Fantasy RPGs are filled with every style of warrior you can think of. From shining knights upon powerful chargers, to quick-bladed swashbucklers, there's something for everyone. Ax-wielding dwarves? Greatclub-swinging berserkers? Archers? Gunslingers? Yes to that, and so much more.
Of all the styles of combat to be found in an RPG, though, unarmed combat is one that has consistently proven difficult. Not just because of the need for heavier hitting at higher levels, but also because we tend to associate our unarmed fighters with Eastern martial arts. While there's nothing wrong with a Shaolin style monk, or a karate trained killer, it feels like a song and dance we've all done a few too many times. So the next time you're thinking about bringing an unarmed fighter to the table, use one of these fighting styles as inspiration.
Often called one of the first modern mixed martial arts, bartitsu was created by William Barton-Wright, a British train engineer who traveled the world in the 1800s, learning as many different fighting styles as he could. He combined the teachings of saber fighting, savate (French foot fighting), wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and even Irish stick fighting. It caused a craze that rang in the 20th century, but it's still practiced and taught today.
More on bartitsu.
One of the most brutal events of the ancient Greek Olympics, pankration combined all the most grueling parts of boxing and wrestling into a single, bare-knuckled brawl. Fighters could launch whatever strikes they wanted, though they did not wrap their hands, and the only outlawed moves were biting, as well as gouging of the eyes, nose, and mouth with the fingernails. Anything else, though, was fair game. It took all kinds, and it was possible for someone to walk into one match, and then never participate again.
More on pankration.
3) Pencak Silat
A fighting style from Indonesia, pencak silat is a full body, full contact martial art that turns the body into a weapon, and makes use of every weapon in the arsenal. While the fighting style does include weapons like the kerambit, the kris, and the toya (among others), it is not a martial art to be taken lightly. Especially if someone who has mastered it has set themselves the task of wading through an army of skeletons, orcs, or other classic fantasy antagonists.
More on pencak silat.
4) Rough And Tumble
One from the southern lands of the USA, “rough-and-tumble” is a less a true martial art than it is an exercise in the craft of flesh mangling. Also called gouging, for the prodigious use of that kind of attack, rough-and-tumble groin strikes, biting, tearing, or any other forms of attack. It was possible to win a match, and still come away half blind, unable to bear children. Truly it was a fighting style that took no prisoners, and did not mess about.
More on rough and tumble.
Based on techniques developed in West Africa as far back as the height of ancient Egypt, dambe is one part savage to one part showmanship. Fighters wrap their strong hand in thick cord until it becomes a hammer, and their lead leg in chain for both offense and defense. Many fighters also smoked marijuana beforehand, which is still true in places where Dambe fighting goes on today. The results can be crowd pleasing, but they're also bone crunching.
More on dambe.
For more great gaming insight, check out Neal F. Litherland's blog Improved Initiative!
Image is from the movie Snatch, which is a classic. Go watch it! *Editor’s Note
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games