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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

dalisprime

Explorer
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.
It's all nice and well until you consider that DM controlled characters (monsters in particular) rarely have proficiency in athletics/acrobatics giving serious battlefield control advantage to players...I do not think players need any more of an advantage than they already have. You want to keep someone from running away, just grapple them on your turn, or take Sentinel/Warcaster (and any one of many movement inhibiting spells).
It also helps keep the game simple(ish). Rather than forcing the player to consider a range of options outside their turn it asks a simple yes/no question of: do you attack the retreating enemy.
 

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cbwjm

Hero
Something I've never quite understood is the sentinel feat. Say they trigger the opportunity attack, you hit and reduce their movement. Does that mean they stop before or after crossing that dotted line? Like, will they still be adjacent or will there be a 5 foot gap between you and the target?
 

Pax Drowana

Explorer
Something I've never quite understood is the sentinel feat. Say they trigger the opportunity attack, you hit and reduce their movement. Does that mean they stop before or after crossing that dotted line? Like, will they still be adjacent or will there be a 5 foot gap between you and the target?
In most cases, yes, they will still be adjacent to you.
From the definition of Opportunity Attack: "The Attack occurs right before the creature leaves your reach." (emphasis mine)
From the feat: "Whenever you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, its speed drops to 0 for the rest of the turn. This stops any movement they may have been taking."

If you have reach, however, the movement stops just inside the edge of your reach. For instance, in the halberd example in the article, the creature stops just inside the 10ft. reach.

This can lead to some ridiculous effects. A roper's tendrils, for example, have a reach of 50 feet, meaning you could run 100 feet from one end of the Roper's reach to the other, and assuming you avoided coming within the 5 foot reach of its bite, you wouldn't provoke an opportunity attack.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Another thing to consider is that if you are in a creature's reach, you can move around inside its reach (say if the DM allows bonuses for flanking) without triggering opportunity attacks.

However, you have to be careful - if you get caught between two or more areas of reach and leave EITHER, whichever one you leave gets to use its reaction to make an opportunity attack. That could mean multiple opportunity attacks, coming from different creatures. It makes getting surrounded quite dangerous and difficult to disengage.
 

cbwjm

Hero
In most cases, yes, they will still be adjacent to you.
From the definition of Opportunity Attack: "The Attack occurs right before the creature leaves your reach." (emphasis mine)
From the feat: "Whenever you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, its speed drops to 0 for the rest of the turn. This stops any movement they may have been taking."

If you have reach, however, the movement stops just inside the edge of your reach. For instance, in the halberd example in the article, the creature stops just inside the 10ft. reach.

This can lead to some ridiculous effects. A roper's tendrils, for example, have a reach of 50 feet, meaning you could run 100 feet from one end of the Roper's reach to the other, and assuming you avoided coming within the 5 foot reach of its bite, you wouldn't provoke an opportunity attack.
Thanks. I think I've read up on opportunity attacks a few times but I either missed that bit or it just didn't click in my head. I've been having trouble visualising sentinel for quite some time.
 

dalisprime

Explorer
Honestly Sentinel in particular could do with a size related restriction. The gnome wizard stopping a tarrasque from moving with a dagger has become a meme for this particular reason.
 


clearstream

Be just and fear not...
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.
The RAW is clear on it being an Attack action (it has the words Attack action in the special melee attacks text). I wonder if there is a way to get around it? Some way a grapple can be attached to something that isn't an Attack action? Tavern Brawler puts it on a bonus action, but I can't think of anything that puts it on a reaction. Can you?
 






jgsugden

Legend
5e rules regarding opportunity attacks are the simplest ever, yet somehow we have to explain them 7 years into this edition...
Reread the article: This is the first in 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!

It is aimed at new players. There will always be elements of D&D that we can break down further for new players.

Other elements of OAs worth mentioning:

* If an enemy has reach and you are going to provoke an OA from them, you can drop to your knees, crawl out of their reach, and then stand up in order to give them disadvantage on their attack roll. Attacks against prone (including crawling) creatures is at advantage within 5', and at disadvantage at greater than 5' (regardless of whether melee or missile).

* If you can 'eat' (cause them to use) your opponent's reaction, you can prevent them from performing an OA on you. Strategically, fighting foes that go right after you in combat tends to provide you more options in this area, as other allies are likely to cause them to react before it is your turn, and you're likely to have your reaction on their turn. There certain spells and abilities that will either use a reaction, or deny an opponent their reaction.

One tricky spell in this regard is Wall of Stone. If you encircle a foe with it, they can make a save. If they succeed, they can use their reaction to move out of the wall area. That means they will either be captured in a wall and unable to attack, or will have used their reaction. Either way - no OA. Other spells, such as Wall of Force, can be used to entirely block OAs with no save to avoid the blockage, but there are sneaky ways to use Wall of Stone to trick opponents into position.

* Enemies Abound is worth mentioning as it can be used to force enemies to attack their allies with OAs, which eacts their reactions and deals damage to enemies.

* Zephyr strike allows you to not provoke OAs. For certain PCs in certain games, this is a much more useful spell than people realize. Due to bounded accuracy, a high speed PC that wants to get into position, or flee from danger, can really get a lot of benefit out of this spell. I've seen it be a life saver. As a ranger, you're often casting a few spells with most of your slots. Although you do not get a lot of spells, you spend most of them on one or two spells in my experience. As such, the best use of the other known spells is on conditional spells - and this is a decent one to have.

* Certain familiars (owls) do not provoke OAs when flying into and out of reach. This makes them good options to deliver touch spells. You use your reaction to prepare to cast the spell when your familiar is adjacent to the enemy, your familiar then moves adjacent, triggering your spell, uses its reaction to deliver the spell, and then flys off with no OA. Shocking grasp is a primary option for low level PCs, but there are a few others (Bestow Curse, Plane Shift) that can be methods of delivering spells in a sneaky fashion. Owls are the favored familiars of a particular group in my campaign world (long before this 5E nuance), so it has been something I've used a lot.

* Finally - diagonal placement around a foe locks them down into a single location if they do not want to provoke an OA. If your foes are up to the right and down to the left, there is no place you can go (other than up or down) where you will not provoke at least one OA. If someone is to your right and left, you can move 1 square forward or backward without provoking an OA.
 

darjr

I crit!
I do allow trips/grabs etc on an opportunity attack. I guess it’s against the rules but…. Blah.
I have also, but somehow knew it wasn’t rules as written, hence my original wrong happy surprise.
It also doesn’t break things, which is cool.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
However, you have to be careful - if you get caught between two or more areas of reach and leave EITHER, whichever one you leave gets to use its reaction to make an opportunity attack. That could mean multiple opportunity attacks, coming from different creatures. It makes getting surrounded quite dangerous and difficult to disengage.
I wouldn't call it dangerous. D&D characters can defend all day long without using an action, and there is this Disengage action...

Great article! I'd add a protip: DMs should avoid making opportunity attacks for NPCs - why slow the game down for an optional, clunky rule?
 

It also helps keep the game simple(ish). Rather than forcing the player to consider a range of options outside their turn it asks a simple yes/no question of: do you attack the retreating enemy.
In a game that's supposed to be about interesting choices "forcing the player to consider a range of options" is a feature, not a bug.

Great article! I'd add a protip: DMs should avoid making opportunity attacks for NPCs - why slow the game down for an optional, clunky rule?
I mean ... because it's what that monster or NPC would do? How is it "slowing the game down" if you've chosen to use it in your campaign?
 

dalisprime

Explorer
Hey, any gnome wizard who's prepared to go toe-to-toe with a tarrasque is clearly a foe worth paying attention to.
It's also a very dead gnome wizard most likely
The RAW is clear on it being an Attack action (it has the words Attack action in the special melee attacks text). I wonder if there is a way to get around it? Some way a grapple can be attached to something that isn't an Attack action? Tavern Brawler puts it on a bonus action, but I can't think of anything that puts it on a reaction. Can you?
Step 1: Polymorph into a giant crocodile
Step 2: Bite the enemy that tries to move out of range
Step 3: ???
Step 4: Congrats you have grappled an enemy as a reaction.
In a game that's supposed to be about interesting choices "forcing the player to consider a range of options" is a feature, not a bug.
Analysis paralysis is a thing. Even more so if something happens outside your turn.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I'd add a protip: DMs should avoid making opportunity attacks for NPCs - why slow the game down for an optional, clunky rule?

This seems like a recipe for a less tactical game - which I would only call a tip for groups who don't care about the tactical aspect of the game.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Step 1: Polymorph into a giant crocodile
Step 2: Bite the enemy that tries to move out of range
Step 3: ???
Step 4: Congrats you have grappled an enemy as a reaction.
Tasty! So any creature that triggers a grapple off its basic attack should be able to do it. I wonder if there are any playable monstrous races that can...
 

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