Combat Expertise fix #300: making it a useful feat

Homebrew and House Rules

Sovereign Court

So there's lots of people who don't much like CE, me among them. I'm okay with there being a prerequisite for those maneuvers, but I don't like how Combat Expertise does it. Taking a -X to hit for a +X to dodge has nothing to do with all those fancy maneuvers.

The other maneuver-prerequisite feats do match their maneuvers: power attack is actually useful for sundering, and "hitting really hard" makes sense for overrun and bull rush as well. And requiring Improved Unarmed Strike for Improved Grapple is pretty sensible as well.

So, my aim then is to change how CE works to make it match the feats more. For me CE is a "fight smart" feat, using technique instead of brute strength. So I was thinking about the following:

Combat Expertise
Taking a moment, you calculate your next move.
Prerequisite: Intelligence 13
Benefit: you may spend a Move action to gain one of the following until your next turn:

  • +2 insight bonus to hit
  • +2 insight to AC
  • +2 insight to Fortitude saves
  • +2 insight to Reflex saves
  • +2 insight to Will saves

I'm a bit concerned that the to-hit bonus will stack rather quickly with the bonuses granted by the maneuver feats. But you're paying a serious price for that. It's also a decent combo with Vital Strike, which I'm happy with.

What do you think?

I... would never, ever use Combat Expertise in the presented form. I actually think it's pretty good right now, though obviously it doesn't work with maneuvers so much as give you a defensive option.

The thing is, spending a Move Action to get a bonus to your maneuver is pretty lame... because there are way too many situations where you need to move in order to use that maneuver. I mean, sure, it'd be useful if you're slugging it out 1v1 with some dork and neither of you is moving, but that's just not enough.

Would it be useful at the low levels? Certainly, sure. I suppose it'd be useful enough through level 5 assuming you're in a lot of situations where you're standing in one spot during a fight. I just find that mobility trumps that.

Now, if you could spend a swift action (but specifically state you can convert it to a move action), that might work out. I mean, there are a lot of things that use a swift action in the game, but that's neither here nor there. If you're worried about +2 to attack being too much for a single feat, consider that Weapon Focus takes zero actions and gives a +1; that there are flanking teamwork feats that give a net bonus of +2 when flanking; etc. Spending a swift action for a +2 is worth 1, maybe 2 feats to me.

That said, factoring in all the other stuff, I think this would be a good Improved Combat Expertise if that's what you go for. That is...

Combat Expertise could be a swift action that grants you +2 to attack, insight bonus. Imp. Combat Expertise could give +2 to attack OR any of those other bonuses. Or maybe it could be called "Defensive Expertise." I'unno. Again, as a swift action so you'll actually use it at higher levels.

There are a lot of ways to perform combat maneuvers as part of full attack actions or to use it as part of a Whirlwind Attack or whatever, depending on the maneuver, so you want to keep the move action space open for... well, moving. Or full attacking. Just in case.

That's my two cents.

I approve of this fix. For many martial classes at lower levels (or those who depend on standard-action attacks), a move action is often left unused.

I employ a different approach, however. I allow Combat Expertise to lower the to-hit penalty from Defensive Fighting (-4 attack, +2 AC) by half (to state it in bare-bone terms).
Combat Expertise also contrasts with an 'Offensive Fighting' mechanic I've thought of, taking a -4 to AC for a +2 to attack.
With the feat Combat Expertise, one can either fight offensively or defensively for -2 to either attack or AC, gaining +2 to AC or attack, respectively.
Your alternative disregards the little-used Fighting Defensively mechanic. My own builds upon it. I suspect your approach is ultimately better.

Sovereign Court

One of my peeves with CE is that it's redundant; the built-in option to Fight Defensively does the same thing (penalty to hit, dodge bonus to AC). The "efficiency" is different, but the effect is the same, and that looks dumb to me.

Well, being able to stack them is pretty important, too - which you can. It gives you the option of having AC better than or equal to the Total Defense Action when you combine Combat Expertise + Fighting Defensively... while still attacking.

Redundant I'll give, but there's a lot of redundant feats and rules in the game. I mean, hey, there are a ton of feats where you spend a feat to gain a bonus to your attack rolls. Pretty redundant, right? (I know, somewhat different ball game, but the point remains.)

I'd sooner work with the argument that Combat Expertise isn't as effective as it could be and so the improved flexibility of using it but having it occupy an action of some sort in return for being more potent makes sense to me - just that making it take up your move action seems like a bad idea. Being able to choose between a move OR a swift would make it much more flexible.

It may be the nature of differing tables that's coloring my perception, note. Combat at my table is frequently fluid and people move a fair bit, especially in the tougher fights, so losing a move action to get a +2 bonus to something defensive or to CMB doesn't seem optimal to me, especially since the combat maneuver specialists tend to eventually replace their iterative attacks with maneuvers.

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Sorry, but IMHO Combat Expertise is extremely useful in its current form.

It is useful for Sword and Board as well as two-handed warrior types.

I am not the only one with this opinion either. Ashiel recently went over its usefulness in depth in another thread.

I am prepping for my weekly Carrion Crown game at the moment though and do not have time to chase down that post.

Please be aware that this is a non-issue at many tables.

Sovereign Court

Okay, I may have been too unclear on what my main objection to CE is. That is, it is not useful for it's "child feats", and in fact actually hinders their use. The direct child feats of CE include:

  • Butterfly Sting
  • Gang Up
  • Harder They Fall
  • Improved Dirty Trick
  • Improved Disarm
  • Improved Feint
  • Improved Parry
  • Improved Reposition
  • Improved Steal
  • Improved Trip
  • (Improved) Two-Weapon Feint
  • Pack Flanking
  • Second Chance
  • Slayer's Feint
  • Surprise Maneuver
  • Swift Aid
  • Whirlwind Attack

Apart from feinting, all of these involve attack rolls or maneuver checks, and having CE active hurts them. Successfully using them (tripping, disarming) will also usually make the enemy less dangerous in a more effective manner than gaining a small temporary bonus to AC.

The unifying theme here is "tricky fighting", but that's not what CE does. CE has no good thematic connection with the feats for which it's a prerequisite. It's a feat tax for those feats.

Now, CE might be useful in its own right for some characters, but I think it's rarely useful for characters who need it as a prerequisite. They deserve something better. Compare: you rarely hear anyone complaining about needing Power Attack as a prerequisite, because it makes sense and it's useful for most people who take it. And you don't hear anyone saying that Improved Unarmed Strike makes no sense as a prerequisite for Improved Grapple.


So I'm fine with CE continuing to exist as a feat for people who actually want that feat. But I think that the prerequisite for the feats listed above should be a feat that has a function that has more synergy, thematic connection and not anti-synergy.

I still want the replacement to be a "fight smart" feat, and I'm fine with keeping Int 13 as the prerequisite. I feel that between class abilities to skip prerequisites and Brawler's Cunning that that is bearable. But for the characters that do take "Technical Fighting", it should be useful.

I think my earlier version is useful. +2 is a significant bonus size, and it's quite flexible. A Move action cost prevents you from using it in combination with charge, full attack and a few other thinks, but that's intentional; getting +2 to hit on a full attack would be too food for a single feat. (Compare to Weapon Focus.) However, there are quite a lot of Standard action abilities that will combine with it. (Cleave, Vital Strike, touch spells, lots of Standard action spell-like domain powers, casters that only use Standard action spells anyway...)

If you look beyond full attacks for a moment, I wonder - isn't it perhaps too good? Should the attack bonus perhaps be limited to melee attacks?

In my game I have CE do exactly what it does and more.

While the character is using CE, they do not provoke an AoO for attempting any maneuver, unless their foe is using CE as well.

I feel that although it doesn't exactly help out the "child feats" as you say, it at least creates some incentive for maneuver-using in general.

I think the problem with Combat expertise is that it is a prerequsite for so Many feats. Alone it is a decent feat that several builts could enjoy having. But it gets Lots of hate because every maneuver built in the game is forced to take it and they never use it.
But a guy with a shield and a ok armor can get a lot of use out of it as soon as he have shows the bad guys that he is dangerous.

Honestly, it's not a terrible prerequisite, and is actually pretty nice against incorporeal foes since they often have less AC and you can buff yours against them... but the feat as it exists could be stronger.

Heck, even just acting like Power Attack would be great, take a -1 to hit and get +2 AC. Perhaps remove the Int requirement too, plenty of martials will have average Int at best, since the classes hardly reward them for being smart. Or even if they went back to being able to drop as much attack bonus as you wanted, and actually raise your AC by a decent amount at a time, would help. But I would NEVER sacrifice a move action for a +2 on one thing like that, and trying to make it do so many things dilutes the value of feats that already cover those options.

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