Attack of Opportunity

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Attack of Opportunity

Sometimes a combatant in a melee lets their guard down or takes a reckless action. In this case, combatants near them can take advantage of their lapse in defense to attack them for free. These free Bonus Attacks are called attacks of opportunity.

An attack of opportunity is a single melee attack, and most characters can only make one per round. You don't have to make an attack of opportunity if you don't want to.

The to-hit roll of an attack of opportunity is always made at your highest attack bonus, even if you've already attacked this round.

An attack of opportunity "interrupts" the action of the creature that provokes the attack, meaning it is resolved immediately. Only if the provoking creature survives the attack can it finish performing its action. In most cases, actions that are interrupted by an attack of opportunity can only be stopped by reducing the acting creature to 0 or fewer hit points. The attack of opportunity itself does not prevent the action from occurring, nor does it (usually) inflict any penalties on the action.

Attacks of opportunity are only basic melee attacks. You cannot use a combat maneuver, cast a spell, or make a ranged attack as your attack of opportunity, unless you have an ability which specifically allows you to do so.

Threatened Squares

You threaten all squares into which you can make a melee attack, even when it is not your turn. Generally, that means everything in all squares adjacent to your space (including diagonally). An enemy that takes certain actions while in a threatened square provokes an attack of opportunity from you. If you are unarmed, you don't normally threaten any squares and thus can't make attacks of opportunity (unless you have the Improved Unarmed Strike feat, or something equivalent).

Reach Weapons
Most creatures of Medium or smaller size have a reach of only 5 feet. This means that they can make melee attacks only against creatures up to 5 feet (1 square) away. However, Small and Medium creatures wielding reach weapons threaten more squares than a typical creature. In addition, many creatures that are sized-large or larger have a natural reach of 10 feet or more.

Provoking an Attack of Opportunity

Two kinds of actions can provoke attacks of opportunity:

  • moving out of a threatened square
  • performing a provoking action

Leaving a Threatened Square

Moving out of a threatened square usually provokes attacks of opportunity from threatening opponents. There are two common methods of avoiding such an attack — the 5-foot step and the withdraw action. Note that moving into a threatened square does not provoke an attack of opportunity, only leaving a threatened square.

Performing a Provoking Action

There are a number of actions that, when performed during combat, are too distracting or too reckless to allow the acting creature to also simultaneously act to defend themselves. These are considered 'provoking actions'. Broadly speaking, if the action you are taking forces you to take your eyes off the battlefield for long enough that doing the action requires at least a move action to perform, it is likely a provoking action.
Another way to think of it is this: If it isn't a melee attack or an action that could be considered some form of defending yourself (such as drawing a weapon, donning a shield, escaping a net or grapple, taking the full defense action) is likely to be considered a provocative action.
Any action performed that requires only a swift action, immediate action, free action, or "part of a move action" rarely, if ever, provokes an attack of opportunity. This includes casting spells that have an immediate action casting time, or spells that have been augmented with the Quicken Spell metamagic feat.
Forced movement never provokes attacks of opportunity.
Touch attack spells are an odd case. While touching an opponent in combat is a melee attack, and therefore does not provoke, casting a spell while threatened does provoke. Despite the fact that most touch spells allow you to cast the spell and touch an opponent as part of the same action, the act provokes attacks of opportunity. If however, you cast the spell outside of any threatened area, move to a space adjacent to a foe, and then make your touch attack, you do not provoke.
Every skill use explicitly states on their respective skill pages whether or not they provoke attacks of opportunity when used in combat. Generally, most skill uses provoke attacks of opportunity when used in combat. This is even true of combat maneuvers, despite the fact that these actions are largely melee-oriented. Because of their non-traditional nature, it takes practice and skill to perform combat maneuvers without provoking attacks of opportunity, which is to say, you need to take the appropriate combat maneuver feat to overcome this weakness. In all cases, refer to the skill pages for details.
The table below provides some examples on the sorts of actions that might provoke attacks of opportunity, and some examples of actions that do not. The GM is the final arbiter, in all cases. Furthermore, there are many exceptions to these general rules. Any feat, class feature, racial trait, or other ability that specifically states it doesn't provoke an attack of opportunity should take precedence over these general rules.
Standard Actions Provokes?
Attack (melee) No
Attack (ranged) Yes
Attack (unarmed) Yes
Attack (improvised melee) No
Attack (improvised range) Yes
Aid another No
Cast a spell (w/ standard action casting time) Yes
Channel divinity No
Charge Yes
Draw a hidden weapon (w/ Sleight of Hand skill) No
Drink a potion or apply an oil Yes
Escape a grapple No
Feint No
Light a torch Yes
Lower spell resistance No
Perform a combat maneuver Yes
Read a scroll Yes
Ready an action No
Stabilize a dying creature (w/ Heal skill) Yes
Total defense No
Trigger command word on a magic item No
Use extraordinary ability No
Use feat Varies
Use skill that takes a standard action Usually
Use spell-like ability Yes
Use supernatural ability No

Move Actions Provokes?
Move Yes
Control a frightened mount Yes
Direct or redirect an active spell No
Don a shield No
Load a hand crossbow or light crossbow Yes
Mount/dismount a steed No
Move a heavy object (w/ Might skill) Yes
Sheathe a weapon Yes
Stand up from prone Yes
Retrieve a stored item Yes

Part of a Move Action Provokes?
Draw a weapon No
Open or close a door No
Pick up an item No

Full-Round Actions / Full-Attack Actions Provokes?
Full attack No
Deliver coup de grace Yes
Escape from a net Yes
Extinguish flames No
Load a siege weapon Yes
Donning or doffing a weapon/shield with the Attached quality Yes
Run Yes
Use skill that takes a full round Usually
Use a touch spell on up to six friends Yes
Withdraw No

Free Actions Provokes?
5-foot step No
Cease concentration on a spell No
Delay your action No
Drop an item No
Drop prone No
Prepare spell components to cast a spell No
Speak No

Swift Actions Provokes?
Cast a quickened spell No

Immediate Actions Provokes?
Cast spell (w/ immediate action casting time) No


Note that a single action, such as a move action, can never provoke more than one attack of opportunity per enemy creature provoked, even if that creature is capable of making more than one attack of opportunity per round. For example, if you move in such a way that you are leaving more than one square threatened by the same enemy, you only provoke from that enemy a single time, because you only took one move action. Note that this "one attack of opportunity per action performed" rule applies per enemy, meaning that multiple enemies can each perform an attack of opportunity on you, if provoked, per action you perform that provokes. A full attack action is also considered a single action, for purposes of provoking an attack of opportunity, even though it could technically be severed.