Iconic Design: Brawler Bruisedown

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be looking at an iconic design for a nonlethal brawler of DOOM.

Sometimes, when I come home after a rough day, I just want to punch someone. Not hard enough that they’ll die or anything; just hard enough that they won’t be bothering me for a few hours. If you’ve ever felt like that too, then boy do I have an awesome build for you today!

Build Concept

Today’s build is all about smacking people into literal submission with your punches. Let’s look at how we’re going to accomplish this, shall we?

  • Brawler: Full base attack bonus. None of that wacky supernatural stuff. All unarmed strikes, all the time. This is the perfect class for our purposes.
  • Snakebite Striker: This brawler archetype trades one of the brawler’s key class features, martial flexibility, for a limited amount of sneak attack damage dice. Although losing martial flexibility hurts, it comes prebuilt with several other awesome abilities and sneak attack damage dice are NASTY when they’re nonlethal, and Ultimate Combat has plenty of ways to help us maximize that nastiness.
  • Sap Adept / Sap Master: I used these feats on my nonlethal ninja build way back when. They were nasty in that build and they’re just as nasty here with the snakebite striker. Although the sneak attack dice won’t be anywhere near as high, this build features a full base attack bonus, making it extremely deadly.

Early Levels (1–7)

  • Classes: Brawler (snakebite striker) 7
  • Feats: Enforcer (1st), Power Attack (Bonus), Hurtful (3rd), Snake Style (Bonus), Sap Adept (5th), Intimidating Prowess (7th)
  • Abilities: ac bonus +1, brawler’s cunning, brawler’s flurry (Two-Weapon Fighting), brawler’s strike (magic), close weapon mastery, knockout 1/day, maneuver training, martial training, snake feint, snake feint, sneak attack +2d6, unarmed strike (1d8)

The early levels focus on setting up this build for its mid-levels, but our nonlethal snakebite striker is surprisingly deadly from as early as 3rd level. This is due to a nasty combo between Enforcer, which allows you to make a free demoralize check to Intimidate after hitting an enemy for nonlethal damage, and Hurtful, which allows you to make a free attack as a swift action after demoralizing someone. At 3rd level, you can already make three attacks thanks to brawler’s flurry, and if at least one of those attacks is nonlethal and you demoralize your target, you can spend a swift action to make another attack. Pretty awesome, right?

Now, it isn’t essential to this idea of the nonlethal brawler, but I also recommend Snake Style not only for thematic reasons (Snakebite Striker in Snake Style), but also for practical reasons associated with Snake Fang, which is earned later in the build. This will also give you some neat gameplay where you can choose to spend your swift action on blocking a big attack or on making a big attack of your own. Since snakebite striker’s snake feint ability plays a little bit with feinting, I also grabbed Visceral Threat so you can feint with your Intimidate skill, if you want. This feat is entirely optional, so feel free to gut if you don’t care.

So, by the end of 7th level we already have the first four feats needed to make our nonlethal attacks REALLY painful. Let’s look on to the mid levels and see how we can improve this build further.

Mid Levels (8 –14)

  • Classes: Brawler (snakebite striker) 14
  • Feats: Enforcer (1st), Power Attack (Bonus), Hurtful (3rd), Snake Style (Bonus), Sap Adept (5th), Intimidating Prowess (7th), Visceral Threat (Bonus), Snake Fang (9th), Combat Style Master (Bonus), Sap Master (11th), Intimidating Prowess (13th), Combat Reflexes (Bonus)
  • Abilities: ac bonus +3, brawler’s cunning, brawler’s flurry (Improved Two-Weapon Fighting), brawler’s strike (alignment, cold iron, magic, silver), knockout 2/day, martial training, snake feint, sneak attack +4d6, unarmed strike (1d8)

Alright, so at this stage of the game we have some of our big-name feats to look forward to. Since brawlers get two feats at 9th level, this seemed like the perfect time to pick up Snake Fang and Combat Style Master at once. Combat Style Master allows you to enter your combat style as a free action, which is a must-have for this build considering all of the swift action choices that it gets. Sap Master is finally taken at 11th level, and Intimidating Prowess will give us a massive bonus to Intimidate checks, as Strength is fairly key to this build. Finally, Combat Reflexes is VERY helpful for the snakebite striker’s opportunist ability, which allows the brawler to make an attack of opportunity against any opponent that has been struck for damage in melee by another character.

At this point, our snakebite striker is able to strike for five attacks during a brawler’s flurry, plus an additional attack from Hurtful. If an opponent attacks the brawler and misses, Snake Fang gives her an attack of opportunity against that target and if an ally deals damage to an enemy, her opportunist ability gives her an attack of opportunity. And to top all of this off, if any of these attacks are nonlethal she can attempt to demoralize her target. Plus at 11th level, snake feint gives the brawler the ability to adjust which square she counts as flanking from, which is helpful to any sneak attacking character. All in all, our brawler is becoming very potent, very quickly. Let’s check in at the end game.

Endgame (15+)

  • Classes: Brawler (snakebite striker) 14
  • Feats: Enforcer (1st), Power Attack (Bonus), Hurtful (3rd), Snake Style (Bonus), Sap Adept (5th), Intimidating Prowess (7th), Visceral Threat (Bonus), Snake Fang (9th), Combat Style Master (Bonus), Sap Master (11th), Intimidating Prowess (13th), Combat Reflexes (Bonus), Weapon Focus: unarmed strike (15th), Weapon Specialization: unarmed strike (Bonus), Greater Weapon Focus: unarmed strike (17th), Greater Weapon Specialization: unarmed strike (19th), Snake Sidewind (Bonus)
  • Abilities: ac bonus +4, awesome blow, brawler’s cunning, brawler’s flurry (Greater Two-Weapon Fighting), brawler’s strike (adamantine, alignment, cold iron, magic, silver), improved awesome blow, knockout 3/day, maneuver training (any +1), martial training, snake feint, sneak attack +5d6, unarmed strike (1d8)

Here in the end game, we see … a whole lot of filler. Yup. You have everything you need for this build by 14th level. Every additional layer is just sweet, sweet cream in the already roasted deliciousness of the coffee cup that is your build. I opted to take some delicious numeric feats for this build, namely the Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization lines. Thanks to martial training, brawlers can do this pretty effortlessly. For the final bonus feat of the build, I decided on Snake Sidewind. It isn’t an amazing feat on its own, even within its chain, but its by no means bad. I simply opted to use a feat slot that I didn’t need on it, and that happened to be my last one.

And that, my friends, is that! You know, there are a LOT of similar builds I can do with the crazy combo potential of the Hurtful feats. Darrell and I were actually chatting about it briefly in the Pathfinder RPG Facebook group last week. If this is the nice, “I’m going to knock my players unconscious so I can do horrible things to them” build, the build we were talking about involves the very orcish tendency to rip apart everything you know and love and then smash it to bits with your skull. Would you want to see another Intimidate build? Something more like that? Or have I done enough damage with the Hurtful feat. Leave me your answers and comments below, and don’t forget to suggest more characters for me to build in Iconic Design. I love to see what weird requests my readers have for me. But for now, your Everyman Gamer is signing off until next week. Take care!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is a kitsune brawler named Little Mac-yu.

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at http://www.everybodygames.net, or support him personally on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/eversagarpg.


  1. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    Senpai has noticed me! 😛

    Knockout Artist seems to be a thematic choice for this build as well. Extra bonus damage on your non-lethal punches is never something to turn your nose up at, although, there does come a point in which you just deal *too much* damage and the GM stops trying.

  2. Enrique Lopez Reply to Enrique

    Considering its a flat bonus to your sneak attack damage dice and that a feat that did something similar in 3.5e (Craven) was generally considered a necessary mathematics fix for the rogue’s damage to remain relevant, it shouldn’t matter. This is because by the time this sort of multi-attacking build really gets its fangs, many enemy creatures are packing DR of some sort, taking a good chunk of your damage with it. Additionally, if your DM is really going start throwing books over a build that is literally completely shut down by a garden variety zombie, they weren’t really trying to begin with. To explain that last sentence, this build’s tricks do not work against creatures immune to nonlethal damage or sneak attack damage, such as all constructs and undead (oozes, elementals, and protean outsiders are further all immune to sneak attack damage but not nonlethal damage). In that case, the brawler in question’s “only” recourse is to flurry normally for lethal damage, but since virtually all of these creatures have a DR that isn’t circumvented by bludgeoning… You can start seeing where the build’s shortcomings really shine through. This isn’t a powergaming build by an stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly a very fun and unique one to bring to a table. Overall, a well-thought-out use of existing feats and features combined into a mostly continuous whole.

    • Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

      What I meant by stop trying is when a GM stops trying to challenge a character with different tactics or builds and instead goes full stop in shutting him down.

      For example, the majority of future enemies are all constructs, undead, or abberations/oozes so the enemies are either immune to sneak attack, or non-lethal damage.

  3. I’m building a rock throwing grappler that uses an Oracle (Stone) dip. 2d4+1 1/2 STR seems really abusable (and unheard of…). I’m curious how you would build this character!
    With a bit of multiclassing and a belt of lesser hurling, I have a throw range increment of 50′ but the grappling aspect is weak.
    One idea I considered but didn’t pursue was a Monk with the Vow of Poverty. He only needs a sac for the rocks, which itself could be a melee weapon lol

  4. Max Nikolaev Reply to Max

    You can’t take Visceral Threat at 7th as it has Intimidating Prowess as a prereq.
    Otherwise a nice build (=

    Are you planning on doing more brawler articles? There seems to be a lack of martial flexibility threads. Either I am the only one wondering about it’s potential and limitations or it’s just too soon (:

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      Updated the article to reflect that error. Thanks! Sometimes I make mistakes with new material.

      I’ll certainly do more brawler articles as inspiration comes to me; as a matter of fact there’s a slayer / brawler multiclass build coming in the near future. I don’t think that build uses martial flexibility, however. Despite the name, martial flexibility works best in a build dedicated to using it and personally, I think that its stronger on the martial master fighter than the brawler but that’s just a matter of opinion.

  5. Unfortunately, you can’t pick up snake fang without getting snake sidewind first. Also, you end up taking intimidating prowess twice, so you’ve got an extra feat to work with ^^
    Besides going first, it doesn’t look like there are any ways to make sap master work, which is unfortunate. I really like the idea of this build, but I’m having a hard time seeing it work the way it should.

  6. Yeah there’s no way you can take Snake Fang in this build. It requires Combat Reflexes and Snake Sidewind first.

    Also, what’s this about Brawlers getting two feats at level 9? I see a bonus feat at level 8, but that’s the best I see.

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