Vanguard (3.5e Class)

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The tank. The brute. The thug. The bruiser. Whatever you call him, he is the warrior standing at the front of every battle. Against dragons, gods, vampires, and demons, his unyielding stance works as a wall to protect his comrades. This is the lot of a Vanguard. Trained from a young age for the rank and file, this soldier took to the defensive arts with an uncanny knack. Vanguards live on the front lines, in an army of hundreds, or a party of just a few.

Making a Vanguard[edit]

The Vanguard is made to be a part of a larger force, be it a party or an army. He exists solely to act as a buffer, a wall between the enemy and his allies. Alone, he can do no better than any other class. While a Vanguard can begin to deal consistent damage if it is required, this is usually reserved for an emergency.

Abilities: Constitution improves the Vanguard's ability to survive in a long fight, which is his specialty. Dexterity improves a Vanguard's ability to turn blades away with armor and reflexes. Strength gives the Vanguard better damage with his melee weapons, preventing a fight from dragging on too long.

Races: Dwarves make the most likely Vanguards, being of societies with the most carefully regimented armies. Humans and Half-Elves are fairly common among the ranks, as well. Elves aren't often orderly enough to take on such responsibilities, but those who can manage tend well enough to the class. Half-Orcs, Gnomes, and Halflings usually lack the proper dedication to master the defensive abilities, but those who do take to the class are always a welcome sight.

Alignment: Any non-chaotic. As elite soldiers, they are required to follow orders consistently and fit into a regimented life.

Starting Age: Moderate.

Table: The Vanguard

Hit Die: d12

Level Base
Attack Bonus
Saving Throws Special
Fort Ref Will
1st +1 +0 +0 +2 Cross-Training, Pain Tolerance 1, AC Bonus +1
2nd +2 +0 +0 +3
3rd +3 +1 +1 +3 Bulwark of Defense
4th +4 +1 +1 +4
5th +5 +1 +1 +4 Pain Tolerance 2, AC Bonus +2
6th +6/+1 +2 +2 +5 Armor Mastery (medium)
7th +7/+2 +2 +2 +5
8th +8/+3 +2 +2 +6
9th +9/+4 +3 +3 +6 Pain Tolerance 3, Shield Ally
10th +10/+5 +3 +3 +7 Practical Experience 1/day, Mettle, AC Bonus +3
11th +11/+6/+1 +3 +3 +7
12th +12/+7/+2 +4 +4 +8 Armor Mastery (heavy)
13th +13/+8/+3 +4 +4 +8 Pain Tolerance 4
14th +14/+9/+4 +4 +4 +9
15th +15/+10/+5 +5 +5 +9 AC Bonus +4
16th +16/+11/+6/+1 +5 +5 +10
17th +17/+12/+7/+2 +5 +5 +10 Pain Tolerance 5
18th +18/+13/+8/+3 +6 +6 +11 Improved Shield Ally
19th +19/+14/+9/+4 +6 +6 +11
20th +20/+15/+10/+5 +6 +6 +12 Practical Experience 2/day, AC Bonus +5, Fearless

Class Skills (2 + Int modifier per level, ×4 at 1st level)
Balance (Dex), Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Handle Animal (Cha), Intimidate (Cha), Jump (Str), Knowledge (local and history) (Int), Profession (Wis), Ride (Dex), Swim (Str).

Class Features[edit]

All of the following are class features of the Vanguard.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Vanguards are proficient with all simple and martial weapons, all armor, and all shields (including tower shields).

Cross-Training (Ex): The Vanguard's training gives him a more advanced degree of familiarity and skill with melee and ranged weaponry. Vanguard class levels qualify for feats that usually require a minimum number of Fighter levels, such as Weapon Specialization. These levels stack with actual Fighter levels, so a Vanguard 4, a Fighter 4, and Vanguard 2/Fighter 2 would all qualify for Weapon Specialization.

Pain Tolerance (Ex): Vanguards are trained to be able to shrug off blows that would stagger lesser combatants, and avoid taking as much damage from hits they're unable to avoid. This ability functions as Damage Reduction 1/-, but is bypassed by Critical Hits and abilities such as Sneak Attack. This reduction improves to DR 2/- at 5th level, and again every 4 levels after (DR 3/- at 9th, 4/- at 13th, and 5/- at 17th).

AC Bonus (Ex): A Vanguard's training increases his ability to defend himself from attack. A Vanguard gains a natural +1 bonus to his AC at all times. This bonus increases to +2 at 5th level, and again every 5 levels after (+3 at 10th, +4 at 15th, +5 at 20th).

Bulwark of Defense (Ex): Vanguards' precision and skill in controlling the area around them is truly remarkable. From 3rd level on, opponents beginning their turn in a square that a Vanguard threatens treats all the squares that this Vanguard threatens as difficult terrain.

Armor Mastery (Ex): At 6th level, Vanguards are able to move in their armor so naturally that they ignore the standard speed reduction for wearing medium armor. At 12th level, Vanguards ignore the speed reduction of heavy armor as well.

Shield Ally (Ex): Starting at 9th level, Vanguards can choose to absorb half of the damage dealt to an adjacent ally as an immediate action. The remaining half of the damage is dealt to the target as usual. Vanguards can only absorb damage from physical melee attacks and ranged attacks, such as arrows and sword slashes, not from spells and other effects.

Mettle (Ex): You can resist magical attacks with greater effectiveness than other warriors. Beginning at 10th level, by drawing on your experience and ferocity in combat, you can brush aside effects that would hinder or cripple less hardy souls. If you succeed on a Fortitude or Will save against an attack that would normally produce a lesser effect on a successful save (such as a spell with a saving throw entry of Will half or Fortitude partial, you instead negate the effect. You do not gain the benetfit of Mettle when you are unconscious or sleeping.

Practical Experience (Ex): At 10th level, a Vanguard's advanced training and years of experience allows him to draw upon the knowledge of all the physical pain he has suffered, and turn this experience to his blows. Once a day, for a number of rounds equal to 1 + 1/5 his class level (rounded down), the Vanguard may maximize all damage dealt with his weapon. In addition to this, the Vanguard adds a further 1/4th of his class level to the damage dealt. A Vanguard gains a second daily use of this at 20th level.

Improved Shield Ally (Ex): At 18th level, the Vanguard's ability to protect allies improves. Once per round, the Vanguard can absorb all damage from a single attack against an adjacent ally. In addition, the Vanguard can still absorb half the damage from other physical attacks on adjacent allies, if he chooses. The Vanguard must choose to use this ability after the attack has succeeded, but before the attacker rolls damage.

Fearless (Ex): At 20th level, the Vanguard becomes immune to fear effects.


The life of a Vanguard requires strict discipline, dedication, and highly-regimented behavior. A Vanguard who becomes chaotic may not progress any farther in levels as a Vanguard until he regains a non-chaotic alignment.

The Epic Vanguard[edit]

Table: Epic Vanguard

HD: d12

Level Special
21st Pain Tolerance 6
22nd -
23rd Bonus Feat
24th -
25th Pain Tolerance 7, AC Bonus +6
26th Bonus Feat
27th -
28th -
29th Pain Tolerance 8, Bonus Feat
30th Practical Experience 3/day, AC Bonus +7

2 + Int modifier skill points per level.

Pain Tolerance: The Vanguard's Pain Tolerance continues to improve every 4 levels.

AC Bonus: The Vanguard's AC Bonus continues to accumulate every 5 levels.

Practical Experience: A Vanguard gets a 3rd daily use of this ability at 30th level, and another every 10 levels after. The duration and damage dealt continue to increase.

Bonus Feats: The epic Vanguard gains a bonus feat, selected from the list of epic Vanguard bonus feats, every three levels after 20th.

Epic Vanguard Bonus Feat List: Armor Skin, Damage Reduction, Devastating Critical, Dire Charge, Distant Shot, Energy Resistance, Epic Endurance, Epic Leadership, Epic Prowess, Epic Toughness, Epic Weapon Focus, Epic Weapon Specialization, Exceptional Deflection, Fast Healing, Improved Combat Reflexes, Improved Stunning Fist, Improved Whirlwind Attack, Infinite Deflection, Instant Reload, Legendary Commander, Legendary Rider, Legendary Wrestler, Overwhelming Critical, Penetrate Damage Reduction, Perfect Two-Weapon Fighting, Reflect Arrows, Spellcasting Harrier, Storm of Throws, Superior Initiative, Two-Weapon Rend, Uncanny Accuracy. In addition to the feats on this list, the Vanguard may treat any feat designated as a Fighter Bonus Feat, but not listed here, as being on his bonus feat list.

Campaign Information[edit]

Playing a Vanguard[edit]

Religion: Vanguards tend to worship similar deities to Fighters and other front-line combatants, except chaotic ones. They are free to worship any deity they please, though worship of chaotic deities is rare at best.

Other Classes: Paladins and Barbarians might resent the presence of a Vanguard in their party, seeing him as a third wheel, but are equally likely to view one with a measure of respect and camaraderie. Similarly, you admire the dedication of the Paladin, but find the Barbarian a bit unrefined for your tastes. Fighters and Clerics usually see the Vanguard as a kindred spirit, a stalwart and unsung champion of his group. Vanguards love to share a drink with members of these classes, swapping stories and trading tips. Wizards and Sorcerers value the Vanguard's contribution immensely after seeing his courage in battle, while you see them as fragile charges to be protected. Rogues, Rangers, Bards, and Druids are least likely to get along with the stricter side of the Vanguard's personality, and might find his preference for a firmly-regimented party chafes them. This suits you just fine - if they can't fit into the group, then they don't belong in it, in your eyes.

Combat: The Vanguard's role in combat is to be the first one in the melee, and to keep the opponents from reaching the other characters. The more Vanguards there are, the easier this is, though this comes at the expense of damage potential.

Advancement: Vanguards tend naturally to those feats or prestige classes with a focus on melee ability or physical prowess. This includes, but is not limited to, the feats Toughness, Endurance, Weapon Focus, and Diehard, and the prestige class Dwarven Defender.

Vanguards in the World[edit]

Vanguards are found most often as members of large military forces, filling out the front ranks while other classes support with stronger attacks and more varied abilities.

Daily Life: A Vanguard who isn't adventuring or at war can live any sort of life, from the simple life of a farmer to the lavish life of a noble. They can often be found in a tavern, swapping stories with fellow soldiers and adventurers over a big tankard of ale. Every morning, however, they practice their defensive prowess, warming up for the day ahead, always vigilant.

Organizations: If members of this class belong to any organizations, the most likely are governments and fighting companies. Temples are less frequent, and other types usually lack the combat discipline that a Vanguard is born from and thrives on.

NPC Reactions: Soldiers and veterans are always appreciative of a Vanguard they fought beside, and will tend to buy him an ale if they meet in a tavern. Commoners and nobles are less appreciative of these heroes' efforts, though generally bear no hostility toward them. Vanguards in a foreign land are generally viewed with suspicion and hostility by the common folk and nobility, and the town guards will keep close watch over him, but native soldiers and adventurers tend to be more accepting of their fellow men-at-arms.

Vanguard Lore[edit]

Most PCs and NPCs would not understand the difference between a Vanguard and, say, a Fighter. Characters with ranks in Knowledge (Local), however, can research Vanguards to learn more about them. When a character makes a skill check, read or paraphrase the following, including information from lower DCs.

DC 5: Vanguards make up the front-lines of most armies, brave warriors who hold their lines against even the most overwhelming odds.

DC 10: Vanguards are volunteers trained from a very young age to maximize their defensive prowess beyond what most can manage. It's said, however, that this comes at the expense of accuracy and damage of blows.

DC 15: Vanguard training is a selective process. Of those tens of thousands who volunteer, only scant hundreds make the grade. The rest end up as Fighters, Warriors, and the like.

DC 20: While a Vanguard is normally unable to fell his adversaries in a single blow, it's said that older, more experienced Vanguards can use their own experiences, recalling the blows that hurt the hardest, and reproducing these blows to dangerous effect on their foes.

Vanguards in the Game[edit]

Vanguards serve the role of defense and control in a party. While they cannot pull enemies off of other characters, they specialize in preventing those enemies in passing in the first place, and are able to turn aside most lesser blows. The Vanguard's role is generally unsung, but there is no doubting his significance.

Adaptation: In a setting with few or no large-scale military forces, a Vanguard might be a particularly hardy bouncer at a tavern, or a bodyguard for a noble lord or other important figure. Whatever role calls for a hardy, brave soul able to stand against larger numbers or bigger adversaries can be filled by a Vanguard.

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