An Uphill Battle: A mini-guide to dealing with enemies that are out of your reach


Advice


Some D&D 5e players are making the shift to PF2e. Like 5e, characters with proficiency in heavy armor in PF2e are encouraged to dump Dexterity thanks to the existence of the bulwark trait, but there’s a catch. Attack rolls with thrown weapons are based on Dexterity, not Strength. The wielder's full Strength modifier is applied to damage, but that means nothing if they can't land a hit. Martials that dump Dexterity have no built-in way of dealing with enemies they can't run up to and smash. If enemies are flying or located somewhere they can't reach, martials in full plate have to either focus on some other threat or rely on the party’s spellcasters for help. That said, that's only if they have no other way of fighting enemies outside melee range. Ideally, every martial that dumps Dexterity should consider how exactly they're going to deal with enemies outside their reach, as it will come up eventually. As the party level increases, flying enemies will become more common, and it's important that everyone is able to fight them on the same playing field. Note that while this guide is intended for Strength-based heavy armor users that would otherwise dump Dexterity, some of these options are also applicable to characters that cannot use ranged weapons or are restricted to the ground for other reasons. I will name abilities that are useful for builds that currently exist of that type where appropriate.

  • Beat them at their own game: Even if no other options are available, if there’s a spellcaster in the party there's nothing stopping them from casting fly on you. A pair of winged boots or a winged rune is handy for many of the same reasons. You might also have access to flight through your ancestry or heritage. Flight does present some issues in PF2e that it does not in D&D 5e, which makes this a fallback instead of the go-to option. Fliers in this game must spend an action flying each round or fall. You can make an Acrobatics check to hover in place as an action in case you need to stay in a given space for whatever reason, but if you're a martial that’s chosen to dump Dexterity you'll have difficulty making that check reliably until higher levels. Air walk is an alternative, as walking on air does not come with the same restrictions, although you are limited in the angle you can move if your GM keeps track of such things. Notably, while fly is not on the divine spell list, air walk is. If your enemy is simply in a position you can't reach, your party's spellcaster is unlikely to have the right spell prepared outside of a game that leans significantly more vertical than average. That said, spells like 3rd-level jump and levitate are alternatives to fly of a marginally lower level that can help you reach an elevated position. Meanwhile, teleportation spells that aren't specific to the caster are rare, but some like collective transposition exist. Magic items can help out here, too. If you found some slippers of spider climbing, now's the time to use them! The downside to these movement-enhancing abilities is that few of them are at-will or permanent, and not everyone will have them ready, which means that in some cases you may have to fall back on other options.
  • Invest in Dexterity: I know what you're thinking. “Full plate is so strong. If you have proficiency in heavy armor, you don’t need to invest in Dexterity!” And you're right, but the ability to use ranged weapons is just one benefit in doing so. Another is that most kinds of armor don't restrict your stealth capability provided you meet the Strength requirement, meaning that party stealth is possible even if someone is moving around in heavy armor. That said, the biggest reason is that full plate's bonus to Reflex saves only applies to saving throws against damaging effects. That is most Reflex saves, but there are exceptions. Engulf and Swallow Whole are common creature abilities that can be counted as non-damaging effects based on your Reflex save or DC. It's not being swallowed itself that's damaging, it’s what happens afterwards. The party fighter presumably doesn’t want to be digested by a gibbering mouther. And that's just one example! These effects are rare, but not nonexistent, and while most characters with proficiency in heavy armor have trouble justifying Dexterity as a secondary stat, this is absolutely an option for fighters, who have proficiency in heavy armor and no multiple ability dependency. If you end up going this route you’ll want to wear half-plate or splint mail instead of full plate, as the bulwark armor trait replaces your Dexterity bonus. There’s a catch in that in many games players will find it preferable to invest in mental ability scores and skills. Take this idea with a grain of salt. There are advantages in being smart or charismatic, and it’s not fun being the only player around the table who can’t participate in a social scene.
  • Use cantrips: Some ancestry feats allow you to cast a specific cantrip as an innate spell. This is resourceless damage at range. The downside is that innate spells are almost always based on Charisma, making cantrips that allow the target a saving throw or require a spell attack roll undesirable for characters who don't invest in that score. Additionally, innate spells don't scale very well for non-spellcasters, if at all. Still, it's an option, and one that characters that invest in Charisma can lean back on. You can also potentially take an archetype in order to get access to cantrips, and if you pick up spellcasting feats these will scale, albeit more slowly than cantrips do for primary spellcasters. This also allows you to use Intelligence or Wisdom as your spellcasting ability. In any case, electric arc is notable in that it doesn’t suffer as much from scaling issues because it deals damage even if the target succeeds on their saving throw.
  • Take some feats: Some class feats give martials ways to fight enemies in the air. Animal instinct barbarians for instance can't use weapons, but a boulder isn't a weapon. The Oversized Throw feat can help provided your GM doesn't interpret the description literally and treat it as a real weapon, as barbarians almost always invest in Dexterity. So can the Sudden Leap feat, which fighters also get and can combo with Felling Strike. (See the next section for more on that ability and others like it.) Jumping is based on Athletics and Sudden Leap heightens the jump you make as part of the attack to levels comparable to dragoons in Final Fantasy, so it works just fine. Meanwhile monks get an alternative in Flying Kick four levels earlier, in case they use a style that restricts them to a specific kind of unarmed attack such as Crane Stance. There's a limitation to Flying Kick though that makes it more difficult to use effectively, as it doesn’t increase the height of your jump. Some skill feats allow martials to jump up or climb to elevated positions, as well, in case your foe is not in the air.
  • Bring them to you: Self-explanatory, but something that martials can rarely accomplish themselves. It's also difficult to keep enemies on the ground for long. Felling Strike can do that temporarily, but even if you land a critical hit they'll only stay there until the end of your next turn. The threat of an Attack of Opportunity might be enough incentive for a vrock to stay on the ground next to you if it's almost dead at that point and just wants to slow you down. A dragon is unlikely to be impeded. Earthbind similarly only affects the target for a round unless they roll a critical failure on their saving throw, and while immobilizing or paralyzing flying enemies would have much the same effect it’s difficult to manage for much longer. That said, that doesn’t mean that doing so isn’t an option, just that it isn’t one with much longevity. Even gust of wind can knock an enemy onto the ground and give you a chance to knock on them yourself. Just don't expect them to stay there. Make that turn or two count! Meanwhile, if your enemy is simply in a position you can't reach, environmental effects like obscuring mist can smoke them out, and spells like command can summon them to your position, to name two examples. Inventive use of a character’s abilities is one of the most unique parts of the tabletop RPG experience, so make the most of what you have. Some of these options might also work on flying enemies. It depends on the context.


I decided to do a guide to offer solutions to a common problem players will encounter in many games. There's one fight midway through book two of Extinction Curse that made me think of this, along with our Mountain Stance monk. (I'm not a big fan of Mountain Stance, for obvious reasons.) It's not an incredibly useful guide, as most games will have a character that can cast fly or levitate, but I don't think it's unwarranted. Feel free to offer constructive criticism, but keep things civil.

Sovereign Court

Very interesting!

Another argument for not dumping dexterity is defending against Trip. Tripping isn't as rare as swallow whole and the way NPC skill modifiers scale, even a mook with a whip can reliably trip your fullplate fighter round after round after round.

Another tactic: provoke them. Often the fight will be about something, like "can you get to the altar". Is it possible to force them to come closer to prevent you from interacting with the dingus?

Another one: seek shelter. Can you go into the tree cover / cave where the ceilings are lower and they can't use their flight so well anymore? When the battlefield doesn't favor you, sometimes you can pick a different battlefield.


Kip up is a reasonable partial counter to being tripped, that doesn't require an investment in Dexterity. Rock Dwarf is OK too.

But there is nothing wrong with having some sort of Dexterity score anyway, even in heavy armour. For most strength based martials, do you really need to take other stats above 18 as you level up?


Hovering in mid air is still an action with the move trait so will provoke if the enemy has opportunity attack. If you want to avoid the acrobatics check just move a bit instead.

Sovereign Court

Kip Up requires Master in Acrobatics, mastering a skill without putting anything in the matching ability score seems pretty wasteful to me.


Ascalaphus wrote:
Kip Up requires Master in Acrobatics, mastering a skill without putting anything in the matching ability score seems pretty wasteful to me.

Or that's where you need the bonus most to make up for it.

PF2 isn't as binary as PF1 in the "go max or don't bother" way. There's more reason to hit that midway point, especially if crit fails are involved and to be avoided. And w/ Acrobatics, the movement options can be useful w/ the +2 per investment being worthwhile if you're often in dynamic settings or need to bypass that thug blocking your way right away.

Plus feats like Cat Fall improve w/ advancement, and keep you on your feet when monsters are tossing you around.

(Athletics, on a Str-based PC, should be higher IMO, but Acrobatics remains useful nonetheless.)


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One option that can sometimes work better than cantrips/spells: multiclass with the Alchemist Dedication. Being able to create a few free level 1 bombs (which are martial weapons) each day can give a decent ranged option at lower levels, with splash damage applying even on a Failure (but not a Critical Failure).

To get more benefit requires investing more feats, so it works best if using the Free Archetype variant: Basic Concoction (Far Lobber)*, Basic Concoction (Quick Bomber), Quick Alchemy, Expert Alchemy, and Master Alchemy eat up 5 more class feats. The other alchemical items can also come in handy regularly, so bombs aren't the only thing to focus on.

*- not as vital as the other 4


Ascalaphus wrote:

Very interesting!

Another argument for not dumping dexterity is defending against Trip. Tripping isn't as rare as swallow whole and the way NPC skill modifiers scale, even a mook with a whip can reliably trip your fullplate fighter round after round after round.

Another tactic: provoke them. Often the fight will be about something, like "can you get to the altar". Is it possible to force them to come closer to prevent you from interacting with the dingus?

Another one: seek shelter. Can you go into the tree cover / cave where the ceilings are lower and they can't use their flight so well anymore? When the battlefield doesn't favor you, sometimes you can pick a different battlefield.

Good point about trip! I might add that to this guide later.


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And at low levels, readying an attack is an option -- at least when opponents typically have flying or range/reach, but not both. Though if this is a tool you use, you need to plan for one of the other options you list by the time you reach higher levels.

Sovereign Court

When dealing with flyby enemies, readying to Grab is certainly an option. And such kiting enemies tend to lean more on Reflex than Fortitude so grabbing is pretty plausible.

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