The Martial Artist profession in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (and Dungeon Fantasy RPG) has long been known for having a lot of problems when it comes to their primary role of whacking stuff on the head. Unlike any other combative profession, they must take extra care not to injure themselves while attacking, their performance at 250 points is lackluster and they need a lot of additional points to get reliably good at fighting. Motivated by my observations and player experience during my Dungeon Fantasy campaign, I decided to introduce some changes.
Big thanks to Kyle Norton of Dungeons on Automatic for ideas and bringing the building blocks to my attention.
My solution consists of the following:
1. Trained by a Master costs 5 points and is just an “enabler” for chi abilities.
It lets you buy all of the skills such as Power Blow etc. which have it as prerequisite in the Basic Set, as well as Chi Talent and the various abilities with the Chi, -10% modifier.
It also allows you to make a Per roll with a bonus equal to your Chi Talent level to detect when you enter a space with “broken chi”. These are places where the natural order is disturbed, such as heavily polluted areas (but not merely urbanized ones or most others viewed as unnatural by Druids), places under the influence of Elder Things or where reality itself is somehow disturbed. Low/no mana zones, unholy places or those affected by extraplanar energies specifically don’t qualify, since such things all have their place in the order of the world. Vacuum would also qualify, but is unlikely to be encountered by delvers and is otherwise highly noticeable.
2. Chi Talent costs 10 points per level, but is otherwise unchanged.
This makes TBAM and Chi Talent functionally the same as Magery, both in benefits offered, cost and effect. It seemed rather odd that Martial Artists paid 15 points for their power talent while Wizards, Clerics and Druids paid only 10 while getting its bonus to a lot more skills. I could have just left TBAM being an Unusual Background without the extra detection benefit, but it felt unfair to me to be charging points for it when Magery 0 offered the same plus the detection of magic items.
Clerics and Druids, by the way, don’t have such a “gateway” advantage yet still have a similar detection benefit and get access to loads of skills you normally can’t access, all rolled into their power talent. In fact, a technically correct solution would be to increase the cost of Magery and Power Investiture to 15 per level because that’s the cost of talents that affect so many skills, but that would cause too many ripple effects and I’m a fan of “buffing” underperforming traits with patch notes instead of “nerfing” the overperformers.
3. Martial Artists get Weapon Master (Unarmed)  as a mandatory advantage on their template.
Together with TBAM this costs exactly the same as before, gives all the same benefits, but also give Martial Artists an additional +2 damage per die if they have Karate at DX+2 or more, cumulative with Karate’s innate bonus for a total of +4 per die.
I have not made a permanent decision for my campaign yet, but I would currently not allow the per die bonuses to damage from Karate and Weapon Master to stack with further ones such as those from Claws and Seven Secret Kicks (GURPS DF11) or Unarmed Master (Pyramid 3/61). Speaking of the latter…
4. Martial Artists get Rules Exemption (Cannot hurt self) as an optional perk on their template.
This is what gives Unarmed Master the component of not hurting oneself with unarmed strikes anymore. The perk has TBAM or Weapon Master (Unarmed) as prerequisite.
I have included it as optional and not mandatory primarily not to mess with the total point cost of the Martial Artist template. Theoretically, you could build a Martial Artist who focuses on weapons instead of unarmed skills, but this being just a perk is a steal even in that case. Martial artists wielding weapons? Well…
5. Martial Artists get Weapon Master (Martial Artist weapons)  as an optional advantage on their template.
This replaces Weapon Master (Unarmed), and includes it. Martial artist stereotypes in fiction often use much more than their bare hands. This enables such builds.
Weapons covered are baton, blowpipe, bo, brass knuckles, cestus, club, hatchet, heavy sling, javelin, jo, jutte, kama, katar, knobbed club, kusari, large katar, large throwing knife, monk’s spade, naginata, nunchaku, quarterstaff, sai, short baton, short spear, short staff, shortsword, sling, small falchion, small throwing knife, shuriken, spear, throwing dart, tonfa, unarmed strikes and grapples.
Add Polearm, Spear and Thrown Weapon (Spear) to the list of primary skills Martial Artists may choose from.
This list only includes weapons published in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. Additional weapons may be included at the GM’s leisure.
Some of these weapons may be used with the Karate skill. Karate adds its per die damage bonus to weapon attacks only if they deal thrust damage.
And that’s it. TBAM has always seemed off to me, costing more points than Weapon Master (Unarmed) but missing the damage bonus. Sure, Karate has an innate damage bonus, but doing purely thrust attacks with unarmed strikes doesn’t really amount to much even with that. Effectively doubling that bonus through these changes puts Martial Artists on a much more even footing with other fighter-types, and hurting yourself when attacking really isn’t something you should worry about in Dungeon Fantasy.
Note that this solution makes Unarmed Master, Claws (Blunt) and Seven Secret Kicks redundant. Well, Seven Secret Kicks can be repriced to 2 points and be bought just for the Kicking technique.