I'm somewhat new to the world of tabletop RPGs and I've recently joined a Pathfinder group. I'm playing a barbarian (no archetype, just a straight up barb that fills the role of sponge tank and damage dealer), and I was hoping to gain more knowledge about how to appropriately use combat maneuvers.

Our group has a good balance of melee and ranged classes. In our gameplay it seems that the rest of the group prefers to spend their turns to inflict damage as opposed to using combat maneuvers. I've also just read a post saying that maneuvers are only worthwhile when you've selected the "improved" version. Is that the general consensus or just the opinion of the commenter?

Basically, I see these maneuvers on my character sheet and I want to learn how and when to use them. Just trying to increase my knowledge of the game. Thanks!

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Also check out this answer, dealing with how fun and useful combat maneuvers are, especially for people other than tanks. rpg.stackexchange.com/a/20214/3043 \$\endgroup\$
    – lisardggY
    Jul 25, 2013 at 5:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! Lots of fantastic information on this site. I appreciate the link. \$\endgroup\$
    – Botch
    Jul 26, 2013 at 16:30

3 Answers 3


The "improved" versions are feats which allow you to ignore Attacks of Opportunity. Without these, you not only become vulnerable to a free attack upon yourself when using them, but also the opportunity to be knocked out of them via this attack as well, preventing and wasting the action entirely. As such, it's best to not even consider the maneuvers as possibilities at all without the improved feat or in the most dire of situations.

When building a melee character that uses these abilities, make sure to consider the Intelligence Requirements of Combat Expertise, which is a prerequisite of several of them. You need an Intelligence of at least 13, something Barbarians are not known for having without planning and forethought.

Many of the maneuvers are very situational, but useful in these specialized conditions. Here are some times where their use is at their extremes of advantage or disadvantage:

Tripping is extremely powerful against humanoid creatures with two legs, save for Dwarves (who have an ability specifically to counter it). In an adventure mostly against humans and humanoids, it can cripple enemies of most any level, although melee fighters have some resistance to them. Against almost any other enemy type, however, its usefulness drops drastically. It is all but useless against anything with four or more legs, anything without legs, anything bigger than you, anything incorporeal, or anything with a substantial enough acrobatics score to simply stand back up unhindered.

Disarming is also similarly very useful against humanoid creatures that use weapons, and very non-useful elsewhere. Many humanoid creatures, like player characters, are built to require weapons and possibly specialize in them, making them a nice weakness to exploit. Against other creatures, however - aberrations, ghosts, giants, dragons, what have you - it's useless. Against weaker creatures like goblins and kobolds, of course, you're better off just killing them instead.

Bullrushing is very useful for manipulating the battlefield, and its limits are based less on the type of enemy and more on the terrain. Simply put, you have to have a location to push someone into, and a reason to do it. Use it when you believe you can use the terrain to your advantage in some way. An enemy's resistance to it is based off strength and size, so big enemies will be tougher to push, but as a barbarian, you may be able to best many foes in this area if you rage first.

Sunder is a tough sell in any situation, since the items you are sundering are generally also your treasure, and a hefty part of your monetary income. With that disadvantage in mind, it is useful in nearly identical situations as disarm. Use with proper judgement.

Charge is possibly the most universal ability to keep in mind. It does not require a feat to use properly, and only needs to be weary of its natural counter: reach weapons. Charge sacrifices defense for offense, as well as allowing you double move and attack, so long as you can do so in a straight line (doesn't have to be directly orthogonal on the grid, just a direct line at any angle) that avoids rough terrain. As a barbarian, this ability will allow you to do some very heavy offensive pressure, if at a slightly higher risk. It puts you in the enemy's face and forces them to respond, in any case. It is equally useful against almost all enemy types, and its terrain limitation is fairly small. Barbarian Smash!!

  • \$\begingroup\$ By Tumble, I suspect you mean Acrobatics. It's probably also worth noting that Disarm does very little to spellcasting humanoids. And, although I wouldn't consider Charge a maneuver (any more than full attack is a maneuver), if you're going to include it, you should probably also mention that you can't charge through friends or difficult terrain. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Jul 24, 2013 at 3:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @YogoZuno Good catches, sir. I've fixed most of them, although I suspect that "humanoids with weapons" is substantial to imply that casters are exempt. Also, I definitely consider charge a maneuver - it may not require a feat, but it's, in my opinion, one of the most important types of "special" attacks to remember when playing a fighter-type character. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 24, 2013 at 3:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ The only thing is - Charge isn't a Combat Maneuver, so doesn't involve Combat Maneuver Defense or Combat Maneuver Bonus. So, kind of outside the scope of the original question. Either way, upvote from me. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Jul 24, 2013 at 11:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @YogoZuno Well, perhaps I'm confusing the terminology. I know they are all considered "special attacks" at least, as seen in the SRD d20srd.org/srd/combat/specialAttacks.htm \$\endgroup\$ Jul 24, 2013 at 12:26

Basically, without the feat associated with a combat maneuever, you will always provoke an Attack of opportunity when you use one of them. So, by using a combat maneuver without the feat, you are giving your enemy free attacks - there'd better be a good reason for that cost!

You can avoid the AoO with some items (several polearms are both reach weapons, and offer bonuses on certain maneuvers, or the whip), with the feat, or by having AC bonuses on AoOs.

In general, Sunder is a poor maneuver to use, since it destroys your treasure. However, if you really need to, say, stop a ritual, or prevent the bad guy from blasting you with his wand or staff, a tactical Sunder might be the way to achieve it. Sundering the big bad's shield or full plate will also certainly give him a sad face, but likely needs an adamantine weapon to work reliably.

Bull Rush is one of the few ways a martial character can move enemies around the battlefield, so can be useful in certain terrain setups, like narrow entryways or bridges, or when fighting next to damaging terrain of some sort.

Trip and disarm are generally useful for debuffing a powerful enemy, but you need some way of following up on them to make them worthwhile. They are often better maneuvers for secondary combat characters rather than the main damage dealers.


@Southpaw Hare covers all of the basics, but seems to have missed a couple of maneuvers.

In particular, the Overrun maneuver which may be the most useful for a Barbarian. It basically allows you to move through an opponent's square and knock them down if you succeed your maneuver by 5+.

Stuff this is good for: - move through front-line weaklings to attack back-row casters or bosses (no AoA with improved) - move through a boss monster to get into flanking position with companions (no AoA with improved) - occasionally "trip" the opponent while you are at it

Note that Combat Reflexes is also really nice here. In tandem with Overrun you can knock people down and be in position to hit them when they get up. You technically lose your attack, but you can make that up when they inevitably stand back up.


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