection was harder to disprove.
While martial adepts were well-balanced in the game as a whole, fitting into the perceived power curve of different classes somewhere around the upper-middle, they are certainly more tactically interesting to play than the feat-driven fighter class. For a game whose traditions are predicated on fighters wading into battle, that rubbed some players the wrong way.
The Nuts and Bolts of Maneuvers. Martial adepts can learn stances, each an ongoing special ability that lasts until they choose a new stance. Stances give a specific thematic advantage; for instance, a stance might allow you to hover, or protect you with a shield of fire, or allow you to run faster than normal. Only one stance can be active at a time, but a character can change between available stances as a swift action. The result is that a character using stances has several interesting, highly themed options for an ongoing combat effect to choose from. While a cleric could conceivably spend two standard actions casting two buff spells in a combat, a martial adept could have the equivalent of several buff spells instantly available but only be able to choose one at a time.
There are three basic types of maneuvers: boosts, counters, and strikes. Boosts are an instant augmentation that usually improve attacks. Counters are immediate defensive actions that block or shield against incoming attacks. Strikes are special attacks that draw their special effect from each discipline's teachings.
Speaking of which, the Book of Nine Swords has nine disciplines, each themed after a particularl legendary sword, each with its own flavor: Desert Wind, Devoted Spirit, Shadow Hand, White Raven, etc. - each focused on a different combat role and style.
Three New Classes Drive the Action. Traditional D&D classes were generally barred from learning maneuvers. To become a martial adept, you needed to be one of the three new classes: Crusader, Swordsage, or Warblade. Each has different flavor. Crusaders are holy (or unholy) warriors, the equivalent of paladins or rangers, who worship a god and seek out foes whom their religion finds unpalatable. Swordsages are also called "blade wizards," a less robust warrior who focuses on truly magical effects produced by their weapons. Warblades are the fighter equivalent, purely martial warriors who lack supernatural abilities but who can dish out prodigious damage in a fight.
As expected, numerous feats and a few new skill uses support these new classes. Feats focus on expanding and improving the new maneuvers and stances, giving characters more focused power or greater overall options in a fight. Many feats can only be selected if you know maneuvers in a particular style.
Eight new prestige classes support these characters. Characters can channel feral animals as a bloodclaw master, channel githyanki secrets as a bloodstorm blade, embrace stealth as a shadow sun ninja, and the like. While not the extensive list of options for prestige classes that more established classes offer, these do a good job of opening up new specialties for martial adepts.
Overall. Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords is a tremendously fun book in live play. Characters created with these rules provide the ass-kicking competence you want from your heroes, while giving a martial player greater and more interesting tactical options on a round-for-round basis. Even if you choose not to include them as player character classes in your game, it's worth investigating for important NPCs. The new approach may well catch jaded players off-guard and delight them with a fun fight.
About the Creators. Rich Baker started at TSR in 1991 and left Wizards of the Coast in 2011. In those two decades he worked on material for lines such as Spelljammer, Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, and Planescape.
Matthew Sernett is an award-winning author and game designer who has worked in the game industry since 2000.
Frank Brunner's work includes Spellbound Kingdoms, Player's Handbook II, Magic of Incarnum, and numerous articles and adventures for Dragon and Dungeon.
About the Product Historian
History and commentary of this product was written by Kevin Kulp, game designer and admin of the independent D&D fansite ENWorld. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.