I wish opportunity attacks would continue to matter

Opportunity attacks can be hard for new players to understand. If you drop your guard by either walking away from a monster (rather than cautiously shifting a small distance) or doing certain things that take your attention elsewhere (making a ranged or area attack), the monster will get a free shot at you (a melee basic attack).

I like this rule. I can’t quite put my finger on why I like it, but I do. Maybe just force of habit, I suppose, but it feels “sensible” within the D&D world.

Thus, I’m a little bit annoyed by easy-to-access features of the game that shut off opportunity attacks. The biggest transgressors I’ve seen are Shadowdance and Shimmering Armor and the relatively new Staff Expertise feat.

Shadowdance Armor

Shadowdance Armor is available in cloth or leather, and it’s available as low as a 5th-level item. Now, it’s an uncommon, which means that the players only have access to it if the DM says so (thus, the DM can say, “Sorry, there’s no Shadowdance Armor in my game.”). It has a troublesome property in my mind:

“Your area and ranged attacks don’t provoke opportunity attacks.”

This is obviously a fantastic item for anyone who likes to make area or ranged attacks and doesn’t mind wearing cloth or leather armor. I think that would apply to lots of rangers, wizards, warlocks, sorcerers, etc.

The item annoys the heck out of me. If a PC uses a ranged or area power while standing next to a bad guy, unless they have something really cool about the power that makes it extra-defensive, the bad guy is going to get a free shot at them. Thus, they’ll need to figure out a way to get away from the baddie first, or maybe a way to make the free shot hurt (such as if the monster is marked by a defender) – or else just suffer the consequences. It’s part of the game, and I think it makes things more interesting.

Compare it in power level to the Razordark Bracers from Adventurer’s Vault 2 – a level 11 arms slot item for warlocks that says, “Your warlock at-will ranged attack powers don’t provoke opportunity attacks from adjacent enemies.” It only applies to warlock powers, it only applies to ranged powers (not area), it only applies to at-will powers (not encounter or daily) and it only applies to adjacent enemies (not farther-away foes with threatening reach). And that’s a level-11 item! I didn’t even mention that Shadowdance Armor also comes with a daily power (which, granted, I’ve not yet seen anyone use).

Shadowdance Armor is apparently from Seekers of the Ashen Crown, which is an Eberron adventure published in July 2009. I’ve never seen or played the adventure, and I don’t know how “integrated” it’s intended to be with the rest of the D&D world, but I’m comfortable saying that its armor just doesn’t exist in my universe in the future.

And for the character of Alayne in my Friday night campaign, don’t worry – she can keep her armor. Although I think it’s illustrative to note that when I theoretically bribed the warlock in my Friday night game with different leather armor that’s +4 instead of her current +2, she preferred to keep the Shadowdance. Yeah, it’s pretty optimal.

Shimmering Armor

Shimmering Armor is pretty much the same as Shadowdance, except that it’s only available in cloth and it doesn’t have the extra daily power. It’s available at 3rd level, and it’s from Adventurer’s Vault. I don’t like this one, either, though I’ll admit it’s a bit harder to justify it not existing in my world since it’s from a more core book like Adventurer’s Vault rather than a single adventure. Still, I can live with myself if I rule that it doesn’t exist.

Staff Expertise

Staff Expertise is the one that really bugs me now. This is one of the new expertise feats from Heroes of the Fallen Lands / Forgotten Kingdoms, and I generally love those feats. They add some flavor to a simple math bonus of a +1 to hit, and I’m a fan of that. Staff Expertise seems absurd to me, though. First of all, it gives +1 to the reach of your melee attacks. This isn’t going to come up all that often, but it will be nice every now and then.

Second, it gives you much the same benefit as Shadowdance or Shimmering Armor: your implement attacks made with a staff don’t provoke opportunity attacks.

Now, when I played a wizard as my first D&D 4th edition character (before the existence of Staff Expertise), he used a staff as an implement. I liked the idea that he could smack something if need be, and I liked the extra defense. But I know that lots of other wizards would use orbs or tomes or whatever.

Today, is there a reason for a spellcaster who CAN use the staff as an implement to use anything else? I think that making sure you never provoke an opportunity attack from casting a spell is a pretty huge incentive to be a staff wizard (unless you already have Shimmering Armor, I guess!).

Given that this one is a feat, it’s much more of a dick move for a DM to say, “Sorry, you can’t use this feat.” I’ll do it if I think it’s the right thing to do, but I feel guiltier about it. It’s right in the core Essentials books, after all.

Your thoughts

What do you think? Am I out of line for being annoyed with easy ways to prevent opportunity attacks? Am I wrong in thinking that these are no-brainer default choices for the appropriate character classes (if the DM allows them)? Are they TOO good?

15 thoughts on “I wish opportunity attacks would continue to matter

  1. I have no problem with these items. I may not like them, but the DM does have a lot of control over which items fall into the players’ hands. I have absolutely no problem with the Shimmering Armor since it’s only available in cloth. If you’re only wearing cloth armor then you need all the help you can get.

    I once made a crossbow-wielding Rogue who wore shimmering armor. He didn’t provoke when he fired the crossbow while adjacent to creatures but the sacrifice to AC by not wearing heavier armor (even just leather) was a big trade off.

    As for the Staff Expertise feat, I HATE it. I’m not one to complain (too much) about things being broken in 4e D&D but his feat is broken. A level 1 PC should not be able to just take a feat during character creation that negates opportunity attacks. If the feat was paragon then I’d be ok with it, but it should not be available at heroic tier. Just my 2 cents.

    • Interesting… thanks for sharing your thoughts! So for a wizard, why are you fine with Shimmering Armor (cloth armor, which the wizard would wear anyway) but not Staff Expertise? Is it that Staff Expertise is available at level 1 and Shimmering Armor would only come later (though not much later)? I think it’s pretty common for PCs to find treasure a couple of levels above their own level, so it wouldn’t be out of line at all for a level 1 PC to find level 3 Shimmering Armor as a treasure in their very first encounter.

      I’d really like your perspective on the difference.

  2. And Ameron, the GM is only in control of the items if no player takes the enchant magic item ritual. I’ve seen players take skill training in order to get ritual casting in order to get this in a game where the GM was being more limited in magic items.

    And any game that comes out with as much material as D&D will find the limits of the rules becoming less and less.

    • This is true. However, as a DM I’m completely comfortable running a game where I maintain control of magic items, even those created using the Enchant Magic Item ritual. I’ll be happy to say, “Sorry, that item doesn’t exist in this world.”

      This obviously doesn’t apply to organized play such as Living Forgotten Realms. Sigh.

  3. I agree on the magic items– the GM is the arbiter of what comes into play, and as for the Enchant Item ritual, if the player wants to make something THAT badly, let them spend the feats and gold on it. They’ll never have an item of higher than their level, regardless.

    As for the feat, I houseruled it to giving a +Highest Ability Mod to opportunity attacks caused by spellcasting. Still good, but not super-broken-great.

  4. Nearly every ranged player I’ve seen uses Shadowdance armor. I admit, even I have fallen to its glory. In the game I play in, I recently stepped out of one ranged role and into another. I purposefully did not take Shadowdance, because I feel it steals something from playing a ranged character. Of course I think it should be allowed, but it needs to be a lot harder to get, minimum level 13 I’d say, but I’d still encourage against it (where’s the fun?).

    This staff expertise thing is ridiculous. I’d allow it as a paragon feat (@Jason, I like your solution!), but I hate this feat for Encounters sake. Hard for me to disallow rules there. Compare it to Bow Expertise (+2 damage to an enemy adjacent to no one) and balance obviously isn’t a concern to Wizards anymore. Players overshadowing players is always bad, especially in public play.

  5. I’m quite new to being a DM, so feel free to disregard this whole post.

    I have a mage in our group who has this staff expertise feat. I’ve noticed that it has come into play about 4 times over several months of play. The reason it is so rare is that the mage avoids melee combat, choosing instead to use move actions to keep away from melee combatants, thus avoiding any situation where he could draw opportunity attacks. Any smart mage/wizard will do this, so the feat is mostly a wasted feat. Sure, the DM may bring more monsters up from the rear, but good use of movement still keeps the mage out of melee a good deal of the time.

    He’s drawn more than a few opportunity attacks from movement while adjacent to enemies, so opportunity attacks aren’t gone altogether, just when making a ranged or area attack.

    That said, the few times it has come into play have been no big deal. Presumably the reasoning of this feat is that while casting, he is using the staff defensively (he’s focusing on the staff as an implement, so it’s not unreasonable to think that he can use it for a more mundane purpose as well, that’s what expertise is all about). A wizard isn’t an archer, he doesn’t focus on the target, he focuses on the implement, so an implement that can also be used for melee defense just isn’t really a conceptual problem for me.

    To provide a disincentive, I simply provided him with a different, slightly more powerful implement (same level, but nice daily power and crit effect) and he has to make a choice. His “default” mode is to cast through the other implement and he must explicitly state he’s using his staff when he wants to. There have been a few instances where he’s forgotten to declare this and has drawn opportunity attacks because he chose to cast through the wrong implement.

    I just don’t see the huge problem here. If you’re seeing wizards taking up melee combat positions like a defender just because they can’t draw opportunity attacks, then use focused attacks to teach them the folly of their ways, otherwise, they’re going to be ranged most of the time anyway and the few times that you could get that extra hit in isn’t really going to make the game unplayable. But if it’s that big of a deal, deprive them of their staff (have your melee monster adjacent to the wizard grab the staff (pickpocket), or grab the wizard or knock the wizard prone or do anything else to keep the feat from coming into play).

    • I appreciate your perspective on this. Personally, I see it a lot more in the campaigns that I run and play in. Yes, ranged characters and spellcasters are supposed to try to avoid melee… but part of the way you challenge such a player is to put them in situations where the monsters are coming toward them, and then they get to be creative about extricating themselves, making interesting choices. If they don’t need to worry about opportunity attacks from using their best spells or ranged attacks, you lose an interesting choice in the game.

      Still, I’m glad it hasn’t been an issue in your game – it sounds like you’re having a good time!

  6. Those particular magic items have never come up in my campaign, where I control magic item acquisition, but I am a big staff expertise hater. The mage pre-gens in Encounters all have the feat, and it has caused me many teeth-grinding moments, as I swallow my rage at the brash young wizards who feel empowered to cast while toe to toe with the enemy.

    Mages staying out of melee, and never casting while adjacent to an enemy is a rule as old as the game itself. 3rd edition had concentration checks, and earlier editions had the same concept – in fact, keeping the spell casters out of melee was probably the origin of the opportunity attack rule./ The first edition DMG (page 65) has complex rules to make sure the magic user will regret ever trying to cast in melee. (And the rules for ranged attacks were just as stringent.)

    On the other hand, Jeff’s point above about the expert wielding of the staff as IMPLEMENT while weaving and defending, is giving me pause. Maybe it’s not over-powered. I just hate things that shut down other things completely. At least we still get to hit the wizards when they run (unless they use expeditious retreat which is a shift, ha ha.)

    Magic has changed into a more dynamic, cinematic way of casting, rather than the old days of rolling a ball of bat guano betwixt your fingers while muttering an incantation.

    Good article, staff expertise is a tricky, possibly over-powered feat. My earlier idea was to give a base +4 to AC instead of disallowing OA’s altogether.

    • I agree with Jeff’s point about the flavor of the Staff Expertise feat, sure. If you’re an expert with your staff, you can use it to hold bad guys at bay while you channel your arcane power through it. Makes sense to me.

      The problem isn’t flavor – it’s power. Staff Expertise is just SO GOOD, even compared to the other excellent expertise feats introduced with the Heroes of… books.

      I like the suggestions of editing Staff Expertise to give a bonus to defenses against opportunity attacks generated when the staff is used as an implement for ranged or area attacks, and +4 feels about right to me. Of course, that makes Battle Caster Defense obsolete for staff wielders, but c’est la vie.

  7. I also agree that the Staff Expertise is a problem in a way that items like the Shimmering Armor are not. The reason is simple: Taking the shimmering armor requires the PC to give up the opportunity to take some other magical item – it has a cost. Taking the feat gives the players this ability as a bonus on top of something they might have wanted to take anyway – the expertise feat. There is no cost.

    How do people feel about, for example, changing the feat into an opportunity to avoid the OA rather than an automatic avoidance? Perhaps the feat allows them to make a skill or ability check to avoid the OA as a free action? Or even as an immediate action?


    • I see where you’re coming from, although I wish we lived in a world where taking an expertise feat was not automatic. In that world, taking the expertise feat would still have a cost (having given up on taking a different feat).

      Personally, I like the idea that others posted above of having Staff Expertise grant a +4 bonus to opportunity attacks provoked from using an area or ranged power with the staff as the implement. Adding a skill check to avoid the free shot feels fiddly to me, and I worry that it will be either too easy (say, a medium DC Arcana check for a wizard) or too hard (say, a medium DC Acrobatics check for a wizard).

      • In 4e I almost never take Expertise feats unless the secondary effect is good enough. I’ve taken Heavy Blade Expertise on a high mobility Ranger/Swordmage Hybrid primarily for the +2 to OA Defenses. (Dual Khopeshes FTW) meanwhile my Pacifist Healer Cleric hasn’t bothered to take an Expertise feat at all.

        Meanwhile in 3.5 I’ve played nothing but arcane casters and never provoked an opportunity attack except for when I’ve risked taking one to retreat or purposely provoked one in order to prevent one hitting a squishier character. It’s extremely easy to get Concentration high enough on a 3.5 caster that you never fail at casting defensively even at 1st Level, and even without spending a Feat on buffing the skill.

        So, with that in mind I don’t see a problem with there being ways to mitigate or remove the risk of AoO for spellcasters and/or ranged weapon users in 4e.

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