Monday, August 12, 2013

Musings About Attacks of Opportunity

Art By Wayne Reynolds
I have a confession to make: I have always hated attacks of opportunity in D&D/Pathfinder. If I had to be honest, attacks of opportunity are one of the things that I hate the most about the d20 system. My distaste for this rule almost boarders on the irrational.

Now, let me be clear, I understand why attacks of opportunity are in the game. Attacks of opportunity are supposed to help make a combat more dynamic and make players think twice about their moves and try to be more tactical when approaching and maneuvering around their opponents. I don't have a problem with that concept at all and I can appreciate what the designers were trying to do with the rule. 

My disdain for the rule comes from the problems that it tends to cause at the table. For example, let's say a player wants his character to engage a small group of 4 goblin warriors. Moving into a group of enemies is highly likely to provoke at least one attack of opportunity. Now, in my experience, most players really hate it when an enemy lands an attack and damages their character, no matter what the situation is. Since the player doesn't want to provoke that attack of opportunity, they will go to great lengths to avoid doing so and will most likely cause combat to drag on longer than it should. Also, people (including myself) seem to forget which actions actually provoke attacks of opportunity, which means we have to constantly crack open Core Rulebook to the combat chapter and see if a certain action a character wants to try provokes an attack from the opponent, causing the game to slow down some more. 

Due to my dislike of attacks of opportunity, I considered removing them from my Pathfinder games entirely. While it would remove some of the "realism" in the combat rules, I believe it would have made the game a little bit easier to run and play and make combats run a lot faster. However, there are a lot of rules that rely on the existence of attacks of opportunity that I would have to change or remove as well, and I don't feel like changing the rules that much at the moment. 

However, after some reading, I think I have found a solution to my problem. Not too long ago, I purchased the PDF for Bad Axe Games' Trailblazer. For those of you who are not familiar with the product, it is supplement for the d20 system that takes the rules and reworks them to make the game better and easier to use. While I don't like every change they made, I really love the change they made to attacks of opportunity to make them less frustrating. 

The change they made to the rule was rather simple actually, so simple that I want to kick myself for not thinking of it. In Trailblazer, characters only provoke attacks of opportunity when moving out of a threatened area (all of the surrounding squares that are within the opponent's reach) and performing certain "distracting" actions while in that area. So, under this rule, a player doesn't have to worry about provoking an attack of opportunity when engaging an opponent. As long as they stay within the opponent's threatened area, they are safe. If they attempt to leave that area without taking a 5-foot step or the withdraw action, the provoke an opportunity attack. It's simple to remember and encourages players to engage an opponent without worrying about opportunity attacks all the time. 

Now, this rule isn't a complete fix. It would still require me or a player to look up which actions provoke attacks of opportunity. However, that is more of a pet peeve than anything and I could always print the table in the combat chapter out and keep it with my notes for easy reference. It's a compromise that I'm willing to make for this house rule.