Alignment: Any lawful
Symbol: A gold-fringed shield emblazoned with a scroll.
Discipline: Iron Tortoise.
Oath: Known for their honor and loyalty, the Defenders range from paragons of virtue in the full flower of knightly chivalry all the way to blackguards serving fiendish cults – but all retain the obedience and ferocity of their order. The exact ceremony in which a Defender swears his oath depends on the lord or nation he chooses to serve and has too much potential variety to be detailed here, but the oath is always the same:
“On my honor and the honor of the Defenders who trained me, I swear to be a faithful servant. For you I shall provide valor to defend you and your peoples, loyalty to serve the needs of your realm, courage to destroy your enemies, and cunning to do your will. For me you shall provide honor to reward my deeds, glory to crown my name, and good lordship to sustain my life. So long as the circle is unbroken, my vow remains whole.”
Allegiance Benefit: Defenders of the Realm benefit from a +2 competence bonus to Knowledge (local), Knowledge (nobility), and Knowledge (religion) checks, as well as a +2 competence bonus to Fortitude saves.
Defenders of the Realm who violate their oaths (see above) do not immediately lose access to their bonuses; they have a month’s grace period to atone by making a formal apology to their employer and the order, at which point they must either pay a tithe (200 x level gold pieces) or undertake a mission to restore their good graces. A Defender of the Realm may still atone after this month’s period, but they lose access to their bonuses as the contacts, references, and specialized training made available to them by the Defenders of the Realm cease to be provided. A Defender who ceases to be lawful may not atone until such a time as they have regained their lawful alignment.
Description: The Defenders of the Realm began as a royal order of knights and served with honor and distinction – right up until the point when their kingdom was annihilated. The knights came back from a long and bitter campaign to find their home in ruins, their liege lords slaughtered, and the land desecrated beyond all use. With nowhere left to go, they became mercenaries to survive.
It’s been a while since then, and the Defenders are now more prosperous than they once dared to dream. Where once the Defenders hired themselves out as a private army, this order now makes its income training new generations of knights and matching them to lords that will suit them, ensuring harmony between lord and vassal.
The Defenders of the Realm are essentially professional middlemen. When a recruit appears at one of their fortresses (or is invited there by a recruiter) they are given an education in knighthood, including swordsmanship, etiquette, politics, honor, valor, law, philosophy, and linguistics. Though a potential recruit might be turned away for incompetence (or worse, stupidity) the Defenders pride themselves on taking members of any background and social class and molding them into true knights, and common-born warriors with dreams of glory and honor comprise the vast majority of their recruits.
Once a recruit is done being trained they’re free to go on their way, if they choose to. However, the Defenders continue to provide support for those members who stay on, furnishing them with letters of reference to noble lords or kingdoms in need of knights. The Defenders of the Realm go to some pains to match lord and vassal properly, smoothing over future conflicts in the process, and to date very few complaints have been made. As long as the newly minted member continues to pay their modest yearly dues the Defenders of the Realm are more than happy to provide introductions, invitations to exclusive events, help in arranging profitable marriages (or even non-profitable ones; the Defenders can really plan a wedding), legal counsel, and more. The Defenders of the Realm take pride in the reputation of their members and the order as a whole and do not like being seen as cheap or disinterested.
There are some downsides, of course. The Defenders of the Realm expect their members to abide by the oath they swear to their liege (see above) and while there have been cases of the Defenders siding with the vassal against their lord, these are very much the exception and not the rule. This intense need to fulfill the letter of their obligation regardless of personal moral qualms has sometimes led to dramatic ‘betrayals’ when an otherwise-honorable Defender betrays a master that they can no longer stomach serving. In addition to this is the matter of the Quells, events that are as rare as they are brutal. When a lord who hires through the Defenders betrays his oath to his new vassal a Quell occurs; the Defenders muster their membership to war against the faithless lord, take his wealth and holdings, and, sadly often, slaughter his family and servants. All members of the Defenders are expected to take part in Quells, something that is made clear up front and can serve as a deal breaker to otherwise-qualified candidates.
Common Tasks: Aside from participation in Quells (which are, admittedly, infrequent) Defenders do not often receive tasks directly from the order. There are some cases where the order may petition a Defender’s lord to hire their services for a task, or request that a member train a promising young squire, but aside from these your average Defender has few demands that do not come from their lord.
Defenders who choose to serve their order rather than being contracted to an outside liege do have expectations, however, the foremost being recruitment. They may be tasked with ousting threats against the fortress-schools the Defenders maintain, or asked to handle diplomacy or negotiations with nobles or nations seeking to employ Defenders (or with whom the Defenders wish to trade or buy land). They may also be asked to recover or escort the body of a Defender who died in battle, or to retrieve a legendary weapon or armor worn by such a hero.
Available Services: Perhaps the most profound service the Defenders of the Realm offer to their members (aside from job placement) is introductions. The Defenders of the Realm have a market base that is rife with political power – chancellors, monarchs, lords, merchant houses, wizard’s guilds and more hire their knights as long-term soldiers and bodyguards, and the positive relationships that result bring trade and information flowing in both directions. A Defender in good standing can expect a warm welcome, generous hospitality and in all likelihood employment wherever he chooses to go.
The Defenders also retain skilled armorers and crafters to produce equipment both magical and mundane, available to their members in good standing and to the liege lords of such members (who, admittedly, get a much smaller discount). Likewise, the Defenders make a habit of acquiring high-quality mounts which they train and make available to their membership, from simple war horses all the way up to and including dragons (the Defenders have an interesting relationship with certain willing dragons, in which they hire out members to serve the wyrms and foster the dragons‘ children in exchange). More exotic mounts are generally saved for true luminaries of the order, but with enough gold to hand even a knight on the down-and-outs might be able to secure a gryphon or something stranger.
Path of War, © 2014, Dreamscarred Press.