As a GM, is it fair to have enemies turn on and off things like Power Attack and Combat Expertise?


Pathfinder RPG General Discussion


The players expect a damage after a few hits from something. They "know" the AC when they miss on a 17 and finally hit on an 18.

I'm doing a homebrew campaign for my players and I had some NPCs on their side use this, one starting to fight defensive and stopped using power attack so he could still hit enemies. Is it fair to use this against players? I've had monsters and foes use power attack and things, but it would be an "always on". If someone had power attack, he never used a normal hit.

It doesn't seem fair for a PC to hit on an 18, turn around and get a 19 only to be told they missed this time.


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I would do it, but I'd make sure to say something along the lines of: "He attacks you, but this time he seems to be more focused on bolstering his defense." or "He starts focusing on accuracy more than power."


It's absolutely fair, but I don't usually do it because I don't like to change the numbers on my sheet on the fly. It's just easier (for me) to always keep power attack or w/e on.

But yeah, you can just narrate this with stuff like "he assumes a guarded stance" or "she swings wildly".


Enemies aren't given abilities just to not use them. If they're on the sheet, they're probably part of the intended "strategy" of the monster.

I agree that it's fine for someone to turn a power "off" based on the situation, though. For example, you could note that "the enemy seems to be sacrificing a bit of raw power to try and improve their aim now" - if hitting at all is more important than doing damage, this makes sense. It's okay to play enemies smart. XD


I agree that it is fair for the enemies to use abilities like Power Attack and Combat Expertise.

I don't usually hide the enemies armor class or even their attack bonus from my players. I view both as something that quantifies for the players what would be easily observable in the game world to their characters.

So, if a monster decided to use Power Attack or Combat Expertise, I'd just tell the players that that is what the monster is doing.


Hrothgar Rannúlfr wrote:

I agree that it is fair for the enemies to use abilities like Power Attack and Combat Expertise.

I don't usually hide the enemies armor class or even their attack bonus from my players. I view both as something that quantifies for the players what would be easily observable in the game world to their characters.

So, if a monster decided to use Power Attack or Combat Expertise, I'd just tell the players that that is what the monster is doing.

The problem is not using them. The "problem" is that one player can get an AC of 20 depending on what he wants to do in the battle and another player sits at 14. (Level 4). Any enemy with power attack is going to tactically power attack against the hugely lower AC and would never power attack the 20 AC. [This is not asking for balancing help, just more of an example].

It seems weird to have enemies with different floating to-hit and ACs, despite the players being very obviously able to do the same thing.

Grand Lodge

SorrySleeping wrote:
Hrothgar Rannúlfr wrote:

I agree that it is fair for the enemies to use abilities like Power Attack and Combat Expertise.

I don't usually hide the enemies armor class or even their attack bonus from my players. I view both as something that quantifies for the players what would be easily observable in the game world to their characters.

So, if a monster decided to use Power Attack or Combat Expertise, I'd just tell the players that that is what the monster is doing.

The problem is not using them. The "problem" is that one player can get an AC of 20 depending on what he wants to do in the battle and another player sits at 14. (Level 4). Any enemy with power attack is going to tactically power attack against the hugely lower AC and would never power attack the 20 AC. [This is not asking for balancing help, just more of an example].

It seems weird to have enemies with different floating to-hit and ACs, despite the players being very obviously able to do the same thing.

Mathematically there are actually very few times you'd want to take power attack off. Unless someone's AC is crazy above the curve, power attack generally increase average damage per round.


I usually keep it on and if they have trouble hitting, I would say something like, "After his last hard swing, he seems more focused and swings with less gusto and more precision." It's always acceptable to change things up. Especially if the players start doing their own math and telling the DM if they hit or not instead of the DM telling them.


Jurassic Pratt wrote:
Mathematically there are actually very few times you'd want to take power attack off. Unless someone's AC is crazy above the curve, power attack generally increase average damage per round.

That's better advice for PCs than it is for NPCs. Low-grade grunts fighting a PC with decent AC might find themselves hitting only on 18+, in which case Power Attacking is a bad idea. If you're finding it that hard to hit as a martial PC, then something has gone wrong. But for mooks it's a pretty routine occurrence.


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Yes it's fair. If PC's do it then NPC's can do it. I generally have heavy hitters start off with power attack, and only drop it if they realize it's better to not use it.

As for the math, I tend to have the power attack and normal numbers figured out before the game begins, but if not I am still good at doing math on the fly. I just like to have one less thing to think about.


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Like so many before me have said, it's fair. Narrating it not only gives the players the "heads up" that a certain tactic might be in play, but it also raises the excitement of the encounter by adding some dynamics in.

During game preparation time, you could jot a few notes down to help guide your combat tactics.

For example: once they are below half health, they start defensively fighting. OR, at the start of combat, power attack is on until...

You don't need to stick to what's been written, but it gives you a reminder during the combat to consider this tactic.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Heck, I even use Hero Points with my bad guys. Generally I do this only when I'm running one session = one level content (Emerald Spire is this way), and also only on the named enemies, but still...


I do have monsters and npcs change their standard tactics (such as dropping Power Attack) if it is reasonably obvious that it would be more advantageous to do so. I also provide different descriptions when the character utilizes different tactics. While it used to take me an extra handful of seconds per attack to figure out the math in my head, I started jotting down the adjusted values on the character sheet in different colours to make them stand out more amid the black font.

Nowadays I am on Roll20 and I have set up macros that serve to toggle on or off buffs/debuffs and it will provide a query for attacks if I want to use Power Attack or not. Granted, the amount of time I spend per character sheet during game prep is longer (but not by much) while actual time spent running combat is lower so it was a good trade-off for me.

CB


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Unless the creature is Mindless, or Programmed/Instruction command driven, i would Absolutely allow(and do) an NPC foe to adapt tactics based on how an encounter with the PCs is unfolding.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Yes, it's fair. Make it clear that they've changed their tactics, e.g. "Big Mama Nogood reels back from Señor Swordcerer's furious assault. Spitting blood to the side, she grins, but changes her footing and takes a more cautious approach."

I straight-up tell my players the baddie's AC values at the beginning of combat anyway, and would inform them if it changed. It speeds things up. Compare this:

Ranger: All right, I rolled an 18 on my first attack, +3 from strength, and my BAB is 12, and I'm using power attack so that's -3 at this level, but I've got +4 from Inspire Courage, +2 flanking, -1 because of that hostile Prayer, my weapon has a +1 bonus. My final total is ... uh, 36. Does that hit?

Me: yes.

With this:

Me: His AC is 28.

Ranger: Okay, 18 on the die, plus 12 BAB is 30, and after that the pluses out number the minuses.

The fewer modifiers you have to add up, the faster stuff goes.


How smart is your bad guy? If he has combat expertise at all, he should be smart enough to know when using it is a good idea. OTOH, a very low intelligence bruiser might go "Hulk smash!" and power attack all the time regardless of AC.


SorrySleeping wrote:

The problem is not using them. The "problem" is that one player can get an AC of 20 depending on what he wants to do in the battle and another player sits at 14. (Level 4). Any enemy with power attack is going to tactically power attack against the hugely lower AC and would never power attack the 20 AC. [This is not asking for balancing help, just more of an example].

It seems weird to have enemies with different floating to-hit and ACs, despite the players being very obviously able to do the same thing.

I think I see what you're saying.

However, if the enemies are reasonably intelligent or have a BAB of +1 or better, I think they should be expected to use feats like Power Attack and Combat Expertise to the fullest. If that means Power Attacking the guy with the 14 AC, then do it.

From an in game perspective, it just makes sense to me that enemies would be able to discern which PCs have good ACs and which do not and which would have good attack bonuses and which do not and would use the best options that they have available to thrive against the PCs.

If these feats on enemies bother you too much, you could always swap them out for other things like Dodge or Weapon Focus or something that doesn't allow the enemies the Power Attack or Combat Expertise options.

If I were to deliberately not use certain of the monsters abilities in order to pull their punches against the PCs, I think I'd reduce the XP award for defeating them.

Shadow Lodge

After a few swings or if the armor is obvious yes. Its pretyy obvious sir clanksalot is going to be a pain to hit.

A "Farmer with a walking stick" with monk levels not so much.


There are exceptions, sure.

However I think that unless the PCs are vastly outclassed, the AC's and attack bonuses they are facing would become evident fairly quickly.


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SorrySleeping wrote:
Is it fair to use this against players? I've had monsters and foes use power attack and things, but it would be an "always on".

Absolutely, as long as the creature involved is smart enough to think of it. I think it's a verisimilitude thing. Dumb creatures won't act tactically. Smart creatures won't hesitate to.

Quote:
It doesn't seem fair for a PC to hit on an 18, turn around and get a 19 only to be told they missed this time.

Is it fair for a number to change because a monster used a buff ability? Yes. So why not a buff feat?

Grand Lodge

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If it is fair for the PCs it is fair for the NPCs.

Shadow Lodge

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TriOmegaZero wrote:
If it is fair for the PCs it is fair for the NPCs.

if my npcs learn how to bribe me with slices of pizza the pcs are in trouble.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

the only caution is to use the feats as indicated, attack roll or attack sequence(std or full attack action).

For ease I look at the NPC's class level and INT/WIS. An 8th level martial type with INT 10+ KNOWS how to be tactically smart due to his class levels. INT 14+ means he is going to use strategy as he's clever.
An 8th level wizard is tricky but may not have the best martial tactics as that's not what his class is about.
So the NPC looks at his targets, sizes them up, and does what he can to win.
Low risk martial fighters against unknown foes in armor might open with highest BAB attacks with Combat Expertise (high hits to test AC and a bit of defense) and try to flank. If they hit most of the time on the first exchange, open up with power attack and flank. Dump Combat Expertise if not hit....
High risk fighters will open with Power Attack and Charge.
If they get hit a lot go Fight Defensibly with Combat Expertise if they think they can win that way, otherwise they know a few of them will go down and push on with power attack and try to fell some foes.
Sometimes you'll see smart teams of fighters, one using reach weapon and the other TWF or Sneak Attacking. 4 of these guys can simultaneously flank and attack one target - WHEW! That's a lot of incoming attacks.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
If it is fair for the PCs it is fair for the NPCs.

Not automatically true, but in this case, it is.


Thank you all for the wonderful answers. I'll make sure to narrate it well for my PCs when this does happen.


As long as it is intelligent (master swordsman? Yes. Mad orc in the middle of his rage? No.)


The only caveat I would give is to make sure making the adjustment isn't going to eat up a whole lot of table time to implement.

So you'll probably want to make their numbers with and without clear in your notes for them.


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Zhayne wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
If it is fair for the PCs it is fair for the NPCs.
Not automatically true, but in this case, it is.

I feel like all the cases where that maxim is not true, is when the GM is using it to take away appropriate agency from the players. Like it's fair for the PCs to use Diplomacy to get the NPCs to do stuff, it's not fair for NPCs to use Diplomacy to get the PCs to do stuff.


Of course it's fair. Heck I recall reading in one of the NPC books a grunt/merc would use Power Attack, unless they had trouble hitting.

So it's totally fair


Benjamin Medrano wrote:
I would do it, but I'd make sure to say something along the lines of: "He attacks you, but this time he seems to be more focused on bolstering his defense." or "He starts focusing on accuracy more than power."

This. Its certainly fair to this, but let the player know what the character sees.

Grand Lodge

I don't see the problem. If the NPCs are intelligent to see when to use the feats, using the abilities extensively at their acceptable limits (but not above). But the players can guess when it's used and react accordingly.

Scarab Sages

SorrySleeping wrote:


The problem is not using them. The "problem" is that one player can get an AC of 20 depending on what he wants to do in the battle and another player sits at 14. (Level 4). Any enemy with power attack is going to tactically power attack against the hugely lower AC and would never power attack the 20 AC. [This is not asking for balancing help, just more of an example].

It seems weird to have enemies with different floating to-hit and ACs, despite the players being very obviously able to do the same thing.

this is a little different. This is where you have to judge if the enemy would know the one PC is harder to hit than the other. After one or two tries to hit it would know, but usually not before that unless it is familiar with humanoids and intelligent enough to know the difference between metal armor vs leather armor, for example.


If it is an intelligent enemy, then, yes this is fine. Narrating it should be a thing as well, which is what I do.

However I don't have the NPC magically know what the PC AC is and tend to follow almost a logic flowchart:

Here are the rules I follow:
1. Just like I narrate so the PCs know when an enemy is power attacking or defensive attacking, I assume the NPC can see this when the players do it too.

2. I assume that, unless it is a known thing, that the NPC bases how hard they think someone is to hit based on the armor that they're wearing.

3. I choose enemies to start in either a "Cautious" mode (not using Power Attack) or an "Aggressive" mode (using Power Attack).

Now the flowchart (or, since I can't do images here, I'll do pseudo-code)

Did I roll above 13 (Yes/No)
- If yes: Did I hit (Yes/No)
-- If yes: Am I using Power Attack (Yes/No)
--- Continue using power attack
-- ELSE
--- Start using power attack
- ELSE
-- Am I using Power Attack (Yes/No)
--- If yes: Stop using Power Attack
-- ELSE
--- Continue not using power attack


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Corathonv2 wrote:
Benjamin Medrano wrote:
I would do it, but I'd make sure to say something along the lines of: "He attacks you, but this time he seems to be more focused on bolstering his defense." or "He starts focusing on accuracy more than power."
This. Its certainly fair to this, but let the player know what the character sees.

Most definitely. Intelligent creatures will also know the difference between metal armor and leather, for example, though they might not realize the leather has been enchanted or that the PC has huge bonus due to dexterity. One "good" swing and he may figure that out, too. I tend to have unintelligent creatures attack whatever hurt them last, and if more than one PC did damage, which ever did the most. By extension, unintelligent ones might leave their power attack on even if they aren't hitting - it's an ability they don't necessarily know they can toggle.


SorrySleeping wrote:
It seems weird to have enemies with different floating to-hit and ACs, despite the players being very obviously able to do the same thing.

What do you find weird about it, if you don't mind elaborating? I have to say, this is a new sentiment to my ears.


Use of these feats is really nothing more than using buffs: Power Attack to damage, Combat Expertise to AC. Would you have your creatures avoid use of spells or spell-like abilities that increase their damage capacity (really, anything from bless to enlarge person to good hope) or defenses (mage armor, shield, blur, displacement, etc.)? What if they have classes?

Really, the rules for monsters and for PCs are the same, except monsters get a specific set of abilities based on what they are. Feats are common for both PCs and monsters. They're there to be used, so use them!


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Sure it's fair, though sometimes it has diminishing results or results that are kinda "swing-y". A monster with Power Attack that uses it and hits can be pretty devastating, for example.

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Heck, I've been known to trade out feats like Alertness and Skill Focus Linguistics for Power Attack and Combat Reflexes.

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