Originating from the Sea of Pearls in the west of Leng, blade dancing is an honorable and elegant style of combat. Swaggering sellswords, swashbuckling rakes and roguish pirates from the Sea of Pearls favour it, and the legendary warrior Bard Blackhammer, who founded the Collegiate of Bards, was said to be one of the greatest blade dancers who ever lived. Blade dancing has become popular outside of the Sea of Pearls because it allows a warrior to protect themselves without garbing themselves in heavy armour or carrying a martial weapon like an arming sword. As such, it is very popular with nobles, who are willing to pay large quantities of gold for a skilled blade-dancing instructor from the west. It is also popular amongst sailors and pirates, who cannot wear heavy armor on the decks of a ship without risking a watery grave.
Blade dancers fight only with a sword, never with any armour of any kind. They rely only on their skill with a blade to protect them in combat. As such, Dexterity is their most important attribute, since it improves their Armour Class; a minimum Dexterity of 14 is required to qualify for the blade dancer kit. Because of their intense training and their need for skill, any fighter trained in the tradition of blade dancing may be considered as having a tutor to train them for the purposes of learning rapier mastery or specialisation, even if they are teaching themselves.
At level 1, blade dancers receive a rapier proficiency and a single other proficiency slot, which may be spent on a rapier specialisation or another weapon proficiency. A blade dancer may not specialise in any weapon other than the rapier. When they receive additional proficiencies at higher levels, they will need to choose between spending the slot on other types of weapon or improving their rapier with specialisation or mastery.
Blade dancers fight almost exclusively with rapiers, when possible; the rapier can be found on the unusual weapons page. Fitting your rapier with a basket hilt is not required, although it is wise. The off-hand is usually either left empty or protected with a buckler or parrying dagger, as described below.
Blade dancers are trained to avoid attacks where they can, and to only waste their energy in parries when absolutely necessary; the effect of this is that blade dancers may use their fluidity and trained reflexes to parry attacks "on-the-fly". This means that they do not need to declare that they are parrying at the start of the round; if an enemy attacks them and hits, they can decide whether to use one of their attacks to attempt a parry. Furthermore, blade dancers receive a free parry each round as if they were carrying a main-gauche - the first time they are attacked in a round, parrying will not cost them one of their attacks. For more information on parrying, check the maneuvers page.
The secondary advantage of the blade dancer kit confers the protective bonus of a set of Boots of Speed. Blade dancers are used to being without armour, and are adept at avoiding the blades of their enemies. Whenever an unarmored blade dancer is engaged with another swordsman and has room to maneuver and make use of his footwork, he gains a +2 bonus to AC.
The various blade dancer advantages are only conferred when they are totally unarmored and are wielding a suitable weapon. The "free parry" every round is only conferred when the blade dancer is using a rapier. The AC bonus and ability to parry "on-the-fly" is conferred as long as they are using a light bladed weapon, such as a rapier, shortsword or dagger.The blade dancer may not wield a shield in their off-hand, but they may use a buckler. They can wield a main-gauche or other parrying weapon in their off-hand; this gives them a free parry as per usual, bringing the total up to 2 per round if they have a rapier in their main hand. Of course, this applies the usual penalties for fighting with two weapons. The types of parrying dagger can be found on the unusual weapons page.
A blade dancer who elects to wear any kind of armor, with the exception of elven chainmail, loses all of their kit advantages and functions identically to an ordinary fighter. Even elven chainmail or light encumbrance will remove the AC bonus they normally receive.
Recommended NWPs: Dancing, Etiquette, Seamanship, Blindfighting, Disguise, Jumping, and Tumbling. None of these NWPs incur a penalty to take cross-class.
Recommended WPs: Two-Weapon Fighting. This will reduce the penalties associated with carrying a parrying dagger in their off-hand.
Playing a Blade-Dancer
At low levels, a blade dancer is reliant on their Dexterity score for protection and is weaker than a normal armored fighter - instead of having an AC 3 and simply reducing an enemy's chance to hit by 35%, they must actively parry to stop their enemies from hitting them. This makes them especially weak to monsters that cannot be disarmed and against multiple enemies who can attack more frequently than the blade dancer can parry. However, blade dancers that survive to high levels excel, particularly against single human opponents. The ease with which they attain mastery means that they attack very quickly, and their multiple attacks allow them to parry several times per round and still deal damage to their enemy. They really begin to shine, though, at level 10 or so - the point at which most fighters have very little trouble hitting AC 0, and full plate mail is no longer sufficient to guarantee protection. Blade dancers defend themselves with their THAC0, which means that any bonuses to-hit they receive improve their defensive capabilities. An armored warrior will have trouble reducing his AC below 0 without rare and expensive magic, but a blade dancer's defensive capabilities continually improve as does their THAC0. For the same reason, a magic blade is the most valuable item a blade dancer can have.
Take the example of a 10th level blade dancer against a 10th level fighter. Both have a THAC0 of 11, and the 10th level fighter wears the best nonmagical armour money can buy - full plate, with an AC of 0. The blade dancer needs an 11 or higher to hit, giving him a 50% chance to hit his enemy with each attack. The blade dancer's AC is only 8, from a high DEX, so the fighter hits on a roll of a 3+ - an 90% chance to hit. But the blade dancer can parry the fighter, and needs only to beat the fighter's own attack roll to evade the attack. This means that the fighter has a base 10% chance to miss, followed by a 50% chance of being parried (only a 45% chance of landing a successful hit). As the levels continue to increase, the blade dancer's THAC0 will improve and it will become easier and easier to hit AC 0 - but the fighter of equal level will always have that 50% chance of being parried. This is before considering that the blade dancer will always be specialised and is much more likely to have at least mastery, giving them additional attacks, a lower weapon speed and higher bonuses to-hit and damage their foe. A normal fighter requires a magic weapon and magic armour to improve offense and defense - for a duellist, a magic weapon is magic armour, because it increases their ability to parry.
Besides their performance against another fighter, the main advantage of a blade dancer is their speed and lack of requirement for armour. Many places that restrict weapons and armour will allow a rapier to be carried by an unarmoured man, and there are many environments where wearing armour is not feasible - a noble's court, the deck of a ship, a swelteringly hot land, or a place where swimming or balance is required.