One of the more difficult things that new players have trouble remembering is that moving away from an opponent will draw an opportunity attack. As soon as players hear that moving their character more than one square away from an adjacent creature will result in that creature getting a free attack, all tactics that involve moving are thrown out the window. It’s almost as if they believe that drawing an attack and possibly taking the hit is the absolute worst thing that they can do on their turn.
As an experienced DM I’m going to tell you that you need to be willing to take an opportunity attack once and a while. From a mechanics point of view all opponents know as well as you do under what circumstances they’ll get to make a free attack on you. If you move away they’ll attack you as soon as your back is turned. If you try to use a ranged attack while standing next to them, they’ll see the hole in your defenses and attack you. And if you try to crawl away while prone you bet that you enemy will kick you as you scurry away.
But so what if they do? In most cases a monster’s basic attack is just that – basic. It usually is a straight up weapon attack, be it a sword or claw. Yes, it has the potential to hurt you but you need to weigh that against the value of taking the action that draws the attack in the first place.
For example, in a recent game the PCs faced off against opponents that could entangle them and then pull them in opposite directions. The party’s Rogue used his move action to easily escape the grab. His initial tactic was to charge a different opponent which would put him in a flanking position and allow him to use his sneak dice with that attack. However, when I reminded the player that moving away from an adjacent monster would provoke an opportunity attack the player decided to stay put and go toe-to-toe with the adjacent foe despite not having combat advantage. By not moving away after freeing himself he severely limited his ability to be an effective striker.
Now in some circumstances I totally understand why you’d not want to provoke the attack. If you’re really low on hit points and the attack could drop you, then stay put. If the monster’s basic attack has some other kind of condition attached, like causing you to become dazed or knocked prone, then again I think you’re better off staying where you are. But if it’s early in the fight then tactically speaking you should seriously consider provoking that attack. In this specific example the monster did not inflict any additional condition on a hit and the Rogue was the Artful Dodger build so his defenses against the attack were incredibly high. Had it been me, I’d have risked it. But this action doesn’t seem to be commonplace.
As the DM running the monsters, I see opportunity attacks as a nuisance, and not a deterrent. Assuming the monsters are intelligent or have a competent leader that can shout commands, I’m happy to provoke opportunity attacks if there is a tactical advantage to doing so. This is especially true if the monster is only going to provoke one opportunity attack and if the PC is a class that does not typically have an exceptional Strength (like a Wizard for example).
Again it comes down to tactics (assuming that the monsters are intelligent enough to understand tactics – and this is the real determining factor). If the gains to “team monster” outweigh one possible hit then I’m provoking that opportunity attack as often as necessary. In a recent encounter all of the monsters gained additional damage dice if they had combat advantage (in this case +2d6 each for a heroic tier adventure). By moving one monster and provoking an opportunity attack in the process, three members of “team monster” were able to combine for an additional +6d6 damage to the party. This was a no brainier. I happily took the opportunity attack (which did hit and inflicted 5 damage) in order to pound the PCs and inflict over 20 extra points of damage that wouldn’t have been possible without that one monster moving to flank with his buddies.
Another tactic that I often employ when my monsters are marked by Fighters is to begin the turn by provoking an opportunity attack and trying to move away (not shift away, an important distinction). The Fighter takes his free attack and gets all the additional bonuses that come with Combat Superiority. Needless to say, my monsters get hit more often than not for taking this action. A hit inflicts damage and stops their movement. Then, as my standard action I charge away from the Fighter and attack someone else. Since the Fighter has already taken an opportunity attack against me I can now get away Scott free. Of course, the attack I make on the other end of my charge still has -2 from the Fighter’s mark, but I do get a +1 for charging so I’m netting out at -1. It frustrates the players running Fighters to no end, but I remind them that they do get a free attack on my monster in the process so it’s not all bad for them.
Of course all arguments for moving in order to gain positioning are completely moot if it will provoke more than one opportunity attack. I’m a lot less likely to take any kind of action that will provoke opportunity attacks if I’m adjacent to more than one opponent. In the end it’s a numbers game. If two opportunity attacks will likely inflict 15-25 damage and all I’m gaining for moving is +1d6 sneak dice then I’m staying put. My statement that players should be willing to provoke opportunity attacks should really be qualified with as long is you’re only provoking from one creature.
Players forget that they’re working together on the battlefield. They forget that the party is a team and not just a bunch of guys travelling the countryside in search of a party. Most players are so concerned with their own well-being that that often forget to look at the entire battle. Every PC fulfils a role. Sometimes it’s necessary to take one for the team so that someone else can fulfill their role.
Provoking an opportunity attack to give the Rogue a flanking bonus lets him do his job better. If your standard action was just going to be a basic attack anyway, why not look at the bigger picture and help the party emerge victorious. By working together in this way the combat ends sooner which helps everyone. You may take an extra hit or two (or at least risk it by provoke an opportunity attack) but if the monsters are defeated more quickly, the party’s leader can focus on healing you first for making such a heroic sacrifice.
As I said at the outset more players need to be willing to provoke an opportunity attack. This fear that every monster will hit when they make the opportunity attack and the fear of taking damage if they actually connect is removing tactical options from the minds of many players. PC are being left in place for fear of one hit and the monsters are gaining huge advantages over the heroes because of it. You need to look at the bigger picture and see that taking a hit now will have large implication for the entire party as the encounter continues to play out.
What are your feelings about provoking opportunity attacks? Are you willing to take a hit and move to a more advantageous position or do you feel that any action that gives your opponents a free attack against you is a bad idea? How many DMs move the monsters as they see fit and are willing to provoke those opportunity attacks in the process?
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