A “combat maneuver” was a special type of martial attack in Pathfinder (First Edition) that allowed a character to weaken, move, or even outright disable enemies in combat. They included abilities such as trip, disarm, and the infamous grapple. While any character could do them back in First Edition, they were generally only used when a character was built around utilizing a specific maneuver, or when a magical effect called for them. This was largely because you had to dedicate two feats (and often two ability scores) just to attempt the maneuver without soaking an attack of opportunity. That being said, characters built around the maneuvers could completely dominate certain opponents. Do they rely on a weapon? Disarm it. Do they use somatic components or two-handed weapons? Grapple. And you can read about just one of the crazier Trip builds on my old blog! But this is a new system, and I’m pleased to say that the martial options are easier to use, more accessible for every character, less frustrating to play against, and don’t require a flowchart!
Combat Maneuvers in Pathfinder Second Edition
Combat maneuvers in Pathfinder Second Edition are a fantastic way to give martial characters the ability to help support the rest of the party against more powerful opponents, or even use the Assurance feat to get an edge over a less threatening opponent despite your Multiple Attack Penalty. All of the actions that use Athletics have the Attack trait and your Multiple Attack Penalty will apply to your check unless you use the Assurance feat. Part 2 will get into the nitty gritty of what feats will help support these options.
Almost everything you need to know can be found in the rules for the Athletics skill. Roll a skill check. Compare the result to a DC. Apply a condition. Pretty simple. You don’t even need training in the skill, unless you are attempting to Disarm. But unless you’ve been playing a martial character for some time, it can be easy to forget certain specifics, especially what DC the maneuver targets. So I’ve made this handy-dandy playing-card sized chart for everyone.
I’ve included a few non-Athletics based combat actions in the card, but feel free to cross those out if you don’t think you’ll use them. Bon Mot uses Diplomacy and requires a skill feat. Demoralize uses Intimidation. Feint uses Deception. And Tumble uses Acrobatics.The Critical Failure effect always applies to the character who attempted the check. And if you don’t always remember the different conditions, you can use the following reference card for the other end of the card. I recommend using clear sleeves and a playing card, or even one of the filler cards from the Pathfinder Feat Cards for Everybody.
The last thing I want to stress is to note how different these maneuvers are to their prior incarnations. Grapple no longer shuts down spellcasters. Disarm provides a nice penalty without outright crippling a weapon-dependant opponent. You can now Trip flying creatures to make them fall. And none of these maneuvers provoke attacks of opportunity. Want to learn more? Come back in two weeks when I go over each of the combat maneuvers in more detail, including a look at character options for players who want to focus on one or more of these options!