Pathfinder - Practical Guide to Martial Flexibility
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.
- 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.
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.
Martial Flexibility was introduced in the Advanced Class Guide. It answers a long-standing problem for martial characters: If I've invested all of my feats in doing one cool trick, what am I supposed to do when my trick doesn't work? How does your charger function when they can't walk? How does your melee monster kill stuff when he can't reach your enemies? Martial Flexibility offers a potent answer to these questions: learn a different trick. Or learn several. I don't know, I'm not your boss.
Before we discuss build choices, let's examine the rules of Martial Flexibility. The text of the ability is functionally identical for each archetype with the ability, differing only in numerical terms and in minor text differences that don't actually change the rule sof the ability. The core rules of the ability are the same. I've duplicated the text below from the Brawler entry, as it seems the most iconic user of Martial Flexibility, and it spells things out a bit more explicitly than the archetypes which offer Martial Flexibility.
This effect lasts for 1 minute.
At first this is simple. You get one feat as a move action and you get to keep it for one minute. It gets a little bit complicated later.
The (whatever class you are) must meet all the feat's prerequisites.
Again, fairly simple. This means that some feats like Power Attack and Combat Expertise will be good options to take as permanent feats so that you can easily meet prerequisites for other feats.
The brawler can use this ability again before the duration expires to replace the previous combat feat with another choice.
This is where the duration starts to get a little bit complicated. When you take another action to choose feats, you're resetting the ability. If last round you used a Move Action to pick Power Attack, but this round you use a Move Action to pick Toughness, you now have Toughness and any remaining duration on Power Attack is gone. This gets slightly more complicated when you get the ability to select more than one feat at higher levels.
If a combat feat has a daily use limitation (such as with Stunning Fist), any uses of that combat feat while using this ability count toward that feat's daily limit.
This is fairly simple. You can't repeatedly select Stunning Fist to refresh daily uses. But you can do things like switch around between a bunch of feats with daily usage limitations like Amateur Swashbuckler and Stunning Fist.
At 6th level, a brawler can use this ability to gain the benefit of two combat feats at the same time. She may select one feat as a swift action or two feats as a move action. She may use one of these feats to meet a prerequisite of the second feat; doing so means that she cannot replace a feat currently fulfilling another's prerequisite without also replacing those feats that require it. Each individual feat selected counts toward her daily uses of this ability.
This is the last complicated chunk of text. You can now choose feats with different types of actions. Using a Swift Action to select one feat consumes one daily usage of the ability. Using a Move Action gets you two feats, but it also consumes two daily uses of the ability. And remember: any time you take an action to select feats you're resetting your choices and restarting the 1-minute timer. So you can't take swift actions in consecutive rounds to get two feats. If you want two feats, you need to take a Move Action. As you gain levels, you'll get to select additional feats. Most classes and archetypes will max out at 3 feats as a Move Action, but some like the Brawler and the Martial Master Fighter get the ability to select any number of feats as a Swift Action at 20th level.
Brawler: Brawlers did it first, and they do it best. Brawlers get the full version of Martial Flexibility, and the ability upgrades faster than any other Martial Flexibility user.
Fighter (Martial Master): Fighters are the king of feats, but they still fall into the "one trick pony" hole. Martial Master goes a long way to fix this, allowing fighters to partially adapt to challenges. However, because the class's big feature is feats, you're still going to have a mountain of permanent feats. Use these feats to define your go-to gimick, and rely on Martial Flexibility to pick up situational feats which complement your gimick. Martial Master Fighters get the full version of Martial Flexibility, but they get most of the abilities several levels behind Brawlers.
Oracle (Warsighted): Warsighted Oracles get the weakest version of Martial Mastery. They have the same cap on the ability that Sorcerers do, but they don't get extra feats added to the list of selectable options like the Sorcerer. However, they're also much better suited to martial combat than Sorcerers. With 2/3 BAB, d8 hit points, and medium armor, they're already equipped to be secondary melee characters, standing alongside their party's fighter-equivalent.
Sorcerer (Eldritch Scrapper): A class with d6 hit points rarely has a good use for combat feats, but thanks to polymorph spells and other options, it's not impossible to turn the sorcerer into a potent martial threat. Combine this with a bloodline like Draconic and some spells to support you in melee, and you might have a workable build. However, being limited to 1/2 BAB severely limits your feat options.
The possibilities of Martial Flexibility are massive. The only limitations are what you qualify for, and the breadth of your knowledge of the feats available. Unfortunately, that does mean that to truly master Martial Flexibility you will need at least a cursory knowledge of the available feats. Fortunately, Paizo's Feat Index allows you to bring up a list of every available combat feat with a few clicks.
"Foundational" Feats (a term which I'm coining for the purposes of this guide), are feats which are central to your build. These are feats that are almost always useful in some capacity, or at the very least are such a common prerequisite that selecting them with Martial Flexibility is frequently limiting your options.
- Barroom Brawler: Taking a feat to get a single extra use of Martial Flexibility is really disappointing. Instead, take a feat which you pick frequently so that you're avoiding spending daily uses.
- Combat Expertise: If you like Combat Maneuvers, this is absolutely crucial. With a few exceptions, almost every Combat Maneuver relies on Combat Expertise.
- Combat Reflexes: An excellent feat if you plan to use a reach weapon or if you like to use feats like Improved Trip and Stand Still. It also opens up situational feats like Bodyguard and Combat Patrol which aren't always useful.
- Dodge: Not as exciting as Power Attack, but you can always benefit from more AC, so Dodge is a safe choice for a permanent feat. It also opens up options like Spring Attack.
- Extra Martial Flexibility: 3 uses goes a very long way.
- Improved Unarmed Strike: This opens up a lot of interesting feats like Stunning Strike which have daily usage limitations. Taking this permanently means that you can easily pick up dependent feats, use up their daily usages, then replace them.
- Point-Blank Shot: If you plan to use ranged weapons
with any sort of frequency, take this. It's the root of every ranged weapon feat
- Precise Shot: Less critical than Point-Blank Shot, but if you're primarily fighting at range this is a good idea. You probably have allies who fight in melee, and spending a Martial Flexibility use every time you need to shoot into melee is a huge waste.
- Power Attack: The bread and butter of melee builds,
it's also a prerequisite for a huge number of great combat feats.
- Furious Focus: Depending on your permanent feats and your build concept, this might be a good choice. It's especially good if you tend to make lots of single attacks with things like Vital Strike or Cleave. Some combat maneuver feats like Quick Dirty Strike can also benefit because Power Attack penalties apply to CMB attacks, and Quick Dirty Strike replaces your first attack, which is the one that Furious Focus applies to.
Feats on the Fly
These are the feats you pick with Martial Flexibility. Ideally these aren't feats that you return to consistently. Instead, these are often the situational feats that are great when they apply but garbage when they don't.
I'll forego my usual attempts to rate options here. The nature of Martial Flexibility is that it allows to pick highly situational feats exactly when those feats are useful. My usual assessments are based on how useful something is and how often, but that measure doesn't make sense here. For example: normally Greater Blind Fight is a garbage feat, but if you're in a fight where everyone has total concealment against one another, it's the next best thing to blindsight.
- Blind-Fight: Concealment is one of those occasionally frustrating obstacles
that happens enough to be annoying, but not enough to spend a feat to address it.
If someone casts fog cloud or if you're facing an invisible enemy, this is great.
- Improved Blind-Fight: Ignoring partial concealment will cover things
like smoke and fog in many cases.
- Greater Blind-Fight: You usually won't need to go this far, but if everyone has total concealment this can give you a massive advantage.
- Improved Blind-Fight: Ignoring partial concealment will cover things like smoke and fog in many cases.
- Bludgeoner: Don't have a sap? Can't afford to take -4 to hit to deal nonlethal damage? Bludgeoner to the resuce. Combine with Enforcer for best results.
- Combat Expertise: Foundational feat.
- Gang Up: Generally moving into flanking position won't be too difficult,
especially if you don't mind drawing an opportunity attack. But if getting
into flanking position is proving difficult, or if you have three melee
people in the party and everyone wants to flank, this is a great idea. Of
course, if you have three or more melee people in the party, you might consider
taking this permanently.
- Team Up: If you're not having any luck contributing in combat, sometimes it's a good idea to help someone who is.
- Improved Dirty Trick: Dirty Trick is my favorite combat maneuver. It's
hugely versatile and extremely effective. However, you can only do it as
a Standard Action unless you pick up Quick Dirty Trick, too. If you don't
plan to use Dirty Trick consistently, this feat is a great option for Martial
Flexibility. However, the 1-round duration may be a problem unless your CMB
- Greater Dirty Trick: The additional +2 is nice, but the real draw is the 1d4 base duration. It's not especially consistent, but it's much better than 1.
- Quick Dirty Trick: Given the choice between Greater Dirty Trick and Quick Dirty Trick, I would go for Quick every time. Allowing you to make a full attack and lead with a Dirty Trick means that you can blind/entangle/whatever your target and actually benefit from your own Dirty Trick before the 1-round duration expires.
- Improved Disarm: Disarming an opponent is only useful if theu use weapons,
so this is a great example of a situational feat suited for Martial Flexibility.
If you have a weapon suitable for disarming (flail, etc.)
- Greater Disarm: Generally knocking your enemy's weapon to the ground then picking it up is sufficient, but if your hands are full you might prefer to launch it somewhere a few squares away.
- Improved Feint: I've never cared for feinting. Not enough enemies
depend on Dexterity for AC, and people who need opponents to be flat-footed
(Rogues) usually have better luck with flanking or invisibility. Still,
in the rare case where you're fighting a dextrous enemy and can't hit them,
feinting may be solution you need.
- Disengaging Feint: Personally, I think Mobility would be a better option.
- Improved Resposition: This is really situational, and you'll probably
only use it once or twice at most in a given fight unless you also pick
up Greater Reposition and Quick Reposition.
- Greater Resposition: Provoking attacks of opportunity from your allies is great. If that's a strategy that's appealing to you, consider picking up this feat chain permanently.
- Quick Resposition: Reposition instead of an attack. If you can reposition an enemy so that you're flanking them it will go a long way to help your iterative attacks.
- Improved Steal: Stealing things in combat uses a combat maneuver
instead of Sleight of Hand, though I've never really understoof why.
In those rare cases where you might need to recover a mackguffin from an
enemy, this may be appealing.
- Greater Steal: If you need to steal something and not let your enemy know, you'll need this. Or you could kill them and it doesn't matter what they know.
- Quick Steal: Probably not worth the extra usage of Martial Mastery unless you plan to do lots of stealing.
- Improved Trip: Tripping is something that you generally want to prepare
yourself for beforehand. You want a tripping weapon, you want Combat Reflexes,
you want to enlarge yourself. Still, if you're not built as a tripper but
want to dabble, this is a must.
- Felling Escape: Oh no, you've been grappled! Activate Martial Mastery as a Move Action (or something smaller) to grab this before you escape the grapple.
- Greater Trip: If you're taking Improved Trip and you have the option to also grab Greater Trip, grab Greater Trip. It's too good to pass up.
- Whirlwind Attack: This is a highjly situational feat with a huge feat chain required to access it. Perfect for Martial Mastery! You'll need a total of 4 feats (Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack, and Whirlwind Attack), so anyone except 20th-level Brawlers and Martial Master Fighters will need to pick up Dodge first. It's also a full-round action to use, so you may need to activate the feats and wait until you've got a fresh turn to make the attack.
- Gang Up: Generally moving into flanking position won't be too difficult, especially if you don't mind drawing an opportunity attack. But if getting into flanking position is proving difficult, or if you have three melee people in the party and everyone wants to flank, this is a great idea. Of course, if you have three or more melee people in the party, you might consider taking this permanently.
- Combat Reflexes: Foundational feat.
- Bodyguard: +2 AC isn't much, but it might be enough to save your ally's
life in a pinch.
- In Harm's Way: If that +2 AC wasn't enough to prevent the attack, you can take the damage instead. Excellent if your ally is at low hit points or unconcious.
- Combat Patrol: A staple of area control defenders, but it's not helpful in encounters where you can already cover most of the fight's area with your own reach. Requires Mobility, too.
- Stand Still:
- Bodyguard: +2 AC isn't much, but it might be enough to save your ally's life in a pinch.
- Deadly Aim: If you need to switch to ranged combat and you're not built for it, this may be a good idea. Unfortunately, if you're built for Strength your attack bonus might be poor. Consider Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization instead, as they might be more helpful depending on your stats.
- Dodge: Foundational feat.
- Mobility: If you need to move around in combat a lot for whatever
reason, Mobility can be helpful. But generally you only want it as a
prerequisite for something else.
- Sprint Attack: I don't know a case where you would want this temporarily, but I'm sure those cases exist.
- Mobility: If you need to move around in combat a lot for whatever reason, Mobility can be helpful. But generally you only want it as a prerequisite for something else.
- Disruptive: Fighter only. If you're fighting a spellcaster. this is often a
- Spellbreaker: Not as important as preventing the spell from being cast, but still nice.
- Enforcer: Carry a sap around if you want to use this and your normal weapon isn't bludgeoning. Remember that Demoralize can't take enemies past shaken, but shaken is still a great debuff.
- Intimidating Prowess: One of very few combat feats that works outside of combat.
Combines very well with feats like Shocking Bellow and Dreadful Carnage.
- Shocking Bellow: If you have time to plan an ambush, this can be really good. Using intimidate to Demoralize a foe makes them Shaken, which is a fantastic debuff. If you're fighting a single enemy or a small group of enemies this can go a long way to make the combat easier for you. Plus, after the surprise round you can switch out your feats for something else without worrying about giving up something you might have needed later in the fight.
- Lunge: Helpful when you're fighting enemies with more reach than you, but in most fights you can just walk closer to an enemy and his them without any issues.
- Mounted Combat: Unless you're built to fight on a mount, riding and fighting
while mounted is usually a weird coincidence or an interesting plot point. When
that happens, Mounted Combat and its feat chain may be useful. However, remember
that you might not have ranks in Ride, so Mounted Combat by itself is often not
worth the Martial Flexibility use.
- Mounted Archery: Crucial if you're built for ranged combat.
- Ride-By Attack: If your enemy doesn't have this, you're at a big
advantage while fighting mounted. Move in, attack, and move away. Force
your enemies to come to you on their own turn, preventing them from
making full attacks and possibly getting you and your allies attacks
- Spirited Charge: Hopefully you have a lance handy.
- Multiattack: Your wizard just hit you with Polymorph, so now you're all teeth and claws. Multiattack will give you a nice boost to your secondary natural weapons, and therefore improve your damage output.
- Opening Valley: Great if you're planning an ambush. Throw a spear in the surprise round, then charge the following round.
- Point-Blank Shot: Foundational feat.
- Charging Hurler: Combines well with Opening Volley.
- Far Shot: Even if you're built for range, this feat is situational. A longbow's range is extremely long, so it's likely that you'll never have problems with range. When those rare cases arise, pull this out.
- Precise Shot: If you're fighting at range you almost definitely have
an ally or two who fight in melee, so you probably want this as a permanent
feat. If you're built for melee and picking up ranged feats, you're either
attack enemies at distance too great for you to charge across, or you should
be getting into melee instead of using Precise Shot to not hit your friends.
- Clustered Shot: Not every enemy has DR, and even then you can often overcome if with magic weapons or special ammunition. If you can't do that for some reason, pick this up.
- Improved Precise Shot: Even if you're built for ranged combat
you won't need this often. But if you have an ally who's stuck
between you and your enemy, or if you're dealing with fog or something,
this can be good to pick up on the fly.
- Pinpoint Targeting: Incredibly situational. It's rare that enemies have such high AC that you need to largely negate it for you to hit reliably. But that's what Martial Flexibility is for: those weird edge cases that you never think will come up.
- Rapid Shot: If you're built for ranged combat, you almost certainly
took this. If you're not, you want to avoid this to keep your attack bonus
as high as possible.
- Manyshot: If you're built for ranged combat and use a bow you want this permanently. Otherwise, don't both with this.
- Snap Shot: If you're built for ranged combat you probably
don't expect to spend much time in melee. On those rare cases
that it happens, pick this up.
- Improved Snap Shot: If you're going to pick up Snap
Shot, you probably want this, too.
- Greater Snap Shot: Even if you're built to do this permanently, this feat is probably terrible.
- Improved Snap Shot: If you're going to pick up Snap Shot, you probably want this, too.
- Power Attack: Foundational feat.
- Bloody Assault: Bleed damage is rarely a reliable idea option, but sometimes it's a really good idea. If you have an enemy who likes to run away but can't heal themselves, bleed damage is a great way to reliably kill them. It also forces Concentration checks, though the damage is too weak to reliably cause spellcasting to fail for any spellcaster beyond very low levels.
- Cleave: Unless you're in a fight with numerous enemies, it's hard to
guarantee that you'll have two enemies adjacent to each other. However,
in those cases using Cleave is often more effective that making iterative
- Cleaving Finish: This is 3.5 cleave. An extra attack is great, but unless you're fighting numerous weak foes this isn't going to come up often enough to justify a permanent feat.
- Death or Glory: Appropriately named. The bonus is huge, but you only get one attack and if you don't kill them they get to hit you back. Most large creatures will be really strong, even if they're spellcasters, so the counterattack can be really dangerous. If you're going to do this, combine it with Power Attack, Furious Focus, and whatever other damage boosts you can muster.
- Greate Cleave: Unless you're getting completely swarmed, this will almost never be useful.
- Furious Focus: Excellent if you're in a fight where you're generally
only making one attack per round, or if you're using combat maneuvers like
- Dreadful Carnage: Great in fights with multiple enemies. Combines well with Intimidating Prowess.
- Improved Bull Rush: Sometimes you need to move an enemy.
- Greater Bull Rush: This generally requires that your allies are well positioned to capitalize on it, which is by no means a guarantee.
- Quick Bull Rush: Bull rush an enemy into position for flanking something, then beat them up.
- Improved Drag:
- Greater Drag:
- Quick Drag:
- Improved Overrun: A great way to get past your enemies' front line to
get to the squishy guys at the back.
- Charge Through: Generally the most important usage of Overrun is to get past an enemy to get to the one you need to kill. This allows you to go straight to killing the other guy in one round rather than using Overrun and waiting another turn before you can get an attack against your intended target.
- Greater Overrun: As far as I can tell you're allowed to make attacks of opportunity against people you overrun.
- Improved Sunder: Sometimes you need to smash stuff.
- Greater Sunder: I wouldn't both with this unless you really need the +2 to CMB. The little bit of overrunning damage likely isn't worth the extra use of Martial Flexibility.
- Pushing Assault: Unless you're knocking an enemy off a cliff, you probably want to keep them within your reach so that you can keep killing them. If you need to knock them off a cliff, Bull Rush is probably better.
- Shield of Swings: Sometimes you need more AC. Combine this with Fight Defensively for a total +6 to your AC.
- Step Up: Most enemies you face in melee are happy to stay in melee, but if
you get adjacent to a spellcaster or ranged attacker they might try to back
- Following Step: Without Step Up and Strike, this usually isn't very
helpful. If an enemy is moving more than a 5-foot step, they're probably
use Full Withdrawal to move their speed. 10 feet won't keep up.
- Step Up and Strike: A free attack as an immediate action if you're enemy doesn't waste their turn withdrawing.
- Following Step: Without Step Up and Strike, this usually isn't very helpful. If an enemy is moving more than a 5-foot step, they're probably use Full Withdrawal to move their speed. 10 feet won't keep up.
- Strike Back: Usually it makes more sense just to move closer to your enemy and make full attacks, but sometimes you don't get a choice.
- Two-Handed Thrower: If you're Strength-based and get forced to fight at range this could be a helpful damage boost.
- Vital Strike: If you're in a fight that's going to require a lot of moving and you can't count on iterative attacks, Vital Strike can be a helpful damage boost.