Flanking in Pathfinder RPG: How It Really Works & Uses

Two adventures stand in the shadow of an ogre. They raise their spears as the creature roars. Rudely awakened from a deep slumber, the ogre is in a foul mood and raises its Greatclub.

Without a word, the seasoned fighters split apart and attack the ogre simultaneously. Overwhelmed by the pair’s tactics, the ogre falls quickly.  

What is Flanking in Pathfinder?

Flanking is a combat mechanic in Pathfinder that represents a disadvantage to a surrounded enemy.  To flank a creature, enemies need to threaten it from opposite sides of the space it occupies. A flanked creature is flat-footed and suffers a -2 circumstance penalty to its Armor Class if attacked by the enemies flanking it.

The Basics of Flanking

A creature is said to be flanked when opponents attack it from both sides. Creatures that are threatened by multiple opponents have a harder time defending themselves. Surrounded by foes, a flanked creature will need to fight harder to avoid combat damage.

Imagine a line drawn between your characters to tell if you and an ally are flanking a creature. If this line passes through opposite sides or corners of the creature’s space, then that creature is flanked. 

A flat-footed creature is too distracted to defend correctly. As a result, certain enemies will have an easier time penetrating that creature’s defenses. Unless you’re playing a chameleon, you won’t be able to see everywhere at once.

A flanked character will need more than armor to avoid taking damage with enemies all around.

Examples of Flanking

Marius is a Ranger, and Tomika is a Fighter. They are engaged in combat with an ogre. Because the ogre is Large, it takes up a lot of space一about ten feet. 

To flank the ogre, Marius and Tomika need to threaten it from opposite sides. To be a threat, both Marius and Tomika must be able to attack the ogre, either with a melee weapon or with an unarmed strike.

Furthermore, neither character can be under the influence of a spell that would prevent them from attacking. 

On Marius’ turn, he moves next to the ogre and attacks. The ogre isn’t flanked at the moment, so Marius makes his attack against the ogre’s full AC. Next, Tomika moves the space adjacent to the ogre on the opposite side of Marius.

A line drawn between them would go through the middle of the ogre’s space. Thus, the ogre is now flanked. When Tomika makes her attack, the ogre suffers a -2 circumstance penalty to its AC.

Flanking With Reach

Usually, characters have to be adjacent to an enemy to flank them. However, characters wielding a weapon with the reach trait can flank enemies further away. A PC using a Longspear, for example, can flank enemies that are 10 feet away. 

Some monsters also have reach and can attack opponents from a distance with melee weapons. Watch out that you don’t get ambushed by ogres, or else you could end up flatter than a dinner plate.

Using a Grid for Combat

Using miniatures and a grid makes it easier to visualize combat encounters and accommodate rules like flanking. With a grid of squares, it’s usually easy to determine if a creature has been flanked.

If players are on adjacent squares and a line between them goes through opposite sides of a creature’s square, the creature is flanked. As long as the players can use melee attacks, their enemies will be penalized.

On a hex grid, things get a little more complicated. Count the number of hexes between players to determine if a creature is flanked. For example, players need 2 hex tiles between them to flank a Medium-sized creature. 

Don’t Flank the GM

One of the best things about Pathfinder is that players are free to change the rules if they choose. With this in mind, some GMs don’t allow flanking in their games. The reasons for this vary.

Some players argue that flanking is overpowered or creates unrealistic gameplay. Others point out that flanking requires the use of a grid and miniatures and can’t be done in the “theater of the mind” style of gameplay.

Whatever the reasoning, GMs are free to leave flanking behind. It’s always a good idea to check with your GM about combat rules for your game. Be sure to note any changes or deviations from the standard rules of play.

Different Positions

While players can disregard the rules for flanking if they want, using them in your game can have its benefits. Flanking encourages your players to move around the map, jostling for position, making your encounters more exciting, and giving players a good reason to move on their turns.

Basic Actions like Step and Stride become critical with flanking in play.

Best Strategies for Flanking

Players should use flanking to outmaneuver their enemies. Using teamwork to coordinate attacks will give you the edge against challenging monsters. But players should watch out that the tables don’t get turned against them.

After all, you don’t want to end up like a pinata for pirates.

Surrounding Opponents

While everyone’s trying to find an edge in combat, flanking enemies isn’t always worth it. Some characters prefer to keep their distance. You’ll recall, Wizards prefer to cast spells from across the room. Close-quarters combat isn’t exactly their strong suit. 

For the best results, send heavily armored party members into the fray. Fighters, Champions, and Clerics are generally good choices for flanking maneuvers. But even in full plate armor, it’s best to exercise caution.

Flanking works well against single targets. If the enemy attacks in force, watch your back!

Avoiding the Squeeze

Players should be tactful when it comes to flanking. Remember, enemies can flank you in return. You’ll need to plan your moves wisely if you want to avoid getting boxed in by your opponents. 

A group of enemies can quickly surround a PC. Players can avoid being flanked by sticking together and using the environment to their advantage. Be especially wary of clever enemies and experienced veterans, as these foes will undoubtedly use every tactic they can against your party.

And watch out that you don’t become the target of an Attack of Opportunity while you’re moving to flank an opponent. It might sound like a good idea to flank the devious rogues, but is it worth getting stabbed?

Rogue Tactics

Rogues benefit from having the Sneak Attack ability. Using Sneak Attack, rogues can deliver devastating blows that cut through an enemy’s defenses.

To use a sneak attack, a rogue must first be wielding a finesse or agile melee weapon or a ranged weapon. Secondly, the rogue’s target must have the flat-footed condition. 

A rogue can work with allies to deliver more sneak attacks. By flanking enemies, rogues can use sneak attacks to quickly defeat mighty foes and monsters. Rogues are great to have around in boss encounters for this reason.

Alternative Rules for Flanking

It’s common for GMs to adopt house rules regarding flanking. To begin with, not everyone has miniatures and a grid. It’s perfectly fine to avoid flanking altogether or to simplify the rules somehow. 

Flanking may be rewarded at the DM’s discretion or as part of the narrative in a game where players lack visual representations. 

GM Combat Tips

Keeping up with a combat encounter can be a real challenge, especially for the uninitiated. Here are a few guidelines to make your Pathfinder GM experience a little easier. Follow these, and you’ll be swashbuckling with the best of them in no time. 

  • Always keep the action moving in your encounters. The fastest way to kill a game’s momentum is to get lost deliberating the rules. Think of it as an action movie instead of a chessboard. 
  • If players like to exploit rules like flanking, don’t sweat it. Finding ways to press your luck is part of the game, and most players enjoy it! If your mobs keep getting crushed, try bumping up their numbers. A few extra minions can make things interesting.
  • Decide the rules of combat early on and stick with them. It will upset your players if the rules keep changing. It’s okay to make a ruling on the fly if you need to but clarify the rules as soon as possible and make sure everybody is on the same page.
  • It isn’t wise for GMs to abuse their flanking privilege. While it’s fun to flank the players, don’t get carried away with it. It’s usually better to add more enemies or make them stronger than to carefully exploit the rules. Most monsters are just going to try to hit somebody. 

Out Maneuvered

Coming up with daring tactics is half the fun of a Pathfinder encounter. The other half is, of course, winning the fight. Learning the rules of combat and how to flank enemies and avoid flanking won’t guarantee victory, but not knowing them guarantees defeat. 

Stay brave, adventurer! Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Knowing when to press your opponent is usually the key to winning battles.

That, and your lucky dice!