Ok, this is kind of a loaded question. In my time on the net reading sites and forums about RPGs in general and D&D in particular, you often hear the comment that Opportunity Attacks (OAs) are tedious or that they slow combat and kill the fun. My question is this: Do they have to?
Over on Dungeon’s Master, Ameron poses an interesting question: “Are you willing to provoke an OA?” He goes into great detail discussing what exactly the motivation is, both for monsters and players, for provoking or not provoking. However, he mostly focuses on the tactical advantages and disadvantages of doing so. He rightly points out that there are circumstances that will indicate whether or not it’s the smart thing to do. He further discusses teamwork, role, and why OAs can hinder both, as well as how to remedy this. One thing he does NOT do is discuss in detail how OAs impact the fun of the game, or how recognizing this impact can mitigate the complaints I mention in the first paragraph.
Let’s talk about the first assertion, that OAs can make combat feel slower and more tedious. In a worst-case scenario, they can even drain the fun out of combat. I think it’s important to understand why this may be true, or at least why it’s a common perception. I think the answer lies in player freedom. Players want to be able to move around, do what’s tactically interesting, and not be punished for it. In many cases, as Ameron correctly points out, players will choose not to move but rather to stay and slug it out with a monster, thus reducing the combat to a series of rolls and little else. Ameron does a good job of talking about why this is often not the tactically sound choice. I would like to add that it is also the reason that OAs can create a perception of tedium. It’s not that OAs make combat boring, it’s that fear of OAs make us as players and DMs choose boring combat actions. So, while OAs are indirectly responsible for tedious combat, it’s the fact that we’re giving them undue weight in our decision making that truly causes the problem
So, whats the solution? The answer one takes away from Amerons article is that tactics should dictate whether or not provoking at OA is appropriate. While this is absolutely true, I’d add another variable to the combat calculus. That being: Would provoking an OA make this combat more interesting? If the answer is yes, I personally will provoke the OA even if it’s NOT tactically beneficial. Within reason of course.
I love RPGs and I love the tactical feel of 4E combat. However, I don’t want to be owned by “proper” tactical play. I want to understand it and to utilize it where I can, but more than anything, I want to do what my character would do. Is my character a tactical genius who has studied the design of 4E combat? Absolutely not. Is he/she a living entity guided my instinct and personal motivation? Absolutely! Is he/she controlled by a person whose ultimate goal is to have an entertaining evening with friend? In spades!
So my answer is Yes, Opportunity Attacks CAN make D&D more fun, but only if we don’t let them control us. If we learn when to care and when to ignore them. Sometimes ignoring an OA is exactly what combat needs to make it more interesting.
Think about OAs. Think about when it’s tactically reasonable or even beneficial to provoke them. Then think about the fun. Would it be fun to provoke here? Does it make sense for my character? Maybe my character has an overwhelming fear of undead, such that even though provoking would not be tactically beneficial, it’s exactly what he would do? Perhaps provoking will put the party in a bind, a MORE interesting bind than just 4 more rounds of toe to toe combat. If any of these are the case, I say PROVOKE and let the dice fall where they may. Some of my best memories of D&D are of character deaths, or perhaps more accurately, character NEAR-deaths. If we always play it safe, OAs (along with lots of other combat rules) definitely will make combat more tedious. And who wants that? Not me.
Note: Props to Warehouse 23 for the great graphic.