Are you ready for a primer on melee combat? This week's article focuses on dealing with those foes with exceptionally high Armor Class (AC), so if you're one player in a group of new players, you may find a tactic that your party can use to overcome foes with great Armor Class.
Inevitably, a party's adventuring career leads them into an encounter with a nonplayer character (NPC) or creature whose Armor Class seems so high that only the party's fighter seems to have a hope of actually striking. Even then, he may do so without any sort of consistency. In a typical party, that could leave those with lower attack bonuses with a feeling of inadequacy, and those with higher attack bonuses may feel frustrated that even they cannot hit their target. But in reality, a party has many tactics that can get them through such encounters more successfully, and these tactics use contributions from all members.
Flanking: The most obvious maneuver is setting up a flanking position, since nearly any target can be flanked. (Flanking is described on page 153 of the Player's Handbook.) If two PCs have already engaged the target, usually a 5-foot step by one or both should be sufficient to flank the target. A monk or rogue not immediately involved in combat could attempt to tumble around the target if there isn't enough room to move around without provoking attacks of opportunity. Be aware of the terrain, and watch out for corners or other positions where the enemy might move to avoid being flanked.
Aid Another: Using aid another (page 154 of the Player's Handbook) is the next best thing to flanking, and combining it with flanking makes for an even greater bonus. Even better, more than one ally can use aid another, and the bonuses stack. If two of the fighter's allies both successfully aid his attack, he gains a +2 bonus from each of them, for a total of +4. If one of those allies also sets up a flanking position, the bonus increases to +6. If a Medium target is completely surrounded by the melee attacker and seven of his allies, and those seven allies aid the attacker's attack, he could enjoy a +16 bonus on his attack roll. Aiding another isn't a guarantee, since each ally still needs to hit AC 10 to successfully contribute, but it becomes fairly consistent at higher levels. Even at lower levels, having a better than 50% chance to add a +2 on an attack roll is still better than no bonus at all.
Tripping: An opponent with a high Armor Class usually has a moderately low touch Armor Class. Using the trip maneuver (Player's Handbook, page 158) takes advantage of this, and, if successful, it reduces the opponent's Armor Class by 4. In addition, a PC might get a free swing at this opponent if this foe stands up, which provokes attacks of opportunity. While the Improved Trip feat makes this tactic even more successful, using a flail, halberd, or other tripping weapon can be almost as effective without the feat. Even if the opponent has a +4 advantage on the opposed roll, there is still a 30% chance of success; meager odds, but enough that even the wizard can be successful every once in a while. Without the Improved Trip feat, this maneuver is best utilized when another ally can still act before the tripped target and thus take advantage of the reduced Armor Class before the fallen foe stands up again.
Timing: Patience can pay off. The tactics presented here are meant to increase the attack of one of the party members, usually a fighter or barbarian. But that character must wait to act until after the flanking positions are set, choosing to delay until his allies are prepared. Likewise, those allies aiding the fighter's attack should ready their actions for when the fighter threatens the target (if they aren't already adjacent). Delay and ready are detailed under Special Initiative Actions on Page 160 of the Player's Handbook.
Other: A charge attack also adds +2 to the attack roll, though its usefulness is typically restricted to the first attack against a foe. The advantage of the charge must be weighed against the reduced Armor Class the recklessness confers, but in a case where every point of attack bonus helps, the charge should be on the list of options. The combat bonuses provided by a bard should not be overlooked, and many spells and psionic powers at all levels can increase attack rolls or reduce an opponent's Armor Class.
These simple tactical maneuvers can mean the difference between hitting and missing, and they can involve the entire party. A typical party of four, working together, could effectively add a total of +12 to the fighter's attack roll, as the rogue tumbles into a flanking position (+2), the wizard and rogue both aid the fighter's attacks(+4), the priest trips the target (-4 AC), and the fighter or barbarian charges in to attack (+2). Though the fighter or barbarian is the one landing the blow, the hit might not be possible without the rest of the party pitching in.
Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual, Player's Handbook.
About the Author
Stephen Schubert, formerly a minion of a large computer services company, has written for Dragon Magazine, Star Wars Gamer, and the Wizards of the Coast website. He now works as a developer for roleplaying games and miniatures at Wizards of the Coast, and has been involved in many products on the 2005 schedule.