Pathfinder - Practical Guide to Fighting Defensively
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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.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
Fighting Defensively is a rarely-used which allows you to temporarily handicap your attacks for a modest increase to your AC. It doesn't see a lot of use because it's a poor trade. -4 to hit in exchange for +2 to AC is rarely going to be your best choice in combat. Characters who like this option typically pick up Combat Expertise, which works in the same way, but offers a 1-for-1 trade.
But with a long list of character options which modify Fight Defensively, there's some room to improve it. In fact, improving Fight Defensively can quickly make Fight Defensively provide a larger bonus than Combat Expertise with a smaller penalty.
Three ranks in Acrobatics improves your Dodge bonus from Fight Defensively by 1, which is an easy improvement that almost any character can afford.
- Crane Style: The requirements are steep, but it halves the penalty for Fight Defensively and improves the bonus by +1, and the whole feat chain is worthwhile.
Crane Wing: +4 is a huge amount
of AC. You'll need to track how close attacks come to hitting you,
which is an annoying addition to an already crunchy game, but +4 to
AC is great. Of course, you need to keep a hand free, so this appeals
most to brawlers or monks who fight unarmed or with one-handed weapons
and to magi, swashbucklers, and specific builds which frequently have
and empty hand. If you take this, try to pick up a weapon with the
Blocking special property since you won't be using a shield.
- Crane Riposte: Reduce the penalty for Fight Defensively by another point, and sometimes you'll get an attack of opportunity when someone almost hits you.
- Exotic Weapon Proficiency: Mostly useful for Madu, but there are some other useful options.
- Two-Weapon Defense: Not a great feat on its own, and adding Fight Defensively penalties to two-weapon fighting may saddle you with a lot of penalties which are difficult to offset.
Halfling Racial Feats
Halflings get several feats pertaining to Fighting Defensively.
Cautious Fighter: A flat +2 bonus to Fight Defensively.
If you Fight Defensively every turn, this is twice as good as Dodge.
- Blundering Defense: If you're really good at fighting defensively, this could be a useful buff for your allies.
Desperate Swing: Once per day is not nearly
good enough, especially with the -4 attack penalty.
- Surprise Strike: Once per day is not good enough.
- Uncanny Defense: I would only take this if your Fight Defensively bonus is really good and your Reflex saves were a problem.
Any weapon with the Blocking property adds a +1 Shield bonus to AC. This obviously won't stack with an actual shield, but it's very helpful for characters who don't or can't use shields.
- Madu: Reduces the penalty for fighting defensively by 2, making Fight Defensively an even trade. You'll need exotic weapon proficiency, unfortunately, and since it's a shield it won't work for monks.
This guide turned out to be less interesting than I had hoped.
The best build I can think of to capitalize on Fight Defensively is a Halfling Brawler. You can pick up the Crane Style feat tree and use a madu without giving up class features. With 3 ranks in Acrobats, equipped with a Madu, and with the feats Exotic Weapon Proficiency, Dodge, Crane Style, Crane Wing, and Cautious Fighter, you have a -0 penalty for Fight Defensively and get a total dodge bonus to AC of +11, plus whatever you get from your Madu. 6 feats is a lot, but your AC is going to be absurdly high.