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This is a defensively-minded Tome of Battle martial adept. As with most of my work, I strive to make it stand-alone: ideally, this class should just work, as-is, without any meta commentary, and fit into the game as if it were just another entry in Chapter 1 of Tome of Battle. I will say, in this case, that I am somewhat concerned that the class is overtuned: the Tome of Battle martial adept base classes are notably light on non-maneuver class features, while this has considerably more. To balance that, this gets fewer maneuvers (progression equivalent to the warblade’s − 1 maneuver known/readied) and the class features themselves are not terribly strong (e.g. quite a few bonus feats, but mostly restricted to fairly unpopular/weak feats). But I’m not sure that I have gotten the balance right.

Unlike most of my work, I have adjusted a few feats (most notably Combat Expertise) to work with this class; adjusted and new feats are found at the end of the write-up.

For those who prefer it, Google Docs version of the class (permalink to the version below). Note that the Google Doc has a bunch of lore and fluff following the class that I have not included in this question (and which reviewers are likewise welcome to ignore, though of course I would be open to any comments on it if you have any). There’s also some references and racial substitution levels for warforged cataphracts.

Cataphract

“Once the enemy comes, how safe we’ll be is determined by these walls and the people in them. I am stone; I am the wall that will not fall. I am as serene as a lake on a calm day; I am the woman that will not falter.”
—Lady Keladry of Mindelan, knight and cataphract

The cataphract is a warrior whose armor is a second skin, whose shield is a fortress. Alone, a cataphract can wade through legions of foes. A formation of cataphracts can hold back the tide. More than a few cataphracts are found among the very most elite vanguards of kingdoms and mercenary companies. Others are trained as guardians and bodyguards, expected to single-handedly ward off all dangers from their vulnerable charge. And for others, the way of the cataphract is simply an effective strategy for staying alive as an itinerant adventurer.

Making a Cataphract

The cataphract is a bastion of strength and stability on a chaotic battlefield. She can protect others or herself from any onslaught, and mete out retribution in return.

Abilities: The classic cataphract focuses on Strength and Constitution first and foremost, but Dexterity is often important and some cataphracts even favor it over Strength. The cataphract class itself does not put a premium on any particular mental abilities, but of the three, Wisdom tends to be more relevant to the roles that cataphracts often play as guard and protector, making them more aware of threats that may be coming.

Races: Any race that has any military inclinations at all can find a place for cataphracts, and most have. Cataphracts are often inclined towards heavy armor and shields, and so races that favor lighter equipment such as elves may be found somewhat less often training cataphracts, but lightly-armored cataphracts and heavily-armored elves both exist.

Favored Class: The favored class of crucians, dwarves, tortles, and warforged is cataphract or the race’s usual favored class, whichever has more levels.

Alignment: A cataphract can be any alignment, but many are trained as knights, protectors, and bodyguards, pursuits that tend to be favored by those of Lawful disposition. Still, the Chaotic warrior that wants to wade into the ranks of the enemy alone is well served by the cataphract’s incredible durability.

Starting Gold: 6d4×10 gp (150 gp).

Starting Age: As fighter.

Class Features

Your bonus feats maximize your equipment’s ability to keep you and yours safe, while your martial maneuvers allow you to control the battlefield or deliver retribution.

Table 1–1: The Cataphract (Hit Die: d12)
Level BAB Fort Ref Will Special M. Kn. M. Rd. Stances
1st +1 +2 +0 +0 Armor endurance, defensive aptitude 2 2 1
2nd +2 +3 +0 +0 Bonus feat, Imp. Buckler Defense,
Imp. Shield Bash
3 2 1
3rd +3 +3 +1 +1 Armored movement,
Combat Expertise,
shield knight +1
4 2 1
4th +4 +4 +1 +1 Armor mastery +1 4 3 1
5th +5 +4 +1 +1 Bonus feat 5 3 2
6th +6/+1 +5 +2 +2 DR 1/– 5 3 2
7th +7/+2 +5 +2 +2 Strike of opportunity (1/day) 6 3 2
8th +8/+3 +6 +2 +2 Armor mastery +2, bonus feat, DR 2/– 6 3 2
9th +9/+4 +6 +3 +3 Shield knight +2 7 4 3
10th +10/+5 +7 +3 +3 DR 3/– 7 4 3
11th +11/+6/+1 +7 +3 +3 Bonus feat 8 4 3
12th +12/+7/+2 +8 +4 +4 Armor mastery +3, DR 4/– 8 4 3
13th +13/+8/+3 +8 +4 +4 Strike of opportunity (1/encounter) 9 4 3
14th +14/+9/+4 +9 +4 +4 Bonus feat, DR 5/– 9 5 3
15th +15/+10/+5 +9 +5 +5 Shield knight +3 10 5 4
16th +16/+11/+6/+1 +10 +5 +5 Armor mastery +4, DR 6/– 10 5 4
17th +17/+12/+7/+2 +10 +5 +5 Bonus feat 11 5 4
18th +18/+13/+8/+3 +11 +6 +6 DR 7/– 11 6 4
19th +19/+14/+9/+4 +11 +6 +6 12 6 4
20th +20/+15/+10/+5 +12 +6 +6 Armor mastery +5, bonus feat, DR 10/–, strike of opportunity (1/round) 12 6 4

Class Skills (4 + Int modifier per level, ×4 at 1st level): Balance, Concentration, Craft, Escape Artist, Intimidate, Knowledge (geography), Knowledge (history), Knowledge (local), Knowledge (nobility and royalty), Listen, Martial Lore, Profession, Ride, Search, Sense Motive, Spot, Survival, Use Rope.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: As a cataphract, you are proficient in all armor and shields, including exotic armor and shields as well as tower shields. You also have weapon proficiency with simple weapons, armor spikes or any other similar options that turn armor into a weapon, all weapons that grant a shield bonus to AC (e.g. gnome tortoise blade), and all shields (e.g. bashing with a spiked shield or disarming with a gnome battle cloak, or using the Shield Snare feat with any shield).

Maneuvers: You begin your career knowing two cataphract maneuvers. The disciplines available to you are Diamond Mind, Setting Sun, and Stone Dragon. A limited subset of Devoted Spirit maneuvers are also available to you: your cataphract levels can teach you only Devoted Spirit maneuvers without any reference to alignment at all. For example, you can take vanguard strike but not crusader’s strike. (This limitation does not apply to Devoted Spirit maneuvers you might learn by multiclassing or taking the Martial Study feat, even if the maneuver learned is added to your cataphract maneuvers known.)

Once you know a maneuver, you must ready it before you can use it (see Maneuvers Readied, below). A maneuver is considered an extraordinary ability unless otherwise noted in its description. Your maneuvers are not affected by spell resistance, and you do not provoke attacks of opportunity when you initiate one.

You learn additional maneuvers at higher levels, as shown on Table 1–1. You must meet a maneuver’s prerequisite to learn it. See Tome of Battle pg. 39, Table 3–1, to determine the highest-level maneuvers you can learn.

Upon reaching 4th level, and at every even-numbered cataphract level after that (6th, 8th, 10th, 12th, and so on), you can choose to learn a new maneuver in place of one 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 a maneuver of the same level. For example, upon reaching 10th level, you could trade in a single 1st-, 2nd-, 3rd-, or 4th-level maneuver for a maneuver of 5th level or lower, as long as you meet the prerequisite of the new maneuver. You can swap only a single maneuver at any given level.

Maneuvers Readied: At 1st level, you can ready both of your maneuvers, but as you advance in level and learn more maneuvers, you must choose which maneuvers to ready. You ready your maneuvers by exercising and practicing for 5 minutes. The maneuvers you choose remain readied until you decide to exercise again and change them. You need not sleep or rest for any long period of time to ready your maneuvers; any time you spend 5 minutes in practice, you can change your readied maneuvers.

You begin an encounter with all your readied maneuvers unexpended, regardless of how many times you might have already used them since you chose them. When you initiate a maneuver, you expend it for the current encounter, so each of your readied maneuvers can be used once per encounter (until you recover them, as described below).

You can recover all maneuvers by fighting defensively or using total defense, or recover one maneuver of your choice by using Combat Expertise. In the case of Combat Expertise, the level of the recovered maneuver cannot exceed the bonus to Armor Class you got from the feat. In each case, you recover the maneuvers at the end of your turn, and do not recover any maneuvers expended during that turn.

Stances Known: Upon taking your 1st level of cataphract, and again at 5th, 9th, and 15th level, you gain the knowledge of one stance from any discipline open to cataphracts. This includes Devoted Spirit, subject to the same limitations as its maneuvers (so you cannot take aura of chaos even if you are chaotic). All the stances you know are available to you at all times, and you can change the stance you currently use as a swift action. A stance is an extraordinary ability unless otherwise stated in the stance description.

Unlike with maneuvers, you cannot learn a new stance at higher levels in place of one you already know.

Armor Endurance (Ex): You gain Endurance as a bonus feat, and can sleep in any armor, even heavy armor, without becoming fatigued.

Defensive Aptitude (Ex): Your feats are never limited to specific chosen types or categories of armor or shield. Every feat you have that requires such a choice functions for all options you could have chosen.

You may count as having Int 13 for the purposes of the Combat Expertise feat and any other feat that has Combat Expertise as a prerequisite.

Bonus Feat: At 2nd level, and every three levels thereafter (at 5th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 20th level), you choose a bonus feat from the cataphract bonus feat list. Each time, you must meet the prerequisites for the feat you select.

Active Shield Defense, Agile Shield Fighter,† Allied Defense, Armor Dance, Armor Specialization, Block Arrow, Cobalt Expertise, Combat Expertise,† Combat Reflexes, Deflective Armor, Evasive Reflexes, Expert Defenses,‡ Focused Shield, Formation Expert, Greater Heavy Armor Optimization, Greater Resiliency, Heavy Armor Optimization, Improved Armor Dance, Improved Combat Expertise, Improved Shield Snare, Improved Shieldmate, Instant Shield Snare,‡ Mounted Combat, Mounted Expertise,‡ Mounted Mobility,† Parrying Shield, Phalanx Fighting, Shield and Pike Style, Shield Snap,‡ Shield Snare, Shield Specialization,† Shield Wall, Shield Ward, Shielded Casting, Shielded Manifesting, Shieldmate, Steady Concentration.
†: Feat updated from original source.
‡: New feat.

Improved Buckler Defense: You gain Improved Buckler Defense as a bonus feat at 2nd level. If you already have this feat, you instead select another cataphract bonus feat.

Improved Shield Bash: You gain Improved Shield Bash as a bonus feat at 2nd level. If you already have this feat, you instead select another cataphract bonus feat.

Armored Movement (Ex): Starting at 3rd level, armor does not reduce your movement speed unless it would reduce a dwarf’s movement speed. If you have the ability to ignore armor movement speed reduction from multiple sources (e.g. you also have it because you are a dwarf), then you can ignore the movement speed penalty of even those armors, and can also ignore any other limitations an armor places on your movement (e.g. mountain plate’s prohibition on running).

Combat Expertise: You gain Combat Expertise as a bonus feat at 3rd level. If you already have this feat, you instead gain another cataphract bonus feat.

Shield Knight (Ex): At 3rd level, any attack penalty imposed by your shield is reduced by 1 (to a minimum of 0). If you attack with your shield (shield bash, disarm attempt, etc.), you also gain a +1 bonus on that attack. At 9th level and again at 15th level, these bonuses both increase by +1.

Armor Mastery (Ex): Starting at 4th level, each armor and shield you use has its armor check penalty reduced by 1, and its maximum Dexterity bonus increased by 1, for every 4 levels you have (+1 at 4th level, +2 at 8th level, and so on). If the armor check penalty of any given armor or shield is less than this number, you gain the remainder as a mastery bonus on each skill that is subject to an armor check penalty. These mastery bonuses do not stack, however, so for example if you use a mithral full plate (normal armor check penalty −3) and a masterwork heavy steel shield (normal armor check penalty −1), then at 4th level these would have an armor check penalty of −2 and −0, respectively, and provide no bonus. At 8th level, the full plate would be at −1, while the shield would provide a +1 mastery bonus. At 20th level, the armor and shield would both be at −0, with a +2 mastery bonus from the armor and a +4 mastery bonus from the shield. These don’t stack, so you would enjoy a +4 mastery bonus overall.

Damage Reduction (Ex): At 6th level, you gain DR 1/– so long as you are wearing any armor. Every two levels thereafter, this damage reduction increases by 1, to a maximum of DR 7/– at 18th level, and then at 20th level it becomes DR 10/–. Unlike most damage reduction, this damage reduction stacks with any from armor or from any feat on the cataphract bonus feat list (whether taken as a bonus feat or not).

Strike of Opportunity (Ex): Starting at 7th level, once per day, when a foe provokes an attack of opportunity from you, you can initiate a strike maneuver to make that attack. The strike maneuver must have an initiating action of 1 standard action, and aside from ignoring that initiating action and initiating the strike as an attack of opportunity, you must follow all the usual rules for initiating that strike. You also must obey all the usual rules for an attack of opportunity, particularly with respect to targeting. If you initiate a maneuver that must target multiple targets, at least one of them must be the foe who provoked, but you may take the rest as normal. Only attacks against the provoking target count as attacks of opportunity for the purposes of any bonuses or other effects that may apply to your attacks of opportunity.

Starting at 13th level, you can use strike of opportunity once per encounter. Starting at 20th level, you can use it once per round. Even at 20th level, even if you have the ability to make multiple attacks of opportunity per round, you still can only use strike of opportunity once per round.

The full document has more lore and fluff here, an example starting cataphract PC as well as an example encounter with a cataphract, followed by a list of maneuvers available to the cataphract and then all of the feats. For the purposes of this question, however, I’m only going to include the descriptions of the new or (significantly) modified feats. (Reviewers are welcome to comment on things not quoted in the question if they wish, though.)

Feat Descriptions

Agile Shield Fighter [General]

You are skilled in combining your shield bash attack with an armed strike. When you use your shield in unison with a weapon, your training allows you to score telling blows with both.

Prerequisites: Proficiency with shields, Improved Shield Bash, Shield Specialization.

Benefit: When making a shield bash and armed strike attack as part of a full attack action, you take a −2 penalty on each attack. These penalties replace the normal ones you incur for fighting with two weapons.

Special: Agile Shield Fighter can be used in place of Two-Weapon Fighting to qualify for a feat, prestige class, or other special ability. If you do, you also ignore any Dexterity prerequisite that feat, class, or special ability has. However, if you do not meet the regular prerequisites, any benefits that rely on actually using two weapons only function for you if one of them is a shield capable of bashing. You can take both this feat and Two-Weapon Fighting.

A fighter or cataphract can select Agile Shield Fighter as one of his or her bonus feats.

Source: Player’s Handbook II, pg. 74. Note: Added the special ability to qualify as Two-Weapon Fighting.

Combat Expertise [General]

You are trained at using your combat skill for defense as well as offense.

Prerequisite: Int 13.

Benefit: On your turn, before making any attack rolls, you may choose to take a penalty of as much as −5 on all attack rolls. If you do and then attempt at least one attack in melee before the start of your next turn, you gain the same number as a dodge bonus to your Armor Class. This number may not exceed your base attack bonus. The changes to attack rolls and Armor Class last until your next turn.

Normal: A character without the Combat Expertise feat can fight defensively while using the attack or full attack action to take a −4 penalty on attack rolls and gain a +2 dodge bonus to Armor Class.

Special: A cataphract automatically gains Combat Expertise at 3rd level, without needing to select it. If she already has it—and she can select it as her cataphract bonus feat at 2nd level—she gains a different cataphract bonus feat at 3rd level, instead. Whether as a bonus feat or not, a cataphract counts as having Int 13 for the purposes of qualifying for Combat Expertise. See the cataphract’s defensive aptitude, bonus feat, and Combat Expertise features for details.

A fighter may select Combat Expertise as one of his fighter bonus feats.

Source: Player’s Handbook, pg. 92. Note: Changed wording from “When you use the attack action or the full attack action,” to wording based on the Power Attack feat, making Combat Expertise compatible with martial strikes and other forms of attacking without the attack action or the full attack action.

Expert Defenses [General]

Your defenses are more active than just hiding behind a shield, and rely on maneuvers to limit threats.

Prerequisites: One martial maneuver.

Benefit: When you get a bonus to Armor Class from fighting defensively or using Combat Expertise, you add the same number to the saving throw DCs of maneuvers you initiate, as well as to any opposed rolls you make to use a combat maneuver (such as bull rush, disarm, feint, grapple, overrun, or trip), whether made as part of a martial maneuver or not.

Special: A fighter or cataphract may select Expert Defenses as one of his or her bonus feats.

Source: New feat.

Improved Buckler Defense [General]

You can attack with an off-hand weapon while retaining a buckler’s shield bonus to your Armor Class.

Prerequisite: Proficiency with shields.

Benefit: When you use your shield arm to attack with a weapon, you may still apply your buckler’s shield bonus to your Armor Class.

Normal: Without this feat, a character with a buckler using their shield arm to attack with a weapon loses the buckler’s shield bonus to AC until their next turn.

Special: A cataphract automatically gains Improved Buckler Defense as a bonus feat at 2nd level. She need not select it.

A fighter may select Improved Buckler Defense as one of his fighter bonus feats.

Source: Complete Warrior, pg. 100. Note: “Shield Proficiency” prerequisite changed to “proficiency with shields” for consistency with other feats. Wording changed from assuming that the buckler and weapon were in the “off hand,” to better reflect the general rules that the feat modifies.

Instant Shield Snare [General]

You can shield snare without preparing to do so ahead of time.

Prerequisites: Proficiency with shields, Improved Shield Bash, Shield Snare.

Benefit: You can use Shield Snare as an immediate action, without needing to ready it during your turn.

Special: A fighter or cataphract may select Instant Shield Snare as one of his or her bonus feats.

Source: New feat.

Mounted Expertise [General]

You are good at protecting your mount.

Prerequisites: Combat Expertise, Mounted Combat, Ride 2 ranks.

Benefit: Whenever you use Combat Expertise to gain a bonus to Armor Class, your mount gains the same bonus.

Source: New feat, based on Allied Defense.

Mounted Mobility [General]

You are skilled at dodging past opponents while mounted.

Prerequisites: Mounted Combat, Ride 4 ranks.

Benefit: If you are mounted, you and your mount get a +4 dodge bonus to Armor Class against attacks of opportunity provoked when your mount moves out of a threatened square.

A condition that makes you or your mount lose your Dexterity bonus to Armor Class (if any) also makes you lose dodge bonuses. Dodge bonuses stack with each other, unlike most types of bonuses.

Special: Mounted Mobility can be used in place of Mobility to qualify for a feat, prestige class, or other special ability. You can take both this feat and Mobility.

A fighter or cataphract may select Mounted Mobility as one of his or her bonus feats.

Source: Heroes of Battle, pg. 98. Note: Added special rule allowing Mounted Mobility to count as Mobility.

Shield Snap [General]

Your shield bash is so automatic that you can bash alongside individual attacks.

Prerequisites: Proficiency with shields, Improved Shield Bash, Shield Specialization, Two-Weapon Fighting, base attack bonus +6.

Benefit: When you wield a shield that can be used to bash, and make one or more melee attacks with other weapons (including a standard attack, full attack, or even a strike maneuver), you can make an additional shield bash at your highest attack bonus. This bash’s damage is determined as normal for the shield, except that you add no more than ½ your Strength bonus to the damage. You take a −2 penalty on all attack rolls you make this round.

Special: A cataphract may select Shield Snap as one of her cataphract bonus feats.

Source: New feat, patterned after the Snap Kick feat from Tome of Battle, pg. 32.

Shield Specialization [General]

You are skilled in using a shield, allowing you to gain greater defensive benefits from it.

Prerequisite: Proficiency with shields.

Benefit: Choose one of the following categories of shield. When using a shield you are proficient with from the chosen category, you increase its shield bonus to AC by 1.

Buckler: buckler, diamond shield.

Cloak: dueling cloak, gnome battle cloak.

Light: grasping shield, light shield, stiletto shield, tessen.

Heavy: heavy shield.

Tower: extreme shield, hide shield, kappa shell, tower shield.

Special: You can take this feat more than once. Each time you select it, choose a different shield category.

A fighter or cataphract may select Shield Specialization as one of his or her bonus feats.

Source: Player’s Handbook II, pg. 82. Note: Added numerous options from additional sources, including tower shields which were not originally offered. Covers all shields known to the author. Many shields define themselves to be a special version of an existing shield, and count as that shield for the purposes of this feat. For example, both the rider’s shield and the shield gauntlet are heavy shields (“This high-quality exotic heavy wooden shield,” “this exotic shield is a heavy steel shield,” respectively; Races of Stone, pg. 158) and are thus included in the heavy category.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ DR 10/-, which can stack with anything... I can hear both Barbarian and Dwarven Defender crying loudly. \$\endgroup\$ May 20, 2023 at 22:14
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @TerryWindwalker Not with “anything,” only with armor. But anyway, no one should take enough barbarian levels to get that DR (and if they did, they should trade it for the bonus to all saving throws that you can get instead, per some issue of Dragon). And no one should be taking any levels of dwarven defender at all. Anyone who does make the mistake of getting those sources of DR is going to be crying for wholly unrelated reasons. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    May 21, 2023 at 1:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I expected there to be more mounted combat features, with a class called Cataphract. \$\endgroup\$
    – DvdZee
    Jan 30 at 11:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DvdZee Yeah, I know. They get Ride, and have Mounted Combat and a new Mounted Expertise feat on their bonus feat list, but that’s it. I know the historical use of the word, but I actually got the name from the Ogre Battle 64 class. Still, this implementation isn’t bad at mounted combat; Mounted Combat as a bonus feat is the only feature particularly relating to it that the official knight gets, after all. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jan 30 at 14:12

1 Answer 1

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You're taking on a tough challenge trying to slot a new class into the Tome of Battle ecosystem. The classes there are already good at covering a lot of bases, so let's see what this class has going on.

Chassis

Seems mostly typical, what with a d12 HD, a high BAB, and 4 skill points per level. The skill list is unusually solid for a meat shield (but missing Climb and Jump which I assume is an editing error given their prevalence on martial types), though that's not a bad thing and calls to mind the Knight class. Unlike the Knight, though, this class has a low Will save. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but I question why given the massive focus on tanking and the very Knight-like fluff. Later levels are where more physical defenses infamously fall off. A high Will save would be easy to strap on to this class and would help offset that.

Maneuvers

Everything checks out here. Very few maneuvers, but with a decent set of disciplines to pick from. I think it's strange that you mention poor maneuvers as a downside, then, given that this class also has an absolutely bonkers refresh mechanic. It's all the strengths of Crusader and Warblade combined, and somehow still better than both.

By using a touch of Combat Expertise, the Cataphract can use a maneuver every single turn without ever running out like a Crusader. Unlike a Crusader, the Cataphract can freely pick the order of these maneuvers. Alternatively, by fighting defensively, the Cataphract can refresh all maneuvers while still attacking in a manner similar to a Warblade. Unlike a Warblade, this still leaves the swift action open for stance changing. The Cataphract could even refresh all maneuvers on a charge, using the attack bonus from charging to help offset the penalty from fighting defensively.

...And I have no problem with any of that. Most of those maneuvers being refreshed are going to be counters given the discipline list, and perpetually having a half-dozen counters ready to go is an interesting thing to incentivize. However, you're really playing with fire here, so the rest of the class may be tricky to get just right.

Bonus Feats

Holy guacamole this class gets an insane number of feats. A feat at 1st level, three feats at 2nd level, a feat at 3rd level, and a regular progression of feats thereafter. This class is already going to be very strong at early levels by virtue of being a martial adept - it doesn't need to have its entire core set of feats completely online by 3rd level. This thing incedentally has close to Barbarian levels of dippability, which is unhealthy in my opinion.

While the bonus feat list may not have any broken feats, there are a lot of strong ones in there. Shield Snap, Expert Defenses, Agile Shield Fighter, Combat Reflexes, and Shield Ward are the ones that stand out to me. Even the feats that are just given to the Cataphract outside of the list are extremely useful for meeting prerequisites, Endurance and Improved Shield Bash in particular.

A good comparison in regards to feats may be Psychic Warrior. PsyWar is usually considered weaker than the Tome of Battle classes, but still within the same ballpark. Not only does the Cataphract have a higher BAB and HD than the PsyWar, a trait shared by Crusaders and Warblades, the class also gets more bonus feats. The feats are from a more restrictive list, sure, but the list is still pretty good and there are a ton of strong features besides. In short, while I would gladly trade a Warblade's or Crusader's class features for a PsyWar's bonus feats, I would never take such a trade with the Cataphract.

Armored Movement

Good stuff. Ties in nicely with the theme of making heavy armor more managable.

Shield Knight

Good feature. I don't think it makes tower shields or bucklers any more interesting, which is my main criticism of them, but it does make them a lot more usable.

Armor Mastery

I like the ACP reduction, but I don't think the implementation of the bonus makes much sense. It encourages the strange interaction of putting on a buckler in order to increase your ability to do athletics, rather than just dropping your shield.

I think this would be best if the added bonus was just flat out removed, because it's not like the class really needs it anyway. Alternatively, you could merge Shield Knight into this, where any shield whose ACP has been reduced to 0 either has its penalty to attacks gradually removed or gains a bonus on shield bash attacks.

Damage Reduction

Damage reduction is fun. I like how this one stacks with armor. Very much ties into the identity of the class. It's a bit strange how it just randomly jumps at 20th level, though, especially given the dead level at 19th. Maybe smooth it out a bit there? Not really a problem, though.

Strike of Opportunity

I love this ability. Very flavorful, very useful, and helps to expand the identity of an otherwise fairly shoehorned class. Not much to say, really - it's just good.

Overall

The balance on this class is genrally good, though it may be overtuned at early levels. I would advise moving some of the class features up to higher levels and remove the bonus feat at 2nd level. Maybe consider nerfing or removing a few peripheral features to make room for a higher Will save, too.

I think this class also does a decent job of carving its own niche, though I think it could potentially be a bit better in that regard. Right now it's pretty much "Combat Expertise: The Martial Adept," which is a bit of an uphill battle from the beginning because of how uninteresting Combat Expertise is.

I would love to see this class gain more unique ways of increasing its defenses. Maybe an exclusive feat that lets Combat Expertise grant Spell Resistance, or maybe some mechanic that lets you burn maneuvers or stances to ignore fatal damage. While this class can do some really cool things with its refresh mechanic and Strike of Opportunity, there's also a lot of the class dedicated to just letting you ignore the fact that you're wearing armor, which is a pure numbers buff that doesn't open up new strategies. It kinda makes me sad that the first build I envisioned with this class was just a garden-variety charger with some extra survivability.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you so much! “By using a touch of Combat Expertise, the Cataphract can use a maneuver every single turn without ever running out like a Crusader.” That’s actually not true, though the fact that you missed the qualifier is notable. But “In each case, you recover the maneuvers at the end of your turn, and do not recover any maneuvers expended during that turn,” blocks spamming the same maneuver over and over. Still strong, of course. I don’t have time to read the whole review so I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts but I wanted to point that out quick now. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jan 27 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I hear you about the bonus feats, but... the impetus for creating this class was to produce something that would actually take these kinds of weak-to-okay feats (Combat Reflexes and Shield Snap are actually strong but the others you list are hardly all-stars, though I agree they’re above much of the rest). Imp. Buckler Defense and Imp. Shield Bash are effectively the same feat, just one for bucklers and the other for non-bucklers, so giving both doesn’t feel like “much” to me. And Endurance is just a garbage feat. Adding a bonus feat from the list too might be pushed, but the list is eh. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jan 27 at 20:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Which is to say I’m not totally convinced on it but I’ll have to dig back into this project and refresh myself with what options it brings to really consider it properly. Anyway, circling back around to Combat Expertise, your answer doesn’t touch on the level of the recovered maneuver being limited by the AC bonus you get—that requires more than a “touch” as you get to mid levels, and after 11th you need some kind of improvement to Combat Expertise to keep up at all—that may not be enough balance but it would be helpful to me to address it whether or not it is specifically. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jan 27 at 20:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Apologies for the vague wording about the refresh mechanic - I wasn't referring to spamming one maneuver over and over again, but rather to using one maneuver per turn every turn, which only the Crusader can currently do, and this class has greater control over the maneuvers used than a Crusader. I will also concede to being a bit too harsh on balance concerns on the bonus feats. However, I will maintain that trying to fix taxing or uninteresting feat chains by giving them out for free is a somewhat inelegant solution. It works, but it would be nice to see better synergies instead. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27 at 20:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your third comment just came in, I'll respond to it here. I did see the restriction on maneuver level and mostly forgot about it while typing - whoops. I'll still hold that it's very powerful, though, especially since most of the good counters (the bulk of what the class will use) are fairly low-level. In my experience overall I find that I don't often pull out high-level maneuvers that often. Just being able to take a -3 penalty to hit in exchange for a gurnateed Diamond Mind save-replacer each turn (and an AC bonus) is extremely good. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27 at 20:46

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