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Unearthed Arcana lists the two Fighter variants "Thug" and what is commonly referred to as "Sneak Attack Fighter". I have been reading in forums here and there that you can combine the "Sneak Attack Fighter" with other Fighter variants, but the Unearthed Arcana entry for the "Sneak Attack Fighter" reads:

This variant can also be combined with the thug variant.

As far as I know variants are not mixed such as archetypes might do in Pathfinder. Am I correct to assume that by raw you do not mix class variants?

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There isn't a definitive answer to this.

3.5 includes at least three ways to customize your character's class:

  • Variant classes, like Thug or Mystic Ranger (Dragon #336), entirely new versions of a class that give a new progression for the whole thing.
  • Substitution levels, like Changeling Rogue (Races of Eberron, p. 123), which are variants (often race-specific) that replace your class features (and maybe other stuff?) at specific class levels
  • Alternate class features, like Drow Fighter's Hit and Run Tactics (Drow of the Underdark, p. 58)

While the latter two categories more-or-less have rules for how they work, the variant character classes introduced in Unearthed Arcana (including Thug and Sneak Attack Fighter) never really got much clarification in terms of how they interact with the rest of the rules, aside from explicitly saying it's up to the DM (Unearthed Arcana, p. 47):

This chapter presents a wide variety of options that allow you to tweak the existing character classes without completely scrapping them and starting from scratch. Whether they involve swapping out one class feature for another or trying a new twist on an old favorite, these variants allow the players and DM to retain the familiarity of existing classes while exploring worlds of difference.

With your DM’s permission, you can use any one of these variant classes in place of the standard class of the same name. Depending on the campaign world, variant classes may exist side by side with standard classes, or they may replace standard classes entirely. For instance, the DM may decide that all monks must choose a fighting style that reflects their original training, or that all barbarians must choose a totem.

Check out this answer by KRyan for more context on why these variants don't fully integrate with the rules, but the short version is that they were written more as vague, some-assembly-required ideas for DMs than fully fleshed-out character options.

The most straightforward way to rule is that they can be freely combined with other variants as long as they don't replace the same feature...

For the better-defined variants that came from later in 3.5's run, the general rule was that they replaced specific things, and that you were free to combine them as long as you didn't try to replace the same thing twice. For instance, here's what Drow of the Underdark (p. 57) has to say about its ACFs:

Alternative class features are ways to customize a class by selecting abilities that best reflect a racial choice and character concept. Similar to substitution levels, they offer an option to the class features granted at a particular level. Alternative class features have no prerequisites; you simply select them at the proper levels in lieu of selecting the standard class features

...and, when describing how to read ACFs...

Replaces: This line identifies the ability that you must sacrifice to gain the alternative class feature.

While there are no rules explicitly telling you to do so, it's easy to extend this principle to the variant classes from Unearthed Arcana and just say "you can combine this with other stuff as long as you aren't trading away the same feature twice." In my experience playing 3.5, this is what most DMs end up doing.

...but the one explicitly allowed example we have, Thug + Sneak Attack Fighter, violates this rule.

The one case where the rules explicitly tell us two variants can be combined, the one mentioned in the OP, violates the rule I suggested above. Thug trades away Fighter's level 1 bonus feat, but Sneak Attack Fighter trades away all of Fighter's bonus feats. That means you're trading away the level 1 bonus feat twice!

This is either...

  1. ...an error by the authors of the rules, and really Thug and Sneak Attack Fighter shouldn't be able to be combined.
  2. ...explicitly mentioned by the rules because it's an exception to the general rule for which variants can be combined, and therefore needs to be called out specifically.

I'm not aware of any rules that clear this up.

tl;dr Ask your DM, but in most games I've played the rule is "Variants can be combined as long as they don't replace the same thing twice, plus Thug and Sneak Attack Fighter can be combined even though they do replace the same thing twice because the rules say so."

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