Full Attack Action

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Full Attack Action

In order to perform more than one physical attack per round, even if you fight with two weapons or a double weapon, you must use a full-attack action. (There are rare exceptions to this, such as the Monk's Echoing Strike ability, which is specifically a standard action that grants two attacks.) Pure spellcasters (whether arcane or divine) gain little benefit from full attack actions; a full attack action only applies to physical attacks. Spellcasters must rely on spells that cost less than a Standard Action, or use feats (such as Quicken Spell) to reduce the action required, in order to cram multiple spells into a single round's worth of actions. Note that it is possible to cast a spell and then make physical attacks all in the same round as a full attack action. Although the efficacy of those attacks may be debatable, it sure looks cool!

(Physical attacks are basically any attack that isn't a spell; it refers to melee, thrown, or projectile-based attacks, usually with a weapon, but sometimes with natural attacks, or even class-based features, such as a Monk's martial arts, or a Brawler's fists. Even if these attacks are enchanted to inflict energy damage (such as fire, or acid), they remain physical attacks, for purposes of being used with a full attack action. If there is ever any question, refer to the ability itself — if it is an Extraordinary (Ex) ability, it is definitely a physical attack, regardless of what type of damage it deals. Abilities marked Supernatural (Su) are left to the GM's discretion, while abilities marked as Spell-like (Sp) are nearly always NOT physical attacks. In all cases, the GM is the final arbiter of such questions.)

A full attack action uses up a combined Standard Action and Move Action. If you do not have both a standard action and a move action available to you in a given round, you cannot perform a full-attack action this round. Declaring a Full Attack 'uses up' your standard action and move action for the round.

Base Number of Attacks

The base number of attacks a character can make during a full attack action is determined by their character class. This base number is listed in the favored class table, under "Full Attack". If a character multi-classes or dual-classes into one or more other character classes, they use the highest base number available to them from any of the classes they have taken, instead, even if they later change to a class that gets fewer base attacks during a full attack.

The first attack made during a full attack action is always made at the character's highest attack value (sometimes referred to as your "highest BAB"). The second attack made is made with a -5 penalty to that value (referred to as "BAB -5"). A third attack is made with a -10 penalty (if a third attack is possible with your character class; referred to as "BAB -10"), and a fourth attack is made at a -15 penalty (again, assuming a fourth attack is available with one or more of your classes; referred to as "BAB -15").

As a character advances, they will gain bonuses to-hit with some or all of their base attacks, depending upon the class they have advanced. A single class character simply uses the values in the class table. Multi-class or dual class characters must instead 'add up' the various bonuses they have received for each of their attacks in a full attack action through their adventuring career in each column of their attacks. It is often found that, unless all character levels are taken from a full-BAB four-attack class, the last attacks in a full attack action have quite small to-hit numbers. This is working as designed. There are other things that can be done with such 'weaker' attacks.

For example, suppose a character begins by taking the courageous tier as a Fighter. They have four attacks per round in a full attack action, and as a Fighter, at fifth level, they have gotten a total of +4 to-hit in all those attacks. If they then switch to playing a Rogue, as they advance their Rogue levels they will receive more advancement bonuses to-hit, but only in their first three attacks made in a full attack action. Rogues do not gain bonuses to-hit with a fourth attack per round, since they do not HAVE a fourth attack per round. Players using this sort of advancement strategy will find their fourth attack in a full attack action soon begins to lag badly. In such cases, players will typically use that fourth attack as a resource to trade away for five foot steps(see below), or, will roll that attack anyway 'fishing for crits', since a natural twenty always hits, and the chance to score an "extra" attack (and the opportunity to then roll for a critical hit) in a round is small, but a very welcome bonus when it happens.

Bonus Attacks

Bonus attacks can be acquired beyond those offered by a character's base number of attacks. Examples include Attacks of Opportunity, bonus attacks granted by class features, attacks granted by the Two-Weapon Fighting feat (and related feats), some spell effects that grant bonus attacks during a full attack action (e.g. Haste), bonus attacks granted by some Magic Items, etc. While these grant additional attacks, they do not modify the character's base number of attacks. Unless otherwise noted, a Bonus attack is a free action, made with the character's proficiently wielded weapon, at their highest normal chance to-hit.

In certain scenarios, more than one bonus attack may be triggered by the same circumstance (such as an enemy moving so as to trigger a Fighter's bonus attack for a Challenge, and provoke an attack of opportunity, with the same move action). In such cases, only one bonus attack can be made for each triggering action.

Bonus 5-Foot Steps

A character may "trade away" one or more of the base attacks (gained from their favored class) from their full attack to make a bonus 5-foot step (per attack traded away). Bonus 5-foot steps gained in this way are not considered movement, just like a regular 5-foot step, and can be used in addition to a character's normal 5-Foot Step action. This means that full BAB classes are best taken as the characters Favored Class if maximum combat mobility is desired.

Any attacks traded away in this fashion always use up the character's worst to-hit first, then their second-worst, etc. As you trade away attacks for 5-foot steps, any bonus attacks that would normally be performed at the same attack bonus are also lost. Any attacks you have left after your 5-foot steps may still be used as normal, of course, and these will always be your highest-bonus attacks, since those are used up last.
For example, a high level Rogue (who gets a base of 3 attacks during a full attack action, at BAB, BAB-5, and BAB-10), who has all of the Two-Weapon Fighting feats (regular, improved, and greater) gets 3 bonus attacks from these feats, also at BAB, BAB-5, and BAB-10, respectively. If this rogue trades an attack away for a bonus 5-foot step, they lose the use of their base BAB-10 attack (their worst attack), but they also lose the bonus attack they would normally get at BAB-10 (gained from Greater Two-Weapon Fighting). The rogue may still perform their 4 remaining attacks (two at highest BAB, and two at BAB-5), all as part of this same full attack action.

Severability

The standard action portion of a full-attack action is always your first attack at your highest bonus. If you are using two weapons or a double-weapon, you can strike with either weapon (or either end) first. Note that actions which require a 'standard action' (such as cleave, or many combat maneuvers) MAY be used during a Full Attack action, but can only be used during the first attack (i.e. at your highest bonus) of a full attack action.

You only need to declare the target of your attack before each attack, and you can change targets (as long as they are in range / in reach) between attacks, as you like. You do not need to determine each target of each attack until you are actually making each attack. You can see how the earlier attacks turn out before assigning the later ones.

A full attack action is 'severable', meaning that a character can abort the full attack after the standard action portion has been performed, and recover their move action to use for other purposes (instead of completing the full attack action). The character must not have performed any actions beyond those they would normally be able to perform with a standard action, in order to sever the full attack action. If the character has already traded away one or more lower attacks for bonus 5-foot step(s), those attacks are used up, and could only have been performed with a full attack action. In such a case, the full attack action could not be 'severed'.

Even if you recover your move action by severing your full attack action, be aware that any (normal) 5-foot step you may have already performed this round would prevent you from using the recovered move action to actually move; the move action would need to be used for some other purpose, instead, in that case.

Other Actions

A full attack action doesn't usually end a character's turn, unless the action performed with the full attack action specifically states it does. As a result, most characters may still perform a swift action during the same turn as the full attack action. Swift actions can be used before or after the full attack, as the character prefers.

Full attack actions do not include any movement, unless you trade away attacks for bonus 5-foot steps. If you do not trade away any of your attacks for bonus 5-foot steps, you may perform a normal 5-foot step, instead.


Some common uses for a full-attack action include:

  • Perform multiple attacks against one or more targets within range
  • Perform multiple 5-foot steps to move safely around the battlefield
  • Attacking and taking 5-foot steps in a mobile attack style
  • Make a Double Move
  • Use a class feature or feat which requires a full attack action, such as Whirlwind Attack (Feat)