Apr 14, 2023
In a lot of other TTRPGs, movement has always been reserved for its own special action...
In a lot of other TTRPGs, movement has always been reserved for its own special action. In games like Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder 1st Edition, movement was tied to Full Attacks, where you could not move and do a full attack in the same turn.
With Pathfinder 2nd Edition’s overhaul of what once was the standard action economy of d20 TTRPGs to three general actions and a reaction, movement has now become just like any other action, but this isn’t the only thing that has been changed.
Attack of Opportunity
Attack of Opportunity was the bane of all movement in past editions. The rules for it were simple: if you moved away from an enemy and were in that enemy’s reach, they could make a free attack at you as a reaction. Any and all creatures had this ability, so even moving away from that Wizard who was flinging spells at you could result in your booty being smacked by his staff.
Pathfinder 2nd Edition, however, wanted to have emphasis on movement. One of the biggest issues with everything having Attack of Opportunity was that it would result in complete deadlocks because the only way to get out of it was to do a 5-foot step (which consumed your movement for the turn) or a full withdrawal (which wouldn’t let you attack). Games often turned into a standstill where you would approach an enemy and then just… cease moving until either you or the enemy was dead.
So, what did Pathfinder 2nd Edition do to have their dream of emphasising mobility and movement? They didn’t remove Attack of Opportunity completely, but instead attached it to very specific classes and creatures, which frees up the game to be a lot more mobile. The creatures that have Attack of Opportunity are generally very soldier-like creatures, horrifying monstrosities with multiple heads or many eyes, creatures that are in general more aware of their surroundings, and truly battle hardened foes that only know a life of battle. If making your own creatures, remember to keep this in mind with whether or not they’d have Attack of Opportunity. A cultist likely won’t have it, but a vicious and intelligent monster that relies on pack hunting definitely would.
Movement in Combat
So, now that we have the restrictions of Attack of Opportunity mostly out of the way, how can you fiddle around with movement in play? Well, there are a few methods that you can try.
One of the most obvious uses for movement is to get into combat or get into a better position. This is the absolute basic use of movement and is essentially designed to get you into the fray of things. This also isn’t specific to Pathfinder 2nd Edition as this is how most systems function with their combat mechanics.
A less used method of movement is also getting out or away from combat. In older editions, this was mostly the ranged characters and casters taking a 5-foot step to get out of melee range of an opponent without provoking an Attack of Opportunity, but now it can be used for very cheeky strategies. Lately I’ve come to love not going first in combat because if I don’t go first, then an enemy has to move towards me to fight me, rather than me having to move towards them. When an enemy does this, you can take this time to learn how fast an enemy moves, and if they’re slower than you then on your turn you can use your movement to move away from them for 1 action. When it comes around to the enemy’s turn again, it can take them two or even three actions just to reach you again, depending on how much faster you are compared to them. Keep in mind that with this method you’ll still want to be the closest target (or one of the closest targets) or else the enemy will just not chase after you and go for someone much slower.
Another method is getting into and out of flanking positions. Flanking is when you and an ally are on opposite sides of an enemy. You can tell if you’re flanking if you can draw a line between you and your ally and the line goes through the enemy. You both also have to be threatening the creature. This also works for enemies. What you can do then, is if you’re flanked by an enemy you can move into a less advantageous position so that you’re no longer flanked. You and your ally can also work on moving together—either through delayed actions or just communicating your intent, looking at your initiative order, and making good use of the action economy.
There are also some feats and abilities that play around with movement. Some allow you to move, fly, jump, swim, climb, or even leap before making an attack, which can often save you an action due to the ability’s action cost. What would normally cost you two or even three actions to pull off, now instead costs one. There are also feats like Running Reload where, as part of a move action you can reload a weapon. On paper you might think, “Oh, well when will I ever use this?” But being able to reposition yourself as the combat changes and reload your weapon at the same time can be an incredible advantage in a fight. For example, if you fired, reloaded, and fired again in the last round, then your gun on the start of this current round is unloaded. Let’s say that between last turn and this turn your enemy moved just out of your first range increment. It would be a perfect time then to use Running Reload, allowing you to get into a better position to hit your target and also reload your weapon.
There are also spells and abilities that depend on an aura effect with either your allies or your enemies needing to be in range of the aura to gain the benefit or penalty. With movement, you can keep yourself mobile, get as many of your allies (or your enemies) in range of the aura at once, then begin raining down hell upon your foe.
Other Forms of Movement
Sometimes you’ll need to climb, jump, or swim, and you can also gain the ability to burrow underground or fly. These modes of movements can get a bit more complicated in play, but can add a great amount of three dimensional dynamics to your game. There are ways to modify these modes of movement, but for the sake of my sanity I’ll be covering the base rules.
Burrowing can be widely seen as more trouble than it’s worth, but I personally think it’s rather interesting. Like any form of movement, you spend 1 action to burrow underground at your Burrow Speed. You can only burrow through things you could reasonably burrow through, such as dirt and snow, but not stone or wood unless otherwise specified. You don’t leave behind a tunnel unless your method of burrowing specifically states that it does. Depending on the method and the creature, you might need to hold your breath while burrowing and you might also need tremorsense to properly navigate and make sense of your surroundings.
Climbing can be pretty slow. It costs one action to perform and you have to have both hands free. Additionally, while you’re climbing you’re flat-footed. The DC is entirely up to the GM. If you critically succeed, you move up, across, or safely down whatever you’re climbing by 5 feet plus 5 feet for every 20 feet of your land speed. If you succeed, you do the same, but you only move 5 feet per 20 feet of your land speed or a minimum of 5 feet if your speed is below 5 feet. On a critical failure you fall, and if you land on stable ground you land prone as well.
Swimming is somewhat subjective and you might not need to roll at all depending on the circumstances. If you find yourself submerged in water, you have to hold your breath or else you begin to drown. Swimming takes 1 action. If you haven’t succeeded at a swim check on your turn (if one was required) you sink 10 feet or get moved by whatever current is affecting the water unless your last action on your turn was entering the water. When you roll for swimming, on a critical success you move 10 feet through the water plus an additional 5 feet per 20 feet of your land Speed. If you succeed, you move 5 feet plus an addition 5 feet per 20 feet of your land Speed through the water. If you get a critical failure you instead make no progress and if you’re holding your breath you lose 1 round of air.
In order to fly you need a Fly Speed. Flying is somewhat complicated and relies on the Acrobatics skill to do exceptional feats. As a base, when flying you can move through the air like you can with land, but relying on your Fly Speed rather than your Base Speed. Moving straight up, diagonally, or going against the wind is the same as moving through difficult terrain, so every 5 feet costs 10 feet of movement. In reverse, you can fly downwards or move with the wind 10 feet for every 5 feet of movement you make. If you reach the ground you don’t take falling damage. Additionally you can use an action to hover in place instead of moving. If you are in the air at the end of your turn and you didn’t use an action to move or hover in the air, then you fall. If you fall, you can use the Arrest a Fall reaction to catch yourself by making an Acrobatics check with a DC of 15. If you succeed, you take no damage from the fall.
You can also use Acrobatics to Maneuver in Flight, which costs one action. These are pretty open to you and the GM, but as a rule rarely are you able to move farther than your Fly Speed, but performing something with the wind might allow you to pull off a stunt like that. On a Success you succeed at the maneuver. On a Failure you fail the maneuver and it’s up to the GM what happens from there. On a Critical Failure the consequences of a Failure are more dire.
Jumping can take one of two forms: a high jump or a long jump. You can make either without a check by doing what is called a Leap, which costs 1 action. You can use it to jump horizontally 10 feet if your base movement speed is at least 15 feet, or you can jump 15 feet horizontally if your base movement speed is at least 30 feet. You can instead choose to jump vertically up 3 feet and 5 feet horizontally to get onto elevated surfaces. While Leaping costs 1 action, there is no skill check required.
High Jumps and Long Jumps are more advanced forms of Leaping. To do a High Jump, you spend two actions and stride at least 10 feet, then roll an Athletics check with a DC of 30. If you get a Critical Success, you increase the maximum vertical distance to 8 feet if you’re trying to jump straight up, or you increase your maximum vertical distance to 5 feet and the maximum horizontal distance to 10 feet. If you succeed, you just increase the maximum vertical distance to 5 feet. If you fail, you leap normally. If you critically fail, you don’t leap at all and fall prone in the space you ended your stride in.
Long Jumps also require two actions to perform, and like High Jumps you stride a minimum of 10 feet and then attempt an Athletics check. Unlike with High Jump, the Long Jump DC varies depending on how far you want to jump. The DC is equal to the total distance in feet you’re attempting to jump and you can’t jump further than your speed. So, a lot of times it’s better to go with a Leap instead. You also can’t stride and then change the direction in which you want to leap, it has to be in a straight line. If you succeed, you increase the maximum distance you can Leap to the desired distance. If you fail, you leap normally. If you critically fail, you leap normally and then fall prone when you land.
Tumble Through is a special maneuver that requires an Acrobatics check. Tumbling Through allows you to move through the space of a single enemy using any method of movement you have. This requires one action, and you need to roll an Acrobatics check against the enemy’s Reflex DC. If you Succeed, you move through their space, but treat it as difficult terrain. If you don’t have enough speed to get through, you get the result of a failure instead. On a Failure your movement ends and you trigger things like Attack of Opportunity if the enemy has it as if you moved out of the enemy’s threatened area.
Pathfinder 2nd Edition has innovated on a lot of old ideas that felt like they’d be with us until the end of time. One such thing is movement, which can certainly be a bit jarring to get used to when you’ve spent however long playing other systems with more restricted movement rules. Nevertheless, I hope this guide has helped you better understand this mechanic of the game.