Fantasy Martial Arts

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There are three primary avenues by which martial arts can be introduced into a fantasy campaign.

The first, and most important, is the use of weapons. Muscle-powered weapons are a major element in any fantasy campaign, and this provides plenty of opportunities for the creation of martial arts styles. Some styles will be based around a single weapon; examples from the "real-world" martial arts description include Bojutsu/Jojutsu, Fencing, Knifefighting, Kyujutsu, Naginatajutsu, Saijutsu and Shurikenjutsu. Fantasy characters can learn the equivalent of these arts for their own weapons (such as Dwarven Axefighting, below), or they might even develop a martial arts style for use with a single weapon, such as a unique magical sword of some sort. For instance, if a character owned a soul-eating sword that could drain the life from someone with the merest scratch, it would be wasteful for the character to use standard swordfighting maneuvers—he could develop a style of swordplay whose intent was not to wound the enemy, but simply to nick or scratch him.

The second way to bring martial arts into a fantasy game is as the distinctive fighting maneuvers of nonhuman races. Intelligent creatures such as centaurs, gargoyles, mermen and lizardmen would develop fighting arts that suit their body structure, so they would seem very odd to human beings, and in many cases could not be learned by humans at all.

The third way to work martial arts into your fantasy game is as an aspect of particular cultures, societies, or groups. Obviously, if your campaign takes place in an Oriental setting, or even near Oriental lands, then martial arts will be relatively common. But even without such nations, certain societies or groups could develop martial arts styles. In some cases the use of the style would be a particular society's "trademark," the way that skill with horses is the trademark of the horse-riding nomad clans that populate many fantasy novels. Perhaps the best example of this in literature is the Bloodguard of Stephen Donaldson's novels about The Land, but there are plenty of others. A PC from such a race could be an interesting character indeed.

Here is an example of a fantasy martial arts style:

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