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I ran an encounter and during it several characters ended up getting confused by the result of a poison. When they rolled in the 75-100 range, forcing them to "attack the nearest creature", a few questions came up to what this means.

  • It clearly implies that you move to whats ever nearest so they take that move action. But if nothing is within that first move distance, do they babble or can they double move towards something?

  • In the case of a magic user, do they cast an attack spell? Since the other 3 are physical actions we decided that its melee type attacks only.

  • If something is within range already, do you do a full attack, or in the case of a monk/brawler a flurry?

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For anything but "act normally", I would have the DM decide how to resolve the action, but the player gets to describe their confused state (if they want).

As a DM, I would have the character use the most natural and direct method of attacking the nearest creature.

  • It clearly implies that you move to whats ever nearest so they take that move action. But if nothing is within that first move distance, do they babble or can they double move towards something?

Yes, they move towards the nearest creature, and if they can charge, they will. Confusion can last for longer than one round so eventually they will attack, and the confused person isn't going to be lucid enough to calculate that they won't get to the enemy before the confusion changes or goes away. I would have them make a ranged attack if they have a ranged weapon in hand.

  • In the case of a magic user, do they cast an attack spell? Since the other 3 are physical actions we decided that its melee type attacks only.

This invites rules lawyering because mages have more breadth in how they can use magic to harm enemies. If there is a 'default magical attack' available (e.g. in the case of a warlock's arcane bolt ability, but not in the case of a mage with magic missile, which is a spell), and provided no ranged weapon is drawn then I might go for the magical option if that is their usual combat method (and if in melee range with a melee weapon drawn I would use that by preference).

  • If something is within range already, do you do a full attack, or in the case of a monk/brawler a flurry?

Given that confusion doesn't inflict penalties to attack, then I would say they attack to the best of their ability without using up limited abilities. If the character typically flurries, flurry.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "If the character typically flurries, flurry" but will she spend a ki point to make one additional attack for example? How much resources does the PC have to use? \$\endgroup\$ May 10 '17 at 7:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnneAunyme No, and none. user's suggestion is to make an attack "without using up limited abilities"; i.e. spending no resource other than time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Samthere
    May 11 '17 at 13:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ok, so this suggestion is basically how my group of players handle the situation, but is there any support from rules, or even FAQ or random tweet from a dev? \$\endgroup\$ May 11 '17 at 13:13
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The DM should supply a brief narrative to encourage the player to have his character attack the nearest creature appropriately

The effects of confusion without narrative support can lead to all sorts of negative metagaming, especially when a character's forced to attack an ally, like the character taking unreasonable and deliberate penalties ("I'm right next to him? I go prone, use Combat Expertise to the hilt, and attack!") and making choices that probably wouldn't've ever been made were the character not forced to attack his ally ("Bob's 30 ft. away? Well, obviously, I attack Bob by throwing a small rock at him to inflict nonlethal damage!").

Better that the DM supplement the confusion's effect with narration sufficient for the player to distance himself from actual events. While the DM probably should still tell the player that his character's confused, the DM also should supply narration to encourage the outcome of the confusion's random effect.

In the case of attack the nearest creature, below are some examples:

  • "Abel's features transform before your eyes into the visage of Zal, the evil overlord who slew your parents. He looks far weaker than last you saw him; now would be the best time to strike him down."
  • "The look that washes over Ben is just like the one he had in that bar in Xon when he had about six too many gnomish martinis. He gets violent and ugly when he's like this. He'd be better off unconscious. You can make that happen before he hurts anyone, right?"
  • "Chris screams, horns grow from his head, and a voice that is and isn't Chris's whispers in your head that he's going to devour your soul unless you kill him. Better get crackin'."

Afterward, let the player decide what his character will do, making sure that an attack (of some kind or another) occurs. Needless to say, the more familiar the DM is with the characters and their histories, the better this technique works.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ All the players knew about the confusion effect. I like the additional narrative elements like the visage of Zal, but sadly this is an area where I am very weak. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fering
    May 31 '15 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MrLemon At the tables I play, that moment of clarity is usually when the character realizes his state and makes an effort to be less effective. We've had characters toss away weapons, delay their turns so others could flee from them, and even, in one long-term case, scrawl on nearby wall a warning to others to stay out of his sight. \$\endgroup\$ May 31 '15 at 17:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Fering It's totally cool if the DM asks the players what their characters would attack on site or what would frighten them or whatever. Managing the space-time continuum is a pretty big job, so the DM's allowed to conduct brief interviews to learn more about its primary actors. Sometimes the DM just doesn't know what he needs to know until he needs to know—if the group is sufficiently non-judgy it shouldn't be a thing. \$\endgroup\$ May 31 '15 at 19:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan The metagaming situation you described can be observed anytime the players want to cheese the game. Once i had a player that declared that his character was prone the moment he was hit with a frightening effect, which you are supposed to run away from the source as fast as possible. Giving too much agency when the game does not expect agency from the player can lead to problems like these i believe. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    May 10 '17 at 17:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras I totally agree—and you have my sympathy… and my admiration because I don't think I could restrain my dice-hurling arm were a player to try such a tack with the condition frightened in a campaign I was running! However, I think the condition confused a unique case that almost begs for some degree of GM/player compromise on what's appropriate, and I've found this work-around (especially in light of the game's silence) makes me more comfortable than leaving things either wholly in the GM's hands or wholly in the player's. \$\endgroup\$ May 10 '17 at 17:52
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From the rules (NOTE: 3.5 rules here):

A confused character’s actions are determined by rolling d% at the beginning of his turn: 01-10, attack caster with melee or ranged weapons (or close with caster if attacking is not possible); 11-20, act normally; 21-50, do nothing but babble incoherently; 51-70, flee away from caster at top possible speed; 71-100, attack nearest creature (for this purpose, a familiar counts as part of the subject’s self).

So per the rules, "attack caster" is established as attacking with ranged or melee weapons, or closing with the caster if attacking is not possible. It is reasonable to assume, due to items in a series, that "attack nearest creature" is identical to "attack caster," only with a new target. So, if the roll is 71-100, then the character would:

  1. Full attack the character with their weapon if possible
  2. Move to the character and attack
  3. Move max distance to the character

There is nothing in the confused status that states they use feats, abilities, etc. So RAW is just attacking.

Note that I'm referring to 3.5 rules here because Pathfinder does not specify as clearly. Obviously the effects chosen on the chart use pathfinder's system described here, but I think it is fair to use the 3.5 system to describe what is meant by attack.

That said, the way I've always handled confusion is as a hidden DM roll. I basically don't tell the player when they are confused. They are trying to attack targets they normally would. But I just substitute the nearest creature for whatever target they were trying to hit as-applicable. So once they declare their actions and roll their numbers, then I narrate that they swing at Joe Bob the Brave and cleave him right in the giblets. That way, players attack as they would have already, and I'm not dictating their characters' actions.

The added benefit of this is it allows players who are clever and figure it out the option to somehow try to escape combat. This is the one time that I might force an action from a player. If I roll that they are in an "attack nearest creature" round when they are trying to retreat, I might do something like turn their retreat into a bull rush or overrun attempt instead of a withdrawal.

Nowhere does the confused status effect dictate that it controls a player's resources. It simply dictates that they act in a certain manner. That is why I believe the approach I use is best -- it does not force the players to act strangely, and it does not force the DM to control a player character's actions. Instead, it lets the player act as they normally would, but the target of their action is controlled by the status effect. It really is important with this approach to have both the initial effect as well as the per-round status be hidden rolls made by the DM, though.

Why I recommend hidden DM rolls: Knowledge(arcana) is used to identify spell effects in-place or just cast. There is no reason to tell players "you are confused!" Instead, they either should figure it out by effect or have invested in the appropriate knowledge skill to understand what is happening to them.

Why 3.5 'attack' vs the hidden roll method: As noted, determining that "attack" means "attack with ranged or melee weapon" requires the game to refer to 3.5 rules. While those are certainly at the original root of pathfinder, that explanation of attack was removed when the caster-centric effects of confusion were removed from the game system. Rather than requiring a copy of 3.5 rules to be handy whenever one of these omissions is made by pathfinder, I choose to interpret "attack" as anything that would potentially break a charm effect. So if a player intends to take such an action, I simply retarget/recenter it to the nearest creature, as appropriate. If the player does not intend to make such an action, then I change their action to be the most basic hostile action possible since arbitrarily using abilities is just mean.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's… interesting. So, for example, the wizard's player—unaware of his PC's confused condition—decides that his wizard will "attack" by casting a fireball spell so the GM picks that fireball spell's explosion point, making sure to catch within the area at least one of the nearest creatures? Have such decisions led to any animosity at the table? \$\endgroup\$ May 11 '17 at 17:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @hey-i-can-chan No more animosity than a trap going off or anything else that can happen. Confusion is a part of the game. C'est la vie. \$\endgroup\$ May 11 '17 at 17:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Huh. I can imagine some pushback from my players were I to implement this. The confused condition doesn't reduce the PC's Intelligence or Wisdom scores, for instance, so I could see a player crying, "Foul!" were such a confusedly-launched fireball also to accidentally catch in its spread the wizard's allies or the wizard himself! (I also find as a GM that it's really difficult at the table to conceal from the players the conditions their PCs are suffering from, but that's likely a different topic altogether.) \$\endgroup\$ May 11 '17 at 17:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Real quick: If perform a full attack (if possible) or a move + attack at the closest creature. Randomly determine target if multiple creatures are similarly-distanced. Don't use any feats or abilities -- simply attack is somewhere in the rules (as it's most RAW), that's exactly what Anne's bounty is looking for. Could you cite that? Because that'd hammer this whole case closed. \$\endgroup\$ May 11 '17 at 18:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Although this answer doesn't really solve my problem, it's the deepest analysis try I found so far, so here is the bounty. Feel free to edit if you find rule citations. \$\endgroup\$ May 16 '17 at 14:46

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