Dungeons & Dragons: How to Use Attacks of Opportunity to Your Advantage

AbraxasOctober 9, 2021

Opportunity attacks are a big part of Dungeons & Dragons, but players too often leave the mechanics up to their DM. Just how does opportunity work?

In Dungeons & Dragons, enough work goes into getting players to think through their turns that very few spend much time thinking about what they’re doing on everybody else’s turn. Where that proves a critical part of combat most often are attacks of opportunity, but newer players are often content to allow their Dungeon Master to rule when such attacks are and are not triggered. They don’t have to be, though. By figuring out how attacks of opportunity work a player can use them to their advantage and master combat.

Understanding the action economy comprises the fundamentals to mastering combat in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. At base, a turn is comprised of an Action, a Free Action, a Bonus Action, and Movement. Understanding what differentiates regular Actions from Bonus or Free Actions is its own bundle of issues, but even once many players figure out those differences they give little more thought to the nuances of Movement or, indeed, that they still have another action that’s not performed on their turn: a Reaction.

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Every creature gets one Reaction per round which they can take during another creature’s turn. Much like a Bonus Action, Reactions need to have a trigger in order to initiate them. It’s easy to dismiss any attempts to optimize a character’s action economy when it does not seem like they have any way to trigger their Bonus Actions or Reactions, but learning how to do so is exactly what puts a combatant well on their way to mastering the battlefield. As far as Reactions are concerned, learning the ins and outs of attacks of opportunity is the surest way to be able to utilize that piece of what a character can potentially do in a turn.

When one creature leaves a hostile creature’s space they provoke an attack of opportunity, making the fleeing creature vulnerable to an attack that utilizes their opponent’s Reaction. There’s an offensive and a defensive way to think of this. For melee fighters, most typically found in the martial classes, such characters should try to force themselves into the melee range of as many different opponents as possible. The more enemies filling their reach, the more likely they are to have a chance to utilize their Reaction and make an attack of opportunity. Since opportunity attacks are exclusively a melee option, even ranged combatants will want to keep a melee offensive option on hand so they never miss a chance to do damage.

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Defensively, such ranged attackers will want to always consider their options for avoiding attacks of opportunity. That means staying out of the melee reach of creatures, which can vary depending on their size or their weapon. It’s also crucial to remember that a creature only gets one Reaction per round, so if an enemy already used their Reaction in a round, then that’s likely the best time to flee and reestablish range. If a melee enemy still has their Reaction, remember you can always Disengage as an action to flee without provoking an opportunity attack.

Feats can always help maximize the efficiency of opportunity attacks as well. War Caster allows spellcasters to use their magic in attacks of opportunity, and Sentinel turns any melee fighter into a fierce opponent nigh-inescapable since their attacks of opportunity reduce their opponent’s speed to 0 whenever they hit.

As a general rule of thumb, the side that gets more attacks is the side that wins in Dungeons & Dragons. Learning to utilize attacks of opportunity while denying them from the opposition shifts the ratio in the party’s favor, and that’s an opportunity nobody should want to turn down.

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