Attacks of opportunity are typically viewed as a hindrance to tactical play, but smart players and groups can use the rules for attacks of opportunity to their advantage. If you've studied the combat chapter or read Skip's online treatise on attacks of opportunity, you are likely familiar with how they work, but how do you make them work for you? Read on.
How Are They Avoided?
A player character has a number of ways to avoid provoking an attack of opportunity in the first place. A rogue might tumble to avoid the attacks otherwise provoked by movement, or a wizard might use a Concentration check to cast a spell defensively, and so on. Of course, the best way to avoid them is to never be in a threatened area, but that's just not as exciting.
Sometimes, when attempting to avoid attacks of opportunity, cover is your friend, since if your PC has cover, then your opponent can't make such attacks against your PC. But not only is cover your friend, but your friend is also cover! When teaming up against an opponent with exceptional reach, your PC can move up adjacent to the creature without provoking an attack of opportunity if she has cover along her route leading to her final space. If the Large opponent (or guy with a longspear) is already adjacent to your ally, then move your PC up "behind" your ally before you have her step diagonally into a space from which she can attack her foe. Using clever movement, one character in the party with Tumble or the Spring Attack feat can help to eliminate attacks of opportunity for the rest of the party by moving in first to provide cover for the rest of the group.
When Should You Provoke One?
While you never really want to give an opponent a free swing at your PC, sometimes taking a hit is inevitable, so at least make it on your terms. For instance, a character who needs to cast a spell, but who doesn't have a sufficient modifier to make the Concentration check to cast it defensively, could move first and provoke attacks of opportunity for movement, which can allow him to cast his spell unimpeded (provided the foe doesn't have Combat Reflexes). Similarly, a spellcaster (or rogue) might provoke an attack of opportunity by retrieving a stowed scroll, so that when she reads the scroll, her opponent cannot disrupt her. In other instances, one character (preferably one with lots of hit points) may want to provoke the attack so that other characters can act freely.
What Should You Do With One?
Some of the less obvious attack options are still available with attacks of opportunity. For example, an opponent charges by your PC to attack the spellcaster or archer in the back rank. Use a trip attack, which may very well ensure that he doesn't get an attack off that round, and he'll provoke another attack by standing. Or perhaps a cleric with a really high Armor Class tries to cast a spell next to your character. So, grab him with a grapple check.
An opponent can make an attack of opportunity against your PC only if he actually threatens him. This is where reach weapons come in. Reach weapons are ideal for controlling an opponent's movement, especially when combined with a trip or disarm attempt. Your PC can perform a trip or disarm attempt with a reach weapon against an opponent 10 feet away, and if your target doesn't also have a reach weapon, he will not get a chance to attack you back. Disarming an opponent while he approaches your PC is a sure-fire way to keep him from hitting your character.
Sometimes, having a ranged or reach weapon can be a disadvantage, since your character usually doesn't threaten adjacent spaces. But a simple spiked gauntlet can remedy this issue. While the 1d4 points of damage may not be as large as your character's primary weapon, he can still threaten adjacent squares with it, which allows him the opportunity to make attacks.
A number of the feats from the Player's Handbook may come into play when using the above concepts. I've already mentioned Spring Attack, and Combat Reflexes is ideal if you like to have your PC take a lot of attacks when it isn't your turn. Many might also recommend Exotic Weapon Proficiency (spiked chain), to give your character a larger zone of control, but that could be an article all by itself. For those wanting to provoke many attacks of opportunity, using Mobility prevents many of those blows from landing. The various attack options each have their own feat, such as Improved Disarm or Improved Grapple, which allows your PC to no longer provoke attacks of opportunity for those actions as well as making your character's chance of success a bit higher.
Use these ideas to better take advantage of those opportunities you are given.
Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual, Player's Handbook.
About the Author
Stephen Schubert, formerly a minion of a large computer services company, has written for Dragon Magazine, Star Wars Gamer, and the Wizards of the Coast website. He now works as a developer for roleplaying games and miniatures at Wizards of the Coast, and he has been involved in many products on the 2005 schedule.