The Martial Artist

Introduction

The question, “what is a martial artist?” has many possible answers. At the most basic level, a martial artist is simply a person who is trained in martial arts. In this sense, all fighters in D&D — regardless of origin and style — are martial artists, because they are trained in the ways of combat. Thus a knight in full plate riding a charger is a martial artist, and indeed, in many settings he would be the definitive martial artist of his time. Similarly, an axe-wielding berserker is also a martial artist, and a highly dangerous one at that. These, however, aren’t usually the archetypes that come to people’s minds when they hear the words “martial artist”. In the popular imagination, the term has come to refer specifically to Asian martial arts, and Asian martial artists. Such characters are the inspiration for the class presented here.

A martial artist, for the purposes of this article, is a warrior who emphasises finesse and precision over brute strength, and relies on speed, skill and agility instead of heavy armor. Within these boundaries, martial artists in real-life history and fiction are diverse, and the martial artist class is correspondingly flexible. For example, a kung fu master, a Zen archer, and a wuxia swordsman could all be portrayed using this class. While many martial artists are famous for their unarmed combat skills, not all of them have to be so.

At the same time, not all combat-oriented characters from Asian backgrounds will be martial artists. Samurai, for instance, would be fighters (or, if you’re using the rules in Oriental Adventures, they have their own class), while a berserk tribesman with a machete could be a barbarian. Characters who wield truly spectacular magical powers would be spellcasters of various classes, although they could also have levels in the martial artist class.

Moreover, the archetype of the graceful, unarmored warrior is hardly limited to the Asian martial arts genre. There are fighters from many backgrounds that share the characteristics emphasised by this class: for instance, a rapier-armed swashbuckler, as exemplified by the duelist prestige class in the Sword and Fist guidebook, can easily be thought of as a martial artist with a Western background. Further afield, the Jedi knights from the Star Wars universe are definitely martial artists — Yoda in Attack of the Clones could show Chow Yun-Fat’s master swordsman in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a thing or two! The martial artist’s niche is thus very widespread, and one that could easily fit into many D&D campaigns.

Adventures

Martial artists adventure for various reasons. Some seek fortune and power, and as such become mercenaries, selling their skills to the highest bidder. Martial artists who take this path are typically hired for jobs requiring a combination of stealth and fighting skills; straight-up military or bodyguard assignments are best left to fighters, paladins, ronin and samurai, while undercover and larcenous missions can be handled by rogues and assassins.

Other martial artists adventure to test themselves. They see life as a series of challenges, and how one meets and overcomes these challenges determines one’s progress on the path to enlightenment. They may be found as wandering warriors seeking out and slaying foul monsters, or bringing evildoers to justice.

Still other martial artists adventure simply for the sake of adventuring. These chaotic, free-spirited characters are as likely to cause trouble for those around them as anyone else, although it’s rare that they actually harbour evil intentions. Depending on how personable they are, their companions may view them as dashing (if foolhardy) comrades-in-arms, annoying buffoons, or possibly both.

Characteristics

Most warriors in D&D — barbarians, fighters, paladins and rangers — are brawny, use heavy armor and weapons, and rely on direct application of physical strength to defeat their opponents. As described above, martial artists turn that stereotype on its head. They wear little or no armor, relying on their training, agility and instincts to evade attacks. Because they’re relatively unencumbered, they’re fast and mobile, and with experience they can improve their speed and acrobatic prowess further.

While martial artists can rarely match fighters and barbarians in terms of brute strength and power, they’re more flexible. The key is in feat selection; with the right feats, they can be stealthy infiltrators, highly resistant to magic, or even as deadly in combat as the strongest fighters.

Background

Martial artists have diverse backgrounds. Some are ascetics, raised in monasteries and seeking to perfect their art, while others were taught by lone masters. Those martial artists with a monastic background tend to see their profession in mystical or spiritual terms, while others may view their skills as simply a means to an end.

Like fighters, martial artists share no special identity. Those raised in a particular monastery or who were taught the same martial arts style may feel a camaraderie toward each other. Conversely, martial artists from different schools tend to view each other as rivals — friendly or otherwise.

Races

Humans are the most commonly encountered martial artists, and have devised a seemingly endless variety of styles. Elves (and half-elves) sometimes take this path, and their styles take advantage of the elven skill with the longsword and bow. Halflings and gnomes make surprisingly good martial artists, because their small size and agility make it hard for larger opponents to hit them.

The other races produce few martial artists. Dwarves are perfectly at home in heavy armor, while half-orcs prefer the “direct approach” to elaborate maneuvering or stylistic niceties. The savage humanoids tend to have little patience for the extended training and practice requirements of this class.

Other Classes

Being the varied lot that they are, it’s hard to make any broad statements about martial artists. In general, they usually recognise that the other classes have a part to play and unique skills to contribute to an adventuring party, and so try not to cause problems. They may feel some rivalry with both fighters and rogues, but this rarely leads to serious conflicts.


Class Statistics

Hit Die: d8.

Class Skills: Balance (Dex), Climb (Str), Concentration (Con), Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Escape Artist (Dex), Heal (Wis), Hide (Dex), Intimidate (Cha), Jump (Str), Knowledge (religion) (Int), Listen (Wis), Move Silently (Dex), Profession (Wis), Sense Motive (Wis), Spot (Wis), Swim (Str), Tumble (Dex).

Skill Points/Level: 4 + Int modifier (x4 at 1st level).

Alignment: Any.

Starting Gold: 3d4 x 10 gp

Level

Base Attack Bonus

Fort
Save

Ref
Save

Will
Save

AC
bonus

Special

1

+1

+2

+2

+0

+1

Defensive talent

2

+2

+3

+3

+0

+1

Uncanny dodge, bonus feat

3

+3

+3

+3

+1

+1

Trap sense +1

4

+4

+4

+4

+1

+1

Bonus feat

5

+5

+4

+4

+1

+1

Improved uncanny dodge

6

+6/+1

+5

+5

+2

+2

Trap sense +2, bonus feat

7

+7/+2

+5

+5

+2

+2

Acrobatics (acrobatic mastery)

8

+8/+3

+6

+6

+2

+2

Bonus feat

9

+9/+4

+6

+6

+3

+2

Trap sense +3

10

+10/+5

+7

+7

+3

+2

Acrobatics (+5)

11

+11/+6/+1

+7

+7

+3

+2

Bonus feat

12

+12/+7/+2

+8

+8

+4

+3

Trap sense +4

13

+13/+8/+3

+8

+8

+4

+3

Acrobatics (+10)

14

+14/+9/+4

+9

+9

+4

+3

Bonus feat

15

+15/+10/+5

+9

+9

+5

+3

Trap sense +5

16

+16/+11/+6/+1

+10

+10

+5

+3

Acrobatics (+15)

17

+17/+12/+7/+2

+10

+10

+5

+3

Bonus feat

18

+18/+13/+8/+3

+11

+11

+6

+4

Trap sense +6

19

+19/+14/+9/+4

+11

+11

+6

+4

Acrobatics (+20)

20

+20/+15/+10/+5

+12

+12

+6

+4

Bonus feat

Class Features

The following are class features of the martial artist.

Weapon and armor proficiency: The martial artist is proficient with all simple and martial weapons, and with exotic monk weapons (kama, nunchaku and siangham, or the halfling versions of these for Small-sized characters).  She is not proficient with any type of armor or shield.

Defensive talent (Ex): At 1st level, the martial artist’s training allows her to dodge and parry blows almost without conscious effort. She adds her Wisdom bonus, if any, as a bonus to AC when not wearing armor or using a shield. The bonus is not lost even if the martial artist is flat-footed, stunned or loses her Dexterity bonus to AC (she does lose it if she is unconscious or immobilised).

AC bonus (Ex): As the martial artist gains levels, she also improves her knowledge of defensive fighting techniques. At 1st level she gains a +1 dodge bonus to AC when not wearing armor or using a shield, and this bonus increases by 1 every 6 levels thereafter (ie +2 at 6th level, +3 at 12th level, and so on). This bonus is lost whenever she loses her Dexterity bonus to AC.

Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Martial artists have the ability to react to danger with extraordinary speed. Starting at 2nd level, the martial artist retains her Dexterity bonus to AC if caught flat-footed or struck by an invisible attacker (which means she also retains her level-based AC bonus in these situations). If a martial artist already has uncanny dodge from a different class (at least four levels of rogue, for example), she automatically gains improved uncanny dodge (see below) instead.

Improved Uncanny Dodge (Ex): A martial artist of 5th level or higher can no longer be flanked; she can react to opponents on opposite sides of her as easily as she can react to a single attacker. This defense denies a rogue the ability to sneak attack her, unless the attacker has at least four more rogue levels than the target has martial artist levels.

If a character already has uncanny dodge (see above) from a second class, the character automatically gains improved uncanny dodge instead, and the levels from the classes that gain uncanny dodge stack to determine the minimum level a rogue must be to flank the character.

Trap Sense (Ex): At 3rd level, the martial artist gains a +1 bonus to her Reflex saves and a +1 dodge bonus to her AC against traps. These bonuses rise by +1 every 3 martial artist levels thereafter (6th, 9th, 12th, 15th, and 18th level). Trap sense bonuses gained from multiple classes stack.

Acrobatics (Ex): At 7th level, the martial artist can take 10 on any Balance, Jump and Tumble skill check, even if circumstances would normally keep her from doing so. At 10th level, she gains a +5 competence bonus to Balance, Jump and Tumble skill checks. These bonuses rise by +5 every 3 martial artist levels hereafter (13th, 16th and 19th level).

Bonus feats: At the levels indicated on the table (2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 20th), the martial artist gains a bonus feat. She can choose her bonus feats from the following:

The martial artist must still meet the usual prerequisites for any feats she takes. Her bonus feats only function when she is wearing light or no armour, if they are combat-related.

At the DM’s option, martial arts-related feats in other sourcebooks can also be taken as bonus feats.

Martial Artist-Specific Feats

Enhanced Unarmed Strike

You do not need weapons, for your body itself is a lethal weapon.

Prerequisites: Martial artist level 1st+.

Benefit: You gain the benefits of the Improved Unarmed Strike feat from the PHB. Your unarmed strikes do 1d6 points of damage (for Medium-sized characters; smaller or larger characters adjust damage dice as per the rules in the DMG and MM). You can also choose to deal your damage as either normal or subdual without penalty. This feat can be used to meet the requirements for feats that have Improved Unarmed Strike as a prerequisite.

Special: For every 6 martial artist levels you have, you can take this feat one additional time. Each time you take this feat, your unarmed damage dice increase by one step, as per the rules in the DMG and MM.

Improved Light Step (Su)

You can walk on water, blades of grass, the branches of tree saplings, clouds — anything.

Prerequisites: Martial Artist level 15th+, Light Step, Balance skill, Dex 19+, Wis 15+.

Benefit: You gain the benefit of an air walk spell, for up to one round per day per martial artist level you have attained. The use of this feat need not be consecutive rounds, and activating and deactivating the effect is a free action.  You must be wearing light or no armour and carrying no more than a light load to use this feat. Deactivating the effect counts as the air walk spell duration expiring, so if you are still aloft, it fails slowly (see the spell description for details).

This is a supernatural ability.

Instinctive Shot

You are one with your bow, enabling you to make difficult shots as if they were routine.

Prerequisites: Martial artist level 6th+, Point-Blank Shot, Weapon Focus with chosen bow.

Benefit: Choose a type of bow (not a crossbow). When using a bow of that type, you can apply double your Wisdom bonus (if any) to negate attack penalties due to range. You do not gain an actual bonus to hit; if the doubled Wisdom modifier is greater than the range penalty, the excess is discarded. You can also reroll miss chances due to concealment; you can only reroll the miss chance once per attack roll.

Special: You may take this feat multiple times. Its effects do not stack; each time you take this feat, it applies to a different type of bow.

Instinctive Strike

To the astute, brawn is unnecessary. You exemplify this.

Prerequisites: Martial artist level 6th+, Weapon Focus with chosen weapon, Wis 15+.

Benefit: When using a weapon with which you have Weapon Focus, you may add your Wisdom bonus to your damage rolls in place of your Strength modifier. Unlike your Strength modifier, this bonus to damage is not adjusted for two-handed or off-hand weapons. You do not gain this benefit if the weapon you use does not allow a Strength bonus to damage.

Special: You may take this feat multiple times. Its effects do not stack; each time you take this feat, it applies to a different weapon. You can choose mighty bows or “unarmed strike” as your weapon for the purposes of this feat. A mighty bow’s Strength limit doesn’t apply to your Wisdom bonus.

Light Step (Su)

When you move, you do not disturb the tranquility of the world.

Prerequisites: Martial artist level 10th+, Balance skill, Dex 19+, Wis 15+.

Benefit: You can walk while barely touching the ground. You must remain above (at most an inch above) a roughly horizontal surface, but you can traverse both nonsolid or unstable surfaces such as water or lava. You can ignore the effects of difficult terrain on movement and movement-related skill checks. You must be wearing light or no armour and carrying no more than a light load to use this feat.

It's practically impossible (+20 DC) to track you when you are using this ability, unless the tracker is using scent or some other nonvisual means of tracking. You further gain a +20 competence bonus to Balance checks, and a +10 competence bonus to Reflex saves to avoid entangle, transmute rock to mud, and similar spells and effects. This is a supernatural ability.

Martial Finesse

You wield weapons with extraordinary grace and fluency.

Prerequisites: Martial artist level 1st+, Weapon Focus with chosen weapon.

Benefit: Choose a melee weapon that you can use one-handed, with which you have Weapon Focus. When using the selected weapon, you can use your Dexterity modifier in place of your Strength modifier on attack rolls. If you use a shield, its armour check penalty applies to your attack rolls.

Special: You may take this feat multiple times. Its effects do not stack; each time you take this feat, it applies to a different weapon. You can take this feat with the bastard sword, glaive, quarterstaff, spear, spiked chain, or two-bladed sword, even if you need two hands to wield these weapons.

Normal: A character without this feat uses her Strength modifier on melee attack rolls. She can take the Weapon Finesse feat to use her Dexterity modifier in place of her Strength modifier, but only when using a light weapon, rapier, spiked chain or whip.

Strike Without Thought

Uniting body and mind with a single purpose, you know where to strike.

Prerequisites: Martial artist level 12th+, Instinctive Strike, Martial Finesse, Power Attack, Weapon Focus, Str 13+, Wis 15+.

Benefit: Pick a melee weapon with which you have Instinctive Strike and Martial Finesse. As a free action, you can add your Wisdom bonus as an insight bonus to all attack rolls with this weapon for one full round. You can use this ability up to once per day for every two martial artist levels you have attained.

Special: You may take this feat multiple times. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take this feat, it applies to a different weapon. You can choose “unarmed strike” as your weapon for the purposes of this feat.


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