Howl as free action


Rules Questions


If a creature has a howl attack is it still a standard action to use?

On the one hand, it is described as an attack.
On the other hand, the description doesn't say it takes a standard action and a character is allowed to speak as a free action.

If a PC is allowed to take a knowledge check as a free action, gets 5 questions from the check, and share all of that information with the rest of the party as part of the free action, then an NPC beast should be able to howl as a free action unless otherwise stated. It's how they talk - free action.

I know, it sounds like I'm trying to overwhelm the players - and openly admit that I am. But that's only because they pull their own weasel tricks and try to use time constraints to keep me from sticking to strict rules. Turnabout is fair play.


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Core Rulebook, p. 183 has a table what is the default action to use various abilities, and we're supposed to use it unless the description of the ability says otherwise. In particular, using an extraordinary, supernatural or spell-like ability is usually a standard action.

The description of Knowledge skill says that Knowledge checks don't require any action at all (even a free one, which means you can do them even when you cannot take any actions). Speaking, as you say is a free action, but I believe I saw somewhere a note that it is special that it can be used during another's turn. It's worth noting thought that a GM can limit how many free actions you can take during the round; one round is supposed to be 6 seconds, and it would be realistic to limit speaking during one round to what you can actualy communicate in that time.

You can the howl being a standard action such that to have its special effect it requires more effect or something more than just speaking. So you can say that "a creature howls and alerts other creatures in the area" as a free action, but for the howl to have any extraordinary/supernatural effect, a greater effort is required.

Compare with how using a spell with only vocal component is also a standard action, even though it's also "just speaking".


gnrrrg wrote:
gets 5 questions from the check, and share all of that information with the rest of the party as part of the free action

Sure, if they can share all that information within "a few sentences" (or six seconds in my games). Free actions aren't free.

In any case, Adjoint is correct. Using a supernatural, spell-like, or extraordinary ability that neither specifies an action type nor "rides" on an existing action is a standard action. This implicit behavior the developers don't have to waste valuable space adding "as a standard action" to the majority of abilities throughout the monster stat blocks in the Bestiary and published adventures. Abilities that can be used as a free action pretty much always say so explicitly.


Basically, abilities that have a direct effect in combat are never free actions unless explicitly stated, even when they're described as just some verbal stuff.

You should rather work on the actual issue, though - the rules on knowledge checks are not as you've given them: "A successful check allows you to remember a bit of useful information about that monster. For every 5 points by which your check result exceeds the DC, you recall another piece of useful information." There is no such thing as "asking questions", you as the GM decide which information to give the player. It should be something the PC is most likely to remember (important weaknesses etc.), but you still get to decide.
Also, a knowledge check is not a free action, it's not an action at all ("In most cases, a Knowledge check doesn’t take an action"). What the "monster lore" thing represents is that when the PC sees a creature, they remember certain things. Just like if you see a (picture of a) hydra, you remember the thign about re-growing heads. It's usually something involuntary and instantaneous. Of course, this happens the second the PC sees the creature, and doesn't wait until the start of their turn.

If you want to limit the player a bit, set a stop clock on your phone and ask them to say what their PC are saying, in 6 seconds or less (without prior time to think about the wording). As PCs are trained professionals (well, semi-trained quasi-professionals, at any rate), having them do that while attacking isn't (too) unrealistic.


Trying to get turnabout on your players is a bad idea. All you do is to encourage this type of behavior and you end up lowering yourself to their level. You are also opening yourself up for further shenanigans. Like Adjoint pointed out the next step would be casting spells with only verbal components as a free action. Since sign language exists the next step would be to claim that spells with somatic components are also just “Talking”. I am sure that someone would come up with a reason where material components are also fall under talking. This is a good way for a GM to lose control of the game. Don’t go down this route.

When you players creative ideas go too far, simply tell them no. As GM you have final authority use it wisely.


blahpers wrote:
In any case, Adjoint is correct. Using a supernatural, spell-like, or extraordinary ability that neither specifies an action type nor "rides" on an existing action is a standard action. This implicit behavior the developers don't have to waste valuable space adding "as a standard action" to the majority of abilities throughout the monster stat blocks in the Bestiary and published adventures. Abilities that can be used as a free action pretty much always say so explicitly.

Pathfinder is what is know as an exceptions-based rules system. That means that you always use the general rule to determine how something should work, unless some other, more specific rule states otherwise. As blahpers points out, that allows the designers to save a lot of word count.

The OP didn't cite exactly which monster they're trying to understand, so I did a quick Google search for PF1 creatures with howl attacks:

* A howler's howl is a supernatural ability. No action type is given, so it defaults to the general rule that supernatural abilities take a standard action.
* A baykok's dread howl is (Su). Ditto.
* A voonith's blood-freezing howl is (Su), and the text specifically states that it requires a standard action.
* A wendigo's howl is an extraordinary ability, and specifically states that it requires a standard action.
* A mapinguari's frightening howl is (Su), and states that it requires a full-round action.
* A combusted's howl of agony is a constant aura effect, so follows the aura rules.

The bay ability of a yeth hound or shadow mastiff works the same way: Both are (Su), with no action given, so default to standard actions.

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