In all my houserules, I want a simple system that can allow complex results. With combat, I ask myself the question: what do I want a fight to look like? If my players are in a tavern brawl, these are the things I want to happen:
I want someone to break a chair over someone's back.
I want someone to swing in on a chandelier.
I want someone to dump a spittoon over someone's head, blinding him.
I want someone to get doused in whiskey and lit on fire.
I want someone to lose their weapon because it got imbedded in a stool.
I want someone to bash another person unconscious with a serving tray.
I want an unarmed person to steal someone's weapon in the middle of a fight.
I want the band to keep playing throughout, just pick up the tempo.
The problem with most maneuver systems is: why would I want to waste the chance to kill someone (make a standard attack roll) for the chance to blind/stun/do something awesome and interesting?
The answer: make maneuvers more likely to succeed than attacking.
I use the Zak Sabbath d10 + stat bonus method, and I find that a 3 or 4 in 10 chance to affect the situation in your favor is often as tempting as taking a standard swing of the axe, especially if I have the bad guys doing the same thing. I typically point out the standard new school combat maneuvers as well: Push/Pull, Overrun, Trip, Grapple, Disarm, Feint, Bull Rush, and Sunder. I tend to call all the interesting things you can do to improve your tactical situation (jumping on a table, kicking a stool in someone's way, etc.) a Stunt, and usually they give the player a +1 or something like that.
Anyone can make a maneuver check instead of an attack roll. For Fighters, this is slightly different, as will be shown in my next post.