I'm toying with an RPG concept, which includes a younger unarmed martial artist (14/15). As keeping with martial arts tropes he fights unarmed and may fight against monsters as well as humans, but all humans have potential to train beyond regular human strength and abilities in this world.

Acknowledging the limited effectiveness of fists compared to a sword I've decided to give him a much lower attack power then the others. This is made up partially by his being one of the best users of my block/avoid/counterattack system, so he gets a good amount of 'free' counterattacks. However, I intend to develop him primarily as a support character. He will have a huge host of skills that do things such as apply small debuffs with each hit (target the philtrum, make the eyes water, lower accuracy of opponent), attacks that delay the struck foes next attack (struck the solar plexus, knock out his wind, takes a little time to recover), or simply distract the opponent with a fake to lower their ability to block/avoid an allies attack for a turn. In short his damage sucks, but he contributes by wearing the foe down through other means and supporting his stronger team mates.

My question is what martial arts style I should model him after to best fit this feel? Do any particular existing styles feel more in keeping with this approach? Should I be depicting a striking style (which the above examples sort of imply, but I'm not at all committed to), or a style that focused more on redirecting opponents motions? Basically, if I need to describe or depict his fighting style are there things I should focus on to make it feel consistent for the role he plays in combat?

Personality wise he is a younger teen that has a view that he would prefer to enjoy life as much as possible, focus on the positive and find fun in life. He has made an almost conscious choice to hold on to his inner-child a bit, as he puts it an adult may see a tree in a plain and may sit under it for the shade, but a kid would climb it, it seems the kid gets far more enjoyment out of the tree so why should he limit himself to the adults approach? He can be quite mature when required despite this, but he only does the whole 'maturity' thing as long as he needs to; so a martial art like tai-chi that focuses on disciplined practice may be less suited to him because it wasn't 'fun' enough to learn; that doesn't mean his fighting style has to be flamboyant or inefficient though, he is not a show off and would naturally learn whatever worked best in combat.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems to be off-topic as the actions of a single character. Could you clarify how it isn't so? $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ Currently, I have to agree with @Frostfyre, but I think it should be simple to strip out the character-specific details while keeping the "What fighting style would work well for [this style/class of character] in a rpg system" question $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ So we are looking at Sokka from Avatar, the Last Airbender? The other style which might be appropriate is the Obfuscating Stupidity of Starlord (Peter Quill) in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. You simply have no idea of what you are dealing with until it is too late (or Rocket shows up, but that is another question.... $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 0:36

5 Answers 5


If you use the Chinese martial arts, I would consider a kung-fu which focuses on the monkey forms. The monkey forms tend to use the mind more, but more importantly, my experience is that they tend to be more playful in movement than the other animal forms. Monkey is always getting in trouble!


Monkey styles in Chinese martial arts try to capture the essential spirit of the monkey in their motions. Monkeys are some of the smartest animals in the land, so the styles reflect that. Monkey style attacks are usually more inquisitive in nature. Like all forms, they have full on attacks, but usually monkey wants to know more about the world around him, even in the middle of a fight. You'll see strikes which seek to goad the opponent into revealing more information than they wanted. Monkey then processes this, and uses it against their opponent.

They are also quite impulsive in form. If a monkey sees a fig that it wants to eat, it may exhibit a tremendous change of mind and whole-heartedly reach for the fig. Monkey forms also tend to be more playful than other forms. Jumping and hopping are totally fair game, pretty much anywhere monkey feels like putting it into his form.

If you want to see the artistic epitome of monkey style fighting, find movies which portray the Journey To the West. One of the main characters in that is the monkey king, Sun Wukong, whose capabilities are without peer. For obvious reasons, all actor who have poryrayed Sun elect to fit stylized monkey styles into their combat portrayals. Given that RPGs usually are a little more fantastic than real life, taking input from the overstyalized approaches of movies may serve you well.

(As a side note: if you ever give the unarmed support character a weapon, monkey's de-facto weapon of choice is the staff)

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the answer, it sounds like it may fit. I don't suppose you could elaborate a little more on what monkey style is like. I know a very tiny bit of kung-fu from college, but nothing about monkey style. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ Certainly. The answer is expanded. I will note that there is no one "monkey style." Every Chinese martial art I know of has its own monkey style, and they're all different. Its just part of the way the Chinese approach martial arts. However, within the kung-fu circles in particular, you will find schools that focus more on a particular animal, sometimes at the expense of all others. Even then, each form is slightly unique, which is why you will often see Chinese film characters talk about pitting "your bear style against my crane style." $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ This works well for you, because you can steal from all schools equally, without all the complicated work it takes to stitch together a real martial art. Such is the joy of the medium of RPG. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ Kung Fu panda also has a character which uses monkey style (guess which it is). $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ Kung Fu all the way. It does train you in specific moves and targets; but from the beginning my instructor (I only trained for two years) was very big on improvisation. He had one girl in a headlock (gentle) and he says "What can you do? Hurt me!" She tries different things, he finally says "Did you forget you have teeth?" Then a second later, "Owww!" He lets her go, he's laughing, she looks embarrassed. "See? She bit my titty!" $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 9:51

Tai Chi would have been my first suggestion for a support character, though you specifically mention it not being right.

One that note I should mention that ALL martial arts require disciplined practice so...if your character doesn't have the discipline he cannot be a martial artist.

That said look at a character like Spike from Cowboy Bebop who practices Jeet Kune Do, which may be a great fit.

Heck Aang from Avatar may be another model to work with, his style is based on Baguazhang

In the end ANY martial art can probably be re-purposed to fit this character as someone who has truly mastered a martial art will insert their personality and personal style into a technique.

Actually the idea of the character taking a strict/traditional martial art and making it their own in spite of masters and tradition may fit this character perfectly.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes disciplined practice was perhaps not quite the right term. However, it's possible to become competent at the basic techniques, if not at all exceptional, at a martial arts through a more entertaining approach with lots of repeating the fun things, like how they teach younger children. His later skills would come from constant use to survive and learning from doing. My point was it seems like Tai Chi wouldn't have the same 'fun factor' as a martial art he started out more dabbling with as much for fun (and slight idolization of his father the soldier) as intent to use it for real combat. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ I like both examples you mention, though Aang is probably a better fit. It seems in keeping with the defensive skills of the character and as a defensive style something his father would be more likely to teach him. I never saw Aang use it offensively, so I would have to look it up to see what it's fighting style looks like though. I also do agree with your last paragraph. To some extent his martial art is limited to what his father, who was taught unarmed fighting only as a supplement to sword fighting, knew to teach him; so to some degree he has to adapt what was available to learn. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen From a quick search this video on Baguazhang may be useful. youtube.com/watch?v=3CKW67aIFhU $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ Tai Chi is commonly thought of as a spiritual and mental exercise, but if you were to start doing it at speed, you would realize that you are practicing a true fighting art. We are secretly training millions of grandmothers to unexpectedly take on invaders with Tai Chi... $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Thucydides I don't doubt the arts skill, only my characters willingness to learn it by do it at anything then full speed due to his not finding it as 'fun' or having interest on the mental or spiritual sides. The flaw is that of the character not the art form ;) $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 12:59

Make your own Martial art

But take concepts from real ones to do it.

There isn't a martial art that fits your required use perfectly (or at least not one I can think of right now).

However - the concepts you're looking for can be found in various martial arts. Seeing as you're dealing with an RPG world, it would be suitable to create a martial art based on a combination of the concepts required.

You mention:

  • block/avoid/counterattack system, so he gets a good amount of 'free' counterattacks.
  • a huge host of skills that do things such as apply small debuffs with each hit (target the philtrum, make the eyes water, lower accuracy of opponent), attacks that delay the struck foes next attack (struck the solar plexus, knock out his wind, takes a little time to recover), or simply distract the opponent with a fake to lower their ability to block/avoid an allies attack for a turn.
  • In short his damage sucks, but he contributes by wearing the foe down through other means and supporting his stronger team mates.

From what I recall, blocking based systems aren't even remotely similar to avoiding based martial art systems. Blocking based systems also tend to have very powerful strikes (which raises his power), whereas avoiding based systems tend to have more flowing movements, or more accurate strikes. Counterattacking isn't a hard thing to find - it's incorporated in most systems at some level.

Since there isn't a system I can remember that uses all 3 of your concepts but at the same time maintains a low damage and is primarily used for support, I suggest to combine properties of the following martial arts:

  • Baguazhang is a good martial art to use as a basis for your avoidance movements. The movements in BGZ are fluid, the style keeps you mobile, able to change direction rapidly, while maintaining balance, thus allowing a user to avoid attacks efficiently.
  • For accurate counterattacks that don't do too much damage, I would look to White Crane style. White crane imitates a pecking bird, often targeting areas such as the wrist, elbows, and temple (Striking these areas would indeed help your team while not causing too much real damage. A damaged wrist is one that doesn't hold a weapon well!)
  • Hard blocks is a tough one to match. You say that Tai Chi isn't right, so I'm assuming that you're not going to allow for "soft" blocks (which I would categorize as mostly push/pull redirection techniques). Thus, I would look for something with more "hard" redirection. Jeet Kun Do is good for this, and it is descended from Wing Chun which you could also use. Those two styles have a lot of defensive techniques. , but their concepts of attacking down the center line make their attacks too "powerful" for your character; I would suggest taking the defensive concept they have of defending the center line, which essentially deflects all attacks to the sides of the user, while creating an opening on the opponent.
  • Judo is also a good option to pick up, simply because you can throw your opponents away, thus "delaying" the time it takes for them to attack again.

Edit: Since OP has noted that soft blocks are allowed, I highly suggest putting Tai Chi into the regimen - the concept of redirection is great for blocking attacks, and the flowing movements work well in conjunction with BGZ and Judo.

On a side note: There's a small issue I see with your requirements: You're making him way too OP. Striking things like the solar plexus, or knocking out peoples wind are disabling moves - why would your character not continue the assault after striking those points?

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    $\begingroup$ Great answer, I really like it. However, to clarify I meant his damage is 'low' relative only to his armed allies. A punch to the face hurts, but not as much as a sword to the gut. Relative to other unarmed fighters I'm fine with his attacks being quite powerful and damaging, his damage still would be 'low' in RPG terms. In fact the entire focus on support was because I realized how low any unarmed fighters damage should realistically be in RPGs and wanted to create someone with appropriately low damage that still contributes well. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ I'm fine with soft blocks, they probably fit in better. Mechanically he should have about equal 'block' to 'avoid' since they are different stats (blocks take half damage, avoid takes no damage), and part of his mechanical niche is being wield both well. I'm quite flexible on what is defined as a 'block', so I think an avoidance focused martial art where my 'blocks' are just soft blocks that even incomplete avoids would still fit in both gameplay and story. Tai Chi I was using more as an example of what he wouldn't be disciplined enough to study, otherwise it is a good fit for him! $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen I'll edit my answer to reflect adding Tai Chi for soft blocking. I'm not too good at thinking in rpg terms, but from what you say about half damage from blocking, the character really should be avoidance focused completely with no blocking in order to be truly optimized for an rpg environment. $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ I'm creating characters in an eastern style RPG, where you get a half doze PC with predefined skills and strengths. My goal is not to 'optimize' each, but instead to balance each while making them fun and have different niches to make choosing the right one for an encounter important, after that I'll scale the game world to be a suitable challenge for the characters. In this case due to diminishing returns the character benefits from spreading his stats across both defensive traits, and thus gets the highest chance of performing a defense, which is required to counterattack... $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:50

I would argue from practice and actual mechanics that properly trained unarmed melee fighter is just as dangerous as armed one - the only difference is that it requires a lot LESS effort to train someone to the so-so level with a weapon. This will serve as a motivation for the answer to Your question which will be at the end of the text.

I have 5 years of experience with karate kyokushin, 1 year of aikido and rather considerable experience with biology if someone is curious. I assume zero magic setting. I dare You to change this assumption :P I double dare You in fact ; )))

  1. Ever wonder why boxers fight with gloves? Without them, fights would be very short. Put aside illusions from '70 kung fu(ry) movies and Matrix/Dragon Ball dances. A single strike to the nose/jaw/temple made by an experienced (say, 10 years of training 2-3 times a week) fighter shuts the target down, period. The target just collapses like a doll. I've seen it, I've experienced it first hand, there is no magic, brain is fragile.

  2. We, westerners, are physically very weak, but properly fed (so, not peasants) people in any kind of more low level tech setting have enough strength to break a rib or two with a single strike. Again, this requires a solid bit of practice - I would say 3 - 5 years of training depending on a person.

  3. Joints, joints, joints. Strikes are good and nice, but sometimes You don't want to be nice, You want to be effective. Roots from which aikido came from is where You want to go. Just as any japanesee-originating modern martial art, aikido has it's (arguably forgotten and very deep) roots in sengoku era battlefields. These people didn't have time to play around, and thus with some digging you can discover an array of split second grab, twist and horribly break manouvers, be it against unarmed opponent, long sword, short sword, knife, polearms, whatever You need. The kind of manouvers which leave victims shrieking in pain and completely destroy joints. In modern aikido you can find reminiscences of this forms, very very malformed and 'civilized', but once You discover where they come from and read how they worked, You can imagine the originals pretty well. The caveat is, and I cannot stress this enough, they require A LOT of practice to pull off - tough once mastered, they are not as hard as they seem to be, its mainly a matter of reflex and precision. I think ikeda aikido is Your best friend in terms of youtube movies inspiration.

  4. Throws for teamwork. Want to be nice support? Throw the target at Your friendly neighbourhood damage dealer. Catch his strike, redirect his momentum, bash his forehead with Your elbow for bonus stun/confusion and launch him at the pointy iron of Your colleagues. Again, watch some ikeda aikido, but mostly read about it's sengoku and bakufu roots.

  5. Mobility and nasty strikes for support. Tracking two opponents at the same time is very, very, very hard (a thing which most rpg mechanics ommit unfortunately - poke Your gamemaster until he houserules this!). So be everywhere, distract, move, annoy, that ALONE makes it more difficult for Your opponents. Want to do more? Sure. Eye-strikes with extended fingers are very difficult and thus very situational, but kicks to the leg joints are super-fast, easy and very dangerous, because in melee combat a proper footing is EVERYTHING. Bah, even a properly timed low-kick can destabilize the opponent enough to be unable to block the next swing from that STR 18+ barbarian - and that's the end for the opponent probably. People typically dont bother with groin armour - well too bad because You have practiced your legs to hell and again, and really, a single strike to the groin is all the opening Your team sword wielder really needs and then some. Jump around, get to their sides, knee strike to the liver/kidney and watch them SUFFER, because this points hurt A LOT and it takes enormous willpower to even try to dodge after getting hit there - and mind you, most medieval armors, especially heavier ones, were often unprotected from the back because they were simply too heavy already. God forbid they allowed You to get to the base of their neck. When situation is not giving You opportunities, strike at their muscles to sap their strenght, strike at their weapons to create openings for Your teammates, throw stuff because why the hell not - distraction is an extremely potent weapon (again, underestimated in typical rpg mechanics, but thats up to You and GM).

I could go on an on, but what I should probably do is to leave You with the taste I wanted to convey. IMHO, You probably want to start with the full contact karate and some elements of aikido and judo, but then get to their japanese roots (contrary to popular opinion, karate did not solely originate in china) in the XVI-XIX centuries, and maybe mix it with the kung fu / taekwon do for added mobility and leg techniques. Mind You, I want to stress this, no single one modern martial art will suit Your needs because there simply wasn't any major medieval war in the modern times (and God thanks for that), so they cannot be tested.

Now, if I could mix some magic into this... :D

  • $\begingroup$ I'm technically a black belt myself (I say technically since I'm only 2 degree and it's olympic style tae-kwon-do which is honestly more sport then pratical defensive art). I agree with most of what you say, though I'm still going to have to say that swords are still better. Once you factor in armor on humans, and think hides/scales on animals ia martial artist needs to target his attacks for small number of limited vulnerable areas which means he won't have the same stopping power. Plus, martial arts doesn't transfer to non-humanoids as well. Still great answer! $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ Your welcome to mix in magic, but the magic of this RPG is not D&D style make up any spell thta seems cool. Magic was mostly dead (the titular RPG characters being one of the first to rediscover it), so there are no magic items and magic is very specialized to caster, and in this case has ended up being mostly of the buff/debuff style. The martial artist's magic focusing on speed (haste/slows) and stamina used to full skills ('healing' stamina, draining enemies etc). All to keep to his fasts pased, always moving, 'youthful energy' feel, and to be a strong buff to compensate limited melee. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen Nice points! I'd say that martial arts do transfer to humanoids but nontrivially. Without getting into depth their effectiveness would probably be limited by the knowledge of target's anatomy, just as in our world they were built around our anatomy. And the undeads are probably a whole different can of worms... hmm... Also remember people don't wear armour all the time - it kind of depends on period and it's a broad topic (in which I am not that knowledable anyway), but my impression is that even light ones were not used often. $\endgroup$
    – Maciej
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen It would be super usefull if You could describe the physics of magic in this world to the possible extent. It's worldbuilding, not RPGSE, so we should probably refrain from metagame and mechanics stuff. This is going to be a long post anyway.... $\endgroup$
    – Maciej
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 16:16

You could think about certain application of kali / arnis that focus on deflecting, catch-and-redirect, or throwing your enemies off-balance, then add opportunistic attacks.

One word though -- kali (or arnis), while having some hand-to-hand forms, is primarily a blade art; you only use your hands to fend off attacks until you can acquire a weapon, either by disarming your opponent and taking their weapon, or sourcing it from whatever is nearby.

Also, there's Vale Tudo, though it might have more grappling and ground game than is appropriate for your character. It does however offer both striking and throwing techniques, with a more liberal view of what is allowed and what isn't.


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