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Let's figure what happens in a certain situation, which is "all my attacks hit, my demoralize attempt manages to shake my opponent but only for this round".
Let's also suppose the opponent isn't shaken or flat-footed already at the beginning of my turn.

The Cornugon Smash feat is necessary to shake the opponent, so I'm sure the first roll is against full AC.

What happens next is debated because of the wording of Shatter Defenses.

Any shaken [...] opponent hit by you this round is flat-footed...

  • One interpretation is that when you attack a shaken opponent and an opponent you hit this round, it's flat footed. This means your second attack goes against flat-footed AC, and conditions are checked at each attack.

  • A different interpretation is that whne you hit a shaken creature, Shatter Defenses activates. This means your third attack goes against flat-footed AC and once the condition is true it stays true.
    Also, this allows the effect to continue next round whether the opponent stops being shaken or not (because it lasts until the end of your next turn).

Is there a correct option, RAW? (i.e. is one of the two interpretations wrong according to English or to other rules in the manuals?)
If not, is the developers' intent known?

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People, please, read carefully because as of now you're not answering the question. You'r just stating "it works this way" without saying why the other way is not a plausible interpretation. – Zachiel May 13 '14 at 22:44

The second option is correct. Here's the breakdown.

First, you hit with a power attack. This triggers Cornugon Smash.

Second, you make an Intimidate check. Since this check explicitly happens after your first attack is finished, Shatter Defenses cannot come into play. In order for Shatter Defenses to work, you need to hit an opponent who is shaken, and the opponent is not shaken here until after the hit has gone though.

Third, you make another attack. This attack will activate Shatter Defenses. However, this attack is made against your opponent's non-flat-footed AC. Since you need to make your second attack roll before the attack hits, and the first attack cannot have activated Shatter Defenses, this attack has to be made against the enemy's normal AC.

The reason that the second attack is against normal AC and not flat-footed AC is that Shatter Defenses doesn't take effect until you have actually hit your enemy. You make your second attack roll before you hit with your second attack. Since Shatter Defenses requires you to hit before it works, the attack roll for the second attack is made against normal AC, not flat-footed AC.

The third and later attacks are against flat-footed AC.

I understand your confusion, but the real answer, like in many cases, is "whoever wrote/edited this feat did so poorly". The interpretation favoured by all of the answers here is assuming that the feat is written poorly, but that it works like every other feat in the book. Namely, that it provides an effect after a hit, rather than passively providing a benefit that triggers under a particular circumstance. If you, as a GM, want to read it differently, no one is stopping you. If you want to do this as a player, make sure to ask your GM in either case, since this involves a poorly worded feat.

The core reason that the second interpretation is more likely to be correct than the first is that there are few to no feats that work like the first interpretation implies. Feats like this are almost always active, and require an action on the part of the player to activate, rather than working passively.

To give an example: Suppose you had Shatter Defenses, but didn't have Cornugon Smash. On your turn, you full attack an enemy. On your Wizard friend's turn, he casts fear. On your enemy's turn, he runs away, providing an attack of opportunity. With interpretation 1, you would attack his flat-footed AC, since he is currently panicked and has been hit by you this round. This doesn't work with the way feats typically work, and it doesn't work with the fluff description of of the feat, which says that it

leaves opponents unable to defend themselves if you strike them when their defenses are already compromised.

With interpretation 1, you aren't striking a foe whose defenses are already compromised. You are striking a foe, and then his defenses are becoming compromised. While the wording of the feat may be unclear, it makes a lot more sense that it requires you to hit a foe that is already shaken than otherwise.

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It's just English, dude. What is an alternate way to parse those sentences that you think exists? – mxyzplk May 14 '14 at 0:53
@mxyzplk "any shaken (now, while the second attack connects) opponent hit (past tense) by you this round (whenever this round in the past) is flat-footed (for this second attack)". – Zachiel May 14 '14 at 9:52
@DuckTapeal I agree with you that the enemy is shaken only after the first hit what I'm not sure is... after the first hit it's already been hit, no? (and I know there is one possible interpretation, which you explained, that tells us it's not enough and you should be hit while shaken. There's just a second interpretation - see my last comment - and I don't know yet why that isn't valid.) – Zachiel May 14 '14 at 9:56
@Zachiel I edited again to try and clear it up further. – DuckTapeAl May 14 '14 at 10:21

It IS ambiguous, but the case for "3 attacks needed" is easier.

We all seem to agree that wording of Shatter Defenses is bad.

As far as I can tell, both readings ARE possible, and I will list the (very short) argumentation for both readings here. Both are simply based on the question of how you interpret

Any shaken, frightened, or panicked opponent hit by you this round [...]

It takes TWO attacks if you read it as:

IF opponent is shaken AND opponent was hit this round

In this case, you check for both conditions (is shaken & was hit this round, in whatever state) separately. Since the first attack hit, and your opponent is shaken afterwards, you fulfill the conditions of Shatter Defenses.

It takes THREE attacks if you read it as:

IF opponent was hit this round while shaken

In this case, you check for the combined condition, instead of separately.

The difference is basically if you apply the "was hit" condition to "opponent" or to "shaken opponent". IMO, both are possible in the English language. Note that while both are possible, the second reading is far more intuitive, as indicated by the length of argument needed, and also by the other answers here.

I couldn't find anything about RAI in this case, which leaves it up to the individual GM.

If you want an official answer, you might want to ask the question over on the paizo boards. If it confuses enough people there, it might make it into the FAQ.

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I'm going to ask it in the Paizo boards, yeah. Thanks for the suggestion. – Zachiel May 14 '14 at 9:58

Taking literally the feat text:

Any shaken [...] opponent hit by you this round is flat-footed...

After the first attack is resolved, no shaken opponent was hit, because the demoralize action happens after that first attack is resolved and deals damage. So the feats do not activate.

The second attack is against a shaken opponent, but until that attack is resolved, Shatter Defenses do not apply because you still has not hit a shaken opponent that round.

The feat text is, in the best of cases, badly worded, but the sentence cannot be parsed in any other way unless you take a very roundabout interpretation. For you to evaluate the two conditions separately, the feat would be able to be read as

Any opponent hit by you this round that becomes shaken [...] is flat-footed...

IF you want to read the sentence that way, then I could also say that:

  • You must hit the oponent in the same round it is shaken for the feat to work, because it could be read that the "this round" must be applied to the shaken condition too.
  • Your oponent must receive the shaken condition from you for the feat to work because it could be read that the "by you" must be applied to the shaken condition too.
  • The feat work on any opponent hit this round by anyone, as long he becomes shaken by you, because it could be read that the "by you" apply to the shaken condition and not to the hit condition.

I could write several pages of those interpretations of that text under that logic and all of them would be valid...

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I get what you're saying - it was basically my option 2 - but is there any evidence anywhere to support your interpretation? Why can't it be option 1? – Zachiel May 13 '14 at 20:02
If there was no flat-footing during the attack roll, there shouldn't be any sneak attack, since sneak attack is adjudicated when the attack roll is made. No? Anyway, you made clearer what I already know; maybe I'm still not asking the right question: is there anything that lets you say the english sentence "any shaken opponent hit this round" does not mean "it has been hit and it's shaken, no matter in which order it happened"? This is what I want to know. – Zachiel May 13 '14 at 22:40
just a nitpick on the second quote: it should be "Any opponent hit by you this round that is shaken" – Zachiel May 14 '14 at 10:16
@Zachiel Worded that way to empathize how the feat should be writen for your first interpretation to work under a literal wording. – MACN May 14 '14 at 10:22

A Demoralized Foe Must Be Hit Before His Defenses Shatter

The feat Shatter Defenses is a train wreck, but, when it comes down to it, a creature can't gain the benefits of an effect that has yet to occur. The effects of the feat Shattered Defenses must happen after a successful attack on an appropriate target.

Any shaken, frightened, or panicked opponent hit by you this round is flat-footed to your attacks until the end of your next turn. This includes any additional attacks you make this round.

That's horrible phrasing, but here's how to read it.

The Correct Option According to the Rules

The following breaks down the feat into steps.

  1. The feat first asks this question:

    Is the foe shaken, frightened, or panicked?

    If No, stop. If Yes, continue.

  2. the feat then asks this question:

    Did you hit the foe this round?

    If No, stop. If Yes, continue.

  3. You get the feat's effect:

    That foe's flat-footed versus your attacks until the end of your next turn.

    Then continue.

  4. The feat asks this question:

    Did you hit the foe again?

    If No, stop. If Yes, continue.

  5. If Yes the feat adds this clarification:

    That foe's still flat-footed until the end of your next turn.

The Alternative (Mis)Reading

The reading everyone wants is that the feat Shatter Defenses allows the attacker to treat his foes as flat-footed if the attacker's foes are shaken, frightened, or panicked. That's not going to happen. To be fair, I started an answer that argued exactly that, hoping I could spin the nonsense that is the feat Shatter Defenses that way because--darn it!--I want that reading, too! But it can't happen. However, on first read, it looks like it could.

Because only by implication is it evident when the foe is flat-footed. The feat doesn't say

After hitting a shaken, frightened, or panicked foe once this round, you treat the foe as flat-footed versus your attacks until the end of your next turn.

It could've said that, and it would've been clearer if it had, but it doesn't. But the feat also doesn't say

You treat shaken, frightened, or panicked foes as flat-footed versus your attacks.

That is the feat everyone wants the feat Shatter Defenses to be, and that would've been clear, too.

Instead, someone decided to get all Yoda, switch the Benefits to passive voice, and make the Benefit a word salad suitable for use as an example of how not to write clear instructions. The feat means the first revision, but why an editor didn't call the writer on the poor phrasing before the actual feat was published is a mystery.

"...And When Combined with Cornugon Smash?"

The feat Cornugon Smash has as its benefit

When you damage an opponent with a Power Attack, you may make an immediate Intimidate check as a free action to attempt to demoralize your opponent.

You need to make 2 attacks before the feat Shatter Defenses works on your turn. You take the full attack action. During your first attack you make an attack employing the feat Power Attack versus a foe who is not shaken, frightened, or panicked. You then take a free action to make an Intimidate skill check to demoralize that foe. During your second attack, you hit the shaken, frightened, or panicked foe. This activates the effect of the feat Shatter Defenses. During the third attack, you make an attack versus the shaken, frightened, or panicked foe; you treat that foe as flat-footed versus that attack.

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-1: lack of brevity, repetition, answer to question hidden under different heading – user2754 May 14 '14 at 5:33

Original Feat:

Benefit: Any shaken, frightened, or panicked opponent hit by you this round is flat-footed to your attacks until the end of your next turn.

As you know from the other answers, the correct interpretation is

Benefit: Any (already) shaken, frightened, or panicked opponent (that has been) hit by you this round is flat-footed to your (next) attacks until the end of your next turn.

So, why the other interpretation cannot be correct?

Let's analyze other feats.

Benefit: Whenever you score a critical hit, your opponent is permanently blinded. (Blinding Critical)

Benefit: Whenever you score a critical hit against an opponent, the victim is permanently deafened. (Deafening Critical)

Benefit: Whenever you use the full-attack action and make at least one unarmed strike, [...] (Medusa's Wrath)

Please notice how the hit word (or score, or use) implies the benefit to trigger after the attack. This applies for the three feats I quoted above, and surely does for Shatter Defenses, too.

So, if the correct interpretation would have been the first, the feat would have been:

Benefit: Any shaken, frightened, or panicked opponent is flat-footed to your attacks until the end of your next turn.


Benefit: Whenever an opponent is shaken, frightened, or panicked, that opponent is flat-footed to your attacks until the end of your next turn.

Let's try to use the hit word once again.

Benefit: Whenever you hit a shaken, frightened, or panicked opponent, that opponent is flat-footed to your attacks until the end of your next turn.

Here, the hit word is implying once again that the benefit triggers after the hit, and not during it.

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You changed the wording, of course it only has one of the meanings now. You changed the words twice! My counterpoint: if they wanted the feat to do that they could have used the wording they used for the other feats. (Neither mine nor yours is a proof, sorry.) – Zachiel May 14 '14 at 10:01
@Zachiel Of course, I tried to explain what I meant with some examples. I didn't want to show a proof (I guess it's unlikely to find an actual one, but I may be wrong), but to give a fair point of view of both the interpretations, which I believe is what we are talking about, since no one except who wrote the book would know the exact meaning of the sentence. My 2 cents :P – Vereos May 14 '14 at 10:07

The wording of that feat is really bad.

I was inclined to say that both interpretations are plausible. The wording of that feat is not really explicit if:

  • The Target becomes Flat-Footed after you hit it while it is Shaken, or
  • The target is considered Flat-Footed for you if it is already Shaken.

However, there is a hint on the rest of the wording of that feat:

Your skill with your chosen weapon leaves opponents unable to defend themselves if you strike them when their defenses are already compromised.


Benefit: Any shaken, frightened, or panicked opponent hit by you this round is flat-footed to your attacks until the end of your next turn. This includes any additional attacks you make this round.

Emphasis mine. The "Fluff" of this feat says that if you hit them, you leave them unable to defend themselves after you hit them when theirs defenses are already compromised. By the Fluff text, you need to HIT a Shaken Enemy. When you Hit the first time, it wasn't shaken, so you didn't hit a "compromised-defense" target. You second attack, however, is hit against a shaken enemy, thus triggering Shatter Defenses.

Also note that this "Flat-footeness" also works for your additional attacks - this, and the fact that one of the pre-requisites is BBA 6+ (thus having additional attacks), reforce the ideia that "Flat-Footed" is a status caused by Shatter Defenses.

So while the wording of the Benefit section is horribly written, the fluff provides some extra bits of info that can be used to find the answer to this.

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"if" you hit them yadda yadda can mean "after" or can mean "whenever", isn't it? I say the fluff has the same bad wording. – Zachiel May 14 '14 at 17:16
@Zachiel Well... I see that in a different way, but go figures. Tried to help! – Thales Sarczuk May 14 '14 at 17:36
Ah, I didn't want to force the conclusion like that "isn't it" might suggest. I appreciate your attempt at helping. – Zachiel May 14 '14 at 18:52

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