The classes of Dungeons and Dragons work best when they emulate a strong archetype from fantasy. Even when someone doesn’t literally want to play Aragorn or Conan, knowing what characters helped to spawn aspects of the class features helps a player to visualize what kind of person they are playing, and how that character reacts to their world.
Every edition of D&D seems to pick up on archetypes that previous versions didn’t, and some of those new archetypes begin to feel like they have always belonged in the game. First edition introduced the barbarian. Second edition took the odd mixture of rules that was the bard and redefined it as the “little bit of everything” class it is today. Third edition introduced the warlock, which picked up a lot of traction in fourth edition and felt right at home with the other classes in fifth edition.
There was another class that (kind of) showed up in third edition, that gained some momentum in fourth edition, but failed to fully make the transition into fifth edition. The marshal class was introduced in the Miniatures Handbook and was based on granting other players greater combat ability while being a competent combatant on their own. This transitioned to the warlord in fourth edition, a martial leader that was all about boosting and reinvigorating their allies.
A funny thing happened on the way to writing this review—the ever talented Brandes Stoddard started writing a history of the class on Tribality. If you have never checked out any of Brandes’ histories of various classes, you really should give them a read.
Fifth edition gave a few minor “warlord-ish” abilities to the battle master fighter, but the battle master is a warlord in the same way the eldritch knight is a wizard. It has a few nods in that direction, but its main focus is being a fighter.
That’s a lot of preamble for this review, but today on the blog, we’re looking at the latest Max Press release from Robert Schwalb, Call To Arms: The Warlord.
Order of Battle
Call to Arms is a 10-page supplement, which includes a full-page ad and a full page OGL notice at the end of the supplement. It shares similar trade dress and formatting with other Max Press and Shadow of the Demon Lord products, with an artistic border, parchment backgrounds, and dark red headers and tables to call out and display the appropriate information.
It might be saying something that the bloodied elf warrior holding a decapitated head is kind of tame compared to some of the other artwork that has appeared in the Max Press supplements. If the aftermath of a decapitation isn’t your thing, the artwork may not work for you.
The entire supplement is the Max Press version of the warlord class for fifth edition. The class itself is a d10 hit dice class that grants proficiency in the whole gamut of armor, arms, and shields. The opening abilities of the class include Battlefield Commands and Commanding Presence. Battlefield Commands are similar to bardic inspiration, except the warlord can issue a die to one ally within a specific range for each point of their charisma bonus, and the die goes up as they level. Commanding Presence allows the warlord to give up their attack to grant an ally with a reaction an attack instead.
Right off the bat, I’m happy with the idea that you can affect multiple allies with the Battle Command die, and that commanding presence is limited by range but not a set number of uses. Even though Battlefield Commands is limited by short rests, all of this goes a long way at the start to establish that boosting allies isn’t a side gig, and the multiple allies affected helps bridge the gap between this and the full casting bard.
Later abilities gained include Inspiring Speech, which allows you to give allies bonus hit points during a short rest, Military Stratagems (your subclasses), extra attacks (so you are still a proper full combatant as you progress, and Battle Leader, which allows you to grant allies bonus damage based on your charisma bonus.
You also eventually gain Call to Arms, which boosts initiative rolls, Rouse the Troops, which allows you to let your allies spend hit dice to recover without taking a short rest, and also allows the removal of fatigue, and Advantageous Action, which allows you to use the Help action as a bonus action, as well as adding a kicker to that help in the form of removing conditions, granting temporary hit points, or stabilizing a downed ally. Finally, your 20th level capstone ability allows characters within range of your Commanding Presence can roll two dice and take the best result and add your charisma modifier to saves.
That’s a lot going on before we even get to the Stratagems, but as a d10 combat class that gets an extra attack, we’re looking at a class that needs to be the equivalent of a fighter, ranger, or paladin in its abilities, and a lot of the class features that go into ranger and paladin rely on spell slots. Rouse the troops doesn’t come in until 10th level, but it could be situationally a big deal to allow for a 60-second “sort of” short rest that can also get rid of fatigue.
It’s interesting that the warlord allows for some minor initiative shenanigans, as there isn’t too much of that in fifth edition. Since the class has multiple ways of granting temporary hit points, it’s worth stating that temporary hit points don’t stack, so if you had the chance to get an Inspiring Speech boost, that 14th level kicker for Advantageous Action isn’t going to do you much good until you’ve gotten smacked around, unless you rolled really poorly for your temp hit points during your rest.
The next section goes into the Military Stratagems, the subclasses for the warlord class. The Stratagems listed include the following:
- Stratagem of the Daring Gambler
- Stratagem of the Golden General
- Stratagem of the Hordemaster
- Stratagem of the Resourceful Leader
- Stratagem of the Shrewd Commander
Five options is a pretty good set of subclasses, but let’s look at the differences. The abilities for the Daring Gambler grant allies the ability to take penalties or disadvantage for extra damage on attacks, no damage on half damage saves and allows them to risk themselves by granting an opportunity attack in exchange for the attacker granting your allies advantage on attacks against it.
The Golden General is about leading by example, so you grant allies advantage by attacking enemies yourself, you can take disadvantage on your saves to grant your allies advantage to the effect, and you can grant bonus hit points when you make saving throws at 15th level (see above for all of your temp hit point disclaimer needs). At 18th level, the Golden General allows characters to use their Battle Command die to heal.
The Hordemaster grants allies a bonus to their speed, and gains a bonus to their own speed when wearing light armor and not carrying a shield. You grant allies in range of Commanding Presence your charisma bonus to athletics and acrobatics checks. When opponents miss your allies, eventually you start enabling your allies to gain advantage on the would-be assailant. Eventually, it gets hard to make opportunity attacks on your allies, and you can grant your allies a 10-foot movement that spends their reaction.
Resourceful Leaders can spend Battlefield Command dice for their allies to reverse failed attack rolls, shift around command dice from one ally to another, gain a bonus equal to your proficiency bonus once per short rest on an attack, check, or save, and you can eventually roll a bonus die once per minute when failing a check. Resourceful leaders can, at 15th level, grant the ability to have an ally with a Battlefield Command die roll the die and subtract it from an attack roll against them. At 18th level, you gain the ability to restore the race or class features of an ally that renew with a short rest twice per long rest.
Shrewd Commanders can mark enemies and grant a bonus of half their charisma modifier against the marked target. They get several uses of advantage to use on ability checks per long rest. They also gain the ability to allow an ally to spend their Battlefield Command die to cause an opponent to roll with disadvantage. At 15th level your marking ability grants bonus damage as well, and at 18th level, Shrewd Commanders also allow allies to regain hit points with their Battlefield Command die, but only when dropping to 0 hit points.
Supreme Tacticians gain an additional die when they roll initiative. An ally can use the die on attack rolls, but if they leave it alone until your next turn, it moves up a die step, until it eventually becomes a d12. Supreme Tacticians gain proficiency in history and double their bonus when using the skill. At 11th level, when an ally rolls a granted Battlefield Command die, half the number rolled is added to their AC until the start of your next turn. At 15th level, you gain a second tactics die, and at 18th level, allies can reroll a 1 or 2 on their Battlefield Command die rolls.
I loved the marshal in 3rd edition, even though it was not a good class. The concept captured my imagination. Non-magical tactical support just felt like a great addition to the game. Many of the features of this class capture isolated elements of what made the class attractive in fourth edition gameplay. Additional movement, temporary hit points, faster than short rest recovery, extra attacks, and “thank goodness its not also called inspiration” Battlefield Command dice are all solid additions to the game.
In general, Robert Schwalb has his fingerprints all over fifth edition, so the things he writes tend to “feel” right. There are still a few elements that don’t quite feel like they match established 5e norms in a few places. Having a class feature that renews every minute instead of a short rest feels a little off and granting half of an ability bonus to a roll feels like it’s really cutting the benefit thin, even with the “minimum +1” in place.
Daring Gamblers, Golden Generals, and Shrewd Commanders feel generally useful and varied, and the Hordemaster feels like it would be solid in a game where multiple party members benefit from mobility, but the Supreme Tactician feels a little thing outside of a campaign where Intelligence (History) checks are make or break gameplay.
Recommended--If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
Unless you are vehemently opposed to new classes in your D&D game, or really have no interest in martial characters, you aren’t likely to be unhappy with this purchase. Despite a few minor bits that I haven’t seen utilized in 5e before, much of the class feels right at home next to existing official classes, and if you ever liked the concept of the warlord, or really miss the class from fourth edition, this is what you’ve been waiting for.