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There seems to have been substantial change in the line of effect rules from first edition (link) to second edition (link). Additionally, line of effect was described differently in the playtest than in either edition. Here are the important differences:
1.) In PF1E, you had line of effect if you could draw a line from any corner of your square through any part of your target’s square.
2.) In the playtest, you had line of effect if there was an unblocked path between you and your target. To calculate if you path was blocked, you were told to calculate as if checking for cover, i.e. a line from your center to the center of your target. A great description of the straitjacketing effect the playtest rules had on spellcasting is presented in this previous post.
3.) Now, in the PF2E CRB, we are told that you have line of effect “unless a creature is entirely behind a solid physical barrier.” However, unlike both of the previous definitions, no methodology for calculation is described. I find it currently ambiguous whether standard cover blocks line of effect like it did in the playtest. I think a case can be made for the current Line of effect rules to work similarly to either PF1E or the playtest:
Pathfinder 1E case: If standard cover blocks line of effect, then some of the cover rules do not make sense. Specifically, the following methodology for determining if you have cover from an area spell is provided:
Standard cover gives you a +2 circumstance bonus to AC, to Reflex saves against area effects … Draw a line from the center of your space to the center of the target’s space. If that line passes through any terrain or object that would block the effect, the target has standard cover … When measuring cover against an area effect, draw the line from the effect’s point of origin to the center of the creature’s space.
But line of effect is necessary to even be affected by the spell in the first place:
In an area effect, creatures or targets must have line of effect to the point of origin to be affected.
So it is nonsensical to give +2 to AC and Reflex saves to a target behind cover if said cover makes the target immune to the spell’s effects.Playtest case: It is arguable that in cases of ambiguity, the playtest’s precedent should be followed and any contradictions from PF1E rules are irrelevant and thus ignorable. If a rule was unchanged upon full release of PF2E, shouldn’t the rule work as it did in the playtest? For emphasis, line of effect rules in the PF2E CRB are clearly held over from the playtest:
You usually need an unblocked path to the target of a spell, the origin point of an area, or the place where you create something with a spell or other ability. This is called the line of effect. If you need to check whether you have a line of effect, draw a line like you do when determining cover.
When creating an effect, you usually need an unblocked path to the target of a spell, the origin point of an effect’s area, or the place where you create something with a spell or other ability. This is called a line of effect. You have line of effect unless a creature is entirely behind a solid physical barrier.
Furthermore, the rules for cover can still make sense with “playtest line of effect rules” because the text from above: “When measuring cover against an area effect, draw the line from the effect’s point of origin to the center of the creature’s space.” Can be applied to lesser cover, or future types of unusual cover.
Lastly, a visual way of representing the problem:
W = wall square
C = caster
T = target
X = empty square
X W W W
T W W W
X W W W
X W W W
X C C X
X C C X
X X X X
Does the caster have line of effect to the target (i.e. an “unblocked path to the target of the spell”)?
Developer insight on this issue would be ideal (e.g. in an FAQ or on the Friday podcast), but hope is faint, and I’d greatly appreciate the community’s thoughts on the topic.