“Thick armor indicates a lack of skill. If you lack the training to avoid your enemies’ blows, perhaps you should leave the fighting to me.”
A master of martial maneuvers, the swordsage is a physical adept—a blade wizard whose knowledge of the Sublime Way lets him unlock potent abilities, many of which are overtly supernatural or magical in nature. Depending on which disciplines he chooses to study, a swordsage might be capable of walking through walls, leaping dozens of feet into the air, shattering boulders with a single touch, or even mastering the elements of fire or shadow. Whatever his specific training, a swordsage blurs the line between martial prowess and magical skill.
MAKING A SWORDSAGE
Despite his spectacular combat moves, a swordsage is not a typical front-line melee combatant. Although a fighter, barbarian, or warblade might swing a sword more accurately, or with greater force, a swordsage depends on his repertoire of martial strikes and stances. This character is also not intended to be a replacement for an arcane spellcaster, even though he can create a number of short-range area effects. A swordsage’s role within an adventuring party isn’t easily defined, but his combination of maneuverability, supernatural power, and martial arts is useful in almost any encounter.
Abilities: Dexterity and Wisdom are crucial to a swordsage. Since he wears only light armor, he must rely on agility and shrewdness to avoid attacks, and as such his Armor Class is augmented by his Wisdom modifier as well as his Dexterity modifier. A swordsage can get along with an average Wisdom score, but to excel, he wants a good Wisdom bonus.
Since a swordsage often engages in melee, Strength is also important—although he can use the Weapon Finesse feat to overcome a low Strength score, and his array of martial strikes can make up for any lack of damage potential. Intelligence helps a swordsage master the skills necessary to continue progressing along the path of the Nine Swords, and Constitution is as important to him as it is to any character.
Races: Most swordsages are humans. It is not uncommon for members of other races to take up the path, though dwarves and gnomes rarely do. Dwarves are too firmly grounded to adapt easily to the ascetic lifestyle swordsages often favor, and the few dwarf swordsages who do exist typically focus on the Stone Dragon discipline. Gnomes find most swordsages singularly humorless, although members of this race occasionally take up the discipline of the Setting Sun, because they understand better than most how weakness can be turned to strength. Half-orcs account for a surprising number of swordsages, especially in the more warlike disciplines of Stone Dragon and Tiger Claw. Members of this race are well suited to endure the difficult physical regimen of study and practice that these disciplines require.
Alignment: A swordsage can choose any alignment. The study of the Sublime Way is its own end, and whether any particular student chooses to employ what he has learned in the service of good, evil, law, or chaos is not considered significant by most who follow this path. Accordingly, a typical swordsage has at least one neutral component in his alignment, representing a certain detachment from worldly matters. Good swordsages tend to be free-roaming champions of the weak and downtrodden. The less commonplace evil swordsages believe that their mastery of the martial arts has made them superior to everyone around them.
Starting Gold: 4d4×10 (100 gp).
Starting Age: As monk.
The Sword Sage
Hit Dice: d8
|Level||Base Attack Bonus||Fort Save||Reflex Save||Will Save||Special||Maneuvers Known||Maneuvers Readied||Stances Known|
|1st||+0||+0||+2||+2||Quick to act +1, discipline focus (Weapon Focus)||6||4||1|
|4th||+3||+1||+4||+4||Discipline focus (insightful strike)||9||5||2|
|5th||+3||+1||+4||+4||Quick to act +2||10||6||3|
|8th||+6/+1||+2||+6||+6||Discipline focus (defensive stance)||13||7||3|
|10th||+7/+2||+3||+7||+7||Quick to act +3||15||8||4|
|12th||+9/+4||+4||+8||+8||Discipline focus (insightful strike)||17||8||4|
|15th||+11/+6/+1||+5||+9||+9||Quick to act +4||20||10||5|
|16th||+12/+7/+2||+5||+10||+10||Discipline focus (defensive stance)||21||10||5|
|20th||+15/+10/+5||+6||+12||+12||Dual boost 3/day, quick to act +5||25||12||6|
Class Skills (6 + Int modifier per level, ×4 at 1st level): Balance, Climb, Concentration, Craft, Heal, Hide, Intimidate, Jump, Knowledge (history), Knowledge (local), Knowledge (nature), Knowledge (nobility and royalty), Listen, Martial Lore*, Move Silently, Profession, Ride, Sense Motive, Swim, Tumble.
Of all three martial adept classes, swordsages learn and can ready the most maneuvers. This advantage gives them unparalleled versatility in a given encounter. In one battle, a swordsage might fulfill the role of the rogue, lurking in shadows and striking when foes are least prepared. In another, he might be scorching enemies with area attacks, much like a wizard. In still another fight, he might tear an enemy apart with his bare hands, matching a barbarian’s ferocity with his own distinctive style of bloodthirstiness. Whatever the occasion, a swordsage is able to contribute, often in completely unexpected ways.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency: As a swordsage, you are proficient with simple weapons, martial melee weapons (including those that can be used as thrown weapons), and light armor, but not with shields.
Maneuvers: You begin your career with knowledge of six martial maneuvers. The disciplines available to you are Desert Wind, Diamond Mind, Setting Sun, Shadow Hand, Stone Dragon, and Tiger Claw.
Once you know a maneuver, you must ready it before you can use it (see Maneuvers Readied, below). A maneuver usable by swordsages 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 1–2. You must meet a maneuver’s prerequisite to learn it. See Table 3–1 to determine the highest-level maneuvers you can learn.
Table 3–1: Highest-Level Maneuvers Known
|Initiator Level||Maneuver Level|
Upon reaching 4th level, and at every even-numbered swordsage level after that (6th, 8th, 10th, 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: You can ready four of your six maneuvers known at 1st level, and as you advance in level and learn more maneuvers, you are able to ready more, but you must still choose which maneuvers to ready. You ready your maneuvers by meditating and exercising for 5 minutes.
The maneuvers you choose remain readied until you decide to meditate 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 meditation, 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 (unless you recover them, as described below).
You can recover an expended maneuver by using a fullround action to quickly meditate. Doing this does not provoke attacks of opportunity. If you complete your meditation, you can choose one expended maneuver to refresh. It is now available for use in a subsequent round.
Stances Known: You begin play with knowledge of one 1st-level stance from any discipline open to you. At 2nd, 5th, 9th, 14th, and 20th level, you can choose additional stances. Unlike maneuvers, stances are not expended, and you do not have to ready them. 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.
AC Bonus: Starting at 2nd level, you can add your Wisdom modifier as a bonus to Armor Class, so long as you wear light armor, are unencumbered, and do not use a shield. This bonus to AC applies even against touch attacks or when you are flat-footed. However, you lose this bonus when you are immobilized or helpless.
Discipline Focus (Ex): As a swordsage, you can focus your training to take advantage of each discipline’s fighting style. Each time you gain the discipline focus ability, select one of the six swordsage disciplines to which that focus applies. You can select a different discipline each time you gain discipline focus, but you must know at least one martial maneuver from the selected discipline. Even if you select a different discipline at higher levels, your discipline choice for earlier abilities does not change.
This focus manifests in the following ways.
Weapon Focus: At 1st level, you gain the benefit of the Weapon Focus feat for weapons associated with the chosen discipline.
See the discipline descriptions in Martial Disciplines.
Insightful Strikes: At 4th level, you can add your Wisdom modifier as a bonus on damage rolls whenever you execute a strike from the chosen discipline. At 12th level, you can choose a second discipline to which this ability applies.
Defensive Stance: At 8th level, you gain a +2 bonus on saving throws whenever you adopt a stance from the chosen discipline.
At 16th level, you can choose a second discipline to which this ability applies.
You gain a +2 bonus on Martial Lore checks made regarding a maneuver in a discipline in which you have discipline focus.
Quick to Act (Ex): You gain a +1 bonus on initiative checks. This bonus increases by 1 at 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th level.
Sense Magic (Su): Beginning at 7th level, you can spend 10 minutes focusing upon a weapon or suit of armor. If you
succeed on a level check (DC 10 + the caster level of the weapon or armor), you can identify the properties of that item, including its enhancement bonus and special abilities.
This ability does not reveal the properties of artifacts or legacy weapons, though it does indicate that such items are significantly powerful.
Evasion (Ex): At 9th level, you can avoid even magical and unusual attacks with great agility. If you make a successful Reflex saving throw against an attack that normally deals damage on a successful save, you instead take no damage. Evasion can be used only if you are wearing light armor or no armor. If you are helpless, you do not gain the benefit of evasion.
Improved Evasion (Ex): From 17th level on, you gain the benefit of improved evasion. You still take no damage if you make a successful Reflex save against an attack, and even if you fail the Reflex save, you take only half damage from the attack. If you are helpless, you do not gain the benefit of improved evasion.
Dual Boost (Ex): When you reach 20th level, you can use two boost maneuvers simultaneously. Whenever you initiate a boost maneuver, you can also initiate any other boost maneuver that you know as a free action. Both boosts you initiate are expended normally. You can use this ability three times per day.
PLAYING A SWORDSAGE
To you, a sword is not simply a sharpened length of steel. It is the wisdom of the smith, the fire of the forge, and the shouts and ringing blows of your battles. It is your teacher and your student, your life and your death. When your mind is tempered like the blade, no feat of combat prowess is beyond you. You can run on the weapons of your foes, strike an enemy unseen, and flip insouciantly away from the frustrated riposte. Through it all, you seek to understand the secret knowledge of combat. Every blow is a revelation, and every wound an apocalypse. In the end, you and your sword are nothing without each other.
You and your fellow swordsages adventure for a plethora of reasons. Neither the religious fervor of the crusader nor the honor quest of the warblade causes you to travel the world. More than faith, more than glory, you seek truth. Whether you find that truth in the burbling acid swamps south of the Deluge Jungle, in a screeching jungle harpy roost, or in the gullet of a purple worm, you are driven to uncover it, learn it, and master it.
Religion might be entirely immaterial to you, or you might find comfort in the existence of the Upper (or Lower) Planes. If you are among the minority of swordsages who revere a deity, you worship one who is remote and generally refrains from meddling in the lives of mortals. Boccob the Uncaring is a favorite among your fellow swordsages. A few, however, choose to worship the Shalm, Obad-Hai, because his neutrality aligns well with the swordsage notion that the truth of steel is not what you want it to be, but simply what it is.
You have learned to look past the profession and see the individual, finding more truth in a person’s deeds than in her abilities. Once you have ascertained the measure of her soul, you consider her profession and skills. You prize other martial adepts—especially other swordsages—as friends and allies, both for their combat prowess and for their ability to play to each other’s strengths. Flanking rogues are also valuable allies in battle. Clerics and arcane casters are invaluable companions, but you resent spell casters who cast area spells, wall spells, or similar dweomers that alter the battlefield and limit your mobility and options.
Rather than rushing into combat with the mindless rage of a barbarian or the foolhardy courage of a warblade, you assess your opponents and try to achieve tactical supremacy through position and martial maneuvers. Your lack of armor proficiency means that you are best suited to a skirmish-style attack—one in which you can use your high mobility to flank an enemy and strike hard and fast. However, you are perfectly capable of standing toe to talon with vrocks and wyverns when necessary, parrying fang with blade and using your martial maneuvers to cut a path through your enemy’s front ranks.
You have access to an amazing array of powerful martial maneuvers. You have exclusive access to the Desert Wind, Shadow Hand, and Setting Sun disciplines, and you would do well to learn at least some maneuvers from these. You have the greatest range of maneuvers of any martial adept, so you should have multiple strikes, counters, stances, and boosts available after just a few levels in the class.
Your training began when you won an apprenticeship with a mentor—either an individual hermit swordsage or an instructor at an ancient swordsage temple dating back to the Battle of the Shadow Tiger Horde. You knew that winning a swordsage apprenticeship would not be easy—that in fact, it would be an ordeal designed to test your worth in some unusual way.
The masters of the Harad Devin Temple are known to make the young boys and girls wishing to undertake training wait in the courtyard for seasons on end, through rain, snow, and the acid cloud storms of reth dekala attacks. Occasionally the masters might send a pot of porridge to the courtyard for the aspirants, and even more occasionally—never more than once per season—they select one child to enter through the Ivory and Horn Gates. The Eighty Empresses have a different selection process for their protégés. The masters bring each young lady separately into the Dressing Room of Opala I, whose walls, mirrors, incense lamps, pots of rouge, and songbird cages are draped with 1,080 shimmering gold, red, pink, orange, and fuchsia silk ribbons. The girl is allowed to stay as long as she likes in the dressing room; she has but to give a signal when she is ready to leave. After she is led away, one ribbon is removed from the room. Then she is brought back. If she can name the color of the ribbon that was removed, she is accepted; otherwise, she is turned away forever.
As a swordsage, your selection of disciplines and martial maneuvers is paramount to your success. You might choose to focus on maneuvers from a single discipline, but learning a few maneuvers from the other schools is almost always advisable. True success in combat requires a wide variety of martial maneuvers.
HUMAN SWORDSAGE STARTING PACKAGE
Armor: Studded leather (+3 AC, armor check penalty –1, speed 30 ft., 20 lb.).
Weapons: Longsword (1d8, crit 19–20/×2, 4 lb., one-handed slashing).
Light crossbow (1d8, crit 19–20, range inc. 80 ft., 4 lb., piercing).
Skill Selection: Pick a number of skills equal to 6 + Int modifier.
|Skill||Ranks||Ability||Armor Check Penalty|
Bonus Feat: Improved Initiative.
Gear: Backpack with waterskin, one day’s trail rations, bedroll, sack, flint and steel, 3 torches, quiver with 20 arrows, tent, traveler’s outfit, cold weather outfit.
Gold: 2d4 gp.
SWORDSAGES IN THE WORLD
“I could smell the jasmine perfume lingering in the torchlight. The Eighty Empresses had entered the castle here, through this door. The sentinel, crumpled on the parapet, was still smiling.”
—Kalin Stonehelm, castellan of Orlep Tor
The pontificating recluse, the wandering mystic, the martial scholar—all these and more are swordsages. These martial adepts bring a combination of mental acumen and physical prowess to the world. With a potential to advance in a number of different directions—offensive, defensive, support, and quick-strike—they make excellent additions to adventuring parties. When the campaign action veers out of the dungeon and into the royal courts, darkened chambers, and diplomatic halls of the kingdom, a swordsage’s inclination toward intellectual pursuits and his natural role as a scholar—martial and otherwise—allow him to remain a strong contributor to the party.
A swordsage spends the majority of his time perfecting his art. The mental and spiritual demands of the Sublime Way require constant attention, so he can spare little time for carousing.
Art in all its forms is often a passion for swordsages. Many find refreshment and a wellspring of strength in the arts of sculpting, painting, poetry, calligraphy, rock-stacking, or illusory patterns.
A swordsage with an apprentice spends much of his time training his student. A swordsage without an apprentice might or might not spend time seeking one out, according to his whims.
Opala I, the Empress Incarnadine and founder of the Eighty Empresses, was a swordsage. Known as much for her wisdom, her dance, and her ribbons as for her swords, she is regarded by many as the prototypical swordsage—serene, poised, and deadly.
Modern notable swordsages include the Sage of Snow and Shadow, who lives at the peak of one of the Sunspires near Koshtra Amnorn, and Skurrgh, a half-orc pariah who is shunned by his native tribe for questioning the unmitigated war frenzy dictated by the shamans of He Who Watches. Skurrgh is presently looking for an apprentice but has yet to find one he considers suitable. Many of the more dedicated aspirants prefer to wait in the rain and snow outside the Harad Devin Temple rather than risk their training on a rogue half-orc.
The Harad Devin Temple has recruited and trained swordsages for centuries. Many of its alumni wear intricate tattoos or brands on the inside of their forearms that record fragments of the order’s history. It is said that if all the sages of the Harad Devin Temple were to line up, one could read the entire history of the Sunspire Mountains and Deluge Jungle regions from their tattoos, and that their brands are sigils that can unlock a spell of epic proportions.
The women of the Eighty Empresses also carry the marks of their order, which in this case are ribbons. Each young lady who wins acceptance to the order adopts the ribbon from her induction ceremony as her personal symbol. Unlike the markings associated with the Harad Devin Temple, no legend connects the ribbons of the Eighty Empresses with any greater epic. In fact, these decorations appear to have no meaning at all. No color, braidwork, or fringe signifies rank within the order, and no particular manner of display—hairbow, choker, or wristband—has any meaning beyond the preference of the individual member.
Many other swordsage organizations exist as well. The typical order is a small, well-organized, organic unit that exists for a single purpose. One swordsage organization might focus on the history of a particular combat style, while another is sworn to protect the ruler of a local population. At least one swordsage organization has devoted itself to studying the combat techniques, migratory patterns, and warren culture of the Sunspire Mountain umber hulks, presumably with an eye toward eventually exterminating them. Such daunting tasks are typical fare for swordsages, whose patience and calmness often lead them to consider plans that might take decades or even centuries to execute.
Most authority figures and government officials do not appreciate swordsages. Like crusaders, these martial adepts are often dedicated to a higher cause than the interests of the local earl or lord, and unlike warblades, swordsages are not easily bought. Thus, governments, churches, and other civic and religious organizations generally treat swordsages with a great deal of caution.
Merchants, on the other hand, embrace swordsages. Who else would buy an ancient coin, the chipped comb of a long-dead princess, or a petrified dragon claw? In addition to purchasing curiosities and art supplies particular to his interests, a swordsage also provides business for smiths, carpenters, and stablers as he practices his martial maneuvers in an effort to maintain a constant state of patient readiness.
Elves and swordsages often get along famously because of their similar long-term viewpoints and their appreciation for history. Dwarves appreciate the serious nature of swordsages and the fine sculpture that many of them produce. Gnomes have a love–hate relationship with these masters of martial knowledge: They appreciate the swordsages’ sense of history and love of bardic arts but dislike their tendency to take life seriously. Half-elves often dislike swordsages, seeing in their selective apprenticeship process an echo of the exclusionary attitude that those of mixed blood sometimes experience.
Swordsages tend to have more in common with clerics and wizards than with the melee fighting classes. Barbarians in particular are apt to be annoyed by a swordsage’s proclivity to analyze or at least contemplate a combat before, during, and after the actual fighting. One of Opala’s favorite questions was, “How does a sword mean?” It is said that the orc barbarian horde-king Blech Forktongue slew twenty subchieftains in a rage while trying to discover the meaning of that question.
Characters with ranks in Gather Information or Knowledge (history) can research swordsages 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: A swordsage is a fancy sword-swinger who thinks he knows more about swordplay than anyone else.
DC 15: Like warblades and crusaders, swordsages walk the Sublime Way. But they don’t just walk it—they study it, they search it, they think there’s a meaning in it. They look for the wisdom of their swords, the story of each swing, and the history of each foe.
DC 20: Swordsages are patient, calm, and lethal. They gain the most mystical powers of all those who walk the Sublime Way.
SWORDSAGES IN THE GAME
When characters need to know the truename of a reth dekala prophet, the resting place of the last lieutenant of the Shadow Tiger Horde, or the secrets of the Perfect Strike, they are likely to seek out a swordsage. Such moments provide excellent opportunities to introduce swordsages into an ongoing campaign that has not previously included martial adepts. If a player wants to play a swordsage in such a campaign, the character might be sought out by an ancient swordsage—the last practitioner of his kind—and taught the secrets of the Sublime Way. If you are using Dungeon Master’s Guide II, a PC could acquire a spirit companion—the spirit of an ancient swordsage who has selected her to be the first in a new generation of martial scholars.
When developing a swordsage character, consider his focus. Does he define himself by his martial maneuvers, his art, and his relationships with NPCs? Provide a swordsage with challenges to all facets of his character. His high skill points, excellent combat abilities, and magical flair ensure that he is equally at home in a dungeon, in the halls of a palace, and in a wizard’s tower. A good enemy for a swordsage is one against whom he must use all his skills, all his maneuvers, and all his knowledge.
The name “swordsage” naturally implies a character who carries a sword or weapon of some kind. However, a swordsage works very well as a supernatural martial artist of almost any school or origin. To create a monklike character with a tremendous array of fantastic moves and strikes, give the swordsage the monk’s unarmed strike progression and remove his light armor proficiency. If you prefer, you could instead emphasize the magical talents of the swordsage by giving the swordsage the ability to learn arcane spells in place of maneuvers of equivalent level. In general, spells from the schools of abjuration, evocation, and transmutation are most appropriate for a swordsage of this type, especially spells with a range of personal or touch. The arcane spell is “cast” as if it were a martial maneuver. In this case, you should remove the class’s light armor proficiency and reduce the swordsage’s Hit Die to d6.
Swordsages can be encountered anywhere: in large cities, in the wilderness, or on the road to nowhere.
EL 6: The highwayman known as the Crimson Mask plagues the roads and pathways near the Free City. By drawing on the power of his martial maneuvers, he swoops in to surprise his enemies, fights them to the brink of defeat, demands a ransom to cease his attack, then disappears back into the forest. Crimson Mask is, in truth, a worshiper of Olidammara who seeks to steal from rich adventurers and distribute the money to the needy. He cares little whether he steals from a heroic paladin or a heartless mercenary because he feels that neither is likely to do anything useful with the money. Thus, he has no compunctions about taking it.
Crimson Mask CR 6
Male half-elf swordsage 6
CG Medium humanoid (elf)
Init +8; Senses low-light vision; Listen +5, Spot +5
Languages Common, Elven
AC 18, touch 13, flat-footed 16 (Dex +2, Wis +1, armor +5)
hp 49 (6 HD)
Saves: Fort +5, Ref +8, Will +7 (+9 against enchantments)
Speed 30 ft.
Melee mwk scimitar +7 (1d6+2/18–20)
Ranged longbow +6 (1d8/×3)
Base Atk +4; Grp +6
Atk Options discipline focus (insightful strike—Desert Wind)
Combat Gear 2 potions of cure light wounds
Maneuvers and Stances Known (IL 6th):
Stances—child of shadow (1st), flame’s blessing (1st), holocaust cloak (3rd)
Strikes—blistering flourish† (1st), charging minotaur† (1st), death mark† (3rd), shadow blade technique (1st), stone bones (1st)
Boosts—burning blade (1st), burning brand† (2nd), distracting ember (1st), wind stride (1st)
Counters—fire riposte† (2nd), zephyr dance† (3rd)
Disciplines: Desert Wind, Shadow Hand, Stone Dragon
† Readied maneuver
Abilities Str 14, Dex 15, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 8
SQ able to notice secret or concealed doors
Feats Alertness, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus (scimitar, light mace, light pick, spear, falchion)B
Skills Balance +13, Diplomacy +3, Gather Information +1, Hide +11, Jump +13, Listen +5, Move Silently +11, Search +2, Sense Motive +10, Spot +5, Tumble +13
Possessions combat gear plus +2 studded leather, masterwork scimitar, cloak of resistance +1, longbow with 20 arrows
Source: Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords