The sorceress approached the trolls cautiously. She could tell they were brutish and angry, and she didn’t want to fight them if she didn’t have to.
However, they made the mistake of threatening her friends, and she knew there was no turning back once she’d chosen to fight.
She lifted her arms and called on the power of her deity, then let loose a spell that would incinerate the trolls.
When it comes to taking actions in Pathfinder, there are a variety of things you can do.
This guide will walk you through the most common actions, what they entail, and how to go about using them.
What Are Actions?
In Pathfinder, actions are how your character affects the world around them. How you use actions depends on the situation you’re in. For example, players will closely measure actions as they take turns fighting.
Outside of combat it usually isn’t necessary to keep track of actions so strictly.
Using reactions usually generates some type of effect. Sometimes these effects are automatic. Other times you may be required to roll a dice to determine an action’s effect.
Managing actions keeps combat from becoming repetitive and introduces unique strategic opportunities. By mixing different actions during combat, players can take a variety of courses in battle, even at low levels. Balancing actions is generally considered one of the most fun parts of the Pathfinder RPG.
Types of Actions in Pathfinder
Actions come in four types: single actions, activities, reactions, and free actions. During encounters, each individual can take up to three actions and 1 free action each round.
These actions must be used during your turn. You can’t save them for the next turn.
- Single Actions ◆
- Activities ◆◆ or ◆◆◆
- Reactions ↩
- Free Actions ◇
Single Actions (◆)
Single actions can be completed in a short amount of time. Players can take up to three single actions in each turn of combat. For example, players can use a stride action to move and then use two strikes to attack an enraged grizzly bear.
Activities (◆◆ or ◆◆◆)
Activities take more time than a single action. Completing an activity requires using multiple actions in succession. Some activities require using all three of your actions.
Activities can be completed outside of combat as well. For instance, casting a spell is an activity that can take up to several hours.
Reactions can only be used in response to a trigger. You get 1 reaction during a round of combat. Reactions are usually triggered by the actions of another creature.
Reactions can be used anytime their trigger is fulfilled, even during another creature’s turn.
Free Actions (◇)
Some activities don’t require you to spend your actions or your reaction. Actions like this are called free actions. Some free actions have a trigger, so you can use them just like a reaction.
Speaking to a teammate during combat is an example of a free action.
At the start of your turn, you regain 3 actions and 1 reaction. Some abilities and spells can alter the number of actions and reactions you can take each round. If a condition prevents you from being able to act, you won’t regain your actions or reaction.
And if you can’t act, you won’t be able to use actions at all.
During your turn, can use single actions (◆), activities (◆◆ or ◆◆◆), reactions, (↩), or free actions (◇). How you use your actions is up to you, but you’ll need to fully complete one action before you can use another one. Once you’ve spent your actions, your turn is over.
You don’t have to use all of your actions every turn. You can choose to end your turn without spending any of your actions if you want. But at the end of your turn. you’ll lose your unspent single actions.
Single actions are the most basic type of action and the most common in Pathfinder. Players get three of these actions at the beginning of each turn. How you spend these actions is completely up to you.
Most basic actions are single actions. These are the ones you’ll be using the most as you traverse the lands and forbidden dungeons of Golarion. Actions like stride and strike are used in nearly every combat encounter. Some activities are actually composed of multiple single actions.
Single actions use this symbol: ◆
You can use interact to manipulate objects in the world around you. Use this action to pick up an unattended weapon, or open a door. Interact is one of the most common actions a character can take. Depending on the difficulty of the situation, your GM may ask you to roll a skill check.
You’ll use interact anytime you need to use an item from your inventory. Low on health? Use interact to drink a health potion and keep on fighting!
You can use the strike action to attack an enemy creature. You can make either a melee or a ranged attack. Attacks aren’t guaranteed to hit. You’ll need to make an attack roll and compare it against the target’s AC to determine whether or not you hit. If your attack is successful, you’ll make a damage roll.
The effectiveness of your Strike action will depend on your character’s skill and the luck of the dice roll. For example, you’ll deal double damage if you roll a critical success.
Taking the stride action allows you to move up to your Speed. Use stride during an encounter to get close to an enemy, or to move to a better position. The maximum distance characters can travel varies. Some characters move faster than others. Difficult terrain will also slow you down.
Some activities, like casting a spell, can’t be completed with a single action. These activities require you to use multiple actions in succession. You might need to use all three of your actions to cast a spell, for example.
If an activity uses two actions, it uses this symbol: ◆◆. Activities that use three actions use this symbol: ◆◆◆.
To use an activity, all the actions it requires must be paid during your turn. You can’t use an activity that requires two actions if you only have one left. An activity that gets interrupted in an encounter is lost. When an activity is disrupted in this way, you lose the actions you committed to it.
Some special activities like casting a spell can be completed instantly, or by using a free action or a reaction.
With a sudden charge, you dash near an opponent and make a melee attack. Sudden Charge is a level 1 feat available to barbarians and fighters. At the start of your turn, you can use a sudden charge to stride twice. If you end your movement near an enemy, you can use your melee weapon to attack.
This action is great for closing the distance between yourself and an enemy archer, or for putting pressure on a hobgoblin with a bad attitude.
To use sudden charge, you’ll need to commit two of your actions. You don’t have to use a strike after using a sudden charge, but it helps. You can also make a sudden charge after burrowing, swimming, climbing, or flying.
Sudden charge has the open trait, so it only works if you haven’t used any actions yet in your turn. And because sudden charge also has the flourish trait, you won’t be able to use it more than once per turn.
For some fighters, one weapon isn’t enough. Use double slice to make two melee attacks at your current attack penalty. Both attacks must be made against the same target. This activity requires two actions.
If both of your attacks are successful during your double slice, you can combine their damage. If the target has any resistances and weaknesses, you only apply them once. Lastly, using a double slice is exhausting; it counts twice to your multiple attack penalty.
Cast a Spell
Casting a spell is a special activity available to magic users. Most spells require multiple actions, but some can be cast with a single action. A few spells are cast with a reaction or a free action.
Usually, those around you will be able to tell that you’re casting a spell. Many spells are suited for use in combat. When casting magic in battle, you’ll need to provide both the actions and material components it requires.
Casting spells can leave you open to attack. If your spell is disrupted by an enemy’s actions, you lose the spell and the actions you spent trying to cast it. The spell slot will also be expended.
Some spells require more time to cast than others. If a spell takes minutes or hours to cast, you can only do it outside of combat.
Activating Magic Items
Magic items are a staple in Pathfinder. They can provide a character with all sorts of powerful abilities and bonuses, making them an essential part of any adventurer’s gear.
Some magic items don’t work unless you activate them. Activating magic items is a special activity similar to casting a spell. The time it takes to activate a magic item varies. Some items can be activated with a free action. Others require hours of effort before you can harness their magic.
With a reaction, your character can quickly respond to what’s happening in an encounter. You have 1 reaction you can use every turn. This reaction can be used to respond to another person’s actions or your own.
Every reaction has a triggering event. You can only use a reaction if the trigger is met. You’ll find the trigger in the stat block for the reaction. If your character is prevented from using actions, they won’t be able to use their reaction either.
There are many different reactions in Pathfinder. Use them to gain advantages during combat, and to perform surprise maneuvers. Having a reaction in the game keeps everyone a little more engaged. Used with precision, reactions can turn the tide of a tough fight.
Reactions use the symbol: ↩
Attack of Opportunity
By taking advantage of an enemy who leaves an opening, you can lash out with a melee strike. This popular reaction allows you to attack a creature within your reach. To use this reaction, your character must be wielding a melee weapon. You can use an attack of opportunity whenever a creature gives you an opening.
A creature within your range can trigger an attack by attempts to move, manipulate an object, or make a ranged attack. If one of these triggers is met, you can use a strike action against the creature.
The attack of opportunity reaction contains a subordinate action: strike. Because this attack happens on another creature’s turn, it ignores the multiple attack penalty rule.
If your strike deals critical damage and the creature was attempting to manipulate an object, the target’s action is disrupted.
Grab an Edge
If you successfully grab an edge, you can stop yourself from falling. Experienced adventurers know that you should always watch your step. Dank tombs and dusty dungeons are usually full of traps. One wrong step could send you tumbling to your death.
Falling from any height can be painful, so it’s important to have good reflexes if you want to be a professional Pathfinder. If you fall more than 5 feet, you take damage equal to half the distance you fell. A fall of 100 feet would hit you with 100 bludgeoning damage!
If you take a misstep and find yourself in freefall, try using your reaction to grab an edge. As long as your hands are free, you can attempt to catch a handhold as you fall.
While this move won’t prevent you from taking falling damage, it will significantly reduce the among of damage you take. However, if your attempt to grab an edge critically fails, you’ll get more banged up than a drum as you fall towards an early grave.
Some actions you can do without much effort. Dropping a sword or telling your companion to watch out are examples of free actions. You can do a free action without spending any of your single actions or your reaction.
Some free actions have a trigger. A free action like this works just like a reaction一you’ll need to wait for the trigger before you can use it. However, you can’t use multiple actions with the same trigger.
Free Actions use the symbol: ◇.
Characters don’t need to use an action to speak. As long as you can act, you can communicate with your team. Keep in mind that each round of combat only lasts 6 seconds, so you’ll need to keep it short. A battle isn’t the place for a long-winded soliloquy, Hamlet.
If your speech includes special rules, those still apply. For instance, if you use a free action to lie to a creature, you’ll need to roll a Deception skill check.
You can use a free action to delay your turn for a more opportune moment. If you delay, you’re removed from the initiative order. When another creature finishes a turn, you can use a free action to return to the fray and take your delayed turn. Your initiative stays at the new position.
You can only delay if it’s the beginning of your turn. You can delay your actions for an entire round if you want, but you’ll lose them. Characters that take the delay action can’t use their reaction until they have returned to the initiative order.
You can release an item you’re holding using a free action. This could mean dropping a sword or letting go of a rope or similar object.
Unlike when a character manipulates an object, releasing something doesn’t trigger an attack of opportunity. If a teammate needs a helping hand, you can safely lend it without worrying about retaliation.
More Rules for Using Actions
Using actions is an integral part of any Pathfinder adventure. While actions dictate the tide of combat, players can use their actions to explore and during downtime as well.
Actions can be used in any order, but they can’t happen simultaneously. You’ll need to finish one action before starting the next one. Basic actions are available to everyone. Your character will learn new actions as they gain experience and level up.
During an encounter, your turn ends once you’ve used all your actions.
It’s possible to disrupt another creature’s action. You might also have your own action disrupted. But disrupting an action, you’ll prevent the action’s effects.
If your activity is disrupted, you’ll lose all the actions spent on it. For example, if you cast a spell that uses three actions and a creature disrupts you, you’ll lose the actions as well as the spell.
It’s up to the DM to determine the effects of a disrupted action. If you try to hand someone a key, but the action is disrupted, it’s possible that you’ll drop the key.
Some actions will call for you to use a simpler action. These subordinate actions still have their normal traits and effects though they may be modified. Unless explicitly stated, subordinate actions don’t have the traits of the larger action.
If an action requires a subordinate action, you don’t need to spend more of your single actions to use it. For example, an activity may specify that you have one hand free while you make a strike. This strike would work the same as a basic strike.
Losing Your Actions
Some conditions will cause you to lose your actions or your reaction. A paralyzed creature, for example, can’t use actions except to Recall Knowledge. In this condition, you won’t even be able to speak. If this happens to you, I suggest bribing your GM with pizza or snacks.
The slowed condition will cause you to lose one of your actions, but you’ll still be mobile and capable of fighting. Be careful when facing monsters that can alter your condition. It’s hard to win if you can’t move or act.
Pathfinder covers everything you need for endless campaigns, but it can’t cover everything. Players occasionally attempt something that isn’t in the rulebook.
If you find yourself in this situation, don’t fret! GMs are often tasked with coming up with new ideas for gameplay. Creating your own rules can be an exciting way to overcome the limitations of the game and cover actions that are not already defined.
Luckily, it’s not difficult to create rules that tell players how many actions they need to spend. If the activity is similar to an action that already exists, you can use that action as a guide. Some actions can be created by combining actions.
Be careful when creating new rules. It’s important to discuss these changes with your players and make sure everyone is on board before the game starts. It’s okay to improve rules on the fly for the sake of continuity, but be sure to clarify the rules before your next pathfinder session.
Ready, Set, Action!
Pathfinder has a wide variety of actions that it offers players. With so many different things to do, it can be hard to keep track of what each one does. This guide is designed to help players and GMs understand the most common actions in Pathfinder.
In conclusion, actions are an important part of any Pathfinder game. How you spend your actions is up to you, but make sure to use them wisely.
With the right mix of actions, you can overcome any obstacle in your path.