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So I seem full of questions, but one thing we've never fully understood in our group is how do multiple attacks work in 3.5 D&D? I mean when you start getting fighters and such at level 6+ and their base attack becomes +6/+1 etc, I know that every time the base attack hits a multiple of six you add another attack on at /+1, but what does it mean exactly?

For instance a fighter with +7/+2 gets two attacks in a turn right? And one of them is at a +7 base attack bonus and the other is at +2, but what if this same fighter is using two-weapons and has the feats for additional off-hand attacks? Does he then get to attack 4 or even 5 or 6 times once his base attack hits +6/+1?

I'm sure it's a relatively simple concept that I'm just not gleaning from the book, and it must exist for the purpose of balancing out damage output with the raise in hp as the game progresses making it so that the fighter (or any class at a high enough level) has the potential to deal more damage just at a reduced chance of hitting.

One of the other issues seems to be that if I am understanding it properly, which I must not be, doesn't each Monster with multiple attack and each player with strings of attack end up grinding high-level play to a complete stop? As you have to sit there and wait while Joe the Barbarian rolls 5 attacks with his great axe, gets two critical threats having to confirm those, then roll all the d12s and add his Str 1/2 Mod a thousand times to come up with the number "56" before we can move on to the Snake King who does the exact same thing and it's four hours before we get around to Hishta the Wizard who gets to only pop off one fireball and it starts all over again?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ from what I played of 4th it was even worse. \$\endgroup\$ – MoShade Feb 20 '14 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't say they solved it ;) I said they bragged about solving it. \$\endgroup\$ – Yamikuronue Feb 20 '14 at 15:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ 4e combat is more streamlined - it's usually just one hit that deals lots of damage, at the higher levels. But there's a lot of minor bonus applying for one turn only, tactics and rolling to hit for every target in an AoE attack (which was usually the DM rolling many Saves in 3.5), no save-or-die, more HP, that all contribute to make combat take longer from the beginning. Turns actually take faster in my esperience. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Feb 20 '14 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel I would say I noticed faster turns but longer combats, it didn't seem to even out between the damage increases you had in one turn and the insane upgrade in hp the monsters had, a goblin which would be a lowly 4 or 5hp in 3.5 was suddenly 30hp with higher AC and everything to boot. But I loved minions and monster roles and skill challenges. \$\endgroup\$ – MoShade Feb 20 '14 at 15:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you are looking for faster combat and more roleplay experiences, consider Dungeon World or 13th age in terms of streamlining and parring down the rules to keep track of. \$\endgroup\$ – TechImp Feb 20 '14 at 15:27
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There's a few different things going on here, so I'll go through them in order.

Standard Action Attack

If you use a standard action to attack, you get one attack at your highest base attack bonus. It doesn't matter how many weapons you are holding, or which hand they're in. You can pick the one you want to use for this attack.

Full Round Action Attack

If you use a full round action to attack, you can get extra attacks. Those extra attacks occur at BAB +6, +11, and +16 for a Fighter. Each extra one is -5 from the previous one.

So a level 6 fighter has 6/1, and on a full attack action gets two attacks. The first is using BAB +6, the second +1. At level 11, it would be +11/6/1. These are shown in the detail for each class in the Players Handbook, here is the Fighter one.

If you happen to be holding two weapons, you can use either, or both of them, for those two attacks. If our level 6 Fighter is holding a Shortsword and a Dagger, he gets to roll two attacks. He can do both with one weapon, or one with each weapon. This is not considered Two Weapon Fighting in the rules.

Full Round Attack with Two Weapon Fighting

In this case, you are explicitly using Two Weapon Fighting. You still get the attacks you would get for a full attack, except you need to pick a "main hand" weapon during the action and all those attacks use that weapon.

In addition, you get one additional attack at your highest base attack bonus, with your second weapon (the "off hand" weapon). All attacks in the round take a penalty, which depends on if you have the Two Weapon Fighting feat and the weapon category of your offhand. If you have the feat and a light weapon in your off hand, the penalty is -2.

You only get one offhand attack no matter what your BAB is. The feats Improved Two Weapon Fighting and Greater Two Weapon Fighting grant you additional off hand attacks.

So your example fighter with BAB +7/2 would on a full round attack get two attacks with his main hand, one attack with his off hand, and an additional attack with his off hand if he has the Improved Two Weapon fighting feat. Total of four attacks. Those attacks would be at BAB +5/0 and +5/0, due to the -2 penalty for two weapon fighting.

Note that characters, in the rules, do not have a "main hand" outside of this specific case. That means you don't always have to pick the same hand or the same weapon to use as your "main hand".

Natural Weapons

You didn't ask this specifically, but to avoid confusing you later - natural weapons (claws, bites, and such) don't work the same way. Those do not get additional attacks from BAB. Monsters as they get more powerful just get more natural attacks, and they can use all of them at once with a full round attack.

The monster's attack entry in the Monster Manual or SRD has these things factored in already, so if you follow those you will be fine. :)

Yes, it slows things down

Two weapon fighters (like Rogues) can very quickly get to several attacks, and that means a lot of rolling. It does slow things down. Once you understand how it works it slows things down less than when it's new, but it can make combat slow. If you hit with those rolls you'll also get multiple damage rolls to work out as well. If you have different colors of dice, you can roll all the attacks (and damage) simultaneously, which can make it move a bit faster.

It's useful for the DM to know the armor class of the enemy being attacked, so when the fighter rolls you know quickly if it's a hit or not. For the fighter, his character sheet should list his multiple attacks with the math for their rolls already done, so he can just look at his sheet and know "oh my second attack is at +3" rather than having to do the math every time.

It's also worth noting that those attacks don't have to be against the same target. If you kill something with your first attack in a full attack and another enemy is in range, you can switch to attacking that enemy with your remaining attacks. You can't move to do that, so they have to already be in range.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can't you move during that time if you have certain feats? \$\endgroup\$ – MoShade Feb 20 '14 at 15:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MoShade If there's a feat that allows it, yes. 3.5 rules work a lot on "it's this way, unless something else says otherwise." I was just trying to cover the normal scenario, because covering every feat that changes it would make the answer a novel. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Feb 20 '14 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ It has been pointed out that this answer implies that without using two-weapon fighting (read: getting extra attacks), you are restricted to using a single weapon for your iterative attacks. This is not the case; the only restriction on which weapon you use is when you do use two-weapon fighting (then the extra attacks must be made with a different weapon from the main attack each is paired with). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 12 '17 at 12:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Good point! I tried to address it in this edit. \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus May 12 '17 at 14:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you have different colored dice that you assign ahead of time, you can roll the attack and damage dice all up front, and only reroll if you need a threat check or extra crit damage \$\endgroup\$ – General Anders May 12 '17 at 14:51
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Hers how it works in general:

If a creature (lets assume player) has +7/+2 it means that if they forgo all movement, sans a shift or 5 foot step rule, they can attack twice, once at a +7 to their d20 roll versus (usually AC) and at +2 to their d20 roll. This is called a Full Attack. If there are more attacks such as +20/+15/+10/+5 then they could take all of those actions in a Full attack action. Moving more than 5 feet of your own volition disqualifies the use of a Full attack action.

Same holds true for dual wielding characters which might look like this if they were a monk +7/+7/+2/+2: one attack per standard action unless you use a full action which means no movement greater than 5 feet.

Monsters with multiple means of attack (particularly beasts and animals) are very nasty. Some have bites, or claws or tails or tentacles and may often have more than one. If it lists 2 claws, then when they take a standard action to attack (not a full action) they get to use both claws just like a dual wielding player. If the monster has a bite 2 claws and a tail attack listed, watch out. They can use ALL those attacks when they dont move more than 5 feet and with a pretty big bonus (monster attacks that dont rely on BaB use a much higher modifier for all their attacks meaning they are much more likely to hit.)

Full attacks require no more movement in any part of your turn greater than 5 feet. Normal standard attacks can be done in conjunction with movement. They do not grant the maximum amount of attacks a player is capable of but it allows freedom and flexibility of setting up the battlefield positioning wise.

In answer to the more pressing question: yes all this math will slow down the game as the players advance in level, it is sadly the nature of the metaphorical beast

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