D&D Martial Artist Fighter Subclass Bare-Knuckle Brawls its Way from Our Community to You

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Hello! Nerditor Doug here to introduce this special post based on content straight from the Nerdarchy community, from creator Chris Chupp who sent us his homebrew creation for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons – the Martial Artist fighter martial archetype. Chris put this subclass together specially for one of the players in his D&D game who loves the flavor of unarmed combat monks provide and wants to punch some dragons but isn’t too keen on the ki system.

Chris shared his work with Nerdarchy to show appreciation for what he’s learned and taken from our videos and website to his own gaming table, and wanted to give back to the community.

class to your classTwo of our writers took a close look at the Martial Artist to share their thoughts. Senior writer Nerdarchist Nubz has been writing since the earliest days of the site, more recently with his Homebrew Review series, making him a natural fit to check out this content from our community. Joining him is James Leslie, one of our most recent staff writers whose covered everything from news about Pathfinder Second Edition to worldbuilding tips and tricks through World Anvil.

“I can just see Nerdarchist Dave playing a salty shield dwarf fighter bucking the system and turning all those hairless elves into dwarven origami. Pro Tip: Brawlers and ball bearings are nightmares.” – Martial Artist subclass creator Chris Chupp

You can find Chris’ 5E Unarmed Fighter Archetype: Martial Artist available at the Pay What You Want level on the Dungeon Master’s Guild. According to Chris, the content has undergone a few tweaks and editing fixes since the version he shared with us. He’s also working on a design diary to share here on our website with how and why he developed this fighter subclass, so keep an eye out for it in the near future. While you’re over at the DM’s Guild, remember Nerdarchy’s exclusive coupon code DTRPG-Nerdarchy for a one-time 10 percent discount on orders of digital products $10 or more.

Martial Artist fighter subclass for D&D

From staff writer James Leslie

The Martial Artist is designed as an alternative for monk. It’s a D&D martial archetype for the fighter. This homebrew content was designed and written by Chris Chupp. Gone are the ways of the ancient mystic, hello underground pit fighter. Everyone’s dream, right? We’ve all seen Fight Club. We all want to make a heavy bare-knuckle goon. The Martial Artist subclass was designed with that in mind, however after looking at it and running a few mock NPC fights there is still some work to do. Looking over the abilities there is a lot of potential, and we’ll look and talk about each level benefit in turn.

Fight Night Debut

This ability comes with two parts. The first is the removal of the ability to use armor and gaining a barbarian-like armor bonus. This version is set as 10 + Strength or Dexterity + Constitution. Meaning if you go Strength, you dump Dexterity and you’re just too musclebound to be hurt? Personally, I would rather just see the regular barbarian Unarmored Defense mechanic used here. Secondly you gain a 10 ft. movement speed increase. Makes sense, you train for a few years in heavy armor and you’ll be more agile when you remove it.

Bare-Knuckle Fighting

The Martial Artist fighter gives up multiclassing and weapons when you take the archetype to advance unarmed strikes. Much like a monk your damage becomes as strong as most weapons. However, this variation is much faster than a monk and a higher damage die. I think in this case it would have been a more stable route to mimic the monk’s unarmed strike.

Fighting Specialties

Given that the Martial Artist fighter can no longer use weapons they are given three Fighting Specialties. If you go Grappling style, you can strike an opponent while you grapple them. It’s implied you can do this anyway in D&D but it’s usually left to Dungeon Master digression. This style also lets you restrain and carry a creature. The wording for grappled and restrained are very similar, and you can move a grappled creature at half movement anyway so most of this is redundant.

The second option for a specialty is Brawling style. This section lets you place a condition on the opponent such as blind, deaf, mute, or disarm them with a Sleight of Hand check. However, you don’t get Sleight of Hand naturally as a fighter. Could be an oversight there but it can be feasible with some planning. The second part of this skill gives you advantage on Constitution saving throws versus poison with no explanations. This could be a valid ability with some explanation but doesn’t belong attached to Brawling as being able to fight better and being more resistant to poison are not related.

The final specialty listed is called Striking, letting you maximize your strike damage a number of times equal to your Strength or Dexterity modifier between long rests. You can also trade in bonus damage on a critical hit to instantly stun an opponent. I would like to see the stun act more like Stunning Fist, something with a DC like 8 + proficiency bonus + ability and with X uses per long rest. Maybe combine the options and choose max damage or stun.

Fists of Fury

This gives you free proficiency in Intimidate or Persuasion, or expertise if you already have the chosen skill. It doesn’t say why you get it and there is no mechanic to go with it. Additionally, you gain advantage versus fear saves for no reason. Neither of these really have to do with fists; they are nice features but misplaced. The final part of this is your unarmed attacks count as magical weapons for overcoming damage reduction. This makes sense at 7th level and is comparable to a monk. This fits in well.

Float Like a Butterfly

This comes in at 10th level and is meant to reduce damage. As a reaction, once per turn you can reduce damage equal to your proficiency bonus plus Strength or Dexterity bonus. This is essentially a weaker form of Deflect Missiles or Uncanny Dodge. Personally, at this stage in the game just give them Uncanny Dodge, the parry maneuver, or Deflect Missiles. It makes sense a marital artist would be able to dodge or deflect damage, but that small amount at level 10 would do nothing. This is also as a reaction ability which becomes a bit odd when paired with the 15th-level feature.

Sting Like a Bee

This feature comes at 15th level and is an odd form of the riposte maneuver. The Cliff’s Notes version is you get hit in the face, use your reaction to trigger the Float like a Butterfly feature, and then you can hit them back. If you hit them back and kill or incapacitate your opponent, you take no damage. This can also be used when using an attack of opportunity. Mechanically there are a lot of issues here. This potentially gives a character a get out of death mechanic. With the way it’s set you must get hit first. Then you reduce the damage. Potentially the damage is still enough to knock out your character, but now you get a free attack. Okay, a Hail Mary strike as you go down. However, if you kill them with the strike the damage to you is ignored and you’re fine. Alternately if you get a critical hit and have stun ability from striking you just skipped out on death. This needs to be reworked. I would just give them a riposte maneuver-style counter if the damage was reduced to zero or the opponent missed.

King of the Ring

This is an odd one and I’m not sure how to feel about it. At 18th level your stat cap raises to 22 for Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution. You also gain resistance to nonmagical damage and you now score critical hits on a natural 19 or 20. So there’s some barbarian and fighter abilities here. The critical change and resistance seem a little pointless because at 18 you’re already endgame and gain very little benefit from it. The stat cap I would be okay with if it were level 20 and you got Constitution plus Strength or Dexterity. You’re made to choose one or the other the whole way through leveling – leave it that way.

The overall on Martial Artist

D&D always needs content, and the archetype has a lot of potential but there are several things thrown in it just because. There are also some unbalanced or overly complicated features. At the end of the day, as a player this wouldn’t be for me; I would just play a monk. As a DM if a player brought this to me for review I would have to say no. It’s a good start, and I like that new combat styles were made to counter the loss of weapons, but it definitely needs some additional playtesting and refinement. Looking at what already exists and what can be worked into something can bring a lot of balance to a homebrew item of any type. The key is to not be discouraged, keep trying and build from your frame work.

Homebrew Review: a second look

From senior staff writer Nigel “Nubz” Sanford
1. No other class, and in fact the entire fifth edition D&D is against removing player choices. Removing multiclassing is a bad idea.
2. I totally get what you are doing with the strike die but this should not outclass the class that specializes in barehanded combat. Similar to the one-third caster of the Eldritch Knight not outdoing the wizard, this should not outdo the monk. Especially considering the monk has to pay ki to get the four attacks a fighter will get naturally. This needs to be reigned in big time. Have you looked at the Brute fighter in the Unearthed Arcana? The bonus damage progression would be perfect to clone here. I would say Strength only, and that is coming from someone who was a semipro boxer. Dexterity is fine and dandy, but it is nothing without power for this kind of thing.
3. Digging the grappling style, and I see what you are trying to do. I encourage you to clean this up in its wording. You have something seriously nifty here. Reminds me of Glima from Norway.
4. Brawling sounds like dirty fighting. I like it. Could you possibly switch it to be similar to the maneuvers of the Battlemaster? (i.e. they piggyback on your strike, thus explaining how you came to contact the victim, and DC =8 + proficiency bonus + Strength modifer?)
5. The striking style needs to be reworked entirely. Maybe make it similar to the two-handed style with its rerolling 1’s and 2’s?
*boxing, and indeed most fighting of an unarmed style basically gets broken down into three styles. Swarmers beat out, but are destroyed by sluggers. Out beat sluggers but get wittled away by swarmers. Sluggers destroy swarmers but can’t get a hold of out boxers.
*1. Swarmer hits often and fast with nonstop pressure of a flurrry of blows. Manny Pacquio is a great example.
*2. Out boxer is about striking when the time is right. They play games and dodge until their opponent is open or tired. Muhammad Ali is the best example.
*3. Sluggers demolish their opponent by being able to take blow after blow and dish out punishing blows that could break bones. I was one of these and went 89W-0D-9L; 52 KO. Mike Tyson is the best known version of this.
6. Not sure why thematically your fists are magical with Fists of Fury. Maybe add some fluff and separate it to another ability?
7. Float Like a Butterfly is way too much and will come up way too often. I would suggest making it a reaction to add your proficiency to your AC, thus granting you the Defensive Duelist feat, which is a very powerful one!
8. Loving the Sting Like a Bee feature but it needs a limit and some cleanup of the wording. Perhaps Constitution in number of times per day? That bit about the opportunity attack is muddy though and kinda redundant.
9. King of the Ring should be brought in line with other apex features. Make it nonmagical pierce, slash, and bludgeon maybe? Even bear totem barbarians take full damage from psychic and don’t have it permanently on. The resistance to critical hits needs to be defined if not eliminated. Perhaps it negates crits from nonmagical pierce, bludgeon, slashing? Digging the rest. Though just an idea, maybe the ability cap raises the ability and its cap by four based on your fighting style. Sluggers get 2 Strength and 2 Constitution, out get 2 Dexterity and 2 Constitution, swarmers get 2 Strength and 2 Dexterity? Just an idea.
Really you have something great here and I think you should take it farther. Amazing first draft! I gotta go but keep us updated!

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5 Responses

  1. Chris Chupp
    | Reply

    Some good points here, a couple of things might be answerable with these here design notes –

    I am particularly fond of replacing the Striker specialization with re-rolls on 1’s and 2’s and think going with the Unarmed AC as a Proficiency + Con function is probably the better way to go.

    https://nerdarchy.com/dd-design-diary-martial-artist-martial-archetype/

    Keep an eye out for the updated subclass!

    • Doug Vehovec
      | Reply

      Design diary is very insightful for reasoning behind things. It’s a great example of how personal creations emerge from and work great for a particular game group. And it’s fun to share our creations with others, no doubt about it!

  2. xboxwinosaur
    | Reply

    had an idea for a battle master fighter/druid while back that was a fun alternative to monk,decided he would have lost a hand so would use shillelagh on his wooden hand,and clog shoes which he was proficient with through the tavern brawler feat and just changed into a bear when it was time to grapple.

  3. Joseph Henry
    | Reply

    I had an idea for a Monk Multiclass to represent a D&D version of the old school Kung Fu movies. Monk / Druid. His/Her fighting style would be like the various animals. Like Ape/Monkey, Panther, Snake, Crane, Goat, what ever which his/her wild shape could change into. Also haing Wis as his/her second highest stat jells very well. Then you can keep your monk features except spells to be a Kung Fu legend.

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