In Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, an opportunity attack occurs when you use your reaction to execute a solitary melee attack against a triggering foe. However, you’re limited to only one opportunity attack of this kind per round. It’s important to note that your own actions can inadvertently prompt an opponent to launch an opportunity attack against you.
And, as always in the D&D rules, that is just the simple explanation; there are plenty of scenarios when you might find yourself seeking further clarification as unique situations arise. This article will help you navigate those more unusual events and odd combinations to fully understand how to apply the rule in any circumstance.
Table of Contents
What is an Opportunity Attack 5e?
As the introduction states, an opportunity attack arises when you opt to use your reaction to carry out an unrestricted melee attack directed at an adversary. Various abilities and traits can further complicate the exact conditions for such an attack which will be clarified and cleared up in the course of this article.
What provokes an Attack of Opportunity 5e?
An opportunity attack is triggered when an unfriendly creature exits your effective range. Think of it as a chance for a parting blow as they move away from combat with you, an additional strike while they get their act together and either step out of danger or flee like a frightened Kobold. (Apologies to any Kobold heroes reading this!) In Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, most melee weapons possess a reach of 5 feet, equating to the size of a standard battle map square. Your weapon reach encompasses the eight squares adjacent to your character.
If you and another character are both within range of a target, that target could incite individual opportunity attacks from both of you. Conversely, if you attempt to withdraw from numerous assailants, each one will have the chance to launch an opportunity attack against you.
What does NOT provoke an Opportunity Attack in 5e?
There are various strategies to help you steer clear of becoming a target of opportunity attacks.
To start with, you can opt for the Disengage action. This permits you to maneuver away from one or multiple adversaries without triggering any opportunity attacks from them. Utilizing the Disengage action consumes a regular action unless you possess the qualities of a Rogue. Think of this as an organized and careful fighting retreat from the melee.
Navigate Around the Creature
Secondly, you can avoid provoking an opportunity attack by maneuvering around a creature. You’re in the clear as long as you remain within the perimeter of the eight squares encompassing the creature. This grants you the flexibility to position yourself to confront a different adversary, assist an ally, or even enable an ally to strike if you were obstructing their path in your initial location, such as blocking a doorway. Again, this is a planned maneuver, a side step, or a relocation rather than a disorganized retreat.
Thirdly, and a bit more specialized, teleporting beyond an opponent’s range doesn’t trigger an opportunity attack. This is why such spells as Misty Step and Thunderstep are popular with dungeon-delving magical adventurers, an instant way of removing yourself from harm.
Lastly, forced movement renders you exempt from opportunity attacks. Should someone or something make you relocate against your will, you won’t prompt an attack of opportunity. For instance, if a spell propels you beyond an enemy’s grasp or gravitational forces cause you to descend past an opponent, you remain unaffected by opportunity attacks.
When should you make an Opportunity Attack?
The most frequently encountered scenario that allows for an opportunity attack arises when a combat adversary endeavors to distance themselves from you. This could be due to their desire to escape the conflict or an attempt to change focus and attack one of your fellow party pals. The important thing is that they are redirecting their attention, allowing you to get a, hopefully, unseen and unexpected attack in.
It is worth remembering (DM’s especially) that intelligent creatures retreat when they sense victory is slipping away, driven by the instinct of self-preservation. Smart creatures don’t fight to the death unless in extreme circumstances.
Consequently, your reaction might be better saved to deal with more imminent danger, so it’s advisable to carefully consider before committing to an opportunity attack. The time it takes to get that additional blow in that finishes off the already battered and retreating orc captain might have been used to utilize a feat, use an ability or cast a spell, if allowed, depending on what moves and traits your character knows of.
When should you NOT make an Opportunity Attack?
If your reaction could address a more pressing danger, it’s wise to carefully consider whether using it for an opportunity attack is the right choice. Remember, you’re limited to just one reaction each round (yes, I have said this before, but it is worth repeating), and in battles involving multiple adversaries, prioritizing which of your options is the best course of action calls for a lot of thought and a prioritizing of strategies.
Consider a scenario where you’re pitted against a band of goblin raiders, and your Barbarian is heroically locked in combat with three of them. After all, it’s the sort of glory-hunting that a Barbarian loves. (Show-offs!) Having already dispatched one to the goblin afterlife and severely wounded another, this wounded goblin endeavors to flee—the perfect moment to use your opportunity attack to totally eradicate him from your little skirmish. Seizing the moment, you unleash an opportunity attack, felling him easily due to his low hit points and the fact that you are two and a half times the size of the poor fellow.
However, the last standing goblin, having witnessed the fate of his comrades and being a bit of a coward, shifts his focus to a much easier target—your party’s Cleric positioned 20 feet behind you, hanging back after getting a bit bruised and battered in a previous encounter. The goblin lands a critical hit with his axe in a frantic charge. An unfortunate (for you, at least) dice roll results in his family heirloom dealing a devastating 27 points of damage, leading to the Cleric’s demise. A tragic blow to the party’s fortunes but an unavoidable casualty of the adventuring life. Yes? No! Think again.
Considering that your Barbarian possesses the Sentinel feat, which halts an enemy’s movement when you execute an opportunity attack, had you exercised more restraint and refrained from pursuing the easy enemy target, you could have safeguarded your Cleric from that fatal blow. (How do you feel now, Conan?)
During combat, factoring in your character’s action economy is essential. Even if the tide of battle appears to favor your side, victory can pivot unexpectedly, especially when it seems within reach. And the gods of the dice are always ready to punish you for excessive hubris and ego. They’re funny like that.
Feats & Attacks of Opportunity 5e
Several feats in 5e work well to improve the effectiveness of opportunity attacks. If you frequently engage in opportunity attacks or hold a frontline role in battles, these feats certainly warrant your attention. They should be seriously considered as priorities during your character build if this is the type of character you like playing. Such feats can safeguard your character’s life and those of your companions.
The Polearm Master feat is a significant asset for maximizing opportunity attacks in 5e. When your character is wielding a polearm such as a glaive, halberd, pike, quarterstaff, or spear, adversaries provoke opportunity attacks from you when they step within the weapon’s 10-foot range.
When a triggering creature comes within 10 feet of your character, you can unleash a free attack. This is because the length of the weapon you are using keeps them at bay long enough to gain an extra poke, swing or slice at them before they close in on you.
This feat empowers you to bring an enemy’s movement to a standstill when you strike them with an opportunity attack. This means that not only do they endure damage, but their attempts to escape are effectively thwarted.
The War Caster feat proves invaluable for spellcasters, granting the ability to substitute a spell for an opportunity attack. For instance, if you’re a wizard and an adversary endeavors to flee, you can cast a spell like Hold Person to hinder their progress. The chosen spell must possess a casting time of 1 action and exclusively target that particular creature.
Final Thoughts About Opportunity Attacks in 5e
Opportunity attacks are a massively beneficial tactical choice for when a hostile creature triggers your reaction, enabling a melee attack. Employ strategies wisely, as your single reaction per round must be weighed against every potential threat before you. Feats like Polearm Master extends reach, Sentinel halts foes’ movement, and War Caster empowers spellcasters.
Strategic foresight is essential—seizing opportunities can shift battles, but sensible use of caution prevents overcommitment. Adapt your approach based on the evolving battlefield to make the most of opportunity attacks, safeguarding yourself and your allies while maintaining an edge in combat encounters.
Attack of Opportunity 5e FAQs
Can I use a ranged weapon for an opportunity attack?
No, opportunity attacks require a melee attack. Ranged weapons typically do not qualify.
Can I use spells for opportunity attacks?
By default, opportunity attacks are limited to melee attacks. However, the War Caster feat allows spellcasters to cast certain spells as opportunity attacks.
How many opportunity attacks can I make in a round?
You’re generally limited to one opportunity attack per round, as your reaction is a finite resource.
Do opportunity attacks use modifiers and special abilities?
Yes, you apply your usual modifiers to the attack and damage roll. Certain feats, like Polearm Master or Sentinel, can also modify opportunity attacks.
Kendra has always been a hardcore fantasy nerd. Growing up in the worlds of Tolkien, Sanderson, Jordan, and Abercrombie, DnD & board games just came naturally. She and her husband, Bryan, started GameCows.com in 2018 as a fun passion project that just took over their lives. An avid board gamer since childhood and chronic DnD chronicler for more than two decades, she loves to play, write, travel, and learn dead languages. She is also a professional content writer at SlashGear.com