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Pathfinder - The Brawler Handbook

Last Updated: October 15, 2018

Disclaimer

I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.

RPGBOT uses 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.

Introduction

Someone looked at 3.5 and realized that Fighters made better Monks than Monks did, and merged the two into one class. The Brawler is a fantastic take on unarmed combat, and isn't limited by the Monk's Ki Pool. With access to a huge number of bonus feats, the Brawler can work as a Defender or Striker, and can accomplish those roles with wide variety of builds.

Brawler Class Features

Hit Points: d10 hit points is standard for martial characters.

Base Attack Bonus: Full BAB.

Saves: Good Fortitude and Reflex saves, but with no dependence on Wisdom Brawlers will have issues with Will saves..

Proficiencies: The Brawler is largely intended to fight unarmed, and weapons generally only offer the Brawler options for a bonus to combat maneuvers. The Brawler only gets light armor, but the Brawler's AC bonus can help a little bit.

Skills: 4+ skill ranks, but very few interesting options and Intelligence is a dump stat.

Brawler's Cunning (Ex): Fantastic for Combat Expertise and other feats which require it.

Martial Flexibility (Ex): This is one of the greatest mechanics available to martial characters. It's very complex, and requires a bit of practice to master, but if you plan out clusters of feats for various situations you can get a ton of mileage out of this.

Martial Training (Ex): Brawlers get to count as both a Monk and a Fighter, opening up huge numbers of feats like Disruptive, Weapon Specialization, and a whole bunch of weird Monk feats.

Unarmed Strike: Improved Unarmed Strike for free, and the damage dice progress at the same rate as for a Monk. The size of the damage die is greatly affected by the Brawler's size, so it's essential that the Brawler be medium and become permanently enlarged at the first opportunity.

Bonus Combat Feats: Bonus feats are always fantastic, and Combat Feats make up a huge chunk of available feats. The ability description specifies that the chosen feats must improve the Brawler's "defenses or melee attacks", but doesn't really specify a way to enforce or interpret that. Assume that anything involving a ranged attack or a skill is probably off-limits. In addition, the Brawler gets to retrain a bonus feat every time that they get a new one. This can be great if you want to experiment with feats or take feats to temporarily cover gaps in your character until you can retrain old feats into new feats with steeper prerequisites. Feats like Toughness are good examples because they give you early survivability and you can retrain them later in the game into something more exciting.

Brawler's Flurry (Ex): With the exception of first level, this gives the Brawler attacks as the same rate and BAB as the Monk. Note that this also allows you to apply your full strength bonus to attacks with your off hand, effectively duplicating Two-Weapon Rend. You can also use one weapon for the whole flurry, so you could just repeatedly punch/stab someone with a punching dagger if you wanted to. The Brawler also isn't restricted to Monk weapons, which allows you to flurry with some interesting things.

Maneuver Training (Ex): This bonus scales a bit like Favored Enemy, so pick your favorite combat maneuver early because it will get the biggest bonus. I recommend Dirty Trick, Trip, or Grapple.

AC Bonus (Ex): These bonuses are really tiny, but they help a bit and they don't go away if you use a shield.

Knockout (Ex): A martial save or suck ability, and it's available far earlier than other similar abilities.

Brawler's Strike (Ex): Goes a long way to help overcome damage reduction, which is a problem for characters like Brawlers and Monks that depend on a large number of weak attacks.

Close Weapon Mastery (Ex): The damage of a weapon won't be meaningfully worse than your unarmed strikes, and this helps with the poor damage dice offered by Close weapons. This also makes it easier to build Brawlers who fight exclusively using weapons.

Awesome Blow (Ex): Situational.

Improved Awesome Blow (Ex): This allows you to finish a full attack by knocking your enemy away from you. The natural 20 mechanic is very situational.

Abilities

Strength is key, but all physical abilities are important.

Str: The Brawler's primary offensive stat.

Dex: The Brawler only gets light armor, so decent Dexterity is essential.

Con: With light armor and mediocre AC, the Brawler.

Int: Dump to 7. Brawler's Cunning covers the only thing that for which you want Intelligence.

Wis: Take a bit to boost the Brawler's lousy Will save.

Cha: Dump to 7. Less talking, more punching!

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy 15 Point Buy Elite Array
  • Str: 18
  • Dex: 16
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 7
  • Wis: 13
  • Cha: 7
  • Str: 17
  • Dex: 16
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 7
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 7
  • Str: 16
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 7
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 7
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 13
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 8

Races

Bonuses to Strength are great, and it's crucial that the Brawler be medium size.

Dwarf: Dwarves always make for good melee martial characters, and the Brawler is no exception. Dwarves offer great defensive bonuses, and their racial penalty is to Charisma. The Dwarf favored class bonus is useless.

Elf: A penalty to an important ability and a bonus to a dump stat. Elves are too frail to be Brawlers.

Gnome: Small Brawlers can only brawl smaller brawlers.

Half-Elf: The flexible ability bonus is nice and alternate racial abilities help a bit.

Half-Orc: A flexible ability bonus and Darkvision are great. The Half-Orc's favored class bonus is tempting, but not worth it. A favored class bonus should be worth roughly 1/6 of a feat, and you can do much better with a feat than 1.5 levels of unarmed strike damage.

Halfling: SMALL. BRAWLERS.

Human: A flexible ability bonus and a feat are perfect for the Brawler.

Skills

  • Acrobatics (Dex): Situational.
  • Climb (Str): Too situational.
  • Escape Artist (Dex): Situational, and typically used to compensate for a low BAB.
  • Handle Animal (Cha): With no Animal Companion or Mount there is no reason a Brawler should need to learn how to train aimals.
  • Intimidate (Cha): Useful if you want to look into fear stacking with Intimidate, but Charisma is a dump stat and a Brawler doesn't make a good Face
  • Knowledge (dungeoneering) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills, but Intelligence is a dump stat for Brawlers.
  • Knowledge (local) (Int): Helpful for identifying humanoids, but Intelligence is still a dump stat.
  • Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill in the game.
  • Ride (Dex): With no Animal Companion or Mount there is no reason a Brawler should need to learn how to ride.
  • Sense Motive (Wis):
  • Swim (Str): Too situational.

Weapons

All Close weapons deal 1d6 damage or less, which means that their damage will be overridden by Close Weapon Mastery. That means that we can ignore the damage die on a weapon when considering it, and focus on the cool properties that the weapon offers. Unfortunately, very few Close weapons offer useful special abilities.

  • Armor Spikes: You can only get armor spikes on heavy armor, which Brawlers can't wear.
  • Bayonet: Never a good idea for anyone ever.
  • Brass Knuckles: The same as a gauntlet, but a gauntlet lets you hold things.
  • Dan Bong: The Dan Bong is fantastic. It adds an incredibly rare +2 bonus to grapple checks, has the blocking property, and can be thrown. Also it has 19-20x2 crit for some reason. It doesn't actually have the Grapple property, so you can't apply other weapon bonuses (masterwork/enhancement) to your grapple checks by using a dan bong. However, since you're not using it to grapple, you can use your unarmed strike damage when grappling.
  • Emei Piercer: The wording is confusing. Despite the d3 damage, the description says that emei piercers turn unarmed strikes into piercing damage. General consensus in rules discussions seems to be that the weapon overrides unarmed strike damage, but is otherwise treated as an unarmed strike. If you just need a source of piercing damage, there are better options.
  • Fighting Fan: Leave these for ninjas. Poison is not your thing, and neither is feinting.
  • Gauntlet: Lower damage than a spiked gauntlet, and unarmed strikes already deal bludgeoning damage.
  • Heavy Shield: Brawlers can't use shields effectively.
  • Iron Brush: A Brawler generally doesn't need to conceal weapons.
  • Light Shield: Brawlers can't use shields effectively.
  • Madu: Brawlers can't use shields effectively.
  • Mere Club: Never. Never ever.
  • Punching Dagger: Slightly better crits than a spiked gauntlet, but you have to spend an action to draw it so it's a bit less usable.
  • Sap: You can deal nonlethal damage with your unarmed strike if you really need to.
  • Scizore: The scizore grants a shield bonus, but isn't technically a shield. Your GM might be lenient and let you wear one without ruining your AC Bonus, but I certainly wouldn't. Beyond the shield bonus, there is no reason to use a Scizore.
  • Shield Spikes: Brawlers can't use shields effectively.
  • Spiked Gauntlet: A fantastic backup weapon for any character. You don't need to draw a spiked gauntlet because you're already wearing it, and it deals piercing damage. Get one in cold iron and one in adamantine and get to punching.
  • Tekko-kagi: Using this as a buckler will ruin your AC Bonus, and the disarm ability is too narrow to be useful.
  • Tonfa: The only appeal is the Blocking property.
  • Unarmed Strike: The damage scales, you can use it with your hands full, and you can't be disarmed.
  • Wooden Stake: Worthless.
  • Wushu Dart: Worthless except for the range increment

Armor

  • Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
    • Leather: Your starting armor
    • Mithral Shirt: Probably a permanent choice.
    • Mithral Breastplate: If you can spare a feat to pick up Medium Armor Proficiency, a Mithral Breastplate offers a +2 AC boost over your Mithral Shirt.

    Magic Items

    Armor/Shields

    • Brawling (+1): For a +1 armor enhancement bonus you get a +2 typeless bonus to unarmed strikes. You're locked into light armor anyway, so this ability is basically tailor-made for brawlers despite being published several years before the Brawler class was published. Even the name makes sense.
    • Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.

    Multiclassing and Prestige Classes

    Much like the Monk, it is difficult for the Brawler to multiclass because it means giving up bigger unarmed strike damage and more numerous attacks.