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Class Struggles

Smoke, fire and the clashing sound of steel upon steel fills the battlefield, but a voice, strong and confident, urges one side towards victory. Encouraging their allies to perform more competently in the heat of battle, the marshal is not a warrior themselves, but more of a facilitator.

First introduced in the Miniatures Handbook, the marshal hasn't received much attention beyond a small handful of material, yet the concept was enough for it to be included as one of the core classes in Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition under the new name: warlord.

The marshal is a class often accused of being underpowered, yet its strength does not lie within, but rather with their allies. The marshal makes them better, and they in turn provide the marshal with the muscle that he requires. In this respect, it is a very unique class and one that deserves a closer look.

Marshal Strengths

  • High Fortitude and Will saving throws
  • Able to project minor and major auras that affect their allies
  • Ability to provide extra move actions to allies

Marshal Weaknesses

  • Low Reflex saving throws
  • Only average fighting abilities

Playing a Marshal
Many people complain that the marshal is a lackluster class that cannot hold its own in a campaign, and this is true. They possess average fighting abilities and skill points and have no magical capabilities. The real strength of the marshal is their unparalleled ability to improve their allies' abilities, both inside and outside combat.

From their first level, the marshal possesses the extraordinary ability to project auras to all allies (including themselves) within 60 feet. They begin with minor auras, affected by their Charisma bonus, which provide minor benefits such as bonuses to all skill checks and ability checks related to a particular ability score. By second level, they have access to major auras, which provide bonuses that increase at regular intervals and have greater effects.

The marshal's skill-boosting minor auras are extremely useful when their allies are using skill-based classes. For example, the Motivate Intelligence aura can help truenamers (Tome of Magic) to make their Truespeech checks, which are used in almost all of their class abilities and can also assist archivists (Heroes of Horror) who are attempting to make Knowledge checks to activate their Dark Knowledge abilities.

In Asian settings, the Motivate Charisma aura can allow samurai (Oriential Adventures version) to make much stronger Iaijutsu Focus checks, allowing them to deal more damage. (For more information on the Iaijutsu Focus skill and the potential problems with it, see The Case Against Iaijutsu Focus.)

The marshal's other key feature is the ability to grant move actions to their allies. While it's not only excellent for assisting them in repositioning themselves in the heat of battle, it also provides an added bonus to characters who rely on Skirmish abilities, such as the scout (Complete Adventurer), and swordsages (Tome of Battle) who focus on the Desert Wind school. For such characters, the ability to make an extra move action can allow them to hit much harder than they otherwise would be able to.

Despite their capabilities, marshals can be rather easy to disable. Strong armor and a shield can keep them from being killed. Marshals should take care to keep away from enemies that can disable them with a dazing or stunning attack, or otherwise paralyze them. In addition, a silence spell can prevent them from using their auras, so they should take care to stop any enemy spellcasters who could potentially shut them down.

Variant Marshals
While there are no variant marshal classes or levels, there are a pair of variant class features, both of which can provide interesting new abilities to the class.

The Adrenaline Boost class feature from Player's Handbook II allows the marshal to provide their allies with temporary hit points equal to the marshal's level. If the allies affected by this ability are fairly wounded, they receive twice the temporary hit points. In exchange, the marshal gives up their Grant Move Action ability and instead gain multiple uses of Adrenaline Boost at later levels.

For parties that lack strong healing, this class feature makes the marshal indispensable by allowing them to proto-heal their allies. However, the party does give up much of their maneuverability in exchange, making them more defensive than offensive as a result.

Dragon Magic also introduces the ability for the marshal to learn the draconic auras of the dragon shaman class (Player's Handbook II) in place of one of their major auras. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, most draconic auras are weaker than the marshal's normal major auras. Marshals may want to consider learning Resistance this way. Dragon-blooded marshals may wish to learn these through the Draconic Aura feat instead (see below).

Race Suggestions
Like with all other classes, human is an excellent choice for a marshal character, if only for the extra feat. The character can make use of their extra skill points to help diversify their skill selection, especially if the character lacks a higher Intelligence score.

As mentioned in a previous article (Origins of the PCs: Half-Elf), half-elves make excellent diplomacy-based marshals, and with proper feat selection and a decent Charisma, such characters could potentially have a Diplomacy modifier of +15 at 1st level.

Although dwarves have a generally lower Charisma score than most races, they do possess the ability to move at their full speed, regardless of the armor they're wearing. This allows a dwarven marshal to better position themselves in battle, which can enable them to make more attacks of opportunity or better flank their opponents.

Aasimar (Races of Destiny) possess both a high Charisma score, which boosts their minor auras, as well as a high Wisdom score. Since a high majority of the marshal's skills (9 out of 13) use either Charisma or Wisdom as their key ability modifier, such characters tend to be very skillful. Unfortunately, their effective character level can prove to be a hindrance, unless your DM is willing to allow you to make a lesser aasimar character (Races of Faerûn).

Stealthy and cooperative, the kenku (Monster Manual III) make excellent marshals. Their natural weapons prevent them from being unarmed, while their skill bonuses to Hide and Move Silently allow them to sneak around the battlefield. Their ability to mimic other people's voices through Bluff checks can come in fairly handy as well. Their key ability is their increased bonuses while flanking, when aiding, or being aided by another. This helps an already tactical class become even better by providing them with bonuses for working in a team.

Somewhat less beneficial than the kenku are the rilkan (Magic of Incarnum). These characters gain bonuses to Bluff and Diplomacy checks, as well as gain bonuses on Knowledge checks (which may not be exceptionally useful to the marshal). They too possess the ability to grant additional bonuses when aiding another, but only to other rilkans. They do not possess bonuses to flank or receive bonuses when being aided, and aren't as great a choice overall. Such characters may want to learn to shape soulmelds like the silvertongue mask, but multiclassing into a class that provides soulmelding abilities probably isn't worth it to a marshal character.

For general skill bonuses, consider the illumian (Races of Destiny). Both the hoon and vaul words can provide bonuses that affect most of the marshal's skills, although the word they create together does not help the marshal in the slightest. They may however, want to select aesh and uur instead. Although these will provide bonuses to fewer marshal class skills, they do combine into the only illumian word that doesn't deal with either magic or turning undead.

One interesting choice for a race is the spellscale (Races of the Dragon). On the surface, they can provide a much appreciated increase to Charisma. Their blood-quickening powers are somewhat less beneficial, as most only provide a bonus on skill checks to a marshal. A marshal that multiclasses as a spellcaster, such as a warmage (Complete Arcane) or a sorcerer would find much more benefit from this race. Because they possess the dragonblood subtype, spellscales can learn draconic auras much more easily through the Draconic Aura feat (see below).

Similar to the half-elf, a changeling marshal (Eberron Campaign Setting) is going to be more focused on skills. Their bonuses to Bluff, Intimidate, Sense Motive and Disguise can all be useful to the marshal, as can the changeling's ability to alter their appearance. These make the changeling marshal an ambush-focused character, who would be more likely to take the element of surprise. In addition, their bonuses against sleep and charm effects are useful and prevent them from being disabled, but are not as powerful as those possessed by half-elves.

Another similar race, and an excellent choice for a psionic marshal character is the kalashtar (also from the Eberron Campaign Setting). These characters possess a number of skill bonuses similar to the changeling and half-elf, as well as some limited resistance against mind-affecting spells and abilities. Their ability to use the mindlink power can allow them to communicate silently with an ally, either to exchange information or to set up a nasty surprise for an enemy within earshot, although they cannot project their aura through it.

For a silent marshal, consider the hellbred, specifically one with the spirit infernal aspect (Fiendish Codex II). These characters have a higher Charisma score as well as bonuses to Intimidate and Sense Motive. While their darkvision abilities can prove useful, it's their ability to communicate via telepathy at later levels that stands out here. Such a character could project their auras through telepathy as opposed to being vocal, allowing them to be a benefit to the party, even when silenced.

Feat Suggestions
Little material for marshal characters has ever been written, so there are few feats designed for them. Fortunately, there are several options that marshals can take advantage of that can drastically change their function, on and off the battlefield.

A Heaping Helping of Auras
Marshals can project two auras at a time by default: one minor and one major. Characters who take the Draconic Aura feat (Dragon Magic) gain access to a draconic aura that they can project at the same time, giving them access to three. Unfortunately, the draconic aura is weak unless the marshal possesses the dragonblood subtype, either through their race or the Dragontouched feat (also from Dragon Magic), in which case it grows in strength at the same rate as the marshal's major aura.

In addition, a character could take the Double Draconic Aura feat at 12th level (this too is in Dragon Magic) in order to project two draconic auras at the same time. Although draconic auras are generally weaker than major auras, they can still provide much appreciated bonuses, allowing the marshal to project four auras simultaneously at the expense of between three to four feats.

Marshals can also improve the range their auras through the Dilate Aura feat (Fiendish Codex II). This feat allows them to double the range of one of their auras temporarily, but can be used once per encounter. This is a must have for marshals who have a hard time keeping everybody within earshot.

For a more offensive aura, marshals can learn to bind vestiges with the Bind Vestige and Improved Bind Vestige feats (Tome of Magic). Focalor's Aura of Sadness ability can be obtained as early as 1st level for human marshals and can make life pretty difficult for the marshal's opponents when engaged with them in melee combat.

Shock and Awe
Due to their reliance on higher Charisma scores, marshals can take advantage of feats that allow them to induce fear in those who would stand up against them. The Kiai Shout and Greater Kiai Shout feats (Complete Warrior) are excellent examples of such feats. These allow the marshal to make a shout that affects all opponents with fewer hit dice than themselves, forcing them to make a Will save or become shaken for 1d6 rounds or later panicked for 2d6 rounds, and is usable 3/day.

In comparison, the Daunting Presence feat (Miniatures Handbook) allows the marshal to force a single opponent to make a Will save or become shaken for 10 minutes. While it doesn't affect large groups of enemies like the Kiai Shout, it is usable far more often, lasts much longer and can affect more powerful enemies.

Marshals can also take advantage of the Goad feat (Miniatures Handbook and Complete Adventurer), which allows them to force an enemy to make a Will save or target the marshal with attacks in their next round. This ability is similar to the knight class's challenges (Player's Handbook II), and thanks to the marshal's generally high armor class, they can use it to take some of the heat off their allies.

Protection Racket
The marshal's armor proficiencies and focus on combat make them excellent candidates for armor-based feats. At later levels, a marshal should consider the Armor Specialization feat (Player's Handbook II), as it provides them with damage reduction when they wear their favored armor. Although the Hardy Soldiers aura will trump the bonus provided by this feat by the time the marshal can qualify for it, the character will not be caught off-guard if they decide to switch up their major aura.

Marshals can also help protect more vulnerable party members with their shields. The Shieldmate and Improved Shieldmate (Miniatures Handbook) feats both provide a small armor class bonus to allies adjacent to the marshal. The Phalanx Fighting feat (Complete Warrior) not only provides a bonus to the marshal for fighting with a heavy shield and light weapon, but provides a larger defensive bonus when multiple people possess and use the feat together.

A Call to Battle
The White Raven school of combat from Tome of Battle is custom made for classes like the marshal, as they focus primarily on assisting the character's party. Both the Martial Study and Martial Stance feats are excellent starting points.

Once some White Raven techniques have been learned, the marshal can then take the White Raven Defense feat. When using a White Raven stance, which you'll most likely already be doing, you are given a small increase to armor class, which extends to adjacent allies when paired with a White Raven approved weapon.

These feats lead up to the Clarion Commander feat. A tactical feat, this provides the marshal with three battle-ready options focused on teamwork through aiding allies and social-based skill checks, all right up the marshal's alley.

Playing to your Weaknesses
A marshal is neither as strong in battle as a fighter, nor do they have access to as many feats, so a marshal must play to their strengths, which is their allies. Marshal characters do best when they fight smart, exposing and exploiting their enemies weaknesses and taking every advantage presented to them.

Attacks of opportunity are one thing that the marshal can exploit, and in some cases, may be able to force upon an enemy. For taking advantage of these lapses, a marshal should consider the Combat Reflexes feat, which provides them with ample opportunities. In addition, they should also pair this with a feat like Expert Tactician (Complete Adventurer), which provides not only the marshal, but also the rest of their party with bonuses for the marshal's attacks of opportunity.

Marshals should also flank whenever possible to maximize not only their chances to strike at an opponent, but also their allies'. Both the Adaptable Flanker and Vexing Flanker feats (Player's Handbook II) assist the marshal in this capacity not only by improving their ability to hit while flanking but also to make it much easier to flank.

Multiclass Suggestions
Marshals that multiclass lose out on the ability to further progress the strength of their major auras, which can be a serious blow to the class. Fortunately, there are several classes that can provide a marshal with a splash of extra abilities that are very complimentary to their own power set.

The bard is the de-facto party-assistant, using not commands and orders, but song to inspire their teammates. Not only do such characters gain a small number of Charisma-based arcane spells, but a bevy of bardic music abilities, all of which can stack with the bonuses a marshal's auras can provide. The downsides are the difficultly of casting bardic spells in heavier armor and that the already average base attack bonus of the marshal will be further reduced by multiclassing with the bard, putting them squarely in a support role.

Paladins also make for a great combination, but require that the character take the Knight Training feat (Eberron Campaign Setting) to properly multiclass. In addition to a bevy of defensive and healing abilities, which are all based on Charisma, the character also provides their allies with an aura of courage to protect them from fear effect. These kinds of characters also benefit from a smite attack, which can allow them to deal large amounts of damage to evil opponents. The Extra Smiting feat (Complete Warrior) helps to make up for this combination's low number of daily smite attacks.

Marshals can also multiclass well with the dragon shaman class (Player's Handbook II). Early on, they'll gain access to draconic auras, gain skill bonuses, spell-like abilities and a breath weapon along with immunity to sleep and paralysis (two effects that can easily shut down a marshal). Although the character will have a low base attack bonus, this is balanced by the fact that they will be more defensible due to their heavy armor and the dragon shaman's natural armor progression starting in the mid-levels.

The divine mind (Complete Psionic) also produces auras, but psionic ones provided by the character's deity. They can produce a bevy of non-standard auras, some quite powerful, but lack the ability to quickly switch between them that the marshal possesses. When combined with the marshal, the character gets the best of both worlds: simple bonuses that can be quickly changed as well as more unique abilities. In addition, this character learns psionic manifesting and can learn additional powers and auras through the Tap Mantle tree of feats (Complete Psionic).

If spending feats to gain access to the White Raven martial abilities isn't appealing, consider multiclassing as a crusader (Tome of Battle) as this class can naturally learn White Raven stances and strikes. In addition, their focus on counter attacks makes this class perfect for a character who wants to control the battlefield and punish opponents who don't want to play by their rules.

The hexblade (Complete Warrior) provides an interesting combination in that such a character not only provides bonuses for their allies, but also actively curses their enemies. These characters will likely want to take the Armored Spellcasting feat (Complete Arcane) in order to cast their meager allotment of arcane spells while wearing medium armor.

The samurai's (Complete Warrior) focus on the Intimidate skill makes them ideal for creating a combination focused on demoralizing the opponent. Their rigid feat progression however can detract from this build, by forcing the character to conform to a very specific ideal. Characters considering this combination may want to consider the Historical Samurai variant provided in Class Struggles: Samurai.

For a more defensible, as well as martially inclined character, consider multiclassing as a knight (Player's Handbook II). Not only does the class's focus on movement and armoring mesh well with the marshal, but they also possess a series of challenge abilities designed to help the character take control of the battlefield. This particular combination makes for a potent party leader, able to both assist the party and confidently engage in combat.

Because marshals can improve Intelligence-based skill checks from first level, they can be easily combined with classes that are largely based upon these kinds of checks. For example, the truenamer (Tome of Magic), which requires Truespeak checks be made for all of their utterances. The Motivate Intelligence aura provides a much welcome boost to these checks, making the character more able to make their skill checks. These characters are more physically frail, and although they can be heavily armored, will more likely than not want to work their magic from the sidelines before considering entering combat.

Although they don't require skill checks to cast their spells, the archivist (Heroes of Horror) also makes an excellent combination with the marshal when paired with the Motivate Intelligence aura. The archivist, a divine spellcaster can make full use of the marshal's armor proficiencies, as well as add in the ability to heal party members and the adaptability to learn any divine spell they can get their hands on. In addition, their Dark Knowledge class feature, which is dependent upon Knowledge checks is improved through the combination, providing larger bonuses on a more regular basis.

Prestige Class Suggestions
There are not too many prestige classes out there that provide marshal-specific benefits. However, there are a small number that marshals can benefit from taking, providing them with a new assortment of abilities that compliment their own.

Mythic Exemplar (Complete Champion) - The mythic exemplar is the only prestige class out there that has the ability to specifically benefit marshal characters by improving their aura abilities. Marshals who take this prestige class will want to venerate Reikhardt. Doing so will give them an inspire courage and an inspire greatness ability (similar to the bardic music abilities), the ability to boost Charisma temporarily, the ability to increase the saving throws of allies within 60 ft. as well as some spell-like abilities and all while increasing the character's marshal aura abilities on a regular basis. While the marshal doesn't benefit from this class's spell progression, multiclassing can help provide the maximum benefits.

Dragon Lord (Dragon Magic) - The dragon lord is designed for a soldier, like the marshal, and confers some special benefits. These characters receive draconic auras, the ability to provide numerous temporary bonuses to allies, the ability to fight better when flanked and demoralize opponents after defeating one of their own. For characters who want to maximize the number of auras they have active at any time, this class provides an outlet to do so, without spending a large number of feats to get the greatest benefit.

Beast Heart Adept (Dungeonscape) - The beast heart adept allows the marshal to receive monstrous companions, fight better with them and battle against monsters with more knowledge about how they behave. Marshals will benefit from selecting more intelligent monstrous companions, as these can be affected by the marshal's auras. This helps to ensure that you not only have a small number of companions that you can fight tactically with, but that they become as tough as possible.

Evangelist (Complete Divine) - Marshals will need to take some cross-class skill ranks to meet the Gather Information prerequisite for this class, but doing so will allow them to combine their shouting of tactics with shouting about religion. They can foster bonuses or penalties to Will saves (depending on their alignment), produce a fire shield effect, convert enemies to their side and gain a number of bonuses to social skills.

Fatemaker (Planar Handbook) - Although members of the Fated aren't renowned for their ability to work as part of a team, marshals tend to make fairly good fatemakers. Although they'll likely want to work in light armor (or medium armor when paired with the Armored Spellcasting feat from Complete Arcane), they benefit from gaining regular increases to Charisma, sneak attacks, abilities that allow them to manifest their confidence as a bonus as well as a special aura ability that provides a number of bonuses to all adjacent allies.

Purple Dragon Knight (Complete Warrior) - Consumate soldiers, the Purple Dragons benefit from having marshals among their ranks along with the traditional warrior classes. These characters become better at aiding another in defending, can provide their allies with a small bonus to attack and speed, gain an inspire courage ability similar to the bardic version, affect their enemies with fear, call out a single target to gain bonuses against them and provide their allies with temporary hit points.

New Material

New Feats
Presented here are a small number of feats designed for marshal characters.

Cautious Movements [General]
Your careful observation of the battlefield allows you to warn those you assist of dangers they may face.
    Prerequisites: Grant move action ability, Spot 4 ranks.
    Benefit: When using your grant move action ability to provide a single ally with an extra move action, they receive a dodge bonus to their Armor Class equal to your major aura bonus for 1 round. In order to receive this bonus, the ally must have an Intelligence score of 3 or higher and be able to understand you.

Double Major Aura [General]
You can project two major auras simultaneously.
    Prerequisites: Cha 14, marshal level 12th.
    Benefit: You can project two major auras simultaneously. You must activate or dismiss your auras separately.

Double Minor Aura [General]
You can project two minor auras simultaneously.
    Prerequisites: Cha 14, marshal level 6th.
    Benefit: You can project two minor auras simultaneously. You must activate or dismiss your auras separately.

Extra Movement [General]
You can grant more move actions.
    Prerequisites: Grant move action ability, base attack bonus +6.
    Benefit: You gain the ability to use your grant move action ability one additional time per day.
    Special: You can take this feat multiple times, its effects stack.

Improved Cautious Movements [General]
Your ability to perceive the dangers of a battlefield have improved, allowing you to guide your allies safely.
    Prerequisites: Cautious Movements, grant move action ability, Spot 8 ranks.
    Benefit: You may now apply the benefits of your Cautious Movements feat to all allies that you provide with an extra move action through your grant move action ability.

Improved Major Aura [General]
Your major aura becomes more powerful.
    Prerequisites: Major aura +2 class ability.
    Benefit: The bonus provided by your major aura class ability is improved by +1.

Improved Minor Aura [General]
Your skill in inspiring others becomes more refined.
    Prerequisites: Marshal level 3rd.
    Benefit: The bonus provided by your minor aura class ability increases by +1.
    Special: You may take this feat more than once, its effects stack.

Practiced Commander [General]
Your ability to command others in the heat of battle has improved, even as you focus your efforts elsewhere.
    Prerequisites: Major aura +1 class ability.
    Benefit: Your effective marshal level for determining the power of your major auras improves by 4. This benefit can't increase your effective marshal level to higher than your Hit Dice. However, even if you can't benefit from the full bonus immediately, if you later gain Hit Dice in a class other than marshal, you might be able to apply the rest of the bonus.
    For example, a human 5th-level marshal/3rd-level bard who selects this feat would increase his effective marshal level from 5th to 8th. If he later gained a bard level, he would gain the remainder of the bonus and his effective marshal level would become 9th.
    Special: You may take this feat multiple times. Each time increases your effective marshal level by 4, but the same restriction against the maximum effective level still applies.

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