I would like a review of this Tome of Battle-based prestige class I wrote. I decided to go ham on the write-up and do the full entry as Wizards themselves did (I even played around with Google Docs to mimic the formatting in Tome of Battle), so I’m not going to offer much commentary—the idea is for it to be standalone, as if you just came across it in a book. The aim is to be roughly balanced with Tome of Battle in general, and to feel as though it could have been included in Chapter 5. Review of all material—crunch, fluff, writing, formatting—is welcome. Familiarity with Tome of Battle is generally assumed.
A warning to anyone getting into this: the full write-up is 4 pages of two-column text in Google Docs. The mechanics fit on a page, but like I said, I did the full write-up.
The only things I want to discuss here, outside the class, are other supplemental material, which if this actually appeared in Chapter 5 of Tome of Battle, would probably just be reprinted in a sidebar.
Aside from core and Tome of Battle itself, the class alludes to (but doesn’t use any mechanics from) Tome of Magic, specifically the vestige Ronove, the Iron Maiden. The only thing you’d need to know about her is that she was a monk long ago, before monks were really a thing, and may have even inspired the original martial arts of various monasteries, but had been forgotten by history and only recently was a record of her life rediscovered. She also continues to exist (sorta) as a vestige, which the Tome of Magic binder class can make pacts with to get boons, in her case various monk-like abilities (and some random telekinesis because why not?)—but iron maidens don’t generally interact with Ronove-as-vestige so none of that is relevant.
The class also requires, and leverages, the Lady’s Gambit feat from Dragon vol. 317. Reproducing that here, for this purpose, feels iffy on Fair Use, so I’ll just have to leave it at it being a feat kinda like Power Attack, except instead of taking attack penalties, you sacrifice hp, 2 hp for +1 attack and +1 damage, no more hp sacrificed per turn than your HD.
Some other supplemental material gets mentioned, but none of that is crucial to understanding anything, they’re just suggestions for other material that might work well with the class, and they’re all sourced within the text. Those probably wouldn’t be reprinted with the class in a Wizards publication.
Google Docs version (perma-link to the version as of this writing) Note you’ll need to be in Print View (View → Print View) to see the class table, since I abused the doc’s footer to achieve a full-width, hugging-the-bottom-of-the-page table in a two-column layout because Google Docs is dumb.
“I cannot die. I cannot tire. Fools try what the wise do not. A title I accept. Gladly.”
—Rook, iron maiden
In an attempt to recreate the techniques of Ronove, the Iron Maiden, the warriors now known by her epithet have developed something wholly new, quite unlike that prototypical monk. Taking her philosophy of denial in an unexpected direction, iron maidens weaponize their own mortality.
Becoming an Iron Maiden
Iron maidens always train as crusaders, usually exclusively. While they follow a philosophy inspired by the former monk and current vestige Ronove, few bother becoming monks or binders—though it’s not unheard of.
Despite the class’s name, iron maidens are in no way required to be female, and derogatory comments on the subject are among the fastest ways to earn their ire.
Base Attack Bonus: +6.
Feats: Lady’s Gambit,¹ Stone Power.²
Special: Furious counterstrike and steely resolve 10 class features.
- Dragon vol. 317, pg. 82
- Tome of Battle, pg. 32
The iron maiden class focuses on the steely resolve delayed damage pool to a degree that goes well beyond that of a typical crusader. This focus does come at the cost of some of their divine and sublime abilities.
Table: The Iron Maiden; Hit Die d12
Special 1st +1 +2 +0 +2 +1/−1 Improved stone power, lady’s resolve, steely resolve +5 2nd +2 +3 +0 +3 0 Hell hath no fury like, steely resolve +10 3rd +3 +3 +1 +3 +1/−1 Steely resolve +15 4th +4 +4 +1 +4 0 Greater stone power, steely resolve +20 5th +5 +4 +1 +4 +1/–1 Not while I draw breath, steely resolve +30
Class Skills (4 + Int modifier per level): Balance, Climb, Concentration, Craft, Heal, Intimidate, Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (history), Knowledge (local), Knowledge (religion), Listen, Martial Lore, Profession, Ride, Sense Motive, Spot, Swim, Tumble.
Maneuvers: At 1st, 3rd, and 5th level, you can choose a new Devoted Spirit, Iron Heart, or Stone Dragon maneuver in place of a maneuver (of any discipline) you already know. In effect, you lose the old maneuver in exchange for the new one. You can choose a new maneuver of any level you like, as long as you observe your restriction on the highest-level maneuvers you know; you need not replace the old maneuver with another maneuver of the same level. You must meet a maneuver’s prerequisite to learn it. You add your full iron maiden class level to your initiator level to determine your total initiator level and your highest-level maneuvers known.
Improved Stone Power (Ex): You choose to use Stone Power (and choose how large a penalty to accept) on your turn before attacking, rather than choosing only when you use an attack action or a full attack action, or initiate a Stone Dragon strike in melee. This allows you to use Stone Power with other forms of attack, such as strikes from other disciplines.
Lady’s Resolve (Ex): When using the Lady’s Gambit feat, you may choose to add points to your steely resolve delayed damage pool, up to a maximum equal to your character level. Your Lady’s Gambit bonuses are based on the hit points you choose to sacrifice, as normal, plus the points you choose to add to steely resolve. Since the limit on steely resolve points is separate from the limit on sacrificed hit points, using both effectively doubles how much bonus you can receive from Lady’s Gambit.
Steely Resolve (Ex): The size of your steely resolve delayed damage pool increases each level. At each level except 5th, this increase is by +5 points; the increase for 5th level is by +10 points. Thus the total maximum increase at 5th level is +30 points.
Hell Hath No Fury Like (Ex): Starting at 2nd level, your furious counterstrike has no strict maximum on the size of the attack and damage bonus it grants. As long as you can get points into steely resolve, you can get higher bonuses.
Greater Stone Power (Ex): At 4th level, you are no longer subject to the −5 limitation on the penalty you may choose with Stone Power, nor to the +10 maximum on the number of temporary hit points you may receive. The number you choose for the penalty still cannot exceed your base attack bonus.
Not While I Draw Breath (Ex): At 5th level, you can exceed the limits of your mortal frame to lend your reality-defying durability to your comrades. As an immediate action when an ally within 30 feet takes damage, you can expend a granted maneuver to take half of that damage (rounded down) instead of that ally. All of the damage you take goes into your steely resolve delayed damage pool, even if that would exceed the pool’s usual limit. If the source of the damage also inflicted an additional effect (such as stunning or a similar condition), you suffer the effect instead of your ally, making any relevant saves and checks as if the effect had targeted you, even if it would be physically impossible to do so.
Playing an Iron Maiden
You choose to push yourself harder than almost any foe you face—to push yourself to the very limits of your lifeforce. And you do so primarily for the challenge of it, the sheer appreciation that it works—there is no deity forcing you to do this, no devil promising profane rewards. It is for its own sake. That takes a very particular kind of person.
Many see iron maidens as masochistic, but this isn’t necessarily the case. The Lady’s Gambit does not cause pain; it is a sacrifice more fundamental than firing nerves. Moreover, iron maidens don’t just specialize in sacrifice—they also specialize in being able to endure their sacrifices. That lends itself to being able to endure a whole lot else, besides.
You use steely resolve and Stone Power to survive your use of Lady’s Gambit and use Lady’s Gambit and furious counterstrike to overcome the attack penalties you take using Stone Power. While the numbers appear absolutely in your favor on paper, keep in mind that your foes will try to push you off-balance.
Iron maiden techniques are not secret, but they are obscure. The first iron maidens were academics, oddly enough, inspired by a paper to begin training as crusaders and then iron maidens. Since then, a few have founded dojos and the like, so the information is out there. But the path is new and as yet little known.
All iron maidens are crusaders, but many are rather unusual as far as crusaders go: rather than being dedicated to a cause or deity, they are simply inspired by the way of the iron maidens, itself, and train as crusaders in order to become one. Some, of course, are more traditional crusaders. Either way, most likely, you’ll be a single-classed crusader before you start training as an iron maiden, and most likely you’ll go right back to that class after. But you should consider at least a level or two of barbarian, since rage will make you that much tougher in combat. Another option might be binder—Ronove is a vestige after all—in which case you will probably want to pursue the knight of the sacred seal prestige class as well.³ If you’d rather emulate Ronove than make a pact with her, the fist of the forest prestige class offers monk-like abilities that allow you to forsake the trappings of the civilized world to become even tougher.⁴
Iron maiden abilities are all about using your hit points as a resource, balancing risk and reward. Feats that allow you to punish those who try to throw off your balance, such as Karmic Strike⁵ or Robilar’s Gambit,⁶ are strong choices. On the other hand, the best defense may well be a strong offense—consider Power Attack and similar feats that allow you to kill foes before they can turn your sacrifices against you. If you choose to multiclass with barbarian, Extra Rage and Instantaneous Rage are excellent feats for you.⁵ Fist of the forest and knight of the sacred seal also have their own requirements to keep in mind if you have an interest in those classes.
- Tome of Magic, pg. 9, 54
- Complete Champion, pg. 80
- Complete Warrior, pg. 98, 102
- Player’s Handbook II, pg. 82
You might belong to an iron maiden dojo, but these are often small affairs, with limited resources. Lodging is about the most you can usually hope for from these. With the emphasis that iron maidens place on endurance, most tend towards the self-sufficient and aloof.
Iron Maidens in the world
“Someone trying to figure out something old made so many mistakes that by sheer dumb luck they invented something new. It’s not hard to see why some might call that providence.”
—Tamsin Cutterbuck, Theurgian archaeologist
Nothing about being an iron maiden has much influence on what an iron maiden does with their skills. For some, it’s a largely-theoretical practice and exercise regimen that just happens to be extremely demanding. For others, it’s just an approach to combat that works. And for a few, it is a reflection of their history or philosophy: that power comes at a cost, and the higher the prices you can pay, the more power you can have.
So an iron maiden might be anywhere, doing anything. For an amusing, unusual encounter, consider an iron maiden scholar, studying the techniques to put theory to the test more than for any real ends. For a more serious, even tragic, encounter, an iron maiden may have pursued the route out of a belief that sacrifices must be made—and a dedication to making all such necessary sacrifices themselves, to spare others that suffering.
Iron maiden dojos are fairly casual, with those interested coming and going at will. Iron maidens often leave to train by themselves and return months later much improved—or just as they were. No one’s progress or lack thereof is considered to be anyone else’s concern. The ethos among iron maidens tends to be that it is a path for those who are invigorated by its challenges, and that demands a price for every step that each practitioner has to decide to pay themselves.
Some iron maidens can also be found among the knightly orders of certain deities, particularly those of sacrifice like Dol Arrah or Ilmater. While being an iron maiden does not make any requirements of one’s faith, it certainly is very compatible with such deities, and iron maidens fit in very well among their crusaders and paladins.
Iron maidens are little-known, and little-considered by most. Those who get to know how their arts function might find it somewhat dark or off-putting, but ultimately the Lady’s Gambit is a subtle thing that’s unlikely to offend anyone. Most simply appreciate the lengths to which an iron maiden goes to be the greatest ally or foe they can be.
Generally speaking, iron maidens have none of the problems with established religions that binders do. The few inquisitors who know of the connection tend to be those who know all the details, and therefore also know the iron maidens have no contact with Ronove as a vestige. The overwhelming majority, of course, know nothing about binding, Ronove, or the origins of the martial discipline, and just regard iron maidens as an unusual form of crusader.
The Theurgian Society is unusually aware of iron maidens, considering it was a Theurgian Society journal in which the discipline was first hypothesized. Since it has become clear that the discipline bears little actual resemblance to anything of Ronove’s, however, they have little continued interest in the iron maidens.
Iron Maiden Lore
Characters with ranks in Martial Lore can research iron maidens to learn more about them. When a character makes a skill check, read or paraphrase the following, including the information from lower DCs.
DC 10: These crusaders can take an incredible amount of punishment.
DC 15: Iron maidens actually get more dangerous the closer they are to death.
DC 20: Iron maidens are masters of their own lifeforce, which they can and will put into their attacks. They can push themselves to the edge of death and then live there.
DC 30: Characters who achieve this level of success can learn important details about a specific notable iron maiden, the areas where she operates, and the kinds of activities she undertakes.
A character with the Gather Information skill can attempt a DC 25 check to locate an iron maiden, provided one is in the region.
A character aware of the vestige Ronove⁷ can learn of the historical connection between iron maidens and the Iron Maiden with a Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (history), Knowledge (religion), Martial Lore, or bardic knowledge check against DC 30.
- Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (religion), or bardic knowledge, DC 28; Tome of Magic, pg. 15
Iron Maidens in the game
Any game that includes binders and crusaders can easily include iron maidens, since they’re specialty crusaders inspired by a vestige’s history. Even without binders in the game, it’s easy enough to include the historical Ronove without bringing in the vestige, and it won’t change things much for iron maidens.
And introducing an iron maiden character can be quite easy, simply because they really can be just about anyone. They might be a traditional sort of crusader on a grand quest, but often their crusade is more personal, about their quest to push themselves harder. Perhaps the most natural role for an iron maiden, then, is as an itinerant swordswoman (or what have you), someone who travels in the search of foes, glory, and adventure. In short, though an iron maiden is a crusader, they may play a role in the story more like that of a warblade.
The player of an iron maiden is probably looking to push the envelope, at least in combat, by sacrificing their hit points and relying on steely resolve and Stone Power, and possibly Devoted Spirit maneuvers, to stay alive doing it. The character could be reckless and daring, or dour and brooding, and both would be quite fitting to what an iron maiden is. Either way, challenges that will push the character to the edge—and reward them for going there—are likely to appeal.
As mentioned, iron maidens can easily be disconnected from binding, since Ronove’s influence over the class is minimal and historical—most iron maidens don’t even know that history. You could go a step further and make the iron maidens the special crusaders of a particular deity or faith—Dol Arrah is a good choice in Eberron, and Ilmater is a good choice in the Forgotten Realms. Evil deities can also get in on iron maidens, though: the Mockery might thrill at profaning the notion of sacrifice, and Hextor has always appreciated that power comes at a cost.
Iron maidens love a challenge, and often wander in search of more. Good iron maidens are more than willing to sacrifice for the sake of others, while evil iron maidens will pay any price for power.
EL 10: The iron maiden Rook has some extremely strong ideas on what it means to be good. She has even forsaken her deity, who she felt was insufficiently willing to make personal sacrifices for the greater good.
Rook, siege engine and deserter; CR 10
Female (“as a ship”) warforged crusader 6/iron maiden 4
CG Medium construct (living construct)
Init +0; Senses Listen −1, Spot −1
Languages Common, Abyssal, Draconic, Infernal, Terran, Undercommon
AC 21, touch 10, flat-footed 21 (+8 armor, +3 shield)
hp 94 (10 HD)
Fort +12, Ref +3, Will +8; zealous surge
Speed 20 ft. (4 squares), base speed 30 ft.
Melee +1 vicious greataxe +14 (1d12+4+2d6; 1d6 self-damage per attack)
Base Atk +10; Grp +13
Atk Options furious counterstrike, Lady’s Gambit, smite 1/day, steely resolve 30, Stone Power
Maneuvers and Stances Known (IL 10th):
Stances—iron guard’s glare (1st), martial spirit (1st)
Strikes—crusader’s strike (1st), divine surge† (4th), douse the flames (1st), elder mountain hammer† (5th), foehammer (2nd), mountain hammer† (2nd), revitalizing strike† (3rd), white raven tactics† (3rd)
Disciplines: Devoted Spirit, Stone Dragon, White Raven
† Readied maneuver
Abilities Str 16, Dex 10, Con 16, Int 12, Wis 8, Cha 12
SQ living construct traits, DR 2/adamantine, immunity to critical hits and sneak attacks
Feats Adamantine Body, Stone Power, Lady’s Gambit, Improved Fortification
Skills Diplomacy +14, Intimidate +14, Knowledge (history) +9, Knowledge (religion) +14, Knowledge (the planes) +9
Possessions +1 vicious greataxe, +1 animated heavy shield
(I will note that “Not while I draw breath” is Extraordinary as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek homage to the Extraordinary healing and teleportation found in Tome of Battle; that particular point I’m not terribly interested in feedback on.)
With thanks to a fellow player, whose character Rook inspired this class, and provided the class quote as well as some of the basis for the example character. (The actual Rook does not have levels in this prestige class—yet?)