Randomizing the threat for attacks of opportunity

I like the idea of attacks of opportunity. It encourages players to position themselves in support of each other, and form up ranks to protect more fragile party members. However, I’ve been seeing in our games it’s becoming sort of a drag on combat.

I’ve noticed at times my players agonize a bit whether to move a particular route due to the threat of attacks of opportunity. This also drags the group’s sorcerer and bow-wielding rogue into action paralysis, as they struggle over deciding to fire off an attack or suffer the wrath of that orc standing toe to toe with them. I really want to encourage movement over the battlefield. 4E seems to really thrive on that. Yet, I’m finding the threat of attacks of opportunity starting to impede the maneuvering of the PCs.

I decided I needed to throw in a random chance if an attack would happen. Overall it would cut down the probability a player would get hurt, and still be a possible threat. This way, there was a chance a player could get hit running across the room, but not saddle them down with having to decide some precise dance of moving square to square in order to avoid a single attack. I work out my house rule as follows:

Roll a D4 – A player provokes a possible attack of opportunity as per the rules. Instead of it automatically happening I roll a 4-sided die. On a roll of 1-2 the player suffers an attack of opportunity and I make a basic attack rolling to hit verses their AC as normal. Otherwise, they don’t provoke an attack of opportunity and get to continue on with their action.

Chance of attacks increase – Each time a player potentially provokes an attack during their action, I increase the chance by 1 and this is cumulative. So if a player charges by two gnolls (possibly provoking an attack from each) the first roll is a 1-2 on a D4, the second would be a 1-3 on a D4.

Third chance and you’re attacked – If the player manages to provoke another attack of opportunity a 3rd time during a turn, I don’t bother rolling to see if it happens. The PC provokes an attack of opportunity as normal.

This works for the baddies too – This also goes for monsters, so everyone is using the same rules. Any time an attack of opportunity might happen, I have the players roll to see if they’ve got a chance to make a swing. I’m still playing around with this. I like the idea of balance (what is good for the players is good for the monsters too), but it can also put a wrench in the player’s tactics.

Some builds and powers take advantage of attacks of opportunity. Having that now a random chance might not go over well with some groups. Also while it will make fights more dynamic with movement, taking away that that edge of potential attacks for the players might mean fights drag out (less attacks of opportunity mean the monsters stay on their feet longer).

So far though this has worked great with my group. Assuming a normal melee attack vs AC would hit half the time, throwing this random chance of an opportunity attack means a player actually taking damage from a hit would be about 25%. This scales up slightly if the player keeps provoking attacks of opportunity, until the point the turn plays out as per the rules.

This means a player can take a gamble and possibly tempt an attack doing a desperate action. If they rush headlong into danger however, the odds stack up against them. Also there is still a fair chance an attack of opportunity will occur, it doesn’t eliminate it. So shifting is still a tactical option.

As I mentioned my players have been enjoying this tweak. It’s just enough to allow them a little breathing room if they provoke a single attack. In turn they’ve begun to make bolder actions in combat, something I want to encourage. I’d be interested if folks have changed how they run attacks of opportunity in their game.

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