Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Playing By The Book: Some Pathfinder Rules Players Keep Forgetting

The entire purpose of creating a rules system for a roleplaying game is so that all players are on the same page, so to speak. A unified system that describes the world ensures that all players (and more importantly all of the monsters and villains) are running on the same engine. No one gets helped or hindered. While the person running a game reserves the right to change or disallow anything in the book, that's a power that should be reserved for when a genuine problem is being created by a rule in question.

This is the first installment in what has become an occasional, ongoing series. The full list of installments, calling attention to more than 25 often-overlooked rules, includes:

Playing By The Book: Some Pathfinder Rules That Players Keep Forgetting
MORE Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting
Even MORE Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting
Still More Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting
5 More Rules Pathfinder Players Keep Forgetting

Also, I've recently begun a new series of character conversions entitled Gotham Knights. If you're interested you can check out my Batman character build right here, and the accompanying Robin character build right here.

Stay tuned for more!

#1: Natural 20s Aren't Always Automatic Successes

A natural Mu on the other hand trumps everything.
The fabled natural 20 and the dreaded natural 1 are the yin and yang of d20 RPGs everywhere. It's often one of the first things a player learns; a 20 means success, and a 1 means failure.

Or do they?

Not according to the rules. A natural 20 is always a hit in combat, and it's always a critical threat. A natural 20 is also an automatic save on any saving throw. The opposite is true of a natural 1 in both of these cases. Those are the only two incidents where the rule of automatic success and automatic failure are mentioned; this 5% chance to succeed or fail despite the rules and all logic doesn't apply to initiative, skill checks, or any other use of a 20-sided die (even though a storyteller may decree that they do).

The logic here is pretty sensical, really. A gunslinger or ranger who has tuned his or her nerves to a fever pitch to sense ambushes should logically go before the wizard who always has his nose in a book, even if by chance he happened to notice a sound or a flash of metal. A bard who's spent a lifetime mastering the art of song can have a bad day, but under no circumstances should random chance decree that the singer's voice just cracks and falls apart like an apprentice song-smith.

Also, critical fumbles are not a part of Pathfinder; they're a relic from the days of 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons. Once again if a DM decrees that a natural 1 gives players penalties then that is his or her call. However, there is nowhere in the book that says players have to roll a second time to confirm a natural 1, and that if the character fails to hit the weapon breaks, the character cuts herself, etc., etc. A natural 1 in combat is simply a miss, and the round goes on.

#2: Unless It Says So, You Can't Stack It

Competence bonus connected to the morale bonus, connected to the...
Bonuses are the bread and butter of making a character more effective. Magic bonuses, trait bonuses, competence bonuses, luck bonuses, alchemical bonuses, and the list goes on and on. With so many to choose from it's quite possible to build some impressive number castles, but it's easy for some players to forget that unless the book gives you express permission you can never stack bonuses of the same type, even if they're from different sources.

Here's a good example: shadow armor provides a +5 competence bonus to the wearer's stealth, and so does the cloak of the bat. Even if a character wears both of these items, because they each offer a competence bonus the player can only apply the highest.

While that might sound limiting, it often isn't. For instance, a barbarian's rage gives him a +4 morale bonus to strength and constitution. The spell bless grants a +1 morale bonus to attack. Because the one is specifically for a stat, and the other is to attacking, both still apply, even though said barbarian is likely attacking using his strength. As someone who has seen what happens when stacking rules are ignored, I can fully support this one being remembered.

As a side note, untyped bonuses and dodge bonuses are the only ones that stack without express permission. Lastly, concealment percentages don't stack. If you're in pitch blackness in a smoke cloud, you still have only a single 50% miss chance according to page 197 in the Core Rulebook.

#3: You Can Hold a Spell Charge

You can hold it until you touch something... well, anything, really.
Casting spells in combat is one of those skills that adventuring magicians and clerics tend to learn on the fly. Casting magic defensively is par for the course, but when it comes to touch spells it's important to remember that you can cast the spell as a standard action, move, and then deliver the touch as a free action. Not only that, but if you miss with your initial touch then you can still hold the charge and try next round. Rules for this are in the Core Rulebook, page 185 and 186.

It's important to remember that you can only hold one charge at a time, and that if you touch anyone or anything that it goes off. Remember that in the event that someone grapples you while you have shocking grasp ready to go off.

#4: You Can Punch People in The Face With Spells

An accurate representation of what it looks like before you're punched by a wizard.
When the magus was released in Ultimate Magic players everywhere were left shouting, cheering that finally they could combine an attack with a spell.

I hate to burst your bubble, but you always could. Provided you had the ability to deliver an unarmed attack.

Page 186 of the Core Rulebook states that a caster may choose to make an unarmed strike against an opponent to deliver a touch spell. The strike follows all of the same rules for punching an opponent (it's no longer a touch attack), and if you land the blow you deal unarmed strike damage plus the spell. If you miss, the spell is still held. Sure it's not that impressive... unless your spellcaster has the ability to stack other types of damage onto an unarmed attack. Multi-class monks never looked so appealing, and now you have a definite use for the draconic sorcerer's claws.

#5: 'Aid Another' Saves Parties

Seriously, you need a +2 just to open your frigging canteen?
We've all been in one of those combats. At least one player is frustrated because his character isn't spec'd for the kind of fight you're in, and no matter what he does he just can't get a moment in the spotlight. The next time that player throws up his hands, direct him to page 197 of the Core Rulebook and point out the aid another action.

Players seem to forget that this rule exists a lot, and thus keep banging their heads against the wall by taking actions that simply won't work. In short if you and an ally are engaged in melee with a single opponent you can take a standard action and attack an AC of 10. If you succeed you are hampering the opponent in some way which provides a bonus to your ally in the form of either a +2 to hit or a +2 to armor class against the opponent's next attack against them (provided it comes before your next turn).

There are two main reasons players don't use this action. The first is that they don't know it exists. The second, and this is really more prevalent in my experience, is that most players want to be the hero. They want to cast the spell or swing the sword that brings down the foe so they can revel in the glory that follows. It's important to remember that the party who stays together slays together, and that if concerted effort is made to use strategic moves, rather than hoping for that 5% chance of a natural 20, combats are going to end a lot more quickly a lot more often.

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  1. A third reason Aid Another is rarely used: Its bonus becomes less helpful as you go up in level. It can be a literal life-saver at 1st to 5th level, but once warriors get multiple attacks, a PC will probably say "Even if I only hit on a 20, that 5% chance is better than +2 to an attack that will probably hit, anyway."

    (This is supposition, as my group has NOT done the math.)

    1. Helpful (Halfling)
      You see nothing wrong with letting others achieve greatness so long as the job gets done.

      Benefit: Whenever you successfully perform an aid another action, you grant your ally a +4 bonus instead of the normal +2

  2. Thomas,

    I see your point, but it's important to remember that characters who aren't warriors end up in melee range too. If the rogue finds out the creature is immune to being flanked, or the bard simply can't get through the DR, or the cleric simply isn't spec'd for melee combat (but is instead there to draw off hits and help allies) then those characters would be able to be more effective using their actions to stack up some bonuses on the fighter, barbarian, or ranger who is up close and personal.

    Also, aid another is a very useful action for those with reach weapons or a whip. They can help while remaining out of reach.

  3. Also remember that Aid Another can be used to grant +2 to AC. That is useful at any level.

  4. I would add the flat footed deal when it comes to those that have not taken an action. I think many GM's give them full AC when the party has initiative and the baddies have yet to go.

    Good post.

  5. Concerning #1: Natural 20s Aren't Always Automatic Successes, you forgot to include Combat Maneuvers. From the PRD (http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/combat.html#_combat-maneuvers), under Determine Success:

    "Rolling a natural 20 while attempting a combat maneuver is always a success (except when attempting to escape from bonds), while rolling a natural 1 is always a failure."

  6. I love Aid Another. There are classes like Cavalier and traits like Helpful or armor enchants like Benevolent that make it even better. I've got an Order of the Dragon Cavalier in one game that between his class bonus to Aid Another plus wearing +4 Benevolent Armor he can hand out a +9 AC bump with Aid Another.

  7. I find that Aid Another doesn't get used because .... well I'm not sure why not. I have suggested it a number of times and, still, no one wants to do it. Maybe they just don't care about anyone else in the party. I'm not sure.

  8. i have actually used aid another before. generally a ranged aid another through an offensive cantrip that would do nothing anyway. it isn't RAW, but the concept of using ray of frost or acid splash for a ranged aid another is a sweet thing that gives the wizard something cool to do that isn't missing with a crossbow or failing to bypass energy resistance when out of spells.

  9. For Pathfinder, there's another thing that Natural 1's cause- they cause some Firearms to become Broken, due to misfire- and then to be destroyed, if a Broken firearm rolls a 1.