Pathfinder readthough – Chapter 8: Combat (Part 2)

A retroactive (and oft-repeated) introduction: After an actual-play hiatus where I was mostly writing and playtesting for GURPS. I was invited to play in a Pathfinder game, and after a few sessions, it was time to buy the book and learn the rules! I decided to try and read the Pathfinder rules cover-to-cover and see what inspiration strikes, for good or ill!

This is a compilation of the links to read-throughs of Pathfinder-related material

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)


When last we left our heroes, we were just finishing up the section on recovering from wounds in the Combat chapter, with some snarky notes on so-called “non-lethal” damage. Ah, well, Pathfinder isn’t the only game to make that mistake, and so we continue.

Movement, Position, and Distance

The game first drops something that’s not really a surprise, but is one of those “oh, OK, then” moments. It basically requires, or at least strongly encourages, miniatures and a mapboard to play, and even gives you the desired scale of the minis: 30mm.
In any event, the game is resolved on a square grid with 5′ squares, and you basically take your move, modify it for your size and any special encumbrance you have, and divide by 5′, and you get that many squares. For most PCs, that number is likely six.
Diagonal movement counts 3 squares for every 2 squares traversed, but it’s broken up as your first diagonal only costs 1 square, but your second – no matter where in the sequence it comes – counts as 2 squares. So net/net, you pay the right amount. Don’t do the “1-2-1-2-1” thing through difficult terrain, though – if you’re doing that, move costs are doubled, so each diagonal costs you the full 3 squares, rather than something staggered.
Moving Through a Square

Now we get into special case land. It’s probably wise to note down the things your character will expect to do a lot, and jot down the rules. You can always move through a friend, unless you’re charging. You can’t move through a foe, unless he’s helpless. Or big. You can’t put two critters in one 5′ square, again unless he’s helpless. If you’re trying an “overrun,” you can try and move through hs hex, but it might backfire on you. You can move through a foe’s hex if you’re using acrobatics, or you’re fine, diminutive, or tiny. 
Got that? Oh, well, sometimes it’s wrong, but exceptions will be noted.
Critter Size

While big guys are easy (they fill their squares, so stay out), you can jam 4 Tiny guys, 25 Diminutives, or 100 Fine nasties in one 5′ square, and by and large they can’t reach into adjacent squared to attack, so they have to enter your hex, provoke an attack of opportunity, live through it, and then crawl up your pant leg.
The only other thing to note about large guys is that using natural attacks, instead of weapons, they threaten not just the ring of squares 10′ away, but the adjacent squares as well. Take note, be warned, etc. You’re not safe one square away from these guys.
Combat Modifiers

The game differentiates mechanically between cover and concealment, which should please my infantryman friends. However, the flat distribution of die rolls makes this interesting. Wait and see.
For Cover, you basically pick a corner of your own square (naturally the most advantageous one), and if the line from that corner to any corner of your foe’s occupied squares passes through a wall or other hard obstacle, then your foe has some sort of cover.
If the entire foe is occluded, you can’t attack him at all. If up to 50% is covered (partial cover), your foe gets +2 to his AC, and if from 50-99% is covered, he gets +4. There are some picky rules about half-height obstacles, and covered foes can get bonuses to Reflex saves (+2) under some circumstances. There’s also improved cover which can give +8 to your foe’s AC, but that’s GM discretion for things like arrow slits.
Note that what full cover does, effectively, is make your foe 20% more difficult to hit. 
For Concealment, you’re more or less using the same resolution mechanics, but when you’re done, a concealed foe rolls d% and you miss 20% of the time, or 50% of the time if you’re shooting into a totally concealed square that contains your foe but you can’t see him.
That’s not quite the same as “you’re 20% more difficult to hit,” since that AC adjustment can take you from (say) hitting 50% of the time to hitting 30% of the time. With the “you miss 20% of your hits,” you’d go from hitting 50% of the time to hitting (50% hit rate x [1-20% miss rate] = ) 40% of the time.  If you were hitting 80% of the time, you’d be down to 64%, but if you only had a 20% chance to hit to begin with (say, 1d20 vs AC 17) then rather than it being basically impossible for you to hit (1d20 vs AC 21) you could still roll a potential hit 20% of the time, but 20% of those hits would convert to misses – a 12% net chance of success.
So concealment is similar in resolution but less harsh mechanically.

In melee combat, if you and a friend are threatening the other guy from opposite sides, you’re flanking him, and you get +2 to hit. Pretty sure that if you and a buddy are flanking a foe, you get to apply your Sneak Attack damage, so ths one’s pretty key. 
Note that just being “behind” someone doesn’t seem to qualify (at least, not at this point in the rules). You need to be splitting his attention between two people.
Special Attacks
The last sprint to the finish contains a bunch of special attack types, including Aid Another, Charge, Combat Maneuvers, Feint, Mounted Combat, Throw Splash Weapon, and Two-Weapon Fighting.

Aid Another: You and your buds can make attacks vs AC 10, and each one that succeeds can give a designated friend either +2 to his hit roll or +2 to his AC, and those adds stack. 
Charge: Near as I can tell, using a full action you can travel up to 2x your normal move, but only in a straight line unhindered by any obstacles or difficult terrain. You need to end in attack range, whereupon you get +2 to your hit roll and -2 to your AC. You may only attack once. If you’re using a lance (pay attention, knight wannabees) while mounted, you do double damage by default. If you’re charging a group of guys with braced weapons, you’re going to be on the receiving end of said double damage.
Feint:  As +Fred Brackin pointed out many moons ago, this important special attack, if successul, denies your foe his DEX bonus on the subsequent turn. Since lots of nifty Rogue and certain Archer abilities are keyed to “your foe loses his DEX bonus,” this is a great way to benefit from things like Sneak Attack without having to flank or stealth your way into place. It’s Bluff on your end, vs. 10+BAB+Wisdom modifier, or 10+Sense Motive bonus if it’s higher.
Mounted Combat: Mounts have some nice features. They act on your Initiative, and when they move (and ergo, you go along for the ride), they use up their own move action, not yours. That being said, you only ever get one attack while mounted if you also move, but you may still charge, and if you’re striking down at a foe, you get a +1. You can still hack away with multiple attacks if you only take your five-foot step, though.
Throw Splash Weapon: The Alchemist’s favorite. You can toss something that does a bunch of nastiness and it will do direct damage to whomever it hits as a ranged touch attack and splashes everyone within five feet of that individual. You may also target the vertex of a square at only AC 5. You lose your chance to do direct damage, but hey, AC 5, and you splash the four squares attached to that vertex. Your GM will afterwards keep proper separation between his NPCs; or the PCs will do likewise if they’re on the receiving end of this. 
Two-Weapon Fighting: The Ranger’s fave, basically anyone can do this, but the penalties can suck. If you have a light weapon in your off hand, it gets better, if you have the Two-Weapon Fighting feat, it’s better still, and if you combine ’em, you can attack twice at only -2 each. Since that’s only a 10% loss to success chances, unless your chances of hitting are worse than 25%, you will want to use two weapons if you are only -2 to hit. If you only have Two-Weapon fighting, you are at -4 to each attack, and so you make one attack if your chance of success on a single attack is worse than 50%. Your odds of missing with both double-weapon attacks are larger than your odds of missing with your single shot. On the high end, swing twice, always. Untrained, it’s never better to use two weapons without the feat unless you effectively can’t fail. That’s not a sophisticated damage per attack round analysis, though, just a “don’t miss” one. Properly, you’d take the weighted average damage of one hit vs. the weighted average (at reduced hit chance) of two, which can have two hits, one hit, or none. Not in the mood tonight.

In the comments section, +Fred Brackin does a pretty good job of demolishing Two-Weapon Fighting as a good plan. While the straight-up to-hit odds sorta favor you in the first analysis as above, he does a better calculation vs a typical armor class in terms of damage over ten rounds. He also makes the point of what you give up to get this two-weapon ability by selecting a feat, as well as the AC bonus from a shield. Plus, two-handed weapons like greatswords kinda rock. Scroll down and read the whole thing, and you might come to the conclusion that two-weapon fighting is a waste of time!

Combat Manuevers

This deserves its own section. You can do one of these using your Combat Maneuver Bonus, equal to your BAB+STR modifier+any special size modifier, and bigger is better. On the Defense, your target number benefits from both STR and DEX, and once again size helps.
What can you do?
Bull Rush: As part of a standard action or charge, you can try and push a foe straight back without doing any harm. This is football. You can theoretically even bull rush two or more foes, if you can absorb the -4 penalty per critter, but you get a new roll each time.
Disarm: Doing this provokes an attack of opportunity. But the value is obvious if you can pull it off. If you win, he drops one item of your choice; win by 10, and both hands are empty. Fail by 10 or more, and you disarm yourself. Oops. If you managed to do this while unarmed yourself, you can take the weapon from him and keep it, automatically. 
Grapple: Provokes an Attack of Opportunity. If you win, you change his state to grappled. He can’t move, is -4 to DEX, and -2 to all attacks that don’t involve breaking the grapple. See p. 567. Actually, don’t. See here instead (this online rules stuff is kinda cool at times). From grappled, you can also Move him, damage him with an unarmed attack, pin him, or even tie him up. Go go gadget bondage!
Overrun: This is one way to move through a foe’s hex without his permission. He can get out of the way, which lets you pass. If you win the maneuver check, you go through, win by 5 or more, you knock him prone.

Sunder: Break his stuff! Make an attack on his weapon, and you can damage or destroy it.
Trip: An attempt to knock your foe prone from up close, as opposed to an accidental/extra-good result of an Overrun. 
Special Initiative Actions

There are a few things you can also do with turn order.
Delay: This voluntarily sets your initiative to a lower number than what you rolled for the rest of the combat. You can do this multiple times, reducing (but never raising) your Initiative number.
Ready: Prepare to take a specified action at some time between your initiative count and your next turn. This one also resets your initiative count, but only (I think) if you actually interrupt another character with your action. So you have Init 17, and you’re waiting for that spellcaster to poke his face out of cover on Init 8 to shoot him with an arrow. He pokes out on his turn, and you shot him in the face. Your Initiative is now effectively 8.1 – you go right before the wizard, for the rest of the combat.
You can attack spellcasters to distract them, you can ready counterspells, and you can also ready weapons against a charge – and you go first, assuming your reach is longer than his . . . 
Parting Shot
And that’s the combat chapter! I’ve already learned some new things, so it was definitely worthwhile. Still a lot of special cases, which you can and should avoid by Being a Better Player. A bit of pre-prep in a game as rules-exception heavy as this one can go a long way. 

4 thoughts on “Pathfinder readthough – Chapter 8: Combat (Part 2)

  1. I just thought I'd add a little from my several years of 3.5 and Pathfinder.

    Grapple has relatively common. Not quite every se4ssion but close.

    Bull Rush has been occasional and the rest I've never seen.

    I know some people have seen different mixes. Lisa Steele talked about one game where the npcs were Sunder-crazy but I put that off to a bad GM. PCs don't want to Sunder. That's their future loot they'd be wrecking.

    Most of the time special attacks are harder to do than simply scoring damage and fights mostly end when the npcs run out of hit pts.

    Like npcs, Summoned Monsters can sometimes be used for special attacks to good effect.. An Evil Clever player I know once used a low level Summon to put a horse on a ledge next to a an enemy. the horse bullrushed the enemy off the ledge (bonus for being size L).

    Note that some of these tricks work for the Gurps Create Animal spell.. Elephants are surprisingly affordable. 🙂

  2. Can you do precision damage (aka sneak attack) with thrown flask weapon's direct damage? Supposedly it's a fairly powerful build in D&D3 but I'd heard that the Pathfinder developers nixed in the rules.

    It's a bit cruel, but it seemed appropriate that some rogues would go around throwing acid into their foes' eyes.

  3. Sorry I'm late about it but I also thought I'd comment about your assessment of Two Weapon Fighting. It's rather more than -10% to your chance of hitting.

    In fact it's a number that varies by AC of your targets but lets look at a 1sty level Fighter trying to hit (and kill) an Orc or something that';s AC 18 and 6 HP..

    We'll give our Fighter 15 ST so he's +2 to hit in general Melee situations. He gets +1 BAB at 1st level as well. He's +3 to hit with a single weapon but only +1 when using 2 Weapon Fighting . He has that Feat and is using a Longsword primary and a Shortsword secondary.

    He only hits on a 17 or higher with either hand so that's 4 hits with each hand. 2 out of each of those hits are potential crits and 20% of those will be confirmed for the effect in damage pts of 4.4 hits. He does an average of 4.5 +2 hp with the L-sword but only 3.5+1 with the S-sword because you get only half your ST bonus to an off-hand (without a special Feat).

    So, if he fought for 20 rounds he'd do 6.5 +4.5 x 4.4 or 48.4 hp.

    Now consider the single L-sword fighter. He not only gets + 2 to hit raing him to the effect of 6.6 hits because Feats aren't free he can take Weapon Focus(Longsword) and get 7.7 for a tital of 50.05 hp over 20 rounds. He probably has an AC that's 2 pts higher for a L.Shield two.

    Also consider a Fighter with a Greatsword and Weapon Focus. He doesn't get the +2 AC but he does average 7pts +3 (ST bonus to damage is x 1.5 for 2 handed weapons). He does 77 pts over 20 rounds.

    The comparative numbers get better for the 2H fighter at lower ACs and worse at higher ones.
    AC 17 makes it 5.5 hits x2 v. 8.8. AC19 makes it 3.3 x2 v. 6.6..

    Mr 2H would come out better if his off-hand weapon's sue wasn't being dinged for -2 damage on each hit (lower die size and 1/2 ST bonus) but it takes a Feat just to get the full ST bonus back and whiel there ways to sue full-sized weapons in the off-hand in 3.5 I'm not thinking of any in Pathfinder. It was at least another Feat shot anywey.

    This gets worse at 4th level when the single weapon Fighters can take weapon Specilaization and get +2 damage with the weapons they previously took Focus in. The 2H fighter can take this too of course. He can also take other feats to enhance his 2H fighting but Feats aren't free. Every one he spends on 2H his friends can spend to get some other useful benefit.

    If it hasn't become obvious to you even at low levels, the AC of major opponents keeps going up. After 10th level you can see high 20s, some 3os and even the occaisional low 40 when you pass 15tth..

    There is potentially a niche for 2H fighting for high level Fighters who can afford to spend 1 Feat to multiply their attacks v. weak opponents but it's kind of niche in my mind. I never touch 2H. It's all about weapon and Shield v. 2-handed Weapon for me.

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