“Reflexes like a Cat!”
– Every Drunk Guy before doing something stupid
There are those who are fast, and then there are those who are really fast.
Lightning quick, there are characters who can react at even the slightest drop of a hat. Indiana Jones, Quick-Draw Macgraw, and the Outlaw Josey Wales are all quicker than a cat caught outside in the rain.
There are some pathfinder characters who are just as quick. They are able to see danger coming, make themselves ready to take the opportunity, and punish those who leave them an opening to strike without delaying their other attacks.
For those characters there is the Combat Reflexes feat.
What Does Combat Reflexes Do?
Let’s take a look at the exact wording of the Combat Reflexes feat.
Combat Reflexes Feat 10
Source Core Rulebook pg. 150 3.0
You are particularly swift at punishing foes who leave you openings. At the start of each of your turns when you regain your actions, you gain an additional reaction that can be used only to make an Attack of Opportunity.
Breaking it down…
Combat Reflexes is a Fighter feat that is available at level 10.
Mechanically, the feat is quite simple. Combat Reflexes gives your character a bonus reaction that you can use to use on an Attack of Opportunity when an enemy combatant provokes it. This reaction cannot be used for anything other than the Attack of Opportunity (or AoP).
This does beg the question of what exactly an Attack of Opportunity is.
Attacks of Opportunity and You
Attacks of Opportunity are ways for sharp-minded combatants to take advantage of others who make a mistake.
Source Core Rulebook pg. 142 3.0
Trigger A creature within your reach uses a manipulate action or a move action, makes a ranged attack, or leaves a square during a move action it’s using.
You lash out at a foe that leaves an opening. Make a melee Strike against the triggering creature. If your attack is a critical hit and the trigger was a manipulate action, you disrupt that action. This Strike doesn’t count toward your multiple attack penalty, and your multiple attack penalty doesn’t apply to this Strike.
In essence, an AoP is a way of punishing your enemies who make a tactical error. If they use an action that provokes a reaction specifically from you, your character can punish that as long as you can reach them with your melee action.
The most common way for enemies to provoke an AoP is through movement. An enemy might attempt to retreat to get out of your reach. This can also include actions with the Move trait. These can include but are not limited to Balance, Board, Burrow (if you can somehow reach them when they are underground), Climb, Cover Tracks, Crawl, Drive, Drop Prone, Fly (again depending on reach), Gallop, Gallop, Hustle, Leap, Maneuver in Flight, Mount, Run Over, Sand Stride, Sneak, Squeeze, Stand, Stride, Swim, Track, Travel, and Tumble Through.
This does not include the Step action, which let’s whomever is using the action take a five foot step (away or toward) you without triggering. Basically this is reflecting your target’s ability to move carefully without dropping their focus on you.
A good guide for moment that could provoke an Attack of Opportunity is an illustration on the Pathfinder SRD: https://2e.aonprd.com/Images/Rules/Rules446.png. This image shows when an AoP happens and when a character is protected from it.
Enemies can also provoke an AoP when they use actions with the Manipulate trait. These include: Administer First Aid, Affix a Fulu, Affix a Talisman, Collect Spirit Remnant, Conceal an Object, Craft, Craft Disharmonic Instrument, Disable a Device, Explode, Feast on the Fallen, Grab an Edge, Harvest Heartsliver, Impersonate, Interact, Manifest Eidolon, Overdrive, Palm an Object, Pick a Lock, Point Out, Prove Peace, Quick Alchemy, Quick Tincture, Release, Repair, Steal, Stop, Take Control, Treat Disease, Treat Poison, and Treat Wounds.
These actions take focus, and are not conducive to avoiding getting hit by someone who is barreling in at you with a melee weapon.
A big point to make when pointing out the mechanics of AoPs is their limited ability to shut down someone as they are taking an action. If the attacking character makes a critical hit, it completely stops the action in process. Granted dying can do that too, but it can definitely lock down someone.
How To Do the Most with Combat Reflexes
The best way to use Combat Reflexes is to capitalize on your use of Attacks of Opportunities.
One limitation to keep in mind is the Limit on Triggers Rule listed under Move Actions that Trigger Reactions. Specifically “no more than once per move action for a given reacting creature.”
What does this mean? Basically, you can’t hit a creature more than once with an AoP if the triggering action would produce two or more AoPs. This is rare, but will come up when you are dealing with combatants that have longer than a 5-foot reach. See the image above of a creature with 10 foot reach taking AoPs.
Potential Extra Damage
Everyone loves extra damage, and combat reflexes lets you put the potential extra damage in motion. Fully tricked out fighters often treat their weapons like us in the mundane world treat cars, trucks, and motorcycles.
Getting even one extra hit in with a fully tricked-out elemental weapon that has all the bells and whistles will swing combat in your party’s favor in a second. Getting to hit more than one target that provokes an Attack of Opportunity will do it even faster!
Locking Down Opponents
One of the biggest draws to using Attacks of Opportunity effectively in tactical combat scenarios is to lock down opponents who know there is a chance to get hit in the face if they try anything.
The area covered by the potential to throw an AoP is often referred to as a Threatened Area.
Think of the potential for an AoP as something like melee Overwatch (the term not the hero shooter) or Covering Fire. It has the potential to pin down and lock out an opponent who is readily aware of the chance of getting smacked.
Granted in order for the opponent to know that they have the potential to get smacked is for them to provoke once or twice. Pardon the evil grin and the scooping up of dice.
Drop a Fighter into the middle of a fight with the Combat Reflexes feat, and watch them lock down a whole flank. Better yet, drop two or three! This is why the Phalanx was invented after all. Several fighters working in concert can make an almost impenetrable wall without using shields at all.
Never doubt the enemy’s fear of getting a spear stabbing into something vulnerable.
Speaking of Spears…
Building with Combat Reflexes in Mind
If you are looking at building a fighter with Combat Reflexes in mind, there are a few points to look at.
One of the big things is looking for weapons with the Reach Trait. This trait will extend your Threatened Area to more than just a 5 foot reach, and extend it to 10 feet. This lets you control more of the battle area.
Weapons with the Reach Trait include: Asp Coil, Bladed Scarf, Bo Staff, Boarding Pike, Elven Branched Spear, Fauchard, Gill Hook, Glaive, Gnome Flickmace, Guisarme, Halberd, Horsechopper, Injection Spear, Kusarigama, Lance, Longspear, Meteor Hammer, Naginata, Pantograph Gauntlet, Ranseur, Scorpion Whip, Whip, and Whip Claw.
There is even a Feat that can help extend this range further: Lunging Stance. You will need the Lunge feat as a prerequisite for this. The Lunging Stance is going to make you even harder to avoid on the battlefield. With a Reach weapon, you can become a rock damming a whole river. In this case, though the river is enemies attempting to step around your reach.
Lastly, there is an age-old trick of Knockdown and the follow up Improved Knockdown. If you can put an enemy down on their back or bum, they will normally then have to stand in order to keep fighting (unless they want to take the penalty for fighting sitting or laying down). In which case, they will need to take the Stand action.
Guess what the Stand action is…If you said a Move action, then you win the cigar. They stand on their turn, provoking an Attack of Opportunity. If you are trying to bring in a target alive, this is a marvelous way to get them to surrender.
Combine the Knockdown ability with the Trip trait on a weapon with a Reach trait. An example for this being something like the Bladed Scarf (my personal favorite), Guisarme, Horsechopper, or Whip (for all the Belmonts in the audience), and you can threaten a huge area and knock EVERYONE down. Then polish them off at your leisure or leave them for the rest of the party to do their magic.
Be swift, Pathfinder!