Edward Burne-Jones - Saint George Fighting the DragonAmong all the new hybrid classes in the Advanced Class Guide, few of them got as big a cheer as the brawler. “Finally,” the cry went up, “we can play unarmed fighters without having to take even a single level of monk!”

That probably would have been enough, but the brawler gave us even more toys to play with. In addition to the unarmed damage, we got a knockout ability, martial training so we can use brawler levels to qualify for fighter feats, AC bonuses, awesome blow, and a ton of other class features. With this embarrassment of riches fulfilling so many of our dreams, a lot of us overlooked the martial flexibility class feature, but we shouldn’t.

Why not? Because it might be one of the most useful abilities you can have as a martial class.

What Is It?

Martial flexibility allows the brawler to gain temporary use of combat feats the character doesn’t actually have on the sheet. When you first gain this ability, you can gain any single combat feat for one minute as a move action, but as you go up in level you can acquire multiple feats at once, reducing the time it takes you to mysteriously “remember” these feats in the heat of battle. At 12th level (which is right around where average campaigns are winding up to the crescendo), you can gain the effects of any three feats at once.

What’s the Big Deal About That?

One of the most important considerations for an effective martial class is which feats the character has. Even fighters, who get a feat every level, often feel like they never have enough feats to do all the things they want. For example, how many times have you been in the middle of combat and thought, “Dammit, if only I’d taken Improved Grapple instead of Weapon Focus last level. I could end this in 2 rounds!”

That’s what martial flexibility is for.

What martial flexibility does for the brawler is ensure that a smart player (or at least one with a photographic list of combat feats and their useful combinations) can always fit his or her strategy to a given fight. For example, in the first fight you have a bunch of melee-based bruisers with low AC, but a lot of health. So your brawler uses martial flexibility to temporarily gain the use of Power Attack. In the next fight, you have flying enemies, so you snatch up a crossbow and spend two uses of the ability for Rapid Reload and Point Blank Shot. Suddenly you go from a bare-fisted bruiser who can’t do anything, to an eagle-eyed sharpshooter who can fill the air with crossbow bolts.

The higher in level you get as a brawler, the more powerful feats this will grant you access to. So while you might not need Whirlwind Attack in every fight, it’s completely possible for you to use it when you’re being mobbed by enemies. By the same token you may not need Improved Trip and Greater Trip in every battle, but if you’re slugging it out with a hulking warrior in black armor then putting him on his back is a sound strategic choice.

You’re Only as Strong as Your Choices

Martial flexibility is powerful in that it allows brawlers to adapt to situations they would otherwise be useless in. With that said, it’s important to sit down with a list of feats you think will be useful, but which won’t come up often enough for you to spend your actual feat slots on them. And, like any class ability that comes with a certain number of uses per day, it’s a good idea to use them with care since there might be a bigger, badder, tougher fight in the next room.

For more gaming insights, check out Neal F. Litherland’s blog Improved Initiative!

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