The Path Less Traveled is a semi-regular series in which I’ll be examining a single specialization from the Star Wars Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny lines of games. The purpose and hope is to take a look at a specialization that perhaps many players might overlook, or ones that are somewhat new to the game lines. We will look at strengths and weaknesses, synergies with other species and specializations, roles in a party, how to incorporate them into a campaign, and perhaps some uses which are not always obvious at first glance.
The Path Less Traveled series has gotten some good feedback from many readers, along with several requests. The requests are what brings us, partly, to this article’s specialization review: the Martial Artist from the new book, No Disintegrations. With the limited availability and newness of the new Bounty Hunter book, several asked if I could examine this new specialization and see how we might be able to integrate a Martial Artist into our Star Wars RPG’s. But make no mistake, I do not believe the Martial Artist to be the “Path Less Traveled.” I think many people will use this specialization, and it’s one that has been highly awaited.
Also, my family plays the Star Wars RPG with me every week. Martial Arts is very important to my family as both my children, ages 12 and 14, are black belts in Krav Maga and mixed martial arts. It’s been a part of our lives for so long, that it’s greatly exciting to see it finally making its debut in our beloved RPG. So it’s take a look at the new Martial Artist and dive in a bit deeper.
Talents and Skills
First and foremost, the Martial Artist is a Bounty Hunter. That means he gets access to all sorts of skills to handle himself as he stalks prey. Athletics, Brawl, Perception, Piloting (Planetary), Piloting (Space), Ranged (Heavy), Streetwise, and Vigilance are all available to Martial Artists at the start. For being a Martial Artist, the character also gets access to another rank in Athletics, another rank in Brawl, Coordination, and Discipline. Coordination is a key skill to note here. When you take a dive into the Martial Artist’s talent tree, you find several Coordination-based talents. In fact, we should just go ahead and indicate that Coordination is the go-to skill for the Martial Artist. Taking the free rank in this talent is almost a no-brainer here.
The real differentiation between the Martial Artist and other specializations, is unarmed combat. The skills and talents the Martial Artist invests in will make them proficient at taking out foes without a weapon of any kind. Without close examination, one would wonder why anyone would ever attack anyone without a weapon. The damage done is so much less in regards to its base value. But if you dive into the talent tree, you’ll start to see how these unarmed abilities shine.
Iron Body allows a PC to remove setback dice from Coordination and Resilience checks, but more importantly, reduce the Critical Rating of unarmed combat by one. With two ranks of Iron Body on the tree, a player can get his unarmed critical rating down to three from its normal five. This is equal to most blasters and melee weapons, making unarmed combat almost as deadly as a gun for the Martial Artist. Related to critical hits, the player also gets access to Precision Strike along with Improved and Supreme versions as well. This talent allows players to choose what Critical Hit they want to dish out, with Supreme Precision Strike letting you choose from any Hard Critical Injury. To address damage dealt, the Martial Artist has access to Martial Grace, letting the PC add damage equal to ranks in Coordination. Overbalance and Grapple also let the PC perform some unique abilities in fights, like staggering an opponent or forcing a user to use two maneuvers to get out of striking range. Lastly, for defense, Unarmed Parry lets Martial Artists use the Parry talent without holding a weapon of any kind. Two ranks of Toughened and three ranks of Grit also give the PC plenty of ability to stand and take a shot.
All of these special abilities make the Martial Artist the king of unarmed combat. Weapons can deal more damage but if a character’s Brawn is a four, and the PC has two or three ranks in Coordination, combined with Martial Grace that will dish out six or seven damage per hit, which is easily on par with a blaster pistol. But let’s take a look at the synergy that this unarmed spec has with the other specializations in the game.
So, the obvious pairings that seriously work with Martial Artists are any of the hand-to-hand combat sort of specs. The Marauder, Bodyguard, and Commando are the easy ones to imagine. Having the ability to fight armed and unarmed means the PC will never be in a situation they can’t handle themselves in a fight. Other ideas are geared toward non-combat focused characters that will likely not be carrying much equipment, or want to need minimal assistance should trouble arise. The Infiltrator, Saboteur, Assassin, and Thief are all specs that could do well with minimal equipment and a low profile. Sneaking into a facility with just the clothes on your back, would allow the PC to still handle himself despite being weapon free. Go to assassinate a target disguised as a politician, not able to bring weapons, and your Martial Artist will have little worry about getting in a scrape.
Now there’s another large group of specializations that fit extremely well with the Martial Artist that’s impossible to ignore. Lightsaber fighting style specializations. Lightsaber duels in the Star Wars films have always involved more than the sword play. It’s involved kicks and punches, flips, and other physical moves to go along with the laser swords. So if you’re wanting to make a Force-using lightsaber-wielding murder hobo, the Martial Artist can easily round out your character concept.
Some of the more interesting character combos with the Martial Artist, however, come from the meditative and spiritual qualities of the Force-using or Jedi builds. These concepts that the Seeker, Mystic, and Consular use a lot can work quite well with a Martial Artist. Narratively, this can assist with all sorts of roleplay fodder for those hoping to make a character that does much more than beat things with sticks. You can easily make meditation for the Jedi arts coincide with the martial arts. It’s easy to imagine a Jedi character in touch with the Force and his or her surroundings studying the martial arts and tuning their body physically even more.
So if you don’t have No Disintegrations yet, or you haven’t yet had a Martial Artist at your command or in your party, you might want to give it a try or build it into a character you already have, adding its abilities to your character. Have you tried a Martial Artist yet? Have you gotten to run the unarmed combat in your games? Is this a spec you’ve been looking to get your hands on?