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Usually, a martial adept’s Initiator Level is equal to his class level, plus his class level in any maneuver-granting Prestige Classes, plus half his level in all other classes.

This means a Something 8/Martial Adept 1 has an Initiator Level of 8/2 + 1 = 5.

Initiator Level 5 is the only requirement for a number of maneuvers and stances. The rules clearly state that you may select any maneuver you meet the prerequisites for, so a Something 8/Martial Adept 1 could select bonecrusher and stone dragon’s fury, both 3rd-level, for his maneuvers for his first class level.

Generally speaking, stances work the same as maneuvers: you need a certain Initiator Level to select them (and possibly other prerequisites). A character with Initiator Level 5 could use the Martial Stance feat to select a 3rd-level feat, even if that character had no levels in any martial adept class.

However, each of the three martial adept base classes has this line:

Stances Known: You begin play with knowledge of one 1st-level stance from [...]

Does this mean they cannot select stances above 1st-level when they take their first class level, even if their Initiator Level is higher?

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No. You get a 1st level stance.

It says you get a first level stance, so you get a first level stance. If you want more stances or better stances, keep leveling up the class till you get another stance choice (which doesn't have that 1st level restriction) or buy access to the stance with the feat (whose name escapes me at the moment) from the book.

If you want to house rule that you can pick up any stance you qualify for, that's a pretty good idea in my opinion, but that's not what the actual rule in the book says.

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You don't address the fact that it says that you "begin play" with a single 1st-level stance. Are you suggesting that when an adept first begins play at level 20, he only has a single 1st-level stance? – KRyan Jan 3 '13 at 23:42
That's because it's irrelevant. – Joe Bedurndurn Jan 4 '13 at 0:00
-1. Text does not actually say this; also vast bodies of relevant text ignored. – the dark wanderer Aug 9 '15 at 18:29

Yes, you can take higher level stances on your first martial adept class level.

While I agree with OP's own analysis, I still want to point out a precedent helping the same cause.

Please, take a look at ardent class description (Complete Psionic). It has related clause about powers, and states specifically that 1st level ardent must select 1st level powers known, while higher-level ardent can take any power he can manifest by virtue of having manifester level high enough:

An ardent begins play knowing two of the first powers available to her based on her choice of mantles. Each mantle features at least one power or ability with a cost of 1 power point. An ardent selects two of these powers from her two known mantles at 1st level.

At each additional level, an ardent learns one new power from her available mantles. She must be able to manifest the new power at the level at which she learns it, however. For example, an ardent who attains 5th level can learn any power from one of her mantles that costs 5 power points or less to manifest; she cannot learn a power from a mantle that costs more than 5 power points to manifest until she attains a level capable of manifesting a power with that cost.

There is no such explicit restriction in martial classes' wordings, therefore 1st level martial adept can take 2nd or higher level stances, provided it meets the initiator level and other prerequisites.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yes, you can take higher-level Stances at your first class level

There are several issues here.

First of all, this line is in the form of a descriptive statement, not a prescriptive one: it describes the usual case of things, rather than defining a limitation on your options. I would argue that it is there solely to help players new to the book, who are creating their first martial adept from level 1.

After all, a great many statements are made in Wizards’ products that assume you are single-classed, and starting from ECL 1 is the default assumption for the game. The Wizard’s Specialization feature says you cannot cast spells from your banned schools – but you actually can, you just need to get that ability from another class.

In addition, the line does not say “first-level martial adepts are restricted to 1st-level Stances.” It says that they “begin play” with a single 1st-level maneuver. A multiclass character taking his first level in a martial adept class after ECL 1 is not “begin[ning] play,” so the statement does not apply to him.

For that matter, taken literally, that would imply that any martial adept has only a single 1st-level Stance when the game starts – even if he started at level 20 and took Martial Stance feats repeatedly. Clearly, this is not the case, which is only further evidence that the line is not a rule, but a hint or (supposedly) helpful description.

Finally, if you rule that it does prevent higher-level Stances from being taken for your first class level, it flies in the face of the entire Tome of Battle design pattern. Tome of Battle was intentionally designed to mesh well with previous books and existing characters – that is why the Initiator Level rules were written the way they were in the first place.

Every single other method of learning any maneuvers – Stances included – allows those with higher Initiator Level to “skip” lower-level maneuvers – because Wizards finally understood how important it was to the system that characters be getting level appropriate class features, even if they multiclass. For instance, a 12th-level character, with no martial adept levels, still has an Initiator Level of 6, and can take Martial Study or Martial Stance to get a 3rd-level maneuver or stance, respectively.

This single supposed exception does not make any sense in light of the context that Tome of Battle provides, does not have the form of a prescriptive rule, and does not actually specify your first martial adept level but rather whether or not the character is “beginning play,” which really does not make much sense if taken literally.

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I agree with this. I played a high level cleric who took a level of Crusader in the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, and after a discussion with the GM we came to the same conclusion. The individual stances/maneuvers have a rich set of prerequisites that narrow down your choices anyway. My level 13 character (Clr12/Cru1) was IL7 and could choose higher level stances and maneuvers but most of them have additional requirements making it impossible to take them at level 1 anyway. – mxyzplk Jan 4 '13 at 0:32

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