Tactics 101 (There is no Tank. Embrace Passive Agressiveness)


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It’s easy to see why people seem to have it in their heads that tanking is somehow a thing in pathfinder.

After all if you play other fantasy rpg’s they usually have this concept where a fighter or knight or just some dude wearing lots of armor runs up and just starts wailing on a dude while archers and spellcasters unleash the equivalent of a small apocalypse upon them from about thirty feet away. Yet, for some reason the guy hitting them with a stick is somehow more important than the guy turning said stick guy into wolverine by healing him constantly or the wizard summoning flaming hellhounds to chew off their balls.

This unfortunate habit is enforced by lazy, or perhaps just inexperienced gm’s, who seem to believe that they should play upon this illusion and pile everything on the melee fighters and ignore the casters.

But the thing about this is; it’s an illusion.

Consider a recent scenario I criticized. Primarily a lion ambushing a
large heavily armed fighter. (No offense to the author of that scenario there have been tons that are worse. This one is just recent and fresh in my memory.)

Think about the rest of the party and what it might consist of and think about basic biology lessons. Predators don’t go after the strongest in any group, that’s stupid and ends in dead lions. Typically they go after the slowest, the smallest, or the oldest and sickest whichever is convenient. The point is they go after the weak because the weak are easiest to kill. In this case tanking is an illusion since the goal of the predator is not to defeat the group but to eat the Halfling rogue, or gandorlf the bluish gray with the long white beard and hobbled walk.
Likewise I think of one of Ashiel’s recent designed encounters meant to be dynamic. In their scenario there's never discussion about taking the melee fighters first but rather strategy and tactics based upon the sort of assaults they’ll face. You’ll often see this sort of thinking in AP’s and module’s where discussion is not “engage melee fighters then casters” but often discussion about their counters to certain tactics or vague talks about what they’ll do.

So, let’s assume for a moment that your gm is less like a simple computer AI built to account for a specific set of strategies by design and assume that your GM is more like Ashiel.

How do you tank against that?

Answer? You don’t.

So what can you do to keep rampaging orcs and goblins from rushing up and chewing on your friends faces?

Zone denial.

Zone denial is a simple term that has complex meaning. To put it shortly it’s an area you control that allows you to hinder or harm anyone that goes through it. Casters perform area denial all the time with spells as a form of battlefield control (which is not the same as zone denial but rather a subcategory of it). Zone denial for casters is fairly simple to understand so we won’t be covering them in this article. Instead we’ll focus on melee fighters.

What casters have over melee fighters is that they can instantly control more area and at longer distances. This advantage is part of the caster/martial disparity argument. However what melee characters have is greater control over their threatened space. If an enemy gets into a casters threatened area theirs often little a full caster can do about it. Often times they can expend resources to remove themselves from the threat or vice versa but a melee fighter does not have to. Once an enemy is within the threaten space of a melee fighter they have all the advantages they can full attack, perform combat maneuvers, unleash class specific abilities, or any number of deadly and dangerous things that they can do.

So how does this pertain to zone denial? It means that melee characters are well suited to making zones that enemies don’t want to walk into or through. The meaty bit in the middle is what has to be removed if they have any hope of surviving to eat the face off Mr. Wizard and his priestly friend. So let’s talk about what makes a melee fighter a good zone denier.

Threatened Space
Simply put, the bigger your threatened area, the more you control. The more area you control the fewer tactical options you give to your enemy. Therefore having as much as possible is definitely what you need.

This is what makes reach weapons plus close weapons like spiked gauntlets or armor spikes so valuable. Consider the sword. With a sword you have roughly 8 squares of threatened space. With a pole arm/spikes combo you have 20 squares of threatened space. That’s more than double the area of influence a non-reach combatant would have.

Now, cast an enlarge person on said reach fighter. That’s a lot of squares we just covered.

Here you see just how much space each iteration of both types of fighter can take up. Any enemy that runs through that space draws AoO’s. Any enemy that stops can eat a full attack. Given the options at your disposal as a melee fighter you can do all sorts of nasty things to enemies going through that space. The best part is the enemy likely knows this and will likely endeavor to go around, or, if that’s not an option seek to remove you as a problem. This leaves the enemy only with options that you desire. Thus you have control.

Mobility
Pathfinder is not a game of two dimensions. Characters can fly, can teleport, can often swim or climb as well. So that massive threatened area you’ve gathered can be made larger, more dangerous by this mobility.

Therefore it’s not in our best interest to truly restrict mobility if it can be helped. Or if we do restrict it, ensure that the enemies can be restricted in turn to ensure that our restriction does not become an unnecessary hindrance to our desire to control territory. By being able to rapidly and terrifyingly move our space where we need it we can punish presumptions by our enemy and engulf them in an inescapably large space. We also give our group greater space to roam and get good firing positions since they can rely on our mobility to punish enemies that try to get around us.

Damage
It’s been said that solid damage is the surest means of getting the enemies attention. This is both true and false. It’s true in any instance where your damage will be enough to drop an enemy so quickly that they have no choice but to pay attention to you. False in the sense that if you do enough damage to drop an enemy before they can attempt to feasibly harm you they may decide to flee from you instead or at least seek positioning that hinders your offense. Both scenarios can work to your advantage if used well. A fleeing enemy can draw AoO’s, open them up to ranged fire, can get corralled into an inescapably bad position etc. An enemy that attacks you however is either confident or stupid in that they can kill you before you can kill them. While this keeps them in your threatened area and allows you the ability to remove that enemy as something to bother with entirely it does come with the disadvantage that you will have to blow party resources to heal yourself if and when you are inevitably damaged.

Damage does end fights, this is true as I’ve said endless amount of time. And because you as a melee class will find it easy, damage should be a thing you put yourself towards having.

Control
Perhaps as important if not more important is damage is the ability to affect an enemy’s ability to act. Damage does nothing to hinder an enemy’s abilities. An enemy with 1hit point will do as much damage as the same enemy at 100 hit points. Therefore one thing to be able to do is to look for ways to hinder an enemy without sacrificing other aspects of your character. Certain abilities like Spellstrike and Stunning Fist incorporate additional abilities into your attack and shouldn’t be ignored when looking at your character from a zone denial perspective.
For other characters you have combat maneuver feats and feats like Cornugon Smash which allow you to apply effective debuffs to a character often while attacking. Using such abilities can do three things for you.

First they can increase your survivability. An intimidated enemy is one who has a harder time hitting you. Likewise an enemy hit by an ill omen applied through spellstrike is one who will find you impossible to hit and likely fail any saves as well that you apply.

Second they increase your offensive ability. The aforementioned intimidated enemy is exposed by lowered saving throws to other affects you can apply such as Dazing Assault or Stunning Assault. Or an enemy blinded by a dirty trick is suddenly flat footed by your full attack.
Lastly this makes you an even greater threat to go through. Suddenly it’s not damage that the enemy has to worry about but your sudden ability to move across the battlefield and do immense damage to them while simultaneously applying status effects or hindrances to them that can prove ultimately fatal and win you the day.

Passive Aggression
Aggression is a favored form of combat on the paizo boards and I’ve seen firsthand how pouncing barbarians and beastmorph alchemists charging beside quadruped eidolons and lancing cavaliers can absolutely devastate lone enemies and small groups. However I’ve seen the disadvantages as well.

Aggression has the issue where you often find yourself in awkward positioning, you either fall deeper into an enemy’s trap, find yourself cut off from necessary support, or otherwise put yourself in a position where you can’t help your group and vice versa.
It’s an effective tactic but risky in the extreme you trade in the safety of a solid controlled front for early round firepower.

However this only really works for shock trooper like groups where multiple characters can coordinate and stay fairly close together to support one another and prevent the bigger risks of such a strategy from becoming difficult. We’ll cover this in another article.
For now we’ll talk about the alternate strategy which is equally effective and more suitable to less aggressive classes like fighters, monks and paladins who focus more on solid capability than raw aggression. That means not immediately charging enemies, which merely exposes you with a lowered AC and often times bad positioning.

So in passive aggressive strategy the idea is not to rush into an enemy and hurt them as hard as possible but force them into bad decision making. This sort of strategy is already employed by one of my favorite builds the Reach cleric. It intentionally puts itself 15 feet from an enemy and casts spells at it to force it or lure it into eating an AoO from the cleric. In this case rushing the cleric was poor decision making. Likewise taking a long route around the fighter is also a bad decision since it limits the enemy to one attack on their target and puts them in a bad position of being caught between the target and said fighter.

This tactic also calls for a bit of cooperation from the rest of the party. Rather than treating you as a mobile ballistic missile they should treat you as a defensive bulwark taking advantage of your threatened space to attack enemies from a position of safety or as a place to retreat to when it looks as if the enemy is encroaching on them. You can still deal quite a significant amount of damage, but, it’s with much more control over the enemy and how they fight you rather than relying on raw numbers to win the day. If you remember my big post fueling the Forge you remember how I pointed out that raw numbers generally don’t win out by themselves versus superior actions and positioning. What a passive aggressive melee strategy does is allow you the convenience of being able to work on better defensive positioning and reducing enemy actions while simultaneously dealing a significant amount of damage.

To give an idea what this looks like let’s build a quick and dirty scenario involving a handful of basic melee combatants and a typical four person party. No specifics. No need. We’ll just say our melee combatant is built for aggression and leave it at that.

Scenario 1

In this first part you can see our great sword combatant immediately charged one of the gnolls and quickly killed it. This is good for the group and ultimately means a win.

Scenario 1 Part 2

However as you can see in this second part our rogue here is left with few good options for a flank. Two gnolls have engaged the melee combatant without taking any damage themselves and the third gnoll went to cause the casters some grief. The gnolls options weren’t great but they are able to pin down the combatant enough while neutralizing the rogue to make an attack on the arcane caster possible. So, either the cleric will be forced to defend the caster (preventing him from doing other things) or the fighter will have to disengage to save the caster and end up compromising their position further.

However if we employ passive aggressive tactics we can control the aggression of the gnolls much more easily. Let's replace our greatsword with a pole arm and rather than attack aggressively let's stand right up at the gnolls and cut off their angles of attack with ym threatened space.

Scenario 2

Notice that even though we don’t kill off any of the gnolls right away we instead put them in an ugly position of choosing subpar tactics. They could choose to charge the big spear wielding fighter before them but that changes a fairly static threat into a very active threat as they risk taking multiple AoO’s. More, should they stay they’re a 5ft. shift away from simply eating a full attack on the next turn. Also note the positioning of the other party members. The casters are through the threatened area but still maintain a good line of sight against the gnolls. Likewise the rogue is in a pretty decent position to get a flank on any gnoll who attempts to engage him or the spear wielder. If the group has a number of ranged combatants (say the cleric, and rogue with bows, the spear wielder with a thrown weapon) than the group can easily drop one or two of the gnolls purely by focusing fire their ranged attacks. This is without sacrificing any positioning.

Let’s push things up by a round and try to make some intelligent decisions on the gnolls part.

Scenarior 2 Part 2

Now here the gnolls ate two aoo’s. But, they’re in a pretty good position considering they’ve engaged the casters and managed to flank the fighter without too much issue.

Awesome right?

Well yes and no. Let’s keep going here.

Scenario 2 Part 3

Note the size difference. Here the wizards finished a key spell enlarge person . Suddenly the threatened area has grown. The fighter hasn’t moved yet but the gnolls find themselves in the unenviable position of getting flanked and eating full attacks from all around. The result is something like this.

Scenario 2 Part Last

In this last scenario the gnolls are all but dead. A little 5ft. shift from the fighter and she can smack the gnoll accosting the cleric and likely kill them freeing the cleric a chance to run up and flank/kill the one damaged earlier by an AoO. Alternatively if the fighter didn’t immediately drop that gnoll then the cleric could have finished that one off and finished his move with a flank on that gnoll. Meanwhile, the rogue now in a flank/full attack position simply minces his gnoll before it gets a fair shot at attacking her.

In this sort of scenario the group hardly needed to move. They manipulated threatened area and enemy movements to draw an enemy into disadvantageous positions and punished their enemy’s bad decisions (even when they seemed smart at the time). An aggressive group can do this, certainly, but a passive aggressive strategy will often be able to pull it off with little to no effort and no compromise on defense.

From the view of the forge
From the viewpoint of the forge you can see very quickly how a passive aggressive melee strategy can be born out of anvils or even arms working at being secondary hammers or vice versa. After all setting yourself into a position to punish enemies in the following round doesn’t take more than a move action leaving you with standard actions to cast spells or use other class abilities. Even if you lack these abilities nothing stops you from dealing ranged damage (even a full attack) and spending the remainder of your turn getting into an okay position and pulling your melee weapon of choice to receive the reprisal.

Bear in mind that despite my emphasis on reach weapons such a strategy can still be employed by other weapon choices as well. The key to remember is that you have to make up for a lack of threat in other ways, typically mobility, in order to provide the same kinds of zone denial benefit. Animal companions and summons can also be employed to provide buffers and support to melee combatants working as zone denial. In the above scenario involving passive aggression the spell the arcane caster cast could have been an easily effective summon monster spell that could have dealt damage, flanked one or two gnolls and provided even larger threatened areas the gnolls would have to slog through to get to their targets of choice.

Consequently sword and board characters utilizing two weapon fighting can perform just fine in this sort of scenario. In this case drawing opponents in doesn’t necessarily help the character control the fight as allow him more opportunities to do full attacks. Zone denial would work to push and corral the enemy into the reach of the fighter rather than the fighter acting as cover for the rest of the party.

In conclusion tanking as many think of it; a heavily armored character making things swing at him is a waste of time and resources. It’s better to control enemy actions through smart positioning and good use of a large threatened area to make yourself a huge inconvenience. When combined with large damage numbers you become a phenomenal threat that absolutely cannot be ignored and thus while we do not have the trappings of what you might consider a tank you accomplish its end goal: control.


Dotting for finishing. Read through most of this and agree completely with what I have read. These are all tactics I've known for a long time, and picked up relatively quickly by playing with an experienced party you quickly learn these sorts of basic tactics to combat.

It does amaze me when I see a wizard who wins initiative run in front of melee support to cast spells. I'm just like, "Bro, you could have done that from 30ft back."

Silver Crusade

Great Read! I am running a master summoner..(ducking head to avoid being hit by tossed fruit)Whose sole focus is battlefield control/buff the party.

Our group has 3 fighter types 1 is a "tank" high AC very little damage output, the other 2 are reach fighters using glaives whose typical along with an admixture wizard and yours truly.

Generally our wizard focuses on protect the fighters first i.e wind wall, resist energy, haste, depends on the situation. and I use SM, pits,walls and grease to shape the field mostly to funnel enemies into the kill zone.

If you have not already, you should consider writing a guide.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

If only more players used tactics instead of Leeroy Jenkins-ing in. My tank is pretty mobile, but I can only cover so much.


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Wow that's useful you explained stuff I've been trying to explain to the people I play with for ages. But I think whenever I try all they hear is klingon.


Mojorat wrote:
Wow that's useful you explained stuff I've been trying to explain to the people I play with for ages. But I think whenever I try all they hear is klingon.

qa'majvaD jey nuq wIghaj naDev.


Tin Foil Yamakah wrote:

1 is a "tank" high AC very little damage output

We call such 'corks' rather than 'tanks'.

A tank draws fire and keeps the enemy engaged through fear. You look like and then are able to deliver the damage that causes that fear (not magical but rather real and tactical)

James


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I dunno if you've thought this all the way through... While this strategy can be effective against a certain kind of enemy, it is not always strong.

Mobility works both ways. Your enemies can go invisible, burrow, fly, or even become incorporeal. All of these can bypass "space denial" characters like they were a joke. The most damning of them all though is the simple Acrobatics check, which is both very effective and widely available.

Whereas characters who deal a lot of damage are a strong threat to literally anything with hit points.


Dotted.

Silver Crusade

awp832 wrote:

I dunno if you've thought this all the way through... While this strategy can be effective against a certain kind of enemy, it is not always strong.

Mobility works both ways. Your enemies can go invisible, burrow, fly, or even become incorporeal. All of these can bypass "space denial" characters like they were a joke. The most damning of them all though is the simple Acrobatics check, which is both very effective and widely available.

Whereas characters who deal a lot of damage are a strong threat to literally anything with hit points.

This was just a basic example, if I were to post tactics for every situation, well that would be 1 long post.


awp832 wrote:


Whereas characters who deal a lot of damage are a strong threat to literally anything with hit points.

You'll note that nowhere did I say you shouldn't be doing lots of damage. I even mentioned how the group can be easily doing ranged damage while getting into position to deny good angles of attack in melee.

Also note that I mention mobility as key to such a tactic as well. Teleporting, flying, etc. etc. don't mean much for them if you can do it as well. Worse if all their mobility accomplishes is avoiding the AoO but eating the full attack. Plus, remember 20ft. reach also means 20ft. up. That's a lot of airspace covered by the big man and his glaive.

Finally, the acrobatics check. Let's look at this in depth.

If I'm reading this right you have to beat the opponents CMD each and every square you go through and it costs 2 to do it. So right away that kills any chances of a full attack, a charge, a pounce, or any other means of dealing significant damage in such a way. Plus if you fail you lose your move entirely and still eat the AoO. Given that a fighter can sit there with a remarkably high CMD it shouldn't be much of an issue.

Plus, unless you're using humanoid opponents with acrobatics alot or just happen to find some with acrobatics it's often not a problem you ever run into. In the many games I've been in can't really recall a single instance where acrobatics gave the enemy any real advantage.

And do keep in mind I'm not assuming the bad guy is a fool. I'm only cutting off his best options, forcing him into circumstances that are hard to deal with.

So, is there an instance where such a tactic falters? Yes, actually. And it's not against superior mobility (remember even that is meaningless since you control the area they have to reach). Rather it's against stand off tactics by the enemy. Sitting back behind logs or barricades adn shooting arros/spells at you means you will have to deal with the enemy. This is where aggression comes in handy but it has to be handled well and not just with raw numbers. Otherwise you play into a very similar situation that the gnolls faced in the second scenario.

But we'll cover that another time.


james maissen wrote:
Tin Foil Yamakah wrote:

1 is a "tank" high AC very little damage output

We call such 'corks' rather than 'tanks'.

A tank draws fire and keeps the enemy engaged through fear. You look like and then are able to deliver the damage that causes that fear (not magical but rather real and tactical)

James

I've all but tried to purge the concept of "tank" from my D&D vocabulary.

To me there's just too much baggage attached to the term.

I'd rather discuss characters in term of "we need a melee guy to tie people up or smack faces" since tank often has meanings attached to it that are best left behind and don't cloud the mind of the person I propose this to. I understand and acknowledge its use but for me the word itself comes with too many meanings to be helpful.

Contributor

I don't 100% agree with this, mostly because I have a player who found a bloody efficient way to "tank" encounters.

Basically, he grabbed the Bodyguard feat, went Cavalier, and snagged a benevolent weapon. That's it. He moves himself around the battlefield (not unlike your examples, except in reverse) and uses his attacks of opportunity to protect the damage dealing party members in the group whenever an opponent tries to smash their faces in.

Tanking is about making sure that your allies don't get hurt, and the method I listed above is only one way that you can pull that off. I personally think that it is the most effective (especially when you are protecting characters who have decent, but not stellar, Armor Classes).

Also, your comment about the lion isn't necessarily true. Its certainly true for an ambush situation, but if we're being 100% realistic the lion isn't going to ambush the halfling rogue when his friends are around anyway. The lion will wait until the halfling is alone and vulnerable before pouncing. And frankly, that doesn't make for an interesting combat, having no encounters until the minute someone sneaks off alone and is pounced on.

So yeah, awesome tips here about keeping the battlefield under control, but this is not a 'tanking' guide and should not have included the header of 'tanking.' Because tanking is most certainly not an illusion, its just not something that you can be truly good at without sacrificing your damage output (like in an MMO) which most forums goers seem loathed to do.


dot


awp832 wrote:

I dunno if you've thought this all the way through... While this strategy can be effective against a certain kind of enemy, it is not always strong.

Mobility works both ways. Your enemies can go invisible, burrow, fly, or even become incorporeal. All of these can bypass "space denial" characters like they were a joke. The most damning of them all though is the simple Acrobatics check, which is both very effective and widely available.

Whereas characters who deal a lot of damage are a strong threat to literally anything with hit points.

Undeniably true, but they could be bypassing one zone of area denial to walk, burrow, tumble, fly, teleport, or phase right into another area of zone denial and in the process making themselves even more vulnerable. In many ways that is exactly the purpose of zone denial -> to make the foe avoid your area and by doing so put themselves at even greater risk. The space denial is only a joke if the party doesn't allow for such responses to their actions. That said mobility is usually far more the characters domain. Very few creatures possess the variety of mobility options a character party possesses, especially as character level increases. And the ones that due are usually among the most dangerous in the game. It's one of the things that really differentiates a high level party from a lower level party as well (on both a the strategic and tactical level).

TarkXT wrote:
I'd rather discuss characters in term of "we need a melee guy to tie people up or smack faces" since tank often has meanings attached to it that are best left behind and don't cloud the mind of the person I propose this to. I understand and acknowledge its use but for me the word itself comes with too many meanings to be helpful.

This, a gazillion times this, I couldn't possibly agree more.


A thought: Offensive casters are the best pathfinder tanks. Given the outline of the scenario you had there, have the wizard open up with a devastating offensive spell (save or suck, or even just a blast, as long as it will hurt a lot). Also move him into the fighter's umbrella and have the rogue and cleric guard his flanks. I would expect the wizard to be able to remove half of the enemy from combat (even temporarily is fine) or remove half or more of their HP with this one shot. The rest of the party can then fire off a ranged attack or apply additional control, and then draw weapons for melee.

The gnolls then only have one course of action, attack and kill the caster before the next spell finishes them. If the caster is behind other PCs, charge lanes are blocked, and anything moving to threaten have to come through a hail of AoOs from the rest of the party. With a bit of luck on the rolls, those gnolls will all be dead before the end of the round. Any that don't die hopefully miss taking a swipe at the squishy caster (who has mirror image up we hope), and then are utterly pummeled next round with a full party flank. Even if one hits, a cure spell has the caster back to full health after combat, and that's probably the worst case scenario.

Anyway, this has been a go to tactic for my group, and although it has been rather scary to be a mage getting rushed by everything all the time, we've been doing very well. Also, I cannot recommend enough cleave and cleaving finish for fighters traveling with AoE blasters. With that feat combo, our fighter regularly removes 3 threats in one action. (Sorcerer blasts a group, even if most make their saves, they lose enough hp to be knocked into 1 hit kill range for the fighter. Fighter moves up to several and usually kills one or both that he's cleaving, and then wipes out a 3rd with cleaving finish. That combo has been in use since 2nd level with burning hands as the AoE.)

Don't think I'm counting out enlarge person though. That spell makes a cleaving fighter way more effective and is cast either before combat or on round 2 if more magic is needed beyond cantrips.


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Alexander Augunas wrote:


So yeah, awesome tips here about keeping the battlefield under control, but this is not a 'tanking' guide and should not have included the header of 'tanking.' Because tanking is most certainly not an illusion, its just not something that you can be truly good at without sacrificing your damage output (like in an MMO) which most forums goers seem loathed to do.

That's still not tanking.

That's just defensive support.

By the same token casting greater invisibility on your damage dealers is tanking since you prevent damage to them by increasing chances to miss and allowing them the ability to ignore AoO's easier.

Tanking is about control. How do I know this? Probably because I did it for years in two different mmo's (protpallies4lyfe). Keeping the badguy in position is often more important than preventing damage to others. The damage other's take is merely a side effect of your failure to maintain position or their failure to dodge secondary effects.

Such a concept doesn't hold much water in pathfinder. IF the bad guy sees you trying to push him into a corner so the group can avoid your minefield, they'll get around you or push you out of the way to regain better positioning. Or, they'll simply not play your game and switch tactics.

So yes, tankings an illusion because you cannot control an enemies actions through a threat mechanism like that found in mmo's. But you can play mindgames with them. And that's what this is about.


Dotting for future reading. Looks really interesting!


Quote:

That's still not tanking.

That's just defensive support.

And is an almost perfect example, for me at least, as to why the term 'tank' carries too much baggage and carries with it too many connotations that just don't work and aren't true for PF or its predecessors.


For those running around literally dotting everything I've written under this there's no need. I've stuck all the links in my profile now.

Enough thread necromancy and you'll get the inquisition on me.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
TarkXT wrote:

Finally, the acrobatics check. Let's look at this in depth.

If I'm reading this right you have to beat the opponents CMD each and every square you go through and it costs 2 to do it.

You are reading it wrong. One check per action.

Acrobatics FAQ wrote:
Acrobatics allows you to make checks to move through the threatened area of foes without provoking attacks of opportunity. You must make a check the moment you attempt to leave a square threatened by an enemy, but only once per foe.


Alrighty. Thanks for the clarification.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I've been telling people this for a while: "tanking" in Pathfinder isn't like "tanking" in an MMO; there's no such thing as a taunt. It's like "tanking" in League of Legends, where your job is battlefield control, initiation, and generally controlling the position/flow of baddies.

I'd really like to explore the idea more fully at some point; I'd considered a whip-oriented fighter, but the feat chain necessary to get AoOs at 15 feet with a whip is either nonexistent, or extremely expensive.


passive aggressive - you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Leaving that aside though, while some of your ideas are sound, I think your basic idea of position yourself so the enemies come to you, rather than engaging them is situational at best. There are too many ways to defeat that strategy. Even if we assume lack of options to get around your defensive positioning, unless you spend a feat and point in a significant dex (unlikely for a two-hand reach build) you are hitting one enemy one time. Anytime the avoid you, stand off at range or anything else, you wasted your invaluable action.

That isn't to say just charging in is always best, but moving to attack when you can, while keeping some defense for your allies is generally preferable to ceding the initiative. When you attack them they are in your threatened area and either have to respond in kind (the sort of fight you were built for) or reposition.


TarkXT wrote:

I've all but tried to purge the concept of "tank" from my D&D vocabulary.

To me there's just too much baggage attached to the term.

It is important to distinguish from other games (MMOs, etc) and if 'tank' or the like does that for you, then you will want to pick another name to think of when you read it in a different context (e.g. D&D).

I distinguish between 'tank' and 'cork'.

The former might be difficult to drop, but needs not be hard to hit (though they could be). They deal enough damage to be considered a significant threat.

The later have what a friend coined as AC 'nat 20'. And essentially plug a hole. The enemy can swing all day at them without much effect. Typically they trade off the ability to deal damage for this level of defense. They can 'tank' in the MMO sense against mindless or confused foes.

People do tend to confuse the two terms. Thank you for the enlightenment as to why.

To tactics and a preamble:

A DM should be roleplaying the enemy NPCs. If it is during a combat, then that combat is occurring for a reason. Very seldom would the goals of the NPCs be to 'die, but take one of them out with us'. Especially if they are instigating the attack.. run away instead!

Many people will claim that the wizard is the greatest threat when facing an enemy party. If that is the view of the NPCs that would be ambushing a group, then that should be their primary target (if they wish to win).

The goal of the tank is to project that level of primacy. I have in the past called this the 'bard effect'. Given the choice between killing the bard or killing the party lynch-pin, who should the enemy target? The lynch-pin of course. Drop them and then mop up the gnats they are traveling around with...

Play style will dictate who the default threat should be for given NPCs. But a GM making a world could have the PC party be mavericks in this respect, and only through their infamy would such stereotypes be broken.

This is not to forget to address that PC class is not stamped on the forehead (Summoners notwithstanding), and as such wizards walking around with kamas or monks with spellbooks and wands could cause well meaning evil NPCs to err. It also makes spells like Seeming as powerful as they should be.

-James


Dot.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I must have a different definition of 'tank', probably because I've never played an MMO.


Dave Justus wrote:


Leaving that aside though, while some of your ideas are sound, I think your basic idea of position yourself so the enemies come to you, rather than engaging them is situational at best. There are too many ways to defeat that strategy. Even if we assume lack of options to get around your defensive positioning, unless you spend a feat and point in a significant dex (unlikely for a two-hand reach build) you are hitting one enemy one time. Anytime the avoid you, stand off at range or anything else, you wasted your invaluable action.

That isn't to say just charging in is always best, but moving to attack when you can, while keeping some defense for your allies is generally preferable to ceding the initiative. When you attack them they are in your threatened area and either have to respond in kind (the sort of fight you were built for) or reposition.

You're missing the idea.

The point is not to cede initiative. Nor is it to draw people into your threatened space.

It's to force them to make bad decisions.

All the gnolls could have just went around the fighter if they chose. But none would have gained anything except having dealt no damage and leaving this guy who can just five foot shift and attack them to do so. Going around the threatened area doesn't remove it. and only gives the rest of the party time to cook up something nasty. You are not AM BARBARIAN your theme song doesn't play whenever you come charging out of the sky on your death bird. You're a dude with a polearm trolling the enemy.

Also since when are two handed fighters ignoring dex ever? 14 is actually pretty damn easy to start and gives you more than enough to get what you need. Even then that's only one method of zone denial. You can also do this through cooperation with your allies, through animal companions, or simple battlefield control spells put in unexpected places.

If the enemy does play stand off, that's why you can do thigns like chuck ranged weapons at them, have your wizard punish their immobility wiht area effect spells. Force them to either deal with you or flee. Or, get aggressive. Whatever works.

Nowhere do I suggest picking your nose. I merely suggest a more calculated form of receiving the opponents assault and turning that energy into an offensive move. You can consider it a form of martial art perfected by dwarves if you like.


I read your former work and this is, again, very informative.
Thanks and keep up the good work.


The thing is, this sort of behavior works against opponents which must close to melee range to attack.

You need to think of something different to handle, say, a collection of archers ambushing you.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
tonyz wrote:

The thing is, this sort of behavior works against opponents which must close to melee range to attack.

You need to think of something different to handle, say, a collection of archers ambushing you.

A distance engagement like that belongs to the wizard/sorcerer/archer, honestly. Most attempts I've seen for melee to close with entrenched ranged attackers end in lost HP and tears.


spectrevk wrote:
tonyz wrote:

The thing is, this sort of behavior works against opponents which must close to melee range to attack.

You need to think of something different to handle, say, a collection of archers ambushing you.

A distance engagement like that belongs to the wizard/sorcerer/archer, honestly. Most attempts I've seen for melee to close with entrenched ranged attackers end in lost HP and tears.

Probably because the archers (via the GM) are practicing their own version of zone denial. Picked terrain, for example, in the this case, since they have no melee type support, that is hazardous and/or difficult to bypass to anyone wishing to approach within melee distance. The characters will need to respond with their own area denial aka battlefield control (and/or their edge in mobility) - drop Acid Fog or similar on the area the archers are in making it hazardous for the archers to stay put, perhaps leaving them no choice but to move to a position where the party's melee types can now get at them.

My own archer, for example, seeing his melee companions getting walloped by attempting to get at the archers might have used Dimension Door to move himself and a melee companion to the archers position where the melee guys own zone denial will make the archers 'uncomfortable'. The thing is unlike some of the MMO's the melee guy can't use a 'Taunt' to bring the 'Aggro' of the archers to him (either by moving towards him or focusing their fire on him).

PF has no real way (at best very few ways) for a 'tank' character to do that. The archers will continue to fire as the GM decides which most likely will continue to be the ranged characters of the party. And they can continue to elect to do so even if I did use D Door to bring a tank and myself into their position, we're just hoping our presence will make that a bad idea or at least a choice of bad and 'badder'. A true tank (in the MMO sense) would be using his abilities give the foe no choice but to focus their attention on him.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I was quite proud of myself in one encounter where archers had tactical superiority over us that I simply pulled my tower shield and advanced on them. It did little to help the rest of the party of course.


So the more threatened spaces you control the better you can deny enemies, right? How do I deal with enemies that just go "screw that", take the AoOs anyway, and don't die? Also, if I have, say, improved snap shot with combat reflexes (something I plan on having on my gulch gunner) is it generally better to stay with casters and whatnot to keep enemies away or to advance to shut down enemy casters and ranged characters? I'm assuming this all changes with the terrain.

Also, another question: what of the Antagonize feat? Is it any good or just a waste of time? I ask because I, as a GM, have seen it used to annoyingly great affect.

Silver Crusade

Be careful with Antagonize. It has been errataed, so that the target is no longer required to make a melee attack. So, a spellcaster can cast a spell at you instead.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
FanaticRat wrote:

So the more threatened spaces you control the better you can deny enemies, right? How do I deal with enemies that just go "screw that", take the AoOs anyway, and don't die? Also, if I have, say, improved snap shot with combat reflexes (something I plan on having on my gulch gunner) is it generally better to stay with casters and whatnot to keep enemies away or to advance to shut down enemy casters and ranged characters? I'm assuming this all changes with the terrain.

Also, another question: what of the Antagonize feat? Is it any good or just a waste of time? I ask because I, as a GM, have seen it used to annoyingly great affect.

I think if you're a "zone denial" type melee fighter, your AoOs are probably best used for trip attacks/disarms/etc rather than traditional attacks. As you point out, they can survive a standard AoO and keep moving, but a trip attack effectively curtails their movement. It also is likely to leave them vulnerable to an additional AoO when they try to get up.

Against non-humanoids, or other trip-resistant foes, I imagine something like reposition could be useful. I had a group I was running for that had an Earth Oracle that would create a zone of difficult terrain around himself with that shard ability.

Grappling is also a very underrated tactic, especially given Paizo's penchant for "boss" encounters. A good grapper can shut down the mobility, spellcasting, and threatened area of a single opponent quite effectively. If they have a healer to back them up, it's unlikely that they'll go down before you can finish off the boss.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
I was quite proud of myself in one encounter where archers had tactical superiority over us that I simply pulled my tower shield and advanced on them. It did little to help the rest of the party of course.

And that last sentence is why I would have trouble considering you a "tank" at least in the MMO sense (which often seems to be the one folks are attempting to build). A tank's primary job is to protect the party from enemy attack by forcing the foes to direct their attention at him. Secondarily (and rather important) he has the 'durability' (in the form of hp, resistances, AC, regeneration, health recovery etc.) to enable himself to take that attention and remain standing to continue to draw there attention while the party obliterates them. You got the second part down but totally lack the primary ... which isn't your 'fault' at all, the game simply does not have a way for you to truly fulfill that purpose which is to not give the foes an elective choice about whom to attack.

On the other hand 'tank' as a heavily armored melee oriented juggernaut of death is much less MMO but much more "Hi I'm the party's M1 Abrams let me at them" type 'tank'. It demands attention, but doesn't require it.


spectrevk wrote:
FanaticRat wrote:

So the more threatened spaces you control the better you can deny enemies, right? How do I deal with enemies that just go "screw that", take the AoOs anyway, and don't die? Also, if I have, say, improved snap shot with combat reflexes (something I plan on having on my gulch gunner) is it generally better to stay with casters and whatnot to keep enemies away or to advance to shut down enemy casters and ranged characters? I'm assuming this all changes with the terrain.

Also, another question: what of the Antagonize feat? Is it any good or just a waste of time? I ask because I, as a GM, have seen it used to annoyingly great affect.

I think if you're a "zone denial" type melee fighter, your AoOs are probably best used for trip attacks/disarms/etc rather than traditional attacks. As you point out, they can survive a standard AoO and keep moving, but a trip attack effectively curtails their movement. It also is likely to leave them vulnerable to an additional AoO when they try to get up.

Against non-humanoids, or other trip-resistant foes, I imagine something like reposition could be useful. I had a group I was running for that had an Earth Oracle that would create a zone of difficult terrain around himself with that shard ability.

Grappling is also a very underrated tactic, especially given Paizo's penchant for "boss" encounters. A good grapper can shut down the mobility, spellcasting, and threatened area of a single opponent quite effectively. If they have a healer to back them up, it's unlikely that they'll go down before you can finish off the boss.

None of which can be done with a ranged character...maybe the snap shot chain isn't so hot after all. Readied action abuse, then.


@FanaticRat

Ranged focused characters essentially have a very very large area of zone denial as anything moving within LOS and within weapon range are in your zone denial. That's part of the power of being ranged.

Snap Shot and Improved Snap Shot don't so much create zone denial as 1)negate your foes attempts at zone denial (you no longer draw AoO's while attacking within their threatened area aka zone denial) and 2) alter your denial area so you act much like a melee character within a smaller sub-area of your larger denial zone (adding the ability to threaten with your weapon within your denial zone) How useful that is depends on typical play style and probably what sort of special AoO's you can inflict on your foes within that threatened area.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Kayerloth wrote:
On the other hand 'tank' as a heavily armored melee oriented juggernaut of death is much less MMO but much more "Hi I'm the party's M1 Abrams let me at them" type 'tank'. It demands attention, but doesn't require it.

And that is pretty much what I think when I say I'm playing the tank. Heavy armor and offense. With the biggest question being 'can I reach the enemy'. Cleric levels usually help answer that.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
Kayerloth wrote:
On the other hand 'tank' as a heavily armored melee oriented juggernaut of death is much less MMO but much more "Hi I'm the party's M1 Abrams let me at them" type 'tank'. It demands attention, but doesn't require it.
And that is pretty much what I think when I say I'm playing the tank. Heavy armor and offense. With the biggest question being 'can I reach the enemy'. Cleric levels usually help answer that.

Grace charge?

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Travel domain. Ignore difficult terrain, extra speed, fly added to spell list, just a whole slew of goodies. Grace is a staple spell as well for getting inside reach.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
Travel domain. Ignore difficult terrain, extra speed, fly added to spell list, just a whole slew of goodies. Grace is a staple spell as well for getting inside reach.

Same for my archer that I mentioned up thread. Travel domain goodness :)


Part of it is the favoring offence bit. That if you get everyone attacking you, you die. Which is something I suspect a lot of MMO/"Tank" type stratagies don't get.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber

I personally find I have a couple of high AC/decent damage characters that end up getting attacked a few times and then ignored. The simple fact is that I recall from another game is that tanking is two parts making them not want to hit you and making you not want to hit anyone else.

In my current PFS experience the best tank I have is my monk, a Tetori.
In the last fight he was in he grappled and held two out of the three targets in the fight and pinned them in succession. In each case the target couldn't move, was penalized for attacking anyone else and quickly made a non-threat. The rest of the party destroyed the third target and then finished off the two I was pinning.

I was curious how that figures into your concept of tanking in Pathfinder.

Very effective against casters by the way simply because they can rarely make the necessary concentration check and if they don't cast defensively I can smack em.

Grand Lodge

dotted


FanaticRat wrote:

So the more threatened spaces you control the better you can deny enemies, right? How do I deal with enemies that just go "screw that", take the AoOs anyway, and don't die? Also, if I have, say, improved snap shot with combat reflexes (something I plan on having on my gulch gunner) is it generally better to stay with casters and whatnot to keep enemies away or to advance to shut down enemy casters and ranged characters? I'm assuming this all changes with the terrain.

Also, another question: what of the Antagonize feat? Is it any good or just a waste of time? I ask because I, as a GM, have seen it used to annoyingly great affect.

If they don't die from your AoO's shrug and destroy them. Your free attacks are why they don't want to move through your threat. Your full attacks and punishing abilities are the reason they don't want to stop. You don't stop being a good melee fighter simply because you adopt a more defensive style.

Antagonize is next to useless if you rely on reach weapons. A GM can easily interpret taking an AoO as an effect that would harm them if they tried to attack you. That being said if you don't rely on a reach weapon it can be used to interesting effect. I'd honestly use it with a Crane Style monk against a cheeky gm whose like "nah he won't attack you".

Oh yes he will. I'll call him a bad name.


This is an excellent guide and it mirrors many of the principles I briefly touched upon in the Defender of the Weak "tanky" build in my Fighter guide (you can only defend allies by making it a pain in the butt for enemies to ignore you and go after them, and even then, you still might not stop them targeting your allies, but at least they feel the pain). Unlike with healing, I'm behind Tark on this advice 100%.


Taenia wrote:

I personally find I have a couple of high AC/decent damage characters that end up getting attacked a few times and then ignored. The simple fact is that I recall from another game is that tanking is two parts making them not want to hit you and making you not want to hit anyone else.

In my current PFS experience the best tank I have is my monk, a Tetori.
In the last fight he was in he grappled and held two out of the three targets in the fight and pinned them in succession. In each case the target couldn't move, was penalized for attacking anyone else and quickly made a non-threat. The rest of the party destroyed the third target and then finished off the two I was pinning.

I was curious how that figures into your concept of tanking in Pathfinder.

Very effective against casters by the way simply because they can rarely make the necessary concentration check and if they don't cast defensively I can smack em.

IT fits fine honestly. It's denial. It's not building a "zone" of denial but if you're grappling dudes and taking them out one by one it certainly giving them bad options. A grappled cahracter can choose to attack you, or choose to try and break the grapple. It honestly depends on the character in question what they choose but if you choose your targets wisely you eliminate a lot of options a group of enemies can use. One thing I don't like about it is that your effective territory control is nil while grappled until 4th level. Still that's an early enough level. I wonder how tetori interacts with kusari gamas? Seems to me being a large sized tetori with a reach grappling weapon would be a real terror to deal with.


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Troll teach "Passive aggressive".

1. Ancient witch kills half party with big spell then apologizes, "Sorry, dears, I didn't mean it that way." (avoid responsibility for acts, especially aggressive behavior)

2. Surviving Paladin charges witch with big shouts. Witch nags, "Mature adults can control their anger." (redirect attention from you to their emotions)

3. Paladin begin reply. Witch says "One minute, please." and turns to leave. (withdraw while faking agreement)

4. Paladin shout, "I'm talking to you." Witch says "Sorry. I thought talking later would work." (procrastinate while faking cooperation)

5. Paladin shout, "What did you just do?" Witch reply, "Mistake with big spell. Sorry. Won't happen again." (fake compliance using lousy response cloaked in prompt agreement)

6. Paladin shout, "But they're dead! You killed them!" Witch reply, "So raise them. Why are you so upset?" (maintain calm while faking shock at their emotions)

7. Paladin say, "The Cleric is among those you killed!" With say, "You don't have Ultimate Mercy yet? You're doing great adventuring for someone so youthful." (backhanded compliment is actually an insult highlighting the other person's shortcomings)

8. Paladin insist, "You raise them yourself or pay for that cost." Witch agree, "Sure. I would be happy to. I'll teleport home and get some gems." (fake help with intention to ignore request)

---

Homework: Design an encounter in which the PCs must retrieve an artifact from the twenty wives of the city's most senior male wizards, who are locally infamous as the Unprovably Malevolent Passive-Aggressive Knitting Club.

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