Who Needs Weapons?!
 
Since 5th Edition first premiered, I’ve been trying to find a way to bring one of my favorite 3rd Edition characters into the new edition. The character was Kandon Armstrong, a human blacksmith forced into pit fighting by a deal-breaking local Lord before earning his freedom and the freedom of his town by taking up arms against said noble and replacing him with a benevolent city council.
Oh, when I said take up arms I didn’t mean weapons. No. Kandon could swing a sword or maul to be sure, but his weapons of choice were his bare fists. This guy was 6’4” 265 lbs of solid muscle so his points were spent on strength and not dexterity. Also, he wasn’t the wisest man you’d ever meet, but he could take a beating and dish one out without a weapon.
This would make him a terrible 5e Monk! Not that it stopped me from trying to fit a Str/Con peg in a Dex/Wis hole by rolling up a failed Monk once a month since the game launched.

The other direction was to try to make a Fighter. The Tavern Brawler and Grappler Feats make an interesting build, but he quickly fell behind and there was just no reason not to pick up a weapon over continuing to fight bare handed; especially because unarmed strikes are not considered light weapons. This makes two-weapon fighting problematic.

Then after designing and deleting a series of Monk and Fighter archetypes and purchasing two or three builds from DMs Guild, I was struck with an obviously simple way to make it all work.

I give you the Pugilism fighting style…

Pugilism
Your unarmed attacks are treated as light weapons and you can roll 1d4 in place of the normal unarmed strike damage. This damage increases when you reach 5th level to 1d6, 11th level to 1d8, & 17th level to 1d10.

Seems too simple right?! I love these moments in design. When the things you think are unsolvable finally fall into place.

Suddenly I didn’t need to create an archetype for monks or fighters. Unarmed strength-based warriors could just be fighters and take advantage of the existing archetypes and unarmed fighters could keep pace with monks’ martial arts damage to a respectable degree.

What follows is a Champion archetype fighter (Kandon), a Battle Master archetype fighter, and an Oath of Redemption Paladin using this fighting style. All of these are presented sans Magic Items or variant options.

Kandon Armstrong  

 Level 11 Champion Fighter – Folk Hero

Medium, human, lawful good

Armor Class: 17 (half-plate) 

Hit Points: 114 (Hit Dice 11 d10+3)

Speed: 30 ft.

STR  DEX  CON  INT  WIS  CHA

20(+5) 14(+2) 18(+4) 8(-1) 10(+0) 12(+1)

Saving Throws: STR +9, CON +8

Skills: Animal Handling +4, Athletics +9, Intimidation +5, Survival +4, Blacksmith’s Tools, Vehicles (land)

Senses: Passive Perception 10

Languages: Common, Dwarvish

Pugilism Fighting Style, Second Wind, Action Surge, Improved Critical, Extra Attack, Remarkable Athlete, Indomitable, Two-Weapon Fighting Style, Extra Attack.

Action

Unarmed Strike (x3). Light Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: ld8 + 5 bludgeoning damage.

Bonus Action

Unarmed Strike. Light Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: ld8 + 5 bludgeoning damage.

General Ferria Coinfast

General Ferria Coinfast has sworn to never pick up a weapon again. After losing both her sons and one granddaughter as well as countless soldiers on various fields of battle, the General has resigned from the Queen’s military, but retirement did not suit her, and she’s been drawn into the life of an adventurer. This has not diverted her from her promise to those who have fallen. Much more of a support and control role than the usual adventuring fighter, Ferria has earned her place among them.

Level 11 Battle Master Fighter

Medium, human, neutral good

Armor Class: 20 (plate + shield) 

Hit Points: 92 (Hit Dice 11 d10+2)

Speed: 30 ft.

STR  DEX  CON  INT  WIS  CHA

18(+4) 10(+0) 14(+2) 14(+2) 10(+0) 14(+2)

Saving Throws: STR +8, CON +6

Skills: Athletics +8, History +6, Intimidation +6, Persuasion +6, Dragonchess, Painter’s Supplies, Vehicles (land)

Senses: Passive Perception 10

Languages: Common, Draconic

Pugilism Fighting Style, Second Wind, Action Surge, Combat Superiority, Maneuvers, Student of War, Extra Attack, Know Your Enemy, Indomitable, Improved Combat Superiority, Extra Attack.

Action

Unarmed Strike (x3). Light Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: ld8 +4 bludgeoning damage. After hitting, you may attempt a grapple against the target as a bonus action.

Pin. Make another grapple check against a grappled creature. If you succeed, you and the creature are both restrained until the grapple ends.

Bonus Action Maneuvers

Commander’s Strike, Rally

Reaction Maneuvers

Parry, Riposte

Kodo the Unredeemed

Once a criminal who led a small band who preyed on travelers on the Iron Route between Phlan and Zhentil Keep, Kodo was captured and jailed for his crimes. A sympathetic priest of Illmater showed Kodo the goodness within himself and helped to get him released in exchange for 1 year of service to the church. In that time, Kodo became a true Paladin and hears the call of Illmater, Kodo has vowed never to take up a weapon again and prefers to channel divine guidance through his own two hands.

Level 11 Oath of Redemption Paladin

Medium, half-orc, neutral good

Armor Class: 20 (plate + shield) 

Hit Points: 92 (Hit Dice 11 d10+2)

Speed: 30 ft.

STR  DEX  CON  INT  WIS  CHA

16(+3) 10(+0) 14(+2) 10(+0) 12(+1) 18(+4)

Saving Throws: WIS +9, CHA +12

Immunities: Disease and Frightened

Skills: Animal Handling +5, Athletics +7, Intimidation +8, Religion +4, Stealth +4 (disadvantage)

Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 11

Languages: Common, Orcish

Divine Smite, Pugilism Fighting Style, Spellcasting (4/3/3), Divine Health, Channel Divinity (1/short rest), Aura of Protection, Aura of Courage, Improved Divine Smite.

Action

Unarmed Strike (x2). Light Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: ld8 +3 bludgeoning damage plus 1d8 radiant damage.

Divine Sense. 1 + Charisma modifier per long rest

Lay on Hands. 55 HP per long rest

Bonus Actions

Channel Divinity: Emissary of Peace. I grant myself +5 on Charisma (Persuasion) checks for 10 minutes

Reactions

Channel Divinity: Rebuke the Violent. After a creature within 30 ft attacks and damages another, I can rebuke it. It takes the same damage as it dealt but as radiant damage, with a Wis save to halve it.

Aura of the Guardian. When an ally within my aura takes damage, I may instead take the damage. This damage can't be reduced in any way; Other effects might still apply to my ally.

In Summary

Obviously, none of these characters are meant to be min/maxed for optimum damage output, but they are great for telling stories, and that is my favorite part of D&D.

I hope you enjoy using this Fighting Style as much as I will!