If you’re not familiar with the Pugilist class, you can check it out on the DM’s Guild both as a Pay What You Want option or as part of the Sterling Vermin Adventuring Co. Anthology. If you are familiar with the Pugilist class, read on!
With the Pugilist’s anniversary I wanted to take the opportunity to address a few stylistic elements of the class that didn’t match the Player’s Handbook style as well as make a slight adjustment to (hopefully) improve a pretty common piece of feedback the Pugilist gets. Knowing that the Pugilist has a huge community of players already enjoying it as it has been for the last year I wanted to offer a bit of an explanation for why I made the changes I did as well as a suggestion about how to incorporate these revisions into a campaign where you’ve already been playing a Pugilist.
The big changes to the Pugilist class on its anniversary involved its features, Moxie and Bloodied but Unbowed. By far the most common criticism of the class was a concern that it regenerated too much moxie. Balance-wise I was never interested in addressing that concern because, contrary to what many players believed, moxie and ki are not direct equals (ki is more valuable, primarily as a result of the Monk feature, Stunning Strikes). That said, it was such a common criticism that even if it wasn’t a balance issue it was clearly an issue in the public perception. I felt a good way to address this issue while still remaining true to the theme of the Pugilist gaining strength as they endure adversity was to move moxie replenishment to the feature, Bloodied but Unbowed. So now instead of the Pugilist gaining 1 moxie point whenever they take a certain amount of damage they regain all their spent moxie when Bloodied but Unbowed triggers.
The Moxie feature had an additional change in response to a common concern amongst Pugilist players that the moxie ability, Brace Up became less and less relevant as the Pugilist gained levels. Since the Pugilist will now have less moxie in general to play with it made sense to improve Brace Up to compensate. Brace Up needs to be a reliable tool for the Pugilist to counteract the fact that it is easier to hit than most (every?) other fighting class but also has relatively low hit dice.
With the changes to the Bloody but Unbowed feature I wanted to separate out the damage improvement at 9th level creating the new feature, Down but Not Out. For starters, I felt Bloodied but Unbowed was getting a bit convoluted with the new alterations. Secondarily, with the diminished access to moxie the Pugilist could also afford another small buff. So now instead of Bloodied but Unbowed adding half proficiency bonus (a figure that is never used anywhere else in 5e so was also stylistically out of place) to damage each time it triggers, the Pugilist now adds their proficiency bonus to damage once per long rest when it triggers.
The final feature that changed was specific to the Squared Circle rather than the Pugilist as a whole. The feature, Groundwork, has changed to take away its awkwardly phrased pseudo-Athletics expertise. While I felt and feel that it was important to establishing the Squared Circle as master wrestlers, it was stylistically very poor. To offset this not insignificant change to the Squared Circle their moxie ability, To the Mat was changed to be more reliable. To the Mat now requires only a single successful roll to both grapple and knock a creature prone rather than two successful rolls, as it previously did.
If you are already playing a Pugilist in a campaign I recommend you talk to your DM and come to one of two decisions: continue to use the Pugilist as it was or adopt the new remastered version of the class. While I am very proud of the Pugilist class in either iteration my personal feeling is this update is a significant improvement. That said, its not fun to have the rug pulled out from under you and have the class you’ve been playing for so long change in ways you don’t want to – so talk to your DM and figure it out. DMs out there, I hope you’ll consider leaving the choice with the player unless there has been significant issues at your table you feel these changes address.