My situation:

The fighter-type PCs (fighter, ranger, monk) feels the combats are boring for them. They have nothing to do rather than attack. Their maneuvers (trip, disarm, etc.) usually fail because the opponents that are worthy of getting those maneuvers usually have better physical attributes, and those are not worthy are usually just get attacks instead.

In short, fighter-type PCs don't have many viable options during combat. All they do is attack, move, and attack. They soon get bored of the combat.

What I did so far:

Since the spellcasters don't care, I had to teach them the usage of maneuvers, fighting defensively, charge, power attack, etc. But those are still not doing much change on combat tactic, but just some ways to attack differently (and not all that much differently).

To bring some more tactical thinking to the fighter-type PCs and make the combat more interesting (without introducing more published materials since the core material has already given them a hard time), I made a house rule that now PCs can use potions as poison. E.g. They can apply a potion of slow to their sword so that they can make the next opponent this sword hits to be slowed. This basically eliminates the need of spellstoring weapon special ability and allows the fighter-type PCs apply something to their weapons without the help of spellcasters.

Most skills are either too costly (e.g. Intimidate, takes a standard action and many enemies are immune to fear) or hard to use during combat (e.g. Jump, won't do much without several feats' support). Nobody is riding anything so far in my team.

One thing I can think of being "tactical" would be a barbarian determining the moment when he starts his rage ability. But that's too limited (once per encounter) and only that class applies.

I wish to find some other ways to keep combat interesting for the fighters with their martial capabilities (instead of relying that much on magical power). Any idea would be welcome. Of course, I am not looking for something that only PCs can do. The same rules (and related strategies) would be available for enemies as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I suspect this will be closed as an idea-generation question. However, this is one of the more common complaints against the d20 System, and forums can offer good advice for making combat more mechanically interesting than just 10 full attack 20 goto 10. (If you want to pose a new question about balancing your existing house rules—like a question about the balance issues and playability of smearing potions on swords, for instance—, that's totally legit.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 11:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @From You are aware that comment is basically an answer to the question and said so yourself. Please avoid leaving comments like that and just make it an answer instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 0:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bardo that sounds like the start to a subjectively supported answer. It definitely belongs there more than here so people can legitimately vote on it. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 12:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bardo Reminder that answers, partial answers, suggestions on where to find an answer, and general advice for the asker do not belong in comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch-is-skeptical-about-SE you see, the problem is that I find too usually that any answer that don't fit in the exact canon that is expected are severely downvoted, even when they add value. So when I find something that could add to the answer or to the question but don't fit exactly like a "proper" answer I usually add it like a comment. If it cannot be added there neither because it's not a "proper" comment I supose that just will stop bothering at all... \$\endgroup\$
    – Bardo
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 14:32

3 Answers 3


Upfront, I don’t think the system has great answers to this even in the best cases. The system wasn’t really designed for this; compared to what came before (2e) and what came after (5e), even just having those combat maneuvers is more than you might expect, even though it isn’t really much. Honestly, have you considered D&D 4e or Pathfinder 2e? Those embraced this kind of mechanical variety (and concomitant complexity) much more than 3.5e, or any other D&D.

But, doing what we can...

Tome of Battle is what you want, or at least as close as you’ll get

Tome of Battle has three classes, roughly analogous to the fighter, monk, and paladin. (The paladin-analogue also makes a phenomenal barbarian, particularly if you dip actual barbarian, and the monk-analogue can be more ninja/rogue-y depending on how you build it.) However, unlike those classes (and nearly every other warrior-type class in the game), these classes get a variety of powers, called maneuvers, that they can use. They’re tiered into 9 levels, you start with a bunch of them and learn another every level or so, etc.—they’re basically spells, so if your spellcasters are happy and your warriors want something similar, this is that.

The difference between spells and maneuvers is that maneuvers are each once per encounter, instead of once per day, and on top of that, you can “recover” them mid-fight so you can even use them multiple times in a long encounter. Each of the classes has its own recovery mechanism (the monk-analogue’s is awful and they might as well not have the option, but they also get to start with way more maneuvers than the others), to add a bit of variety/identity.

Tome of Battle maneuvers are pretty well-designed. They allow you to do so much more as a standard action than your usual option of a single attack, and they give you access to more effects (like tripping, shoving, and so on) without necessarily having to specialize in that thing specifically to have any chance at success.

However, while there are some, there isn’t a lot of utility effects in Tome of Battle. Most of the maneuvers are just a fancy attack that deals extra damage and maybe has a minor rider for some status effect. And Tome of Battle characters are still better off full attacking than they are using one of these maneuvers, which is a good thing in theory (full attack becomes another “maneuver” they have available, when the positioning works out), but in a medium-to-high optimization game (where ways to move and full attack are the norm and most warriors full attack every turn, and are at least somewhat optimized for doing so), can make it hard for Tome of Battle-based characters to keep up.

In other words, what you really want is Tome of Battle, but more so. Unfortunately, Tome of Battle was one of the last supplements they released, and never got any expansion or follow-up. (Mike Mearls, I believe, said it was in part a test bed for ideas for 4e, so maybe 4e itself is the “follow-up.”)

The alternative is, optimize harder

If you really work at it, you can make your trip/bull rush/grapple check nigh-unbeatable. Getting two or three of those at the same time so you can have some variety is hard, but probably (depending on the parameters of the campaign) also do-able. There are also some niche maneuvers you can add to a character, plus alternate methods of movement, and attack while moving. There isn’t a one-size fits all approach that works, but 3.5e is vast—there’s more options than you think.

A couple of examples of the kind of thing I mean:

  • Grapple has you enter your target’s space. Improved grab has them enter yours. If you boost your reach a lot, then, you can use grapple as way to pull yourself into position or pull an enemy to you, depending on whether you use improved grab or not. I just finished a campaign with a character who basically never used the move action in combat, but instead just used hookshots on enemies to get everywhere.

  • The Draconic Claw feat gives you a swift-action attack that you can use in any round in which you use a touch-attack spell. The Snap Kick feat lets you add an unarmed strike any time you’re making one or more attacks. Between the two, you can use a touch attack spell (which can be done as an unarmed strike), Snap Kick on that, then use Dragon Claw and Snap Kick on that. That’s four attacks as early as 6th level, as a standard action + swift action. Plus you got to cast a spell for one of those attacks. Duskblade, eat your heart out.

  • Dungeoncrasher gives you bonus damage (a lot of bonus damage) for slamming creatures into walls. Knockback is traditional for this purpose, but there are all kinds of options. Telekinesis? Throwing weapons, with the Rout feat? Lot of variety possible here.

These are weird, niche ideas. You have to build around them. And the system has more, lots more even, but they take work to find and take work to make, well, work. So it takes a lot of system mastery to make a character that finds variety in these kinds of things.

And then there’s the elephant in the room

D&D 3.5e is just magic-dominated. That’s simply a fact. Your spellcasters are always going to be ahead here, even with every supplement in the game, every book and magazine and website, available. They will have more variety and more power. Again, have you considered D&D 4e or Pathfinder 2e?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, for 3.5 ToB is probably the answer. It's been ages since I've cracked it open but I remember it was just fighting classes but done right. As in, they had more agency in battle than hitting enemies. IIRC, the Champion (correct name?) had some damage soaking that meant more versatility even if they were just on the receiving end of attacks. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 13:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VLAZ Correct on both counts (though the class’s name is “crusader”). The damage-soaking is why I suggest it can make a good barbarian, though honestly it’s pretty minimal (the numbers should have been twice as high as they are, probably). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ IIRC, the "4e" that ToB was a testbed for was Orcus, a different early version of 4e which was abandoned. Some quick googling provides support: songoftheblade.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/… \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TerryWindwalker It is certainly no more complicated than spellcasting. Less so, arguably, since there are fewer “trap” options. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 21:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TerryWindwalker The wording on Snap Kick is poor, but there is no listed limitation on how often Snap Kick may be used. Thus, it can be used once each time it triggers. However, the trigger is “When you make a melee attack with one or more melee weapons (including a standard attack, full attack, or even a strike maneuver),” so we know an entire full attack is considered one trigger, since it’s explicitly listed as an example trigger. So with a full attack, you get n+1 attacks, not 2n. So your touch attack becomes that + unarmed strike, and Draconic Claw becomes that + unarmed strike. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 20:32

Based on the gm-techniques tag I will assume you are asking from the side of the DM screen. On the player end, well, KRyan gave you the answer.

The only viable alternative you have left outside of switching systems is... homebrew.

Instead of listing a bunch of house rules, I figure it's better to approach this from a game design perspective.


In short, fighter-type PCs don't have many viable options during combat. All they do is attack, move, and attack. They soon get bored of the combat.

Assertion: Beatsticks lack meaningful choices during combat. Such choices are what make the game fun.

Potential solutions:

  • Grant more abilities to fighters (e.g. lift the burden of feat taxes).
  • Redesign classes, feats and even general rules (e.g. give ToB maneuvers to everyone, change how full attacks work).
  • Borrow systems and content from other games (e.g. Pathfinder has many feat chains that let you do interesting things).
  • Improve encounter design (e.g. use more and varied creatures, use terrain).
  • Adjust the action economy to better support a more tactical style of play (e.g. perhaps make battles longer, or allow more freedom for fighters on the battlefield).
  • Make abilities cooler to use (e.g. even just the way you describe an ability can have an effect on how it feels to use it and how evocative it is).

Notable absences:

  • Nerfing casters into the ground.
  • Talking about balance in any way.


All of these are quite general, but are all avenues you'd need to explore if you want to improve fighter gameplay.

Any change you make, you need to consider several aspects:

  • What are you trying to accomplish using this feature and how does it bring you closer to your goal?
  • How much complexity does it add and is it worth it for the benefit?
  • Wording (i.e. don't discount how important it is).

Make the enemies smarter (and nastier!).

In my experience, the whole "full attack, full attack, full attack" combat loop indicates an opponent who is just standing and hacking back at the fighter. This is almost certainly a bad strategy for one side, probably the PCs enemies. Why aren't they attempting to disengage and run if they are outclassed? If they are in their own territory, why are they not prepared for the party? (Think Tuckers Kobold's, as described here: https://media.wizards.com/2014/downloads/dnd/TuckersKobolds.pdf)

Why are there no meaningful decisions to be made? Fighters should be making tactical decisions all the time, if they aren't, why aren't they? Interesting combat, IME, has less to do with abilities and more to do with meaningful decisions, choices that may or may not have consequences later.

For example, should the fighter stay back with the Mage to cover against more kobolds sneaking up behind the party or charge forward and attempt to engage the kobolds in front? Should the fighter charge, or should he move forwards more cautiously? These kind of questions can go on and on, but rely on the enemies actually being played smart (and nasty).

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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems to be thin on deatils about how to make this come about though. How do we make people make meaningful tactical decisions? What does them being smarter and nastier look like? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 20:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem here is not about being strategic (which's a duty related to the Int attribute of PCs IRL instead of by character) but being more tactically viable in the combat. The reason that fighter-type characters keep doing full-attack on my table is because that's the most effective move in almost all cases during the combat. Outside of combat moves, my fighter PCs can get into tactical discussions without a problem. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 20:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ As for the example you have given designing an ambush from multiple directions, the fighters are still doing full-attacks when they are engaged with enemies, without having anything better to do other than repositioning themselves to be able to make more full-attacks. That's the part making battle boring for them. It seems the most tactical decision they can do is when, where and how to reposition them during the combat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TerryWindwalker My question would be: Why are the fighters spending more than a round engaged with any given enemy? Without knowing the level of the party it's hard to say much, but... Kobolds are 4hp each, per the SRD, so the combat characters really should be dropping them fast. If a full attack is effective against small opponents, the opponents are doing something really stupid. \$\endgroup\$
    – RobbieAB
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 16:58

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