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Let's say that, in completely open ground (i.e., no actual physical cover anywhere nearby), a creature with reach is immediately adjacent to a foe. That foe's ally is immediately behind the foe, within reach of the creature, as such:

C <-> F1 <-> F2

Foe #2, who has soft cover from the creature, does some action that would normally provoke an attack of opportunity from the creature. The rules seem to state rather clearly that any entity which has "cover" cannot be the target of an attack of opportunity through the "cover". However, the mention of "soft cover" comes after that. In this particular instance, is "soft cover" merely a specialized case of "cover" for which all rules regarding normal cover apply, including the protection from attacks of opportunity? Or is "soft cover" a completely independent rule to "cover" and gives only the bonuses / penalties stated in its own entry (ranged AC bonus only).

Update (3/25/2014): I'm not entirely satisfied with the one answer (from Lord Gareth) provided so far to this question. Though it may be correct, it does not provide enough explanation to convince me. I would also like to formalize my comment to that answer within the question.

Note that in the second paragraph under the main heading of "Cover" in the linked article above, there is this sentence: "When making a melee attack against a target that isn’t adjacent to you (such as with a reach weapon), use the rules for determining cover from ranged attacks." So, attacks against non-adjacent targets are treated as range attacks for the purposes of determining cover, and soft cover specifically mentions that it provides cover against ranged attacks. Does that mean

  1. AoO's are blocked, or
  2. targets of the AoO get a +4 AC bonus, or
  3. resolve AoO normally?
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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Soft Cover

Soft cover is cover, except with the differences that it says. Emphasis mine:

Creatures, even your enemies, can provide you with cover against ranged attacks, giving you a +4 bonus to AC. However, such soft cover provides no bonus on Reflex saves, nor does soft cover allow you to make a Hide check.

That's pretty clear. It says flat out that it provides cover against ranged attacks, with the exceptions listed. AoO's are not listed as an exception, so the Cover rules apply.

AoO's Are Blocked

From the cover rules:

To determine whether your target has cover from your ranged attack, choose a corner of your square. If any line from this corner to any corner of the target’s square passes through a square or border that blocks line of effect or provides cover, or through a square occupied by a creature, the target has cover (+4 to AC).

Here's your example:

C <-> F1 <-> F2

Assuming those are all medium creatures, there is no line between C and F2 that doesn't go through F1's square, so cover applies.

When making a melee attack against an adjacent target, your target has cover if any line from your square to the target’s square goes through a wall (including a low wall). When making a melee attack against a target that isn’t adjacent to you (such as with a reach weapon), use the rules for determining cover from ranged attacks.

This says we use the ranged rules for a reach attack, so it has cover.

You can’t execute an attack of opportunity against an opponent with cover relative to you.

Since it has cover, we can't do an AoO.

But! Large Creatures

Now consider this scenario:

---------            1234 = large creature
-12FG----            F & G = medium creatures
-34------
---------

Same thing as before, they're adjacent. Except C is now large. The rules say that a large creature gets to pick one of its squares to determine cover.

To determine whether your target has cover from your ranged attack, choose a corner of your square.

It can use #4 (as it can use any of its squares), and from that square it has the ability to hit G without going through F's square. As a result, G no longer has cover and the large creature can make an AoO.

That's also mentioned in the cover rules:

Any creature with a space larger than 5 feet (1 square) determines cover against melee attacks slightly differently than smaller creatures do. Such a creature can choose any square that it occupies to determine if an opponent has cover against its melee attacks. Similarly, when making a melee attack against such a creature, you can pick any of the squares it occupies to determine if it has cover against you.

On the upside, if G has reach, it can choose #4 as it's square as well, and it can attack the large creature without F being cover.

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+1 Thank you for the excellent explanation. –  Matt Hamsmith Mar 28 at 15:23
    
A house rule that my group usually uses is that the provider of the soft cover may make parry attempts or grant the covered creature some points of his AC bonus (at penalty of not having those points for defending himself.) This allows a front rank of fighters to actively protect a back rank of squishies (by essentially throwing themselves in the way). :) –  Perkins Aug 26 at 19:17
    
@Tridus I'm looking at the spell raptor cloud [conj] (Secrets of Sarlona 128-9), and that spell explicitly provides its caster with soft cover. Does the spell raptor cloud then provide the caster complete immunity to attacks of opportunity? –  Hey I Can Chan Oct 4 at 14:49
    
@HeyICanChan Since it's providing cover, yes. The same logic as used above would apply. I don't think it's as powerful as it sounds, since it's not that hard to avoid most AoO's once you're high enough level to cast this spell anyway. –  Tridus Oct 5 at 10:18
    
@Tridus I've a Huge rope-dart-wielding tripper PC in 1 campaign who went as far as to take the stance thicket of blades, which the player and I agreed causes even Tumble checks to provoke. There's 1 feat--Elusive Dance (Dragon #333 88) (really, that's the feat's name--my serious monsters are often too embarrassed to take it)--and a couple of weird niche situations that prevent attacks of opportunity, but I'm always on the lookout for more. I just hadn't realize it was any degree of cover that stopped attacks of opportunity. –  Hey I Can Chan Oct 5 at 19:33

It does not prevent attacks of opportunity

From the entry on soft cover:

Soft Cover Creatures, even your enemies, can provide you with cover against ranged attacks, giving you a +4 bonus to AC. However, such soft cover provides no bonus on Reflex saves, nor does soft cover allow you to make a Hide check.

Soft cover is identified as cover, but only against ranged attacks ("[...]can provide you with cover against ranged attacks[...]"). Attacks of opportunity made with melee weapons don't "see" any cover and aren't impeded.

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1  
Note that in the second paragraph under the main heading of "Cover" in the linked article in my question, there is this sentence: "When making a melee attack against a target that isn’t adjacent to you (such as with a reach weapon), use the rules for determining cover from ranged attacks." So, attacks against non-adjacent targets are treated as range attacks for the purposes of determining cover, and soft cover specifically mentions that it provides cover against ranged attacks. So, does that mean 1) AoO's are blocked, or 2) targets of the AoO get a +4 AC bonus, or 3) resolve AoO normally? –  Matt Hamsmith Jan 14 at 20:02

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