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I'm a rookie GM and recently I started to learn Pathfinder. A couple of days ago I had my first session, playing the adventure described inside the Game Master's Guide.

When the party had their first combat encounter battling goblins, a player wanted to dodge an attack. As far as I know, dodge is a bonus to the character's AC. Also, I know there is a feat named Dodge but it only adds a dodge bonus.

My question is: can players explicitly dodge an attack, ie. are there some rules to perform a dodge to avoid getting hit or is it just an AC bonus?

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Pathfinder abstracts much of what we imagine combat involves

While it may seem to the player that when it's not his character's turn that his PC's doing nothing, that's an abstraction that Pathfinder makes for the sake of simultaneity. A round is 6 seconds, and during those six seconds typically everyone involved in the encounter gets a turn. When it's not his character's turn, a Pathfinder player should not be imagining his character standing there and waiting to get hit but, instead, imagining his character doing his best not to get hit while still fighting to the best of his ability! In other words, what we in the real world consider dodging an attack, the typical Pathfinder creature is, during combat, doing all the time.

(Limited awareness by a combatant is generally represented by the creature being caught flat-footed (like when the typical creature at the beginning of combat after initiative is rolled but before the creature's taken a turn) or being denied its Dexterity bonus to Armor Class (whether or not it has a Dexterity bonus to Armor Class) (like when the creature has been the victim of a successful feint attempt). Similarly, a creature that's forced to divide its awareness between attackers on opposite sides is flanked, making the creature an easier target for those foes that flank it. Things like that. The crux here is that, generally, a combatant is already paying attention and trying to get out of the way of attacks while in combat!)

This means when it's not the player's character's turn, the player can feel removed from the action, unable to influence ongoing events. While this is largely true defensively—there's often little the character can do (especially at low levels) when the character is being attacked—, creatures can provoke from their foes attacks of opportunity that provide a player a reason to pay attention when it's not that player's character's turn. For example, an enemy that drinks a potion of cure light wounds while adjacent to a foe armed with an appropriate melee weapon typically provokes two attacks of opportunity from that foe, one for retrieving the potion and another for drinking it! (Note that most creatures can only make one attack of opportunity per round; making more requires something special like the feat Combat Reflexes.)

Further, when it is that player's turn, that player's character (and almost any creature, really) can take a standard action to fight defensively so as to suffer a penalty on attack rolls and gain a dodge bonus to Armor Class until right before his next turn begins… or even take the standard action total defense to, essentially, exchange his character's attacks for an even greater increase in his character's Armor Class for the same amount of time. (Long-time players will likely say such options usually aren't worth it—and this long-time player tends to agree—, but experimenting with a new game system is one its joys, and maybe you'll find your own results differ.)

In short, while there are a multitude of exceptions to this that I'm certain you and your players will soon discover, typically the player makes decisions for his character only on the character's turn. The idea of dodging when it's not that character's turn is already factored into the character's Armor Class and the game engine itself.


Note: GreySage's excellent answer covers a few feats that may mollify a player who's concerned that his character seems to be just standing there between his character's turns. While the feat Dodge is largely considered by long-time players a bad deal, it may make a newer player feel better to have it written on his character sheet.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ From the link you posted for total defense, it's a standard action, not a full-round action. \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle W Nov 9 '17 at 21:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KyleW All fixed. Thanks for the heads-up. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 9 '17 at 22:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fantastic answer. In my experience adding some narrative flair can help players feel less removed and will generally paint a better picture. When a goblin's attacking the nimble rogue PC, instead of "the goblin attacks, but misses!" a spiced up "you use your dagger and parry the goblin's scimitar!" can really help players feel more involved. \$\endgroup\$ – KumosAgosta Nov 9 '17 at 22:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KumosAgosta Thank you. The difficulty comes with new players not knowing what their PCs are doing in the game's fiction between turn because, from the players' perspectives, between turns all their poor PCs do is suffer. Other games have PCs take more active roles (therefore rolls (dice not dinner)) in their own defense, but combats in those games tend take even longer than in Pathfinder! (He says a long-time GURPS GM.) Anyway, yes, a little GM narration can go a long way toward filling those between-turn gaps. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 9 '17 at 22:44
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Dodge is both a passive part of your AC as well as a standard action (with a 3rd party feat for a reactive version).

You are right, your dodge bonus is added to your AC, which can come from various sources including the feat 'Dodge'

You can also take the 'Total Defense' standard action:

You can defend yourself as a standard action. You get a +4 dodge bonus to your AC for 1 round. Your AC improves at the start of this action. You can’t combine total defense with fighting defensively or with the benefit of the Combat Expertise feat. You can’t make attacks of opportunity while using total defense.

There is also a 3rd party (non-official Paizo material) feat called 'Active Dodge':

As an immediate action when you would normally be hit with a melee or ranged attack roll, you may make an Acrobatics check to avoid being hit. The DC for this check is equal to the attack roll that hit you. You gain a free 5‑foot step as part of this Acrobatics check, and must take it. (If you cannot take your 5‑foot step, you cannot use this feat. The movement doesn’t count against any other movement you are taking, and does not provoke an attack of opportunity.)

You may only use this feat when you have an armor check penalty of 0, are carrying no more than a light load, and are not wielding a two‑handed weapon or shield. You may use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Dexterity bonus.

Without taking this 3rd party feat, there is no way to 'dodge' an incoming attack that isn't already included in your passive AC. Your Dex bonus being included in your AC represents your character's innate ability to dodge attacks, while your dodge bonus represents the effect of either supernatural ability or focused effort in dodging actions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You can also fight defensively or use the Total Defense action to raise your AC, and say you try to dodge the next attack for the narrative. (be careful to respect the rules though, or you'll probably break the balance) \$\endgroup\$ – Luris Oct 30 '17 at 17:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually there are ways to dodge like this with Paizo material: the Mounted Combat feat, the Mirror Dodge mythic ability (with Trickster or Archmage), and probably other options i'm not aware. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Oct 31 '17 at 9:21
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You can dodge by Readying an Action to move out of reach from your enemy's attack using the Acrobatics skill. This requires that the character actually spend his Standard Action and not do much for that round until the triggering situation happens. It could even not happen and he lost his standard action for that round.

Ready

The ready action lets you prepare to take an action later, after your turn is over but before your next one has begun. Readying is a standard action. It does not provoke an attack of opportunity (though the action that you ready might do so).

You can ready a standard action, a move action, a swift action, or a free action.

Then, anytime before your next action, you may take the readied action in response to that condition. The action occurs just before the action that triggers it. If the triggered action is part of another character's activities, you interrupt the other character. Assuming he is still capable of doing so, he continues his actions once you complete your readied action.

Since you can ready any move action, and you can convert a standard action to a move action when needed, you could declare something along the lines of: "If he attacks me, I will dodge out of the way using acrobatics", and effectively dodge the attack. But if you fail the acrobatic check, you still take an attack of opportunity.

Move Through Threatened Squares

In addition, you can move through a threatened square without provoking an attack of opportunity from an enemy by using Acrobatics. When moving in this way, you move at half speed. You can move at full speed by increasing the DC of the check by 10. You cannot use Acrobatics to move past foes if your speed is reduced due to carrying a medium or heavy load or wearing medium or heavy armor. If an ability allows you to move at full speed under such conditions, you can use Acrobatics to move past foes. You can use Acrobatics in this way while prone, but doing so requires a full-round action to move 5 feet, and the DC is increased by 5. If you attempt to move through an enemy’s space and fail the check, you lose the move action and provoke an attack of opportunity.

If the enemy has not moved already, they could follow up the character and be within melee range again for the next turn, but he can no longer continue his attack if his target is no longer valid (within his reach). If he was attempting a full-attack action, he could interrupt that action just after the failed first attempt and still retain his move action, as explained under Deciding Between an Attack or Full Attack.

After your first attack, you can decide to take a move action instead of making your remaining attacks, depending on how the first attack turns out and assuming you have not already taken a move action this round.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure using the ready action this way is that effective: "Assuming he is still capable of doing so, he continues his actions once you complete your readied action." So, were the potential dodger (Go, Dodgers!) still within the attacker's reach, the attacker would make its attack normally, but, since the dodger's now not, the attacker can continue his turn normally, perhaps pursuing the dodger and, if it had enough movement remaining, closing with the dodger and still attacking him (the attacker having not made its attack in the first place). \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 30 '17 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ How would he continue attacking him? His attack missed because he was attacking an invalid target. You cannot (normally) take a move action and a full-attack. Its like readying an invisibility spell against a spellcaster, you no longer has a valid target. He could continue attacking another party member, or even (quick) draw a ranged/thrown weapon and fire with it. If the attacker has a large reach, then you would have to move more than 5 feet, obviously. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Oct 30 '17 at 19:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's one of the places Pathfinder falls down. My understanding is that until something's actually done, it's not done. That is, the attacker says, "I attack the dodger," and the dodger says, "Hold on, Tex! My readied action goes before your attack, so I move away from you." Then the attacker can continue his turn! That means the attacker has not attacked and isn't still committed to attacking from where he was because he can't now that the dodger's gone. Intent is unimportant when circumstances are unchanged, but, since circumstances have changed, so can the attacker's actions. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 30 '17 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Consider: "I take the ready action with the trigger if A casts a spell and the action I cast the invisibility spell," says Abel. Bob says, "I cast scorching ray at Abel." Abel says, "Ha ha! While you're doing that [not before because casting a spell can specifically be interrupted], I turn invisible! Sucker!" Bob says, "That's okay. I make all relevant decisions about my spell when I finish casting, so I instead send the rays at Chris." \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 30 '17 at 19:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ relevant question. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Oct 30 '17 at 19:52

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