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Martial Traditions

Warriors tend to gather – it’s what they do. Those who have dedicated their lives to strife find others who believe in a common cause and gather under banners of brotherhood or employment, forming knightly orders, mercenary bands, ravening hordes, and other entities. Each has its own drive, goals, rites, and sacred traditions that make it unique and set its members apart from all others.

The optional Martial Traditions presented here are meant to evoke elements of those real-world martial organizations. Whether they are schools of thought (like the Scarlet Sentinels), cults (such as the Empyreal Guardians) or armies (like the Bloody Fangs), these Traditions can be used to help flesh out a character concept, as a body of allies, a group of antagonists, to add to a campaign setting, or more. Not every member of these organizations will necessarily be a martial character – some employ arcanists, priests, or other support members – but the goals and attitudes of each Tradition are distinctly martial in nature, focusing on fulfilling their missions through battle and strife.

Any character can join a Martial Tradition, provided that their alignment meets its requirements and they can persuade the organization to accept them. Some organizations, like the Scarlet Sentinels, will train students and thus a character may essentially begin the game as a member (having been taught the arts of war by the organization). Most will also accept recruits that have not been raised into the organization, augmenting their training with specialized techniques and instructing the recruit in the beliefs and practices that bind the Tradition together. Leaving the Tradition can sometimes be more complicated, because some are more understanding than others. Generally speaking a character can leave a Tradition with nothing more than social consequences and the loss of their Allegiance Benefit (if any) by renouncing their oath and informing their superiors of their decision; any special conditions on exiting a Martial Tradition will be noted in its individual description.

Each Martial Tradition presented here uses the following format:


Alignment: The alignment(s) accepted by the Tradition. This is normally a matter of fundamental attitudes; each Tradition seeks students that will have sympathy for the organization’s beliefs and goals and turns aside those whose behavior is seen as undesirable or inadmissible. Not every Martial Tradition requires specific alignments, but for those that do failing to uphold those alignments counts as a violation of the Tradition’s oath (see below).

Symbol: The Tradition’s symbol, used on their heraldry and in other places where members are meant to identify themselves.

Discipline: Martial Traditions have special training in a favored martial discipline, which is made available to their members. A character that begins the game as a member of a Martial tradition may (but is not required to) simply trade access to one of their class’s disciplines (or a discipline accessed through the Martial Training line of feats) for the Tradition’s discipline. A member that joins the Tradition at a later date must spend some time learning the new techniques if they desire to do so; it takes a week to un-learn the discipline of their choice and replace the maneuvers they knew from it with maneuvers of equal or lower level from the Martial Tradition’s discipline. From that point on, the character has access to the Martial Tradition’s favored discipline in place of the one they gave up. In either event, they gain their new discipline’s associated skill as a class skill.

If a character loses access to their Martial Tradition’s discipline by breaking their oath or leaving the organization (such as is the case with the Black Thorn Knights), it takes them a week of training to un-learn the old, now-defunct techniques and replace them with maneuvers of equal level or lower from the discipline they traded away. Until or unless they take this time to retrain themselves, the maneuvers from the Martial Tradition’s favored discipline cannot be readied or used. This process also trades the skills associated with those disciplines, as described above. Oath: This section describes the ceremony used to induct new members into the Martial Tradition and may discuss elements of its recruitment or training. Following this is an example of the oath of conduct that members swear. A character is expected by the Tradition to uphold the spirit (and sometimes the letter) of this oath, and may face penalties for failing to do so, both socially and supernaturally (see below). The oaths presented are not legalistically worded, and they are not really intended to be – they are goals to strive for, not absolute requirements of behavior. Multiple valid interpretations exist and may be upheld proudly or debated on within the Tradition itself, and can form a source of internal conflict within the organization. Generally speaking, minor violations of the Tradition’s oath are not penalized beyond social penalties or reminders of the character’s responsibilities, while more severe violations (betrayal, repeated and unrepentant violations, or failing to meet the Tradition’s alignment requirements) result in suspension of services or even exile from the Tradition at the barest minimum.

Allegiance Benefit: This describes an optional bonus that is available to members of the organization in good standing. If the GM chooses to use Allegiance Benefits in his campaign, they represent specialized training or supernatural acumen that the Tradition makes available to its members. Allegiance Benefits may be lost by severely violating the Tradition’s oath (see above), and this section describes the methods by which a member may atone and be have their privileges restored as well.

Description: This section explains the goals, habits, and attitudes of the Martial Tradition, as well as providing ideas for how or where they can be integrated into the campaign setting.

Common Tasks: Common quests or orders handed down by the Tradition to its members. These lists are by no means exhaustive and instead describe what the Tradition normally needs from its members on a regular basis.

Available Services: Resources, items, and connections made available to members of the Tradition and to its allies and support staff. A member in good standing can reasonably expect to access these services, though not always for free or without effort.

Adapting Traditions

None of the Traditions presented here need to be used as-is – indeed, changes may be necessary to adapt them to your game or your campaign setting. The simplest and easiest of these changes is to alter their focus or goals. For example, you might re-envision the Scarlet Sentinels as the royal guard of a particular kingdom, or the members of the The Wayward Path as wandering spies that sell their information to the highest bidder. Altering their Allegiance Benefits (if you choose to use that rule) can be a little trickier, but a good rule of thumb is that any bonus can be safely swapped for an equal bonus to a similar area – for example, the Black Thorn Knight’s bonus on saving throws vs. chaotic beings might be altered to a bonus on saving throws vs. good beings.

Creating Traditions

Creating your own Martial Tradition can help you flesh out your campaign setting or help provide opportunities and antagonists for your players. For GMs interested in doing so, but unsure of where to start, we suggest the following steps:

  • Decide on a concept for your Tradition. Are they noble heroes? Defenders of a specific stretch of land, or the heirs to an ancient grudge? The fundamental questions of, “Why do they fight?” and “What do they believe in?” should be answered here.
  • Choose a required alignment or alignments (if any) and choose a favored discipline. This discipline should help reinforce the concept of the Tradition; for example, it would make little sense for an order of assassins to favor Golden Lion.
  • Write down a description of your Tradition, even if it’s for your eyes only. Writing it down can help give you a feeling for the character and tone of the Tradition and an idea of what its members are like, as well as how to portray them to player characters that may be interested in joining.
  • Write down an oath for your Tradition. Ideally, oaths make a firm statement of the Tradition’s goals and its members’ obligations, while at the same time being open enough for interpretation. If you’re using the Allegiance Benefit rules, now is the time to determine your Tradition’s Allegiance Benefit and its methods of atonement. Allegiance Benefits should be small bonuses – use the above Traditions as examples – and the general rule of thumb is that the greater the obligation imposed by the Tradition, the more powerful or useful the Allegiance Benefit becomes.
  • Jot down some ideas for common missions and tasks assigned by the Tradition and, finally, some common services offered by the Tradition to its members and their allies. How difficult are these services to acquire? How useful?

In general, those steps should help you create a Tradition in the vein of the ones presented above. You may also desire to add additional details, such as the location and nature of their base of operations, political contacts, and more to entrench them as part of your game world.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

Path of War, © 2014, Dreamscarred Press.

Path of War – Expanded, © 2016, Dreamscarred Press.