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The Brawler get an ability called "Bonus Combat Feats":

At 2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter, a brawler gains a bonus combat feat in addition to those gained from normal advancement. These bonus feats must be ones that affect or improve her defenses or melee attacks. The brawler must meet the prerequisites of the selected bonus combat feat.

Upon reaching 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter, a brawler can choose to learn a new bonus combat feat in place of a bonus combat feat she has already learned. In effect, the brawler loses the bonus combat feat in exchange for the new one. The old feat cannot be one that was used as a prerequisite for another feat, prestige class, or other ability. A brawler can only change one feat at any given level, and must choose whether or not to swap the feat at the time she gains a new bonus combat feat for the level.

Both parts of this ability seem problematic to me.

For the first one, what exactly qualifies as a feat "that affect or improve her defenses or melee attacks"? For some feats is is obvious that it works (like Stunning Fist who undoubtedly improves melee attacks), for some other ones it is less obvious (what about Weapon Finesse or Power Attack or Combat Reflexes? what about Improved Grapple?)

For the second one, could you exchange a feat gained with a special condition for an other one that doesn't satisfy the condition? For example change a feat gained with the first part for a feat that doesn't "affect or improve her defenses or melee attacks"?

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It's frustrating, but the decision whether or not certain bonus combat feats "affect or improve [the brawler's] defenses or melee attacks" is made by the GM. That said, I'm almost certain no GM would deny a brawler the feats Combat Reflexes, Improved Grapple, Power Attack, or Weapon Finesse as bonus combat feats. (Seriously, I recommend demanding an inclusive list of available feats from a GM that denies one or more of those picks!)

Further, when the brawler is able to exchange feats starting at level 5, all the feats involved in the exchange must be brawler bonus combat feats and those always must meet that previously listed criteria. The description says so: the ability is called bonus combat feats and "a brawler can choose to learn a new bonus combat feat in place of a bonus combat feat she has already learned" (emphasis mine). There's no option to exchange a brawler bonus combat feat for, like, a metamagic feat (unless that metamagic feat is also a combat feat and affects or improves the brawler's defenses or melee attacks).

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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnneAunyme its in the text: a brawler can choose to learn a new bonus combat feat in place of a bonus combat feat she has already learned. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Oct 27 '17 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand it now, thanks! I just missed it. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Oct 27 '17 at 14:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd only add an example of something you couldn't select, such as Precise Shot (or any other ranged Combat Feat) \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Oct 27 '17 at 20:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd agree that it's DM's decision on what feats count, but I'd also say it should be fairly obvious if a feat counts or not. If it makes you hit more often, for more damage, or adds extra effects, and applies to anything that's melee range or makes you get hit less often, for less damage, or gives some defensive advantage, it's a feat that can be used. If the feat isn't combat related at all (Item Creation, skill bonuses) or obviously isn't intended for melee (ranged attack feats) or defense, it doesn't count. \$\endgroup\$ – Doc Oct 27 '17 at 21:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Doc While I agree that it should be fairly obvious if a feat counts, I can't account for the pettifogging GM that declares, for example, defense means improves your AC therefore forbidding Lightning Reflexes, nor for the unduly generous GM that declares Precise Shot appropriate because the player claims his PC will be throwing daggers while in melee or something nuts like that. I mean, since the game itself makes no hard rules, I hesitate to provide hard examples lest holes be poked in those examples. I think it's okay that everyone has his own, personal idea of obvious here. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 27 '17 at 22:12
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That restriction is in place so the brawler doesn't pick Combat Feats like Point-Blank Shot or Precise Shot, which wouldn't help at brawling, but that are normally allowed to fighters.

There are very few combat feats that do not improve your attack or defense in some form, even those that grant you armor proficiency are improving your defense in an indirect way (you now wear better armor).

The restriction is really about Melee feats. But also affects combat feats that could help others, but do not affect your character in any way, like Saving Shield.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't buy the reduce arcane spell failure, personally. That has no effect on attacks or defenses. It has a situational effect on magic use. There's a difference. Similarly, feats that have an impact on mobility, but not specifically on attacks or defenses seem like they would not count. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Oct 27 '17 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden that's subject to table variation. I see the feat similarly to medium/heavy armor proficiency, and the result is better defenses. That's where the GM fiat comes in, as explained by HeyICanChan. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Oct 27 '17 at 13:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras but the brawler doesnt get better defense from this. They gets less magical penalty in relation to their armor. it doesnt improve your armor. It lets you wear better armor for less penalty to your magic. If you have a magic-user brawler, NOTHING stops them from wearing heavy armor and suffering the full arcane failure. The feat doesnt make your defense better. It makes your armor less cumbersome... I get it's dm fiat often... but that particular example doesn't feel right here....if your brawler wears medium armor to not get as impacted by arcane failure it's a choice (cont) \$\endgroup\$ – Patrice Oct 27 '17 at 21:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unlike armor proficiency. Without armor proficiency you cant use the armor effectively to fight. A brawler doesnt get a better melee attack or defense with reduced arcane failure. With the proficiency they do. \$\endgroup\$ – Patrice Oct 27 '17 at 21:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I changed the example so it is less controversial. I was just trying to point out that reducing spell failure would let you obtain a better defense, and its something I personally would allow if that was the part of the character's build (like a brawler/magus). \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Oct 27 '17 at 22:02

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