So, you’ve just gone through a tough dnd encounter. Enemies slain, xp gained, treasure get, but it feels somehow unfulfilling. Everyone just kind of stood around and attacked. You had cover, and interactable terrain, and lots of options, but none of it got used. The whole fight might as well have been in an empty room. I hear this problem come up a lot, but I’ve found other people too quick to blame the players. There’s a simpler truth.
Pathfinder does not incentivize, and often even penalizes, being cool. Sure, dashing around behind the enemy to attack from their blindspot is neat, but it actually just provokes an attack, keeps you from full attacking, and gives no bonus. Trying to disarm or trip a foe without the right feat provokes an attack, and the benefit is vastly outweighed by losing your ability to attack that turn. Flipping a table over for cover is stylish, but only of minimal value. For the same action you could drink a potion that would provide a similar bonus to ac but last much longer and follows anywhere you go. Throwing a chair at someone is awesome, but when you have a sword on hand it’s kind of lackluster.
So it’s hardly fair to blame players for not using stylish but ultimately inferior tactics. Which is why I have introduced a “Cool action” into my game. This is an extra action that players can take on top of normal actions, but can only be used for stylish things. This can be an attack with an improvised weapon, a combat maneuver, or an interaction with terrain (such as by flipping a table of cutting or a rope or the like). But the important part is that this is meant to be a less tactical option. If your party fighter is built specifically for disarming then making a disarm attempt is not a stylish or cool action because they’re optimized for it, it’s what they would be doing anyways. The goal should be to encourage players to do things they wouldn’t otherwise be doing. This helps mix up combat, making it more diverse and interesting and rewarding players for thinking of fun clever permutations on combat.
This system takes a little bit of getting used to as you and your players think about what a good use for their cool actions might be and what would be an abuse of the system. Once you’re adjusted however this system allows a plethora of fantastic opportunities to help spice up combat. And don’t be afraid to let some of the villains be stylish too, turnabout is fair play after all. Hopefully this has helped make some of your blander encounters out there a lot more engaging.