Saturday, March 7, 2015

How to Make Your Attacks of Opportunity More Effective (In Pathfinder)

Before we get started today I wanted to let people know I'm running a patron drive this March! If you go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and pledge at least $1 a month (not per post, per month!) then not only will you get the satisfaction of supporting Improved Initiative but you'll also get a free book! Stop in and check it out today!

Now then, on to this week's crunchy topic!

Attacks of Opportunity (And You)

There are a lot of rules in Pathfinder, and one of those rules is called an attack of opportunity. Commonly referred to as an AOO, and attack of opportunity means a character is distracted by something, and thus someone with a drawn weapon gets a free shot on that character (a full list of actions that provoke may be found on page 183 of the Core Rule Book). While powerful at low levels attacks of opportunity often get ignored or tossed by the wayside by the time characters have reached higher levels.

If you want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to your penalty stabs though, here are some ways you can do just that.

Trait Bonuses

Every Pathfinder character gets two traits at creation, and you'll use these bonuses a lot more often than you think you will. If you're planning on making the most of your attacks of opportunity then you'll want to take either tactician (which grants you a +2 trait bonus once per day on any attack of opportunity you make) or fencer (which grants you a +1 trait bonus on all attacks of opportunity made with daggers, swords, and similar bladed fencing weapons). The former works for any weapon, but you only get it once, while the latter works every time but only for blades.

You may also want to consider the trait elven battle training (+2 on CMD against sunder or disarm with elven weapons, and 1 additional AOO when wielding an elven weapon in melee). If, that is, you're playing an elf.

Feat Combinations

Combat in Pathfinder is largely dictated by how you invested in feats. So if you want to make the most of your attacks of opportunity these are feat combinations you may wish to keep in mind.

Combat Reflexes and Bodyguard

I got your back, bro!
Combat Reflexes (Core Rulebook 119) is a required feat for anyone who wants to make the most of their attacks of opportunity. Not only does this feat let your make AOOs while you're flat-footed (surprising the hell out of any charging enemies if you have a reach weapon), but it gives you an additional number of attacks of opportunity per round equal to your dexterity modifier. For those keeping track that's your dexterity modifier + 1 attacks of opportunity per round.

If you combine this with Bodyguard (Advanced Player's Guide 151) then you've got an interesting recipe. Bodyguard allows you to make attacks of opportunity to use the aid another action to improve your ally's armor class. This means you can keep your allies safe, even while you're flat-footed, provided you're mixing it up in melee. If you want to see how devastating this combination can be then check out Aid Another Is More Powerful Than You Think for how you can grant your allies +10 or higher bonuses to their armor classes while in combat.

The Crane Wing Tree

Combat style feats first showed up in Ultimate Combat and one of the feat trees that got the most attention was the Crane Style tree. Crane Style, Crane Wing, and Crane Riposte (Ultimate Combat 93) essentially allow you to fight defensively at a lesser negative, and to gain additional dodge bonuses against one opponent. When you have all three feats you can negate a single attack made against you, and when that happens the opponent provokes an attack of opportunity from you.

It might more accurately be called "Spider Style".
If it doesn't seem like the best use of your combat action to just fight defensively in order to get that single attack, well, I agree. Unless you're using the extra tricks mentioned here in my Spider-Man character build you aren't getting your return on investment with these feats. They are handy to have, though.


While I already mentioned it in the Spider-Man build above, and in the barbarian section below, the trip combat maneuver is a great way to provoke attacks of opportunity (as well as to use them, since you can replace an AOO with a trip attempt). Improved Trip (Core Rule Book 128) and Greater Trip (Core Rule Book 126) give you bonuses on trip attempts, and when you successfully trip an opponent his falling provokes an attack of opportunity. The equivalent feats for bull rush will do the same thing, but they won't provoke attacks of opportunity from you, which makes them less appealing.

Snake Style

Speaking of combat style feats Snake Style, Snake Sidewind, and Snake Fang (Ultimate Combat 119) are a great trilogy to have on your sheet. These feats allow you to use your Sense Motive skill in place of your AC, and at the highest level to take an unarmed strike as an attack of opportunity whenever an opponent misses you. So while you can't use weapons these feats are ideal for the brawlers and monks out there.

Combat Patrol

Combat Patrol (Advanced Player's Guide 156) allows you to increase your threat range by 5 feet for every 5 points of your base attack bonus as a full round action. Until the beginning of your next turn you can take attacks of opportunity against anyone that provokes in this area, and you may move as part of these attacks provided that you don't exceed your speed. Your movement and actions provoke attacks of opportunity as normal, so be careful.

Stand Still

Stand Still (Core Rule Book 134) says that whenever someone moves through your adjacent squares and provokes an AOO you can make a combat maneuver check against them to halt that movement. If you succeed the enemy can take the rest of his turn, but can't move past you. How many problems would it solve if the assassin couldn't just run past the fighter?

Pin Down

Pin Down (Ultimate Combat 113) is a great feat for fighters who don't want their targets going anywhere. Any time an opponent takes a 5-foot step or uses the withdraw action it provokes an attack of opportunity. If you hit you deal no damage, but the individual is prevented from making that move. A useful way to make sure your bad guy doesn't make a run for it if you can avoid it.

Snap Shot

Where do you think you're going?
One of the most irritating things for archers and similar builds is that ranged weapons don't threaten in melee; unless you have the Snap Shot feat tree. Archers, crossbowmen, gunslingers, etc. who take Snap Shot (Ultimate Combat 119), Improved Snap Shot (Ultimate Combat 106), and Greater Snap Shot (Ultimate Combat 103) will be able to take attacks of opportunity at 5, and 15 feet respectively without provoking attacks of opportunity themselves.

Step Up

Step Up (Core Rule Book 135), Following Step (Advanced Player's Guide 161), and Step Up and Strike (Advanced Player's Guide 170) are great feats to help you stop foes from stepping just outside of your reach. They allow you to take a five, and then a ten foot step to follow retreating opponents, and then the last feat lets you take an attack of opportunity on your enemy whenever you follow. This can come in quite handy when tactical movement shenanigans come into play.


Spellbreaker (Core Rule Book 134) is a great fighter feat. It says that when a spellcaster fails a concentration check within your threatened area it provokes an attack of opportunity. Never turn down a free shot on a wizard!

Come And Get Me!

Barbarians might not be thought of as the canniest tacticians, but the rage power Come and Get Me (Advanced Player's Guide 74) is definitely a strategic move. As a free action while raging a barbarian leaves herself open to attack, granting enemies a +4 bonus to hit her. Every incoming attack provokes an attack of opportunity though, which is resolved first.

What are you waiting for?
Why is this a strategic move? Because your attack of opportunity is made before your opponent gets to swing. So if you're attacked by someone close to death you can take that enemy out before he even gets a shot at you. If you have the feat Cleaving Finish (Ultimate Combat 92) then that also means you get a free attack on another melee target within reach. Alternatively you might decide to trip or disarm your opponent, and if you're successful it means that your opponent is going to lose his weapon or fall on his ass before he gets a chance to hit you. This tends to render whatever they were going to do moot, leaving you unharmed and using nothing more than your attacks of opportunity.

Another weapon barbarians have in their arsenal is Unexpected Strike (Core Rule Book 34). This rage power states that any enemy who comes into your threatened area provokes an attack of opportunity, even if they normally wouldn't. You can only use it once per rage, but it can be a nasty surprise for your enemy.

If you really want to add insult to injury build up to Greater Trip (Core Rule Book 126), because it means any tripped opponent provokes an attack of opportunity when he falls. This means you use one AOO to trip him, and when he falls you take a second one to cave in his skull.


For those who are looking for attack of opportunity superiority the magus archetype Kensai (Ultimate Combat 55) presents an interesting challenge. This class grants you the use of a single martial weapon, and it allows you to add your intelligence to your AC, your initiative, and finally to the number of attacks of opportunity you can take in a round. You can even draw your weapon as part of making an attack of opportunity (assuming your weapon isn't already drawn). The challenge? Well... Kensai don't get to wear armor.

This might not be so smart for a character with such a high Int score.
While you can still deal out damage and be quite the thorn in your enemies' collective sides, your attacks of opportunity will come in quite handy with this class (especially if you also take Combat Reflexes allowing you to get both your intelligence and your dexterity modifier in attacks per round).

How Often Will I Really Use This?

One of the main reasons attacks of opportunity get ignored is that they don't happen very often. Unless someone is firing (or reloading) in melee, casting a spell, or trying to run through a war zone you aren't going to get that tasty free attack.

Unless you make it happen, that is.

If you want to get more attacks of opportunity then you need to create situations where they'll happen. Being able to take AOOs on opponents while you're flat-footed is a great way to surprise them (and DM), and using a reach weapon (or the Snap Shot feat tree) will give you a bigger threatened area that enemy's will make missteps in. If you use feats like Greater Trip or Greater Bull Rush then your enemy is going to provoke attacks of opportunity.

In short, an AOO is a strategic decision. If you put yourself in a situation that forces your enemy's hand, then you'll get the opportunity you're looking for.

As always, thanks for stopping into Improved Initiative on crunch week! Next week is fluff, where we'll offer storytelling and RP advice. If you want to support Improved Initiative then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and consider becoming a patron today! Also if you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates then consider following me on Facebook and Tumblr as well!

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