Posted by : David Guyll July 05, 2009

Fantasy Class: Martialist is a relatively small third-party pdf product written by Nicholas A Kristof, providing you with an entirely new class for your Dungeons & Dragons games. It runs 74 pages from cover to cover, and contains thirty levels of powers, eight paragon paths, three epic destinies, sixteen magic items, 61 feats spread out across all three tiers, and power cards in the back. All of this normally runs about $9.50, but is currently on sale for $7.99. Arent sure if this class is for you? Then check out the free preview.

As a highly mobile, unarmed striker, it fulfills a similar function to that of the monk but doesnt actually feel like the monk, which would otherwise seem like a thinly veiled re-skin. If anything, this is a great alternative for those that think asian/oriental concepts have no place in their fantasy paradigm. It pushes the boundaries of the martial power source, really playing on the concept of exceptional talent and physical skill without actually resorting to "magic" in order to make it viable at high-level play (which is something the monk can get away with via her psychic steroids).

The class gets a level-based bonus to AC, which doesnt strike me as necessary since they can get away with light armor and seem like they can get a lot out of Dexterity. I mean, they're barely lagging behind the rogue, and I think it would be best to make it a feat that boosts your AC instead. Mostly, they're a bit better than usual at making grab attacks and doing stuff with them (getting a +2 to +3 bonus on top of the usual), such as moving grabbed targets or attacking with powers that have the right keywords.
As expected, they use their body as a weapon, but unexpectedly each part of their body (divided into five distinct sections) has a differient proficiency bonus and damage. For example, fist gets a +3 to hit and deals 1d8 damage, while foot gets only a +2 but deals 1d10. More complicated that I was initially expected, and it all ties into what powers you can use (see below). Definitely not a class I would recommend to a newer/casual player.

The striker damage mechanic depends on your fighting style: striker technique lets you add extra damage when you have combat advantage, while wrestler technique lets you do it only when you use a power that has the Grapple keyword. Having a class feature that subtly alters how you trigger your sneak attack damage is something I havent seen before, but in this case is very fitting since it helps get a feel for how your martialist fights (boxer or wrestler).

Powers adds another layer of complexity to the game, as many contain keywords that pertain to a body part (letting you know the damage you deal/if you get a proficiency bonus), in addition to adding the Humanoid and Grapple keywords to the mix. Grapple only affects use of the Power Lock class feature (see above), while Humanoid means that the power can only be used on a creature that is humanoid in shape (two arms, two legs, etc).
On one hand, this mostly makes sense, but move away from the abstract nature of Dungeons & Dragons, which best allows a character to remain useful in more situations. Its a concession I'm willing to make, even if it occasionally seems less realistic, so this is probably something I'd houserule away entirely, if not some of the time on a case-by-case basis.

The powers do a great job of evoking the concept behind the class. Redirect his effort (encounter attack), for example, lets you push and prone a target that charges you, while one on one (daily attack) lets you wrap your opponent in a powerful embrace and take him down with you (dazing him and knocking you both prone). Other powers from existing classes might mimic these effects, but its really about the deliverty that sets them apart. While both the martialist and fighter have an at-will power that lets them push a target, they dont "feel" the same except in mechanics only.

Of the eight paragon paths, three are race specific. My favorite is the tail lasher, which is a tiefling martialist that emphasizes use of her tail as a weapon. The class features let you negate Combat Advantage by burning an action point, and you dont grant Combat Advantage when balancing (Tail For Balancing). At level 16, you can count all squares around you as potential spots to determine flanking. The powers let you make a clost burst 1 attack that can knock targets prone, gain a bonus on balancing with Acrobatics, and make a triple-attack at level 20 (strangely, the tail is not one of the body parts used for this).

I was honestly very surprised with the art. The cover is pretty meh, but the interior black and white pieces are actually pretty good considering its from a small publishing company. Reminds me of early 3rd Edition Wayne Reynolds art (Sword & Fist, Tome & Blood, Defenders of the Faith). For the first time that I can remember, I'm actually content with most of the art in a third-party supplement.

I have two main complaints with this product. The first is a minor nitpick about how ranges specify Melee, but do not list "1" or "weapon" afterwards, something that is consistent with the power formatting from products published by Wizards of the Coast.
The other one concerns the power-level and/or effects of various powers. Vault lets you jump and add anywhere from 3 ft. to 15 ft to your distance, which does not translate well for tactical combat distance. Another power prevents your target from speaking (save ends). Sure, its different, but I'm not really sure how useful that is in most cases.

All in all its pretty damned cool, and unlike the other third-party supplements that tried to make their own versions of the bard, druid, and whatnot, this isnt something that I see Wizards shoving out on their own spin on and rendering it obsolete. Mostly, its a well built, excellent alternative to the monk: your getting a great unarmed fighter-type that fits with the a more traditional fanstasy concept (though they can obviously both have their own stake in your campaigns).

{ 2 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Antioch,

    Thanks so much for the positive review! We were trying very hard to develop an unarmed combatant that didn’t feel like a monk—based on your review, I think that we succeeded.

    With respect to the shortcomings that you’ve commented on:
    1. The exploit range was a topic of discussion. Eventually, we determined that ‘melee weapon’, ‘melee 1’, and ‘melee touch’ could each effectively describe the vast majority of the exploits, since, in the case of the martialist, weapon and touch are the same thing. For various reasons, we decided that each might cause confusion, although your point is valid that we don’t quite follow the PHB convention.

    2. Our rules/mechanics editor, Alex Mont, made the very same point that you did with respect to the vault exploit. In the end, I overrode his recommendation, based on our view of what we wanted the exploit to allow the martialist to be able to do. Your point is valid that it does not translate well to tactical combat distances in D&D, but we felt that a little flexibility in outcome could be used by a creative player/DM during play.

    3. We were actually running PC vs. PC combats between some martialists and other classes when we came up with the Destroy his Jaw exploit that removes the target’s ability to speak. We found that it was a great way to neutralize many of a warlord’s best capabilities. How can he inspire with a word or shout if he can’t speak? Also, we play that a lot of magic requires (in good old AD&D terminology) verbal components for casting. If a wizard (or even various magical creatures) can’t speak, how can they cast their spells?

    Ultimately, I think that these latter two cases are examples where we pushed the boundaries of 4E mechanics to achieve what we believed to be a fluff or game-play advantage.

    Nick Kristof
    President
    The Fantasy Cartographic

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  2. The range thing was really just a consistency nitpick. Nothing major. :-)

    I didnt consider a vocal dependancy for the warlord (and potentially arcane casters in general). Very interesting, and I would make a sidebar that discusses the possible penalties and limitations of losing your ability to speak.

    I wouldnt want it to negate the class's ability to do stuff, so would consider having it impose some form of penalty (like an attack one). Certainly something that I never thought to address in 4E!

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