Martial Arts is a bit of a weird path. It’s sorta similar in design to Mystic Artist, but… still it’s own beast.
Martial Arts cost no CP. I mean, you can spent CP, but that is not the way it is intended to be used, from what I could see. You buy it with Skill Points… As a high-int character of character utilizing Finess or Augmented Bonus for more SP.
While it doesn’t grant the biggest of boni (most of the time) it is insanely efficient, even if you have to buy it with CP, which… you just shouldn’t. Really, if you just have a little innate enchantment you can buy +2 Int for basically nothing. Or whatever you Finesse for it…
Look, bottom-line: If you want to use weapons, you’ll want Martial Arts. Most of the time, it costs basically nothing. Heck, if you just want to be a skillmonkey, then just develop a martial art that gives a +2 synergy to Hide, Move Silently, Open Lock and Sleight of Hand and pump the rest into Sneak Attack and you’ll equal out for the first 8 SP.
It’s essentially free! Free. Stuff.
Ok… So, the basic options explain themselves fairly easy: Boost your attack rolls, your AC, your damage and your DR. Synergy gives skill boni and Strike let’s you change damage from lethal to nonlethal.
Now let’s look at the advanced techiques:
Battlecry allow you to inspire fear, forcing a save that is, interestingly enough, based on your Constitution. This isn’t the best ability, but nice to have if you fight low level enemies. Sadly, you cannot use this ability more than once per encounter, so unless you have a different means of escalating fear, it will be nothing but a minor debuff, if your enemies aren’t of the immune variety.
Ok, before we do anything else, I just want to point something out to you. There is a weapon in the Arms and Equipment guide called “Knife, Stump”. This weapon crits on a 19-20 UNLESS you already hit the person you want to hit with this weapon, in which case it becomes a 17-20. Now, if we make that Keen and use the stacking crit-range improvement from Eclipse, that would change into a 15-20 and then a 9-20, meaning after one hit it has a higher chance to crit than to deal damage normally. Just as a little reminder for crit-based abilities.
So, Blinding Strike, like Battlecry, cannot affect all targets and has a few things listed below that would be immune. Still, if you fight against a different being, this ability is powerful. The -2 to AC and some rolls are one thing. The 20% spell failure chance, however, is immense. You have a 20% chance to make a caster loose his action. That’s rather good. One of the must-takes, in my opinion, because even if you fight no caster, the -2 to saves would make the use of other Martial Arts-abilities much easier.
Breaking helps you with… Breaking objects. It’s not really exciting, good at what it does though, so if you want to make it part of your routine, go right ahead.
This allows you to give up your bonus damage in favor of ability damage. You can only choose physical attributes, which is kind of a shame, but at higher levels 1d4 Constitution damage can be pretty harsh. Seems worth it if you already have a lot of multipliers outside of critical hits.
Getting the obvious stuff out of the way: You still provoke an AoO. The reason why you’ll want this is not the Full-Attack, it’s the fact that you can take as many free actions as you want. Normally, you can try to stand up two times per turn and that’s it. With this, you can stand up all the time… Even if it makes you eat the appropriate AoO.
The opposite of instant stand, Mighty Blow let’s you knock someone prone on a critical hit. The reason you are doing this is to get an AoO off of the poor sob you just hit.
Mind Like Moon:
Basically, this allows you to act during the surprise round. This is really valuable, simply because it’s an additional round of actions you can take instead of just getting beaten. This is great for casters too. As a matter of fact, pumping Synergy, Defense and MLM is one of the best examples of a Martial Art I know.
This negates all penalities for being prone… Which, interestingly enough, means that you gain +4 AC against ranged attacks while prone without any of the downsides. Now, instead of eating the AoO from using Instant Stand you can lie down and beat you enemies. The most interesting use I can come up with right now is to specialize it against ranged touch attack spells and get a nice +8.
We are talking 5 feet free range. This sounds good, but keep in mind that it means you cannot attack adjecent opponents anymore. Not sure if it’s the Spiked Chain-type of reach either, so you may loose the ability to threaten a few squares you want to control too. It’s very nice to have with some synergies as a secondary Martial Art though.
Free damage dice. You can’t actually go too wrong with this one. As a matter of fact, it encourages to feint in combat (and to take reflex training for it), which is something I always agree on. Up to 4 (6/8/12) damage dice, depending on how and if you specialize or corrupt them, can decide a fight. This goes great with Bluff-Synergy.
Versatility and Weapon Kata:
Both of these are abilities you will probably not see in too many martial arts. The reason for that is the fact that Strike doesn’t count against the Advanced Techique limit and does the same as Versatility (which does) and that if you are already deciding on a Martial Art to take, you should have a basic idea of what weapon you want to use.
Master Techniques are 3.0 feats. I will not cover them here, but here are a few quick tips:
Combat Reflexes are a must have for more AoOs and is very cheap. I suggest to pick it up.
Deflect Arrows negates all damage instead of reducing it like Block does.
Quick Draw is great when surprised (unless you have your weapon drawn all the time, in which case… why do the guards even let you into the city?).
This brings us to the final set of Martial Arts abilities: The Occult Techniques.
Occult Techniques will probably remind you of other abilities in the book. The reason for that is… That they kinda are said abilities. Keep in mind that they cost Constitution, so doing it too often is suicidal (you literally kill yourself).
Focused Blow is pretty much the Crushing Enhanced Strike. If you use this ability, the creature you hit pretty much dies. This is especially nice with the vanilla Greater Cleave that let’s you make your attacks with the same modifiers the previous attack had… including the Focused Blow. My tip is to use this in a Spiked Chain Martial Art to have a big threatened area to Cleave in.
This is a healing ability (who would have thought?). It’s versatile and covers all the basics, but nothing I would immediately prefer to a different ability.
Which brings me to a point about Occult Techniques: You do not buy a Martial Art for them. Occult Techniques are an improvement to their Martial Arts, not the main reason to take them. If you really want to use them, then I suggest Finesse for your hit points…
You gain 6 points to spent on Occult Techniques. These heal like normal attributes, which means very slowly. It’s pretty much necessary if you plan on using your Occult Techniques, but even with it it’s nothing you’ll be doing regulary.
This is better, as it gives boni for a period of time. +4 to natural armor is kinda nice. Still, normally you are here for Ghost Touch. And still, it might not be the best technique for that…
Ki Block is a bit confusing and depends on your DMs interpretation. Assuming you’ve reached this point of Martial Arts, you’ll be of a high-enough level that giving up two Constitution points for a Block (Greater Immunity) is kinda questionable… Unless you Finesse it, of course. On the other hand, it tells that you can dodge for a fixed DC…
Honestly, it seems like it negates all damage instead of providing Immunity, which makes it good at higher levels. It also allows you to basically make autosave on a Reflex Save, so there’s that. The DCs are both fixed, so…
Yeah, take it. It’s a solid ability.
Ki Focus is nice, cheap and flexible. I suggest you take it. It’s the kind of ability you use when you are low on hp and need some more or when you have to make that skill check. If worst comes to worst, have it add +2 to your Initiative. This is always a good idea to have.
It reduces fall damage, increases your speed and let’s you make a great jump or balance check for and additional Constitution point. I don’t like this ability that much, but I cannot deny that it’s a good choice for the same reason Iron Skin is: You may not need it all the time, but when you need it, it’s cheap for what it allows you to do.
Melee Attacks at range. Cheap for 1 Constitution. It’s a nice option, yes. Still, keep in mind that you cannot heal this Constitution damage. You won’t be able to do it all day.
This has your opponent make a Will Save. If he fails, he looses a turn. The reason this might be better than the next ability is the fact that unconsciousness is a status that is hardly ever resisted. Ever. The second reason is the fact that it blocks manifesters or spellcasters that don’t require components.
This has your opponent make a Fortitude Save. If he fails, he looses 10 to 60 turns. Impressive, right? Well, there are two reasons this could be considered inferior to the above. First off it doesn’t block people that don’t have to move. Secondly , Fortitude tends to be a good save for Martial Artists anyway. Finally, paralysis is more commonly resisted then unconsciousness…
…unless you have this ability right here, which blocks unconsciousness for 1d6 minutes and grants a bit of DR. It also grants immunity to pain and stun based effects. This should be self-explanatory: A few immunities, DR/- that stacks with MA Thoughness and it substitutes an ability. In this specific case, the ability it substitutes isn’t actually better than this, given that 10 to 60 rounds are more than enough to finish combat.
Save against attribute damage. I would like to say it’s very good… but there are better abilities. A fact remains that you deal about as much damage to yourself as you deal to the opponent. I can appreciate this ability… Yet I wouldn’t choose to use it myself, especially since it allows for a save, and not a very high one at that.
Allows you to make an attack as a touch attack. This is pretty amazing and only costs one point. So yeah, take this. It’s pretty great and cheap too.
Ok, so I had to read this ability multiple times. What is a One-Round Move Action? What does it have to do with Time Stop again? What does instant mean?
So from what I could gather, it’s like this: You make an immediate Full-Round Move (a double move, so to say) which doesn’t cout against your action limit while you and your enemies have the respective immunity against each others actions as if you were using Time Stop.
That makes it pretty good. Consider it a better, but more expensive version of Ki Block.
Force damage affects incorporeal creatures. And it’s an elemental damage type in Eclipse. This makes this nearly straight-up better at hurting incorporeals than Iron Skin. This ability really shines when you use it in a Martial Art specialized to affect specific Subtypes, since that allows you to deal more damage.
Other than that, it allows for resistance, in which case, you may prefer something more common like fire… or something nearly unheard of like Force Resistance.
That’s it for the overview of Martial Arts. Cheap and effective.
Still, if you want to make use of Occult Techniques, I’d always suggest you first Finesse your Fortitude Saves and Hit Points.