How not to stand around feeling useless during combat


Advice

Liberty's Edge

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Find yourself in a combat situation where you feel useless? In Pathfinder, there should NEVER be an instance where you feel useless or can't contribute something to the party. Instead of just holding your action or waiting it out, here's some suggestions:

Aid Another - Granted you have to be within melee range of the bad guy in order to give the bonus. So if you're squishy and afraid to go toe to toe with the enemy, always carry a longspear or similar reach weapon. Stand behind your stronger friend, make that attack roll vs AC 10, and your buddy gets an automatic +2 to his next attack. Oh, and those bonuses stack, so other party members can help out too.

Cantrips - Since they're unlimited use, all casters should prepare at least one that will be useful in combat. Ideally, two offensive: a ranged touch attack that deals damage and something that doesn't require an attack roll such as flare or daze. If you're a spellcasting class that has limited access to offensive cantrips such as cleric, spend your time buffing your party with Guidance to give them a +1 to their attack. Even at higher levels, doing a small amount of damage consistently with Acid Splash or Ray of Frost (due to only having to make a touch AC, which are often absurdly low) is better than consistently missing with your crossbow.

Domain Abilities, Bloodline Powers - While they're not unlimited like cantrips, they're usually still available in sufficient quantity to get you through an adventuring day (especially if you've been using some of the other above options). Don't forget that many of these powers are offensive and use them liberally.

Skills - Bards and Sorcerers, don't forget one of your primary stats is Charisma. There's plenty of opportunities to Feint and Demoralize the enemy during combat.

Splash Weapons - If you still find yourself with nothing to do after all that, carry around some Alchemist's Fire, Acid Flasks, and Holy Water. Just don't hit your friends with them.

Feel free to add your own suggestions here for unusual or often forgotten ways to help out in battle.


Flanking give a +2 hit and kill dex to ac while allowing sneak attack. Bring a net to entangle an oppenent even if ur not profecient whit it ( toutch ac at -4 is a cake).


You could get hit by Hold Monster and feel pretty useless for several rounds. Were you talking about spellcasters running out of spells?

Grand Lodge

I suspect the OP has encountered a PC who spends considerable in-combat time doing nothing. We've all played with them.

Scarab Sages

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Dennis Deadsky wrote:
I suspect the OP has encountered a PC who spends considerable in-combat time doing nothing. We've all played with them.

I played with someone in a PFS game who was playing a rogue who used a Heavy Crossbow without precise strike or rapid reload. She did three points of damage in the entire session.


Imbicatus wrote:
Dennis Deadsky wrote:
I suspect the OP has encountered a PC who spends considerable in-combat time doing nothing. We've all played with them.
I played with someone in a PFS game who was playing a rogue who used a Heavy Crossbow without precise strike or rapid reload. She did three points of damage in the entire session.

There's not much you can do about people who don't understand the game, especially if you can't "audit" them beforehand. I once had a player who played an elf rogue who used a longsword (due to elf proficiency) who absolutely refused to take Weapon Finesse because they hated that style of fighting. You can't sneak attack if you can't hit anything!

Sovereign Court

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Kimera757 wrote:
Imbicatus wrote:
Dennis Deadsky wrote:
I suspect the OP has encountered a PC who spends considerable in-combat time doing nothing. We've all played with them.
I played with someone in a PFS game who was playing a rogue who used a Heavy Crossbow without precise strike or rapid reload. She did three points of damage in the entire session.
There's not much you can do about people who don't understand the game, especially if you can't "audit" them beforehand. I once had a player who played an elf rogue who used a longsword (due to elf proficiency) who absolutely refused to take Weapon Finesse because they hated that style of fighting. You can't sneak attack if you can't hit anything!

their character sounds like a real person


Can't weapon finesse a longsword.

Honestly the first step to contributing your share to combat is to not pick a bad class.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

You would be surprised how many people choose classes/feats on name alone.

Rogue? Sneak Attack? It must be the best way to a be a sneaky rapscallion!

Bard? They must be some foppish badly dressed yodeling fool!

I don't care what the mechanics say! Names are more important!


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I forget where I read it

"I've come to the conclusion that the most satisfying feature of playing the Rogue is being able to write Rogue on the character sheet."


Rarely have I seen a thread with a higher TMIR-violation-to-post-count ratio.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

See, it says "Ninja" on character sheet.

That is all I need to automatically kill anyone without being seen.

Mechanics be damned!


Great suggestions for combat actions OP! I'd add the bag of flour trick for invisible targets, shooting (touch if possible) to take off mirror images, and smokesticks. The last you can time right after your allies' turns so they get the benefit and less detriment.

At higher levels combat maneuvers can be useful when DR or immunities are an issue. True strike if a caster or UMD'er who can't otherwise succeed. Time to break out minor buffs that you always have left memorized at the end of the day. Maybe spend a turn investigating the room if there might be an environmental advantage just waiting for you (open a furnace, activate a trap, open a door to a creature hostile to your enemy, rescue prisoners...


Insain Dragoon wrote:

Can't weapon finesse a longsword.

Honestly the first step to contributing your share to combat is to not pick a bad class.

Sounds like the player had high Dex and low Str, and was trying to use a longsword instead of a weapon finesse Rapier or Elven Curve Blade.


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Best way not to be useless in combat..is try to be useful.

don't stare blankly at your charactersheet, don't get wrapped up in mechanics, try to do something..anything and you may be surprised by what a little out of the box thinking can do.


I feel this often applies most to one trick ponies.

What's the fighter got to do when he can't make an attack?

What's the wizard got to do when he's out of spells?

I have this friend I play DnD with, great guy, but he's always playing a Witch (we're on the 3rd campaign he's done this) and he only ever uses Witch hexes. Whenever we come across something with high will saves? He just delays the whole time, rarely ever even uses his spells. In 4e he played a Wizard who only ever seemed to use Magic Missile (because it auto hit and was at will).

How do you help a guy who only ever wants to do one thing? And only ever does it because it's a guaranteed or near guaranteed thing?

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

I like the idea of a guide like this.


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Another thing you can't forget is that merely having a weapon you are proficient with means you can make AoO's.

So if you can do a fair amount of damage then after casting your spell or whatever move into a flanking position and give someoen a +2 bonus to their attack. Or otherwise place yourself in such a way that you can get an AoO triggered or force an enemy to go around you and take extra turns trying to get to a softer rear line.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

And if for some reason you are playing a squishy non-spell caster, there's the possibility of using knowledge checks to see what a monster is and can do, however this seems a bit situation-specific.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber

Intimidate to demoralize.

I had a sorc built with Intimidate as one of his shticks (a human Taldan with the Imperious bloodline), and during one encounter at low level, he found himself in a position where spellcasting would have been a bad idea. He could however, attempt to demoralize his opponent. He did so, and made the check each round, keeping his enemy at a constant state of Shaken. That to-hit penalty saved his butt until someone with a sword managed to get close enough.

It was also funny (to me, at least) when the GM asked what I was doing and I replied "Casting Booga Booga again."


There's a +1 staff in the new Inner Sea gods book that fires two magic missiles at will, really got my attention for classes that get stuck for something to do. Around 5,000 gold, staff of the twin serpents or something close to that.


I was in a situation recently where we were in a five foot corridor and an ally was fighting an enemy around a corner. I couldn't see the enemy or even stand next to my ally. What can I do in that situation? Does demoralize work?


I like witches - always have a debuff or buff handy.


Insain Dragoon wrote:
Can't weapon finesse a longsword.

Add "and use a short sword".

Scarab Sages

As a suportive/roleplay Bard I offen being around in combat, specially because our lasts adventures are all about undead.

Positioning and trying shot something with my small bow (+5 attack/1d4 dmg), which is pretty useless compared with our 2h fighter with power attack.

In between heals and buffs and songs, sometimes I have nothing to do. So I will get Flagbear feat, because reasons ;)


Can you provide flanking or aid another when you can't hurt the opponent? For example if the enemy is incorporeal and you don't have a magic weapon.


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run around the enemy and draw AoOs away from characters who are actually contributing to the fight. Also, hope they don't have Combat Reflexes. You may laugh but this has actually proved to be very valuable on occasion. Usually only do this vs foes with reach. Taking the Total Defense standard action before you do this is usually a smart plan.

Stand in the way. Sometimes blocking a door to stop an enemy from escaping is what needs to be done, or stand in the doorway to secure your own escape route against enemies who might be trying to cut you off. Positioning yourself between the enemy and somebody squishier than you might prevent them from charging an important ally.

Change the terrain, if you can. Knocking over tables to provide cover might work. Break a window to provide another entrance to the room if the only current one is being blocked by an enemy. Dump that cauldron of who-knows-what out on their heads. Maybe you need to secure a grappling hook and a rope to get across the chasm to where the archers are shooting you.


Haversack full of alchemical items.


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In urban adventures anyway you can call for the guards. You can clear away innocent bystanders. You can Aid Another for AC to slow down the fight. You can go total defense and go fishing for AoOs. You can use improvised weapons. I will never forget the time my 1st level fighter took out a 5th level wizard with a bar of soap and a fishing rod back in 2nd ed despite the guy levitating and trying to fireball me. Readied my action to throw the soap when he cast, ruined his fireball, hooked him with the fishing rod, reeled him in and beat him down.

Even if you fail, trying stuff is always more entertaining than doing nothing.


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I would say part of the problem is that people are obsessed with winning, or rather, not failing. Every attack must hit. Every opponent must fail their save. All dice should come up max. Every check should succeed. When your perspective is binary, not doing anything to avoid even the possibility of failure becomes mighty tempting.


My current Druid has the Caves subdomain and gains a ranged touch attack from it. When he's dropped enough summons, battlefield control etc he just uses that to chip a few points off wounded enemies. He's actually got quite a few kills from targeting weakened foes, even though it's basically just a slightly stronger acid splash.


I played with a guy who wanted to focus on non combat stuff. So when it came to combat he focused on soft control with caltrops, smoke sticks, bottles of oil. We talked about it out of game and all the players agreed to work around it. It was fun dming that sort of tactics.

One of their favorite tactics early was to pop smoke and the wizard cast grease. So when people tried to make their way through the smoke they often ended up prone.


My bard/witch regularly feels useless in the conventional sense. He's not able to do meaningful damage in combat, usually. However, he's become the party's go-to guy for support, occasional healing, and battlefield control.

Part of it, of course, is unconventional tactics. He has managed to summon a shadow demon against a huge elemental (only works once, though). He managed to tie up a cleric BBEG by walking through a gate and forcing him to spend lots of effort to stop him. He burned a mansion to the ground--not on purpose, mind you. Not entirely. He does the draw-AoO-and-become-flanking-buddy-for-rogues thing. He sings, of course, and casts spells. He's picked up a huge pile of potions and oils. He doesn't drink them, usually, but figures out who needs what when, and gets it to them.

There's always, always something you can do. It's far less about how successful you are, and far more about your willingness to act.

But hey, that's life.


Matthew Downie wrote:
I was in a situation recently where we were in a five foot corridor and an ally was fighting an enemy around a corner. I couldn't see the enemy or even stand next to my ally. What can I do in that situation? Does demoralize work?

Buff your ally. Drag him back down the corner to pull the enemy out where you can see him. Throw caution to the wind and overrun the enemy around the corner to get behind him and flank with your ally.

Cast illusions. Send a small animal down the corridor with alchemist's fire. Scry. Be ready with healing.

Liberty's Edge

Umbranus wrote:

Can you provide flanking or aid another when you can't hurt the opponent? For example if the enemy is incorporeal and you don't have a magic weapon.

According to RAW, you don't have to actually be able to damage the enemy, just be within melee range. I believe the idea is that you're distracting the enemy just enough for one of your party members to more easily hit with an attack.

Thanks for all the great suggestions and replies, all. I appreciate the positive response.


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Freehold DM wrote:
I would say part of the problem is that people are obsessed with winning, or rather, not failing. Every attack must hit. Every opponent must fail their save. All dice should come up max. Every check should succeed. When your perspective is binary, not doing anything to avoid even the possibility of failure becomes mighty tempting.

Yup.

A related issue is that many players will only take actions that they know the books address with hard mechanics. There's no rules text that specifies what must happen when you hook a levitating mage with a fishing rod, so these players would never think to try it any more than they would think to try it in a tactical CRPG. If the GM is doing her job, though, these become possibilities. Outside-of-the-box tactics may not work every time, and the GM will have ultimate discretion in whether such tactics succeed in a given situation, but if the GM is doing her job, she'll look to reward genuinely clever thinking.

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