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.
Two 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.
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.
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
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