Martial Training: Traditions, Combat Elements, and Styles

My original model of martial training was much as the model for caster training.

A character could have a ‘Martial Training’ cornerstone talent (I was calling it “Warrior Born”) that provided half the possible Martial Training Bonus, and some generic combat-relevant benefits I never got around to defining.

A character could also take a ‘Martial Training’ common talent that provided the other half of the possible Martial Training Bonus, and a different set of generic combat-relevant benefits I never got around to defining.

The character could then take specific combat-oriented talents (such as Axe Mastery, Cleave, Mounted Combat, and so on).

This looked workable, but never felt quite right… but after looking at what I’m doing with spell casting, a similar model for martial training would probably work very well indeed.

Combat Talents

The game being what it is, many common talents provide combat-oriented abilities.  They can be quite varied, everything from “using a particular type of weapon well” through specific types of attacks (Cleave, Trip) and modes of attack (Mounted Combat being an obvious one).  Many other talents can have combat utility (Tumble in particular).

These may or may not change much.  I think, though, that many of them may give Martial Knowledge Bonuses just as Eldritch Threads and Domains give Caster Knowledge Bonuses.  These bonuses stack with the largest Martial Tradition Bonus to determine the Martial Training Bonus.  Remember that Training Bonuses are limited to one-half the character’s level, rounded up.

Tradition Cornerstones and Capstones

A common historical and fantasy trope is of a ‘martial tradition’ that teaches a way of fighting that is broadly similar.

In Echelon this can be modelled with Tradition cornerstone and capstone talents.

Martial Tradition Cornerstone Talents

Martial Tradition Cornerstones provide several things.

First, Tradition cornerstones provide a Martial Tradition Bonus equal to the tier of the cornerstone.  Martial Tradition Bonuses do not stack with each other; no matter how many Tradition talents you have you use only the biggest bonus.  The biggest Martial Tradition Bonus will be added to the biggest Martial Knowledge Bonus to find the Martial  Training Bonus.  Remember that Training Bonuses are limited to a maximum of one-half the character’s level, rounded up.

Second, Tradition cornerstones provide powers and abilities common to members of the tradition.

Traditions are associated with several combat talents, or talents that can be used well in combat.  The Tradition powers and abilities often work to complement or improve the use of these other talents.

Example: Samurai Tradition

Historically the samurai were mounted warriors who might use sword, bow, and spear.  They were of the nobility and expected to meet various social requirements (which they did, to varying degree).

This Martial Tradition is associated with Mounted Combat, and talents associated with sword, bow, and spear (that I have not yet defined). Because it is possible to advance in combat ability without necessarily advancing in abilities that are part of other talents, those other talents are not necessarily associated with this cornerstone.  See the capstones below, though.

Example: Berserker Tradition

It might seem odd to consider this a ‘Tradition’, since it lacks many of the characteristics of the Samurai Tradition… but I think that actually makes it a more useful example.

In addition to the Martial Tradition Bonus the Berserker Tradition also provides part of the ‘Rage’ ability.  Obviously it would be associated with other rage abilities, and (by trope) large or relatively simple weapons that do a lot of damage, and a habit of charging into battle inadequately armored.  For the sake of argument, this Martial Tradition is associated with common talents related to big weapons (heavy swords, axes, large mauls, etc.), rage talents, Great Fortitude (hit points and ability to withstand physical punishment), and something that provides Damage Reduction.  Actually, let’s throw in wild shape — I like the idea of berserkers who actually physically change when their madness comes upon them.

Martial Tradition Capstone Talents

As with the Casting Traditions, Martial Traditions can have practitioners that epitomize the Tradition… possibly in different ways.  The Samurai Tradition might be broad enough to work for an entire section of a culture, but be fractured within it.  Each capstone could, and I think should, have prerequisites that are not as closely associated with the Tradition cornerstone.

Example: Samurai Houses

Training in the Samurai Tradition is expected of all noble warriors of the Empire.  However, within that are various martial schools of philosophy, each expounded part particular noble Houses of the Empire.  The students of the Samurai Tradition are taught these different philosophies, and advancement within the school (capstone talents) might depend on developing skills not common to other schools.

The House of the Crane are courtiers and impeccably polite, even while talking you to death in a duel.  The capstone may have a Diplomacy-related talent as a prerequisite (and provide a Taunt ability that can cause their opponents to act irrationally, in a seemingly polite way).

The House of the Dragon are battle leaders, expected to take command.  The capstone may require some form of Leadership; advancement requires that you actually act as a leader of warriors, and provide benefits that help you do so.

The House of the Phoenix are students of the mysteries, integrating magic into their lives.  The capstone may require a certain amount of magical ability, or even specific magical talents, and provide benefits that let them work magic in combat to greater degree.  Many might not even have the Martial Tradition at the highest level instead focusing on their magic and treating much of their combat training as something of an afterthought.

Example: Barbarian Tribes

As with the Samurai Houses, there are different social groups that focus on different elements of the Barbarian Tradition.

The Tribe of the Bear is all about hitting hard and enduring damage.  The prerequisites for the capstone might include Great Fortitude, Rage Strength (they focus on hitting hard), and one other thing I don’t know yet.

The Tribe of the Wolf is about fast movement, wearing enemies down, and evading damage.  The prerequisites for the capstone might include Lightning Reflexes, Rage Speed, and again, something else I haven’t thought of.

Other Options and Notes

There are no ‘martial spells’ readily available in the same sense there are ‘arcane spells’ or ‘divine spells’.  The Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords would be a wonderful source here, with martial traditions offering knowledge of maneuvers and stances.  I think I know of another repository online, but I’ll have to review it before including it.  If I do, cornerstones, capstones, and common talents might all include these maneuvers in their benefits.

This may not be a problem, if the martial talents (cornerstone, capstone, and common) used are powerful and flexible enough to compensate for the lack of spell casting.  Of course, for the House of the Phoenix that might be less of a problem.

Like the Caster Training Bonus, the Martial Training Bonus applies to all weapons used.  Special options might only be available when using the talent that actually provides the bonus, or to the limit of a talent taken if at a lower tier than the primary one.

Closing Comments

This looks pretty good to me.  I was pretty uncomfortable with the earlier version; that the original cornerstone (Warrior Born) and common talent (Martial Training) were just adding numbers and “something generic” was something of a clue.  I don’t want generic anything if I can avoid it.  The campaign-shaping effect the talents can have (or the talent-shaping effect the campaign can have) really appeals to me.

I’ll need to look up those other maneuvers.  I may or may not want to use them,but I should still review them.


  1. David Lamb

    I’m still getting my head around the spellcasting revision, so I’m not in a position to give a deep reaction to either of the two. Taking the max of several numbers is a New Thing and I sometimes take a while to get used to new ideas.

    On the martial side I am nervous about a couple of things. Your mention of “spells” in quotes, and Tome of Battle make me very nervous; that book never felt “right” to me as a way of representing special fighter abilities. I’ve been OK with the powers provided by the martial talents and with the Iron Heroes token-pool powers, but ToB felt like “spellcasting is the only way to get power, so let’s give fighters some spells”. I thought Echelon was giving fighters Nice Things that *didn’t* feel like spells to me.

    • To be honest, I liked how Tome of Battle worked, it went a long way toward giving nice stuff to fighters (okay, to the point of replacing the class, yes). That the nice stuff looked so much like spells is something I found kind of unfortunate, but I could live with it easily enough.

      I mentioned Tome of Battle in part because the Casting Traditions do explicitly grant spells, and the Martial Tradition had no clear parallel except for the disciplines. I agree, I’d rather see combat-oriented stuff being token-based or not requiring specific resources at all, but because the Martial Traditions are modelled after the Casting Traditions I want to at least consider them. I don’t mind something being absent because I decided not to use it, I don’t much like something being absent because I didn’t think of it.

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