Best unarmed styles for early game

This is more of personal preference and quick testing. All unarmed martial art styles are generally good if you tailor your build to them, but i’m speaking of great early game styles, which could carry you to end game.

Remember though, it’s best to tailor your build around a specific martial arts style - strength and perception for boxing for example.

Unless your melee, dodge and unarmed are around 3, your attacks with unarmed with be absolute shit, especially if you have 8 in all stats. Keep this in mind, as it’s best to have at least some levels in your skills. So before you go running around trying to punch things, find the book 101 wrestling moves and get your unarmed to 3.

Muay Thai - Great, especially for the +4 bashing damage and bonus attacks to larger enemies (Take that zombie hulk!) Knockbacks aren’t as insane as scorpion kung fu (more on that later) but they’re still there. Attacks scale with strength.

Krav Maga - Generally all around useful, great style to have. Plus, it has techniques that you can use with bladed and blunt weapons. If unarmed or with a cutting weapon, you get a damage bonus.

Boxing - STR increases the efficency of blocking, and allows you to tank more hits, but PER increases damage itself. This is great, since damage to your body (which you’ll definitely sustain early game) won’t affect your damage output. Plus, kiting is great since you get a dodge bonus every time you move at level 4.

Scorpion Kung Fu - Awesome martial art, feels like cheating when you use it. High critical chance, criticals do even more damage, and they knock your enemies back 3-4 tiles away. Gets a bonus of 2 bashing damage.

Centipede Kung Fu - This style focuses on relentless attacks, so the more you hit consecutively the faster you’ll hit. Couple this with high stats and your fists will launch out and hit like a machine gun.

Dragon Kung Fu - Scales off intelligence and strength. Moving grants a bonus to attack. Combine these two and your nerd survivor will easily decimate zombies early game.

Capoiera - It’s quite good for kiting and crowd control, as all movements boost dodge. Once you hit 4 unarmed counterattack becomes available for some even more viability

Karate - Karate is pretty nice, since every attack grants you a successful dodge or block chance. Couple this with the 2 bonus it gets to damage isn’t something to laugh at. Even then, at level 2 unarmed you get block, and with level 0 you get rapid attack. Good things to have.

Taekwondo - Partial to this one IRL. The stronger you are, the more damage your blocks absorb. As long as you have good armor on your legs and arms you’ll be extremely tanky. At level 2 unarmed you can block with both your arms and legs.

These are some styles that I found viable, if you were to ask me, I would choose either boxing or scorpion kung fu. The other styles are nice, but these two are especially noob-friendly if used right.

Tell me more about what you found fun to play with, as i’m partial to unarmed builds and want to hear what YOU’VE experienced.


Have you taken opportunity costs into account? Because in order to get one style, you need to sacrifice points you could be putting elsewhere.

This is why I like Brawling. It’s not fancy, but it comes packaged with Unarmed 2. Unless you take a specific class, require 2 points to buy a style, and that doesn’t even give you most of the benefits because you need training in Unarmed to get techniques. Brawling only requires 2 points AND you get some benefits automatically.

This, of course, only applies fresh out of Character Generation.

Krav Maga is a great style, because of how versatile it is. Ninjutsu is also nice because of those crucial moments when you absolutely cannot afford to let other zombies know your location. Those are my favorites for early game.

In theory, if you start with Bionic Assassin and get lucky/are persistent, you could end up with Bionic Combatives early on. Bionic Combatives/Biojutsu is straight up one of the best style because of the permanent bonus to dodge and the counter ability. If you’re playing with the Bionic Assassin, you already have the Monomolecular Blade, meaning you’ve essentially got one of the best combos in the game at your disposal.

Niten is awesome early game if you find a Katana (which you should make a priority). This is one of the styles that’ll keep you going till late game too.

I’ve found the Venom Mob styles a tad lacking. Granted, I haven’t played around with any but Toad early game. Lizard apparently does nothing anymore, which is sad.

I guess Tiger would be alright against a Crowd if you used standard kiting tactics. I’ve never really done this early game, so I’m not sure.

I found Taekwondo to be quite useful when using guns since you can use it even when wielding a weapon. It let’s you kick targets away that get too close and then shoot them safely.

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-I haven’t used much in terms of other unarmed styles other than Muay Thai. I have used a couple others, (Can’t remember which ones) but I always ended up switching back to Muay Thai. I like to use stats through skills, which makes this fighting skill even more worthwhile, since (Like you said) attacks scale with strength. Thus, as I fight more and more, not only do I get better at the skill itself, but I get stronger in general. I once tried out 12 starting strength and 5 dodge to try that out (With lots of minor negative traits and deft), and dang did to work out well! Of course, I froze to death because the nearby town had only 5 buildings (Even though the city size I had was massive), and none of them had good clothing in it. I wandered down the road for a long time, trying to find a place that wasn’t practically devoid of useful items, but the cold killed me just as a new town came into sight.

I mitigated the lack of starting clothing by grabbing clothes off zombies. Nasty, sure. But hey, it worked in a pinch.

Also I seriously recommend Scorpion. I started out as a prisoner with 3 dodge and unarmed and lemme tell you, that martial art decimated everything I came into contact with.

Haven’t tried centipede to a point where i’m wholly familiar, but I heard it’s second to scorpion.

I have to admit, I was skeptical of Scorpion being all that great at first. I found a book on it in a bookstore, and used it to kick a feral runner four squares away and dealt 41 damage with level 1 unarmed.

That was awesome.

Dang, maybe I’ll try out the Scorpion fighting style out really soon!

While I’ll admit there were probably better investments than toad style for most characters, it can be functional all game. The free armor is enough to prevent deep bites early game so long as the player ensures it is active before combat. Should you choose a start with alloy plating, and add a bit of clothing, the sum will be enough to trivialize anything that is weaker than a brute. Assuming the armor nerf did not hit natural armor. The armor is full coverage, does not degrade, and has no concern about limits per turn. It also allows the opportunity to grind melee stats safely with little fear or cost. Even flighty spiders can’t poison what it can’t damage.

Late game it will fall off but consider the armor total of the style, bionics, and mutations. It can easily allow a character to blunt anything short of a punt or firearm while keeping equipment options free. The attack is little more than a consolation prize for a non-crit, but it is effective while giving a down. With crits giving a stun and a cbm offering a shock you have a sub optimal yet effective means to tank large numbers and disable single targets. Invest into something else if you want to dominate content with melee, but this could offer a cheap way to fight effectively without building your character around melee.

–Personally, I’m unimpressed by the centipede martial art. I can understand why some people like it, but it just isn’t for me. However the Scorpion is actually pretty nice.

So, let’s look at this premise, while keeping an eye on the code, and give each style a rating.

Krav Maga (5/5): Yes, 5/5. While all the techniques except for the grab break only work when unarmed or with tonfas, Krav provides a static buff to stab damage when armed with anything else, and that includes that early knife spear you’re poking zombies in the eye with barely out of the shelter.

  • When unarmed or wielding a tonfa, you add 20% of your strength to your bash.
  • When armed with anything, you have 20% more stabbity damage.
  • (Unarmed 2) quick attacks sometimes or about ~+16% damage, yoru foe’s defenses notwithstanding.
  • (Unarmed 2) miss recovery which means that your misses are less punishing.
  • (Unarmed 3) Your unarmed/tonfa crits sometimes stun.
  • (Unarmed 3) Your hits sometimes disarm.
  • (Unarmed 4) You down foes sometimes. This actually reduces your average damage output a little against standing foes.
  • (Unarmed 4) You are better at breaking away from grabs.

Eskrima (5/5): Eskrima is offensive as all hell, you hit hard, you complete the style early, and if you have a style weapon, you also hit fast. The weapon selection is fairly decent as well.

  • Snap Strike, a 20% faster strike, overall a ~12% damage increase.
  • (Melee 1) +20% bashing damage. Works with all weapons.
  • (Melee 2) When you hit, you gain an additional +10% damage, this time to all damage types. Works with all weapons.
  • (Melee 2) Fan Strike, a 25% faster strike.
  • (Melee 2) Combination Strike, a hit that is 20% faster and hits 50% harder, together with Snap and Fan this is a +~36% increase on top of the bash buff and the 10% buff after hitting.
  • (Melee 3) Your crits sometimes do zero stab and cut damage, but deal 4x bash damage and stun. Only activates with weapons that deal bash damage.
  • (Unarmed 3) Your crits sometimes down foes.
  • (Melee 4) Round Strike, a 40% faster strike.
  • (Melee 4) Free Strike, an instant strike. Now you’re hitting so fast that you’re doing ~64% more damage, on top of the +20% buff from the style and the +10% from hitting.

Tiger (5/5): Tiger does one thing and one thing only. Hits hard, with barely any investment, letting you get past the defense of tough zombies fairly early on, and letting you gib things once you really get going.

  • Adds 80% of your STR to your damage. Since STR is the stat for punching out things anyways, this makes it easy to create a martial artist.
  • (Unarmed 2) when you hit, you gain +3 Bash damage, stacks up to 8 times (but lasts only 3 rounds). You’re looking at, at minimum, ~+9 damage from this. If you started with 10 STR, you’re already looking at +17 damage.
  • (Unarmed 4) Your attacks down half the time.

Boxing (4/5): Boxing starts with boosting your damage and defense, and only gets better from there with more skill and better stats.

  • 40% of your PER aids your bash damage, 50% of your STR aids your blocking.
  • (Unarmed 2) Arm blocking.
  • (Unarmed 2) You deal about 10% more damage from the boxing cross technique firing off half the time.
  • (Unarmed 3) You have jabs, upgrade the above to ~17%
  • (Unarmed 4) Upercuts, your crits can hit really hard (+40% damage) and stun.
  • (Unarmed 4) When you move, you can dodge 1 more time before incurring penalties (up to 2 stacks).
  • (Unarmed 5) When you dodge, you deal 25% more Bash damage, up to two stacks, lasts 3 turns.
  • (Unarmed 5) After the above happens, your crits have a 30% chance of not only knocking back and stunning, but to also come off free (no move cost).

Dragon (4/5): A balanced style that benefits from INT. Takes a while to take off since it is nicer with blocking gear and requires some serious dodge to take off, which is why I rate it below Eskrima and Boxing, it’s pretty good on the long run.

  • 80% of your INT to Bash.
  • (Unarmed 2) Arm blocking.
  • (Unarmed 2) When you move, you gain +2 Bash damage and Hit.
  • (Unarmed 4) Sometimes stuns and hits harder. Overall a 10% damage increase.
  • (Unarmed 4) A dodge and block counter, stuns and costs no movement.
  • (Unarmed 5) Attacks sometimes down foes.
  • (Unarmed 6) Critical hits sometimes knock back foes.

Capoeira (3/5): Capoeira needs arm guards or otherwise equipment that grants blocking to take advantage of it’s blocking buff. Still, it’s movement buff is pretty respectable if you’re Fleet-footed/Quick or on rollers when those get fixed. It gives all of it’s bonuses early and two-by-four arm guards are cheap, so it’s pretty decent early on.

  • (Unarmed 1) miss recovery.
  • (Unarmed 2) +2 Bash and +1 To your Hit when you move, up to 3 stacks.
  • (Unarmed 3) When you hit, you gain 1 dodge and 1 extra block, stacks up to 3 times.

Fencing (3/5): Fencing’s small list of weapons it works with make it troublesome early game, but it gives all it’s bonuses early, they’re really good, and it’s bonus when moving works while unarmed to boot.

  • (Melee 1) 66% of your attacks with style weapons are slightly faster and deal extra stab damage, effectively ~+26% damage.
  • (Melee 2) +2 to stab damage and +1 to hit when moving, up to 2 stacks.
  • (Melee 2) Now it’s 2/5ths Lunges, 2/5th Thrusts (faster attacks, regular damage), 1/5th regular attacks, effectively ~+29% damage.
  • (Melee 3) When you block (and all the style weapons grant blocking), you can counter with no move cost and +50% stabbity, which also stuns.

Ninjutsu (3/5): Ninjutsu gives all it’s bonuses early and works with everything, on the other hand, it doesn’t offer that much.

  • Your melee attacks are silent, which means less chance of attracting foes, all the more critical when early games.
  • After moving, you add 17% of your DEX to your hitting chances.
  • (Unarmed 3) You can block with your arms.
  • (Unarmed 3) 50% of the time, your crits stun and hit really hard: +40% bash damage, 2x stab damage.

Toad (3/5): Yes, 3/5. Toad gives a surprising increase of damage, and a bonus to your regular defense when you’re not moving around.

  • +6 armor vs bash/cut/stab. You loose 1 every time you move, and recover it when not moving from your spot.
  • (Unarmed 3) Arm Blocking.
  • (Unarmed 4) An attack that downs and comes off 50% faster. Overall this is a ~+50% damage increase.

Taekwondo (Situationally 5/5, 2/5 most of the time): Taekwondo is about even with Karate, both offer a nice defensive buff, with Karate doing more damage and Taekwondo momentarily disabling foes and blocking better, but less frequently. Taekwondo has the property that it always strikes unarmed, so if you’re wielding something, say, a heavy duty frame or a gun you don’t want to wreck, Taekwondo is your guy.

  • Half of your STR improves your blocking.
  • (Unarmed 2) your crits sometimes stun.
  • (Unarmed 2) You can block with your arms.
  • (Unarmed 3) You can block with your legs.
  • (Unarmed 3) your hits sometimes knock back.
  • (Unarmed 4) your hits sometimes knock down.

Karate (4/5 at really low unarmed, 2/5 after that): Karate doesn’t offer you much, but what it offers, it offers early.

  • You can dodge 1 more time per turn before incurring penalties, and you can do 2 more blocks per turn. This bonus is activated after you hit something and lasts 3 turns after that.
  • (Unarmed 0) you sometimes do a rapid attack (hit faster, but weaker), effectively, ~+16% damage, your foe’s defenses notwithstanding.
  • (Unarmed 2) you can block with your arms.
  • (Unarmed 4) Your critical hits can stun.

Centipede (2/5, with fringe benefit): You hit faster, which will probably mean you hit for no damage a lot. The upswing is that you train unarmed faster with this style since you’re attacking that often.

  • When you hit, your attacks become faster, stacks up to 8 times, lasts 3 rounds.
  • (Unarmed 2) Rapid strike, or a ~+16% increase in damage output.
  • (Unarmed 3) Arm blocks.

Zui Quan (2/5): Drunken boxing is a defensive style that requires being unencumbered, high dodge and good INT. The high dodge requirement makes it a poor choice early game save for niche builds.

  • You add 12% of your INT to your dodging. Even at 20 INT this isn’t better than, say, the potential +3 from Capoeira.
  • When you attack, you no longer suffer the penalties for dodging multiple times. This does mean that if your dodge is already high, this is defensively better than other dodge-buffing styles.
  • When you successfully dodge, you add 50% of your INT to your bash damage, and 20% of it to your chances to hit. Up to two stacks.
  • (Unarmed 3) miss recovery.
  • (Unarmed 4) You can dodge counter, hitting for +25% damage and spending no movement hitting back. Notice that this will be working on top of the damage/hit buff when dodging.

Silat (2/5): Silat has a long list of weapons it works with, and it’s base bonus work with everything, but the bonuses are small and the techniques only work with critical hits.

  • You gain 1 extra dodge.
  • When you dodge, your hit is improved by 40% of your dex, up to 4 stacks.
  • (Melee 2) Your crits after dodging can stun.
  • (Melee 2) Your crits sometimes down foes.
  • (Melee 3) Your crits can knock back.
  • (Melee 4) Your crits can do 50% more damage.

Leopard (2/5): Leopard gives a slight bonus to dodging and dodge counters, better than nothing.

  • 15% of your PER and 15% of your INT are added to your dodge.
  • (Unarmed 2) When you move, you gain +2 Hit.
  • (Unarmed 2) You sometimes hit faster but weaker, overall a ~+16% damage increase.
  • (Unarmed 4) You can dodge counter for +50% damage and no movement cost.
  • (Unarmed 5) Your crits sometimes stun.

Scorpion (2/5): You deal slightly more damage and your crits push back a lot and hit hard.

  • +2 Bash damage.
  • Your crits sometimes push back your foes a lot and deal 2x damage.
  • (Unarmed 3) Arm Blocks.
  • (Unarmed 4) Half the time, your hits stun and deal 25% more bash. Overall, a ~+12% damage increase.

Brawling (2/5): Nothing earth-shattering, and most of the benefits require some skill. It’s learned automatically tho, so there’s that.

  • It lets you block with your arms from the start.
  • (Unarmed 3) miss recovery.
  • (Unarmed 4) Crit hits sometimes push back enemies.
  • (Unarmed 5) When you block, you counterattack for free.
  • (Unarmed 5) It “trips” oponents about 50% of the time.

Judo (situationally 3/5, 1/5 otherwise): A defensive style, with a situational but good bonus, and some soft disabling when hitting foes.

  • You can’t be thrown or knocked down. Situational, but damn useful.
  • (Unarmed 2) Your hits sometimes knock down foes.
  • (Unarmed 3) Your hits sometimes push away foes.

Snake (1/5): Improves with your PER, consider it the offensive, expensive but less useful cousin of Tai Chi.

  • 80% of your PER to your Bash.
  • (Unarmed 2) Rapid strike, or about a ~+16% increase in damage output.
  • (Unarmed 3) Miss Recovery
  • (Unarmed 4) Grab Break
  • (Unarmed 4) Crits sometimes stun.

Tai Chi (1/5, unless your PER is really good and you have nothing better): Tai Chi gives all it’s useful bonuses up front

  • 100% of your PER improves your blocking, you get 1 extra block.
  • (Unarmed 1) Arm blocking.
  • (Unarmed 2) Your crits sometimes stun.
  • (Unarmed 3) Your attacks can disarm.

Crane (1/5): About even with Tai Chi, it’s a minor defensive style that improves your damage using your DEX. The only thing going for it is that it’s about the only style that gets a bonus for DEX.

  • You loose -20% of your STR in bash damage, but gain 80% of your DEX.
  • When you move, you gain +2 dodge.
  • (Unarmed 2) Miss Recovery.
  • (Unarmed 3) Arm Blocking.
  • (Unarmed 3) Grab Break.
  • (Unarmed 4) Your crits sometimes stun.

Muay Thai (1/5): Muay Thai is mediocre, Muay Thai sucks ass when your STR isn’t well above 10.

  • (Unarmed 0) You deal 5 damage less, but you add half your STR to your attack on top of the regular damage. This effectively means you break even at 10, and further up you get a moderate boost.
  • (Unarmed 2) Your crits are sometimes 50% faster.
  • (Unarmed 3) Your attacks sometimes stun.
  • (Unarmed 3) You can block with your arms.
  • (Unarmed 4) You can block with your legs, this means the damage is more spread now before something breaks, but if what breaks is your leg you’re in a bad place.
  • (Unarmed 4) Your crits sometimes stun, this means the above faster crit strikes happen less often tho.

Niten Ichi Ryu (0/5): With poor weapon compatibility you might as well be unarmed for early game. It also sucks until melee is high, requires a lot of PER, and it’s tricky to use. The only upside is that it eventually gets good, unike Aikido.

  • (Melee 2) 50% of your PER is added to your bash and cut damage with the style weapons, as well as to your dodge.
  • (Melee 2) When you move or attack, your dodge suffers a lot, but you gain 2 bonus blocks. Style weapons only.
  • (Melee 2) miss recovery, this miss recovery is 20% faster than the standard fare miss recoveries.
  • (Melee 4) You hit reeeeally slow, but hit harder. Effectively ~+7% damage.
  • (Melee 5) Your attacks down sometimes, this lowers the frequency of the above hit, so that’s good.
  • (Melee 5) After dodging (you probably were standing still), you can deal a hit that does +50% damage and is 50% faster, and stuns.
  • (Melee 6) Your crits sometimes hit for +50% damage.

Aikido (0/5): Aikido is terrible. Even for defensive purposes it’s terrible.

  • You do 50% less damage. Bash damage that is, better get those punch daggers and glass shard knucklers.
  • (Unarmed 2) You get miss recovery.
  • (Unarmed 3) You can disarm foes. Sadly, this means their weapons (which they rarely have) instead of taking away their limbs, that’s for the yet-to-beimplemented Wrruushi.
  • (Unarmed 3) Your hits sometimes push back foes.
  • (Unarmed 6) Your dodges sometimes push away foes.

Lizard (0/5): Gives arm blocks at 2. That is all.

Not sure where to rate Viper, it looks good on paper, but the combo doesn’t seem to want to work on practice, tho I haven’t tested it extensively so it may be just an output bug. I also haven’t tested bionic combatives much, since the weapons it works with also count as unarmed, there’s styles that just seem better for them than the hard to get bionics, and it shouldn’t matter anyways since it’s a pretty fringe case for a beginning character to have it.


If your comment was a spell, it would be named something like: Awesomus Commenticus

–Does anyone know what books give martial arts? I’d like to be able to find them better by knowing their names. Also knowing where to find the books would be nice too. I believe a dojo can have at least some martial arts books, but I’m not sure where else to look.

Also check boxing gyms, and mansions. If you have read a martial arts book its item entry will be grey, so you can always tell which ones you haven’t collected yet.

This is good. All in all, it’s really situational but martial arts DO have their niches. Having an all-around good martial art vs a few special talents make the difference.

Most of the generally good MAs are better than the situational ones even when their niche applies, like, there’s no situation I can think of where I would use Tai Chi or Snake if I have Boxing.

Do note that the list is ‘best for early game’ tho. Krav stops being such a good choice once you can actually dedicate gear, time and training towards a particular MA, Niten stops being a pile of suck and becomes one of your best choices when you have a weaboo weapon and your melee is decent, and I would consistently pick Zui Quan over Dragon on INT-focused characters if the character is both unencumbered and has Dodging 6~8+ already, just to name a few.

Do have to agree, even when Zui Quan is something I pray I find if I don’t take it at the start. Really, I can sit the middle of the road butchering for hour after I set my stuff down in a pile by the pile of corpses while I knit or sew or raise any skills, and Zui Quan allows me to just sit there until some acid-spewing bastard come along.

Really, just sitting in the middle of the road while killing zombos in the hundreds while sewing is just too fun to pass up late game. Early game though… yeah, it’s meh.

“Taekwondo has the property that it always strikes unarmed”. Does that mean that unarmed weapons like cestus or nail knuckles dont add damage to hits? And if so, is it better to take weapon with block ability?

unless i did my testing wrong, you are correct.
Taekwondo works more like a support martial art for a ranged character in case a mob gets too close (you dont damage the weapon you are holding, and can create distance/stun mobs). Iirc i think a saw a post a long time ago that foot gear helped a bit of damage with this martial art, but i couldnt test that

Just want to point out this is an old thread - all that info about martial arts is from June, i.e. before MA rewrite/rebalance. There isn’t much point using it to compare current state of MAs, all that info is outdated.