Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Single-Handed Swordsman

A group of boasters and braggarts are down at the inn, and their claims are swelling along with the number of drinks they've downed. Then, one man cuts through the chatter, and says three words that make the tap room fall silent.

"You're a liar."

All eyes fall to the speaker. A lanky man with a salt and pepper beard, he has a tankard in his left hand, and a short sword on his hip. His right hand is nothing more than an iron hook, fitting on a leather cover to the stump of his wrist. The toughs start sniggering, spreading out around the old naysayer, but if he's concerned about the aggressive crowd he gives no sign. Then, without a word, one of the tale-tellers jerks a knife, and goes to plant it in the old man's back. He half turns, catching the knife in the curve of his hook, and parries it away. Then he swings back in riposte, burying the sharp point in his attacker's throat. As the dying man gurgles his last, the one-handed swordsman stands, and takes a sip of his brew. There's a look in his eyes that says you don't want to make him draw that sword.

Don't roll that initiative unless you're sure, boy.

Single-Handedly Destroying Your Enemies

When it comes to warriors who should be feared, everyone worries about the great weapon wielders. Warriors who wield a shield in their off-hand are treated with care, because they have both offensive and defensive capabilities. When a swordsman has one hand, or worse just one arm, foes often discount them as a threat. What they forget is that when a swordsman only has one hand, they've often trained that hand to perfection in the craft of combat.

If you want to bring that sort of concept across in your Pathfinder game, you've got some options available.

For example, let's say your character lost a hand as a young man. So when he took up the sword, he focused on speed, skill, and technique over defending with a shield, or using an over-sized weapon. You could represent this unique fighter as a swashbuckler, who is equally skilled with his stump knife as he is with the rapier on his belt. Or, if you'd prefer to pay homage to the great blackguards of the high seas, you could take Slashing Grace to make a hook hand count as a piercing weapon, giving your swashbuckler a visceral, awful weapon that cannot be disarmed. If you add Piranha Strike into the mix, then you've got a serious damage dealer on your hands... well, hand.

Of course, that's just the most obvious interpretation of the one-handed swordsman we can use.

Alternatively, you might want to put together a fighter, or even a fighter/rogue combination who uses short blades to cut his enemies down to size. A one-handed Knife Master/Brawler archetype could do some serious damage, combining weapon training with feats like Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization, and gaining increased damage from sneak attack. Or, if you're a hand-on sort of fighter, it would be possible for you to play a Brawler (the base class, instead of the fighter archetype) to make up for it. You might strap a spiked lock-gauntlet to your stump, using that as your primary weapon. Or, because your whole body can be used in the fight, you might choose to give your character only one arm, adopting an unusual fighting style that incorporates greater use of your legs, knees, and headbutts instead of relying on pure fisticuffs.

Imagine the embarrassment of being choked out by a one-armed monk.

Add A Touch of Magic

Another nice touch for the one-handed swordsman is to use a weapon enchantment that's fairly uncommon; the Transformative weapon.

So, for example, you might have someone with a hook hand, a stump knife, or even a spiked gauntlet. Then, when combat starts, all it takes is a flick of the wrist to alter that weapon into a rapier, a short sword, or another combat-worthy weapon. It could, in a real sense, act as a kind of Swiss army hand, allowing your swordsman to use whatever weapon is most appropriate for the situation, and for his or her personal combat style.

They called him... the Iron Fist!
It should be mentioned at this point that there are very few rules in Pathfinder that make you lose a hand, or an arm. While your DM might rule that taking a lot of damage in a single shot, the effects of being left unconscious in a troll's lair, or a firearm exploding in your hand should cause mutilation, there are no core rules to that effect. So remember, this is less of a back-up strategy for when your adventurer eventually comes out on the wrong end of a fight, and more of a concept that you can use to play a unique character without sacrificing efficacy in-game.

Also, if you liked this post, why not check out Replacing Lost Limbs With Magical Prosthetics in Pathfinder? It's full of all sorts of tasty treats, from the infamous Demon Hand, to clockwork limbs, to other augmentations you can use to help a character overcome a physical disability in the field.

I hope everyone enjoyed this latest entry in my Unusual Character Concepts section. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then why not go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to put some bread in my jar? For as little as $1 a month you can keep the content flowing, and get yourself some sweet swag to boot! Lastly, if you haven't done it yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to make sure you stay abreast of all my most recent updates?


  1. I'm a fan of sword-wielding mages, despite the mechanical difficulties many systems put in. One of my old characters uses a versatile sword so that he can keep a hand free to cast spells when he needs to, and use both hands when he needs an edge in melee. In any case, my sword mages stick with light armor if any, and tend to be swashbuckler-y, relying on agility to dodge and parry attacks.

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  3. I might have to throw this in a game soon.. Maybe open it up as a character option... nice job!