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Can someone with a rifle treat it as an improvised weapon via rifle butt to threaten squares around him and provide flanking?

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Yes, you can threaten with an improvised weapon such as a rifle butt, but you may need to change your grip on the weapon to do so

As the rules on Reach and Threatened Squares state:

If you are wielding a melee weapon or are otherwise capable of making a melee attack (e.g., if you have your own natural weapons), you threaten all squares into which you can make a melee attack, even when it is not your turn (the exception is unarmed strikes—if you’re making unarmed strikes, you don’t threaten other squares).

And when using Improvised Weapons:

If you’re using an object that wasn’t meant to be used as a weapon, treat it as a club.

Obviously, a rifle is meant to be used as a weapon, but it's not meant to be used as a melee weapon, and so it should count as a club if you want to hit people with it in melee. You might not be "wielding a melee weapon" but you are capable of making a melee attack which is not an unarmed strike, so you meet the criteria for threatening spaces around you.

Your GM might require you to change your grip on a rifle in order to use it in melee instead of as a ranged weapon. Changing grip is a swift action, so in this case you would have to have adjusted your grip by the end of your turn in order to be able to threaten with a melee attack on other creature's turns, and you wouldn't be able to rapidly switch between using it as a ranged weapon and a melee weapon on-and-off your turns since you can only make one swift action.

A rifle butt isn't a particularly dangerous weapon and you suffer the -4 penalty to attack rolls for using an improvised weapon, but that's irrelevant if your goal is just to help flank an enemy - you're there and you could conceivably hurt them with a melee attack, so they have to worry about you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This would be in the realm of house rules, since RAW says only melee weapons threaten. In that context, it would be reasonable to assume that you have to choose whether you're wielding the rifle as a gun or a club. \$\endgroup\$ – Knight Porter Nov 28 '18 at 19:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KnightPorter The rules - as quoted, in my answer - say that you threaten "If you are wielding a melee weapon or are otherwise capable of making a melee attack". \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Nov 28 '18 at 21:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ranged weapons not threatening in melee is a pretty core rule. "For example, a human with a power battleglove on one hand can still make ranged attacks with a longarm, but he can’t make melee attacks (and thus does not threaten any spaces) while doing so." \$\endgroup\$ – Knight Porter Nov 28 '18 at 22:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ IMO this is a quote out of context. A battleglove cannot be used for melee attacks when holding an object (like when holding a longarm to make ranged attacks) and therefore would not threaten adjacent spaces while performing that activity. This is what that quote is referring to \$\endgroup\$ – Jimmy Fix-it Jan 10 at 5:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ While the title of this answer is correct, the body does not explain how this is made possible, and assumes that you can use any ranged weapon as improvised clubs at any time, which is wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jan 10 at 11:48
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You definitly can threaten spaces when using a rifle (or a stick, or a Vesk thighbone, etc.) as a club.

The caviat I would place on it (at my table) is that you would not threaten during a round in which you used the rifle for a ranged attack unless you stated such and use a Swift or Move Action (see Change Grips) to reposition the item for use as a melee weapon. I would then require an additional Swift or Move action to use for a ranged attack again. If not used for ranged attack the next round, positioning for club use would be presumed.

I would not let someone both fire and threaten unless it was a specifically stated and deliberate thing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You should put more emphasis on the Change Grip action, which works differently in Starfinder (swift action) than it did in Pathfinder (free action), and is what allows swaping from a ranged weapon (which does not allow AoO) to an improvised club (which allows AoO). \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jan 10 at 11:47

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