Martial Arts (Apath)

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Unofficial rules compendium

Martial arts means "the arts of Mars" (the roman god of war) and originally included all fighting arts, but has come to mean fighting without the protection of cumbersome armor. This text seeks to create a unified structure for unarmored fighting in Pathfinder.

The monk class portraits one style of martial artist—the mystic warrior seeking enlightenment and gaining powers trough asceticism and study. But there are other ways to study martial arts, and not all martial artists are as esoteric as the monk. Here is a presentation of how martial arts work in Pathfinder and the general rules that apply to each martial art. This is just a general introduction - the actual rules are given in each class or archetype and can differ from what is presented here.

What is Martial Arts?

At its most basic, martial arts is the art and practice of combat in all its forms. The knight in full armor doing endless practice runs with his lance on his trusty charger and the groups of soldiers drilling together to perfect their shield wall are all practicing the arts or Mars, the ancient Roman god of war. But in modern use, martial arts is more than just trained fighting, it is training and techniques that allows a person to exceed what nature gave and fight with more than mere strength and coordination.

Martial arts differ from simple fighting because it has a systematic approach to combat, and this system is based in a tradition. This tradition can be devout, mystical, scientific, or an extreme physical regimen. Whatever it is, this system changes just more than just how the martial artist fights, it changes his body, mind and soul and affects all aspects of life. To reflect the immersive nature of martial arts, this is not merely a number of feats or something you can add to an existing character.

Introduction to Martial Arts Classes

Each martial arts tradition is its own archetype or alternate class, with a number of abilities relating to the chosen martial art. Some of these are quite similar to an existing class, changing only a few class abilities like an archetype does. Others differ more from a normal class and are what Pathfinder calls alternate classes.

Each martial arts tradition is an alternate class or archetype, but also belongs to a group or way that shares some common traits. Each of these ways of martial arts development focus on a certain attribute as described under martial arts defense. The path descriptions are there to give an understanding how different martial arts work in the world and what they look like when used. These paths give structure to the rules and share common traits, but the rules for a specific martial arts class supersede those of the general path descriptions.

In these rules class, style, archetype, and alternate class are basically synonyms and refers to a specific martial arts style that works like a class in pathfinder and develops martial arts abilities over levels. School, way, tradition, or path denotes a group of such classes that share certain traits, as explained under martial arts defense, below.

Martial Arts Defense

As any master will teach you, defense is the basis of offense, for without survival there can be no offense. There are six schools of martial arts defense, each based around different principles, methods, and abilities. They are described here, in order of how esoteric they are, from the most spiritual to the most physical.

As a general rule, you can only add your Dexterity modifier and one additional attribute modifier to your Armor Class. If you would add several ability scores to your Armor Class, you only get to add the best one. If you would apply the same ability score several times, you cannot. If a style allows you to exchange Dexterity for another attribute when calculate defense, you can still use one other ability score modifier besides the dexterity replacement, but you still cannot add the same ability score modifier twice. This puts a strict limit on the benefits of multiclassing. Also note that temporary attribute bonuses, such as those from spells like owl's wisdom or fox's cunning do not improve attribute-based martial arts defenses.

Static Armor Class bonuses—those not provided or limited by ability scores—do stack unless they are specifically of the same type.

Way of the Void

Also know as the weirding way or the path of spirit, the way of the void is a mystic form of defense. Monks practice this style. The practitioner merges his consciousness with the universe and moves in just the right way to deflect or avoid an attack, seemingly without effort. This is an art based on wisdom and insight. It requires the utmost balance and ease of movement, and is thus incompatible with wearing armor or a shield of any kind.

When unarmored and unencumbered, the disciple of the void adds his Wisdom bonus (if any) to his Armor Class and his Combat Maneuver Defense. These bonuses to Armor Class apply even against touch attacks or when the disciple of the void is flat-footed. He loses these bonuses when he is immobilized or helpless, when he wears any armor, when he carries a shield, or when he carries a medium or heavy load. Classes and archetypes that adhere to the way of the void generally grant greater Armor Class bonuses as you advance in levels.

Practitioners of void generally fight using martial arts strikes or monk weapons. They can use other weapons at a penalty.

Design Notes: This is the strongest of the martial arts defenses, as it always applies. Its weakness lies in the relatively obscure attribute used. Practitioners of the Way of the Void generally get bracers of armor as they advance in levels. This balances the cost of their defense against the magic armor normal warriors get. The escalating Armor Class bonus they get is there to make up for their lack of shields.

Way of Life

Also known as the animal style martial arts or fighting panache, this energetic path is based on awe and movement. Some disciples channel the energy of life to fight like an animal does, with constant acrobatic moves and antics. Others develop a kind of aura of invincibility, moving slowly and deliberately trough danger that makes most people cringe. Not quite as demanding as the way of the void, the way of life still demands that you refrain from using armor or shields. Mystic dancers practice this style.

The disciple of life adds her Charisma modifier when calculating Armor Class and Combat Maneuver Defense. She loses this bonus when she wears armor, uses a shield, when she carries a medium or heavy load, or when she is denied her Dexterity bonus to Armor Class. Classes and archetypes using this style generally grant some kind of uncanny dodge as they advance in level, as well as an increase in Armor Class.

Practitioners of life tend to fight using martial arts strikes and light weapons.

Design Notes: Another strong defense, the obvious disadvantage here is the danger of getting flat footed. Even after learning the uncanny dodge ability, you can still get feinted or lose your Dexterity modifier to Armor Class in other ways. Like void, those who use the Way of Life generally get bracers of armor as they advance in levels and the escalating Armor Class bonus is there to make up for their lack of shields.

Way of the Mind

Also known as canny defense or fencing, this style uses trained reflexes and cunning guile for defense, concealing the practitioner in a web of feints and tricks. It is based on an intellectual understanding of the physics of fighting, and often uses a pattern for its attacks and defenses. This pattern can be geometric, working in circles or along an imaginary line, or it can be based on a rhythm such as that of a song. Practitioners of the way of the mind are also known for their witty repartee during combat. This style allows some armor and bucklers and small shields, but not large or tower shields. This is the style of the duelist prestige class and prestige archetype.

When wearing light or no armor and not using a large or tower shield, the way of the mind adds Intelligence bonus as a dodge bonus to Armor Class and Combat Maneuver Defense while wielding a melee weapon. If a practitioner is caught without a melee weapon or is flat-footed or otherwise denied her Dexterity bonus, she also loses this bonus.

Way of the Mind can be used with any weapon, but most styles emphasize the use of light and agile weapons such as the rapier. Practitioners often favor Weapon Finesse, but this is not universal—some practitioners fight with pole arms or other heavy weapons. Some have developed a one or two weapon style that grants additional defensive abilities when not using shields. Their need to always be armed with a melee weapon limits their use of two-handed missile weapons, but thrown weapons and one-handed missile weapons such as throwing weapons, hand crossbows or pistols are popular.

Design Notes: Way of the mind shares the flat-footed weakness of the way of life, only more so as they generally lack uncanny dodge. The risk of disarming is another liability. Their option to use shields means they do not generally get additional armor bonuses at higher levels.

Way of the Body

This is the most earthly of the martial arts defense styles. Gladiators, boxers, and sumotori follow this path. It is based on long and punishing training where the student builds ligaments, muscle, and fat into an armored screen that protects from blows. This often makes them big and heavy, with large calloused hands and lots of scars. Practitioners of this style deflect some blows, and due to their high constitution they can take immense punishment even from the blows they fail to deflect.

As long as he is not wearing any armor, a disciple of the body gains a circumstance bonus to natural armor equal to her Constitution bonus. He can use shields normally and the bonus stacks with both natural armor and with enchantment bonuses to natural armor. Note that temporary Constitution modifiers, such as those from bears endurance, do not increase the natural armor bonus. At higher levels, classes and archetypes using this method often grant damage reduction, additional armor bonus, or allows the practitioner to apply the defense against incorporeal attacks.

Those of the way of the body tend to be big and strong and favor either martial arts strikes or big two-handed weapons. A few sacrifice agility and use large shields for a very defensive combat style.

Design Notes: Way of the Body has a very attractive defensive attribute—Constitution—making this a very solid choice. Unlike more advanced paths, they do not improve their touch Armor Class or Combat Maneuver Defense. Like way of the void and way of life, practitioners of the way of body generally get bracers of armor as they advance in levels.

Way of Force

This is the magician's way of defending himself, with protective force fields or other spell effects. Mage armor is the most common spell of this path. Many practitioners of other paths combine their style with bracers of armor that are based on the way of force.

Classes and archetypes using the Way of Force have the ability to erect force armor, either as a spell, spell-like, or supernatural ability. Not constantly up and possible to dispel, such armor still offers good protection without sacrificing mobility. Force armor works as worn armor in most ways and does not benefit Combat Maneuver Defense, but it does offer protection from incorporeal touch attacks. Specialists at this path are able to combine such defenses with that provided by bracers of armor, and often gain additional mystic shields or defenses as they advance in level. This force armor generally counts as heavy armor for thew purpose of other martial arts techniques.

Force warriors use the same weapons as normal warrior—that is any weapon at all. Many combine this with spells for a very volatile style. Some practitioners can create weapons out of force.

Design Notes: Mage armor is a very good but static defense—it provides the same amount of armor regardless of level. This is a big help for low-level casters and martial artists, is but generally phased out at higher level. To be competitive for a fighting class, the armor bonus needs to increase over levels. The reason to combine class defenses with bracers of armor is to allow these classes to spend resources on improving their Armor Class, just like most other classes do on magic armor. If this defense increased naturally over levels, it would give those using them more resources to spend in other areas while not letting them focus on defensive gear if they chose to do so. Level-dependent bonuses are, as usual, there to compensate for the lack of a shield and generally require a free hand.

Way of Armor

Encasing the body in armor of leather or steel is a defense, and certainly not one to be scoffed at. Some call it the path of strength, as it takes great strength to carry heavy armor without encumbrance. In many places, wearing armor marks you as either a noble, soldier, or outlaw, making its use impractical if you are or pretend to be nobody special. The way of armor is usually the strongest, in terms of pure Armor Class. It is also very magically versatile, there are many enchantments that can be put on armor. Its main weakness is weight and armor check penalty, and it is also vulnerable to touch attacks. Way of Armor is what a martial artist calls the regular warrior when he wants to be polite, it is not a martial arts system as recognized by these rules.

Martial Arts Strikes

Not all martial artists fight unarmed, see each the specific class or archetype. Here are the general rules for those who do.

A martial artist gains Improved Unarmed Strike as a bonus feat. A martial artist's attacks may be with fist, elbows, knees, and feet. This means that a martial artist may make unarmed strikes with his hands full. There is no such thing as an off-hand attack for a martial artist striking unarmed. A martial artist may thus apply his full Strength bonus on damage rolls for all his unarmed strikes.

Usually a martial artist's unarmed strikes deal lethal crushing damage, but he can choose to deal nonlethal damage instead with no penalty on his attack roll. He has the same choice to deal lethal or nonlethal damage while grappling.

A martial artist's unarmed strike is treated as both a manufactured weapon and a natural weapon for the purpose of spells and effects that enhance or improve either manufactured weapons or natural weapons.

A martial artist also deals more damage with his unarmed strikes than a normal person would, as shown above on Table: Martial Arts Strike. A Small martial artist deals less damage, while a Large martial artist deals more damage.

Base Attack Bonus Martial Arts Strike (Small) Martial Arts (Medium) Martial Arts (Large)
Non martial-artist 1d2 1d3 1d4
0-3 1d4 1d6 1d8
4-7 1d6 1d8 1d10
8-11 1d8 1d10 2d6
12-15 1d10 2d6 2d8
16-19 2d6 2d8 2d10
20 2d8 2d10 4d6

Some classes and archetypes using martial arts strikes use it differently, as described in each case. The monk is specialized in martial arts in a way few other classes are; their damage progression is based on monk level rather than on base attack bonus. A monk multiclassed in a martial arts class or archetype counts his monk levels instead of the base attack bonus gained from the monk class when calculating unarmed damage.

Kui Lun is a tenth level monk and fifth level iron inquisitor. For the purpose of calculating unarmed strike damage, he has an effective base attack bonus of +14, +10 for monk levels and +4 for his base attack bonus as an inquisitor.

Weapons and Martial Arts

Not all martial artists fight unarmed. Many use normal weapons or a combination of weapon and unarmed strikes.

Monk Weapons

Some weapons are noted in the weapon tables as monk weapons. These are especially suited to be used with martial arts and often allow more maneuver and special abilities to be used, like the monk's flurry of blows. Their damage compares poorly with martial arts strikes, but it is generally easier to find enchanted weapons than to enchant unarmed attacks.

Light Weapons

Preferred by those who use the Way of Life, light weapons can be used in their wild stunts and maneuvers. Fencers of the way of the mind often use either light weapons or rapiers. Some weapons that are not light have the special feature that they can be used with Weapon Finesse, a feature used by some martial arts styles.

One-Handed and Two-Handed Weapons

Many martial artists fight with ordinary weapons, using martial arts for defense but normal weapons for offense. This is particularly true of the less spiritual styles. Many such warriors forgo martial arts strikes altogether and focus on using brutal weapons in combat.

Natural Weapons

Some martial artists are creatures equipped with natural attacks—claws, teeth, small attacks, and so on. These generally work much like one or two-handed weapons when used with martial arts. There is an important difference between primary and secondary natural weapons. Primary natural weapons attack at full attack bonus and add the full Strength bonus to damage. Secondary natural attacks suffer a -5 penalty on attack rolls and get only half Strength bonus to damage. When used in combination with unarmed strikes or weapons, natural attacks are considered secondary weapons.

Combining Martial Arts Attacks

A creature that can make unarmed strikes using martial arts and use weapons can combine both. This works like two-weapon fighting, with the unarmed strikes always considered the primary hand. All weapon attacks are considered off-hand attacks.

A creature that can make unarmed strikes using martial arts and use natural weapons can combine both. The martial arts strikes work normally, while any natural attacks become secondary attacks.

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