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There appears to be some controversy over whether or not a ranged attacker can ever be considered to be flanking his target. Is it true that it is impossible to flank enemies with a ranged weapon? What about the first line of the flanking rules, which state:

When making a melee attack, you get a +2 flanking bonus if your opponent is threatened by another enemy character or creature on its opposite border or opposite corner.

Some people claim that this means you can only be considered flanking an enemy while you are currently making a melee attack, is that true?

In general, are you ever considered to be flanking a target while attacking with a ranged weapon and are there any situations in which this distinction could possibly matter?

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Ranged attackers don't affect or gain bonuses from flanking.

The flanking rules state:

When making a melee attack, you get a +2 flanking bonus if your opponent is threatened by another enemy character or creature on its opposite border or opposite corner.

And also:

Only a creature or character that threatens the defender can help an attacker get a flanking bonus.

Emphasis mine. So, you have to be making a melee attack and your enemy has to be threatened by one of your allies in order to gain a flanking bonus. The rules on Threatened Squares state:

You threaten all squares into which you can make a melee attack, even when it is not your turn.

Emphasis mine. Thus, you don't threaten the squares that you can target with a ranged attack, and thus can't help someone give a flanking bonus.

There is no place in the flanking rules that talks about a difference between "flanking" and "gaining a flanking bonus". You gain a flanking bonus when you are flanking, and you are flanking when you gain a flanking bonus; the two phrases refer to the same state.

One of the clarifying examples for how flanking works explains this. The situation looks like this:

#OO#
#OO#
####
#S##
#G##

The Os are a Large ogre, with 10 foot reach. The S is a sorcerer, and the G is a goblin. the ogre and goblin are enemies of the sorcerer.

3: The goblin and the ogre flank the sorcerer, as they can draw a line between them that passes through opposite sides of the sorcerer's square. If the ogre didn't have reach to the sorcerer, though, he and the goblin would not be flanking her.

As this line says, the only way that the ogre and goblin can flank the sorcerer is if both of them can reach the sorcerer. Thus, you need to be able to threaten a character in order to flank them.

The only exception to the rule that you can't flank with a ranged weapon is the case where you threaten squares with a ranged weapon, like if you have Snap Shot or Improved Snap Shot. If you have such a feat, then you can help someone else flank, but since you aren't using a melee weapon, you cannot flank someone yourself.

You can also flank while wielding a ranged weapon if you have Improved Unarmed Strike, which lets you make melee attacks with your hands full. This doesn't let you get a flanking bonus with your ranged attacks, though.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Under Snap Shot You threaten squares within 5' of you, thus you satisfy the criteria of threatening a creature within that range allowing you to provide a flanking bonus to any qualifying allies. The base rule that you only threaten squares you can make a melee attack against is superseded by the wording of the feat. \$\endgroup\$ – Lunarcy Jan 22 '16 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lunarcy Yes, that's true. That's what I'm saying when I say "The only exception to the rule that you can't flank with a ranged weapon is the case where you threaten squares with a ranged weapon". Snap Shot is a feat that lets you threaten (and thus flank) with a ranged weapon. I mention Improved Snap Shot specifically because it lets you flank at a distance greater than 5 feet. Are you saying that I should note that in my answer? \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Jan 23 '16 at 2:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ It would clarify your answer a bit more. By referencing Snap Shot as the feat to allow providing a flanking bonus, it clears up any confusing when they look at Improved Snap Shot which just increases the threat area provided by Snap Shot by 5'. \$\endgroup\$ – Lunarcy Jan 23 '16 at 7:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lunarcy I added Snap Shot to that sentence as well. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Jan 23 '16 at 15:58
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Resolved in Gang Up FAQ, you can't flank with a ranged weapon because flanking is melee only.

The main hangup some have is they disconnect the two flanking sentences and improperly use the "When in doubt" sentence separately from the "When making a melee attack" sentence. They are connected.

Since this kept coming up again and again, they recently post in those threads that the Gang Up FAQ already answers this question.

If you really need it in writing, search Pathfinder Design Team user for Gang Up and you will find it.

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You can flank with ranged weapons

It's not even hard. It even almost makes sense, and it certainly makes more sense than most of the rules in Pathfinder. The most important part of the flanking rules linked in the question is:

When in doubt about whether two characters flank an opponent in the middle, trace an imaginary line between the two attackers' centers. If the line passes through opposite borders of the opponent's space (including corners of those borders), then the opponent is flanked.

This tells you how to tell if you flank someone. If they are in-between you and your buddy, they're flanked. Next we get some exceptions to this:

Exception: If a flanker takes up more than 1 square, it gets the flanking bonus if any square it occupies counts for flanking.

Only a creature or character that threatens the defender can help an attacker get a flanking bonus.

Creatures with a reach of 0 feet can't flank an opponent.

Do any of these pertain especially to ranged weaponry? Yes, the second one does. Ranged attackers usually don't threaten spaces, so they usually can't help other people count as flanking an opponent when attacking. I say usually here because of things like Snap Shot. But even without the ability to threaten an opponent you can still flank them-- The second exception says nothing about the attacker, only about who can help him or her.

An example to illustrate:

....X.....
....G.....
..........
..........
....A.....
..........

When fighter X attacks gnoll G he does not count as flanking G because, while archer A is behind the gnoll in such a manner as would ordinarily constitute flanking, A does not threaten G, and so can't help with flanking.

When archer A attacks gnoll G he does count as flanking because fighter X does threaten the gnoll (and the position is equivalent).

Note: If A has Improved Snap Shot then when X attacks he counts as flanking because A then threatens G and can help.

What do you get for flanking with a ranged weapon?

Ordinarily, nothing. I mean, it's a decent tactical position and your GM will probably RP the enemies as overwhelmed, but you don't get any bonuses or anything. That's what that first quoted line is saying: You (only, as far as I can tell) get a +2 flanking bonus to hit on melee attacks only, and never on ranged attacks. In fact, the line itself doesn't even imply the second part: it's just that nothing else in the rules does give ranged attacks a flanking bonus to hit, so you can't get one.

However, lots of characters, especially rogues, care about flanking for reasons other than the measly +2 bonus to hit. Anything that references 'flanking' references the condition, not the bonus, and you can legally and semi-intuitively gain that condition with respect to an enemy with a ranged weapon.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You've quoted those rules without the first line - flanking is having the flanking bonus. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Apr 15 '15 at 2:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ In AEG's original Spycraft flanking with ranged weapons was a thing—until realism (gasp!) and common sense (gasp! gasp!) made the designers revise that decision. One of the problems there was that with ranged weapons a creature might not even know it's being flanked, and another is that the consequences for the ranged attacker missing with his attack, while nominally none, are realistically lethal to the flanker. (Designers decided to discourage not encourage the idiot firing squad of 8 guys with assault rifles in a circle getting an advantage for blazing away at a single foe.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 15 '15 at 3:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman No, the flanking bonus line is addressed later in the piece. A flanking bonus and flanking are different things. Flanking provides a flanking bonus to melee attacks. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Apr 15 '15 at 3:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan True. Thats why I say things like semi-intuitive and not-as-bad-as-the-rest-of-the-rules and not things like intuitive and realistic. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Apr 15 '15 at 3:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you're technically correct here, but I also think you're right because of a developer's lack of imagination, not because this what these rules were meant to do. No text anywhere beyond what you've quoted directly supports this argument, and no text I'm aware of assumes this argument's correct. I can't even upvote your answer because it doesn't sufficiently tackle the controversy—were I to show show your answer to my GM, he'd have a half-dozen questions that you don't address (the big one being Why is TDW, like, the only dude on the Internet who thinks this?). \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 17 '15 at 14:46

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