[RPG] How many attacks?

pathfinder-1e

When starting out at level 1 everyone gets a single BAB, indicating they can only do 1 attack. Once a characters BAB reaches 6, they get another BAB at 1. Now, does that mean that a level 1 rogue with TWF gets 2 hits (one with each hand) or do they get more, then with the 2nd BAB at level 6 they get 3 attacks or…? TWF is confusing me and the text isn't helping. Any clarification would be great!

Best Answer

So there are multiple different ways to get more attacks, such as:

  • high base attack bonus (BAB),

  • the two-weapon fighting option,

  • the haste spell,

  • the Cleave feat,

and many more. Each of these comes with its own requirements, penalties, and so on, but as long as you meet the conditions for each,1 you can use them together to get more attacks.

High base attack bonus and iteratives

First, a bit of terminology: every character only has one “BAB;” that’s just the number they use as their “base attack bonus.” When you reach a +6 base attack bonus, you do get another attack, but you don’t get “another BAB”—they still just have the one stat “base attack bonus,” which is +6.

The extra attacks you get for high base attack bonus are known as “iterative” attacks, and each one is made with a cumulative −5 attack penalty. Notice that the base attack bonus doesn’t change—you just have a −5 penalty on the first one, a −10 penalty on the second, and a −15 penalty on the third (once you have all three).

So for example if you have base attack bonus +11 and Strength 20 (a +5 bonus), you would have an attack at +16, another at +11, and a final one at +6.2

Two-weapon fighting

Two-weapon fighting is an option that anyone who has a weapon in each hand (or a double weapon) can choose to use whenever they make a full attack. You do not need the Two-Weapon Fighting feat in order to use the two-weapon fighting option—yes, this is poorly named, and often confusing, which is why I point it out.

Practically speaking, though, you do need Two-Weapon Fighting to use two-weapon fighting. You also need a light offhand weapon. That’s because the attack penalties for using two-weapon fighting without Two-Weapon Fighting, or for using a non-light offhand weapon, are simply too large to be worthwhile. When you do have Two-Weapon Fighting and a light offhand weapon, the attack penalty is a manageable −2.

For example, if a character with BAB +1 and Strength 16 (+3) had Two-Weapon Fighting and was using a light off-hand weapon, they would make two attacks, both at +2 (+1 + 3 − 2). The two attacks would have to be with separate weapons, and the second one would be the offhand weapon (read: a light weapon).

Combining two-weapon fighting with iteratives

You can combine Two-Weapon Fighting with iteratives, gaining more attacks that way. However, when you do so, you also combine the penalties—but note that the penalties work differently. Two-weapon fighting gives an extra attack, but applies a single penalty to all your attacks. Iterative attacks are extra attacks, but only the iterative attack itself is penalized.

So if that character with BAB +11 and Strength 20 from before also has Two-Weapon Fighting and is using a light offhand weapon (i.e. qualifies for the −2 penalty instead of something larger), he or she gets four attacks,

  • a main-hand attack at +14 (+11 + 5 − 2)

  • an offhand attack at +14 (+11 + 5 − 2)

  • an iterative attack at +9 (+11 + 5 − 2 − 5)

  • an iterative attack at +4 (+11 + 5 − 2 − 10)

Note that only the first two attacks cares about whether you use the main weapon or the offhand weapon—all the other attacks can be made with either. That’s because of the two-weapon fighting option, which requires its extra attack be made with the offhand weapon (which has to be different from the main weapon).

This character could improve things by taking Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, which makes the first iterative work like the first attack, getting an extra offhand attack. And then he or she would also qualify for Greater Two-Weapon Fighting, and so could potentially get six attacks,

  • a main-hand attack at +14 (+11 + 5 − 2)

  • an offhand attack at +14 (+11 + 5 − 2)

  • an iterative main-hand attack at +9 (+11 + 5 − 2 − 5)

  • an iterative offhand attack at +9 (+11 + 5 − 2 − 5)

  • an iterative main-hand attack at +4 (+11 + 5 − 2 − 10)

  • an iterative offhand attack at +4 (+11 + 5 − 2 − 10)

Finally, once this character reaches BAB +16, they would be up to seven attacks. This is the usual limit for a character’s own attacks, though there are ways to exceed it—haste, natural weapons, a monk’s flurry of blows, and so on.

How the rogue class figures into this

The rogue class does not get any special extra attacks. None of its features grant extra attacks, unless you count taking the combat feat talent option to get Two-Weapon Fighting (and even then, the rogue technically could have used two-weapon fighting without Two-Weapon Fighting, even though that would be a large mistake).

What the rogue does is reward making a lot of attacks. That’s because, in the right circumstances (flanking is easiest), the rogue can apply sneak attack damage to every one of those attacks—the more attacks the rogue has, the more times she can apply sneak attack.


  1. It is important to remember that when you are eligible for multiple attacks, no matter how you get them, you have to use a “full attack” to actually get them. If you use a regular “attack,” you only ever get one attack, period. The difference between an “attack” and “full attack” is that the attack is just a standard action, while the full attack is a full-round action—a standard action plus a move action. That means that, in order to full attack, you cannot use your move action for anything—standing up, drawing a weapon, or, ya know, moving. At best you can move 5 feet with the free 5-ft. step option.

  2. In reality these numbers would probably be higher thanks to a magic weapon and possibly also feats or class features.