4
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The "Wall of Blades" description says:

You can decide to use this ability after you learn the result of your opponent's attack. Tome of Blades, p. 70

So, can I decide whether or not to use Wall of Blades

  1. after learning the attackers attack roll (obviously yes)
  2. after learning the attackers attack total (probably)
  3. after learning the damage done (probably)
  4. after learning a special effect implied to the attack (might be)
  5. after rolling and failing a save against special effect (seems strange)
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5
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So the distinction basically comes down to what is meant by attack here. Wall of blades may be merely referring to the attack roll, in which case you would have your last opportunity to activate wall of blades after learning the attack being made against you (#2 in the question). Or it might be referring to the attack as an action performed by the opponent, which would definitely include #3 and possibly also #4 and #5.

Ultimately, the wording isn’t clear enough for me to say with certainty. For myself, I’d rule it goes all the way to 5, personally, but that is very much a ruling rather than any claim I’m making about the rule. This one has to just be agreed upon ahead of time by the table.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would agree with #5 on rules-as-intended grounds - the intent is clearly to prevent you from wasting the maneuver on attacks that miss or fail, and you can't know if they haven't missed or failed until after you get the results of any saving throws. \$\endgroup\$ – SPavel Jun 20 '16 at 21:29
4
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Although I think KRyan's answer's correct that it's reasonable for the maneuver to be agreed upon by the table to work in a potentially unusual, it-can-sort-of-turn-back-time way—and I think that's valid, martial characters needing all the help they can get—, below is a harder-edged, rules-as-written way to read the maneuver in case you want an alternative.

The martial adept can employ the maneuver after the DM reveals the sum of the foe's die roll plus or minus any modifiers for the attack roll but before the attack either misses or hits and deals damage

The term result is used fairly consistently throughout the game to mean the total of a die roll plus or minus any modifiers. For example, the Player's Handbook uses result in just such a way on pages 4-5 under Playing the Game, although there result is mentioned with regards to a check's DC. It's not until the Combat chapter when the Player's Handbook on Attack Roll says

An attack roll represents your attempt to strike your opponent on your turn in a round. When you make an attack roll, you roll a d20 and add your attack bonus. (Other modifiers may also apply to this roll.) If your result equals or beats the target’s Armor Class, you hit and deal damage. (134)

Emphasis mine. And similar attack roll result language is used in the Rules Compendium section on Armor Class (15).

The 2nd-level Iron Heart maneuver wall of blades [counter] (Tome of Battle 70) says

When an enemy makes a melee or ranged attack against you, you can initiate this counter to oppose that attack by making an attack roll with any melee weapon you are holding. Use the higher of your AC or your attack roll as your effective AC against the incoming attack. You can’t use this maneuver if you are denied your Dexterity bonus to AC against your attacker. You can decide to use this ability after you learn the result of your opponent’s attack.

Emphasis also mine. Thus announcing an attack roll's result usually determines whether a target either isn't hit or is hit and damage is dealt as that's when the target's AC is met or exceeded, there usually being no option to do anything between announcement and outcome. However, upon that announcement, a martial adept can employ the maneuver wall of blades so that the foe's result must meet or exceed the higher the adept's Armor Class or the attack roll generated by the maneuver wall of blades.

(As an aside, this is exactly the reverse of the process I use when I DM. I ask a player for the player's PC's Armor Class then announce if the NPC's attack either misses or hits and deals damage—never announcing the NPC's attack result at all—, instead of announcing the NPC's attack result and having the player tell me whether the attack misses or hits and deals damage. This feels just a little more right to me, probably because it impedes—however slightly—the metagaming necessary to determine an NPC's attack bonus. Nonetheless, I am unsurprised some folks play differently.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you comment on whether/why "result of an attack" means the same thing as "result of an attack roll"? \$\endgroup\$ – topquark Jun 21 '16 at 0:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @topquark Because the term result has a specific game-defined meaning, and that result generates an outcome; for example, "If the result equals or exceeds the target number (set by the DM or given in the rules), your character succeeds. If the result is lower than the target number, you fail" (PH 6). Here, the alternative, I think, would be the game employing a double meaning for result (both success or failure and outcome), which, as I said, is a way to read it, but to me that seems a little strange given the use of a term the game already defines. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 21 '16 at 0:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan: I don't see a problem with meta-gaming the NPC's attack bonus, after a few exchanges of strikes, you'd expect a martial artist/swordsman/... to have gotten an idea of its opponent's level anyway. Of course, it does remove the DM some agency in fudging dices. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Jun 21 '16 at 6:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is the correct definition of the rules-as-written and it makes sense that the initiator has a chance to asess his chances before trying the maneuver - but not turning back time as one would have to qualify No. 4 and 5. I keep the accept-marker with KRyans answer because ultimately he is right that the ambiguity has to be figured out with the DM before the first in-game initiation of the maneuver. \$\endgroup\$ – Giorin Jun 22 '16 at 7:46

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