Welcome to the third installment of Everyman Gaming’s GM’s Guide articles. In this GM’s Guide, we’ll be talking about types of attack actions.
One of the most common types of rules interpretation errors involves attacking. Attacking is deceptively simple in Pathfinder because there are many different ways to attack. Resolving the attack action will be the topic of today’s GM Guide. Today’s guide is going to lightly feature some of the Action Economy ideas from my Action Economy 101 guide, so you might want to keep that link handy if you forget how the action economy works. With that said, let’s get busy!
Ways to Kill
When we talk about “attacking,” there are four default ways in the game to attack an opponent. Let’s get those out of the way first.
- Attack: You make a single attack against one target as a standard action. This means that you can’t attack with your iterative attacks (–5 to hit for a second attack) but you can still take a move action during your turn.
- Full Attack: You make one or more attacks against an equal number of targets as a full-round action. You can only take a 5-foot step when you make a full attack unless you have a special ability like pounce, but otherwise you get more attacks in during a full attack action then you would during an attack action.
- Charge: You move and make an attack with a +2 bonus to hit and a –2 penalty to AC. When you charge, you can move up to your speed as a standard action or double your speed as a full-round action, so unlike the other actions charging is rather flexible in how much of your action economy it requires. The other thing worth noting is that charging requires that you move in a relatively straight line, so keep your movement in line.
- Combat Maneuver: Some combat maneuvers are not considered attacks, meaning you can’t take them during an attack action or a full-attack action. The big ones are bull rush (though this one can be made during a charge action), dirty trick, drag, grapple, overrun (though this one can be made during your charge), reposition, or steal. The other combat maneuvers (disarm, sunder, and trip) are made in place of a melee attack, meaning they can be made during an attack action or a full attack action.
In Between the Lines
Now that we’ve looked at the general types of offensive actions in the game, let’s look at some feats and special abilities that interact with them.
- Power Attack/Deadly Aim: All of these feats state that you can take a penalty when you make a melee attack roll to gain a bonus on melee damage rolls. The term “attack roll” is general enough that it can apply to any ability that requires a melee attack roll. That’s why the feat has to specifically state that it doesn’t work with melee touch attacks. If it didn’t, it would. As a result, Power Attack works with any of the actions listed above that make melee attack rolls, and so on for Deadly Aim.
- Combat Expertise: Combat Expertise has the same wording listed under Power Attack, except it states that it can only be used when you attack with a full attack or attack action. So no to other types of actions.
- Fighting Defensively: You can fight defensively when attacking as a standard action or as a full-round action by taking a penalty on attack rolls. Again, this means you have to take the attack action or the full attack action in order to fight defensively.
- Manyshot: Manyshot specifically states that your first attack during a full attack fires two arrows. This means you can only gain the benefits of Manyshot when using the full attack action.
Pretty easy, right? Don’t worry, it stays fairly easy.
Many feats and special abilities give you the ability to attack in special ways that don’t fall into one of the four categories listed above. The most famous of them is Spring Attack.
- Spring Attack states that you can move up to your speed and make an attack at any point during the movement as a full-round action. Nowhere does the feat claim to interact with one of the four action types listed above; it is an entirely separate action from the attack or full attack action. This means abilities that only modify the attack or full attack action do not modify Spring Attack. This includes, for example, the haste spell.
Let’s look at some common actions players take and define them in the terms of one of the above categories.
- Awesome Blow (Special Action)
- Bullying Blow (Special Action)
- Claw Pounce (Charge Action)
- Cleave/Great Cleave (Special Action)
- Clustered Shots (Full Attack)
- Cockatrice Strike (Special Action)
- Combat Expertise (Attack or Full Attack Action)
- [Combat Maneuver] Strike (None)
- Dead Shot Deed (Special Action)
- Deadly Aim (None)
- Deadly Stroke (Special Action)
- Dimensional Dervish (Full Attack)
- Fast Bombs (Full Attack)
- Felling Smash (Attack Action)
- Flurry of Blows (Special Action)
- Flyby Attack (None)
- Focused Shot (Special Action)
- Gorgon’s Fist (Special Action)
- Hammer the Gap (Full Attack)
- Manyshot (Full Attack)
- Medusa’s Wrath (Full Attack)
- Leaping Shot Deed (Special Action)
- Power Attack (None)
- Rapid Shot (Full Attack)
- Ride-by Attack (Charge Action)
- Risky Striker (Attack or Full Attack Action)
- Scorpion Style (Special Action)
- Second Change (Full Attack)
- Shield of Swings (Full Attack)
- Shot on the Run (Special Action)
- Sniper Shot (Special Action)
- Spell Combat (Special Action)
- Spring Attack (Special Action)
- Stabbing Shot (Full Attack)
- Stunning Fist (None)
- Trap Wrecker (Special Action)
- Two-Weapon Fighting (Full Attack)
- Vital Strike (Attack Action)
- Vulpine Pounce (Charge Action)
- Whirlwind Attack (Full Attack Action)
Whew! Lot’s of actions, eh?
Sadly, that’s all the time I’ve got today for this one. Leave your questions and comments below and be sure to visit next week for some more sagely advice from the GM’s Guide!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune archer, because who doesn’t like making ten attacks per full-round attack?.