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I'm thinking of making a house rule for Pathfinder which lets you counter attack when your opponent rolls a natural 1 to attack. First, is there already a counter attack system in Pathfinder? If not, how will my house rule impact the balance of the game?

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At higher level, especially for monks with flurry (4+ attacks) this could get potentially very nasty for the players. I'd not be keen for this 5%+ chance every roll that the enemies get to beat me up. – Rob Sep 12 '12 at 15:35
@Rob you could not make the lower attacks if you weren't likely to hit. – C. Ross Sep 12 '12 at 15:47
I think I'd resent that as a player; if having just got an extra attack and facing a BBEG then not making it as I'd be as likely to get hit as the BBEG was to getting a hit on me. – Rob Sep 12 '12 at 15:53
You should check out…, which is a similar question for D&D3.5, but the answers there apply to Pathfinder as well, and there are several interesting suggestions for house-rules. – lisardggY Sep 12 '12 at 17:22
One important consideration is that characters who are good at melee would provoke more counterattacks than characters who aren't - which is to say, if a twentieth-level fighter was having a punch-up with a first-level commoner, the fighter would provoke twice as many counterattacks as the less-skilled combatant. In other words, being better at combat makes you more likely to leave exploitable openings in your defenses; This may be seen as a bit weird. – GMJoe Oct 21 '13 at 6:04
up vote 9 down vote accepted

There is no "counter attack" system in Pathfinder as such. First off attacks are presumed to be happening at the same time, and swords, maces, and fists are expected to be flying all the time. The closest thing in Pathfinder is the Attack of Opportunity which models how attacking a character when they have effectively left themselves open, by casting a spell, running past, or some other mechanism.

Let's look at what your suggesting as an attack of opportunity. If you only have it occur on a natural 1, it will happen 5% of the time to all characters regardless of skill. Obviously it benefits characters in melee more as an opportunity to damage and causes a problem as they are taking more damage. It's not going to effect casters or ranged characters much since they aren't making attacks in melee often. It also benefits melee characters who have Combat Reflexes (can make more than one Attack of Opportunity) as they would be able to take advantage of it more often. It may also discourage a character from making all their attacks if they have multiple attacks. If you have 3 attacks, and the lowest only has a 10% chance to hit, but also involves a 5% chance of a counterattack you might not take that chance.

In short you will increase the lethality of melee combat slightly across the board, and improve the attractiveness of Combat Reflexes, while slightly decreasing the attractiveness of multiple attacks. It probably wouldn't be game breaking, but it would certainly affect play.

It would also affect the flow of play. Your combats will be interrupted more often with players making out of turn actions more often 5% of the turn for every attack made.

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+1. I know my caster would hate this rule because his ranged touch spells still require an attack roll, and even if you make the check to cast defensively you can still be screwed. – LitheOhm Sep 12 '12 at 17:12
@LitheOhm How many times would he be casting a ranged attack spell within another creature's reach? I wouldn't expect that to effect him, now his melee touch spells are another matter... – C. Ross Sep 12 '12 at 17:26
When the big baddie in my face isn't the thing I need to kill next. Flesh golem in my face but nimblewright keeping the fighter from saving my ass, guess who's getting a scorching ray? – LitheOhm Sep 12 '12 at 17:33
@LitheOhm true, but you already had some risk there of failing the combat casting check. This is only an incremental change in a very narrow situation. – C. Ross Sep 12 '12 at 17:38
That's what I'm saying, in the off-chance that my concentration check is low then this would be just another way to destroy my caster. One's plenty, they tend to be squishy. – LitheOhm Sep 12 '12 at 17:43

One way to include this as an idea, would be to draw on the Parry class skill that was included in the Neverwinter Nights games.

It was a Dex based skill available to the non-arcane casters(except bards so only sorcerer and wizard didn't get it as a class skill). The check used a fluid DC

The difficulty class is the modified attack roll of the incoming blow. A successful parry means that the attack does not damage the parrying character. A character may only parry a number of attacks per round equal to the number of attacks per round available to the character

In addition, if a Parry exceeded the attack by more than 10 points, then it allowed a counter-attack. Each successive counter-attack took a cumulative -5 penalty to the roll(along the lines of the penalties to BAB for multiple attacks). Wearing armor applies the check penalty as per normal for Dex skills.

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The big issue with just making it a natural 1 is that this makes it more frequent than critical hits, which become a problem when the players make so many more rolls than the enemies.

One thing you could do, though, is invert the threat/confirm system: a natural 1 on an attack roll creates an "opening threat," and the player must make a second "confirmation" roll with the same modifiers. If that roll also misses, then the player has provoked an attack of opportunity from the target. The target must still obey the usual AoO rules when countering -for example, they must be able to actually reach the attacker- or else the counter is negated.

This should keep things relatively balanced versus critical hits. It gives some advantage to reach, range, and higher BABs: the former two reduce the amount of foes that can counterattack you, and the latter reduces the number of times you leave yourself open in this way. Then again, that could be considered a touch of realism.

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