Aiming In Melee Combat

The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game deals with hits and damage in a rather abstract way, treating almost all hits the same except for the amount and type of damage dealt. With this optional melee aiming system, PCs, monsters, and villains alike can attack more precisely, potentially to devastating effect.

Every melee combatant since the dawn of time has aimed at a particular part of their opponent's
body. Only warriors in the midst of a frenzy attacked without a care as to where their blows landed. Unchanged through time has been the difficulty of actually hitting one's desired target. The smaller or better guarded the area, the more difficult it is for one to strike it. Nonetheless, an aimed shot in the midst of melee has always been the standard, and thus in these optional rules it is a Standard Action.

Because such an aimed strike counts as a standard action, this means that Feats such as Vital Strike can be used in conjunction with this system. Multiple attacks can be aimed, but the effects of multiple non-critical hits scored in a single round are not cumulative.

Attacks are divided into three basic difficulty groups: easy, tricky, and challenging. Easy attacks represent strikes made against large areas of the body, and are made at a –2 penalty. They have relatively minor effects unless a critical hit is scored or massive damage is dealt. Tricky attacks represent strikes made against either smaller areas, like a hand, or areas a creature protects well, like its head. Tricky attacks receive a –5 penalty, but inflict more serious consequences. Challenging attacks represent very small areas
like eyes, fingers, or creatures’ necks. They receive a –10 penalty, but successful hits cause significant short term impairment. Beyond these challenging ratings lie almost impossible called shots that receive a -20 penalty. For called shots against non-humanoid creatures, use common sense and the categories above as guidelines. For example, a flying creature’s wings are treated as arms.

Range and Reach: Aimed missile attacks work best in close range. Missile attacks are at a –2 penalty when made beyond reach but within the weapon's range increment. Shots made outside of range cannot be aimed; the GM can choose to resolve randomly, or to assume center mass of the target was struck.

Critical Hits and Critical Threats: An aimed attack has the normal chance for a critical hit, and inflicts an extra effect if one is confirmed. The exact effects of a successful critical hit depend on where the target was hit, and are described under Called Shot Effects.


Automatic Hits: Some effects in the game, like True Strike or the Flash of Insight ability of Cyclopes, provide automatic or nearly automatic hits. Using such an ability on an aimed melee attack turns negates both the benefits and the penalties associated with this system. From a story perspective, this is because the effect cannot distinguish between a hit in general and a hit in a particular area, but it’s also necessary to keep the power of such abilities in line with their original intended effects. Some Game Masters may prefer a more theatrical or a dangerous game in which magic can make a shot through the eye nearly certain, in which case this rule can be ignored.

Cover: Cover other than soft cover interferes with an aimed attack even more than with a normal shot. Double any Defense bonuses provided by cover that isn’t soft cover. In addition, cover may make certain attacks impossible.

Concealment: The miss chance for an attack depends on the type of concealment and the target of the attacker; the GM is the final arbiter. It’s not possible to make an aimed attack against a creature with total concealment. For effects such as Blink, resolve miss chance percentage rolls as normal. For spells like Displacement, roll miss chance percentage rolls as normal but the GM will be the final arbiter as to what body part was actually hit (taking into consideration the 2ft separation between the perceived target and the actual target).

Damage Reduction: If damage reduction completely negates the damage from an aimed attack, then the attack has no effect. If hit point damage does get through, the attack has normal effects. Damage reduction does not reduce any ability damage, ability drain, penalties, or bleed damage caused by the called shot.

Immunity: Immunity to critical hits protects against the extra effects of aimed attacks. Partial protection, such as that provided by the Fortification special ability of some magical armors, protects the creature as normal if the attack results in a critical hit.

Regeneration: Regeneration provides no special protection against aimed attacks, but it might negate or undo some of the effects, such as bleeding or limb loss.

Saving Throws: If a saving throw is allowed to reduce or negate the effects of an aimed attack, the DC is equal to the Armor Class hit by the attack. In the case of an attack roll of a natural 20, the DC is the AC
the attack would have hit if 20s did not automatically hit.

Stacking: Unless otherwise stated, penalties for successful non-critical aimed attacks do not stack, unless they are to different areas of the body. Ability damage and drain caused by aimed attacks always stacks.

Touch Attacks: Touch attacks and ranged touch attacks are resolved as normal.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License