5
\$\begingroup\$

Can you add the dodge bonus from Total Defense when you aren't in combat but anticipating an attack

For instance I think there's goblins on the other side of the door. We snuck past them when they were sleeping, and now they sent a few through the door. We are not in combat yet. We are expecting goblin arrow attack. I use Total Defense before I open the door. The door opens, goblins shoot at me. Do I get the total defense bonus?

\$\endgroup\$
11
\$\begingroup\$

Yes:

Total Defense

You can defend yourself as a standard action. You get a +4 dodge bonus to your AC for 1 round. Your AC improves at the start of this action. You can’t combine total defense with fighting defensively or with the benefit of the Combat Expertise feat (since both of those require you to declare an attack or full attack). You can’t make attacks of opportunity while using total defense.

(Source: SRD, Actions in Combat)

Given that it's a standard action, the real question is, is opening a door a move or a standard action?

Manipulate an Item

In most cases, moving or manipulating an item is a move action.

This includes retrieving or putting away a stored item, picking up an item, moving a heavy object, and opening a door. Examples of this kind of action, along with whether they incur an attack of opportunity, are given in Table: Move Actions.

(Ibid.)

This specifically says that opening a door is a type of item manipulation, and that is a move action. Given you typically get one standard action and one movement action, I'd say yes.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ There is even a clear downside. Not being able to make attacks of opportunity means that smart opponents on the other side of the doorway can move past you, attempt trips, disarms, bullrushes etc, all with reduced risk. So it isn't such a no-brainer to go Total Defence - e.g. a party tank would probably not want to do this. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Jun 2 '16 at 7:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NeilSlater In all likelihood you wouldn't be able to make Attacks of Opportunity anyway because in the first round you are flat-footed until you act. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Jun 23 '16 at 19:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LegendaryDude: Hmm, that's right, I'm confusing myself between editions. Not so sure I support this answer any more because of that - if there is no downside to declaring this action, except needing to remember it, then it seems wrong to allow it. It just becomes "protect myself spam because rules says so" . . . \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Jun 23 '16 at 20:04
12
\$\begingroup\$

I disagree with the premise

We are not in combat yet.

Both parties are hostile, aware of each other, and making combat-related actions — combat has already begun. The only reason attacks have not been exchanged is that both sides enjoy total cover due to the presence of the closed door.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
6
\$\begingroup\$

Here's how I think about this: it's very similar to the old question about "can you ready an action outside of combat?". Opinions about this seem to be mixed, but my answer to that question is: that's what the surprise round represents.

If you know there are goblins behind the door, and the goblins don't know you're coming, then you and all your friends could ready an action to attack the goblins. But having everyone go around the table and say "I ready an action" is tiresome, so we just declare a surprise round and give everyone a standard action.

On the other hand, if the goblins do know you're coming, then presumably the goblins have a readied action as well. When lots of creatures have readied actions which all fire at once, we have to roll initiative to see which ones fire first -- so at that point we might as well just go into the initiative sequence and let everyone take their actions in initiative order.


Here's how your goblin example should work. If you know there are goblins behind the door, and the goblins don't know you are there, then you get a surprise round at the start of combat. During your surprise round you can declare total defense. Then, (if the goblins get a higher initiative roll than you), when the goblins shoot at you, you get your dodge bonus.

If you know there are goblins behind the door, and the goblins do know you are there, then you don't get your surprise round, and you don't get to start with total defense.

You could imagine saying "I declare total defense and then I open the door" -- but if combat starts and the goblins beat your initiative, then they have caught you flat-footed, which means you lose your Dexterity bonus to AC and also your dodge bonuses.

(Elsewhere you've asked: "what if I have uncanny dodge, which allows me to keep my dexterity and dodge bonus when flat-footed?". It's messy, but I think I'd have to concede that this works the way you want it to.)


Having said all that, I do think there are situations where you can declare total defense outside of combat. For example, if you know that a swinging blade trap is going to attack you when you step on a given pressure plate, you could say "I declare total defense against the swinging blade trap" and get your +4 AC.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Both sides knew of each other, and they had readied actions to shoot. \$\endgroup\$ – FrancisJohn Jun 1 '16 at 19:40
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @FrancisJohn I think this question reduces to "can you ready an action outside of combat?", then. There are some existing questions on this topic (eg, rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/10133/…), but I don't see one for 3.5e specifically. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Jun 1 '16 at 19:42
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @DanB if "I declare total defense and then I open the door", I can't be flat-footed - declaring total defense is an action. If the goblins beat my initiative, then the door isn't open yet. If they can ready an action to shoot if I open the door, then I can ready an action to attack if they open it. So I really can't see a valid scenario for not being able to take the total defense action if I know there are goblins on the other side of the door. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jun 1 '16 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson: Usually you have to declare some event as starting combat. E.g. two groups see each other for the first time. The opening of a door separating two groups is very common choice. Once the DM has determined combat has started then you start thinking about turns and action economy. There isn't 100% strict RAW for that, it's partly a judgement call. You can get into awkward weirdness like everyone readying actions if it happens too soon, or suffer from DM fiat with unfair "bonus" actions to one side or the other if it happens too late. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Jun 2 '16 at 7:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @NeilSlater Fair enough, though I would tend to allow Ready an Action on the basis that outside of combat timing, the character is presumed to repeat the identical Ready action and trigger on each of his or her turns until otherwise specified. In any event, if you believe enemies are on the other side of the door and thus are not Surprised (assuming the enemy doesn't blitz through the door) and you want to take Total Defense before opening the door yourself, i think we can agree that any ruling preventing that plan would be at the expense of verisimilitude, and also definitively unfun. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jun 2 '16 at 12:57
1
\$\begingroup\$

As stated previously, the example given does not agree with the premise of the question. However, I think the initial question is still valid for true non-combat scenarios, e.g. preparing for the possibility of setting off a trap that could be dodged or dodging branches while riding through a dense forest.
Regardless, there is nothing in the rules that say that standard actions can only be used in combat, and a round's worth of time is always a round, in combat or not.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
1
\$\begingroup\$

Total Defense is useless out of combat

I'm kinda late to this question, but I must say that the accepted answer, while not wrong, it's also incomplete.

You can perform perform the Total Defense standard action out of combat, yes, but it provides you with a Dodge Bonus to AC, which means that it is useless when out of combat, because you're considered flat-footed until your first turn of combat, and you lose all dodge bonuses while flat-footed (because your Dex Bonus is negated).

Dodge Bonus

A dodge bonus improves Armor Class (and sometimes Reflex saves) resulting from physical skill at avoiding blows and other ill effects. Dodge bonuses are never granted by spells or magic items. Any situation or effect (except wearing armor) that negates a character's Dexterity bonus also negates any dodge bonuses the character may have. Dodge bonuses stack with all other bonuses to AC, even other dodge bonuses. Dodge bonuses apply against touch attacks.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour. It's always good to see another 3.5 fan on the site! And it's totally okay to be late to a question—you can even earn a badge for good answers to ancient questions. Thank you for participating and have fun! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 4 at 10:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ So you know, I don't think a dude should have to, for example, start a fight with his friend so they'll get their Dex bonuses to AC if they think there may be a trap in an otherwise seemingly empty room. I'm comfortable with characters being wary outside of actual combat—and using total defense—yet still being flat-footed when the actual swinging of swords starts. I voted for this answer—in the situation in the question the combat music's playing because positioning is important, but, truly, 3.5 doesn't articulate well how to handle this. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 4 at 10:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I get your point, but even in your example, if you activate a trap while in combat and while using total defense, you're still caught flat-footed because you didn't see the trap at the start of your turn, so total defense useless there also :p \$\endgroup\$ – Yopi Lapi May 4 at 15:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.