The Cleric – Take 2

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My first stab at a New Deal version of the Cleric engendered a frank and forthright exchange of views. Since that post Daniel has created his own version of the cleric that better reflects the Pathfinder rules as they were intended. Equally, I’ve reconsidered my approach and created a new version of the cleric as well. They are both presented in this post.

I’ll state now that both versions of the cleric as presented here are workable enough to use in an Iourn campaign without causing too many ripples to either the system or the setting. Daniel’s version fit in much better with the power level of the cleric as he’s presented in the rulebooks. My version makes the cleric a little more versatile than he was before, although not really any more powerful. It’s a matter of taste. Obviously, I prefer my version or I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of creating it, but have a look at both below and see what you think.

Daniel’s Cleric

Click to see Daniel's cleric

If the Moon Gods were released as part of the official Pathfinder game then this is probably how they would be presented. Daniel has taken the cleric as it appears in the rules, and created an Archetype for Moon Faith clerics, that is further modified depending which god is worshipped (only Calafax is shown here). The archetype swaps out some class abilities for others. So the Channel Energy ability (that’s never been something Iourn clerics can do anyway) has been swapped out to make way for a third domain, thus giving the clerics a wider spell choice and some of the signature abilities that they’ve always enjoyd in Iourn games.

There have also been a few tweaks to some of the existing powers. Clerics of Calafax spontaneously cast their domain spells instead of the usual cure or inflict spells that are available to most clerics. Daniel has created brand new subdomains (Bombasticism, Firestarting and Warmaking) to help introduce some of the variety required by the sub-faiths of Calafax. The Deity Domain that I introduced in my last post, now adds a couple of skills to the list of the cleric’s class skills to help flesh out the idiosyncracies of clerics of fire.


Thre are some obvious nit-picks. The balance of class skills probably isn’t quite right. Warmakers don’t need Streetwise, they need Ride or Knowledge (engineering). Equally Bombastics could do with a bit of Stealth and Disguise. The text of the powers as written (Mastery of Flame, Unchaining the Flame) aren’t really good enough – but that’s my fault and not Daniel’s as the text was taken directly from the Iourn site.

But these are very minor points and easily addressed. Subdomains could suggest a faith-specific skill or skills that could be swapped into the generic cleric’s list of class skills. The powers could be rewritten. These aren’t elements that I have a problem with as they are easily adjusted. However, there are two stumbling blocks to me accepting that this approach is the best way forward:

The first is that there’s less customisation for the cleric than I’d like. The lists of domain spells are still rather short. Clerics of Calafax wouldn’t have access to a wide variety of fire spells. They’d bascially be stuck with the nine spells in the Fire domain, which doesn’t strike me as right. A wizard shouldn’t be able to do more with fire than a cleric of Calafax. They are the masters. Also by splitting some other abilities over the new sub-domains we make it tricky to recreate past characters. As Steve pointed out in a comment in the last post on the Cleric, Nicos is a Firestarter with access to the Unchaining the Flame power. But to get that power again under this system he’d need the Bombasticism domain… and that does seem wrong.

Secondly, and more importantly, this approach only solves the probelm of Moon God clerics… not every other religion in the system. You see I don’t really want to use the generic cleric for anything. Cleric of Moradin, or Llolth or Azygous all need an equal degree of customisation. They all need their own unique powers and wider spell lists. I don’t want to give those clerics those things at the expense of the Channel Energy class ability. I think that Channel Energy is crucial to making the class feel like a Pathfinder cleric – it’s Pathfinder’s big idea reagarding clerics and I don’t want to lose it from the system. Plus it’s a big chunk of rules we’d never use.

My first approach to a New Deal cleric was dead wrong. I shouldn’t have been looking at making the changes I wanted to the cleric via an archetype. I should be been changing the base cleric itself. By changing some elements of the base class to allow a greater degree of customisation, we’re then able to use archetypes to make more fundamental (but fair) changes. So keep Daniel’s version of the cleric in mind, as you may think that’s a better approach, and have a look at my second attempt:

My Cleric

Click for the 2nd version of the New Deal Cleric

Now, I’ve included the full text of the cleric so the changes I’ve made may not be immediately obvious. So here’s a list of the changes that have been made to the base cleric class:

  • All clerics must choose a deity. There are no generic godless clerics on Iourn.
  • The cleric learns new spells as a wizard. We already discussed this rule change and everyone thought it was a good idea. It’s now incorporated into the text of the cleric class.
  • All clerics gain a third domain, which must be the Deity Domain. This is an extra on top of their normal abilities.
  • Each domain offers a wider selection of spells than just nine. Basically all thematically appropriate spells can be made available to the cleric through the domain. This doesn’t affect the number of spells the cleric knows, but it gives him a wider and idiomatic selection to choose from.
  • Domain spells have been completely folded into the cleric’s normal spells. There is no longer a domain spell slot, nor any special rules regarding domain spells.
  • Each domain grants two powers, but those powers aren’t all immediately available. Domain powers are gained at levels 1, 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20.

I haven’t made any changes to the Deity Domain for Calafax at all since the last post. It’s merely an extra domain for clerics of Calafax. I’m not entirely happy with the text  of the Fiery Aura power, but it will suffice for the moment. Note that among the spells it grants are reworked versions of old powers Unchaining the Flame and Mastery of Flame. Having these as spells makes the powers available to any cleric of Calafax, but not to priets of other religions.

All the other domains and subdomains are unchanged. I’ve introduced the new Warbound subdomain to allow clerics with access to the War domain to have the option to gain a power that gives them proficiency in all martial weapons, heavy armour and tower shields. I take the point that it was too much to layer into an archetype. Whether a cleric would take this subdomain or simply dip into a level of fighter is debatable, but the option is there.

Which brings us to the Archetype. I’d like to try to create just one Archetype per god, so the Cleric of Calafax Archetype covers the differences between the three sub-faiths, but will also repeat the lunar spellcasting and lunar powers ability that is common to all Moon Faiths. I think this is the best way to do it. I didn’t want to have to create multiple archetypes if I didn’t have to.

The archetype reflavours Channel Energy and Spontaneous Casting into something that really makes these clerics seem like clerics of fire. I quite like Spontaenous Casting applying to a descriptor or a subschool rather than specific spells. Plus the increased number of domain spells means that it’s simply not possible to take Daniel’s approach here, sensible as it seems.

Each sub-faith swap three skills into their classs skill list. Although it was tricky finding appropriate skills to give up, I think this approach works the best as it has a net neutral result. You can imagine clerics of drow god Vhaeraun adding skills like Stealth and Disable Device into their class skill list, so this will work well as a principle to apply to all faiths.


The fundamental difference between my approach and Daniel’s is that rather than swapping out existing abilities of the published cleric, I’m creating a brand new cleric: one that is more suited to what I want to do with it in Iourn. It’s an approach that can apply equally to all religions – not just the Moon Faiths. I’m deliberately not changing the fundamental elements of the Pathfinder Cleric. So we get to keep Channel Energy, which I think is important within the system. On the whole, I consider this minimal tinkering – and it’s a version of the cleric that I can live with.

Is it too powerful? I don’t think it is. Is it more powerful? Well, I’m not entirely sure of that either.

There are going to be much wider variations of the cleric under these rules than under either the published rules or Daniel’s version. The wider domain spell lists means that players will probably pick up spells that most accurately represent their character’s faith. Clerics of Fire are going to take the role of Artillery, not healers. Clerics of Vhaeraun will be sneakier than most rogues. But that’s always been the case in Iourn, and I would argue that it’s a desirable state of affairs. Clerics should be highly specialised. However, at the same time they still have access to the generic Cleric’s spell list so Steve’s old (and wholly justified) complaint that Nicos was a bit of a one-trick pony will be laid to rest.

The wider spell-lists (and third domain of spells) only give players more choice. The rules don’t actually give them more spells. They know the same number of spells they ever did; and can still only cast a certain number of spells per day. The added domain powers are something a bit different.

I accept that the Deity Domain powers are more powerful than anything you’ll find in a published book. BUT these are powers enshrined in the lore of the setting. They have narrative power behind them and there is no way (whatever system we use) that these powers are not going to be available. They’re in Daniel’s version as well. By spreading out the acquisition of these powers across the cleric’s 20-level progression I hope that I’ve succeeded in not top-loading the class at first level. I also think there’s more reason to play a straight cleric all the way through to level 20 now without some form of multiclassing.

A further note for Steve: To answer Steve’s questions in the comments of the last post on clerics… There’s no reason why the Firewalker cannot simply remain a Template as before be layered on top of all these changes. Templates still exist in Pathfinder, and because there are no rules for Equivalent Character Level (ECL) they are easier to apply. You’re rigth that there’s no Rebirth domain. There are a few ways to go here… we could say that the lack of resurrection magic from other churches is a cultural and ethical thing, rather than a mechanical thing. Sure a priest of Terranor could cast resurrection, but he’s simply not inclined to. Never underestimate religious dogma. Or we could make magic that raises the dead extremely rare and give the clerics of Calafax a spell available through their Deity Domain (that no other priesthood could cast) that restores the dead. So there are lots of options here.


This isn’t a straight choice between Daniel’s version of the cleric and mine. We should discuss both and see what elements are our favourites. They have the advantage of being two different approaches to the same problem, so hopefully we should come up with a definitive result this time.

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Bull Rush, Drag and Reposition

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Most of the combat manoeuvres presented in the Pathfinder game don’t need any modification to use without a grid. As long as we’re using the established guidelines for tactical combat that I’ve pontificated at length on in the last few posts, then there’s really no problem with them. However, Bull Rush, Drag and Reposition do require a little extra clarification.

Bull Rush

See p199 of the Core Rules (2009), and also the Pathfinder PRD.

The text of the combat manoeuvre doesn’t actually present any problems. My issue is with the Greater Bull Rush feat (Core Rules p125). Normally I wouldn’t go into individual feats, but I think the feat chains for combat manoeuvres are fairly important to the integrity of the combat system, and I want to make sure they work.

When you bull rush you push an opponent back a number of feet depending on your d20+CMB result. Your foe’s movement doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity unless you have the Greater Bull Rush feat. If you do, then if you bull rush your foe through the area threatened by any of your allies then that ally can make an attack of opportunity on the foe.

Under the rules we’re using you don’t automatically threaten an area around you, and therefore movement doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity. So what do we do instead?

We could leave it as it is. Greater Bull Rush still gives you an extra +2 to hit. It could just be one of those feats that is less attractive in a gridless combat system.

Or we could to replicate the spirit of the feat. We could say something like: “If the target you bull rush passes with the mêlée reach of an ally, then that ally can make an attack of opportunity on the target.”

The rewording is subtle but palatable. However, I’m more concerned about how such a rule would work in practice. The reason I’ve removed threatened squares from the game is because they are practically impossible to adjudicate without a grid. Greater Bull Rush isn’t any easy.

Logically I think we should take the first option and say that Greater Bull Rush doesn’t have any effect other than the +2 to bull rush attempts. That might mean no-one ever takes it, but that’s going to be the same with plenty of other Combat feats as well.


See p321 of the Advanced Player’s Guide (2010) and the Pathfinder PRD.

Drag is the mirror-universe twin of Bull Rush. Drag does everything that Bull Rush does, but does it backwards. Instead of making a CMB check to push a foe back, you make a CMB check to drag a foe forwards. And as because it’s so similar, my issues with it are exactly the same. Have a look at the Greater Drag feat (Advanced Player’s Guide p161).

So same problem as Greater Bull Rush. Do we leave it how it is? Do we modify it? Let me know!


See p322 of the Advanced Player’s Guide (2010) and the Pathfinder PRD.

I think this is a combat manoeuvre that we’ll have to drop from the game completely. I’m always loathed to throw stuff out, but I can’t see any way around it. Have a look at the text of the manoeuvre and see what you think.

Basically you make a CMB check to move an enemy five feet or more in any direction as long as the enemy stays within your mêlée reach. There’s an Improved Reposition and a Greater Reposition feat that makes the attempt more useful, but you can never move your enemy into a location that is intrinsically dangerous – so you can’t reposition them off a cliff or into a wall of fire.

In a grid-based system that uses the rules as written for flanking and attacks of opportunity, I can absolutely see how Reposition could be useful. Without the grid it’s utterly pointless. By and large it doesn’t matter where within your reach a foe is standing, all that matters is whether you can hit him.

So I say that we draw a line under this as a combat option and move on. Who’s with me?

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The official flanking rules in the are short and sweet. There’s an explanation of them on p197 of the Core Rules (2009) and a nice diagram on p196. Both are grouped together in the excellent Pathfinder PRD.

The official rules state that in order to flank a foe two allied characters must threaten that foe from opposite sides of the foe’s square. As you imagine a rule like that is never going to wash in a system that doesn’t use a combat grid. For years we’ve been using the same house rules to cover Flanking. It is simple and easy to remember, and here it is:

  • If you are engaged in mêlée combat and you also outnumber your foe(s) by a ratio of 2:1 then you are considered to be flanking those foe.
  • Creatures with a Reach of zero (Fine, Diminutive and Tiny creatures) cannot flank.

Obviously the 2:1 ratio means that two or more allies need to be attacking the same opponent in mêlée. The advantage of this rule is that it’s really easy to implement and everyone remembers it. In fact it’s served us so well over the years that I don’t really feel a great need to change it.


I just want your opinion on whether you think the size of the opponent should play a role in things. The 2:1 ratio might be right if two humans attack another human, but should two humans be able to flank a giant, or a treant or a dragon? I think it’s fair that two Medium-sized creatures should probably be able to flank a Large creature… but when you get to creatures that are Huge or bigger I become less certain of the mechanic.

I desperately don’t want to make flanking any more complicated. If it’s not broken then I don’t want to try fixing it. But at the same time I want a  game that’s fair. So what do you think?

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Big and Little Creatures in Combat

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In the official rules Medium and Small creatures take up a 5 ft. square on the battle-grid, and have a reach of 5 ft. This section of the combat rules are concerned with how many squares creatures of different sizes take up, and how that affects things like attacks of opportunity. You can find the rules on p194 of the Core Rules (2009) and on the Pathfinder PRD. They’re quite short.

Now you may think that these rules don’t have much relevence to us, but it is still worth knowing how much space creatures of a certain size occupy. After all, as a GM I want to know how many red dragons can gang up on one PC.

Removing the grid-related rules, we can try to extrapolate how many creatures of a particular size can surround another creature of the same size. Obviously this assumes combat is being fought in an infinitely large flat plain, with no objects, obstacles or dodgy terrain to impede movement.

Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work. The geometric dimensions of certain Sizes don’t tesselate – so what you and I think may be perfectly logical cannot be represented on a grid.

Therefore I’ve cheated a little bit and turned to the D&D Next rules for inspiration. As in 4e there are no Fine, Diminuitive or Colossal creature sizes, but these are easily added back into the game. I’ve used the D&D Next rules from the DM’s Guidelines from the latest Playtest Packet as a base, and then made some changes to make it more Pathfindery (that’s a word, right?)

Creature Size

During a battle, creatures take up different amounts of space on the battlefield. A lone ogre can block off a 10-foot-wide bridge, while over a dozen goblins could surround a storm giant. A creature’s size determines how much space it takes up, how far its attacks can reach, and how many enemies can gang up on it.

Size Space Surround Fills
Fine 0.05 × 0.05 ft. 0.08 0.1
Diminuitive 0.2 × 0.2 ft. 0.32 0.2
Tiny 2.5 × 2.5 ft. 2 0.5
Small 5 × 5 ft. 8 1
Medium 5 × 5 ft. 8 1
Large 10 × 10 ft. 12 1.5
Huge 15 × 15 ft. 16 2
Gargantuan 20 × 20 ft. 20 2.5
Colossal 30 × 30 ft. 30 3.5

Space: This is the area in feet that a creature occupies. A creature’s space is not an expression of its actual physical dimensions, but the area it effectively owns in the game. A human isn’t 5 feet wide, but it does own a space that wide, particularly in combat. If a human stands in a 5-foot-wide doorway, other creatures can’t get through the doorway unless the human lets them.

Surround: This column represents the number of Medium creatures that can fit in a 5-foot radius around the creature.

Fills: When creatures of different size surround one opponent, a creature counts as this many Medium size creatures when determining how many can fit in 5-ft. radius area. For example, eight Medium creatures can surround a fellow Medium creature. A pair of Gargantuan creatures (worth two and a half Medium each) and two Large creatures (worth one and a half each) could also surround a Medium creature. Three hundred Fine creatures (each worth a tenth of a Medium-sized creature) can surround one Colossal creature.


Now, these rules appear a little fiddly… also they might be a tad misguded when it comes to very small creatures. A Fine creature is a mosquito. I think more than 300 could surround a Great Wyrm Red Dragon! HOWEVER, these rules are only there as guidelines and should be judged as such. They are a means for the GM to rule that twelve humans can surround a Hill Giant, or only two Tarrasques can attack one of Marc’s characters at the same time.

Having a record of the ‘space’ that is owned by a particular creature is important, and this harks back to the last post on Movement, Position and Distance. If we know that three orcs can block/defend a 15 ft. wide bridge, then it’s obvious to players when they need to Overrun them or jump over them witht he Acrobatics skill to get past, and when they can just run around them.

D&D Next is the first version of D&D since 1989 that isn’t assuming the use of the battle-grid and miniatures. These are the rules that they are using. It’s also almost identical to the table I developed for HD&D.  I think we’re in safe hands using these rules to express a troublesome element of grid-based combat.

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Movement, Position and Distance

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There’s a whole most of rules on pages 192-194 of the Core Rules (2009) about moving your character around a battle-grid during combat. As always the full text of the rules can  be found over on the Pathfinder PRD. These rules are quite complex, and seem a bit daunting. Fortunately, we barely need to use any of them.

This is where the fact we’re not using a grid or the tactical combat rules really helps to simplify and speed up the game. Mostly the rules seek to codify what would be blatantly obvious if you really were standing on a battlefield and looking around you. I’m going to go briefly go through this section of the rules and highlight the things we need to be aware of. I hope that I’m mostly saying things that are obvious:

Tactical Movement

You character’s Speed is the distance he can travel in one move action: it’s expressed in the game in both feet and squares (with one square equal to five feet). Obviously, without a grid we just ignore any mention of “squares” and just concentrate on feet. The general rules for encumbrance, hampered movement and bonuses to speed don’t change; however the way speed and movement is implemented in combat does change.

I spoke in the post on Tactical Combat that position and movement in a gridless system is all about relative positions. Rather than having an absolute distance that your character can either travel in one round or not, it’s often about how your Speed compares to other characters. Am I faster than the orc? If I back away 30 ft. can they reach me next round? There’s an onus on the DM to make the relative positions of PCs, NPCs and physial elements like difficult terrain, cover or concealment as clear as possible. A verbal description may be sufficient, a map of varying degrees of detail might be required.

I believe that as long as there’s good communication between the GM and the players, then actual movement is not an issue. This means the GM needs to be thorough and consistent in his descriptions, but it also means that the players need to continually ask questions in regard to their position, and test the limits of their abilities.

Measuring Distance

There’s no way to measure distance in a gridless system, but as long as the descriptions are good, and we’re adopting a relative understanding of each character’s position then there’s never any need to either. The player asks “Can I hit the dragon with my magic missile?” The answer should be obvious. Characters do not move diagonally, they just move forwards. There isn’t really a lot to add here.

Moving Through a Square

These rules explain whether its possible to move through a square on the combat grid occupied by a friend or a foe. We don’t really need these rules. In the real world you can either go around a target or you can’t. You cannot physically pass  through a person regardless of how well or ill-disposed they are to you. So when you envisage combat in your mind’s eye, a character running from point A to point B is always going to take the path of least resistance.

There are two areas what bear further explanation.

There may be times when the route you want to take is physically blocked: there half a dozen orcs standing in a line across a bridge for example. In these situations, your character has a choice of going through the obstruction or going over it. Going through the obstruction is an Overrun maneouvre. If you don’t have the feat Improved Overrun then barging through your enemies provokes attacks of opportunity. If you decide to go over the obstruction, then that’s a tumbling attempt. In order to try that you need to be trained in the Acrobatics skill and make an Acrobatics skill check with DC equal to 5 + the CMB of the obstructee.

Because attacks of opportunity are no longer provoked by simple movement (see previous post) the utility of Overrun and Tumbling is lessened. They aren’t going to come up in combat anywhere near as often as they would do if we were using the tactical rules and a battle-grid. I think that’s unavoidable, but it’s certainly something to bear in mind when generating your character and choosing skills and feats.

The second area that bears further explanation is to do with the size of the creature. The rules say that any creature can move through a square occupied by a creature that is three size categories larger than itself. This means that a colossal dragon would have difficultly stopping a medium-sized human running through its space, as the human could simply run between the dragon’s legs. That sort of rule can remain in a gridless game, but needs to be applied with common sense.

It makes sense to say that a small creature should be able to pass a bigger creature unhampered. Those orcs lining up on the bridge aren’t going to stop a beetle from wandering between their legs and across the river. The same applies with a halfling slipping under the legs of a titan. But it depends on the creatures involved. A human can slip between the legs of a colossal horse; he can’t do the same thing with a colossal ooze, or a colossal maggot. So treat the ability to move through the space of much larger creatures as a principle that is often broken.

And don’t forget: although movement no longer provokes attacks of opportunity per se, there is nothing stopping a creature from readying an action to stop someone from trying to overrun, leap over or even run past him, or through his space. Combat isn’t that easy!

Terrain and Obstacles

Difficult terrain is an all-encompassing term that includes deep snow, a steep slope, boggy ground, heavy undergrowth and anything else that is likely to impede the speed at which your character can cross it. The official rules state that each square moved in difficult terrain counts as two squares. So basically that means if you’re crossing difficult terrain you only move half as quickly. That’s pretty easy to slot into all the rules we’ve previously discussed in this post.

Obstacles will also slow you down. If you have to vault a table to get to the other side of a room, you’re going to cover less physical distance. Some obstacles might require a skill check such as Acrobatics to overcome, and some obstacles can’t be overcome – you’ll simply have to go around them. We’re ruling that the path of least resistance is usually the best route for crossing a combat, and that should also apply here. Although some PCs might like the added challenge or ostentation of running along the counter of their local tavern to kick someone in the face, rather than simply walking up to a target and stabbing them.

Squeezing is something that can be adjudicated almost on the fly. Saying that a creature can squeeze through a gap half as wide as the space they occupy is a good guide. The human occupies a 5 foot space, so can squeeze through a gap about 30 inches wide. That sounds about right to me. From our point of view, all we have to remember is that you take a -4 to AC, and a -4 to attacks while squeezing.

Special Movement Rules

The official rules need to point out what happens if you accidentally find yourself ending your movement in an illegal square and how diagonal movement works in difficult terrain. Fortunately we don’t. However, it is worth remembering that even if a character has so many penalties heaped on her Speed score (from encumbrance, difficult terrain and so on) that she doesn’t seem to be able to move, she can still use a full round action to move five feet. That’s not something that comes up very often, but I thought I would point it out.

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Injury and Death

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Two things to mention here. Nothing particularly controversial… the first is a qualification, but the other is a house rule that modifies the existing Pathfinder rules for Injury and Death. If you’re not sure what the official rules are then they start on p189 of the Core Rules (2009) or you can take a gander at the Pathfinder PRD instead.

Massive Damage

In the rules as written if your character takes either 50 points of damage or half your maximum hit points (whichever is higher) in one blow then, assuming you aren’t already dead, you are judged to have taken Massive Damage. This means you must succeed at a DC 15 Fortitude saving throw. If you fail, then you die. The reason I’m mentioning this is because we’ve only ever used this rule sporadically in the past. I’d just like to underline that I want to fully incorporate it into the game and use it all the time.

I was toying with modifying it. There aren’t any further means within the Pathfinder rules to do it, but the old third edition Unearthed Arcana (2004) had some sensible sounding rules for alternative Massive Damage Thresholds. They basically increase the damage threshold depending on how large your character is. However, your total hit points is already a very good way of doing this… and by saying that the massive damage threshold is either 50 or half your maximum hit points, I think Pathfinder has its bases covered pretty well.


In the official rules, a character starts dying when the are reduced to negative hit points. They remain in the ‘Dying’ state and can be easily revived as long as they hit points doesn’t fall to a number equal to or greater than their negative Constitution score. This replaces the flat -10 hit point rule that existed in third edition, and in fact we’ve been using the ‘Minus Con’ rule in the game since long before Pathfinder was even thought of. It’s a pretty obvious rule.

However, what I’ve noticed while GMing is that ‘Minus Con’ isn’t always a large enough negative hit-point buffer. When your character reaches mid to high levels he dreads being almost killed by a blow, as it’s obvious that the next blow will undoubtedly kill him outright. Therefore I instigated a new rule that said this negative hit point buffer increases as you gain levels. I’ve never used as generous a buffer as 4e, but I think it’s been helpful in keeping the game on track and avoiding unnecessary PC deaths.

The rule is that characters die when their hit points are reduced to a negative number equal to or greater than their Constitution score, or 25% of their total hit points, whichever is greater. So a 20th level fighter with 200 hit points wouldn’t die until he was reduced to -50 hit points. That’s far more in balance with the threats he would be facing and the damage he would be taking at his experience level.

D&D Next have a different approach. Their negative hit point buffer is a negative number equal to the character’s Con Score + their character level. Is that a better way of doing it? Not quite as fiddlesome as having to work out 25% of your total hit points. Also not quite as powerful.


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Attacks of Opportunity

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Attacks of Opportunity are defined on p180 of the Pathfinder Core Rules (2009). The rules are also on the Pathfinder PRD. The Actions in Combat section of the Core Rules (p181-182) presents a number of different types of actions and states whether or not opportunity attacks are provoked by doing them. That’s also on the Pathfinder PRD. I’m not going to go to the bother of reproducing those rules here, but it might be an idea to reacquaint yourselves with them before going any further.

In this post, and most of the combat-related New Deal posts, I’m not going to bother with the Three Tests. We know that we’re not using a grid and miniatures to adjudicate combat, so we know that we have to change these rules to some degree. The trick is keeping the changes simple: they need to be easy to understand and obvious to adjudicate in game.

The key problem, as I see it, in using Attacks of Opportunity in a non-grid system is the concept of the threatened square: the notion that anyone moving through the area you threaten without stopping to engage you combat provokes an attack of opportunity. Without a grid such a rule would normally translate to anyone moving within five feet of you. It’s impossible to adjudicate that fairly and consistantly without a grid: it’s a nightmare. Therefore this is the bit of the rules I say we get rid of: characters no longer automatically threaten an area around them. Once we take that out of the equation, everything else falls into place fairly straight-forwardly.

I propose that we replace the text titled “Attacks of Opportunity” on p180 of the Core Rules (i.e. the first ten paragraphs on that page) with these rules. They create a definitive list of what does and does not provoke attacks of opportunity. Therefore anything on the summary table on p183  or anything in the Actions in Combat on pp181-188 that contradicts these rules can be disregarded. This is the one and only time my rules actually turn out shorter than the official rules:

Attacks of Opportunity

Sometimes a combatant in mêlée lets her guard down or takes a reckless action. Her enemies may be able to take advantage of this lapse in judgment to attack her for free. These free attacks are called Attacks of Opportunity. Attacks of opportunity are provoked in the following ways:

1) You provoke an attack of opportunity if you are in mêlée combat with an opponent and do any of the following things. The attack of opportunity can only be delivered by the foe (or foes) currently engaging you in mêlée combat, not by anyone else.

  • Use a ranged weapon, or use a ranged touch attack spell or ability.
  • Cast a spell, read a scroll or use a spell-like ability without attempting a Concentration check.
  • Direct or redirect an active spell without attempting a Concentration check.
  • Make an unarmed attack or use a combat manoeuvre for which you don’t have the appropriate feat.
  • Retreat from combat without taking the Withdraw action.
  • Drink a potion or apply an oil
  • Light a torch
  • Load a crossbow or similar weapon with ammunition.
  • Use a distracting skill, such as Open Lock.

2) Additionally the following actions provoke attacks of opportunity even if you’re not in mêlée combat. Any hostile opponent with mêlée reach of you can make an attack of opportunuty upon you, if you attempt to do any of the following things:

  • Stabilise a dying friend, including the use of potions and oils on others.
  • Deliver a touch spell on up to six friends.
  • Pick up an item, or retrieve an item from your pack.
  • Move a heavy object.
  • Stand up from a prone position.
  • Deliver a coup de grace.

3) You provoke an attack of opportunity from a foe you are about to attack if you:

  • Move into mêlée combat with an opponent who has a greater Reach than you.

Making an Attack of Opportunity: An attack of opportunity is a single mêlée attack, and most characters can only make one per round. You don’t have to make an attack of opportunity if you don’t want to. You make your attack of opportunity at your normal attack bonus, even if you’ve 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 the attack of opportunity, 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: If you have the Combat Reflexes feat, you can add your Dexterity modifier to the number of attacks of opportunity you can make in a round. This feat does not let you make more than one attack for a given opportunity, but if the same opponent provokes two attacks of opportunity from you, you could make two separate attacks of opportunity (since each one represents a different opportunity). All these attacks are at your full normal attack bonus.

Notes on the changes

Remember the Pact of Minimal Tinkering? That’s my goal here. Although we have a stripped down version of the rules for Attacks of Opportunity, I’ve tried to preserve as much of the intent and specifics of the original rules as possible. That’s why we have something as petty as lighting a torch listed under the actions that provoke attacks of opportunity. Most of the existing rules work perfectly well with the above. The feat trees based off combat manoeuvres such as Grapple, Trip or Disarm are unchanged. Other rules from the published books that reference attacks of opportunity will probably work as they written. Probably.

The main change here is that movement doesn’t provoke attacks of opportunity in and of itself. The reason for the change is simply that exact movement is impossible to accurately judge without a battle-grid. If you have a grid you can take your movement in squares and plot a course to your destination, and you can see if that course takes you within one square of an enemy, or two squares of an enemy with reach. A combat fought entirely in the imagination, or even with a detailed map, doesn’t provide the necessary degree of certainty. After twelve years of fudging third edition, it’s time to say that this simply doesn’t work  and set it aside.


Changing any rule creates unexpected knock-on effects, but changing a rule that is as far-reaching as Attacks of Opportunity is going to have a profound effects on the game – effects that I don’t even see at the moment. There are archetypes, prestige classes, skills, feats and magic items out there, all of which reference attacks of opportunity in some way. I’m not going to seek them all out and alter them to make them viable in a gridless system.

However, I will issue a warning to any player looking at a game element that references attacks of opportunity, that the ability they are choosing for their character may have a less utility than they might think.

I think these rules are the best we can do, but I would be interested in hearing from anyone who thinks differently.

Go to Pathfinder: The New Deal index