Defensive Fighting & Total Defense in Pathfinder: 2022 Guide

An elf in chain armor fights for sport in the baron’s arena. Master of the sword and shield, she keeps her enemies at a distance, forcing them to deal with her defenses.

One by one, she dances across the battlefield, toppling her opponents. To the crowd’s infinite pleasure, she gives them all a brutal beating.

What is Defensive Fighting?

Players can fight defensively in Pathfinder 2e by strategically using actions. Characters can gain a circumstance bonus to their Armor Class by Taking Cover or Raising a Shield. Likewise, characters can use their movement to avoid getting attacked in the first place.

If you’re facing a well-defended or powerful opponent, you may be in for a struggle. A good strategy is to fight defensively and wait for your enemy to slip up. 

Defensive Fighting一or Total Defense一is a common tactic in many RPGs. Players new to Pathfinder 2e may or may not be familiar with these strategies.

If players are looking to fight defensively, they can use basic actions and equipment to defend against opponents. Certain classes also gain unique defensive capabilities.

How To Fight Defensively in Pathfinder

In some other RPG games, players may simply declare that their characters are acting defensively for the round and gain a bonus to their AC. In DnD 3.5, for example, players could use a Total Defense action to increase their AC temporarily.

In Pathfinder 2e, players must rely on using actions to fight defensively. As such, defensive fighting is up to you. You’ll need to cleverly use your actions and abilities to gain the most of every situation. For example, you can take cover behind a wall or simply move away from foes.

Pathfinder players will need to use the environment to their advantage, and they’ll need to learn to avoid danger before it’s too late. Players can fight defensively by strategically managing their characters’ movements and actions in Pathfinder.

Common Defensive Actions

Golarion is a dangerous place filled with monsters of all shapes and sizes. You’ll need a solid defense if you want to keep from getting squashed by a giant or eaten by an Otyugh. 

Fortunately, Pathfinder 2e gives you plenty of options for dodging damage. You may have to duck behind a barrel of horseshoes, but at least you’ll live to tell the tale.

Taking Cover

Probably the easiest way to defend yourself in battle is to find cover. There are three types of cover available in Pathfinder 2e: lesser, standard, and greater. Taking cover grants a circumstance bonus to your player’s Armor Class. The value of the bonus is relative to the amount of cover you have.

Standard Cover gives you a +2 circumstance bonus to AC, to Reflex saves, against area effects, and to Stealth checks to Hide, Sneak, or otherwise avoid detection. You can increase this to greater cover using the Take Cover basic action, increasing the circumstance bonus to +4. 

Source: Core Rulebook, pg 477

Type of CoverBonusCan Hide
Lesser+1 to ACNo
Standard+2 to AC, Reflex, StealthYes
Greater+4 to AC, Reflex, StealthYes

Raise a Shield

Another way to increase your character’s defense is to carry a shield. Carrying a shield can add much-needed protection, keeping your character alive against tough monsters.

You position your shield to protect yourself. When you have Raised a Shield, you gain its listed circumstance bonus to AC. Your shield remains raised until the start of your next turn.

Source: Core Rulebook, pg 472

If players want to increase their defenses even further, try using a Tower Shield! These massive shields offer exceptional protection. Usually made of wood reinforced with metal, players can use the Take Cover action while wielding a tower shield. This lets them hide behind the shield with greater cover, gaining a +4 circumstance bonus to their Armor Class from the action.


Many characters in Pathfinder 2e can’t make attacks of opportunity, especially in the early game. This makes it less risky to move away from opponents. Use a Stride action to put some distance between yourself and your opponents. Running away is easier than recovering hit points.

Even moving five feet will put you out of the range of most opponents, forcing them to use an action if they want to attack you with a melee weapon or unarmed strike. This will at least reduce the number of attacks they can make against you.

Using Stride to gain cover is also a good idea, especially against ranged opponents. By moving behind a wall or other large object, you may be able to break the enemy’s line of sight.

It’s a good idea to use the environment to your advantage whenever possible, so stay on the lookout for good hiding places and other places to take cover. 


The best defense is a good offense. Some opponents are easily shaken. You can try to hurt them with your words, shouting a clever taunt or biting remark to demoralize them. If successful, your opponent will become frightened.

It’s hard to underestimate the potential of a cutting putdown. Demoralizing an opponent takes one action. Characters must make an intimidation check against the target’s Will DC. If your opponent doesn’t speak the same language as you, take a -4 circumstance penalty to the check.

Successfully demoralizing an opponent gives them the frightened condition, and they’ll receive a penalty on all of their checks.

Best Defensive Class in Pathfinder

If you’re looking to play a defensive Pathfinder character, you have some options. While any character can use strategy and actions like Take Cover to increase fight defensively, some classes are defense specialists. 

Whether your goal is to keep yourself alive or to protect your party members, you’ll find that some classes are better suited to the task.


The courageous champion is by far the most defensive character in Pathfinder. Experts at hand-to-hand combat, champions have access to a plethora of defensive abilities, including auras and other feats.

Champions are trained in all armor types. At level 1, their cause gives them a special reaction they can use to protect allies. With Lay on Hands, Champions can heal themselves and their allies, or damage undead creatures.


Famous for their mastery of combat techniques, Fighters are the undisputed experts of martial skills in the world of Golarion. Trained in all armor types, Fighters are excellent at taking a punch. And they deal it out as well as they can take it. 

Fighters learn Shield Block at level 1, allowing them to reduce damage with an equipped shield. Fighters can also learn Reactive Shield to use a reaction to Raise a Shield, gaining a circumstance bonus to their AC when the enemy strikes.

By using a reaction to raise a shield, fighters can save their actions for dealing damage.


Masters of speed and close-quarters combat, monks make powerful allies. These monastic fighters train for years to perfect their fighting techniques. Monks can use their exceptional speed to keep enemies at a distance. 

Monks that train in crane style are experts of defense. By learning Crane Stance, monks can increase their natural defenses. Monks in crane stance gain a +1 circumstance bonus to their Armor Class.


Pathfinder adventurers are tougher than ordinary people, but that doesn’t make them invincible. To successfully navigate the dangers in Golarion, you’ll need to think strategically, using actions like Take Cover and Stride to avoid enemy attacks.

Anyone can learn how to fight defensively in Pathfinder. While some are naturally better than others, staying alive requires more than special abilities. 

Sometimes, you need to hide.