Greatest Hits 2011: Are You Willing to Provoke an Opportunity Attack?

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 31, 2011

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2011. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

The most important thing to remember when you provoke an opportunity attack is that it’s not a guaranteed hit. Your opponent still needs to make a successful attack roll against you. Yet most players think that an opportunity attack means automatic damage, and it’s this fear that keeps players stationary during combat. The misconception that they’ll take damage if they move or if they make a ranged attack when next to an enemy will sometimes lead players to use less than their best attacks.

Never forget that dice hate everyone equally, and not just your PC. You can’t assume that the dice will always give the DM a successful hit. In most cases the monster’s likelihood of scoring a hit is in the 50/50 ballpark. So the next time you have to decide if you should provoke an opportunity attack, think about what’s to be gained by doing so and then remember that the odds are probably in your favour.

From June 29, 2011, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Are You Willing to Provoke an Opportunity Attack?

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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1 B.J. January 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Though I’m still a newbie at the game, I enjoy provoking opportunity attacks. It’s a gamble and allows a bit of risk to the adventure. Thus far, it’s worked out wonderfully for me. That’s not to say I haven’t been hit in doing so. I have on several occasions, but the gamble has paid off each time in the grand scheme of things.

2 James Bryant January 1, 2012 at 10:59 pm

I had an Infernal pact warlock whose favorite tactic was to hit someone with Hellish Rebuke and provoke an Attack of Opportunity. Extra Damage from me and if I did it right I gave the fighter his Combat Challenge. Good times.

3 Kilsek January 2, 2012 at 1:54 pm

When I play – including when I played the D&D Miniatures skirmish game – I tend to be aggressive and risk opportunity attacks often.

I’ve just always felt that D&D combat is more fun when that an aggressive combat style is rewarded. Sometimes OA’s seem to serve as too big a deterrant to some players, and I hate that, whether I’m playing or DMing.

Which is one of the reasons I write about 6 ways to remove OA’s altogether in Opportunity Attacks: 6 Better Executions on Leonine Roar, right here:

Bottom line: screw the OA, I’m going in!! 🙂

4 Sunyaku January 3, 2012 at 7:54 pm

At a recent LFR event, my half orc bard, Agog, provoked three opportunity attacks (2 minions, one not) for a “chance” to save an NPC being dragged to their death. Two attacks hit, and the salvation attempt failed… but it was thematically appropriate.

5 Coreworlder January 7, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I don’t often trigger them, tactically speaking it is usually more efficient to pound the living daylights out of whatever you can reach then it is to run around going after other opponents.

That said, the last 3.5 campaign I was in did have an enjoyable “I’ll save you!” moment when it was necessary. This was quite late in the campaign though, and I’d been playing a straight Fighter and was loaded down with feats. I didn’t have a vast selection as we were limited to PHB only (which was quite refreshing).

I’d taken Mobility last time I levelled, and the GM was a little surprised when he realised that it bumped by AC up to about 26…

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