Our last Pathfinder game session had us continuing our exploration of the glassworks I mentioned in the previous post, seeking more clues as to who’s been organizing the local goblin tribes and why. As we descended into the lower levels of the structure, we found ourselves in an environment that severely restricted how we could move about. This of course had implications for our combat strategies, and for the first time allowed me to see how the Pathfinder combat mechanics operate in close quarters.
We essentially found ourselves in a long, narrow corridor, facing three enemies. The passage was only one square wide, which meant there was no way to move around an enemy without going through his square, but did form a loop such that it was possible to make a complete circuit and attempt to flank enemies. It might seem that this was, strategically speaking, a good position to find ourselves in, but the reality was a bit more complicated. This was for three main reasons. First, the loop formed by the corridor was so long that looping around entailed sacrificing an attack. That is, since making the circuit required more than two move actions (using up the limit of two standard actions per turn), moving to flank an enemy meant dedicating an entire turn to movement. Faced with this new situation, we learned about the “overrun” combat maneuver (in which a creature attempts to charge through an opponent’s square). Attempting the maneuver requires a CMB check, however, and automatically gives the enemy an opportunity attack. This means that the success rate for the move is not terribly high, and it also bears the risk of taking damage from an enemy’s “free” attack (which is especially dangerous for characters like mine, who lack a high AC). We (the GM included) discovered after the encounter that the acrobatics skill would have provided an alternative, lower risk solution to this problem. Our ignorance actually made the battle easier in the end, however, since it turned out that the most powerful enemy we faced had a high acrobatics skill level that, properly wielded, would have given him quite the advantage.
The second issue this encounter brought up was how to deal with line of sight for the purposes of ranged attacks. As an archer, it typically makes sense for me to hang back, out of the range of melee attacks, and fire arrows at my enemies. However, in the narrow space we were in, this would firing through squares occupied by my allies, and it is not at all clear if this is permitted. We searched the rulebook thoroughly, and though “line of sight” is mentioned several times, it is never explicitly defined. It’s permitted to move through a square occupied by a party member (presumably they move aside so you can pass), so why shouldn’t you be able to fire an arrow through their square? I can imagine there being a penalty involved under these circumstances (as when you fire into melee, assuming you don’t have the “precise shot” combat feat), but it being disallowed completely seems unlikely. As far as we can tell, Paizo has left “line of sight” open to players’ interpretation.
Last, we found ourselves unsure if trapping an enemy in a corner constituted flanking him. According to the rulebook, you are a flanking an enemy if you are adjacent to that enemy and can draw a straight line from the center of your square to the center of a square of an ally who is also adjacent to that enemy. When we had cornered the final enemy in the “L” formed by the 90-degree bend in the passageway, we were not explicitly satisfying the rulebook definition of flanking. Remember, however, that the corridor was only one square wide, so only two squares existed that were adjacent to the enemy (and both were occupied by members of our party). For our purposes, the GM allowed this to count as flanking, but it remains unclear what the official word on this would be.
This encounter evidently brought up several areas in which the Pathfinder rulebook is less than perfectly explicit, but I would argue that this is an almost unavoidable consequence of designing such an open-ended game. And to be fair, the problems that arose were relatively minor, and the game does put the power to interpret and modify rules in the GM’s hands. That said, this can create issues for new players (and especially first-time GMs), as it clearly did for us.