Combat Maneuvers

posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

The Book of Iron Might, by Mike Mearls

The Book of Iron Might is a third-party rules supplement, written by Mike Mearls under Monte Cook's Malhavoc Press company. This book was published in Oct 2004.

The back-cover blurb tries to juxtapose this against Cook's The Book of Eldritch Might, which were rules supplements focused on more magic items, magic spells and generally spellcaster-oriented material. This one is supposed to give martial characters their own options in combat.

Part I: Combat Maneuvers


A barbarian slashes across a vampire’s eyes, hoping to prevent the fiend from using his dominate ability. This is a risky maneuver that requires skill and luck to complete, as the vampire takes special care to defend his head and other vital points, while the barbarian must take careful aim in the chaos of the fight. If the barbarian manages to hit, he can disable the vampire’s special ability for a few moments—perhaps enough time to defeat the horrid, undead beast.

Under the core rules, attacks like the one described above are impossible. You can disarm a creature, trip it, grapple it, and attempt a few other special moves, but most of your attacks are an effort to wear down a creature’s hit points and knock it out of the fight. Most of the time, these options offer more than enough choices to keep players and DMs happy. However, sometimes you might want or need more options. Plenty of monsters rely on special attacks or abilities that might be vulnerable to special attacks. If a giant octopus surges over a small boat, it makes sense for the sailors to hack at its tentacles, chopping them away to allow the boat to escape from its grasp. Some monsters even have special rules for making attacks against their eyestalks and other body parts.

The rules in this section present a system that you—players and DMs alike—can use to create special combat maneuvers. It treats an attack as any effort to negatively affect an opponent. That negative effect could be anything from hit points of damage to temporary blindness or a trip attack. You can build a maneuver by adding special effects to a standard attack. Unusual, powerful, or exotic special effects impose a penalty on your attack roll to reflect their difficulty.

The combat maneuver system works off two key parts:

1. You determine the effect of the maneuver. The effect will impose a penalty on your attack roll. This is usually very steep, ranging from -30 to stun an enemy for 1 round, to -20 to cause ability score damage, to -10 to cause a knockback.

2. You determine the drawback of the maneuver. This will reduce the attack roll penalty of the effect, in exchange for something bad, potentially bad, happening to you just for attempting the maneuver, or if you fail it.

Before the book goes into the meat of the maneuver system, it has a sidebar on two rules alerts:

1. The True Strike spell, which provides a +20 bonus to your next attack roll, may need to either be banned, or reworded such that it doesn't guarantee that maneuvers will hit, because otherwise it would allow a spellcaster to wipe the attack roll penalty of most maneuver effects. I feel like this is oddly specific, especially in the context of how True Strike already consumes your Standard Action such that you can only make your attack on the next round over, but at least it's cognizant of how it'll let spellcasters muscle in on the benefits of what's supposed to be a martial-focused rulebook.

2. While natural 20s are supposed to be automatic hits, the book warns that perhaps the maneuver effects shouldn't be included in that, because otherwise players can take the most penalizing maneuver effects possible and count on always having a 5% chance to deliver anyway.

Melee Maneuver Effects

Ability score damage: take a -20 penalty to your attack roll. If you hit, you cause 2 ability score damage to an ability score of your choice. If you crit, you cause 4 ability score damage. There's also a line in here about how this only works against creatures that are vulnerable to critical hits, because this is 3rd Edition, and "you can't crit a rock golem" is a thing, and this ability score damage effect diegetically works by hitting "a joint, nerve center, or other vulnerable area of your opponent’s body, temporarily damaging one of his abilities."

There's a "warning flag" about how this might make spellcasters too vulnerable because it can destroy their primary spellcasting attribute when spellcasters are already vulnerable to this maneuver because they are low AC targets. I would argue that that's the point.

Area Attack: you attack multiple 5-foot-squares, rather than a single target; take a -5 penalty to your attack roll for every 5-foot-square that you wish to simultaneously attack. These squares must all be within your reach, and as an additional drawback, this attack cannot crit. The first square isn't free, so attacking two squares is already a -10 penalty. You make a single attack roll for all targets within these squares, but damage is rolled separately.

I suppose this is one way to get access to Whirlwind Attack early on and without all of the extra feat chaining.

Blinding Attack: take a -30 penalty to your attack roll. If you hit, the target is Blinded for 1d4 minutes, or 2d4 minutes on a crit.

There's another Warning Flag for this maneuver, saying that there is "potential for abuse" since a Blinded creature losing their DEX bonus to AC will be even easier to hit. The book is worried about the creature getting hit by this very same Blinding maneuver again, over and over, but at a 1 minute interval? I seriously doubt you'd ever need to reapply that ever again unless the target has some means of direct removal. Yes, it does make the creature more vulnerable to all other attacks/maneuvers, but again, I'd argue that that's the point.

Nevertheless, the book recommends that a creature blinded this way should "behave logically" and break off and head for safety until it can be relieved from its blindness. Another recommendation is to have a successful application of this attack instead just cause the target to take a circumstance penalty instead of full blindness.

And again, since this is 3rd Edition, this maneuver will only work if the target has eyes that can be blinded, and gives the DM a narrative out:


Not only must you strike at a foe’s eyes, but you must hit him in the precisely correct spot to cause injury to the visual organs. Most creatures wear helms or take special care to defend their faces.

I find it really distasteful for the book to begin nerfing itself barely after its even begun.

Bonus Damage: take a -5 penalty on your attack roll, to gain a +2 bonus to your damage roll on a successful hit. You can increase the damage bonus in additional 2-point increments, up to a maximum of a -25 penalty to your attack roll for a +10 damage bonus.

This is bad. So bad. So fucking bad. Holy shit. Power Attack exists. What the hell! Like, the only possible value to this piece of shit would be if you really wanted to take something else besides Power Attack and use this as a poor man's replacement in the meantime, but I really can't envision any sort of serious melee build that doesn't take Power Attack within the first 3 feats at the most.

Daze Attack: take a -20 penalty to your attack roll, and you Daze the target on a hit. Daze in 3rd Edition means they lose their next turn, but otherwise take no other penalties.

Yet another Warning Flag - low AC targets might be Dazed round after round, completely locking them down for the entire. Again, this is the point, and a 1-round Daze is going to "lock down" the attacker that keeps applying it as much as it does the dazed defender if both of them can do nothing else. And the standard note about how the target creature needs to be vulnerable to critical hits for this effect to work.

Deafening Attack: take a -10 penalty to your attack role, and cause the target to be Deafened for 1d6 minutes on hit. Deafened in 3rd Edition means taking a -4 penalty to initiative, automatically failing all Listen checks, and a 20% chance of spell failure when casting a spell with verbal components.


the DM must judge that it hears in a manner similar to humans or animals.

Deny Dexterity Bonus: take a -10 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, the target loses their DEX bonus to AC on your next attack against them. However, your next attack roll against them must use either your DEX or CHA modifier instead of your STR modifier, and you do not apply an ability modifier to your damage roll.

The book tells us right away that this is probably redundant against the use of the Bluff skill in combat to Feint, but says that this maneuver specifically still has value if your character does not have the Bluff skill. The problem is that taking away your STR modifier on the attack roll and replacing it with DEX/CHA might well mean that you're not actually getting any utility from this maneuver at all.

Disable Natural Attack: take a -20 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, you can select a single natural weapon/natural attack of your target, such as Bite or Claw or Tail, and the target will be unable to use it for 1d4 rounds.

Alternatively, you can change this into a Hindering Attack, which adds a further penalty of making your attack deal no damage, but makes the effect persist until your target passes a Strength check with DC [10 + your Strength modifier], rather than a flat 1d4 rounds. The book makes this out to be something like:


instead, you pull off the maneuver by wedging an object into a creature’s mouth, tying a sack around its claws to dull them, or otherwise neutralizing the attack form without actually striking with your weapon.

Disarming Attack: take a -20 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, your target drops their weapon. You have a +4 bonus on your attack roll if you're sing a two-handed weapon, or a -4 penalty if you're using a light weapon. The target gains a +4 AC bonus against this maneuver for size category larger that they have over you. This is somewhat redundant with the existing Disarm action already in 3rd Edition, but as with the Deny Dexterity Bonus maneuver and the Bonus Damage maneuver, the precise circumstances are different or can be made to be different.

At this point I'm going to interrupt the chapter to skip ahead to a discussion of Maneuver Drawbacks, or else this first post is going to end up way too long.

A Maneuver Drawback is something that you combine with any of the Maneuver Effects, in order to reduce the attack roll penalty that the Effect forces you to take.

Take Disarming Attack, for example. It's a -20 penalty to your attack roll. If you combine it with the Effect Only drawback, then you reduce the penalty by 5, so that it's only a -15 now, but also you don't get any damage out of the attack, only the effect.

The Drawbacks are:

Attack of Opportunity, Target Only - the target will get a free Attack of Opportunity on you when you perform the Maneuver. Reduce the penalty by 5

Attack of Opportunity with Failure, Target Only - the target will get a free AOO on you when you perform the Maneuver, AND the maneuver automatically fails if the AOO hits. Reduce the penalty by 10

Total Attack of Opportunity - all enemies that are threatening you will get a free AOO on you when you perform the Maneuver. Reduce the penalty by 10

Total Attack of Opportunity with Failure - all enemies that are threatening you will get a free AOO on you when you perform the Maneuver, AND the maneuver automatically fails if the AOO hits. Reduce the penalty by 15

Effects Only - the Maneuver will only produce the effect, but no damage. Reduce the penalty by 5

Free Strike - the target will get a free attack on you, that automatically hits, when you perform the Maneuver. Reduce the penalty by 10

Full-Round Action - the Maneuver requires a Full-Round Action. Reduce the penalty by 5

Opposed Check - you and the target must make an opposed ability check, opposed skill check, or opposed attack roll for the Maneuver to take effect (on top of the attack needing to hit). Reduce the penalty by 5

Overpowering Effort - you lose your Dexterity bonus to AC until the start of your next turn. Reduce the penalty by 5

Overwhelming Effort - you fall prone after performing the Maneuver. Reduce the penalty by 5

Reflective Attack - if your Maneuver misses, your target can perform the same Maneuver right back at you. Reduce the penalty by 5

Reflective Effects - whenever your Maneuver hits, you take the same damage and effect that you just rolled. Reduce the penalty by 10

So, let's go back to the Disarming Attack effect, with its -20 attack roll penalty. According to the core rules, the first step of a Disarm attempt is for the target to make an AOO against you, and the Disarm attempt will fail if the AOO deals damage. This is equivalent to Attack of Opportunity with Failure, Target Only drawback, so that reduces the penalty to -10

The next step in a core rules Disarm is an opposed attack roll. This is equivalent to the Opposed Check drawback, which reduces the penalty further, down to a -5

Finally, a core rules Disarm will allow your target to attempt to Disarm you back if you fail the opposed attack roll. This is equivalent to the Reflective Attack drawback, which completely eliminates the attack roll penalty.

So that's the basic framework of the Maneuver system: you pick an Effect, it comes with a hefty attack roll penalty, and then you pick one or more Drawbacks to reduce the attack roll penalty down to a more manageable level.

Next: I'll cover more of the remaining effects, as I just wanted to get the Effect+Drawback pairing discussed before we got too deep into the book, because obviously an Ability Score Damage Effect with a -20 attack roll penalty would just be regarded as unusable.

Attack Effects

posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

The Book of Iron Might , by Mike Mearls

Picking up where we left off, here's the rest of the Melee Attack Effects

Disrupt Special Ability : take a -20 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, your target's Supernatural or Extraordinary ability is disabled until the body part that generates the ability is magically or naturally healed. There's a line about how it's up to the DM's judgement if any given special ability is specifically generated by an organ enough that it can be targeted by this ability, such as a Dragon's breath attack, or a grabbing tentacle, or the Vampire's eyes to disable its gaze attack as in the storytelling example I mentioned at the beginning.

Forced Movement : take a -10 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, your target moves 5 feet in a direction of your choose, except you cannot force the target into terrain that would damage them or is otherwise hazardous. The forced movement also does not cause the target to provoke AOOs. This is a milder version of the Knockback effect we'll see later. It's easier to land, but it doesn't do nearly as much.

Inflict Penalty : take a -5 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, your target takes a -1 circumstance penalty to either their attack rolls, AC, skill and ability checks, or saving throws. You can increase the circumstance penalty up to a maximum of -5, and it costs another -5 penalty to your attack roll for every additional point. If you crit, the circumstance penalty increases by another point. The penalty lasts for a number of turns equal to an ability modifier that you associate with the attack.

A target may only suffer from one Inflict Penalty effect at a time, and an existing effect can only be replaced by one of a stronger penalty.

This is a cool idea and is very versatile, but is like the other effects heavily reined in since it cannot stack.

Knockback : take a -10 penalty to your attack roll. And then pretend I wrote all of the standard 3rd Edition Knockback rules here. On hit, you make an opposed STR check. If you win the opposed check, the target gets pushed back 5 feet, plus another 5 feet for every 5 by which you beat the check. This effect can push the target anywhere, and the target will suffer the effects of any hazardous terrain they're pushed into. There's also the part about taking damage from being knocked into a wall, and the part about knocking a creature into another creature will cause a bunch of its own mechanics for possibly knocking both of them prone. There's also the part about getting a bonus on the opposed STR check if you're larger than the target.

You cannot take the Saving Throw or Opposed Check drawback to this effect, because it's already a naturally occurring part of the effect.

You can take a special drawback with this effect called Close Quarters Push that reduces the attack roll penalty by 5, but then causes you to trigger AOOs from the defender and anyone else that threatens you, but this AOO has a 25% chance to strike your Knockback target instead.

Knockdown : take a -20 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, the target is knocked prone.

You can take a special drawback with this effect called Touch Attack , which lets you roll against the target's Touch AC instead of their full AC, and that reduces the attack roll penalty by 5, but you don't deal damage with the maneuver.

Movement Damage : take a -10 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, you pick a movement mode (climbing, flying, walking) and reduce it by 5 feet. If you crit, the movement mode is reduced by 10 feet.

If you target flight, the target's maneuverability rating drops by one category for every 10 feet of movement speed that it loses. If the flying mode drops to 0 feet or whatever minimum is required by the creature to maintain flight, it immediately falls and can take falling damage.

The effect stacks with itself, and with all other effects that reduce movement speed. If a target's speed is reduced to 0 feet, then it cannot move using that movement mode. The effect lasts until the creature receives healing of some kind.

There's a Warning Flag here that it may make the character able to even the odds against flying creatures by making them unable to fly, and also that it may make it difficult if not impossible for a creature to escape the party. I'd again argue that that's the point.

There's also a sop to realism here that you can only use the effect against targets that have obvious anatomical means of movement. The counter-example is even specifically that you cannot use this effect against the flight speed of a Wizard using the Fly spell. Not cool, book.

Stagger : take a -10 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, the target loses their next Move Action.

While this is technically somewhat different from the actual in-game definition of the Staggered condition, the practical effect is about the same. The target can only take one action, Standard or Move, and they cannot take Full-Round Actions.

Stun : take a -30 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, the target is Stunned for 1 round. Stun in 3rd Edition means dropping whatever you're holding, taking a -2 AC penalty, and losing your DEX AC bonus.

The Warning Flag for this effect is that you're stepping on the toes of the Monk's Stunning Fist ability, despite how the hefty penalties will make it difficult to pull off efficiently. Also, the effect will only work on creatures vulnerable to stuns.

Sundering Attack : take a -10 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, you check if your attack roll was high enough to hit the Item AC (10 + size modifier + target's DEX modifier) of an something worn, held or otherwise on the body of your target, and then if you hit that as well, you deal damage to the item instead of the target. Like the Disarm effect, the idea is that you can knock down the attack roll penalty to 0 if you duplicate the standard Sunder action by taking the same Drawbacks.

Ranged Attack Effects

Immobilizing Shot : take a -20 penalty to your attack roll. On hit, you make an opposed ability check. If you succeed, your target is immobilized until they pass a STR, DEX, or Escape Artist check, with your opposed check result as the DC.

The sop to realism with this effect is that the target must be adjacent to something that they could be pinned to. I'm also fairly sure this is already a feat somewhere, as I ran into this same effect while doing my Blue Rose F&F.

Sniping Shot : take a -20 penalty to your attack roll. Even after you've reduced the penalty of this attack to zero by taking Drawbacks, you can continue to take Drawbacks. The idea is that you can use this effect against targets that are behind cover . If you take only 20 points worth of Drawbacks or less, then the utility is being able to shoot something you wouldn't normally be able to shoot at all. If you take more than 20 points of Drawbacks, then you can negate the AC bonus from cover, which is normally as high as +4 AC.

So you could do something like [Total Attack of Opportunity with Failure] + [Full-Round Action] + [Overpowering Effort] for a total of 25 points of Drawbacks, and that would allow you to shoot a target that's behind cover while completely negating their bonus from being in cover.

The sop to realism is that "There must be at least some hole in your opponent’s cover, even if it is above him."

Surprise Shot : take a -20 penalty to your attack roll. On hit:


Your target loses his Dexterity bonus to Armor Class against your attacks.

I put in quotes because that's the entire rules statement, and I feel like it's so undefined that might end up being some kind of Murphy's Rule.

Besides those three, you can also use the following melee effects with ranged attacks:

Bonus Damage
Disarming Attack , except you take a -30 attack roll penalty instead of -20
Forced Movement
Inflict Penalty , except the conversion rate is -10 attack roll penalty for every -1 circumstance penalty to the target
Movement Damage

Using Maneuvers

The book then spends a couple of pages talking about to incorporate the Effect + Drawbacks = Maneuver model into your games. The three approaches it talks about are:

1. The DM creates some prepackaged Maneuvers, then gives them to the players to play with. This is the most newbie-friendly and prevents analysis paralysis by strictly gating what the player's options are.

2. The players create their own Maneuvers, with approval by the DM, then they're folded into the characters' capabilities. This allows the players their own customization.

3. The group uses the whole system on the fly: as the player wants to make their attack, they pick an effect and the drawbacks right then and there. This has the most flexibility, but potentially can add a lot of overheard to combat.

The book also includes a list of pre-constructed Maneuvers, which I'll give a small sampling of here:


Called Shot, Glancing Blow to Head [Strength]
Effect : Bonus Damage (+4): –10
Effect : Stagger: –10
Drawback : Saving Throw (Stagger, Fortitude, DC 10 + half base attack + Strength modifier): +5
Drawback : Full-Round Action: +5
Net Effect : Total attack roll penalty: –10

This attack is meant to model a careful, deliberate strike. The maneuver avoids provoking attacks of opportunity by waiting for the proper moment to strike (hence the full-round action), but it comes at a cost. This attack can only stagger a foe, since it lacks the wild strength of the other called shots.

Jawbreaker (Strength)
Effect : Disable Natural Attack: –20
Drawback : Free Strike: +10
Drawback : Saving Throw (Fortitude, DC 10 + half base attack + Strength modifier): +5
Net Effect : Total attack roll penalty: –5

As a monstrous foe snaps at you with its bite attack, you slam its jaw, shattering teeth and bone.

Power Hammer [Strength]
Effect : Knockback: –10
Effect : Knockdown: –20
Drawback : Attack of Opportunity, Target Only: +5
Drawback : Full-Round Action: +5
Drawback : Reflective Effects: +10
Net Effect : Total attack roll penalty: –10

This maneuver is useful against smaller foes that have superior combat training and are outnumbered. By throwing yourself at your opponent, you send him reeling backward and off his feet. While your leap also leaves you knocked back and prone, your allies are in a good position to step in and finish off your now very vulnerable foe.

And to cap off this section, I'll just share an excerpt of the "DM advice" that the book gives:


Using Maneuvers

The maneuver drawbacks are the most important tool you have to make this system a balanced but usable part of your game. If you ignore the drawbacks, the maneuvers you design may have such crippling attack penalties that the PCs can never succeed at them. If you apply drawbacks without thinking of the game situation, you might create maneuvers that are too easy on the characters and clearly superior to a normal attack. Picking the right drawbacks helps place a maneuver in that perfectly balanced position between an impossible attack and a clearly broken game option.

If you want to make consistent use of maneuvers in your game but keep the action moving fast while avoiding any chance of unbalancing things, focus on maneuvers that you create ahead of time to simulate various actions. Tie these maneuvers to encounter areas or opponents and present them as added options the PCs can attempt in specific situations. In this case, you control how maneuvers affect the game while gradually introducing them to the campaign. Later, you might feel comfortable with a more open approach. You can then allow the players to describe their actions to you, then apply the maneuver effects and drawbacks that you see as appropriate. You should let the players have full access to the rules to build their maneuvers on the fly only if they can do so without bogging down the game. Some players may endlessly plot out the most advantageous maneuvers, while others might be paralyzed by all the options before them. By slowly introducing things, you give the players time to learn the rules without overwhelming them.

In any case, the final decision on maneuver drawbacks rests with you. As DM, you have the final say in what happens in your game and how things work. Even if you let the players construct maneuvers on the fly, you must retain the final decision on drawbacks. Let the player select the maneuver effects, then you pick drawbacks that reduce the total penalty to –5. The drawbacks you pick should always be based on the situation the characters face. Try to avoid making a canonical, final decision on a maneuver built on the fly. Even in the case of maneuvers that you build ahead of time and introduce to the game as new combat options, you should reserve the right to revisit them and make changes.

The important thing to remember is that any changes you make should reflect the reality of the game and everyone's level of fun. If the players like using a maneuver and it has no unbalancing effect on the game, don't simply change it to ruin their fun. Part of the excitement of roleplaying games lies in coming up with creative solutions to daunting problems. If you simply nullify the PCs' abilities, the game isn't much fun for them. Players build their characters as a means of expressing what they want to do in the game. If you simply forbid options, or change them in the middle of the game, your players might feel unhappy, angry, and betrayed. When you must make a change, sit down with your players and talk it over with them. Communication can go a long way to soothing hurt feelings and keeping everyone involved in the campaign.

That last paragraph in particular is a good piece of advice not just for this book, but for gaming in general. Don't throw blobs just to dick over the Trip Fighter, don't try to keep putting Undead encounter just because you want to screw with the Rogue, and shooting Will save-or-suck spells against the high AC Paladin is just being vindictive.

Next: The Ironborn

The Ironborn

posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

The Book of Iron Might, by Mike Mearls

The last update to this F&F has been almost two years to the day. I lost steam at trying to cover The Ironborn, since there's a lot of lore and I personally am not that invested in covering that kind of thing.

The very short version is that the Ironborn is the book's attempt at presenting a Warforged-type race. Their backstory revolves around a wizard that created an entire race of these metallic, sentient automatons to serve as assistants and guardians of his tower. Over the course of his career, the wizard gathered a number of artifacts that drove him mad, and the Ironborn took it upon themselves to destroy these artifacts and restore their master to sanity. The wizard was so grateful to the Ironborn that he set them all free and allowed them to go forth into the world - though supposedly they were not that welcome to the rest of the races in the world, and so the reader is presented with a race that is not always accepted and sometimes placed under siege.


All Ironborn receive the folliowing:

* immunity to sleep and related effects
* only need to consume one-fourth as much food and water as other humanoids
* immortality (and thus immunity to aging effects)
* a +1 natural armor bonus to AC
* (as a drawback) take damage from effects that cause rusting
* (as a drawback) a -2 penalty to Bluff, Diplomacy, Gather Information, and Sense Motive checks (diegetically because Ironborn are ignorant to the ways of socializing)
* can designate any class as their Favored Class (diegetically because they were built for that purpose)

Because Ironborn are diegetically supposed to be tailor-made for specific purposes, this book presents them as being fairly customizable.

Ability Scores

Ironborn can get a +2 to any ability score except Strength ... in exchange for a -2 to any other ability score
Or, they can get a +2 to Strength, in exchange for -2 to two ability scores (ostensibly because Strength is more highly valued)

And then they can also pick from certain Ability Packages:

Acrobatic Ironborn get a +2 bonus to Escape Artist, Jump, and Tumble checks; and then they also gain +5 feet to their base speed

Centurion Ironborn get what is effectively free Plate armor (including the arcane spell failure chance and the need for heavy armor proficiency); and then they also get a 25% chance to negate a critical hit against them (effectively a free Light Fortification enchantment)

Divine Mark Ironborn get a +2 bonus to all Turn/Rebuke Undead checks, and a +2 bonus to damage rolls against enemies of an opposite alignment; and then they also get a +1 bonus to all saving throws against effects cast by enemies of an opposite alignment

Iron Heart Ironborn get an immunity to poisons, a +2 natural armor bonus, and no longer need to breathe; and then they also become immune to all mind-affecting effects. These Ironborn as described as being especially robotic, and so they've shed even more of their humanoid-ness

Shadow Friend Ironborn get a +2 bonus to Hide checks and a +4 bonus to Bluff checks to create a distraction; and then they also get Darkvision 60 feet

Slayer Seeker Ironborn get a +2 bonus to damage rolls against targets that they can Sneak Attack; and then they also get a free and built-within-themselves dagger weapon.

Spellmaster Ironborn get a +1 bonus to all attack rolls for the purposes of spell attacks; and then they also get a once-per-day ability to prevent the loss of a spell that would otherwise be lost because of a failed Concentration check.

Trailblazer Ironborn get resistance 2 to cold and fire and no longer need to eat or drink; and then they also get a +2 bonus to Handle Animal and Survival checks.


Ironborn can choose to be Small sized, with all that that implies in 3rd Edition, in exchange for a taking -2 penalty to Strength, or losing the second clause ("and then they also get...") of their ability package.

Ironborn can also choose to be Large sized, in exchange for taking a -2 penalty to Dexterity and losing the second clause of their ability package.

Origin and Creator

Because the Ironborn are built / created, there's a section on how the Ironborn relate to their creator. Ironborn always share the alignment of their creator, and their creator can give them orders. The Ironborn needs to pass a DC 10 Will save in order to disobey such orders, and it automatically passes these saves if the order would cause the Ironborn to be destroyed or suicide. If the creator revokes their control over an Ironborn, then they no longer have such control, and this is an irrevocable step.

The book does say that the DM should use this "feature" sparingly, and that the Will save is set to a low DC deliberately.

The Ironborn's Burden

Since the Ironborn are purpose-built, there's this further diegetic feature where they're supposed to "practice" their purpose every day as a representation of their mechanical nature. A Fighter needs to practice combat every day, a Cleric needs to minister every day, and so on. If they don't, they need to pass a Will save with a DC equal to 10 + the number of days since they last "fulfilled their purpose".

If they then fail the save, then they're supposed to go berserk at some point in the day, attacking anyone or anything in reach for 2d6 rounds.

The book then provides further DM guidance: this isn't supposed to come up very often, and isn't intended to "counter-balance" all of the abilities that an Ironborn has. Rather, the purpose is supposed to be very easy to fulfill under normal circumstances, but can be a complication, such as an Ironborn that's in prison, or perhaps is the middle of a culture where it can't quite express its purpose out in the open.

Ironborn Feats

The book includes a number of feats made just for Ironborn:

* Craft Ironborn is basically a low-grade Leadership feat, except the follower is an Ironborn
* Holy Icon lets you spend spell slots to boost your Turning/Rebuke checks
* Improved Natural Armor gives you another +1 natural armor bonus (can only be taken once!)
* Spring-Loaded Reflexes gives you the Uncanny Dodge ability
* Intricate Joints requires Spring-Loaded Reflexes, and grants you ability to never be flanked
* Memory Bank gives you a +2 bonus to a skill check, but unlike Skill Focus, you can change to a different skill every day, since you're a robot and all
* Spell Runes lets you pick any three spells you know and etch them onto your body, so that you always have them available even without your spellbook. The spell also gains a +1 bonus to its save DC
* Weaponized Limb lets you turn one of your hands into a weapon. The upside is that it always has a 1.5x Strength damage modifier as if it were two-handed (even if the weapon isn't normally one), and it can't ever be disarmed from you. The downside is that you diegetically only ever have one free hand, and the DM can hit you with a -2 penalty on skill checks where only having one hand would matter.

All of these feats are fairly standard fare except perhaps for Weaponized Limb, but the other gimmick is that if you want to take them past level 1, then you also have to spend some low-4-digit value in gold to "buy" the raw materials needed to "upgrade" your Ironborn chassis.

Next: New Feats


posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

The Book of Iron Might, by Mike Mearls

The book contains three sections of feats. The first section is for Arcane Battle feats. These are feats that are intended to create the feeling of being a "fighter-mage", without going through the clumsy multi-class / prestige class rules and trying to leverage the actual spellcasting system.

The first feat in this section is Arcane Battle Mastery. It requires BAB +1 and Intelligence 13. It gives you Concentration, Knowledge (arcana) and Spellcraft as class skills, and is the prerequisite for every other feat for this section.

Arcane Weapon (requires BAB +1) makes your weapon into a magical one: If your BAB is +1 to +4, it becomes a +1 weapon. If your BAB is +5 to +8, it becomes a +2 weapon, and so on until a +5 weapon at +17 BAB. The duration is a number of rounds equal to [your BAB / 3 + 1].


As a general rule, all Arcane Battle feats require a Move action to activate

This actually makes Arcane Weapon a fairly useful "inherent bonus" type of feat since it means you'll always have the right +weapon you need, though the short duration can hurt mobility.

Force Armor (BAB +1) is similar, except it's for armor, and the bonus is "deflection" instead of enhancement, which means it can stack with the bonus of your actual +armor if you had any.

Fleet-Footed Charge (BAB +1) is a temporary, limited-use feat that lets you add +10 feet to your movement speed.


A lot of these feats have a duration based on your BAB, such as Arcane Weapon, and they have a limited number of uses per day, such as Fleet-Footed Charge only being usable a number of times equal to your [BAB / 3 + 1]. When I say "temporary" and "limited-use", I mean that, and for readability I'll shorten it to that

Serpent-Eyed Strike (BAB +1, Charisma 13) is a limited-use feat that lets spend a Standard Action to force a target to make a Will save or lose their Dex bonus to AC for 1d6 rounds. It feels like the duration should instead be 1d6+1 so you can't roll low and get screwed out of being able to use it.


As a general rule, any of these feats that need a saving throw will have a DC based on DC + half your BAB + Intelligence modifier, which scales well enough assuming you can afford to keep the Int high.

Summon Spectral Squire (BAB +1, Quick Draw) is a temporary, limited-use feat to let you summon an illusory NPC that will pick up stuff for you as a free action. As far as I can tell, the practical use of this thing would be to help you against disarms and draw weapons and equipment from your pack.

Augment Physical Prowess (BAB +3) is a limited-use feat that lets you increase your Strength, or Dexterity, or Constitution by +2.


The book presents these feats in alphabetical order, but I'm doing them in order of the minimum BAB required in order to convey a sense of the progression

Knockback Strike (BAB +3, Arcane Weapon, Power Attack) is a limited-use feat that you lets you attack an enemy, and they they'll have to make a Fort save or be knocked back 1 foot per 1 damage taken. This feat may well break physics in your 3rd Edition game because suddenly the target isn't occupying a 5-foot-square-intersection anymore.

Energy Sheath (BAB +4, Arcane Weapon) is a limited-use, temporary feat that lets you add acid, cold, electricity, fire, or sonic damage to your attacks. It starts off with +1d4 damage at +4 BAB, +1d6 damage at +9 BAB, and +1d8 damage at +15 BAB.

Thousand Blade Strike (BAB +4) is a temporary, limited-use feat that forces your target to make a Will save or be flanked (because you have illusory attackers flanking them for you)

Vertical Step (BAB +4, Fleet-Footed Charge) is a temporary, limited-use feat that lets you walk vertically up surfaces.

Rhino's Charge (BAB +5, Fleet-Footed Charge) is a limited-use feat that lets you add +2d8 damage to a successful charge hit, and forces the target to make a Reflex save or be knocked prone.

Summon Spectral Shield Bearer (BAB +5) is a temporary, limited-use feat to let you summon an illusory NPC that gives you an AC bonus from attacks against an enemy that you designate.

Bounding Step (BAB +8, Vertical Step) is a temporary, limited-use feat that lets you walk on air

Energy Shield (BAB +8, Energy Sheath) is a temporary, limited-use feat that grants you an escalating amount of elemental resistance. One problem I have with this feat is that the energy type matches whatever type you picked for Energy Sheath's damage, which seems to be really awkward since your defensive and offensive choice would be the same.

Flattening Strike (BAB +8, Arcane Weapon, Knockback Strike, Power Attack) is a limited-use feat that lets you force your target to make a Fort save or be knocked prone.

Mind Strike (BAB +8, Charisma 13, Serpent-Eyed Strike) is a temporary, limited-use feat that lets you force your target to make a Will save or take 1 damage to Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma.

Storm of Arrows (BAB +8, Point-Blank Shot) is a limited-use feat that lets you turn your ranged attacks into a 30-foot-radius AOE. Targets caught in it must make a Reflex save or take half damage.

Wave of Mutilation (BAB +8, Power Attack) is a limited-use feat that lets you turn your melee attacks into a 30-foot-cone AOE. Targets in it must make a Reflex save or take half damage

Hellfire Charge (BAB +10, Fleet-Footed Charge, Rhino's Charge) is a limited-use feat that makes your charges be considered as flight, adds an additional +5d8 damage, and forces your target to make a Fort save or be blinded for 2d4 rounds.

Animate Weapon (BAB +12, Summon Spectral Squire) is a temporary, limited-use feat that lets you turn one of your weapons into ... an animated weapon that will attack things independent of you, with your full attack and damage bonuses.

Aspect of Battle (BAB +12, Charisma 13, Mind Strike) is a temporary, limited-use feat that gives you a 60-foot-radius aura conferring a -2 morale penalty to attacks, skill checks, and saves to your enemies.

Energy Burst (BAB +12, Energy Shield) is a limited-use feat that lets you explode yourself for 6d6 damage in a 30-foot radius, scaling up to 8d6 at BAB +16 and 10d6 at BAB +20. This is still the same energy type as Energy Sheath and Energy Shield.

Dance of a Feather's Step (BAB+16, Bounding Step) lets you become passively immune to gravity. You cannot fall unless you choose to.

Death Strike (BAB +16, Arcane Weapon) is a limited-use feat that adds 2d6 negative energy to an attack and forces your enemy to make a Fort save or take 1d6 damage to Strength and Constitution. If used against undead creatures, a failed save destroys the creature.

Energy Web (BAB +16, Energy Burst) is a temporary, limited-use feat that creates an energy web that deals 6d6 damage per turn to whomever it is wrapped-around, and you transfer it to targets by hitting them. This is still the same energy type as the earlier energy feats.

Launching Strike (BAB +16, Flattening Strike) is a limited-use feat that lets you force your target to make a Fort save when you hit them. If they fail, they get thrown into the air a number of feet equal to twice your damage dealt, and then will fall and take falling damage as a result.


There's a lot going-on in this section:

* The book actually manages to create a system of "battle-magic" that's convincingly powerful (if a little too stingy on uses).

* It even hits on multiple themes, since you've got a charge feat chain, a mental feat chain, an illusion feat chain, and so on.

* It even (unwittingly?) stumbles upon the good-and-correct design model that if you strongly gate abilities behind level-based prerequisites, you can have an escalating level of power.

* Further, and perhaps more importantly, you can see that if the power of ability is limited to so many uses per day, then you can actually make the abilities individually powerful per use.

* ... but of course, the book has convinced itself that it can only do this because "it's magic".

* ... and these abilities still aren't as powerful what a full 3rd Edition spellcaster could do ...

* ... but if you squint hard enough, there's a reasonable framework for what a martial character SHOULD be capable of in the first place. Walk on air by level 8!

To be able to use this material would require a LOT of elbow-grease, but I kind of like it if only because of how ambitious it is.

Up Next: Battlemind Feats

Battlemind Feats

posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

The Book of Iron Might, by Mike Mearls

Battlemind Feats

This is the second set of feats included in the book. They're supposed to represent some kind of supreme intellectual capability - not quite psionic, but verging on it. As far as flavor is concerned, they all require one of the three mental stats as a prerequisite, and the DM is supposed to set it up that these feats can only be learned via a master's teachings, to create a sort of narratively mythic feel compared to your bog-standard Power Attack or Weapon Specialization.

There's also a special rule that the player needs to decide and commit to taking a Battlemind feat two levels early. That is, if they want to learn a Battlemind feat at level 3, they need to make that decision at level 1 (and presumably shouldn't change their mind). The trade-off is that the feat has a minor benefit called a Method that they gain as soon as they make this commitment.

Clarity of the Warrior's Mind - Wis 13
This is a temporary, limited-use feat that makes you immune to all fear and mind-affecting effects
Method: Gain a passive/permanent +2 bonus to Will saves against fear effects

Talent of the Poised Strike - Wis 13
When making a Listen or Spot check to determine if you are surprised or not, add your BAB to your Listen/Spot check
Method: Gain a +1 bonus to Listen and Spot checks

Stance of the Prowling Tiger - Wis 13, Talent of the Poised Strike
Add half your BAB to initiative checks
Method: You know if the place you are in was the site of a battle. How far back in the past you can sense this scales with your BAB, starting at 1 day with BAB+1, all the way to 10,000 years at BAB+20

Strike of Persistent Sundering - Wis 13, Power Attack, Improved Sunder
Whenever you hit an object with a melee attack and damage it (that is, deal more damage than its Hardness, which acts as damage reduction), you reduce the object's Hardness by 1, to a minimum of 0.
Method: You gain a +1 bonus to all damage rolls versus objects

Resolve of the Steel Mind - BAB+3, Int 13
When rolling for initiative, you can roll twice and take the better result
Method: Once per day, you can set your initiative roll to 10 if you don't like the result.

Avatar of Carnage - BAB+5, Cha 15, Intimidate 8 ranks
This is a temporary, limited-use feat that lets you force all enemies within 60 feet to make a Will save. If they fail, they take a -2 penalty to attack rolls and checks, or a -1 penalty if they have more HD than you
Method: Gain a +2 bonus to Intimidate checks

Eye of the Warmaster - BAB+6, Int 13, Combat Expertise
Once per round as a free action, you can designate an enemy as the target of this feat. When you do, you gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls against them. Every time that enemy attacks you while being the target of this feat, the bonus increases by +1, up to a maximum of +5.
Method: As a full-round action, you can study an opponent and gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls against them. You can do this multiple times to multiple enemies, but it requires a full-round action each time.

Strike of Perfect Clarity - BAB+12, Int 13, Eye of the Warmaster
As a standard action, you can designate an enemy as the target of this feat. If the enemy attacks you before your next turn, you can make an attack of opportunity against them before their attack resolves. The strike does triple damage.
Method: As a full-round action, you can designate an enemy as the target of this Method. On your next turn, any attacks you make against that target deal double damage. You can only use this Method once per encounter.

Tactics of the Mind's Eye - BAB+12, Int 13, Combat Expertise
This is a temporary, limited-use feat that lets you enter a battle-trance. While you're in the trance, you can make an attack roll whenever you are targeted by an attack, a touch attack, a disarm attempt, a trip attempt, or a grapple attempt. If your attack roll is higher than the enemy's attack, their attack misses. You can use this ability once per turn as a free action.
Method: When you are attacked by an enemy for a number of rounds equal to [5 - Int modifier], you know if they have any of the Combat Expertise, Improved Grapple, Point Blank Shot, Power Attack, or Weapon Focus feats.


Like the Arcane Battle feats, these are actually quite interesting, since they're targeted / triggered / activated abilities with significant effects. The initiative boosting feats in particular are quite powerful relative to standard 3e fare.

The use of the word and rough concept of "Stances" also suggests that this is the primordial soup of what would become the Stances in Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords ... and would further develop into the Stance mechanics in 4th Edition's PHB 2 (particularly as Barbarian Rages) ... and would even further develop into the Stances in 4th Edition's Essentials classes.