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My homebrew cataphract base class is a martial adept with access to the Diamond Mind, Setting Sun, and Stone Dragon disciplines, as well as a subset of the Devoted Spirit discipline (specifically, one can’t learn Devoted Spirit maneuvers that reference alignment from cataphract levels). Some of the feedback I’ve gotten suggests that the class lacks unique things to do, and could use more. My thought for how best to approach that was to add new Devoted Spirit maneuvers that the cataphract can take, and the Tome of Battle crusader can’t, as a kind of “replacement” for the alignment-based maneuvers a crusader can take but a cataphract can’t.

The aim here is that these things complement things the cataphract wants to do, are reasonably balanced against the crusader maneuvers they replace and the level they become available at, and offer a little bit more uniqueness to cataphracts. The cataphract has somewhat “limited” maneuvers in that they learn and ready relatively few (though they have relatively advantageous recovery, and access to four disciplines is middle-of-the-road between crusader and warblade). So thoughts on whether expanding them from 3½ disciplines to 4 disciplines is problematic are also appreciated, though of secondary importance.

(Both “crusader-only” and “cataphract-only” maneuvers are available from eternal blade, Jade Phoenix mage, or ruby knight vindicator levels, in case that influences things. Any other homebrew classes with access to Devoted Spirit would be up to the DM to implement.)

As a comparison:

Crusader-only Cataphract-only
1st-level
  • Crusader’s strike: Strike—Successful attack allows you to heal 1d6 + 1/initiator level.
  • Bodyguard: Counter—Take an attack for an ally, swapping with them, but it automatically hits.
3rd-level
  • Revitalizing strike: Strike−Successful attack allows you to heal 3d6 + 1/initiator level.
  • Intercession: Counter—Take an attack for an ally, swapping with them, but you are flat-footed.
5th-level
  • Doom charge: Strike—Charge attack deals extra damage against good, you gain DR 10/—.
  • Law bearer: Strike—Deal +4d6 damage, +8 attack against chaotic enemy, gain +5 on saves and AC.
  • Radiant charge: Strike—Deal +6d6 damage against evil foes, gain DR 10/—.
  • Tide of chaos: Strike—Charge attack deals extra damage against law, grants you concealment.
  • Interdiction: Counter—Take an attack for an ally, swapping with them.
6th-level
  • Aura of chaos: Stance—Reroll and add maximum damage dice.
  • Aura of perfect order: Stance—Treat d20 result as 11.
  • Aura of triumph: Stance—You and allies heal 4 points with each attack against evil.
  • Aura of tyranny: Stance—Drain hit points from allies.
  • Rallying strike: Strike—Successful attack allows you to heal 3d6 + 1/initiator level in 30-ft. burst.
  • Guardian sanctuary: Stance−An ally assumes one of your stances, and you can protect them from farther away.
  • Shining parry: Counter—Reflect spells back upon their caster.
7th-level
  • Castigating strike: Strike−Deal +8d6 damage and trigger area blast.
  • Intervention: Counter—Take an attack for an ally, swapping places with them, and the attacker cannot attack anyone but you for 1 round.
9th-level
  • Strike of righteous vitality: Strike−Successful attack grants heal spell.
  • Judgment: Strike—Successful attack causes everything the target does to fail for 1 round.

The four 5th-level crusader strikes, as well as the four 6th-level crusader stances, are each restricted by the crusader’s alignment, so any given crusader is only eligible to learn at most two of them. This is why only one “replacement” is offered on the cataphract side at these levels.

New Devoted Spirit Maneuvers

The following new maneuvers are each a part of the Devoted Spirit discipline. These maneuvers cannot be learned from crusader levels.

Bodyguard

Devoted Spirit (Counter)
Level: Cataphract 1
Initiation Action: 1 immediate action
Range: 5 feet
Target: One willing ally

As your foe bears down on your ally, you quickly interpose your body, deliberately putting yourself directly in the way of the attack.

As an immediate action as an ally within range is attacked, you swap places with that ally and the attack targets you, instead. Neither of you provokes attacks of opportunity with this movement. The attack automatically hits unless it would automatically miss. Handle critical hits normally: the attack only threatens one if it rolls the appropriate value on the die, and you use your usual AC against the roll to confirm it.

Guardian Sanctuary

Devoted Spirit (Stance)
Level: Cataphract 6
Prerequisite: Two Devoted Spirit maneuvers
Initiation Action: 1 swift action
Range: Personal
Target: You
Duration: Stance

You modify your stance, shifting your protection to an ally.

While you are in this stance, select a willing ally within 60 feet that you can see. That ally assumes one of the other stances you know, as if you had (for example, if you grant them crushing weight of the mountain, the constrict damage they deal while grappling is based on your Strength score rather than their own). Aside from that, assuming the stance you grant has the same effects as it would if they assumed it themselves. For example, it may end a stance they were previously in. If either your stance or the ally’s granted stance ends, so does the other. Both stances also end immediately if you and the ally ever become more than 60 feet apart.

In addition, while in this stance, you may treat the ally as being within range of any ability you use that has a range greater than personal.

Intercession

Devoted Spirit (Counter)
Level: Cataphract 3
Prerequisite: One Devoted Spirit maneuver
Initiation Action: 1 immediate action
Range: 10 feet
Target: One willing ally

With shocking agility, you dash to an ally and shove them behind you, even as you thrust your strongest armor into the way of an attack.

As an immediate action as an ally within range is attacked, you swap places with that ally and the attack targets you, instead. Neither of you provokes attacks of opportunity with this movement. You are flat-footed against the attack, but not against a roll to confirm a critical hit, if this attack threatens one.

Interdiction

Devoted Spirit (Counter)
Level: Cataphract 5
Prerequisite: One Devoted Spirit maneuver
Initiation Action: 1 immediate action
Range: 15 feet
Target: One willing ally

It scarcely seems possible, but you stand tall and ready to take your foe’s attack, intended for your ally who is now safely out of harm’s way.

As an immediate action as an ally within range is attacked, you swap places with that ally and the attack targets you, instead. Neither of you provokes attacks of opportunity with this movement. This maneuver does not put you at any particular disadvantage against that attack.

Intervention

Devoted Spirit (Counter)
Level: Cataphract 7
Prerequisite: Two Devoted Spirit maneuvers
Initiation Action: 1 immediate action
Range: 20 feet
Target: One willing ally

Witnesses will swear it was a miracle. Your foe, should they live, will swear they’d been doomed to some personal hell alone with you as their tormentor.

As an immediate action as an ally within range is attacked, you swap places with that ally and the attack targets you, instead. Neither of you provokes attacks of opportunity with this movement. This maneuver does not put you at any particular disadvantage against that attack. Furthermore, the attacker may not make attacks against any target but you for 1 round.

Judgment

Devoted Spirit (Strike)
Level: Cataphract 9
Prerequisite: Three Devoted Spirit maneuvers
Initiation Action: 1 standard action
Range: Melee attack
Target: One creature
Duration: 1 round

After a deceptively simple, almost banal attack, everything your target does will be found wanting.

As part of this maneuver, make a single melee attack. If this attack hits and deals damage, for the next round the target fails every roll it makes, targets of its abilities make every saving throw it forces, and every creature and object is immune to anything and everything the target does. This includes the target itself: even abilities it uses on itself fail. The creature can successfully do things it can do without rolling and which do not apply or remove any effect or condition on anything. It can also successfully end existing conditions via actions built into the condition itself (such as standing from prone or dousing a fire with water), so long as those can be done without succeeding on any roll. This maneuver itself does not give the target any special knowledge of this condition, and nothing about these failures distinguishes them from failure for other reasons. Of course, if the target identifies this maneuver as it’s initiated (a DC 19 Martial Lore check as normal), they will understand what’s been done to them.

Shining Parry

Devoted Spirit (Counter)
Level: Cataphract 6
Prerequisite: Two Devoted Spirit maneuvers
Initiation Action: 1 immediate action
Range: Personal
Target: You

With a single impossible, perfect flourish, you banish magic back upon its caster.

As an immediate action, you reflect a spell back upon its caster as if you were protected by a spell turning spell that had a number of remaining spell levels equal to half your initiator level, rounded up. This maneuver cannot create a resonating field, however: if the caster is also protected by spell turning, then they just turn it back upon you again as if you had cast it on them without your own spell turning effect.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The take-a-hit counters seem to be able to get past, say, a Wall of Force. Is this intended? Should there be a few sentences noting that the counter can't swap places if there's no short path, at least for the lower level ones, or is the idea of swapping through a plate glass window fine? \$\endgroup\$
    – Phoenices
    Feb 5 at 20:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I assume Judgement ignores taking 10 (not that it's usually available when you've been stabbed), but does it make a target fail a roll that could hypothetically be failed with a lower bonus, but couldn't be failed on a roll of 1? E.g. bard with Glibness trying to convince you that nobody's in a fight and your attack was accidental? \$\endgroup\$
    – Phoenices
    Feb 5 at 20:50
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Phoenices Wall of force blocks line-of-effect, so you wouldn’t be able to target an ally through one. You don’t generally get to bend targeting around corners; doesn’t need a special note here. As for judgment, no, you fail even if you could succeed on a 1, or even if you take 10 and avoid the roll—you fail the check no matter how good you are at it. It is 9th-level, after all; its competition is stuff like +100 damage, save-or-die, or your entire party charging the target at once. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 5 at 21:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ One more question: I don't remember exactly how Strikes work, could you use Judgement with a touch attack (if your touch attack dealt damage, which I'm sure can be done with some 1500gp magic item)? Its effect is so much more important than the actual damage that you'd want to sacrifice all potential damage to make it hit. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phoenices
    Feb 6 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Phoenices Usually the limitation is actions: if your touch attack takes a standard action, and the strike takes a standard action, you can’t simultaneously use two standard actions at once and combine them, even if you somehow have two standard actions. If you have a touch attack you can use without requiring a specific dedicated action (e.g. a held charge from a touch spell previously cast, perhaps a dread necromancer’s charnel touch), then yes, you can combine them. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 6 at 20:07

1 Answer 1

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I love some of these maneuvers, and I think as a whole they're pretty good. The Bodyguard line in particular is a delight, and I could see it being put right besides published material. There are a few odd synergies I see, however, as well as a few places where the wording of these abilities needs to be tightened up.

Tower shields

These new maneuvers are an absolutely colossal buff to tower shields. The wording of Bodyguard in particular would allow you to take cover behind your tower shield on your turn to negate attacks against anyone adjacent to you. When combined with the Cataphract's ability to offset the tower shield's prohibitively high ACP and attack penalty, you're going to be seeing a lot of Cataphracts with tower shields.

Honestly, congratulations. I love how this is implemented - it sticks with the theme of tower shields, it's not broken at all (you still need to blow your turn and turtle next to your allies in a game that rewards aggression), and I can only imagine how satisfying it would feel to pull off in a heated fight. Seeing tower shields as a potentially viable option makes my tank-loving soul cry tears of joy.

You can even use smaller shields to achieve a lesser version of this effect against ranged attacks thanks to Block Arrow, though any additional attacks the enemy makes could easily be directed against the ally again until you get access to Intervention.

Oh, and Shining Parry helps to shore up the Tower Shield's weakness to spells a bit. Kinda rough that it's stuck on a counter given how much a Cataphract really relies on that immediate action, but I don't think that's too much of a problem. Having some kind of spell turning effect on a stance would probably be way too strong, even if it only triggered during full defense or the like. Stance of Alacrity exists anyway.

Guardian Sanctuary

To be honest, the wording on this ability is a mess. I get what it's trying to say, but the grammar is really tough to get through. Not a core part of the balance, of course, but I figured I would mention it. While I'm nitpicking, I know what you mean by "greater than personal," but that's not really how ranges are denoted by the system. I would advise changing the wording to "other than personal." Maybe throw in a sentense to clarify that the ability has to be able to target other creatures, too. I'm sure there's a badly worded ability out there that this could break right open, so it's best to be safe.

I think it's nice that this allows you to extend the range of any auras you may have from dips in Marshal, Paladin, or Dragon Shaman. I'm sure there's a Charisma-based Jade Phoenix Mage or Ruby Knight Vindicator that would absolutely love this.

As for the main effect of sharing a stance, I think it's alright. None of the stances that could be shared seem like they would be problematic - honestly, most of the best general-purpose ones are in Shadow Hand, which the Cataphract would have to jump through some hoops to get. Most of the ones for the Cataphract in general are not that great for sharing, other than the ones that just generally increase defenses.

It's definitely a stance that depends heavily on what's in your party, but that's okay. I don't think a single-classed Cataphract in a party with a Rogue, a Wizard, and a Cleric would get the most out of it, but there's enough ways it can be used outside of that "typical" case that it's worth keeping around. A warrior-heavy party would be glad to have a floating stance, and a Cataphract with some class dips could find cool ways to use its other effects.

Judgement

This is a really strong ability. It is 9th level, of course, but still. This is a one-hit fight ender, which is a tough sell for an ability without a save.

I think part of the problem of this ability is the poor wording. I think the effect you're going for is just barely in line with the kinds of things the other classes can throw around, but the wording is almost as prone to abuse as Iron Heart Surge.

For instance, what is the target actually not allowed to do? No skill checks, of course, and no attacks, either. Can the target declare Total Defense? I guess not, as it's an ability that applies a bonus. Can the target percieve what's going on around him? Evidently no, because there's set DCs for even the most trivial Spot and Listen checks.

Your target, by RAW, becomes completely deaf and blind in a way that no form of resistance can ever overcome. Would this would apply a failure chance on any spells with verbal components? Speaking of, what happens to percentile rolls? Presumably they would "fail," but what about tables with many options? Is the most "failure-like" option picked? Can the target even cast spells on itself to begin with? Can it cast some narrow category of spells on allies? If one of these spells applies a condition on a successful save, does it fail outright or just not apply the condition?

Yet despite all of this, the one sure thing is that a Knight hit by this could still use Bulwark of Defense. Even though he can't meaningfully attack.

That's a long-winded way of saying that the wording of this ability breaks a lot of assumptions that go into the system's mechanics while still being too vague about what it does.

I would adivse changing it to instead read something to the effect of the following:

"The target cannot achieve any result higher than a 5 on a roll requiring a d20. This means the target cannot succeed on any action with a DC higher than 5, and cannot hit any target with an AC higher than 5. If the target uses any ability that has a listed saving throw, even if the effect is listed as harmelss, the ability resolves as if the saving throw were successful. Additionally, the target cannot apply or remove any conditions, deal or cure any damage or ability damage, or threaten any squares for the duration of this effect."

This removes any ambiguity about what kinds of trivial things can or cannot be done. Yes, you can walk up a gentle slope because the balance DC is less than 5. No, you can't use something like the Knight's Bulwark of Defense because you can't competently threaten any squares.

Technicalities aside, drilling down to what this ability should be doing and ignoring any potential abuses, I think it's competing to be the strongest maneuver in the game. It doesn't require a full-round action like Time Stands Still, it doesn't require a bunch of warrior buddies like War Master's Charge, it doesn't require Feral Death Blow's saving throw, and it's way more effective at screwing over a single big target than the likes of Strike of Perfect Clarity and Mountain Tombstone Strike. It doesn't greatly surpass any of its peers, but it's such a potent "screw you" against final bosses that I have a hard time endorsing it. The only good ways to counterplay it are concealment and (arguably, depending on the wording) Quickened Dimension Door, and that says more about those abilities than it does this.

Ultimately, it works. I would have liked to see something that feels a bit more unique to the Cataphract, maybe a big AoE taunt effect or some kind of ultra-powerful counter, but it's still sufficiently on-theme. Just stay aware of it as a GM while you're designing encounters.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ At work and only have time for a quick skim, but thanks for taking a look! Your analysis basically matches what I expected, in terms of guardian sanctuary and judgment being the problem children. I look forward to reading your suggestions there more deeply. And I’m thrilled by the tower shield thing! I didn't even think of that (I just figured your AC and hp are probably going to be a lot better plus there’s the positioning aspect), but I think it’s great—because otherwise I think tower shields are a strictly negative thing to have on a character. Nice to give them some purpose. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 6 at 18:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: guardian sanctuary. I see that “other than personal” is attested (Ocular Spell), but only just the once. The game doesn’t do this sort of thing often, and when it does, it almost-always says “Personal spells cannot be used” rather than any kind of attempt to indicate the inverse set of spells that aren’t personal. I’m not sure I buy that “other than” is better than “greater than” off of one example, but 🤷. As for stances worth sharing, immortal fortitude was the big one I had in mind, though that would be later. Anyway, probably just going to scrap this and come up with something else \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 7 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: judgment. No, it does not apply blindness and deafness—Spot and Listen checks are prompted by attempts at stealth, not just generically for all things always. Otherwise—infamously—you would not be able to see the Sun due to the distance penalties. Balance likewise. Rolling on a table for a random result is not a “check” (in any of the examples I’ve checked), so there’s no issue there. And no, the target cannot (successfully) cast spells on itself; it is immune to its own spells—that’s intentional. As for power level, time stands still and war master’s charge should both auto-kill. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 7 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: judgment. All that said, your fundamental point is sound: there’s just too much game to interact with to try to reasonably shut everything down in this manner. Threatening squares is a good example: didn’t think of that, should be shut down. Leaving out the appropriate things that should work is challenging too. As I suspected when I wrote it, this is just not good enough, and probably cannot be. I’d thought I might have managed it, enough to get some more eyes on it, but I can’t say I’m surprised to be wrong. Probably scrapping this, too; just too much to try to cover. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 7 at 15:56

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