An attack of opportunity in 5e is when you use your reaction to make a single melee attack against an enemy that triggers it. But you can only make one melee attack as an opportunity attack per round. And be warned, you can also trigger an attack of opportunity from the enemy.
Both situations can turn the tide of battle, so this is an important facet of Dungeons and Dragons 5e to understand.
In this article, we answer your questions:
- What is an Opportunity Attack in 5e?
- What provokes an Opportunity Attack?
- What does NOT provoke an Opportunity Attack?
- How do you avoid provoking Opportunity Attacks?
- When should you make an Opportunity Attack?
- When should you NOT make an Opportunity Attack?
- Feats that take Attacks of Opportunity in 5e to the next level
- Important Notes to Remember About Opportunity Attacks in 5e
What is an Opportunity Attack in 5e?
An attack of opportunity in 5e is when you use your reaction to make a free melee attack against a foe. There are other abilities and features that expand on the specific trigger but we’ll get to those shortly.
What provokes Opportunity Attacks in 5e?
An attack of opportunity is provoked when a hostile creature leaves your reach. Most melee weapons in D&D 5e have a reach of 5 feet which is usually one standard square on a battle map. So your reach would be defined as the 8 squares surrounding your character.
A single creature can provoke multiple opportunity attacks from different characters if you and another character are within reach of the target. But the same goes for the reverse. If you try to flee from multiple attacking enemies, they will all get opportunity attacks.
So how do you avoid triggering opportunity attacks?
What does not provoke Opportunity Attacks in 5e?
There are several ways to avoid falling victim to opportunity attacks.
Firstly, you can take the Disengage action. This allows you to move away from one or more enemies without provoking an opportunity attack from them. The Disengage action requires a standard action to use unless you’re a rogue.
Move around the creature
Secondly, you do not provoke an opportunity attack if you move around a creature. As long as you don’t leave the 8 squares surrounding the creature, you are fine. This allows you to position yourself to attack a different enemy, aid an ally, or even let an ally attack if you were blocking the ally in your original position (like if you’re in a doorway).
Thirdly, you don’t provoke an opportunity attack when you teleport out of reach. This is one reason Misty Step and Thunderstep are so valuable.
Lastly, forced movement. If someone/something moves you against your will then you will not provoke an attack of opportunity. For example, you don’t provoke an attack of opportunity if a spell pushes you out of an enemy’s reach or if gravity causes you to fall past an enemy.
When should you make an Attack of Opportunity in 5e?
The most common situation is when an enemy tries to run away from you. Maybe he’s fleeing the battle, or maybe he’s trying to attack an ally. Intelligent beings will run away when they realize they’re losing a fight because self-preservation kicks in.
It’s important to be mindful of using it because you only get one reaction per round. So if there’s a chance you need to use your reaction for a more immediate threat, think twice before you make an opportunity attack.
When should you NOT make an Attack of Opportunity in 5e?
If your reaction could be used for a more immediate threat, think twice about using your reaction for an attack of opportunity. You only get one reaction per round. So you might have bigger things to worry about if you and your party are in a battle with multiple enemies.
Let’s say you’re fighting a group of orcs.
Your barbarian goes toe to toe with three of them. You’ve already taken one down and another is bloody from the beating you’ve given him. He attempts to run away, but you take your opportunity attack to put your axe in his back. He was low on hit points so he goes down.
But now it’s the last orc’s turn. He just saw what happened to his companions and wants an easier target. He spots the cleric 20 feet behind you and she’s not in great shape after fighting off another enemy. The orc makes a mad dash to your cleric and lands a critical hit with his greataxe. Thanks to some lucky dice rolls, the greataxe does a maximum of 27 damage, killing the cleric dead.
Now, your barbarian has the Sentinel feat, which reduces an enemy’s speed to zero when you land an opportunity attack. Had you not been so eager to kill a retreating enemy, you would have been able to save your cleric from permanent death.
It’s important to think about your character’s action economy when you’re engaged in combat. Just because a battle seems to be progressing in your favor doesn’t mean it can’t turn on a dime when you think the victory is within grasp.
Feats That Take Attacks of Opportunity in 5e to the Next Level
A handful of feats interact with opportunity attacks in 5e. Check these out if you are on the front line of battle or find yourself utilizing opportunity attacks frequently. These could save your character’s life or the lives of your companions.
The Polearm Master feat is one heck of a feat for capitalizing on opportunity attacks in 5e. If you are wielding a polearm (glaive, halberd, pike, quarterstaff, or spear), hostile creatures provoke opportunity attacks from you when they enter the 10 ft reach of the weapon.
That’s right, you get an opportunity attack when a creature enters your reach. The moment a provoking creature gets within 10 feet of your character, you get a free attack.
This feat allows you to reduce an enemy’s speed to 0 when you hit them with an opportunity attack. So not only do they still take damage, but their escape is thwarted.
The War Caster feat is great for spellcasters because it allows you to cast a spell in place of an opportunity attack. So if you’re a wizard and an enemy is trying to run away from you, cast hold person and prevent him from getting too far. The spell must have a casting time of 1 action and must target only that creature.
Important Notes to Remember About Opportunity Attacks in 5e
1. You can’t make multiple attacks during an Attack of Opportunity
Even if your character gets two attacks per round, you can only attack once as an opportunity attack.
2. Standard melee attacks aren’t your only option
The description for opportunity attack doesn’t say it has to be made with a weapon or an unarmed strike. Abilities like grapple or shove are described as melee attacks. So if you need to make sure someone doesn’t get away, don’t be afraid to grapple him. Or if you’re fighting near a cliff edge when a creature provokes an attack of opportunity, shove him off the side as he tries to get away, or if an enemy moves past you.
3. Supercharge your Attack of Opportunity in 5e
On top of non-traditional attacks like grapple and shove, you can also use your abilities to power up your attack of opportunity. If you’re playing a paladin, use Divine Smite to get a few extra d8’s of damage.
4. You must be able to see the hostile creature
If you’re in a dark room (and you don’t have darkvision), how would you know an enemy is leaving your reach? How would you know where to strike? The same thing goes for an invisible enemy.
5. Think strategically against deadly enemies
If you’re facing off with an enemy who has a large reach, you have options.
For example, an ancient white dragon has more than one attack, each with a different reach. Claw has a reach of 10 feet. Bite has a reach of 15 feet. And tail has a reach of 20 feet. Consequently, you can move around the dragon within the 20 feet of reach and not provoke attacks of opportunity.
Remember, it’s the act of leaving a creature’s reach that triggers attacks of opportunity. So as long as you are within reach of an enemy, you’re fine.
Final Thoughts on this Opportunistic Free Melee Attack
Opportunity attacks in 5e are great because they add an additional layer of strategy to combat outside of your turn. And who doesn’t like getting an extra attack in for free? Especially when you can stop creatures in their tracks with a feat like Sentinel, thus protecting the rest of your party.
At the meta level, opportunity attacks are great for keeping players engaged in combat when it’s not their turn. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly guilty of uttering the phrase, “Oh, it’s my turn already?!” The more reasons we players have to pay attention to what the other players are doing during the combat, the better prepared we will be when it’s our turn.
Unless you smoke a lot of weed like me—I’m a lost cause.
Do you have a story of a battle when you (or someone else) took opportunity attacks at the wrong time and paid a heavy price? I’d love to hear about it! Also, if I missed anything in my breakdown let me know!