Have you ever really thought about just how much gravity really sucks?
Seriously! Falling hurts, and we humans do it all the time!
Now we aren’t all giant turtles (Ninjas, Mutants, or Teenagers are debatable), and provided there are no other limitations the situation can be easily corrected.
However, as anyone who has ever been in a skirmish ranging from a playground scuffle to a pitched battle of melee fighters, it’s hard enough to keep yourself safe, much less get back up on your own two feet!
Pathfinder represents this as the Prone Condition. Being knocked prone can be a double-edged sword for both you and your opponent.
Let’s break down the mechanics for Prone, and then we will see how we can make this Condition work for you and against your enemies.
The Mechanics of Prone
Pathfinder’s two editions are slightly different when it comes to what the Prone condition actually does.
Prone in 1st Edition Pathfinder
The character is lying on the ground. A prone attacker has a –4 penalty on melee attack rolls and cannot use a ranged weapon (except for a crossbow). A prone defender gains a +4 bonus to Armor Class against ranged attacks, but takes a –4 penalty to AC against melee attacks.
Standing up is a move-equivalent action that provokes an attack of opportunity.
Prone in 1e is pretty straight forward. You are knocked flat on your face or on your back. It’s pretty hard to swing a sword or thrust a spear, when you are limited in movement.
It is also going to be pretty hard for you to get a shot off with a bow. When you are on your back or on your face, you’ve got a solid floor or the hard ground keeping you from drawing back your bow string, or swinging a sling over your head. The exception for this being the Crossbow, which can easily be braced on the shoulder.
You are going to be a great deal easier to hit in melee as well. After all, they are going to be standing over you and letting gravity do most of the work.
The trade-off being that 99.9 percent of ranged attacks are now coming at you from a direct horizontal angle, so you are a much smaller target and therefore are a great deal harder to hit.
Standing up is also an issue. Getting up means you are not focusing on really defending yourself, so those opponents of yours can take the option to get in a good swipe at you with an Attack of Opportunity.
Prone in 2nd Edition Pathfinder
You’re lying on the ground. You are flat-footed and take a –2 circumstance penalty to attack rolls. The only move actions you can use while you’re prone are Crawl and Stand. Standing up ends the prone condition.
You can Take Cover while prone to hunker down and gain cover against ranged attacks, even if you don’t have an object to get behind, gaining a +4 circumstance bonus to AC against ranged attacks (but you remain flat-footed).
If you would be knocked prone while you’re Climbing or Flying, you fall (see rules on falling). You can’t be knocked prone when Swimming.
2e Pathfinder is somewhat less harsh, but still sucks.
You are flat-footed, meaning only your armor bonuses will count when someone attempts to hit you. You are also somewhat easier to hit.
As far as movement is concerned, you can only crawl or get back up, which also can provoke an Attack of Opportunity [Reaction].
However, like in 1e, you are much harder to hit with a ranged strike because you are a smaller target. Though, you still can’t dodge well, hence remaining flat-footed.
How to Make an Opponent Prone
Knocking an opponent prone is a great way to swing the attack in your favor. It can help you deal with a heavily armored opponent quicker, or stop someone from setting up a better position.
1st Edition Pathfinder
The easiest way in 1st edition to knock someone prone is to use the Combat Maneuver Trip.
You can attempt to trip your opponent in place of a melee attack. You can only trip an opponent who is no more than one size category larger than you. If you do not have the Improved Trip feat, or a similar ability, initiating a trip provokes an attack of opportunity from the target of your maneuver.
If your attack exceeds the target’s CMD, the target is knocked prone. If your attack fails by 10 or more, you are knocked prone instead. If the target has more than two legs, add +2 to the DC of the combat maneuver attack roll for each additional leg it has. Some creatures—such as oozes, creatures without legs, and flying creatures—cannot be tripped.
To use a Combat Maneuver in 1e, you take your Base Attack Bonus, add your Strength Modifier, and add any special size modifier (Fine –8, Diminutive –4, Tiny –2, Small –1, Medium +0, Large +1, Huge +2, Gargantuan +4, Colossal +8). This is called your Combat Maneuver Bonus or CMB.
Roll your CMB like an attack roll on a d20 against your opponent’s Combat Maneuver Defense or CMD, which is derived from their Base Attack Bonus + their Strength Modifier + their Dex Modifier + size modifier + any additional modifiers they get to their AC (dodge, deflection, insight, etc.) If you manage to beat their CMD, the Maneuver works.
Let’s look at an example:
Trevor is fighting with his party against a group of Vampires. He’s using his favorite weapon, aka a whip. He lashes out, rolling a 17 on the dice and adds his +9 CMB for a total of 26.
The Vampire he hits has a CMD of 24. The whip wraps around his ankle and Trevor pulls on it, smacking the Vampire’s nose into the ground and sending him prone.
Keep in mind, it is also an option for you to drop prone yourself to take cover from ranged attacks. If arrows and bullets start flying, always remember “Prone gets you home.”
2nd Edition Pathfinder
Likewise, the Trip attack also exists in Pathfinder 2nd Edition.
Requirements: You have at least one hand free. Your target can’t be more than one size larger than you.
You try to knock a creature to the ground. Attempt an Athletics check against the target’s Reflex DC.
Critical Success: The target falls and lands prone and takes 1d6 bludgeoning damage.
Success: The target falls and lands prone.
Critical Failure: You lose your balance and fall and land prone.
Source Core Rulebook pg. 243 2.0
While it is an attack action, rather than rolling an attack roll with your CMB, you instead make an Athletics Skill test versus the target’s Reflex DC (Reflex Save +10). If you succeed, then the target is knocked prone.
If you succeed by 10 points or more, it’s a critical success and the enemy bludgeons themselves on the ground (bloody nose, bashed knee, smashed funny-bone, etc). However, if you fail by 10 points or more, you get pulled off your feet!
Let’s look at our example again:
Trevor’s party is going up against those Vampire Spawn. He lashes out again, wrapping that whip around a Vampire’s ankle and hauling on it. He rolls his athletics check and gets a 25.
The Vampire Spawn has a Reflex DC of 23 (10 plus Reflex Save of +13). Treavor manages to pull the Vampire’s ankles out from under him. If Treavor had rolled a 33, then that Vampire would have probably smashed his nose on the ground and started bleeding all over the place.
If Trevor had rolled a 13, then it’s real likely the Vampire would have pulled HIM off balance and knocked HIM over!
How to Resist Being Made Prone
If we look at both editions, honestly the best option to avoid getting thrown on your butt is to push your Dexterity. Overall, your Dex is going to improve both your CMD against trips as well as your Reflex Saves against getting knocked over as well.
I stand proven that Dex is the true God Stat in all d20 games! And I stand that way because you can’t trip me up!
See what I did there?
Happy Hunting, Pathfinders!