Class Chronicles
Crusaders, Swordsages, Warblades
The Sublime Way
Eytan Bernstein

The 20-level classes presented in books other than the Player's Handbook have become popular choices for players and DMs. Earlier articles in this series discussed how to import the classes from Player's Handbook 2, the Complete series, the Expanded Psionics Handbook, Miniatures Handbook, Heroes of Horror, Magic of Incarnum, and Tome of Magic. This installment focuses on the three classes from Tome of Battle -- the crusader, the swordsage, and the warblade.

Tome of Battle in the Realms?

More so than any other published system in D&D 3.5, the rule set described in Tome of Battle affects the history of the setting in which it's used. Some Realms purists might hesitate to use these rules, because the setting has no precedent for anime-style combat or characters. It is both unproductive and impossible to rewrite the history of the Realms to incorporate this style of fighting (and the various social structures attached to it). For that reason, this article will describe a variety of organizations, individuals, faiths, and regions that could be accessible to PCs and NPCs who use the sublime way but will not seek to rewrite the history of the Realms to make it so that these classes have always been a significant aspect.

This system works best for those who are happy to incorporate a wide variety of unique mechanics into their games, even if they are from far-flung regions or are rediscovered from lost temples. In many parts of the article, it is assumed that a great deal of cross-cultural diffusion occurs in the Realms. This might suit some games well, but others might be uncomfortable with this notion. This article is for those who are interested in using these classes and is geared toward giving them as many options as possible. Those who find the book too anime for their Realms tastes should convert the crusader orders into priestly or knightly organizations Swordsage organizations and temples could be monasteries, while warblades could be fighters at more traditional academies or some sort of fighter/mage hybrids such as eldritch knights, Raumathari battlemages, or bladesingers.

Blade Magic Origins: Scattered Martial Arts

Ages ago, the disciplines of the sublime way were spread across the Realms. All were essentially martial arts -- styles of fighting with differing methods, philosophies, and foci. The adherents of one discipline were most likely unaware that any other disciplines (or cluster of disciplines) existed. It took the intervention of an ambitious warrior to bring the styles together.

As described in Tome of Battle, an immortal human warrior named of Reshar traveled the world learning each of the nine disciplines. It is unknown how he persuaded the masters of the different schools to reveal their secrets. Some suggest trickery, but most believe that the schools were impressed by his skill and dedication. If Reshar truly did all that is attributed to him, he may have lived for hundreds if not thousands of years.

In the hobgoblin Realm of Holorarar, Reshar learned the secrets of the Iron Heart from Master Urlek Kha-Th'tha. He underwent their torturous yet effective training, impressing the master with his cunning, commitment, and tolerance for pain. Dwarven practitioners of the sublime way -- especially those with nostalgia for Deep Shanatar -- contest this origin, but their claims have yet to be proven. Urlek's dojo was eventually destroyed in a titanic battle between the dwarves and hobgoblins.

Recently, a tribe of goblins has taken up residence near the ruins of the temple in the area that was once Holorarar. When a traveling underdark guide passed through, the goblins indicated that they could see the inside of "some old building with lots of papers and statues." The drow plans to return to explore the temple but is occupied at present with events elsewhere.

Reshar studied Desert Wind from two disparate sources. He learned some aspects of the discipline from a nomadic band of Bedine in Anauroch. Some depict the nomads as fearless dervishes who could go days without water, but their true identities are unknown. It is also believed that he apprenticed himself to a Zakharan traveler who was a member of the Desert Wind faith that is native to that land.

The Bedine nomads eventually settled and built a temple in a cavern under the sands of Anauroch. The dragon Amilektrevitrioelis -- who lived in Anauroch before migrating to his current lair in the Rathgaunt Hills -- destroyed the cavern with his powerful lightning breath. Present-day swordsages believe that the remaining structures of the temple are inhabited by undead practitioners of the sublime way who, no longer requiring sleep, spend their days in eternal training.

Reshar studied among the martial arts masters of Kara-Tur, learning the disciplines of Diamond Mind, Setting Sun, and Shadow Hand. Many swordsages believe that he learned some of the secrets of the Setting Sun discipline from the halflings of Luiren. It is also rumored that Reshar was resistant to learning the Shadow Hand discipline, but he realized that a warrior must embrace both light and dark to truly understand himself.

The disciplines of Diamond Mind, Setting Sun, and Shadow Hand are still practiced extensively in the lands beyond the Unaproachable East. In addition, Shou settlers brought the disciplines to the Golden Way, disseminating some of their secrets to the populations of the West. Today, a small number of blade magic academies dot the length of the Golden Way.

Reshar traveled among the southeastern realm of Veldorn, learning the furious Tiger Claw discipline used by the resistance movement to fight against the tyrannical rulership so frequently looming over that region. The Tiger Claw discipline has remained a local specialty among both humanoid and monster populations, though the inhabitants are probably unaware of its history. Styles similar to Tiger Claw have also been observed in other areas of the Shining Lands, a few smaller regions of Kara-Tur, including the White Tiger Monastery in T'u Lung, and among some of the more savage members of the Tuigan tribes.

From the dwarves of the Great Rift, Reshar learned the indomitable discipline of Stone Dragon. He valued the dwarves' courage, steadfastness, and stoicism in the face of pain and hardship. The original Stone Axe Center was buillt in Bhaerynden under the leadership of Axemaster Thrangold Axetone but was destroyed in a battle by monster and drow worshippers of Ghaunadaur from the Deep Wild. It has since been rebuilt behind a waterfall in the Great Rift under the leadership of Reldig Silverpike (LG male gold dwarf warblade 10/deepstone sentinel 5).

Sages suggest that Reshar wandered several of the great elven civilizations, learning of the religious strength and devotion to ancestors. From the elves, he learned the Devoted Spirit discipline. It's believed that there are abandoned sword temples in Seros and Ascalhorn. Some claim that the avariel still practice the Devoted Spirit discipline, but they are not talking, so this is hard to confirm. Today, a small blade magic temple exists in the Aerie of the Snow Eagles in the Icerim Mountains of Sossal. The small temple of seven students is led by Avjianos Greatspan (CG male avariel warblade 10/eternal blade 6), son of the leader of the aerie, Winged Father Aquilan Greatspan.

Reshar learned the discipline of White Raven from swordmasters in the Vast. With centers in Procampur, Ravens Bluff, and Tantras, the tradition of blade magic in the Vast has never really died. In fact, the Vast has continued to be one of the largest bastions of blade magic in the western Realms. It is especially prevalent among the Knights of the Raven in Raven's Bluff.

Tome of Battle Disciplines

  • Desert wind: This discipline is known by this name in Zakhara, as it is tied to the religion of the same name. Among the Bedine of Anauroch, the discipline is sometimes known as Dune Flame, but there are those that also call it Desert Wind. In Raurin, the Dust Desert, the discipline is known as Dust Storm because of its resemblance to the horrible sandstorms that plague that desolate wasteland.
  • Devoted Spirit: In ancient Seros, this discipline was known as Strength of the Sea. When Seros was abandoned, many of the practitioners of the sublime way that lived there felt that the strength of the sea had abandoned them. Among the avariel, the discipline is known as Winged Spirit in deference to the winged ancestors of the avariel who sacrificed their lives to keep the race alive. In the Vast, it is known as Ancestral Sword, paying homage to the great blade magicians of ages past.
  • Diamond Mind: Among the Shou, this discipline is known as Steel Lily, evincing the eastern swordsage philosophy that the mind can be the body's greatest weapon. Legend tells of a Shou master who could empty his mind and body such that he could actually balance on a lily pad.
  • Iron Heart: This was the name used by the hobgoblins of Holorarar. It perfectly represented their cold, cruel style of training, focused entirely on the achievement of martial perfection. The present day blade magicians in the dwarven city of Iltkazar have a different name. While hardly sentimental romantics, the dwarves are considerably more warm-hearted than the hobgoblins of old. They refer to this discipline as Mithril Heart, feeling that they are as tough and skilled as the hobgoblins but lighter of spirit and stronger of character.
  • Setting Sun: The halflings of Luiren know this discipline as Sunset Palm, feeling that subtlety and awareness allow them to turn weakness into strength and turn an enemy's advantages against him. In T'u Lung, the discipline is known as Dusk to Dawn (and Dawn to Dusk), embodying the principle that darkness can be made light just as light can be made into darkness.
  • Shadow Hand: Each ninja clan, ronin band, and assassin guild in Kara-Tur knows Shadow Hand by a different name. Some ninjas refer to it as Shade Strike, preferring to use the powers of the discipline to strike from darkness. The ronin who study Shadow Hand refer to the discipline with a name that roughly translates as Disgrace Embraced. The assassins know it as Penumbral Arc, but they are not sharing the reason behind this.
  • Stone Dragon: The name the dwarves of the Great Rift use for this discipline roughly translates as Stone Axe, Cave Pearl. They explain that this embodies the idea that force tempered by beauty and balance makes for perfection.
  • Tiger Claw: This discipline is known by a variety of names, all variations on animal themes such as Wolf Claw, Bear Fang, and Griffin Talon. In many places, the discipline remains unnamed, because it is more a way of life among the populace than an organized fighting style.
  • White Raven: The White Raven discipline originated in the Vast and is still known by that name today, but it is known by other names in areas to which it has spread. Among the avariel, it is known as Blue Eagle. The worshippers of Anhur know it as Gold Falcon. In Luiren, the crusaders of Arvoreen call it Silver Owl.

Practitioners of the Sublime Way

Martial characters who dabble in the sublime way are fairly common, but the majority of blade magic practitioners in the Realms are members of the crusader, swordsage, or warblade classes. Crusaders can be found in many of the same places as paladins but also can serve as an alternative to paladins in religions that are non-lawful. Swordsages are located in many of the same places as monks, both academic and martial. Warblades are found all over the Realms, both East and West, sometimes studying in schools of war but also running their own dojos and sword temples.

Crusaders

Crusaders are the implacable, spiritual lords of war, similar to paladins in their zeal but without the alignment restrictions that limit those holy warriors. Crusaders only have access to three disciplines, but these three -- Devoted Spirit, Stone Dragon, and White Raven -- provide them with equal parts conviction, durability, and leadership ability. A number of crusader orders can be found among the faiths of the Realms, including those of Anhur, Tempus & Red Knight, and Torm.

The Church of Anhur is one of the best fits for crusaders, because its adherents embody both raw fury and strategy and tactics. Crusaders of the faith are priests of Anhur charged with the defense of Mulhorand (as defined by its historic, not its current, boundaries). They must destroy Mulhorand's enemies and protect all of its residents from evil. The powers they receive from the Devoted Spirit discipline are put to the test when combating the depredations of Thay; the powers of Stone Dragon give them the fortitude to defend against Thayvian magic; White Raven grants them the leadership and brotherhood necessary to defend their people. Battlestorm Temple, a church dedicated to Anhur, is housed in the City of the Gods in Skuld. It is led by Bladestorm Leader Mithresh Kaldieron (CG male Mulhorandi crusader 14) and has over 20 students.

Tempus embodies sheer martial revelry mitigated by a love of strategy. Red Knight is the lady of strategy, a cool and collected patron of tacticians, planners, and battle coordinators. Over 30 members of all three blade magic classes worship and study in the combined Tempus & Red Knight sword temple in the city Tegal's Mark in Tasseldale, known as the Red Steel Gambit. By far the greatest number of disciples is from the crusader class. The master of the temple -- Thomwaith De'Krestin (N male Chondathan crusader 17 [Tempus & Red Knight]) is blessed by both the Lady of Strategy and the Lord of Battles.

Three Sister sword temples operate in the Vast in the cities of Raven's Bluff, Tantras, and Procampur. The temple in Procampur is led by Oriphaun McMaren (LN male Chondathan swordsage 14) and is typically responsible for guarding visiting dignitaries and providing security for major galas and events. In Tantras, a group of crusaders of Torm known as the Trueblades fights for the just order advocated by their deity. The organization, led by Phindrake Korlaunt (LG male Chondathan crusader 12), did damage control following the titanic battle between Torm the True and Bane. Despite the long history of blade magic in the vast, the Knights of the White Raven are a very new order. Prior to the founding of this order, a handful of practitioners of the sublime way were spread among the Griffons, Hawks, and Phoenix. Founded following the Time of Troubles, the White Raven order was founded to serve both Torm and Lathander. It is actually a small subset of the Ravens. Led by Pradian Karneth (LG male Vaasan crusader 9/healer 7), the order -- like the Trueblades of Procampur -- is tasked with providing damage control following catastrophes and during war.

Swordsages

While not all martial monasteries embrace the use of weapons, it is not uncommon to find swordsages in many of the same places where monks are found. With their contemplative, almost scholarly approach to fighting, swordsages have much in common with monks of both a scholarly and an academic bent. Swordsages can be found anywhere that monks and other practitioners of the sublime way train, but they are particularly common among the orders of the Broken Ones and the Hin Fist.

Together with the monks of the Broken Ones, the swordsages of the order travel as pilgrims throughout the vast Dalelands, righting wrongs and doing the good work of their god. Where they differ from crusaders is in their ascetic lifestyle and detachment. They serve the aims of Ilmater but without the unflinching zeal of a crusader. They have no fixed temple or hierarchy, though they often pass by the many shrines to Ilmater throughout the Dales. Monks of the Broken Ones can freely multiclass as swordsages.

Of all of the blade magic orders in the Realms, the Hin Fist best embodies the Setting Sun discipline. Luiren halflings are known for their philosophy of turning their size and the fact that their enemies underestimate them into great advantages. They believe in the power of halflings (to a lesser extent, other "little people") to master themselves and their world. Setting Sun is all about turning one's weakness into advantage and the enemy's advantage into weakness. The swordsage contingent of the Hin Fist is known as the Sunset Palm and is led by Olard Strawsmith (LG male lightfoot halfling swordsage 13). It is based in the city of Chethel in an abandoned timber warehouse. While the order performs many of the roles other warriors in Luiren do, they are best known for their coordination of the Sunset Games, an athletic competition in Chethel with a variety of sports and events that favor halfling athletic pursuits such as throwing and jumping. Sunset Games are held every fourth year in Flamerule. Hin Fist members can freely multiclass between monk and swordsage.

Warblades

In the Realms, warblades face prejudices that are not experienced as much by swordsages and crusaders. Whereas swordsages are frequently associated with monasteries and crusaders are tied to religious orders, warblades share less of a link with other classes. Monks and clerics tend to be more tolerant of blade magic practitioners in their orders, feeling that these members are simply expressing the order or faith's philosophy in their own unique way. Warblades share a great deal in common with fighters, but their flashy powers often create distance between them and more conventional warriors. Fortunately, there are a few bastions of blade magic that cater to the skill and tactics of warblades in the Realms.

The Academy of Arms in Athkatla has a training division of warblades. These warriors study the disciplines of Diamond Mind, Iron Heart, Stone Dragon, Tiger Claw, and White Raven. The leader of the division, Blademaster Borrobar Starlynskor (LG male Tethyrian warblade 7/master of nine 10) brings in blade magic practitioners of different types (including swordsages and crusaders) from all over the world. He has guest lecturers from Zakhara, Luiren, Veldorn, the Vast, and other far-flung regions. The division's philosophy is that every style learned expands the repertoire, tactics, and skill of the students, making them better, more prepared warriors. Many members aspire to the mastery of nine prestige classes.

Centuries ago, an adventuring company known as the Nine Swords slew monsters and righted wrongs in the Vast. They were a group of 10 blade magicians -- four crusaders, five warblades, and the swordsage Thallastam (LG male Chondathan swordsage 1/wizard 5/jade phoenix mage 10). Thallastam had studied in Kara-Tur in his youth before he formed the Nine Swords in his homeland, the Vast. When the group disbanded, Thallastam cast a magic spell, hiding the nine swords of his companions in Swords Pool, the body of water that lends its name to a village in the Vast. Thallastam himself preferred unarmed combat, but the rest of his companions favored the use of swords. Recently, a small group of young blade magicians from the Vast have reformed the Nine Swords Company, using the Inn of the Nine Swords in the town of Swords Pool. Information concerning the Nine Swords can be found on page 156 in the City of Raven's Bluff supplement (which can be downloaded for free).

Tome of Battle Prestige Classes

  • Bloodclaw Master: Multiclassed warblade/barbarians who worship Malar, the Beastlord are the most likely to have levels in this prestige class. They are most commonly found in the Hordelands and the High Forest performing the droning Bloodsong over creatures slain in their rabid, vicious hunts.
  • Bloodstorm Blade: A group of blade magicians known as the Hin Blades of Brandobaris operates out of Beluir. For the most part, the group of swaggering halflings is more concerned with causing trouble and carousing than it is with any practical purpose, but it has always come to the aid of Luiren in times of danger. It is led by Prelgard Bottleknocker (CG male strongheart halfling warblade 10/bloodstorm blade 3).
  • Deepstone Sentinel: The Stone Axe Center is a large dwarven sword temple hidden behind a waterfall in the Great Rift. It is led by Reldig Silverpike (described earlier) and acts as a highly trained defense force when the gold dwarves are attacked by forces from the Underdark.
  • Eternal Blade: The eternal blades were once an order in service to Correlon in Cormanthor, but they became arrogant and lost favor with their god. With Seiveril Miritar's resettlement of Cormanthor, young elven warriors have revived the tradition. They located an ancient blade temple in the heart of the capital and have restored it. So far, the organization, led by Elgine Goldheart (CG female moon elf crusader 10/eternal blade 2,), is small, possessing only four members, but with the constant influx of elven settlers to Cormanthor, it's bound to expand.
  • Jade Phoenix Mage: In Kara-Tur, jade phoenix mages are relatively common, but they go by other names in the Western Realms. The Shou brought the tradition with them in travels to the West. While no major centers exist, a small number of students of the Raumathari Battlemagic and elven bladesinging traditions have studied jade phoenix magic. These practitioners still think of themselves as battlemages and bladesingers, but who incorporate learned elements from another culture into their studies. Reshar's constant companion, the Raumathari battlemage Turoth Krenth, was the main reason the warrior was able to travel throughout the Realms. Turoth used his magic to transport Reshar to the distant locales where he studied the unique disciplines. Turoth was an accomplished blade magician and wizard who is often forgotten in the legends of Reshar.
  • Master of Nine: There are a few blade magicians in the Realms who seek to master all nine of the martial disciplines in the tradition of Reshar. This is always an individual initiative; there are no groups of masters of nine. The most frequent origins of these wandering warriors are the Vast and Tethyr, both of which have strong blade magic traditions.
  • Ruby Knight Vindicator: Deities whose portfolio relate to the sanctity of death and burial employ these knights to protect the faith, but more importantly, to defend proper burial and treatment of the dead. Among the worshippers of Jergal, these warriors are known as Knights of the Shroud. The organization in service to Kelemvor is known as Knights of Eternal Peace. The Knights of Sanctity serve Osiris as tomb guardians and watch out for the safety of children in their communities. By far the most somber blade magic order in Luiren, the Knights of the Hound, performs a variety of funereal functions, ensures that proper burial traditions are followed, and acts as a steady presence in the face of disaster, all in the name of Urogalan
  • Shadow Sun Ninja: Shadow Sun Ninjas are primarily groups of reformed ninjas and dark monks in Kara-Tur, but they have spread their beliefs among some of the faiths in the Realms that are concerned with balance. Some disciples of this class are devout followers of Grumbar, Oghma, Ubtao, and Waukeen -- religions concerned with maintaining a balance between light and dark, good and evil.

About the Author

Eytan Bernstein hails from exotic Long Island and spends his days writing and editing projects for numerous game companies. In addition to his work on Dragons of Faerūn, the Magic Item Compendium, and numerous other projects, Eytan serves as a partner and PR & Marketing Manager for Silven Publishing. Eytan enjoys hunting for gems and minerals in rock quarries, studying religion and theology, composing music, and playing with his many pets. For more information about Eytan, check out www.eytanbernstein.com. Send questions and comments for Eytan here.


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