Why do a lot of groups not use the cover rules?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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I've seen this mentioned on the boards and I've seen it in actual play. It seems that a lot of people just don't use the rules for cover. Does anyone have any ideas on why, though? Are those rules too complicated? Are they somehow not fun?

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Really? I've seen lots of people get the cover rules wrong, and I've seen a lot of accusations of "Well if you think archery is so strong, then obviously you're not applying the cover rules in your games," but I don't think I've ever actually encountered anyone who just straight-up didn't use the cover rules. Did the people you encountered not cite reasons for that houserule?


Personally, I use it all the time. It was coming into play all session long in my Sunday group's game this past weekend.


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This may be unusual, but I've played or GMed across six campaigns, and I've never seen an optimized archer.

With a non-optimized ranged attack, cover works like this:
Cleric: "Well, I'm low on spells, and I can't get into melee, so I throw my spear at the ogre. Let's see, my BAB is 2 and I've got +1 for Dex, and +1 for Divine Favor, and +1 for Bless. I rolled a 19, so that's 24 total. AC of 17, you said?"
GM: "Right, but you're firing into melee with -4, and the barbarian acts as cover between you and the ogre for a second -4... So you miss."


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Melkiador wrote:
I've seen this mentioned on the boards and I've seen it in actual play. It seems that a lot of people just don't use the rules for cover. Does anyone have any ideas on why, though? Are those rules too complicated? Are they somehow not fun?

Have you ever been in the middle of an intense combat and thought, "Man, I really wish we could use protractors and straight edges to crawl through combat."


Jiggy wrote:
Really? I've seen lots of people get the cover rules wrong, and I've seen a lot of accusations of "Well if you think archery is so strong, then obviously you're not applying the cover rules in your games," but I don't think I've ever actually encountered anyone who just straight-up didn't use the cover rules. Did the people you encountered not cite reasons for that houserule?

I typically don't bring it up, because I don't want to slow the game down. I figure that kind of thing is up to the DM. I'm not so sure people are choosing not to use them. It seems more like forgetting them or not knowing about them. But I've seen this in multiple games: Both PFS and home games.


I have seen a few get it wrong but none not using them.


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Rhedyn wrote:
Melkiador wrote:
I've seen this mentioned on the boards and I've seen it in actual play. It seems that a lot of people just don't use the rules for cover. Does anyone have any ideas on why, though? Are those rules too complicated? Are they somehow not fun?
Have you ever been in the middle of an intense combat and thought, "Man, I really wish we could use protractors and straight edges to crawl through combat."

I play on a whiteboard with no grid at all - our entire tabletop is one giant whiteboard and I just draw the rooms, terrain, etc.

Occasionally we use a ruler to measure distance but these days that is very rare. Somebody wants to move 30', they pick up their mini and move it about 6 inches and put it down. As the GM, I "eyeball" estimate if I think that was really a 30' move and make an adjustment if I think they were off a little, but usually I don't need to do this.

As for cover, I make a judgment call. That attack has cover applied, this one doesn't. No rulers, no protractors. Just eyeballs.

It doesn't slow down combat and nobody's ever complained that my estimates are unfair so it works just fine.

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...So your answer would be "I don't use the cover rules because eyeballing it works better for my group"? Yeah, that's a pretty good answer. :)


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Jiggy wrote:
Really? I've seen lots of people get the cover rules wrong,

That's phase I. Phase II is when you say "sod it, I can't get them right, so I won't use them at all."

Phase III is when you say "why are archers so totally dominating my battlefield?"


Jiggy wrote:
...So your answer would be "I don't use the cover rules because eyeballing it works better for my group"? Yeah, that's a pretty good answer. :)

Actually, if we did draw out the grid and measure from square corners like the rulebook says, then I would be using the cover rules as written. I am using them, just making quick judgments instead of precise measurements. Same rules, quicker determination of when to apply them.


DM_Blake wrote:
Rhedyn wrote:
Melkiador wrote:
I've seen this mentioned on the boards and I've seen it in actual play. It seems that a lot of people just don't use the rules for cover. Does anyone have any ideas on why, though? Are those rules too complicated? Are they somehow not fun?
Have you ever been in the middle of an intense combat and thought, "Man, I really wish we could use protractors and straight edges to crawl through combat."

I play on a whiteboard with no grid at all - our entire tabletop is one giant whiteboard and I just draw the rooms, terrain, etc.

Occasionally we use a ruler to measure distance but these days that is very rare. Somebody wants to move 30', they pick up their mini and move it about 6 inches and put it down. As the GM, I "eyeball" estimate if I think that was really a 30' move and make an adjustment if I think they were off a little, but usually I don't need to do this.

As for cover, I make a judgment call. That attack has cover applied, this one doesn't. No rulers, no protractors. Just eyeballs.

It doesn't slow down combat and nobody's ever complained that my estimates are unfair so it works just fine.

Our group has experimented with miniatures and our skirmish TTG terrain pieces for combats sometime. Our group all has history with things like Dark Age, Infiniti, Mordheim, Warmachine, etc., so there wasn't any learning curve for us to do combats this way. It was pretty cool to have three dimensional terrain for the combats. It was a little more unwieldy, though, using tape measures and such and navigating that same 3-d terrain with the minis. We had considered doing it more in the future, but nobody wanted to bother making templates for the various area effect things that crop up in game.

Liberty's Edge

I think the -4 for shooting into combat is well-used, but it is also fairly easy to understand. I see cover and concealment from objects used much, much less. I do not recall the last time that anyone used cover from a short object such as a fallen tree or rubble.

I have a feeling it is due to a lack of a solid understanding of how cover and concealment work in the game. As a GM with Ranger and Rogue players, I generally try to make a point of defining areas within an encounter that players (and monsters) may use for cover and concealment, but inevitably the players would just charge in instead of trying to take advantage.

As a player, I look for opportunities to use cover and concealment, but then again, I understand how the rules work.


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Understanding cover and knowing what the Pathfinder rules for cover are tends to be two different things.

I can see that someone has cover, but damned if I know what exactly that means depending on: Soft; Partial; Total; etc. And that can change from moment to moment. So - yeah, kind of a pain to track and stay on top of. For me, anyway.


Melkiador wrote:
I've seen this mentioned on the boards and I've seen it in actual play. It seems that a lot of people just don't use the rules for cover. Does anyone have any ideas on why, though? Are those rules too complicated? Are they somehow not fun?

Lack of interest/effort? Honestly, cover is one of the easier to understand parts of Pathfinder. It barely takes up one page and it's all diced up into easy to spot entries. Anyone who doesn't use it or doesn't take it into consideration has only themselves to blame for missing out on a useful and neat mechanic.


I've yet to see a non-PFS game which used the soft cover rules for creatures obstructing ranged or reach attacks. On the other hand, the -4 for shooting into combat without Precise Shot usually gets enforced (though sometimes only after somebody decides to play the spoiler by bringing it up). Cover and partial cover for solid objects also gets used a lot.

I suspect that part of the reason people often skip the soft cover penalty is because it might make the players with ranged and reach attacks complain when the frontline melee folks get in the way of their shots (kind of like the Wizard who complains when you get into melee before he can shoot a Fireball)

I also wonder how soft cover is supposed to interact with natural reach. I'd imagine that a lot of DMs wouldn't like it much if I could give an ally +4 AC against a troll's attacks just by standing in between them. Of course people might also be less willing to stay behind my tank if it cost them a -4 penalty on attacks. I guess it could also drive them to use more spells and especially spells without attack rolls. More SoL isn't something which most groups I play in would probably hope for.

The idea of using soft cover actually came up recently in a group with one player who runs PFS games. This was halfway through the campaign though, and I guess it seemed a little unfair to suddenly change the expectations in mid game (I'm not the DM - just guessing why he decided not to start enforcing the rules once they were brought up)


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I've often considered house ruling so cover would stack to some extent. +2 per additional source of cover or soft cover, to a maximum total (including the base +4) of +10. Realistically*, it sort of bugs me that an archer can fire past ten people as easily as she can fire past one.

Cover gets really tedious when you enter the minutia, though. "Okay, so none of my corners cross into their corners, so...wait, am I thinking of melee? Or reach weapons? S@@@, I'm just gonna drink a potion this round."

It's not the most intuitive system.

*BUT KC, DRAAAAGOOONNNS


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Pathfinder Maps, Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

One reason I see it overlooked a lot is when GM's don't define to the players what constitutes as cover in a given scenario.

For example, the heroes walk into a bar that has been taken over by a pair of drunken rangers who have already killed one person and have taken a hostage or two.

Their are chairs, tables, a bar, and a body.

How often does your GM tell you that those are cover? It's been my experience that they usually don't. People--players and GMs both--just assume certain things constitute as cover and each and every person in the same scenario can have different ideas on that point. More often then not, I have to ask the GM, "If I duck behind a chair do I get cover? What about the tables and bar?"

Without the GM or another player bringing it up though, many players don't think--or are too lazy--to ask and so just charge in and get shot up by the ranger-terrorists' arrows.

In short, a friendly reminder now and again helps.


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I houseruled that as far as soft cover and shooting into melee is concerned, the first creature that is both engaged in melee with the target and is providing soft cover only counts for the former. Any additional creatures that both provide soft cover as well as engaging in melee with the target provide the soft cover penalty as normal. This provides a slight boost to archers but my players who do archery aren't attempting to optimize it, so it works out for the better in my opinion by actually allowing those unoptimized characters to feel like they're at least contributing versus always missing.

I also mostly eyeball cover, only actually measuring if it's unclear in an attempt to keep up the pace of combat. The fact I game on roll20 makes the measuring aspect significantly easier however compared to gaming on a tabletop.


Cover as objects being in way of arrows is okay, but I hate NPCs giving each other cover.

Maybe it is sensible if you have a guy with a big shield and someone is hiding directly behind them. But you could have 2 orcs standing side by side and they work as soft cover if you fire from an angle. Or doorways. God, I sometimes really hate doorways. It does not help that cover does not scale with the game, and is super huge at lvl 1 and nothing at higher levels.


Envall wrote:
It does not help that cover does not scale with the game, and is super huge at lvl 1 and nothing at higher levels.

I think that actually works very well.

I would expect that hiding partially behind a tree makes it hard for a low-level farmer to shoot you with a crossbow, but a high level master archer should be able to pick you off with little (relative) difficulty.

I think the opposite would be much more problematic. Why should a 20th level ranger suffer, for example, a -20 penalty shooting at a guy using a tree for cover while a level 1 ranger suffers only the usual -4 penalty to make the same shot?


In theory I wouldn't mind trying out a simplified version of the cover rules at some point though I think that trusting the DM's judgement instead of pulling out laser sighting tools would probably be the way to go.

@Envall - I think that NPCs giving each other cover actually sounds very sensible. When Evil Mastermind stands behind his mooks he'd probably really like it if that helped protected him from the ranged attacks as well as melee.


Devilkiller wrote:

In theory I wouldn't mind trying out a simplified version of the cover rules at some point though I think that trusting the DM's judgement instead of pulling out laser sighting tools would probably be the way to go.

@Envall - I think that NPCs giving each other cover actually sounds very sensible. When Evil Mastermind stands behind his mooks he'd probably really like it if that helped protected him from the ranged attacks as well as melee.

the problem with that line of thinking is that you are essentially adding an impossible to hit target....

If you add a +4 to hit your target, you are indicating there is an intervening target you can hit... that is what +4 is representing, the chance you hit that target instead... except there are no chances you hit the other character instead under RAW, just an added miss chance.


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Oddly, we're coming up on melee cover more in our game. Yum. (It's been consistently applied, at least. I avoided a nasty AoO for standing due to it in one session.)

I haven't really kept track of ranged attacks; so far I've only made two over three levels of play myself. One was a target in the open (hit), the other was a goblin in a watchtower (miss).

I do know in the game we were playing before, I was more than willing to shoot into and out of melee. I did remind our GM that I had a feat for one or the other of those (forgot which, book's not on hand), plus full BAB, plus other class features to adjust just where that .45 slug ended up. Still, I think he's keeping track of it for the most part. (Just that who cares about cover when the die comes up a 4?)

Liberty's Edge

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Precise Shot for the win. The one serious archer in my game is a ranger with Precise Shot. Highly recommended!


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This might not be a popular answer, but I'd occasionally ignore them for the switch hitter rogue player I had. He was underoptimized in a quite powerful party and had enough trouble hitting, so I didn't really bring it up when he would throw a knife at something engaged in combat.


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M1k31 wrote:
If you add a +4 to hit your target, you are indicating there is an intervening target you can hit... that is what +4 is representing, the chance you hit that target instead... except there are no chances you hit the other character instead under RAW, just an added miss chance.

This is probably my biggest gripe with soft cover/firing into melee, the lack of the chance to hit the cover, but the increased chance to miss the target. The math to handle this gets incredibly hard though, because Attack vs. AC is not just the chance of hitting, it's the chance of penetrating. You could rule that a miss against a covered foe has a chance of striking the cover, but how do you determine that chance? I mean, it could also miss both, it could also strike the cover, but not penetrate their armor. The Armor as DR rules would make this a little simpler to determine, as at least then, the attack roll is really just determining contact, but there's still the 'missed both' aspect. And implementing something like this would take it even further past the rulers/lasers complication.

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My players always think I'm a jerk when I have enemies use cover.


CraziFuzzy wrote:
This is probably my biggest gripe with soft cover/firing into melee, the lack of the chance to hit the cover, but the increased chance to miss the target. The math to handle this gets incredibly hard though, because Attack vs. AC is not just the chance of hitting, it's the chance of penetrating. You could rule that a miss against a covered foe has a chance of striking the cover, but how do you determine that chance? I mean, it could also miss both, it could also strike the cover, but not penetrate their armor. The Armor as DR rules would make this a little simpler to determine, as at least then, the attack roll is really just determining contact, but there's still the 'missed both' aspect. And implementing something like this would take it even further past the rulers/lasers complication.

You'd also probably need separate rules for when the cover is an ally you really don't want to hit, for when the cover is an enemy you're happy to hit, and for when you don't care either way, since this should have a lot of effect on how careful the ranged attacker is.

More trouble than it's worth, really.

(Is there a feat for getting out the way of your ally's arrows?)


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Pathfinder Lost Omens Subscriber

Maybe a more 'interesting' option might be to use a variation on critical fumble rules. If you normally run a chance of a fumble on a natural 1, then perhaps partial cover could expand that to a 1-2, and full cover to 1-3 (similar to expanding critical hit threat range). This makes the chances still relatively low that you're actually going to shoot your buddy in the back, but the chance will actually be there, making it at least part of the conversation.


Part of it is that everyone intuitively knows the cover rules are bogus. They work okay for medium creatures, a large creature can get cover while still leaving three times as much exposed area as a medium creature with no cover would have, but still have a cover penalty greater than the size AC penalty difference between large and medium.

Actually, a multi-tile creature can receive cover from an attack from an object not within reach of the attacker if attacked by someone with a reach weapon from a diagonal direction. The cover rules are just that bad.

Once a group starts arguing indefensible edge cases it's only a matter of time until they start flat out ignoring them. And then martials don't suck at least as long as they use a composite longbow and that's probably an improvement.


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Atarlost wrote:

Part of it is that everyone intuitively knows the cover rules are bogus. They work okay for medium creatures, a large creature can get cover while still leaving three times as much exposed area as a medium creature with no cover would have, but still have a cover penalty greater than the size AC penalty difference between large and medium.

Actually, a multi-tile creature can receive cover from an attack from an object not within reach of the attacker if attacked by someone with a reach weapon from a diagonal direction. The cover rules are just that bad.

Once a group starts arguing indefensible edge cases it's only a matter of time until they start flat out ignoring them. And then martials don't suck at least as long as they use a composite longbow and that's probably an improvement.

Pretty sure you can ignore cover altogether for a large creature simply by targeting the square of the creature that isn't covered.

The rest of what you said sounds untrue as well. Would you mind posting examples and/or diagrams to support your thoughts maybe?


Who is responsible for applying the modifiers for cover in combat? Should the attacker calculate cover when announcing their attack result? Or should the defender calculate cover when determining their defense?

Quote:
To determine whether your target has cover from your ranged attack, choose a corner of your square. If any line from this corner to any corner of the target's square passes through a square or border that blocks line of effect or provides cover, or through a square occupied by a creature, the target has cover (+4 to AC).

Maybe part of the reason cover rules feel bad is that the attacker is providing an AC bonus to his target rather than taking a penalty to his own attack.


Ravingdork wrote:
Pretty sure you can ignore cover altogether for a large creature simply by targeting the square of the creature that isn't covered.

RAW:

"Choose a corner of your square. If any line from this corner to any corner of the target's square passes through a square or border that blocks line of effect or provides cover, or through a square occupied by a creature, the target has cover (+4 to AC)."

Does "the target's square" mean the whole (square) area the target covers, or one square within the target chosen by the attacker?

Maybe the reason people ignore cover rules is that they're not as clear as people think.


Melkiador wrote:

Who is responsible for applying the modifiers for cover in combat? Should the attacker calculate cover when announcing their attack result? Or should the defender calculate cover when determining their defense?

Quote:
To determine whether your target has cover from your ranged attack, choose a corner of your square. If any line from this corner to any corner of the target's square passes through a square or border that blocks line of effect or provides cover, or through a square occupied by a creature, the target has cover (+4 to AC).
Maybe part of the reason cover rules feel bad is that the attacker is providing an AC bonus to his target rather than taking a penalty to his own attack.

Cover gives an AC bonus, so the defender should add the bonus to his armor class. Conversely firing into melee is an attack penalty, so the attacker should subtract the penalty from his attack roll.

Edit: Ah, looks like I hit quote just as you edited your post.


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Matthew Downie wrote:
Does "the target's square" mean the whole (square) area the target covers, or one square within the target chosen by the attacker?

Further down:

Quote:
Big Creatures and Cover: Any creature with a space larger than 5 feet (1 square) determines cover against melee attacks slightly differently than smaller creatures do. Such a creature can choose any square that it occupies to determine if an opponent has cover against its melee attacks. Similarly, when making a melee attack against such a creature, you can pick any of the squares it occupies to determine if it has cover against you.


Kudaku wrote:
Cover gives an AC bonus, so the defender should add the bonus to his armor class.

So, is it the responsibility of the defender to determine if he has cover or the responsibility of the attacker to inform the defender that he gets a +4 to his AC. It seems like a really backwards design.


Melkiador wrote:
So, is it the responsibility of the defender to determine if he has cover or the responsibility of the attacker to inform the defender that he gets a +4 to his AC.

It's the responsibility of the GM to determine who gets cover and to make sure it's applied.


Melkiador wrote:
Matthew Downie wrote:
Does "the target's square" mean the whole (square) area the target covers, or one square within the target chosen by the attacker?

Further down:

Quote:
Big Creatures and Cover: Any creature with a space larger than 5 feet (1 square) determines cover against melee attacks slightly differently than smaller creatures do. Such a creature can choose any square that it occupies to determine if an opponent has cover against its melee attacks. Similarly, when making a melee attack against such a creature, you can pick any of the squares it occupies to determine if it has cover against you.

That seems awfully specific to melee attacks...


Matthew Downie wrote:
Melkiador wrote:
So, is it the responsibility of the defender to determine if he has cover or the responsibility of the attacker to inform the defender that he gets a +4 to his AC.
It's the responsibility of the GM to determine who gets cover and to make sure it's applied.

So every time you get attacked by a monster, and your character has cover, the GM tells you to apply a +4 to your AC? And I guess if his monsters have cover, he just quietly applies the +4 to them?


Quote:
Improved Cover: In some cases, such as attacking a target hiding behind an arrowslit, cover may provide a greater bonus to AC and Reflex saves. In such situations, the normal cover bonuses to AC and Reflex saves can be doubled (to +8 and +4, respectively). A creature with this improved cover effectively gains improved evasion against any attack to which the Reflex save bonus applies. Furthermore, improved cover provides a +10 bonus on Stealth checks.

I've never noticed this before, though I rarely play stealth. So unless I have line of sight to my enemies, I need to be adding a +10 to my stealth checks.


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Does having total cover also grant that +10 to Stealth? If not, why not?


Because the 3.0 cover rules are simpler and more intuitive so we use them instead. The 3.5/Pathfinder rules for cover are just obtuse.


Melkiador wrote:
Matthew Downie wrote:
Melkiador wrote:
So, is it the responsibility of the defender to determine if he has cover or the responsibility of the attacker to inform the defender that he gets a +4 to his AC.
It's the responsibility of the GM to determine who gets cover and to make sure it's applied.
So every time you get attacked by a monster, and your character has cover, the GM tells you to apply a +4 to your AC? And I guess if his monsters have cover, he just quietly applies the +4 to them?

Exactly. Or, better yet, those running the character/creature that's the target of the attack announces that the attack would normally hit except that cover is applying.


Aaron Whitley wrote:
Because the 3.0 cover rules are simpler and more intuitive so we use them instead. The 3.5/Pathfinder rules for cover are just obtuse.

They're the same rules, dude.


Cover rules are extremely simple until you bring creature cover into the picture.


Ravingdork wrote:
Does having total cover also grant that +10 to Stealth? If not, why not?

If you have total cover, you're not visible. If you're not visible, you're invisible. That's +20 to stealth.


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Cerberus Seven wrote:
Aaron Whitley wrote:
Because the 3.0 cover rules are simpler and more intuitive so we use them instead. The 3.5/Pathfinder rules for cover are just obtuse.
They're the same rules, dude.

Nope, they are completely different. The 3.0 rules are much clearer and simpler to apply.

EDIT: removed the actual rules list since the formatting was terrible. Check here for the rule instead (under Combat Modifiers).


Envall wrote:
Cover rules are extremely simple until you bring creature cover into the picture.

Nope, still simple. Just don't apply the Reflex save bonus and you can't use it to attempt Stealth. That's really all there is to it. Remember, typically there's only cover, soft cover, and total cover in play. Partial and improved cover are things the GM has to specify are possible at any given moment.

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