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In the panicked condition, it says:
A panicked creature must drop anything it holds and flee at top speed from the source of its fear, as well as any other dangers it encounters, along a random path. It can't take any other actions. In addition, the creature takes a –2 penalty on all saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks. If cornered, a panicked creature cowers and does not attack, typically using the total defense action in combat. A panicked creature can use special abilities, including spells, to flee; indeed, the creature must use such means if they are the only way to escape.
Does the bolded "cowers" mean the cowering condition?
The character is frozen in fear and can take no actions. A cowering character takes a –2 penalty to Armor Class and loses his Dexterity bonus (if any).
If so, the two statements are contradictory - a cowering creature cannot use the Total Defense action (it's a standard), since they can take no actions. How does this work?
As I understand it, the affected creature does not cower until it exhausts its options to escape, which it tries to do every turn.
This implies that a panicked creature only gains "cowering" from the moment it perceives "being cornered" until its chance to act again on its next initiative (or end of the fear effect).
At the very least, a panicked creature needs to be afforded at least one chance(turn) to determine escape is impossible.
However, I do think panicked is in error regarding total defense (which is perhaps a 3.x legacy issue?) considering that it's not an action related to escaping the danger (although, the fact that total defense is called out may delimit this).
All things considered, I don't think it's game breaking to allow total defense as an option on their turn if they have previously determined further escape is perceptibly "impossible", but it certainly doesn't fit the flavor.
@dragonhunterq citation needed, I'm pretty confident the intent is that you gain the cowering condition
If this is actually the case in PFRPG, it is indeed a legacy wording issue as 3.x mentions "cowers" in both the "Panicked" and "Turned" glossary entries, which is very suggestive that WotC's intent was that it references the Cowering condition. (d20srd.org even hyperlinks both back up to cowering)
has there been any dev input when this has come up before?