With the D&D Next open playtest in full swing, one thing I’ve noticed that has been a big topic of conversation during our game sessions is where we all stand on Opportunity Attacks. Or rather, where we all stand on the complete lack of them in the current rule set. Seeing as the rules are still incomplete, we cannot take the omission of Opportunity Attacks to mean that they won’t exist later on.
A quick refresher if you aren’t familiar with the mechanic. When in combat, people can’t simply walk away from a monster they are fighting and go do something else. Similarly, you can’t just walk past an enemy without penalty. In these cases, opportunity attacks are granted and the creature get a free chance to try and hit you. There are other ways an opportunity attack can happen, but these are the two most frequent scenarios.
Why did Wizards of the Coast (WotC) decide not to include them? That answer isn’t clear, but there are a few possibilities. It could be that they just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Many of the omissions seem to be related to tactics in combat – trip, disarm, etc – and so it could be that WotC hasn’t quite figured that stuff out yet. Another possibility is that because they want to emphasize that DnD Next does not require a grid, they have pulled out some of the more grid dependent mechanics.
Regardless of the reasons, the lack of Opportunity Attacks does raise the question, do we really need them?
The Case For Opportunity Attacks:
This side of the argument is very simple, without Opportunity Attacks, combat is stupid. Running across a battlefield without any consequences sort of defeats the purpose of having an entire battlefield in the first place. Being locked in a deadly duel with someone and suddenly deciding you were going to walk away to stand in the corner, without so much as a peep from your opponent is similarly dumb. In fact, it’s almost insulting.
Think of a big movie war scene, like in the Patriot. When Benjamin Martin and
Lucius Malfoy Col. Tavington lock eyes during the climactic battle they begin to rush each other.
However, they’re in the middle of a massive skirmish and as they move toward their final duel, they are hampered and interrupted by soldiers on either side. These soldiers are rightly making Opportunity Attacks against the two idiots who decided that it was perfectly okay to just walk in a straight line toward a single opponent and ignore the melee going on around them.
Similarly, think back to the scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo et al are stuck in Balin’s tomb fighting the cave troll and goblins. Frodo calls for Aragorn’s help as the troll tries to stab him with a giant pike.
Instead of simply floating across the room unharmed to save Frodo, Aragorn is forced to fight his way through all the goblins and gets tied up in combat. Luckily for everyone, Frodo was wearing his magic long johns, so no harm there.
These two scenes show that having Opportunity Attacks is critical to forcing characters to take responsibility for their positioning and choices in combat. Wizards can’t just strode into the middle of a battle because they know any of their companions could rush to their aid as soon as trouble arises. Similarly, it adds extra strategy to dealing with issues like bottle-neck points or difficult terrain.
The Case Against Opportunity Attacks:
There are actual several good reasons why Opportunity Attacks should be abandoned. Not the least of which is that it speeds up the game. So much time is wasted in the analysis paralysis that grips players who try and optimize their movement each turn. Much of that is spent counting out spaces on the map, trying to find the optimum route so that they can trudge across the dungeon without getting in range of any Opportunity Attacks. DnD Next is all about speeding up combat and doing away with Opportunity Attacks would certainly help do that.
Another consideration comes from the map and grid themselves. WotC has preached all along that DnD Next is going to be playable with or without a grid. If you think about it, there are really only three reasons to use a grid and map – aside from the cool visual and miniatures.
Those reasons are – combat advantage, concealment, and Opportunity Attacks. I suppose line of sight matters as well, but you can just as easily ask the DM. Getting rid of Opportunity Attacks means one less reason you’d be required to use a grid, enhancing the versatility of the game.
A final reason to do away with them is because players spend so much time trying to avoid them. You’ll see whole parties just shifting across a dungeon, ignoring other movement options to negate the threat of Opportunity Attacks.
And, since minions tend to make the most Opportunity Attacks, the damage and penalty are relatively low. The biggest risk is having your movement stopped. If players either aren’t experiencing or don’t care about the consequences all that much, do we really need to impose them at all?
Like most things, this really isn’t an all or nothing proposition, but I’m of the mind that we need some sort of penalty for just abandoning combat or trying to walk through a horde of enemies. The current system seems to work fine, but what do we do about gridless gameplay? Even though the game is supposed to be modular, having two different rules depending on how you are playing places us on a path that leads to D&D becoming more complicated than it needs to be.
Maybe what will end up happening is that Opportunity Attacks become part of a “tactics” module that you can choose to play with or not. Basically giving you a choice to make combat as complicated or as simple as you like. That would solve the problem of grid vs gridless gameplay and seems to reflect the
one edition to rule them all ”an edition for all” mantra that WotC is preaching. We’ll just have to wait for later versions of the rules to become available, until then, what do you think?