Penalty Shots: Ranged Weapon Penalties in Pathfinder

At a certain point in almost every player’s career in playing tabletop games, they are going to want to play a ranged combat character.

Maybe they want to be the Elven Archer launching volleys of arrows while they surf a shield down a flight of steps.

Maybe they want to be a gunslinger who can pick the wings off a horsefly from so far away you don’t hear the boom of the gun for seconds after the bullet impacts.

Or maybe they want to play the quick jungle fighter who pops out of cover just long enough to sling a rock into the face of a charging giant!

There is a myriad of different combinations and options for Ranged Combatants. However, it is important to know specifically what kind of chances they are taking when they are firing their weapons.

Certain circumstances can make targets much harder to hit, and sometimes even leave them wide open for a counterattack!

Today we are going to look at some penalties ranged fighters need to keep in mind when lining up a shot on their enemies. Then look at ways they can overcome those penalties to get better at sending their projectiles right where they want to go.

Out of Range!

Entropy is unfortunately a thing. No projectile will travel forever no matter how much force you put on it. Eventually, your arrow, bolt, bullet, or stone is going to either impact something to make it stop or be pulled down by the force of gravity.

Gravity is mean like that.

The longer the range from you to your target, the more force needs to go into the shot to make it connect and do damage. Some weapons can provide extra force, while some don’t really have the “oomph!” to go that far. That’s where Range Penalties come in.

 Each individual ranged weapon has a listing for range. Just grabbing a few examples from the Pathfinder SRD: the Shortbow and the Heavy Crossbow

The listed range is called the First Range Increment. When attacking within or at the weapon’s listed range increment, you take no penalties on your attack roll.

When your target is beyond your first range increment, you begin taking penalties on your attack roll. For every range increment beyond, you take an increasing -2 penalty.

So the Shortbow has a range increment of 60 feet. From your position to 60 feet, you take no range penalty. From 60 to 120 feet, you would take a -2 range penalty. From 120 feet to 180 feet, you would take a -4 range penalty.

You can fire at up to 6 range increments away from your position, each time taking more and more of a penalty to your attack roll. This means that at your furthest range you would be taking a -10 to your roll.

Let’s put this in a chart here:

WeaponFirst Range Increment (+/-0)Second Range Increment (-2)Third Range Increment (-4)Fourth Range Increment (-6)Fifth Range Increment (-8)Sixth Range Increment (-10)
ShortbowUp to 60 ft61 ft – 120 ft121 ft – 180 ft181 ft – 240 ft241 ft – 300 ft301 ft – 360 ft
Heavy CrossbowUp to 120 ft121 ft – 240 ft241 ft – 360 ft361 ft – 480 ft481 ft – 600 ft601 ft – 720 ft

It should be noted also that certain range weapons have what is called the Volley trait. This means they take a penalty on a listed range because they are awkward to aim at closer ranges. This range will be listed by the weapon. 

For example, the Longbow has a range increment of 100 ft, but has the Volley Trait listed at 30 feet. That means if your target is within 30 feet of you, you are taking a -2 on your attack roll. So the point to take 0 penalties with a longbow would be 31 feet – 100 feet.

Take Cover!

When the bullets and arrows start flying, that’s when people hit the deck and put something solid between themselves and the incoming fire.

Cover in Pathfinder Second Edition isn’t a penalty to the attacker, but a bonus to the Armor and Reflex save of the defender. 

Cover comes in 3 different levels: Lesser, Standard, and Greater.

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

The GM is the arbiter of how much cover the defender has. A good way to see if one character has cover from another is to draw a line from the center of the attacker’s square to the center of the defender’s square.

If the line is interrupted by any object or terrain that would block an attack, then the target has cover. This can include other characters, who provide Lesser Cover automatically.

If a creature is between you and your target, and that creature is 2 or more size categories larger than you and your target, then your target has Standard Cover.

If a creature is in Standard or Greater Cover, they can attempt an action to hide using Stealth.

Creatures can also use the Take Cover action. They have to be sharing a space with something that could presumably supply cover, but by taking this action, a creature can either gain Standard Cover or upgrade Standard Cover to Greater Cover.

Melee and Ranged at the Same Time

Sometimes you might be in a situation where someone is all up in your business and you just have your Bow out. Conversely, you could be across the room while a teammate is tussling with an enemy and you need to give them some ranged help. 

Firing Into Melee

There is no strict ranged penalty in Pathfinder 2e about firing into a Melee scrum. If your friend is tangling with a monster and you want to give them some fire support, then you are free to let fly.

It is worth noting that Cover rules will still apply. Your friend and teammate might be providing Lesser Cover to your target on accident. Use the “Draw a Line” rule above, and if your line is interrupted then your target will get a Cover bonus.

If you still have the capacity to move though, you can move to a point where the target is covered by your ally, and then take 0 penalties and they would get no bonus.

Firing While IN Melee

In Melee here can also mean firing at someone who is adjacent to your square. 

There are hard and solid attack penalties for specifically making a ranged attack while you are engaged in Melee, except for the Volley trait listed above under ranged penalties.

Though it is necessary to consider that when firing while adjacent to an enemy, you might provoke an Attack of Opportunity (AoP). Not everyone gets an AoP, but it is a valid concern. You might want to put an arrow into the face of an Orc, but instead, he might smack you.

Reloading certain ranged weapons might also provoke an AoP as well.

For Example, your Heavy Crossbow has a Reload of 2. That means it takes 2 Interact actions to reload the Heavy Crossbow. The Interact Action has the manipulate trait, so it provokes an AoP as well.

Building a Better Archer

There are a few things to keep in mind when you want to play a really successful ranged class.

One big aspect is your Mobility. You want to make something that is fast and can get out of a tight spot. AoPs are no fun, and firing while a monster is breathing down your neck is no bueno.

If going specifically Archer, focus on Dexterity as your main stat. That is what your hit rolls are going to be based on, and it will improve your reflex and AC.

In the case of using thrown weapons, you want to split between your Strength and your Dex to make sure you are hitting hard with those throwing weapons.

Ranger is typically your best option if going with a bow, as the majority of their feats are split between melee and ranged. The Fighter can also be a great option for versatility.  

Look for options like under the Archer Archetype. Things like Point-Blank Shot are a must take, because it gets rid of the Volley trait issue. Parting Shot is also amazing for getting out of sticky situations when monsters are threatening AoPs.

Fighters and Rogues are the best options for Thrown Weapon builds. Check out feats like Rebounding Toss and Ricochet Stance to bounce your thrown weapons back for you. Rogues also have access to Strong Arm and Far Throw to negate the range penalties that come with thrown weapons.

The Returning Rune is great for builds centered around throwing a weapon and having it return to your hand. 

Stay Loose, Pathfinder!