Full Attack Action

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Full Attack Action

In order to perform more than one 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 since most spells cost a Standard Action to cast, and the additional attack actions of a full attack action are not the same as a Standard Action (only the first attack of a full attack action is treated as a Standard Action; see below). To benefit from a full attack action, spellcasters need to cast one or more 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. Of course, the spellcaster could cast a spell with the first attack of their full attack action, and then use their remaining attack action to make a melee or ranged attack, if they don't have any spells that can be cast with less than a standard action. While the efficacy of those attacks may be debatable, it sure looks cool!

In order to perform a full attack action, a character must expend both their Standard Action and Move Action for the round. 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").

The first attack within a full attack action is the same as a Standard Action, and can be used to perform any action that requires a standard action. All remaining attacks in a full attack action are called attack actions, which suffer a BAB penalty (as described above), and do not allow actions requiring a Standard Action to be performed. In most cases, attack actions are used to perform a melee or ranged attack, but they can also be traded away for 5-foot steps or combat maneuvers, if the attacking character prefers.

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 to perform a combat maneuver, or they will roll that attack anyway 'fishing for crits', since a natural 20 always hits.

Bonus Attacks

Bonus attacks can be acquired beyond those offered by a character's base number of attacks. In many cases, an effect that grants a bonus attack only does so if you first perform a Full Attack Action (e.g. Haste). Some bonus attacks are granted by a specific class feature (such as a fighter's Challenge) and can only be used under specific circumstances. While bonus attacks 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.

Bonus 5-Foot Steps

A character may "trade away" one or more of their attack actions during a full attack to make instead perform 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. As a result, playing a character class that gets four attacks during a full attack action can allow you to be much more maneuverable than a character whose class only grants two attacks during a full attack action.

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. Trading away attack actions from your full attack can be done at any point during your full attack action, and doesn't have to be done in the order of your remaining attacks.
Example: A fighter (who gets a base of 4 attacks during a full attack action, at BAB, BAB-5, BAB-10, and BAB-15) performs a full attack action. They perform a free 5-foot step because they do not plan to move this round (this does not require them to trade away any attack actions). They make their first attack at their highest attack bonus, then trade away their worst remaining attack (at BAB-15) to make a bonus 5-foot step. They then make their second attack (the one based on BAB-5), and could either make a third attack, or trade their remaining (BAB-10) attack to make yet another bonus 5-foot step.
If you have bonus attacks that are associated with a specific attack within your full attack action (i.e. that share the same BAB penalty), these bonus attacks must also be traded away when the associated attack action is traded away. These are most often granted by the Two-Weapon Fighting feats, but other examples may also exist.
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.

Combat Maneuvers

Many combat maneuvers can be performed with an attack action. As a result, they can either be performed with a Standard Action, or by "trading away" one of your attack actions during a full attack action. Just like Bonus 5-Foot Steps, when you trade away an attack action of your Full Attack to perform a Combat Maneuver, you may always use up your worst remaining attack action first. In addition, this can be done at any time during your full attack action (also like the bonus 5-foot steps rule). That is, you can perform a combat maneuver (with your worst remaining attack action) even before you make your first regular attack of your full attack action, if you wish. Obviously, combat maneuvers that require an action type other than an attack action to perform cannot be performed using an attack action.

Unlike bonus 5-foot steps, only one combat maneuver can ever be performed per round (the exception to this rule being when you spend an action point to gain an action type sufficient to perform the maneuver again, or you have some ability that specifically lets you break this rule).

Severability

The standard action portion of a full-attack action is always your first attack at your highest bonus. Note that actions which require a 'standard action' to perform 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) or a combat maneuver), 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
  • Perform a combination of attacks, 5-foot steps, and a combat maneuver
  • Make a Double Move
  • Use a class feature or feat which requires a full attack action, such as Whirlwind Attack (Feat)