Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Combat is chaotic. Swords clash against shields, arcane energy rips through the air, and combatants duck and weave to avoid getting hit. Every warrior is constantly on the lookout for an opening to land that all-important killing blow.
Sometimes, an enemy moves out of position, exposing their flank or back. When you take advantage of such an opening, it’s called an Opportunity Attack.
Also known as an Attack of Opportunity, this reaction allows you to act outside of your own turn once per round in order to attempt to land an extra blow on an enemy.
Exercise caution, however, for your enemies can also make reactions, and there isn’t a goblin in the Forgotten Realms who wouldn’t pounce on the opportunity to jam their shortsword into an unsuspecting adventurer’s kidneys given half the chance.
Welcome to our guide to Opportunity Attacks in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. In this article, we’ll break down what Opportunity Attacks are, how they work, and how you can avoid finding yourself on the wrong end of one.
Some classes – like Rogues – and Feats get to avoid and make Opportunity Attacks differently to other player characters, so we’re going to go over how things like Cunning Action and the Sentinel Feat pertain to attacks of opportunity.
You can jump to any of the sections in this article by using the table of contents below.
What is an opportunity attack?
When a hostile creature moves out of your reach, you can use your reaction to make one melee attack against the creature. The attack occurs just before the creature leaves our reach.
In practice, most characters (unless they’re using a weapon with the Reach property) have a 5-foot zone extending around them in all directions. If an enemy tries to pass through that zone, or leave it after starting its turn inside the zone, you can elect to use your reaction to try and attack them.
Attacks of Opportunity are only provoked when the creature’s movement out of your zone is intentional and involves walking.
A creature that teleports out of your 5-foot zone does not provoke an attack of opportunity, and a creature that is unwillingly moved – by a spell like Thunderwave that throws enemies backward, the Pushing Attack Maneuver, or the blast of a nearby explosion, for example – doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity either.
An enemy falling off a roof past your character doesn’t provoke an Opportunity Attack, but a creature trying to climb past you down the side of a building does.
Can you make multiple opportunity attacks in 5e?
No. Even creatures with Multiattack can only make ONE attack of opportunity. Opportunity attacks are limited by the Reaction resource. Any creature with a reaction – and all creatures in D&D get at least one Opportunity Attack per round.
A common misconception when it comes to attacks of opportunity is that you can make one every time a creature moves out of or through your zone.
However, because making an Opportunity Attack requires you to use your reaction, if you make an attack of opportunity, you cannot make another one (or do anything else that requires you to use your reaction – like readying an action or casting a spell like Hellish Rebuke) for the remainder of the round.
Also, because an Opportunity Attack is a reaction and not the Attack action, characters that make multiple attacks per round do not get to make multiple Opportunity Attacks.
As such, you can only make one Opportunity Attack per round.
How do you avoid opportunity attacks?
Any character can avoid incurring Opportunity Attacks while moving by taking the Disengage action on their turn. You forgo attacking, casting spells, and anything else in favor of focusing completely on ducking and weaving through the battle, making sure that no pesky enemies get the chance to get uncomfortably acquainted with any of your major organs.
A goblin spear to the hamstring or a dragon claw between the shoulder blades can really put a kink in your day.
If you’re playing the kind of character who wants to rush around the battlefield from one fight to another, completing a desperate ritual, retreating safely before you’re overwhelmed, disrupting a wizard’s spell, or basically completing any objective that isn’t “hit the nearest enemy until they can’t hit me anymore. Rinse. Repeat,” the threat of Opportunity Attacks can be a significant cause for concern.
As mentioned above, you can also avoid Opportunity Attacks by moving in a way other than using your walking (or flying speed). Need to get down a flight of stairs in a hurry past a gang of bandits and still use your action at the bottom? Time to hope the Wizard has Feather Fall memorized and Jason Bourne yourself off that balcony.
Got access to teleportation magic? Even better. No alternative to running through a wall of swords? Hold your action until after the Paladin’s turn and run through after her when the goblins have already burned their reactions bouncing their swords off her shiny AC20 platemail.
The other way to avoid Opportunity Attacks that’s personally my favorite (and definitely the least fancy option) is to play a character with high enough AC or hit points (preferably both) that the chances of you taking meaningful damage are low enough that you can just risk it.
Of course, this has resulted in my Battle Master getting downed by something embarrassing like rats on more than one occasion.
Some classes and Feats give you the ability to avoid attacks of opportunity without sacrificing your party’s tank or taking a brief and ill-advised interest in parkour.
The Mobile Feat, in addition to making you speedier and capable of moving across difficult terrain like it’s nothing by using the Dash action, means that an enemy you hit (or miss) with a melee attack can’t make attacks of opportunity against you for the rest of the turn. This means that you can easily become the ultimate hit-and-run fighter.
Starting at 2nd level (making this a prime candidate for a multiclass dip) Rogues get access to a feature called Cunning Action. Basically, your quick thinking and agility lets you do more “roguish stuff” in a shorter amount of time.
What this means mechanically is that you can use a bonus action instead of a full action to Disengage, Dash, or Hide. This means that a character with Cunning Action (Goblins also get a version this ability as a racial trait) can use half their movement to get in melee range of an enemy, make a melee weapon attack action, use their bonus action to Disengage, and the remainder of their movement to get back out of range without provoking an attack of opportunity.
Getting the most out of Opportunity Attacks
Avoiding Opportunity Attacks is an important part of staying healthy and mobile in combat. Making Opportunity Attacks can be one of the best ways to make your character more effective in combat.
There are even ways to center your entire character build around being able to make Opportunity Attacks. Whether you want to make them a core part of your build or not, here are a few ways to ensure you get the most out of your Opportunity Attacks.
When to Take an Opportunity Attack (and when not to take one)
Because you only get to make one Opportunity Attack per round, choosing when to attack and when not to attack can be an important skill to learn.
Remember before when I said one of the best ways to avoid taking an attack of opportunity was to send a more heavily-armored ally (or at least, any fellow party member who doesn’t owe your character any money) through first?
Well, a bugbear chieftain who sees the battle turning against them definitely isn’t going to be above forcing a lone goblin warrior to make a doomed run through your lines so that they can have a free shot at the exit on their turn.
If your enemies are withdrawing – or if they’re all trying to get to your wizard in the party’s back line, for example – and you think you might get more than one chance to make an Opportunity Attack in the coming round, prioritize your targets. Just because you get the opportunity to crack a goblin skull now, doesn’t mean you should throw away the opportunity to stab its boss later.
It’s also important to remember that there are other things you can do with your single reaction on your turn. There are spells, special features, Battle Master Maneuvers, and fighting styles that all require you to burn a reaction to use them.
The majority of the time, getting to make what mostly amounts to a “free” extra attack on your turn is going to be the best thing to do, but make sure you consider whether making one is going to make you come up short when you try to do something else later on.
Also, some monsters (like the Tanarukk, a nasty CR5 demon) can attack and cast spells in response to being hit with an attack.
If your character is on the brink of death and poking the proverbial demon bear is going to result in you becoming a meat-colored smear on the dungeon floor, maybe keep that Opportunity Attack to yourself – at least until the Cleric graces you with a healing spell.
One of the things that makes Opportunity Attacks especially powerful is that – like a normal Attack action – you can apply effects and use abilities in conjunction with them like the Paladin’s Divine Smite and many of the Battle Master’s Maneuvers.
Another great way to augment your Opportunity Attacks is by picking up the Sentinel Feat. When a character with the Sentinel Feat hits an enemy with an Opportunity Attack, the enemy’s speed drops to 0 for the round. Also, enemies taking the Disengage action still provoke Opportunity Attacks, making you a virtually inescapable foe.
Want to take the benefits of Sentinel to the next level? Pick up the Polearm Master Feat to become a whirlwind of death that can make Opportunity Attacks against anyone within 10ft. While you are wielding a glaive, halberd, pike, quarterstaff, or spear, other creatures provoke an opportunity attack from you when they enter your reach.
Making an attack of opportunity as a martial character is all well and good, but if you’re a Wizard with a -1 to Strength and a measly d4 piercing damage dagger, they can decidedly feel like a waste of a reaction.
However, picking up the War Caster Feat allows you to cast a cantrip instead of making a melee attack when you make an attack of opportunity. Problem solved.
Running Combat: Opportunity Attacks
As a Dungeon Master, running combat can be an overwhelming experience. Keeping track of who can, can’t, and has already made an Opportunity Attack can feel like an especially laborious task.
Theatre of The Mind
Keeping track of Opportunity Attacks is made considerably easier when you play using a grid or map, but that’s not for everyone. If you run D&D mostly in the “Theatre of the Mind”, then there are a few different things you can do to keep track of Opportunity Attacks.
Whenever a player describes themselves “running past” or “away from” an enemy, point out that this could provoke an opportunity attack.
Warning Players About Opportunity Attacks
Similarly, your players are also going to have their hands full thinking about their characters’ abilities and spells, roleplaying, and broader strategy. Some DMs will put the onus of remembering that attacks of opportunity exist on the players.
Didn’t remember to declare an attack when that goblin rushed past you? Too bad. He’s gone.
Personally, I don’t think this is a very sportsmanlike approach. Declare whenever a player has the chance to make an attack of opportunity, warn your players when they’re about to incur one and give them the chance to adjust their strategy.
In turn, encourage your players to remind you when they should get an Opportunity Attack. Make keeping track of this facet of combat a collaborative process. Share the load. Your game will be better and fairer because of it.
Legendary Actions and Opportunity Attacks
Some especially powerful monsters have the ability to take Legendary Actions and reactions outside of their own turns. Some of these actions, like the Adult Red Dragon’s Wing Attack action, let these monsters move as well. Some players may feel as though such movement can provoke an Opportunity Attack.
However, attacks of opportunity are only triggered by movement, an action, or a reaction on your turn, meaning that Legendary Actions and reactions do not provoke Opportunity Attacks – they are legendary after all.
Commonly Asked Questions
Who gets opportunity attacks?
Any creature with an available reaction can make an opportunity attack when a hostile creature moves out of melee range (5 ft. unless you have a weapon with the Reach property) on their turn.
Do opportunity attacks get advantage?
No. Unless you have advantage from another source, an Opportunity Attack is made just like a normal attack. Roll a d20 + your weapon attack modifier and compare it to the target’s AC.
Do attacks of opportunity get extra attacks?
No. Because an Opportunity Attack is a reaction, not the Attack action, characters that can make multiple attacks per round can still only make one attack as part of an attack of opportunity.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.