How Combat Works

Combat is cyclical; everybody acts in turn in a regular cycle of rounds. Combat follows this sequence:

  1. Each combatant starts out flat-footed. Once a combatant acts, he or she is no longer flat-footed.
  2. Determine which characters are aware of their opponents at the start of the battle. If some but not all of the combatants are aware of their opponents, a surprise round happens before regular rounds of combat begin. The combatants who are aware of the opponents can act in the surprise round, so they roll for initiative. In initiative order (highest to lowest), combatants who started the battle aware of their opponents each take one action (either a standard action or a move action) during the surprise round. Combatants who were unaware do not get to act in the surprise round. If no one or everyone starts the battle aware, there is no surprise round.
  3. Combatants who have not yet rolled initiative do so. All combatants are now ready to begin their first regular round of combat.
  4. Combatants act in initiative order (highest to lowest).
  5. When everyone has had a turn, the combatant with the highest initiative acts again, and steps 4 and 5 repeat until combat ends.

Combat Statistics

This section summarizes the statistics that determine success in combat, and then details how to use them.

Attack Roll

An attack roll represents a character's attempt to strike his opponent on his turn in a round. When he makes an attack roll, roll a d20 and add his attack bonus. (Other modifiers may also apply to this roll.) If the result equals or beats the target's Armor Class, the character hits and deal damage.

Automatic Misses and Hits: A natural 1 (the d20 comes up 1) on an attack roll is always a miss. A natural 20 (the d20 comes up 20) is always a hit. A natural 20 is also a threat - a possible critical hit.

Attack Bonus

A character's attack bonus with a melee weapon is:

Base attack bonus + Strength modifier + size modifier

With a ranged weapon, his attack bonus is:

Base attack bonus + Dexterity modifier + size modifier + range penalty

Table 1: Size Modifiers
Size Modifier Size Modifier
Fine +8 Large -1
Diminutive +4 Huge -2
Tiny +2 Gargantuan -4
Small +1 Colossal -8
Medium +0 Titanic -16


When a character's attack succeeds, he deals damage. The type of weapon used determines the amount of damage dealt. Effects that modify weapon damage apply to unarmed strikes and the natural physical attack forms of creatures.

Damage reduces a target's current hit points.

Minimum Damage: If penalties reduce the damage result to less than 1, a hit still deals 1 point of damage.

Strength Bonus: When a character hits with a melee or thrown weapon, including a sling, add the Strength modifier to the damage result. A Strength penalty, but not a bonus, applies on attacks made with a bow that is not a composite bow.

Off-Hand Weapon: When a character deals damage with a weapon in his off hand, he adds only 1/2 his Strength bonus.

Wielding a Weapon Two-Handed: When a character deals damage with a weapon that he is wielding two-handed, he adds 1-1/2 times his Strength bonus. However, he doesn't get this higher Strength bonus when using a light weapon with two hands.

Multiplying Damage: Sometimes damage is multiplied by some factor, such as on a critical hit. Roll the damage (with all modifiers) multiple times and total the results. Note: When you multiply damage more than once, each multiplier works off the original, unmultiplied damage.

Exception: Extra damage dice over and above a weapon's normal damage (sneak attack, elemental damage, the bane enchantment, etc.) are never multiplied.

Ability Damage: Certain creatures and magical effects can cause ability damage (a temporary reduction to an ability score).

Armor Class

A character's Armor Class (AC) represents how hard it is for opponents to land a solid, damaging blow on him. It's the attack roll result that an opponent needs to achieve to hit. A character's AC is equal to the following:

10 + armor bonus + shield bonus + Dexterity modifier + size modifier + miscellaneous modifiers

Note that armor reduces a character's Dexterity bonus, so someone wearing armor might not be able to apply his whole Dexterity bonus to his AC. If a character can't react to a blow (such as a sneak attack), he can't apply any of his Dexterity bonus to his AC.

Other Modifiers: Many other factors modify AC.

Enhancement Bonuses: Enhancement effects make armor better.

Deflection Bonus: Magical deflection effects ward off attacks and improve AC.

Natural Armor: Natural armor improves AC.

Dodge Bonuses: Some other AC bonuses represent actively avoiding blows. These bonuses are called dodge bonuses. Any situation that denies a character his Dexterity bonus also denies him dodge bonuses. (Wearing armor, however, does not limit these bonuses the way it limits a Dexterity bonus to AC.) Unlike most sorts of bonuses, dodge bonuses stack with each other.

Touch Attacks: Some attacks disregard armor, including shields and natural armor. In these cases, the attacker makes a touch attack roll (either ranged or melee). When a character is the target of a touch attack, his AC doesn't include any armor, shield, or natural armor bonuses. All other modifiers, such as size modifier, Dexterity modifier, and deflection bonus (if any) apply normally.

Hit Points

When a character's hit point total reaches 0, he's staggered. When it reaches –1, he's dying. When it gets to his death threshold (a number equal to 0 minus his Con score), he's dead. See Death and Dying for more details.


A character's speed determines how far he can move in a round and still do something, such as attack or cast a spell. His speed depends mostly on his race, though armor affects his maximum movement rate.

Saving Throws

Generally, when a character is subject to an unusual or magical attack, he gets a saving throw (save, for short) to avoid or reduce the effect. Like an attack roll, a saving throw is:

1d20 + base save bonus + ability modifier (see below) + miscellaneous modifiers

Saving Throw Types: The three different kinds of saving throws are Fortitude, Reflex, and Will:

Fortitude: These saves measure a character's ability to stand up to physical punishment or attacks against his vitality and health. A character applies his Constitution modifier to Fortitude saving throws.

Reflex: These saves test a character's ability to dodge area attacks. A character applies his Dexterity modifier to Reflex saving throws.

Will: These saves reflect a character's resistance to mental influence as well as many magical effects. A character applies his Wisdom modifier to Will saving throws.

Saving Throw Difficulty Class: The DC for a save is determined by the attack itself.

Automatic Failures and Successes: A natural 1 (the d20 comes up 1) on a saving throw is always a failure (and may cause damage to exposed items; see Items Surviving after a Saving Throw). A natural 20 (the d20 comes up 20) is always a success.


Initiative Checks: At the start of a battle, each combatant makes an initiative check. An initiative check is simply 1d20 + Dexterity modifier + miscellaneous modifiers. Characters act in order, counting down from highest result to lowest. In every round that follows, the characters act in the same order (unless a character takes an action that results in his or her initiative changing; see Special Initiative Actions).

If two or more combatants have the same initiative check result, the combatants who are tied act in order of total initiative modifier (highest first). If there is still a tie, the tied characters should roll again to determine which of them goes before the other.

Flat-Footed: At the start of a battle, before a character has had a chance to act (specifically, before his first regular turn in the initiative order), he is flat-footed. He suffers a -4 penalty to AC. Rogues have the uncanny dodge extraordinary ability, which allows them to avoid AC penalty due to being flat-footed.

A flat-footed character can't make attacks of opportunity.

Inaction: Even if a character can't take actions, he retains his initiative score for the duration of the encounter.


When a combat starts, if a character is not aware of his opponents and they are aware of him, he's surprised.

Determining Awareness: Sometimes all the combatants on a side are aware of their opponents, sometimes none are, and sometimes only some of them are. Sometimes a few combatants on each side are aware and the other combatants on each side are unaware. Determining awareness may call for Perception checks or other checks.

The Surprise Round: If some but not all of the combatants are aware of their opponents, a surprise round happens before regular rounds begin. Any combatants aware of the opponents can act in the surprise round, so they roll for initiative. In initiative order (highest to lowest), combatants who started the battle aware of their opponents each take a standard action during the surprise round. A character can also take free actions during the surprise round. If no one or everyone is surprised, no surprise round occurs.

Unaware Combatants: Combatants who are unaware at the start of battle don't get to act in the surprise round. Unaware combatants are flat-footed because they have not acted yet, so they suffer a -4 penalty to AC.

Attacks Of Opportunity

Sometimes a combatant in a melee lets his guard down. In this case, combatants near him can take advantage of his lapse in defense to attack him for free. These free attacks are called attacks of opportunity.

Threatened Area: A character or creature threatens an area around him equal to his reach, even when it is not his turn. An enemy that takes certain actions while in a threatened area provokes an attack of opportunity. If the character is unarmed, he doesn't normally threaten anything and thus can't make attacks of opportunity.

Reach Weapons: Most creatures of Medium or smaller size have a reach of only 5 feet. This means that they can make melee attacks only against creatures up to 5 feet away. However, Small and Medium creatures wielding reach weapons threaten a greater area than a typical creature. In addition, most creatures larger than Medium have a natural reach of 10 feet or more.

Provoking an Attack of Opportunity: Two kinds of actions can provoke attacks of opportunity: moving out of a threatened area and performing an action within a threatened area.

Moving: Moving out of a threatened area usually provokes an attack of opportunity from the threatening opponent. There are two common methods of avoiding such an attack - the combat stride and the withdraw action (see below).

Performing a Distracting Act: Some actions, when performed in a threatened area, provoke attacks of opportunity as the character diverts his attention from the battle. Table 1: Actions in Combat notes many of the actions that provoke attacks of opportunity.

Remember that even actions that normally provoke attacks of opportunity may have exceptions to this rule.

Making an Attack of Opportunity: An attack of opportunity is a single melee attack, and a character can only make one per round, though he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to.

An experienced character gets additional regular melee attacks (by using the full attack action), but at a lower attack bonus. A character makes an attack of opportunity, however, at his highest attack bonus - even if he's already attacked in the round.

An attack of opportunity "interrupts" the normal flow of actions in the round. If an attack of opportunity is provoked, immediately resolve it, then continue with the next character's turn (or complete the current turn, if the attack of opportunity was provoked in the midst of a character's turn).

Combat Reflexes and Additional Attacks of Opportunity: A character with the Combat Reflexes feat can add his Dexterity bonus to the number of attacks of opportunity he can make in a round. This feat does not let him make more than one attack for a given opportunity, but if the same opponent provokes two attacks of opportunity, he could make two separate attacks (since each one represents a different opportunity). All these attacks are at the character's full normal attack bonus.

Actions in Combat

Aerial and Underwater Combat

Death and Dying

Combat Modifiers

Special Combat Actions

Special Initiative Actions

Discussion (includes maneuvers, death & dying, temporary hit points, tactical movement, modifiers, and called shots & critical hits)

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