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Clever Brawler Variant Fighter Subclass - D&D 5e


Some board game pieces on a table representing characters in battle.

New Fighting Style & Martial Archetype for the Variant Fighter by Vorpal Dice Press. Focuses mainly on Improvised Weapons and Unarmed combat as well as the Maneuvers feature to better suit the 'Wandering Hero' role.

Image courtesy of: Clint Bustrillos on Unsplash

I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons 5e over on Resonant Drifter's Twitch channel every Tuesday for some time now with my character Traelus Hasi'Tali. Traelus is an Improvised Weapon Fighter, and his character concept is the wandering hero who goes from town to town adventuring and being able to handle unexpected combat without having a proper weapon. I kitbashed his class features a while ago using various sources to try and get a quick and dirty version of the class that would suit my needs.

An altered image of Iolaus from the Hercules and Xena animated movie to represent Traelus Hasi'Tali

Traelus is inspired by the character Iolaus from the TV show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

Variant Fighter

I recently came across and read the fantastic Variant Fighter homebrew by Vorpal Dice Press. The change to allow all Fighters to use Maneuvers that were originally available only to the Battle Master in the PHB is a simple but elegant solution to a common issue/complaint. This change really rounds out and gives Fighters more to do in combat besides “I hit him with my sword.” I decided an improvised fighter based Subclass for the Variant Fighter that Traelus could utilize would work better than what I was currently using, so I opened GM Binder and got to work!

The Clever Brawler

Image of the Clever Brawler

Photo by mizzd-stock on DeviantArt

I first set out to create a new Fighting Style that would lay the foundation for our new Subclass. Improvised Fighting Style allows Unarmed Strikes and Improvised Weapons to use Proficiency as well as increase the damage. I also decided to make these attacks use the Finesse property so someone could build a Dex based Fighter and be able to use this Subclass without issue. Finally I gave some situational opportunities for an Improvised Fighter to get some minor extra damage.
Improvised Fighting Style
  • You are proficient with Improvised Weapons.
  • Both Unarmed Strikes and Improvised Weapons that you wield have the Finesse property, and deal damage equal to 1d6 + your ability modifier.
  • You gain advantage on both Unarmed Strike and Improvised Weapon attacks against unarmed opponents.
  • When you use the Attack action with an Unarmed Strike or one handed Improvised Weapon on your turn, you can make one Unarmed Strike as a Bonus action.

    Every Fighter using the Variant Fighter rules gets access to 8 Maneuvers chosen from the regular list, as well their unique Martial Archetype Maneuvers but will only ever be able to use 7 Maneuvers at max level throughout their adventures. I wanted the Clever Brawler to be able utilize more of these Maneuvers in combat to better represent their quick thinking and out of the box approach to fighting.

    My Martial Archetype gives the Fighter an ability called Combat Tricks dedicated to allowing them to emulate other maneuvers that they haven’t learned yet. They’re inferior versions of these Maneuvers, as they never get to use the stronger Superiority options for them. The subclass trades some raw power and direct boosts that you would find in other Martial Archetypes for something that allows more tactical options to use in combat.

    Advanced Combat Tricks
    upgrades the ability to emulate maneuvers that are normally unique to other Martial Archetypes. There are still caveats that limit which Maneuvers the Clever Brawler has access to or how they can be used, and they still can’t use the Superiority option so they don’t encroach too much and make the other Martial Archetypes feel less unique.

    Combat Tricks
    You can use any and all Maneuvers that are not unique to other Martial Archetypes as Combat Trick Maneuvers, in addition to the Maneuvers you learn normally. Combat Trick Maneuvers are inferior to their originals, as they do not have a Superiority option.

    At this point I felt pretty good about how the Subclass was shaping up, so all that was left to do was add increased damage with Unarmed Strikes and Improvised Weapons at later levels, add an unarmored defense feature, and write up a few unique Maneuvers tied to the Clever Brawler Subclass. I think my favorite Maneuver I designed for the Subclass would be the Tavern Tackle, as the mental image of Traelus doing full tackles and bar brawl drop kicks makes me chuckle.

    Tavern Tackle

    You can attempt to use an Unarmed Strike as a Tavern Tackle, flinging your entire body onto an enemy causing damage and knocking you both down.

    On a successful hit, the creature takes damage equal to your ability modifier and has to make a Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. Either way you fall prone as well.

    Feel free to check out the full write up of the Subclass on GM Binder or download the PDF to use yourself!

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    Fatsack - Ethan Kellogg is a Twitch streamer, graphic designer, web developer, and advisory live stream consultant. Likes video games, TTRPGs, weird music, and stiff drinks. He/Him

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