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Pathfinder - Brawler Fighter Handbook

Disclaimer

I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.

Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.

Introduction

The Brawler fighter archetype focuses on distraction, hindrance, and close combat. The fighter trades their signature weapon and armor training for focus on the Close weapon group, some nice crowd control effects, and some minor debuffs. Altogether, the Brawler is good at battlefield control, disabling single targets, and hunting spellcasters. They may lack some of the basic damage of other fighter builds, but they make up for it in utility.

Since spiked shields count as Close weapons, brawlers make an excellent sword-and-board duel-wielding fighters. They won't be using big two-handed weapons or reach weapons, so we're going to rely on Two-weapon Fighting to supplement our damage output.

Brawlers also get bonuses to bull rush, drag, and reposition combat maneuver checks. These maneuvers require Power Attack instead of combat expertise, and can get let us do some fun things in combat.

Fighter Class Features

Hit Points: Between your d10 hit points and your heavy armor, you are very durable..

Base Attack Bonus: The biggest and best in the game.

Saves: Your fortitude saves are good, but you will need to invest in your other saves.

Proficiencies: You get the best proficiencies of any class.

Skills: Fighters only get 2+ skills, and very few of your skill choices are worthwhile, so you will likely dump intelligence.

Bonus Feats: The main reason to play a fighter. Everything a fighter would want to take is a combat feat, and there are enough options that you never have to play the same fighter twice.

Bravery: The brawler is one of very few fighter archetypes which doesn't trade in Bravery for something more interesting. A bonus to fear saves is very rarely useful, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Archetype Features

Proficiencies: Fighters are proficient with basically everything except exotic weapons. Some Close weapons are exotic, but they are generally not worth a feat.

Skills: Fighters get 2+ skills, and have a very short skill list.

Close Control (Ex): Bull Rush, Drag, and Reposition are only situationally useful, and all do effectively the same thing: move the enemy from point A to point B. If you spend the feats, you can force the enemy to draw attacks of opportunity when you move them. Unless your party is full of rogues with combat reflexes, you're probably better of just hitting things instead of dragging them around between your party.

Close Combatant (Ex): The bonus to attacks is basically the same as weapon training. The +3 damage is two points higher than the normal weapon training bonus, which makes Close weapons roughly equivalent to most one-handed weapons in terms of damage. The close weapon group has very few fantasic options, which is unfortunate. I'm still confused why Daggers aren't a Close weapon.

Menacing Stance (Ex): This is the first signature ability for the brawler. It makes it hard to hit you in melee, and makes you very effective at locking down spellcasters. Combined with the Step Up and Disruptive feats, you are going to be very problematic for spellcasters. The scaling penalties keep this ability relevant into higher levels.

No Escape (Ex): Combined with Step Up, this ability is absolutely fantastic. Not only can people no get away from you, you get an attack of opportunity when they try. If they try to withdraw, make a trip attempt. If they do manage to withdraw, just charge them next round.

Stand Still: You should already have combat reflex and stand still by now, so this is basically another combat feat. The real benefit here is the bonus on combat maneuver checks when using Stand Still.

Weapon Mastery (Ex): Decent, but considering no close weapon has a threat range greater than 20, it's not going to see a lot of use. Your CMD should be insane by level 20, so being disarmed really shouldn't be a problem.

Abilities

Str: Any melee character's bread-and-butter, but we need high dex to get the two-weapon fighting feats.

Dex: Dexterity opens up two-weapon fighting. Since you don't get armor training, heavy armor is less appealing, which makes medium armor attractive. Dex also adds additional effect to Combat Reflexes, which can get some serious mileage on a brawler.

Con: You have d10 hit points and strong fortitude saves, but you're a front-line tank, so you need them both.

Int: You may want 13 for Combat Expertise, but won't benefit much from anything past that. Your skill list is garbage, so extra skill points really won't get you much. If you're not using combat expertise, dump to 7.

Wis: The only real benefit you get here is will saves. While will saves are certainly important, your other abilities need more focus. Plus, you can always take Iron Will if you need it.

Cha: Dump to 7 or 8. Even if you plan on intimidating, it's not worth wasting crucial ability score points on charisma.

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy Elite Array
  • Str:17
  • Dex:17
  • Con:14
  • Int:7
  • Wis:12
  • Cha:7
  • Str:15
  • Dex:17
  • Con:14
  • Int:7
  • Wis:13
  • Cha:8
  • Str:14
  • Dex:15
  • Con:13
  • Int:10
  • Wis:12
  • Cha:8

Races

Basically any race that makes a good fighter can make a good brawler.

Dwarf: Dwarves are excellent fighters normally. Bonus Constitution and Wisdom make them very durable, a +2 on saves against spells is fantastic, and Darkvision is always helpful. The Dwarven Stability bonus is nice... for resisting other Brawlers. The speed penalty isn't a problem, and Slow and Steady makes heavy armor more appealing after trading in Armor Mastery.

Elf: The bonuses to Dexterity is nice, but the intelligence bonus is useless here. The constitution penalty hurts, and none of the racial abilities do anything helpful. Alternate racial traits help a bit, but there are still better options.

Gnome: Gnomes are small, and get a penalty to strength. Nothing a gnome has makes them a good brawler.

Half-Elf: That variable ability bonus goes straight into strength or dexterity. If you are planning a class dip, Half-Elf is a good choice due to Multitalented. Their other racial bonuses are situationally useful, but not game changers.

Half-Orc: Variable ability bonus to strength or dexterity. Beyond the ability bonus, Darkvision is really the only thing Half-Orcs bring to the table. About on-par with Dwarves, but certainly nothing to get excited about. If you plan to use intimidate, the racial bonus is nice and can offset dumping your charisma.

Halfling: Halflings suffer the same issues that Gnomes do.

Human: I'm going to throw a curve ball and suggest a +2 bonus to strength or dexterity (I can't throw a curve ball). The human skill bonus matters very little for a fighter, but a bonus feat opens up a lot of options. If you aren't planning a class dip, you would be hard-pressed to find a better option than Human.

Traits

Skills

With only 2+ skill points, dumped intelligence, and the lousy fighter skill list, your options are somewhat limited.

Feats

Like any fighter, the Brawler depends heavily on feats. Fortunately, you get plenty of them. With normal feats at every odd-numbered level and bonus feats at every even-numbered level, you get a feat at every level (and two/three at first).

Weapons

Your selection of weapons is fairly limited, and most of your options are lackluster. Even so, the Close weapon group offers some interesting options.

Multiclassing and Prestige Classes

This is a fighter archetype that really gets a lot of benefit from more class levels. I don't recommend clas dips unless you have a specific concept in mind.

Example Build - Half-Orc Enforcer

No one runs. Everyone dies.

The Enforcer feat is a really fun mechanic, and combines well with the Brawler's existing abilities. Combined with Menacing Stance and a good AC, the Enforcer is an excellent tank, and is really good at locking down targets and disabling them with Fear.

Abilities

We will assume the 25-point buy abilities suggested above, but the other suggested abilities can also use this build without any problems. The Half-Orc racial bonus goes into Strength.

Race

We're going to try out the Half-Orc here. Darkvision is always welcome, and Intimidating works nicely since we're going to dump Charisma.

Skills

With our one skill point, we're going max Intimidate. We can use the favored class bonus to get a bonus skill point at first level and put it into Perception to get a total +6 perception bonus which should keep us slightly helpful for the rest of the character's career.

Traits

Easy Way or the Hard Way (Combat) and Seeker (Social). We're going to doing nonlethal damage with lethal weapons some of the time, and Seeker gets us Perception as a class skill.

Levels

Level Feat(s) Notes and Tactics
1 - Fighter
  • Two-Weapon Fighting
  • Improved Shield Bash*

At first level, you're a fairly generic sword-and-board fighter. With Shield Bash and Two-Weapon fighting, you're duel-wielding straight out of the gate. Take a Heavy Spiked Shield and a short sword for first level, but don't get attached to the sword. With 19 strength and +1 BAB, you're rolling +3/+3 on your attack rolls and 1d6+4/1d6+2 damage. Very respectable.

Get Scale Mail for now, and look to pick up a Breastplate or Agile Breastplate in the near future. In the long term, you'll want to get mithral O-Yoroi or Tatami-Do. If your DM doesn't allow eastern armor, go for Mithral Breastplate instead.

Combined with the shield and your high dexterity, You're looking at a nice comfortable 20 AC out of the gate. Nice and tanky with your 12 hit points.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Skill Point (Perception)

2 - Fighter
  • Combat Reflexes*

2nd level brings Bravery and Close Control. Neither of these abilities is going to really change anything important about your character.

Combat Reflexes is the first step in really controlling the battlefield. Get one of your casters to Enlarge you, or buy potions of Enlarge Person, and make it very clear that your enemies shouldn't try to get away from you.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

3 - Fighter
  • Enforcer

3rd level brings Close Combatant, and is the first point where you can distinguish yourself from a normal sword-and-board fighter. Drop your short sword, and grab a punching dagger. The Close Combatant damage bonus applies to both of your weapons, making you fairly scary fighter despite relatively weak weapons.

Enforcer is going to be a lot of fun. Most of the time, you're going to start a fight by hitting with your shield to do nonlethal damage, and with 1d6+7 damage on a mundane heavy spiked shield, your target should be shaken for a good long time. If you have trouble intimidating the target, hit them for nonlethal damage until you succeed. Your Intimidate won't be spectacular since your charisma is garbage, but you have the luxury of quantity here. Don't forget that being larger than your target gives you +4, so Enlarge Person improves your social skills.

If your party is ever really having issues with a target, you can Enforcer them again to make them go from shaken to Frightened or Panicked, which causes them to run away, drawing attacks of opportunity from you when you're enlarged.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

4 - Fighter
  • Disruptive*

Disruptive. Because we hate wizards.

Ability Score Increase: Strength (19 to 20)

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

5 - Fighter
  • Step Up

Step Up is always a great choice for melee characters, especially those that apply penalties to people standing adjacent to them.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

6 - Fighter
  • Improved Two-Weapon Fighting*

Woo! Time for some iterative attacks! With Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, you're now looking at four attacks per turn. With high BAB and strength, your attack bonus is pretty fantastic.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

7 - Fighter
  • Stand Still

Level 7 is a fantastic level for you. Your Close Combatant bonus goes up by 1, and you get Menacing Stance. Casters have every reason to shit their pants when you walk into a room, and anyone unfortunate enough to get into melee with you is going to stay there until you're finished with them.

Stand still is hilariously effective, especially on a Brawler, but just wait until level 9 when you get really scary.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

8 - Fighter
  • Shield Slam*

Shield Slam is a really boring feat, but we need is as a pre-requisite for Shield Master, and this is the last opportunity to take it before much better feats become available.

Increase our dexterity here so that we can hit 19 Dex at level 12.

Ability Score Increase: Dexterity (17 to 18)

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

9 - Fighter
  • FREE FEAT

9th level brings No Escape. When combined with Step Up, Combat Reflexes, Stand Still, and Enlarge Person, no one is getting away from you without taking some very serious damage. And if they take damage, you can use Stand Still to keep them from moving away. No one runs. Everyone dies.

If you're a horrible monster (hint: you should be), use Enforcer to make enemies panicked. Then when they try to run away, beat them to a bloody pulp and keep them in place with Stand Still.

This is one of the few open feats in this build, but we are out of important feats which we qualify for at this level. You could take Iron Will to boost your worst save, or you could take weapon focus in anticipation of our impending switch to fighting with shields.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

10 - Fighter
  • Spellbreaker*

SUCK IT WIZARD. NO ONE RUNS. EVERYONE DIES.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

11 - Fighter
  • Shield Master

Level 11 brings another point of Close Combatant, and the ever-important +11 BAB. Shield Master also brings a major shift in our weapon choice. Drop the heavy shield and punching dagger, and replace them with spiked light shields. While this means weaker critical hits, it nets you a +2 bonus to your attack rolls with both shields, and you no longer need to enhance the spikes on your shields past +1 (and you only need +1 to get other enhancements).

Since shield enhancement bonuses are cheaper than weapon enhancement bonuses, you can afford better weapons faster than anyone else, and you get bonuses to AC. By this point, the damage dice on your weapon is already a much less important factor in your damage output, so try not to miss your longsword too much.

Level 11 also gets us our third iterative attack. Sadly, we don't have space or dexterity for Greater Two-Weapon Fighting. We also get our first extra point of Menacing Stance!

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

12 - Fighter
  • Greater Two-Weapon Fighting*

With 19 dexterity, you can now get Greater Two-Weapon Fighting Even at effectively -10 from your normal attacks, your strength, BAB, and Close Combatant give you a +8 on attacks before enhancement bonuses, which is still very solid at level 12.

Ability Score Increase: Dexterity (18 to 19)

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

13 - Fighter
  • Weapon Focus (Spiked Light Shield)
  • Weapon Specialization (Spiked Light Shield)*

Level 13 gives us Stand Still, which gives us a feat we already have, so we get a free Combat Feat instead. The real benefit here is the bonus to the Stand Still Combat Maneuver check. At level 13, it's a whopping +6 bonus, and it goes up at every even level.

At this point we have all of our big flashy feats, so we can start putting feats into Weapon Focus/Specialization. Boosts to your attack bonus and damage will have exponential returns since they make your iterative attacks hit more frequently, thereby applying damage bonuses more frequently.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

14+

At 14th level and beyond you have a lot of freedom for your feats. Take Greater Weapon Focus / Specialization, and maybe Power Attack. Multiclassing may be an option, but don't forget that you'll be giving up your scaling Close Combatant, Menacing Stance, and Stand Still bonuses.