Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Iron Heart Surge

Tired of needing to be a spellcaster to perform supernatural feats? Man-with-stick has long been able to perform truly ludicrous damage outputs, but asides from just hitting things with a stick, he has no versatility or special defenses to speak of. Surely being able to remove negative levels, blindness and antimagic fields is purely within the realm of the spell-slinger, right? Well, have we got news for you.

Iron Heart Surge is often cited as the second-strongest maneuver in the game, second only to White Raven Tactics (read: trade your action in to give the wizard a whole extra turn.) This isn't in and of itself a problem, as it's probably inevitable that there will be a strongest maneuver, a second-strongest maneuver, and so on. The real problem is that Iron Heart Surge (and WRT, as it happens!) is a 3rd level maneuver. Yes, you can use it as early as level 5, and it's all downhill from there. It's probably too powerful, probably too low level, and most definitely written by manatees.

Likewise, it is no coincidence that Iron Heart Surge is perhaps the zenith of Tome of Battle ignoring common sense for the sake of a 'cool' idea. Essentially, you pick any ongoing effect or condition affecting you end it on the spot. Instantaneous things like fireballs and thrown DMGs are out of the picture, but as long as it sticks around and you don't like it, you can end it. Details to follow:

Iron Heart
Level: Warblade 3
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Personal
Target: You
Duration: See text

By drawing on your mental strength and physical fortitude, you break free of a debilitating state that might otherwise defeat you. Your fighting spirit, dedication, and training allow you to overcome almost anything to defeat your enemies. When you use this maneuver, select one spell, effect, or other condition currently affecting you and with a duration of 1 or more rounds. That effect ends immediately. You also surge with confidence and vengeance against your enemies, gaining a +2 morale bonus on attack rolls until the end of your next turn.

The Surge is obviously meant to replicate the old anime standby of bursting free of the villain's trap by setting your jaw, flexing and bellowing dramatically. The biggest problem with Iron Heart Surge is that what exactly it can do is not made entirely clear. What does and does not count as an "effect" or "condition" can get to be something of a grey area, and what meager attempts Wizards' FAQ has made at clearing this up have possibly only introduced more confusion.

Okay, so poison and disease are definitely conditions. Blinded, entangled, fatigued... sure. What about drowning, though? Sunburn? Being caught in a blizzard? How far exactly can we take these parameters? Is "being 30 years old" a condition (many would argue yes, believe you me)? Can you get older or younger with a carefully-aimed Iron Heart Surge? Your DM is most likely going to have to step in for some of these.

The real classics for "breaking free by strength of will" - that is, being physically bound or the dark sorcerer's mind control magic - are humourously enough not easy prey for Iron Heart Surge. As detailed at the beginning of the chapter on maneuvers, in order to perform any maneuver, you need to be able to both move and perform a standard action. These are of course things that paralyzed, bound, dominated or even just nauseated characters cannot do. Kind of unfortunate, since flavour should come first, and this is possibly even an oversight introduced by the broad, sweeping statement instated at the beginning of the chapter, but nonetheless anything that immobilizes you is off the table.

Iron Heart Surge isn't useless, of course. The wide-open wording of the maneuver still makes it very versatile - no doubt moreso than was intended. It is capable of removing any one of the following conditions each time it is initiated:
  • Blinded, Confused, Dazzled, Deafened, Energy Drained, Entangled, Exhausted, Fatigued, Flat-Footed, Frightened, Knocked Down, On Fire, Prone, Shaken, Sickened, Slowed, Staggered, Turned.
  • Any spell/power, spell-like/psi-like ability or supernatural ability with a duration lasting longer than one round, provided you are either being targeted by the spell or are within the spell's radius.
  • Any racial trait currently affecting the initiator (such as Light Sensitivity or a vampire's weakness to sunlight.)
  • Any extraordinary ability currently affecting the initiator (such as "Bleeding Wounds" inflicted by certain creatures.)
  • Any ability hindering the initiator caused by an item (alchemical, mundane, magical, or otherwise,) such as a caltrop wound.
So IHS is still entirely capable of removing a pretty impressive list of negative effects, which is a godsend for most non-magical characters (Not a literal godsend, as the clerics have bullied me into pointing out.) Shrugging off penalties is nice enough, but what's interesting is that this maneuver does one better than that - note that the text says that the effect "ends immediately," not "stops affecting you." You don't remove the effect but rather its source. This means if you're Surging out of a mass effect - say, a cloudkill or antimagic field, well... the spell flat-out ends! Most fighters might be able to pull free of a web, but few indeed can make the whole web disappear when the entire party gets entangled in it.

Of course this, combined with the rather tenuous nature of what IHS can affect, combine to make the ridiculous but humourous controversy surrounding the maneuver. Let's say an orc warblade out in the sun is experiencing Light Sensitivity. He uses Iron Heart Surge, and it removes the source of said effect... in this case, the, er, sun. Yes, the sun disappears. Or the drowning example earlier? Poof, you made the ocean disappear. Swallowed Whole by a monster? Just make its entire digestive tract vanish. What's left when you IHS away the fire in the Elemental Plane of Fire? Only true munchkins know for sure. And say, isn't "being alive" a persistent condition?

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