Attacks of Opportunity

Go to the Pathfinder: The New Deal index

Attacks of Opportunity are defined on p180 of the Pathfinder Core Rules (2009). The rules are also on the Pathfinder PRD. The Actions in Combat section of the Core Rules (p181-182) presents a number of different types of actions and states whether or not opportunity attacks are provoked by doing them. That’s also on the Pathfinder PRD. I’m not going to go to the bother of reproducing those rules here, but it might be an idea to reacquaint yourselves with them before going any further.

In this post, and most of the combat-related New Deal posts, I’m not going to bother with the Three Tests. We know that we’re not using a grid and miniatures to adjudicate combat, so we know that we have to change these rules to some degree. The trick is keeping the changes simple: they need to be easy to understand and obvious to adjudicate in game.

The key problem, as I see it, in using Attacks of Opportunity in a non-grid system is the concept of the threatened square: the notion that anyone moving through the area you threaten without stopping to engage you combat provokes an attack of opportunity. Without a grid such a rule would normally translate to anyone moving within five feet of you. It’s impossible to adjudicate that fairly and consistantly without a grid: it’s a nightmare. Therefore this is the bit of the rules I say we get rid of: characters no longer automatically threaten an area around them. Once we take that out of the equation, everything else falls into place fairly straight-forwardly.

I propose that we replace the text titled “Attacks of Opportunity” on p180 of the Core Rules (i.e. the first ten paragraphs on that page) with these rules. They create a definitive list of what does and does not provoke attacks of opportunity. Therefore anything on the summary table on p183  or anything in the Actions in Combat on pp181-188 that contradicts these rules can be disregarded. This is the one and only time my rules actually turn out shorter than the official rules:

Attacks of Opportunity

Sometimes a combatant in mêlée lets her guard down or takes a reckless action. Her enemies may be able to take advantage of this lapse in judgment to attack her for free. These free attacks are called Attacks of Opportunity. Attacks of opportunity are provoked in the following ways:

1) You provoke an attack of opportunity if you are in mêlée combat with an opponent and do any of the following things. The attack of opportunity can only be delivered by the foe (or foes) currently engaging you in mêlée combat, not by anyone else.

  • Use a ranged weapon, or use a ranged touch attack spell or ability.
  • Cast a spell, read a scroll or use a spell-like ability without attempting a Concentration check.
  • Direct or redirect an active spell without attempting a Concentration check.
  • Make an unarmed attack or use a combat manoeuvre for which you don’t have the appropriate feat.
  • Retreat from combat without taking the Withdraw action.
  • Drink a potion or apply an oil
  • Light a torch
  • Load a crossbow or similar weapon with ammunition.
  • Use a distracting skill, such as Open Lock.

2) Additionally the following actions provoke attacks of opportunity even if you’re not in mêlée combat. Any hostile opponent with mêlée reach of you can make an attack of opportunuty upon you, if you attempt to do any of the following things:

  • Stabilise a dying friend, including the use of potions and oils on others.
  • Deliver a touch spell on up to six friends.
  • Pick up an item, or retrieve an item from your pack.
  • Move a heavy object.
  • Stand up from a prone position.
  • Deliver a coup de grace.

3) You provoke an attack of opportunity from a foe you are about to attack if you:

  • Move into mêlée combat with an opponent who has a greater Reach than you.

Making an Attack of Opportunity: An attack of opportunity is a single mêlée 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. You make your attack of opportunity at your normal attack bonus, even if you’ve already attacked in the round. An attack of opportunity “interrupts” the normal flow of actions in the round.

If an attack of opportunity is provoked, immediately resolve the attack of opportunity, then continue with the next character’s turn (or complete the current turn, if the attack of opportunity was provoked in the midst of a character’s turn).

Combat Reflexes and Additional Attacks of Opportunity: If you have the Combat Reflexes feat, you can add your Dexterity modifier to the number of attacks of opportunity you can make in a round. This feat does not let you make more than one attack for a given opportunity, but if the same opponent provokes two attacks of opportunity from you, you could make two separate attacks of opportunity (since each one represents a different opportunity). All these attacks are at your full normal attack bonus.

Notes on the changes

Remember the Pact of Minimal Tinkering? That’s my goal here. Although we have a stripped down version of the rules for Attacks of Opportunity, I’ve tried to preserve as much of the intent and specifics of the original rules as possible. That’s why we have something as petty as lighting a torch listed under the actions that provoke attacks of opportunity. Most of the existing rules work perfectly well with the above. The feat trees based off combat manoeuvres such as Grapple, Trip or Disarm are unchanged. Other rules from the published books that reference attacks of opportunity will probably work as they written. Probably.

The main change here is that movement doesn’t provoke attacks of opportunity in and of itself. The reason for the change is simply that exact movement is impossible to accurately judge without a battle-grid. If you have a grid you can take your movement in squares and plot a course to your destination, and you can see if that course takes you within one square of an enemy, or two squares of an enemy with reach. A combat fought entirely in the imagination, or even with a detailed map, doesn’t provide the necessary degree of certainty. After twelve years of fudging third edition, it’s time to say that this simply doesn’t work  and set it aside.


Changing any rule creates unexpected knock-on effects, but changing a rule that is as far-reaching as Attacks of Opportunity is going to have a profound effects on the game – effects that I don’t even see at the moment. There are archetypes, prestige classes, skills, feats and magic items out there, all of which reference attacks of opportunity in some way. I’m not going to seek them all out and alter them to make them viable in a gridless system.

However, I will issue a warning to any player looking at a game element that references attacks of opportunity, that the ability they are choosing for their character may have a less utility than they might think.

I think these rules are the best we can do, but I would be interested in hearing from anyone who thinks differently.

Go to Pathfinder: The New Deal index


4 thoughts on “Attacks of Opportunity

  1. I think these rules will work fine. I think they’re as clear as they can be in the circumstances. Rules not covered in this list should be considered on a case by case basis, preferably before they are used.

    We’ll lose part of the game, but not necessarily an important one. However, there are a couple of things that spring to mind that we might want to keep.

    Firstly, if a brave, potato-shaped headed fighter stands in front of an angry sorceress to prevent enemies getting to her (or if a tainted changeling scholar commands her fast zombies to move in front of her) they would get an op on anyone who tried to get past them. This no longer works.

    Secondly, a club wielding dire ape stands in a tunnel mouth, preventing entry by taking an op on any furious gnome who tries to get past his long reach. Now they can just run past him to whale on the defenceless monk lying unconscious inside.

    Is it a big deal losing these options, or do we want to adapt these circumstances to the new rules?

  2. I thought about this. For quite a while actually.

    In the end I couldn’t think of any easy and fair way to adjudicate these circumstances. I couldn’t see how they could be consistantly refereed session after session.

    There are still ways to achieve the same results in game. Taking your examples: the handsome warrior, the dire ape or the zombies could always ready an action to attack “anyone who tries to move past them”. The dire ape would obviously make that attack with his reach.

    The basic rules for attacks of opportunity would only allow them to make one attack against one opponent anyway – and that’s easily replicated with the ready action. In fact the Ready action might be more useful if a character has multiple attacks per round, or enhanced the tactic with a feat that knocks back opponents or prevents movement.

    If you’re standing in a doorway and defending it, isn’t it more likely that you’re steeling yourself and readying your actions to stop enemies from getting past?

    I think that’s the reason why it’s not a big deal to lose this element of the attacks of opportunity rules. You may see a hole in this, so please point it out.

    And if you can think of a way that this type of movement based attacks of opportunity can be implemented in a gridless system, then please let me know!

  3. Sounds good. My thought was that those situations are bound to occur so we need to cater for them. Readying an action can do that, so it doesn’t matter that it is in a slightly different way. It’s about allowing the narrative to work within the rules and I think this works. God job!

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