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.

Table of Contents


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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. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.


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 reduces the penalty for Fight Defensively from -4 to -2 and improves the AC 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 an 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 from -2 to -1, 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 from -4 to -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 -1 penalty for Fight Defensively and get a total dodge bonus to AC of +11, plus whatever shield bonus you get from your Madu. 6 feats is a lot, but your AC is going to be absurdly high.