I'm GM-ing a game with a small party fighting a couple of undead. Since the party is 6 big, I decided to put them against 4 CR 1/2 zombies.

One of the players is a Unarmed Brawler with a fondness for Grappling. Of course, this kind of hurts the effectiveness against enemies with DR 5/ slashing. Her level 1 feat is Improved Grappling. Is there any advice I can give the player to get a little bit more effectiveness against zombies ?

I'm currently considering adding in some skeletons among the zombies, where unarmed strikes should be a bit more efficient, give her something to do as well.

Party is level 1 at the moment. Switching builds is not really an option. The rest of the party is doing fine with the zombies (even though 1 got one-shot, there's a cleric along).

If there's a more GM-aimed solution, like giving some low-level item that can help a lot but still lets her punch things, that would also be fine. Budget is low, consider it around 150 GP max. I am thinking about an item that converts a modest amount of damage into magic damage someway ?

Background: I am very new to D&D type of games, as are all players. This is the first time for all of us.


Since it apparently wasn't clear, weapons are not an option for this player. This is purely a personal preference of the player herself. Do not remove answers that currently exist on these - other people finding this question may be interested - but don't post new answers referring only to weapons. It won't solve the problem.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour. In campaigns I've played, PCs routinely stock up on a variety of weapons before adventuring. Did the brawler assume her fists would be sufficient for all occasions even at level 1 therefore carrying no weapons? Anyway, thank you for participating and have fun! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 2, 2018 at 21:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why is switching builds not an option? Your characters are only first level, so this is basically the easiest time to decide "this character doesn't really work the way I expected, I'll switch it to a different class". \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Sep 3, 2018 at 13:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Character has Improved Grapple as feat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Sep 3, 2018 at 17:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Gloweye, please incorporate any clarifications or additions into the question itself, so that anyone coming by later can get all the information they need from the question itself. Comments are intended to be entirely skip-able here, and may well be deleted (particularly considering the back-and-forth discussion going on, which shouldn’t be). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Sep 3, 2018 at 17:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "Do not remove answers that currently exist on these [...] but don't post new answers referring only to weapons. It won't solve the problem." ...This would just make things confusing. Either all answers should exclude weapons, or they shouldn't. These Q&As are meant to stand the test of time, and more importantly, they're meant to solve your specific problem. If someone would like to ask a more generic question that includes weapons as an option, they can ask that as a separate question. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 4, 2018 at 5:47

2 Answers 2


Use her Martial Flexibility

A first level brawler already has access to the Martial Flexibility ability, which allows her to temporarily learn a feat she doesn't know by using a move action. Assuming she has taken Weapon Focus, she can use her flexibility to learn Weapon Versatility:

When wielding a weapon with which you have Weapon Focus, you can shift your grip as a swift action so that your weapon deals bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage instead of the damage type normally dealt by that weapon. You may switch back to the weapon’s normal damage type or another damage type as a swift action.

If she has at least 13 Dex and 1 rank in Escape Artist, she could use her flexibility to learn Tatzlwyrm Claw Strike, which also allows you to deal slashing damage with unarmed attacks.

At 3rd level, her options are expanded with the addition of Boar Style and Tiger Style, which are generally better, while also allowing to change your damage type.

Alternatively, you could allow her to obtain a Knuckle Axe (1d6), Rope Gauntlet (1d4) or Manople (1d8), which she could also obtain the necessary combat feat by using her flexibility to gain the required proficiency. Those are flavored as weapons that you use your punches to deal damage, but will not use your unarmed strike damage, they will use the weapon's damage as listed under the weapon's description (which I put under parenthesis for convenience).

Wayfinders and ioun stones

If obtaining Weapon Focus is a problem, consider handing out a Wayfinder (500 gp), which is a magical compass that you can insert an Ioun Stone inside, which will normally enhance the stone and/or grant another benefit of using it that way instead of orbiting your head.

Combined with an opalescent white pyramid ioun stone (10,000 gp), the wayfinder will grant you Weapon Focus on a specific weapon keyed to that stone.

The resonant powers of the most common forms of ioun stones are listed below. If the power is a feat, the bearer gains that feat as a bonus feat even if he does not meet its prerequisites.

This is a very expensive solution and I would be wary of granting the character a permanent +1 to her attack rolls this early at her adventuring career (note that wayfinders take no slots). You could, instead, hand her this item as a plot device, borrowed from a retired adventurer to help them overcome this difficulty, but that is expected to be returned later on.

  • \$\begingroup\$ She got Improved Grapple. So no Weapon Focus yet. I'm not 100% convinced it's a good solution - until she gets to choose multiple perks by Martial Flexibility, 2 feats is a rather heavy investment, at least for now. Also, weapon focus sounds....underwhelming. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Sep 3, 2018 at 17:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gloweye at first level she also can't get the benefit of two feats through martial flexibility at once anyway - if you use it a second time, it replaces the benefit of the feat you selected previously. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Sep 3, 2018 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gloweye Two feats is absolutely a massive investment, and Weapon Focus is absolutely a terrible feat. Unfortunately, so many things, including good things, require Weapon Focus that the player will most likely be forced to take it eventually. Such feat “taxes” are part-and-parcel with Pathfinder as a system, and this problem is found all over the place. In my games, I tend to try to either give out more feats (especially feats that can only be used on taxes like this), or improve the feats, as for example in this Q&A on a better Weapon Focus. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Sep 3, 2018 at 17:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I am considering like a pair of magic wristbands that could give Weapon Focus for unarmed strikes. She can then choose to use Martial Flexibility to get Weapon Versatility. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Sep 3, 2018 at 17:15
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Gloweye updated with 2 more alternatives. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Sep 3, 2018 at 18:43

Brawlers are Meant to be Flexible

Ultimately, the brawler should already have the tools to bypass a zombie's damage reduction. Brawlers are proficient with all simple weapons, the entire fighter close weapon group, handaxes, and short swords.

Either the handaxe or the short sword should be enough to defeat the zombies handily [no pun intended], but failing that a simple slashing weapon will also do.

As you play more you will see that it is both practical and thematic for the brawler to have a host of tools to aid him in combat.

Practical from the point that some enemies are extremely difficult with out certain weapons (true lycanthropes have DR 10/silver), but also from the sheer frugality of the tools. A cold iron morningstar and an alchemical silver dagger cost 16 and 22 gold respectively, well within the budget of even a first level character and already allowing one to bypass DR silver, cold iron, bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing.

Additionally, the entire theme of the brawler class is being a no-nonsense fighter that can adapt to the situation at hand; in addition to the special maneuvers or exotic feats from the class abilities, one should consider all potential aids during combat (for any character really, but especially for a brawler).

That that in mind, grappling will likely still be effective against the zombies as others have pointed out (though perhaps not in large groups).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 3, 2018 at 14:27

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