Pathfinder - Brawler Archetypes Breakdown
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.
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.
The Exemplar is an attempt to turn the Brawler into a Support class. Unfortunately, the short durations of the provided abilities make the Exemplar innefective and difficult to play in a busy day.
Call to Arms (Ex): This will very rarely do anything meaningful unless your party is exceptionally dependent on Dexterity/Dodge bonuses to AC. Remember that this doesn't actually let your party act in the surprise round.
Inspiring Prowess (Ex): A limited version of Bardic Performance, and you get half as many rounds per day.
Field Instruction (Ex): You don't get a free Teamwork Feat, but with Martial Flexibility you really don't need one. the duration is pitifully short, which greatly limits how useful this is.
Replaced Features: Unarmed Strike, Maneuver Training, AC Bonus, Brawler's Strike
Compatible Archetypes: None
Mutagen is a great buff, but martial Flexibility is one of the Brawler's best features, and giving up the the Brawler's most flexible ability for static ability bonuses really hurts. However, Martial Flexibility is hard to use without a lot of practice and forethought, so the Mutagenic Mauler can be a fun and simple way to play a Brawler.
Mutagen (Su): A nice buff to the Brawler's damage output, and you get to pick up some upgrades as you gain levels.
- feral mutagen
- infuse mutagen
- preserve organs
- spontaneous healing
Beastmorph (Su): The extra move speed, the climb speed, and the new vision types add some nice mobility to the Brawler.
Replaced Features: Martial Flexibility, AC Bonus
Compatible Archetypes: Shield Champion, Steel-Breaker, Strangler, Wild Child
Captain America is apparently a Shield Champion Brawler. Brawlers get all of the extra attacks from the Two-Weapon Fighting feat chain, and one of the most effective uses of Two-Weapon Fighting is to use two shields with the Shield Mastery feat. The Shield Champion plays to this strategy perfectly, and adds additional options by allowing the Brawler to throw their shield both to attack and to perform combat maneuvers. This is a hilarious and exciting concept, and given a decent build and good shields, it can make for an excellent Striker or Defender.
Unfortunately, the archetype is riddled with mechanical issues. You still need to take the Two-Weapon Fighting feat to qualify for Shield Mastery. Shield Champions don't get proficiency with Shield Spikes. You can get Greater Shield Focus as a free bonus feat at 9th level, but you need to get regular Shield Focus on your own to qualify for it. You may also need to spend feats on ranged combat feats like Precise Shot when you throw your shield, but you can pick those up with Martial Flexibility if you need it. Generally you'll need a permissive DM who is willing to make adjustments to the written rules for the archetype to be as playable as it's intended to be.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Shields are a nice boost to the Brawler's poor AC, and Close weapons are generally garbage anyway..
Throw Shield (Ex): Throwing your shield is a great way to suddenly not have a shield bonus to AC, so don't make this your go-to option until you get Returning Shield. At 7th level you can use a thrown shield to perform combat maneuvers, which offers some absolutely fantastic tactical options.
Champion Defense (Ex): By this level damage rolls will hugely exceed even the most absurd Fortitude save bonuses, so don't expect this to work.
Returning Shield (Ex): Returning your thrown shield makes Throw Shield a much better option, and the ricochet mechanic is a fantastic answer to the normal range issues common to many thrown weapons. You can throw a shield as part of your Brawler's Flurry, which means that you could punch someone to death, then switch to your shield and throw it to use your remaining attacks toward the end of a full attack. At 9th level Greater Shield Focus gives you an extra +1 to AC. At 12th level you get a considerable damage boost with shields, and at level 17 you can bounce your shield around corners. This ability should really be broken up.
Replaced Features: weapon and armor proficiencies, maneuver training (3rd, 7th, 11th, 15th, 19th), Brawler's Strike
Compatible Archetypes: Mutagenic Mauler, Strangler
The Snakebiter Striker falls far short of what its description promises. The Brawler gives up Martial Flexibility and a lot of maneuver training for a splash of Sneak Attack and some abilities which help the Brawler flank a little bit. None of this is as useful as standing around and punching things.
Class Skills: Brawlers are not particularly suited to skills, but Bluff and Stealth could make for a good stealthy Brawler.
Sneak Attack (Ex): This won't add up to a ton of damage, and it's certainly not as good as Martial Flexibility. However, it makes for a good class dip for Rogues and Ninjas who don't want to give up BAB for a class dip.
Snake Feint (Ex): Even though the Snakebite Striker gets Sneak Attack, it's hardly enough to justify learning to feint. Feinting while moving is a cool idea, but not very helpful because it means that you're not making a Full Attack. Using multiple squares for flanking is nice for getting Sneak Attack damage, but not super important.
Opportunist (Ex): Free attacks are always nice. This largely replicates the Rogue's Opportunist Advanced Talent.
Replaced Features: Martial Flexibility, Maneuver Training (3rd, 7th, 11th, 19th)
Compatible Archetypes: Strangler, Wild Child
The Steel Breaker's most important ability is Exploit Weakness. Despite a very solid concept, Exploit Weakness quickly becomes worthless. You can expect that the Brawler's Wisdom bonus won't ever exceed +4, and with no other bonus on the Wisdom check for Exploit Weakness, the ability will quickly become unreliable and eventually impossible to use.
Class Skills: Knowledge (Engineering) is considerably less useful than Knowledge (Dungeoneering).
Exploit Weakness (Ex): You can choose between a bonus to attacks and the ability to bypass DR or a bonus to reflex saves and AC. Both options are good. The problem with this ability is the Wisdom check. Brawlers have very little need for Wisdom, and the DC scales considerably faster than even the best Wisdom scores can, so you will very quickly find that you can't use this ability.
Sunder Training (Ex): Situational.
Replaced Features: Brawler's Strike, Maneuver Training (altered)
Compatible Archetypes: Mutagenic Mauler, Strangler
The Strangler is a fantastic option or Brawlers looking to specialize in grappling. The Strangler's abilities add a little bit of damage and some high level save or suck/save or die abilities. Stranglers will still need to invest in
Class Skills: Stealth is helpful, but remember that Brawlers typically dump Intelligence and don't have a ton of skill ranks to throw around.
Strangle (Ex): It's not a ton of damage, but Sneak Attack damage every time you succeed on a Grapple check is a pretty easy way to get Sneak Attack. Keep in mind that this isn't actually the Sneak Attack ability, so you can't double this damage with the Strangler feat.
Practiced Strangler (Ex): Very important for a grappler. A grappler often has issues engaging multiple targets because while the grappler fights one enemy other enemies can freely attack the grappler. This greatly mitigates this issue.
Sleeper Hold (Ex): This is a good way to quickly knock a target unconscious, but I don't know why there is a limited number of uses per day.
Neckbreaker (Ex): A bit less reliable than a normal save or die effect because you also have to make a Grapple check, but there is no limit on the uses per day, so you can go around breaking necks until you run out of necks to break..
Replaced Features: Unarmed Strike, Brawler's Flurry, AC Bonus, Knockout (Altered), Awesome Blow, Improved Awesome Blow
Compatible Archetypes: Mutagenic Mauler, Shield Champion, Snakebite Striker, Steel-Breaker, Wild Child
The Wild Child introduces an Animal Companion to the Brawler, which is always a welcome addition. The Wild Child also gains access to the Skirmisher Ranger's Hunter's Tricks ability. These tricks are generally poor, but have a few interesting options.
Class Skills: The Brawler is not good at skills, and adding new ones won't fix that.
Animal Companion (Ex): Animal Companions are great. For more information see my Practical Guide to Animal Companions.
Hunter's Tricks: Most Hunter's Tricks are fairly bad, especially if you remove all of the great options for ranged attacks. Note that this uses a daily use of Martial Flexibility, and is in many ways redundant with Wild Tricks, which the Wild Child gains at the same level.
Maneuver Training (Ex): Giving your animal companion the ability to use combat maneuvers like Dirty Trick is excellent. They likely won't be as good as you, but more attempts means more opportunities for success.
Wild Tricks (Ex): Despite the name "Hunter's Tricks", Hunter's Tricks are actually abilities provided by the Skirmisher Ranger archetype. Unfortunately, most of these tricks are bad, and limiting the Wild Child to melee tricks limits these options even further. For information of Hunter's Tricks, see my entry on the Skirmisher Ranger archetype.
Replaced Features: bonus combat feats (2nd, 5th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, 20th), close weapon mastery, maneuver training (altered)
Compatible Archetypes: Mutagenic Mauler, Snakebite Striker, Strangler