Let's say that I'm about to fight some monster. We both roll Initiative, and the monster wins. It can reach me and hit me on its turn. Can I declare that I'm Fighting Defensively right away (and incur the attack roll penalty on my turn), or do I have to wait until my own turn to do that ?

The RAW seems to imply that Fighting Defensively can only be declared as part of an Attack action, which would mean that the monster gets to hit me at my normal AC. However, thematically, this seems rather weird -- I was not surprised, I see the monster coming at me, so I should be able to shift into a more defensive stance.


4 Answers 4


You're not surprised, but you are caught flat-footed, which basically means that while you did see the enemy, you didn't react first. You're not actively dodging attacks yet (marked by the loss of your Dexterity bonus to AC), and you haven't assumed a defensive stance (fighting defensively) - you're not even waving your weapon around (no attacks of opportunity). This state typically only lasts a few seconds (a part of a round), although its big brother Surprise makes it worse (you'll be flat-footed through the surprise round AND until your first turn in the first normal round, so if they surprise you and win initiative, they can get in two attacks - or one short-charge and a full-attack if they're close enough - before you can start meaningfully defending yourself).

Note that while the above explanation is ok for why you can't Fight Defensively before your first turn normally, exceptions to the flat-footed rule still don't allow you to Fight Defensively early. Some classes have AC bonuses that result from dodging that you don't lose while flat-footed (the monk's AC bonus) or abilities that prevent you from being considered flat-footed - even with those, while you are defending yourself to an extent, you still haven't had the time and wherewithal to actually assume a defensive combat stance. The first time you attack on your own turn, you can assume that defensive posture (likely because you're using your weapon to threaten your foe and make it harder for them to clean hit in) and get your Fighting Defensively bonus, on top of reclaiming everything you might have been losing from being flat-footed.

TL;DR: Losing initiative means you haven't reacted yet, so you just haven't managed to set up your defensive combat stance yet. The speed at which the opponent attacked you left you too surprised (the common definition) to dodge their first attack, even though you weren't surprised (the game definition).

Trust your armor to deflect the blow or move faster next time - or surprise them instead, negating one of the biggest advantages of their superior initiative.


0.Pathfinder is built on D&D 3.5. And while not all the verbiage carried over, the rule structure is still built on the same foundation.

DMG 3.5, page 26: "Don't allow players to use the ready action outside of combat."

  1. Logical spam. All the members of party "A" ready an action and move down a corridor. All the members of party "B" ready an action and move down the corridor...

    If the game really had wanted all players to add 4 to their AC (total defense) prior to combat starting, there are easier ways to state that.

  2. The very concept of standard, swift, move actions are defined under Combat, in the CRB, pages 162&ff. The things a character might do are adjudicated into a type of action based on things like time and effort.

    Pathfinder is a rule system that you must find a rule that permits you to take an action. Without that rule, all actions are prohibited.

    IN combat, you are allowed to ready actions; you are allowed to fight defensively or take the total defense action.

    Outside of combat, there are no rules. It is therefore not permitted.

Getting back to the question at hand. You cannot fight defensively out of combat; you cannot take total defense out of combat.

You cannot take actions out of combat; action types are solely defined in combat, aka what happens after initiative is roll ed.

Initiative and the surprise round are designed to handle that transition from out of combat to combat. Attempting to cheese Total Defense is minimizing the value of dex; the importance of perception etc.

High dex character (such as rogues, monks) usually go first. Are they really so overpowering that they need the additional malus of always striking characters that are total defense? Really?

Addressing Hey I Can Chan's question vis-a-vis wizards casting spells with std action casting times out of combat.

Outside of combat, action doesn't occur in combat rounds. The ref adjudicates how things happen sometimes on a round by round basis. The fact that it is useful to use standard actions as a construct outside of combat doesn't alter that under the rules actions are defined only in combat.

More to the point, how long does an attack action take? A swift action? These things are purposely left vague; they do not have a hard value. Rather the are all regarding the actions you can take in combat. As mentioned previously, a combination of time and effort.

And it isn't that these arbitrary things exist, just simply that by the rules you aren't allowed to take them.

The rules exist in pathfinder for transitioning from out of combat to in combat.

Both sides aware: You roll initiative. Whoever goes first gets the privilege of taking their actions first.

Allowing people to take actions outside of this is breaking the rules that exist on surprise etc.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hello and welcome! Simply stating something is not enough. You should explain why that is the case and quote the relevant rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruse
    Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 21:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've removed the rant at the top directed at voters. (Answers are not permitted to contain rants, or to address anyone/thing other than the question itself.) Note that voters can vote however their conscience directs them to. See Why is voting important? for a primer. Also note that the one downvote was cast Oct 1, 2018 on the original version of this post that was a single sentence, which isn't surprising. This version is much improved. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 22:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've also attempted to fix the alignment of the list items. I wasn't quite sure where item (2) ended and regular paragraphs restarted though, so that might need some adjustment if I judged wrong. Take a look and adjust as necessary. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 22:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Chris, I suggest you take a look at the tour and help center when you get a chance to get a better understanding of how this site works. We expect answers to provide evidence and 'Back It Up! whether through personal experience, rules citations, direct quotes from designers, etc. Providing a one-sentence answer with no evidence is highly likely to attract downvotes and "attacking" people because you get downvoted isn't going to lead to anything good. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 22:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisPedersen Yes, this update is much better than the original. I believe Purple Monkey was referring to your original answer which was not backed up, and why it's normal for that kind of post to get downvoted. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 22:19

By RAW, it is a tactic you choose as part of a standard attack or full round attack and is effective until your next turn.

You can choose to fight defensively when attacking

Since you haven't had a turn when surprised or flat-footed, you haven't had the opportunity to start the tactic. Even if you weren't surprised, if your enemy beat your initiative, you still haven't acted. Even if you have Uncanny Dodge or other ability that allows you to be "defensive," you haven't acted and thus haven't had the opportunity to start using Fighting Defensively.

In practice, I require tactics like this to be declared at the start of your turn (house rule), to prevent someone from losing the benefit if they take a move action first, or to prevent a player from attempting to gain only the benefit, like from reckless aim after a move.


Your perception about fighting defensively is correct. You need to be able to make an attack action to activate it.

But you have another option in situations where you can act at all before the fight starts.

If you know there is a fight coming and you expect to loose initiative you can assume Total Defense. That way you get a +4 on your defense with no attack penalty on your turn afterwards.

In short: If you see the monster coming, before rolling initiative use Total Defense to get +4 on your defense. (see this for more detail) When its your turn, decide if you want to switch to Fighting Defensively while you attack.

Side effects of Total Defense:

  1. You will still be flat-footed because you lost the initiative roll but you will get the +4 for having your shield up and ready.
  2. If they move past you instead you will not be allowed to take an Attack of Opportunity.

For flat-footedness and situations where you can't act at all before the fight see @gatherer818's answer.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually you just need to be able to act in the surprise round and use your standard action for total defense. On the first round you will still be with +4 AC against the enemy, who acts first. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 11:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AngeloFuchs Yes, but note that I mean you have to use the action before you roll for initiative, essentially using the six seconds before combat starts to prepare for whatever attacks might come your way at the expense of being able to retaliate when given an opportunity to do so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Skrillaka
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 20:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AngeloFuchs Your help would be appreciated. \$\endgroup\$
    – Skrillaka
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 3:46

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