Mercenaries for Hire: The Nameless Legion
by Mike Mearls, Dragon #304
They come from across the far corners of the Material Plane and beyond, a lethal fighting machine whose mere presence on the field of battle is sometimes enough to drive an enemy army away in terror. Hated by its opponents and feared by its allies, the Nameless Legion cares little for respect, love, or courtesy so long as its employers pay on time. Assembled from among the most dangerous creatures known to exist, the Legion is a mercenary fighting force consisting of many different monsters and beasts. A small cabal of secretive elven wizards known as the Paymasters recruits giants, medusas, githzerai, and others from across the planes. Using a secret process of psychic surgery, these wizards render their charges obedient to the Legion and train them in the art of war. One can recognize a legionnaire by the intricate tattoos marking his face, which serves as a symbol of his training and obedience.
The Nameless Legion recruits warriors from across the known worlds, allowing any mercenary into its ranks who is willing to undergo the psionic conditioning that purges the applicant of much of his past memories. Recruits keep their knowledge of combat, magic, and other marketable skills, but the rest of their memories are forever erased. This alteration extends to a creature's alignment and personality, literally leaving the recruit a new person. Most members of the Nameless Legion are neutral, although a few, usually those with exceptionally sordid or violent pasts, are converted to good alignments. Rarely, a humanoid or other monster who is already of a good or neutral alignment joins the Legion without need for the conditioning process.
The Legion is far from picky when it comes to accepting recruits, reasoning that incompetent warriors will die in battle before they can prove too costly to feed and house. The Legion takes an active interest in recruiting powerful creatures and sometimes dispatches hunting parties to capture trolls, giants, and other combat-worthy monsters for a forcible induction into service.
The Legion's name derives from its members' conditioning: They lose their names along with their memories, gaining new names only after proving themselves in battle. Recruits rarely socialize with non-legionnaires, a state of affairs the Legion likes, and it actively pushes its members to avoid mingling with locals. Thus, to most commoners and even some of their customers, the Legion is an army of nameless warriors. Legionnaires are named for deeds they accomplish during their service or traits that set them apart from others. A perceptive elf might be called Hawkeye, while a lumbering, fat ogre might be dubbed Gutslosh.
The Legion's members are marked by extensive tattoos that symbolize their allegiance and serve to soothe the fears of commoners who normally regard trolls, hill giants, and other monstrous creatures as enemies. These tattoos are magical in nature and give a creature improved abilities in social situations (see the Equipment of the Nameless Legion section later in this article).
The Legion is run by a cabal of 12 elven wizards who have mastered the art of journeying between the planes. Originally concerned with cataloging the planes and their inhabitants, they quickly found they could garner tremendous profits in trade, mercenary recruitment, and other business ventures. The Paymasters' long life spans and business acuity have allowed them to amass a tremendous fortune. When a vacancy opens in the cabal, the remaining Paymasters vote in an apprentice or henchmen of the departed member.
The Paymasters are both neutral and greedy. They care more for maintaining their integrity as businessmen than becoming embroiled in local conflicts between good and evil. As experienced planar travelers, even those Paymasters with a benevolent streak have trouble thinking of any issue confined to a single world as one worthy of risking their business ventures.
When dealing with the Legion, the Paymasters demand absolute obedience, since one unfortunate incident could ruin its reputation. The Paymasters almost invariably side with local nobles or constables in any disputes involving legionnaires. In one incident often talked about in hushed tones among the legionnaires, the cabal calmly ordered the execution of 100 orc warriors to handle accusations of murder and robbery. With the Legion's contract still in place, the Paymasters merely rotated in a unit of hobgoblins and continued to collect their income. To the Paymasters, a small sacrifice today can pay tremendous dividends over the next century as the Legion becomes an accepted military tool on a world.
The Paymasters intentionally cultivate a mysterious image. They wear voluminous gray robes that serve to conceal their faces, hands, and feet, while masks of the Paymasters (see the Equipment of the Nameless Legion section later in this article) alter their appearance and voice and help repel the effects of Enchantment spells. Each mask is fashioned to resemble a different animal, and a paymaster goes by a name relating to her personal mask. By merely trading masks, the Paymasters are able to assume new identities, a situation the cabal uses to its advantage in negotiations, dispatching emissaries with radically different styles of negotiation and debate to hammer out contracts with customers.
The Paymasters rely on their assistants, apprentices, and henchmen to handle most of the Legion's day-to-day business on a particular world, preferring to keep themselves busy with magical research or travel to exotic planes.
The Legion makes its headquarters among the ancient stone ziggurats of a ruined civilization hidden deep within the dense jungle of a small demiplane. It was within these ruins that the Paymasters discovered the secrets of psychic surgery and the magical gates that transport their warriors across the cosmos.
Few legionnaires dwell in this place for any length of time unless they are stationed here to receive training. Several wooden barracks house warriors between assignments, while the ziggurats are reserved for the Paymasters. Each ziggurat is home to a particular Paymaster and his personal servants and apprentices, and legionnaires are strictly prohibited from approaching or entering the structures. Defying this edict means instant death for a legionnaire.
Legionnaires are organized into small units called cadres that rarely reach more than 100 members. Each cadre is given a distinct name such as the Blood Feasters, Storm Howlers, or Shield Breakers. Currently, 12 cadres are in active service. This number can change depending on the sort of creatures the Legion recruits and the contracts the Legion receives. While a cadre might serve as a unit on an assignment, normally each one is broken down into smaller groups called lances. The size of a particular lance is determined by a customer's needs rather than a rigid method of organization. They can range in size from a single vampire assassin hired to execute a thieves' guildmaster to 50 ogre barbarians assigned to help sack a besieged town.
The six cadres that see the most service are:
- The Blood Feasters. Made up of assassins and slayers, usually undead in nature, this cadre specializes in eliminating specific targets such as generals, nobles, and adventurers. Its symbol is a fanged mouth that drips with blood.
- The Rune Bearers. This cadre is made up of sorcerers, wizards, and monsters who possess innate magical talents. Its symbol is a circle inscribed with magical runes.
- The Shield Breakers. Warriors who rely on strength and toughness, this cadre specializes in siege warfare and assaults. Its symbol is a greataxe with the shattered remnants of a shield piled beneath it.
- The Sons of Shadow. Drow, derro, duergar, dwarves, and other creatures of the subterranean realm serve in this cadre as night fighters and underground specialists, as do creatures skilled in stealth and thievery. Its symbol is a dark cave mouth from which two red feral eyes glare.
- The Storm Howlers. Flying creatures are grouped into this cadre and are used as scouts and messengers. Its symbol is a winged lightning bolt.
- The Thoughts of War. This cadre is made up of psions and mind flayers, as well as other creatures who are particularly skilled in the tactics of war. It specializes in providing tactical and strategic counsel, and its symbol is a golden skull set on a blue field.
As the cadres each fulfill a specific role, most operations involve lances drawn from two or three different cadres. Rivalries between the cadres can run high, especially among those that fill similar roles such as the Blood Feasters and Sons of Shadow. Each cadre believes itself the most skilled and deadliest in the Legion, a belief reinforced during training, as the Paymasters use these rivalries as a motivational tool. Lances must often work together on assignments, but to prevent them from assaulting one another when their rivalries flare up, they are normally given distinct tasks that keep them from coming into contact with each other any more than necessary.
Once assigned to a cadre, a creature serves in it until his contract is up, usually 5 to 10 years. Members have their cadre symbol tattooed on their upper arm, and many opt to have a second such tattoo scribed upon their forehead or other prominent part of their body. Individual lances within a cadre rarely adopt unique modes of dress or symbols as these groups are drawn from the cadre in response to a customer's needs and wealth, making them malleable units. A minotaur in service to the Shield Breakers could serve with eight different lances over the course of eight different assignments.
Within the cadre, the uppermost levels of command are reserved for the Paymasters and their direct minions. A Paymaster, or one of her apprentices outfitted with a mask of the Paymasters, accompanies each lance, no matter how small. The uncertainty of the commander's actual identity, and the possibility that she might be a Paymaster, is enough to demand obedience from the legionnaires.
Beneath the commander is a captain, who serves as a field commander. The captain is a legionnaire selected for his discipline, intelligence, and loyalty. Warchiefs are ranked below the captain and are officers assigned to command units of up to 20 legionnaires. A warchief is allowed to select up to three warriors under her command to serve as sergeants. Should the warchief fall in battle, her most senior sergeant takes her place until the unit's Paymaster can select a replacement.
When the Legion hires on to serve a warlord, it asks for a base of operations separate from the surrounding settlements and other military barracks, and in battle, the Legion operates as a separate, elite unit. A lance of ogres marches alone and is deployed separately from the army with which it fights. While the rest of the army forms up for battle, the ogres hang back as a reserve and prepare to charge into battle to help turn the tide at an opportune moment.
Most legionnaires work as specialists in small bands of two dozen or fewer warriors. These groups never work with their employer's standing army. During a siege, a small group of mind flayers might sneak into a castle to slaughter the fortress's commander and the guards assigned to watch the gate, but once the main body charges into the fray, the mind flayers desert the field.
Members of the Legion are granted weapons, armor, and other equipment tied to their skill and abilities. Additionally, over the course of their term of service, most legionnaires earn additional items as booty or as payment. As a rule of thumb, an NPC legionnaire carries equipment appropriate to her character level as listed in NPC Classes (DMG Chapter 4). Intelligent creatures that do not have class levels, such as mind flayers and aboleths, receive equipment with a total value determined by their challenge rating. Use to determine the total worth of such a creature's gear.
Owing to the Paymasters' extensive trade networks and connections, the legionnaires carry a wide range of weapons, armor, and magic items. They may purchase any item listed in the DUNGEON MASTER'S Guide at its market price. Legionnaires make an effort to blend in with their surroundings as much as possible. The Paymasters provide armor and clothing based on local design, usually commissioning armor from local shops as part of their contract. However, each individual legionnaire might also carry a few items from his homeland or scavenged from distant battlefields.
A large, intricate tattoo adorns the face of every legionnaire. These magic items serve to aid the legionnaires in social situations and mark them as allies to those who hire them.
Recruits owe the Legion a 5-year bonded term of service in return for escape from their homeland and the conditioning treatment, which assures the recruit that her past can never haunt her. Once this term ends, some legionnaires choose to strike out on their own. Others earn service in a local army, government, or religious order. In return for a sizable fee equal to the total amount of money the Legion could earn from the legionnaire, an individual or group can purchase the remaining duration of a legionnaire's bond. These legionnaires sometimes operate as adventurers under the direction of a religious order or nobleman, or as guards assigned to a specific person or location.
Players who wish to create characters from a species normally considered monstrous, such as a mind flayer or a vampire, can use the Legion as a convenient background to explain their presence in the campaign. In lands where the Legion operates, her tattoos mark her as trustworthy. Of course, this does not mean that commoners like or trust such a monstrous character, but the local guard does not attack her on sight without provocation.
When creating a character who was once a member of the Legion, the character begins play with the standard value of equipment for a character of the race and level selected. As noted above, legionnaires are given equipment appropriate to their talents and experience, and they all receive a tattoo of amity (see the Wondrous Items section later in this article).
A player character might choose to maintain her membership in the Legion. In this case, she gains starting equipment as described above, but she does not gain treasure as normal. Instead, she must turn over half of any treasure she earns to her paymaster. In return, she gains free access to magical healing and any spells needed to remove curses and other magical effects. Furthermore, a legionnaire is given free room and board while on active duty. Legionnaires who engage in missions or assignments that do not normally yield treasure, such as defending a holy site against attack, are paid for their services depending on their level. This amount usually equals about 3 sp per level per day, but greater rewards are given to legionnaires who provide exceptional service.
Legionnaires gain access to training and magical resources that grant them talents and abilities unique to the Legion. Within the Paymasters' jungle domain lies many daunting obstacle courses and training halls overseen by the toughest, most demanding instructors the Legion can find across the worlds on which it operates. With this training and the Paymasters' considerable arcane skills, the Legion never wants for unexpected advantages to use against its opponents.
The Legion In Your Campaign
When integrating the Legion into your campaign, the first and most important decision you must consider is its level of activity and acceptance. Do rulers and powerful guildmasters commonly hire the Legion's warriors? Have commoners heard of it, and do they recognize the tattoos that mark its members? If the Legion is well known and at least grudgingly accepted, its members have much more freedom to pursue careers as adventurers. In this case, your players have a lot more flexibility in choosing monster races as player characters. Proudly displaying their tattoo of amity, they have the credentials to move among human, elf, gnome, or dwarf society without drawing too much suspicion.
If the Legion has low visibility, monstrous characters gain little from membership in it, as commoners and magistrates do not recognize the Legion's tattoos. A better option might be to make the Legion well known through its actions in the past or through the efforts of a few powerful nobles who employ it. This way, monstrous characters are still rare but they can walk down the street without coming under attack.
It is also important to consider how the Legion moves between the planes. Most of the spells used to transport creatures between the planes, such as gate and teleportation circle, are at least 8th level. If you do not want such magic to become commonplace in your campaign, you could cast the Paymasters as a network of wizards who use magic to communicate with one another but transport their mercenaries from place to place by more conventional methods. In this case, the Legion's headquarters is located in a distant jungle region that rests somewhere in your campaign world. This option works best for a low-magic campaign or one where powerful spellcasters are few and far between.
It is also important to consider how to introduce the Legion into an existing campaign. If your players already created characters and have adventured in your world before, you need to integrate the Legion in a manner that makes sense to the players and does not cause massive disruptions in your world. The Legion's appearance could be an event or adventure in itself.
When introducing themselves to a new world or region, the Paymasters appear with a few guards drawn from species who enjoy at least a moderate level of acceptance in society. They focus on such mercenaries at first, saving the more exotic creatures for clandestine jobs or very powerful, wealthy clients. Even the human or dwarf members of the Legion wear its tattoos, thus helping pave the way for more exotic warriors as the tattoos and their meaning become familiar. In this way, the Legion slowly acclimates a nation to its presence. The Paymasters are a patient lot. They are content to wait decades before deploying their most exotic and expensive hirelings. Developing the Legion in this manner works best when building it into a brand new campaign or integrating it into a campaign that does not yet have a detailed history.
On the other hand, you might wish to have the Legion appear in your campaign world with a bang. In this case, a desperate noble or kingdom hires the Legion's troops to fend off an invasion or implement a daring attack on a neighbor. The Legion's sudden appearance and strangely restrained monstrous troops win it fame and notoriety across the world. In this scenario, the Legion establishes a highly personalized relationship with a client first, and then uses its success to win acceptance and more contracts across the world. This option works best when adding the Legion to a campaign that has seen frequent play or if a player wants to introduce an exotic character to an established game.
Equipment of The Nameless Legion
The Nameless Legion employs highly skilled weaponsmiths who are able craft items designed to benefit a wide variety of creatures. Members of the Legion may purchase these items at their given price, but non-Legion characters might have a difficult time finding these items anywhere but on the black market.
The Paymasters have spent countless years developing new magic items to help them further their goals and aid their legionnaires. These items are difficult to find without access to a high-ranking member of the Legion.
Mask of the Paymasters: The Paymasters rely on these powerful items to conceal their identities and prevent any magical attempts to control their wills. Masks of the Paymasters are made of wood and shaped to resemble the face of a wild animal such as a hawk, bear, fish, or leopard. Each mask has its own distinct voice based on the animal that the mask is carved to resemble. For example, a bear mask of the Paymasters might have a deep, growling voice, while a hawk mask of the Paymasters might have an airy, high-pitched voice. When worn, the wearer speaks with the mask's voice. In addition, the mask grants the wearer immunity to all mind-reading and mind-affecting spells and effects as per the mind blank spell. Finally, as long as the wearer of the mask is alive, it cannot be forcibly removed from his body.
Caster Level: 15th; Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, major image, mind blank; Market Price: 240,000 gp; Cost to Create: 120,000 gp + 9,600 XP; Weight: -.
Magical Tattoos: Through their travels to other worlds, the Paymasters have learned an ancient technique for crafting magical tattoos that grant special abilities. These tattoos function like permanent magic items that have no space limitation.
All legionnaires receive a tattoo of amity at the time of their conversion, but they must purchase any other tattoos with their own earnings.
Tattoo of Steel: This series of intricate tattoos covers its recipient's hands with an inked pattern of metal plates and spikes. These tattoos strengthen the recipient's bones and skin, granting her a +2 natural armor bonus to AC.
Caster Level: 2nd; Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, bark skin; Market Price: 16,000 gp; Cost to Create: 8,000 + 640 XP; Weight: -.
Tattoo of Amity: This tattoo curves back and forth across a legionnaire's face and makes him better able to interact with commoners and others he meets while on assignment, granting him a +2 morale bonus to Diplomacy and Intimidate checks.
Caster Level: 2nd; Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, charm person, cause fear; Market Price: 640 gp; Cost to Create: 320 gp + 25 XP; Weight: -.
Tattoo of Pain: This jagged, circular tattoo resembles a saw blade and is inscribed on its recipient's hand. Five times per day, as a free action, the recipient of a tattoo of pain may activate the tattoo by tapping it. When activated, the tattoo glows red and infuses the recipient's next melee attack with a sheath of crackling, crimson energy that gives her a +2 morale bonus to damage for that attack only. The tattoo of pain can only be used in conjunction with a melee attack; it has no effect on ranged or missile weapons. The recipient of the tattoo must declare that she wishes to use the tattoo before making her attack. If her attack fails, that charge is wasted.
Caster Level: 3rd; Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, bull's strength; Market Price: 3,000 gp; Cost to Create: 1,500 + 120 XP; Weight: -.
The weapons listed below are exotic weapons. Characters who do not possess the appropriate weapon proficiency use them with a -4 penalty to hit.
Bladed Flail: A heavy flail set with a sword blade rather than a bludgeon, this weapon is renowned for its ability to chop through hordes of opponents in a deadly arc. When used with the Cleave or Great Cleave feat, the bladed flail grants its wielder a +2 competence bonus to attacks granted by those feats. This weapon also grants the same bonuses to trip and disarm attacks as a standard flail.
Broad-Bladed Shortspear: The heavy steel spear tip of this weapon makes it difficult to use without special training. Like a normal shortspear, this is not a reach weapon.
Vulcanian Thunder Club: This long wooden club is set with sharp, iron spikes. In addition to being used as a great club, the vulcanian thunder club has another use. The club's upper end is set with a hollow metal chamber. Before battle, this chamber is stuffed with an ammunition packet - a mixture of alchemist's fire, other alchemical items, and iron pellets - and covered with a wax-sealed wooden plate. A short string runs down the club from this plate to the weapon's handle. In combat, the wielder may use a standard action to pull the string, breaking the seal, and removing the wooden plate. With the contents of the metal chamber exposed to air, the alchemist's fire within detonates in a small explosion that sends the pellets bursting forth toward the enemy in 20-foot cone that deals 2d4 points of damage. A successful Reflex save (DC 15) halves this damage.
After using the club in this manner, a character can reload the club with an ammunition packet. Instead of purchasing the ammunition packets, a character with the Alchemy skill may also create them with a successful Alchemy check (DC 25).