Pathfinder RPG Design – Theme Thursday: Don’t Take a Full Attack

Theme Thursday: Don’t Take a Full Attack


Unfortunately, in the grand ocean of Pathfinder’s awesome design, there exists a deadly barrier reef; the full attack. There are those who say that after level 7 or so, Pathfinder might as well be called “Don’t Take a Full Attack.” By this level, the monsters in the bestiaries tend to hit incredibly hard for tons of damage.

This isn’t a bad thing. Monsters must be a threat to be interesting.

Is this really an issue at all? Let’s look at an example. Say you’re a decent level 7 Fighter; you haven’t put every ounce of your resources into defense, but you haven’t ignored it either. You have 71 HP and an AC of 24. You get jumped by a bulette that burrows up to attack your party! Like a good little fighter, you trot up and hit the beast before it can get at your squishy friends. The GM now gets a full attack on you, rolling 11, 12, and 12; good rolls, but not that spectacular. Thus, he hits you with every attack., rolling average damage: 38! WHOA. That’s more than half your HP! One more turn like that and you’re done for!

But maybe some monsters are just like that? Big, beefy monsters have to hit hard to be a danger to you after all, and if you maybe just put a few more resources into defense (and you don’t get hit by a critical), you’ll be fine.


Monsters that hit like a truck are incredibly common in Pathfinder. The next time your level 7 party goes out into the forest, they could get attacked by a huge fire Elemental, an elephant,  or a dragon—all of which are CR 7 and can hit harder than the bulette.

Essentially, you can play the escalation game, putting a ton of resources into defense and becoming more and more useless, or you can play the much more interesting Don’t Take a Full Attack game. Again, this kind of game can be very fun; mobility, clever use of terrain, debuff spells, and smart prediction of monster movement all make for fascinating encounters. However, if the GM continues to use monsters that are easy for him/her to run (read; they are beefy monsters and not spellcasters), then it can get somewhat rote.

It’s really an odd piece of design, making one type of action heavily dominate a game; not bad, necessarily (the inclusion of the staggered condition in Pathfinder is a great choice), and this certainly makes monsters much easier to run for the GM. However, in a style of RPG that really excels at infinite variety and personal choice, it’s somewhat strange and occasionally annoying. In a deadly way.

What the Don’t Take a Full Attack game adds up to pushes the GM towards being a better encounter designer; there has to be actual terrain to maneuver around, interesting traps, and options for the party to utilize.  Large, empty rooms aren’t going to cut it. Down that road lies the Take a Full Attack But Who Cares I Found a Way to Make My AC 50 game.


–          Max Porter Zasada


2 responses to “Pathfinder RPG Design – Theme Thursday: Don’t Take a Full Attack

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