The Cat is so weak (STR 3) that it's melee attacks don't do any damage. 2 claws (1d2–4), bite (1d3–4). Both have +4 to attack roll due to weapon finesse+dexterity bonus - so the cat will hit things, just do -3=>0 to -1=0 damage. Same is true for the Rat's bite. This means mechanically in combat they couldn't harm one another, but the cat has 3 hp and the rat has 4 hp.

  1. Am I understanding that correctly?
  2. Can this be resolved within pathfinder rules?
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    \$\begingroup\$ This happens in a lot of systems. They are geared up towards (usually quite unrealistic) combat between groups of people, and model larger and smaller animals crudely. A little more effort goes into rules for large creatures, as they crop up as more important opponents in fantasy tales. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Jan 10 '14 at 14:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ironically, early editions of D&D had the problem that a cat could easily kill a normal villager human with a single attack; so much so, that it is a common D&D joke. Pathfinder evidently took that joke to heart. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 10 '14 at 16:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie The cat can still badly threaten a 1st-level Human Commoner. It has fairly high AC, a decent attack bonus, and lots of attacks. The average commoner has 4 HP, +1 at best to attack, and can only attack once. The rat is actually a superior combatant... \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 10 '14 at 17:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think a human could easily grapple the cat, right? \$\endgroup\$ – Julix Jan 10 '14 at 20:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Julix Yes, in PF that seems to be correct, as they've eliminated the touch attack. In 3.5, the human would have to hit the cat with a touch attack, which for an average human commoner was slightly better than a one in four chance. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Najmon Jan 13 '14 at 18:25

Elsewhere in the Pathfinder SRD, under Combat, you can find this quote:

Minimum Damage

If penalties reduce the damage result to less than 1, a hit still deals 1 point of nonlethal damage.

So your unbuffed cats and rats will always cause 1 point of nonlethal damage on hit. The rat has more HP, the cat has more attacks, and it's down to a numbers game to see who knocks the other unconscious first, after which the victor can quietly eviscerate the loser and feast on his lovely, lovely XP.

Addendum: In case you're wondering how critical hits work in this scenario, it's quite simple. Two paragraphs later we have this:

Multiplying Damage

Sometimes you multiply damage by some factor, such as on a critical hit. Roll the damage (with all modifiers) multiple times and total the results.

So you don't have to mess around with totaling rolls and applying penalties twice. You just calculate damage twice and then sum it up. So a critical hit for our cat or rat will cause simply 2 points of nonlethal damage. The cat, with its three natural attacks, could theoretically pull of 6 points of damage in one round and and one-shot the heck out of the rat. Rat-boy is stuck with a max of 2 points of damage, and will take at the very least two rounds to whack-a-cat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Last time a cat scratched me in real life, it did a spring attack for d6 damage + 1 bleed. \$\endgroup\$ – Macona Jan 10 '14 at 9:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Two mammals enter, one mammal leaves! \$\endgroup\$ – Rob Jan 10 '14 at 10:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ The numbers are in! Assuming the rat does use the strategy of attacking then risking an AoO each round, then a quick simulation result on 100000 rats and cats: {:rat=>28343, :cat=>71657} (numbers of victories) Doesn't include the cat getting a charge bonus . . . so rat needs some cover to get those odds :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Jan 10 '14 at 15:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with this interpretation of the Minimum rule. For a crit, you roll the damage with all modifiers and total the results. THEN, if penalties reduce the damage to less than 1, A HIT still deals 1 point of non-lethal damage. It's still one hit, even though it deals 2d2-8 rather than 1d2-4, so the minimum damage rule only applies once. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryno Jan 10 '14 at 17:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ryno That seems problematic, since, in effect, it means critical hits are less effective than regular hits when you have a damage penalty, at these levels of power. \$\endgroup\$ – lisardggY Jan 10 '14 at 18:11

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