How to build a fistfighter in 4e
In a world filled with dragons, magic missiles and swords taller than you, why in the world would anyone want to play a fistfighter? ‘Cos they’re darned fun, that’s why!
Your average backstreet pugilist is a tough no-nonsense character with fists like slabs of meat and a face to match. He is consistently underestimated by anyone wearing armour and carrying a pointy piece of metal, but all too often they’re the ones laying flat out on the ground when the dust settles. The fistfigher is more inclined to find kinship among urban Rogues who share their origins in the poorest districts. Anyone else will need to earn their respect, and that’s an uphill battle if your power source is Arcane or Divine. Fistfighers have little time for gods, demons or anything they can’t see with their own swollen eyes. Of course, exceptions abound; more than one pugilist is a Cleric of Kord, and rumours spread of a champion fistfighter who bears a huge Dark Pact tattoo on his back.
The obvious way to build a fistfighter is to use the Monk class from Dragon #375. Select Human as your race for that all-important free Feat, Power, Skill & +1 Save bonus, and add +2 to your Strength. Whilst Strength is little used in a Monk’s Power selection (they’re mainly DEX based), a high STR score is central to the image of a large, tough pugilist. Alternatively imagine your hero as a lithe, slightly built fistfighter who relies on speed rather than strength to land a blow.
Human is far from the only race to make worthy fistfighters; Half-Orcs, Dwarves, Goliaths and even Halflings bring terrific options to the ring any may conceivably have origins in the poorest city quarters. Gnome fistfighters are just plain wrong.
Assuming your Monk/fistfighter is Human, stats of Str 16, Con 13, Dex 16, Int 10, Wis 11, Cha 8 match up to the image of a hero who is strong, quick, tough and gruff but distinctly average when it comes to mental ability.
When it comes to Skills, pick Athletics, Endurance, Heal and Insight (to spot those cunning feints!), and optionally spend one of your free Feats to get Skill Training in either Bluff or Streetwise depending on whether you want your fistfighter to feint in combat or be streetsmarts. For your free Skill (if Human) take Acrobatics, Perception, Stealth or Thievery depending on your character concept.
Talking of Feats, Toughness is a must have as you’re going to be soaking up a lot of damage in combat, then spend your free Feat (if Human) on additional Skill Training, Action Surge (for the killer knockout punch), Human Perseverance, Power Attack or Powerful Charge to further define your fighting style. There’s also a lot to be said for taking both Improved Initiative and Quick Draw for a whopping +6 to Initiative – ideal if you just have to land the first blow!
Select the Powers which best match a fistfighter’s up close and personal style, and rename them with something more appropritate. Take Five Storms (‘Fast jab’), Crane’s Wings (‘Lunge’) and Dragon’s Tail (‘Knockdown Blow’) as your at-wills, Drunken Monkey (‘Dummy Cross’) as your per-encounter and Whirling Mantis Step (‘On the Ropes’) as your Daily. With these Powers you can target any of your opponent’s Saves and shift your tactics from round-to-round.
That’s the obvious build.
Alternatively, choose the Rogue class, take Ruthless Ruffian and aim to get a Belt of the Brawler as quickly as possible. This allows you to treat unarmed attacks as if you’re equipped with a Club meaning you deal d6 damage and have +2 proficiency with your fists and – most usefully – use your Powers and Sneak Attack with them! Take Toughness and Backstabber as your Feats and Athletics, Bluff, Insight, Intimidate, Stealth, Streetwise and Thievery (phew!) as your Feats.
For your fistfighting Rogue Powers, take Deft Strike, Piercing Strike and Riposte Strike as your at-wills, either Dazing Strike or Tortuous Strike as your per-encounter and Trick Strike as your Daily. Done.
There you go. Two fistfighter builds for the price of one! There’s no shortage of other build options from the Pugilistic Fighter/Rogue to the unarmed Cleric/Monk of Kord. Feel free to post other suggestions in the comments.