Sometimes you just have to go toe-to-toe in a fight, but you can usually gain some advantage by seeking a better position, either offensively or defensively. This section covers the rules for when you can line up a particularly good attack or are forced to make a disadvantageous one.
Favorable And Unfavorable Conditions
Depending on the situation, you may gain bonuses or take penalties on your attack roll. Generally, any situational modifier created by the attacker's position or tactics applies to the attack roll, while any situational modifier created by the defender's position, state or tactics applies to the defender's AC. Your DM judges what bonuses and penalties apply, using Attack Roll Modifiers and Armor Class Modifiers as guides.
One of the best defenses available is cover. By taking cover behind a tree, a wall, the side of a wagon, or the battlements of a castle, you can protect yourself from attacks, especially ranged attacks, and also from being spotted.
To determine whether your target has cover from your ranged attack, choose a corner of your square. If any line from this corner to any corner of the target's square passes through a square or border that blocks line of effect or provides cover, or through a square occupied by a creature, the target has cover (+4 to AC).
|Attack Roll Modifiers|
|Attacker is . . .||Melee||Ranged|
|On higher ground||+1||+0|
|Shaken or frightened||-2||-2|
|Squeezing through a space||-4||-4|
|¹ An entangled character also takes a -4 penalty to Dexterity, which may affect his attack roll.|
² The defender loses any Dexterity bonus to AC. This bonus doesn't apply if the target is blinded.
³ Most ranged weapons can't be used while the attacker is prone, but you can use a crossbow or shuriken while prone at no penalty.
When making a melee attack against an adjacent target, your target has cover if any line from your square to the target's square goes through a wall (including a low wall). When making a melee attack against a target that isn't adjacent to you (such as with a reach weapon), use the rules for determining cover from ranged attacks.
Low Obstacles and Cover: A low obstacle (such as a wall no higher than half your height) provides cover, but only to creatures within 30 feet (6 squares) of it. The attacker can ignore the cover if he is closer to the obstacle than his target.
Cover and Attacks of Opportunity: You can't execute an attack of opportunity against an opponent with cover relative to you.
Cover and Reflex Saves: Cover grants you a +2 bonus on Reflex saves against attacks that originate or burst out from a point on the other side of the cover from you, such as a red dragon's breath weapon or a lightning bolt. Note that spread effects, such as a fireball, can extend around corners and thus negate this cover bonus.
Cover and Hide Checks: You can use cover to make a Hide check. Without cover, you usually need concealment to make a Hide check.
|Armor Class Modifiers|
|Defender is . . .||Melee||Ranged|
|Concealed or invisible||- See Concealment -|
|Flat-footed (such as surprised, balancing, climbing)||+0¹||+0¹|
|Grappling (but attacker is not)||+0¹||+0¹, 3|
|Helpless (such as paralyzed, sleeping, or bound)||-44||+04|
|Kneeling or sitting||-2||+2|
|Squeezing through a space||-4||-4|
|¹ The defender loses any Dexterity bonus to AC.|
² An entangled character takes a -4 penalty to Dexterity.
3Roll randomly to see which grappling combatant you strike. That defender loses any Dexterity bonus to AC. 4Treat the defender's Dexterity as 0 (-5 modifier). Rogues can sneak attack helpless or pinned defenders. See also Helpless Defenders.
Soft Cover: Creatures, even your enemies, can provide you with cover against ranged attacks, giving you a +4 bonus to AC. However, such soft cover provides no bonus on Reflex saves, nor does soft cover allow you to make a Hide check.
Big Creatures and Cover: Any creature with a space larger than 5 feet (1 square) determines cover against melee attacks slightly differently than smaller creatures do. Such a creature can choose any square that it occupies to determine if an opponent has cover against its melee attacks. Similarly, when making a melee attack against such a creature, you can pick any of the squares it occupies to determine if it has cover against you.
Total Cover: If you don't have line of effect to your target (for instance, if he is completely behind a high wall), he is considered to have total cover from you. You can't make an attack against a target that has total cover.
Varying Degrees of Cover: In some cases, cover may provide a greater bonus to AC and Reflex saves. For instance, a character peering around a corner or through an arrow slit has even better cover than a character standing behind a low wall or an obstacle. In such situations, the DM can double the normal cover bonuses to AC and Reflex saves (to +8 and +4, respectively). A creature with this improved cover effectively gains improved evasion against any attack to which the Reflex save bonus applies (see the improved evasion ability). Furthermore, improved cover provides a +10 bonus on Hide checks.
The DM may impose other penalties or restrictions to attacks depending on the details of the cover. For example, to strike effectively through a narrow opening, you need to use a long piercing weapon, such as an arrow or a spear. A battleaxe or a pick just isn't going to get through an arrow slit.
Besides cover, another way to avoid attacks is to make it hard for opponents to know where you are. Concealment encompasses all circumstances where nothing physically blocks a blow or shot but where something interferes with an attacker's accuracy. Concealment gives the subject of a successful attack a chance that the attacker missed because of the concealment.
Typically, concealment is provided by fog, smoke, a shadowy area, darkness, tall grass, foliage, or magical effects that make it difficult to pinpoint a target's location.
To determine whether your target has concealment from your ranged attack, choose a corner of your square. if any line from this corner to any corner of the target's square passes through a square or border that provides concealment, the target has concealment. When making a melee attack against an adjacent target, your target has concealment if his space is entirely within an effect that grants concealment (such as a cloud of smoke. When making a melee attack against a target that isn't adjacent to you (for instance, with a reach weapon), use the rules for determining concealment from ranged attacks.
In addition, some magical effects (such as the blur and displacement spells) provide concealment against all attacks, regardless of whether any intervening concealment exists.
Concealment Miss Chance: Concealment gives the subject of a successful attack a 20% chance that the attacker missed because of the concealment, if the attacker hits, the defender must make a miss chance percentile roll to avoid being struck. (To expedite play, make both rolls at the same time.) Multiple concealment conditions (such as a defender in a fog and under the effect of a blur spell) do not stack.
Concealment and Hide Checks: You can use concealment to make a Hide check. Without concealment, you usually need cover to make a Hide check.
Total Concealment: If you have line of effect to a target but not line of sight (for instance, if he is in total darkness or invisible or if you're blinded), he is considered to have total concealment from you. You can't attack an opponent that has total concealment though you can attack into a square that you think he occupies. A successful attack into a square occupied by an enemy with total concealment has a 50%, miss chance (instead of the normal 20% miss chance for an opponent with concealment).
You can't execute an attack of opportunity against an opponent with total concealment, even if you know what square or squares the opponent occupies.
Ignoring Concealment: Concealment isn't always effective. For instance, a shadowy area or darkness doesn't provide any concealment against an opponent with darkvision. Remember also that characters with low light vision can see clearly for a greater distance with the same light source than other characters. A torch, for example, lets an elf see clearly for 40 feet in all directions from the torch, while a human can see clearly for only 20 feet with the same light. (Fog, smoke, foliage, and other visual obstructions work normally against characters with darkvision or low-light vision.) Although invisibility provides total concealment, sighted opponents may still make Spot checks to notice the location of an invisible character. An invisible character gains a +20 bonus on Hide checks if moving, or a +40 bonus on Hide checks when not moving (even though opponents can't see you, they might be able to figure out where you are from other visual clues).
Varying Degrees of Concealment: As with cover, it's usually not worth differentiating between more degrees of concealment than described above. However, the DM may rule that certain situations provide more or less than typical concealment, and modify the miss chance accordingly For instance, a light fog might only provide a 10% miss chance, while near-total darkness could provide 40% miss chance (and a +10 circumstance bonus on Hide checks).
When making a melee attack, you get a +2 flanking bonus if your opponent is threatened by a character or creature friendly to you on the opponent's opposite border or opposite corner.
When in doubt about whether two friendly characters flank an opponent in the middle, trace an imaginary line between the two friendly characters' centers. If the line passes through opposite borders of the opponents space (including corners of those borders, then the opponent is flanked.
Exception: If a flanker takes up more than 1 square, it gets the flanking bonus if any square it occupies counts for flanking.
Only a creature or character that threatens the defender can help attacker get a flanking bonus. Creatures with a reach of 0 feet can't flank an opponent.
A helpless opponent is someone who is bound, sleeping, paralyzed, unconscious, or otherwise at your mercy.
Regular Attack: A helpless character takes a -4 penalty to AC against melee attacks, but no penalty to AC against ranged attacks. A helpless defender can't use any Dexterity bonus to AC. In fact, his Dexterity score is treated as if it were 0 and his Dexterity modifier to AC as if it were 5 (and a rogue can sneak attack him).
Coup de Grace: As a full-round action, you can use a melee weapon to deliver a coup de grace to a helpless opponent. You can also use a bow or crossbow, provided you are adjacent to the target. You automatically hit and score a critical hit. If the defender survives the damage, he must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + damage dealt) or die. A rogue also gets her extra sneak attack damage against a helpless opponent when delivering a coup de grace.
Delivering a coup de grace provokes attacks of opportunity from threatening opponents because it involves focused concentration and methodical action on the part of the attacker.
You can't deliver a coup de grace against a creature that is immune to critical hits, such as a golem. You can deliver a coup de grace against a creature with total concealment, but doing this requires two consecutive full-round actions (one to "find" the creature once you've determined what square it's in, and one to deliver the coup de grace).
A helpless foe - one who is bound, held, sleeping, paralyzed, unconscious, or otherwise at your mercy - is an easy target.
Regular Attack: A melee attack against a helpless character gets +4 circumstance bonus on the attack roll. A ranged attack gets no special bonus. A helpless defender (naturally) can't use any Dexterity bonus to AC. In fact, his Dexterity score is treated as if it were 0 and his Dexterity modifier to AC as if it were -5 (and a rogue can sneak attack him).