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Rules FAQ How Do Opportunity Attacks Work In D&D 5E?

An often-misunderstood element of 5E D&D, opportunity attacks allow combatants to strike fleeing combatants before they can leave. An opportunity attack, generally, follows these rules:
  • A creature provokes an opportunity attack when it moves out of your reach.
  • It uses your reaction for the round.
  • It allows you to make a single melee attack with a held weapon or unarmed strike.
  • It does not benefit from features such as Extra Attack.
  • You must be able to see the creature to make an opportunity attack.
  • The attack takes place just before the creature leaves your reach.

This is the part of a weekly series of articles by a team of designers answering D&D questions for beginners. Feel free to discuss the article and add your insights or comments!

That first point, which tends to be the one that confuses people, means that if you have a reach of 5 feet (you probably do) and a hostile creature moves from a space within 5 feet of you to a space further than 5 feet from you, you can make an opportunity attack as it leaves the space.

grid2.jpg

An orc with 5' reach
opportunity attack triggered just before the dotted line is crossed

Avoiding Opportunity Attacks​

There are a number of ways to avoid opportunity attacks. For example, if a creature takes the Disengage action, its movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks at all for the rest of the turn, meaning it can move freely through your reach without threat. Other features, such as the Mobile feat for players, and the Flyby trait on monsters, can allow creatures to avoid opportunity attacks without taking the Disengage action. Features that teleport, such as the misty step spell or the Shadow Step feature of the Way of Shadows Monk, never provoke attacks of opportunity either.

Forced movement also doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks. For example, if a thorn whip spell pulls you out of an ogre’s reach, or you freefall past the reach of a giant spider clinging to a nearby wall, those creatures would not make opportunity attacks against you.

On the other hand, if movement uses your action, reaction, or movement, it is not considered forced, and can provoke an opportunity attack normally. For example, if a dissonant whispers spell causes you to use your reaction to move, and that movement causes you to leave a creature’s reach, that creature would make an opportunity attack against you, even though you didn’t willingly undertake the movement; cruel world, ain’t it?

Reach and Opportunity Attacks​

The Equipment chapter in the Player’s Handbook notes that a weapon with the Reach property increases your reach by 5 feet for the sake of attacks with it, including opportunity attacks. This means that, if you’re wielding a halberd, for example, a hostile creature only provokes an opportunity attack from you when they move from a space within 10 feet of you to a space further than 10 feet from you. Counterintuitively, this means wielding a weapon with Reach may actually limit your options for opportunity attacks, in some cases!

grid3.jpg

An orc with 10' reach
opportunity attack triggered just before the dotted line is crossed

Alternatively, if you were wielding a whip (which has the Reach property) in one hand and a dagger (no Reach property) in the other, a creature would provoke an opportunity attack from your dagger when moving from within 5 feet of you to a space more than 5 feet from you. It would also provoke an opportunity attack from your whip when moving from within 10 feet of you to a space more than 10 feet from you. Keep in mind, however, you still only have one reaction, meaning you couldn’t take both of these opportunity attacks.

Opportunity Attack Feats​

A few different feats interact with opportunity attacks, and are listed below. There are a number of class features that interact with them as well, but they come up far less commonly.

Mobile​

This feat foils opportunity attacks in a pretty unique way. With Mobile, when you make a melee attack against a creature, that creature can’t make opportunity attacks against you at all for the rest of your turn. And keep in mind, that’s not “hit” with an attack. You just have to try. This feat can even foil Sentinel, as you’re not using the Disengage action.

Polearm Master​

With the Polearm Master feat, so long as you’re wielding a glaive, halberd, pike, quarterstaff, or spear, you can make an opportunity attack with that weapon when a creature enters your reach with it. So, for example, if you’re equipped with a pike, a creature that moves from outside your reach into a space within 10 feet of you would immediately provoke an opportunity attack from that pike. Amusingly, a creature can avoid this attack by taking the “Disengage” action while moving toward you, and doing so will even bypass Sentinel (as Sentinel only allows you to make opportunity attacks on creatures who attempt to leave your reach by Disengaging). Still, it’s a great way to hold enemies at bay, and the closest thing D&D has to the classic “spear-wall” strategy.

Sentinel​

With the Sentinel feat, your opportunity attacks reduce a creature’s movement speed to 0 on a hit, and even the Disengage action doesn’t prevent you from making opportunity attacks on fleeing targets. Keep in mind this doesn’t prevent features like Flyby, or Legendary Actions that ignore opportunity attacks, from working, as they don’t involve the Disengage action. Furthermore, the special reaction you get from the third bullet point of this feat doesn’t count as an opportunity attack, meaning it doesn’t reduce the target’s speed. Still, pair this with Polearm Master and a polearm with Reach, and wish good luck to whomever wants to try and get past you.

War Caster​

Remember how I said above that an opportunity attack must be a weapon attack? The War Caster feat breaks that rule. With War Caster, you can replace an opportunity attack with a single spell, with a casting time of 1 action, which targets only that creature, such as shocking grasp or hold person. Devious trick, but remember that ranged spell attacks made within 5 feet of a hostile creature are at disadvantage, and the opportunity attack goes off as the creature moves, meaning spells like fire bolt will be harder to hit with if the creature’s moving from within 5 feet of you.
 
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Cassandra Macdonald

Cassandra Macdonald

You forgot to mention that you can use Grapple or Shove as opportunity attacks, because they are described as "melee attacks", and nothing in the description of opportunity attacks requires it to be a weapon or unarmed strike.

[EDIT: Actually it was brought up that this doesn't work, because Grapple and Shove are only available during your Action, while Opportunity Attacks work only as your Reaction.]
 
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Something often overlooked by players: it's often worthwhile to just take the attack in order to gain a strategic position. Withdraw takes your action, and only has an immediate benefit. Dodge costs the same action, but grants disadvantage not only on the opportunity attack, but every other attack until the start of your next turn (while still costing the enemy their reaction). Some enemies don't deal much damage, so even if they hit it might be worth it.
 


toucanbuzz

Legend
You forgot to mention that you can use Grapple or Shove as opportunity attacks, because they are described as "melee attacks", and nothing in the description of opportunity attacks requires it to be a weapon or unarmed strike.
Sage Advice said no because grapple/shove are only options with the "Attack action," which the AOO is not. In other words, a grapple/shove (PHB 195) is designated a "special melee attack" whereas the AOO only permits a "melee attack." Crawford advised you could use the Ready action to prepare a grapple/shove.

As to the article, great idea. It's also going to be useful for those of us who don't see ourselves as beginners!
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Sage Advice said no because grapple/shove are only options with the "Attack action," which the AOO is not. In other words, a grapple/shove (PHB 195) is designated a "special melee attack" whereas the AOO only permits a "melee attack." Crawford advised you could use the Ready action to prepare a grapple/shove.

As to the article, great idea. It's also going to be useful for those of us who don't see ourselves as beginners!
Yeah, well, that's another fairly lame interpretation from the Sage because it means you can't try to grab, trip, or knock down someone who tries to run past you. All you can do is injure them and that's terrible from a tactical/narrative point of view.
 

Sage Advice said no because grapple/shove are only options with the "Attack action," which the AOO is not. In other words, a grapple/shove (PHB 195) is designated a "special melee attack" whereas the AOO only permits a "melee attack." Crawford advised you could use the Ready action to prepare a grapple/shove.
Hmm, good catch. That is the way it's phrased. At least, the requirement to use an Action prohibiting it from being used on a reaction. The special part looks irrelevant.
 

aco175

Legend
I never thought about, or used the polearm to grant an AOO when someone closes with you like 3e did with some monsters and reach. We always played that you do not since you are closing with an enemy instead of trying to pass by or back up without being careful (disengage).

Does this make the polearm more powerful?
 

toucanbuzz

Legend
I never thought about, or used the polearm to grant an AOO when someone closes with you like 3e did with some monsters and reach. We always played that you do not since you are closing with an enemy instead of trying to pass by or back up without being careful (disengage).

Does this make the polearm more powerful?
The Polearm and Spear, in my experience, got little use in prior edition D&D campaigns because of the lack of numerical or tactical advantage when using them. For the Fighter class that can take many feats, that's changed quite a bit with Polearm Master.

Optionally, I use a house rule, similar to 3E, that if you have Reach and your enemy does not when closing, you can take an AOO. To keep Polearm Master relevant (which grants an AOO regardless if the other target has reach), I house rule its first use does not consume a Reaction.
 





MarkB

Legend
One which is more of a general point about reactions, but which can trip people up, is that you get your reaction back at the start of your turn and you can use it during your turn. So if a creature manages to move away from you during your turn, you can make an opportunity attack against it (assuming the other normal conditions are met).

Also, regarding reach weapons, one thing worth noting is that ranged attacks only have disadvantage if you are within 5 feet of an opponent, not if you are within their reach, so if you're up against someone with reach, you can step back 5 feet with impunity and then make ranged attacks without penalty.
 

Dr. Bull

Explorer
One which is more of a general point about reactions, but which can trip people up, is that you get your reaction back at the start of your turn and you can use it during your turn. So if a creature manages to move away from you during your turn, you can make an opportunity attack against it (assuming the other normal conditions are met).

Also, regarding reach weapons, one thing worth noting is that ranged attacks only have disadvantage if you are within 5 feet of an opponent, not if you are within their reach, so if you're up against someone with reach, you can step back 5 feet with impunity and then make ranged attacks without penalty.
Excellent points.
 

The Polearm and Spear, in my experience, got little use in prior edition D&D campaigns because of the lack of numerical or tactical advantage when using them. For the Fighter class that can take many feats, that's changed quite a bit with Polearm Master.
I built an entire character in 3.5 around polearm AoO shenanigans. Glaives are fun!

So are delivering held touch spells with the unarmed strike during an AoO.
 

modernkutuzov

Villager
One which is more of a general point about reactions, but which can trip people up, is that you get your reaction back at the start of your turn and you can use it during your turn. So if a creature manages to move away from you during your turn, you can make an opportunity attack against it (assuming the other normal conditions are met).

Also, regarding reach weapons, one thing worth noting is that ranged attacks only have disadvantage if you are within 5 feet of an opponent, not if you are within their reach, so if you're up against someone with reach, you can step back 5 feet with impunity and then make ranged attacks without penalty.
To your point, I think Cassandra's line, "It uses your reaction for the turn" should read, "it uses your reaction for the round".

Super fun article!
 

Pax Drowana

Explorer
Also, regarding reach weapons, one thing worth noting is that ranged attacks only have disadvantage if you are within 5 feet of an opponent, not if you are within their reach, so if you're up against someone with reach, you can step back 5 feet with impunity and then make ranged attacks without penalty.
OK, getting increasingly far OT from Opportunity Attacks, but it's worth pointing out that ranged attacks only have disadvantage within 5 feet of a Hostile creature who can see you. Ask the Gloomstalker Ranger how he knows this rule.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Its funny we are doing these now...but I guess it makes sense giving the changing demographics of the site...and the game.

One practical implication of 5E opportunity attacks: you can move around a single opponent, as long as you don't move away, and not draw one. This is different then in some past editions.

Speaking of past editions...2Es optional book "Combat and Tactics" introduced "Attacks of Opportunity". These were drawn for withdrawing from combat, but also sometimes for other actions, like making an unarmed attack against an armed opponent. Some of this carried over into 3e.

Before that, in early editions of D&D, turning and fleeing melee would give the opponent a free attack. Often at a bonus for striking the fleeing characters rear. (+2 to hit and no shield bonus to AC in "Holmes basic", for example). There was some ambiguity if a fighting withdrawal was possible, though in practice DMs often allowed it.
 

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