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Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords

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The nine martial disciplines presented in this supplement allow a character with the proper knowledge and focus to perform special combat maneuvers ... Show synopsis

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Reviews of Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords

Overall customer rating: 4.000
Derek

Extensive, but not universal, appeal.

by Derek on May 1, 2007

There is a certain amount of formula involved in supplement books for 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons. First, a pertinent subject is found, usually based in either the environment (Stormwrack, Frostburn), antagonists (Fiendish Codex, Lords of Madness), or character depth (Complete Warrior, Races of Stone). Within the parameters of that topic, new content is generated, and chapters are filled with feats, spells, monsters and prestige classes. In a manner consistent with other supplements, Tome of Battle provides all of the aforementioned options for characters. Unlike many expansion books, however, Tome of Battle holds some brand new systems entirely, adding new facets to the game outside of the rote content noted above. The material integrates well with the existing game, and has a wealth of potential for play options, but may lose some familiarity with players more accustomed to the typical sourcebook content. Story elements within Tome of Battle are vivid and interesting, but fairly lean on content. A brief history is given at the beginning for "The Sublime Way" - a collection of martial disciplines, gathered by a human named Reshar in his travels to master the warrior arts across the world. Eventually, Reshar gathered these nine disparate styles, practiced by users called "Martial Adepts", into a monastery. Reshar left the monastery, and it fell apart from within - but the Martial Adepts whom studied The Sublime Way spread across the globe, and with them, their collection of powerful techniques. The abilities described in the Tome of Battle, much like magic in D&D3.5, fall into a structure of levels, with "Initiator Level" replacing "Caster Level" as the basis for which power is limited. The Sublime Way is, however a system unto itself, neither replacing nor standing supplementary to spellcasting. Contained within the book are nine seperate schools of abilities, each standing by their own merits and unique style. For instance, the White Raven school focuses on crowd control and teamwork, granting power to allies and user alike; the Stone Dragon school gives power defenses and overwhelming attacks; and the Shadow Hand school combines a mystical affinity to darkness with agile strikes that cripple opponents. Despite being called "Blade Magic" within the book, most of the abilities of "The Sublime Way" are completely nonmagical in nature, with a portion of them being considered supernatural; none of them function as spells. The system then further defines the various powers into three groups: maneuvers, which serve as dedicated actions taken by a character; boosts, which temporarily augment the properties of an action; and stances, which provide conditional bonuses as long as the "stance" is maintained. As a whole, the rules are consistent, but some powers are worded too vaguely, and others seem as if they might have been better served by being termed supernatural abilities instead of nonmagical, extraordinary ones. This may displease some players, as many powers fall outside the common purview of characters within D&D. For others, however, this may be a breath of fresh air needed to add depth and effectiveness to many characters. With the unique subsystem in mind, the text contains the hallmarks of what veteran players might term a "Splat" book - new feats, classes, and magical items. Three new base classes are included. The Crusader is a tough, divinely inspired melee combatant who dishes out punishment in proportion to what they recieve - the Swordsage is a lightly armored, speedy battler with a wide range of schools for martial study at his disposal - the Warblade fulfills many common archetypes within D&D, using a combination of raw power and trained ability to fight face-to-face with enemies. All three classes employ "The Sublime Way" as their main appeal, but remain so different that no overlap exists to make one redundant to the others. Sadly, the prestige classes contained later do not show the same kind of design as these base classes. Despite fulfilling some very specialized roles, many of the prestige classes have more novelty than content. A chapter on feats is included as well, and it serves to bridge the gap between existing material and Tome of Battle. Divine and Psionic feats are included, as well as feats to grant powers from The Sublime Way to existing characters. Also worthy of note are feats that can substitute as pre-requisites for those found in The Player's Handbook. In this way, starting characters are encouraged to take material from Tome of Battle without impeding progress further in their development, an oversight of some game expansions. A handful of monsters using The Sublime Way are described later in the book, as are powerful weapons related to each of the nine schools, and some less unique magical items. The monsters are described in as much detail as the marginal space given allows. The magical items are not especially bad, just mediocre. This last part of the book, dedicated to monsters and items, feels rushed ? it is presented as part of the book as a whole, but lacks the depth and development that the base classes, unique game systems, and feats received. A few more monsters to broaden the spectrum would have been great. As it is, these two sections stand as fair, but not great, parts. In gamer terms, the amount of ?Crunch? within Tome of Battle is significant. A few vague descriptions or editing questions haunt the text, but no more so than any other book from the same publisher. Accolades go to the content, which is strong enough to be imported as a whole into existing games, but flexible enough to be modified with the needs of an individual game in mind. Some traditional players may be turned away by the departure from certain D&D conventions within the book, and some of the material contained inside is simply not strong enough to be justified without accepting the book as a whole. However, for those adding a new facet to their story, or looking for a springboard off which to start another adventure altogether, Tome of Battle ought to be considered.

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