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In D&D 5e, does a reach weapon allow you to threaten squares up to 10 feet away for the purpose of Opportunity Attacks or does it just allow you to attack squares up to 10 feet away?

There is some confusion because PHB p.147 says that a reach weapon adds 5 feet to your reach when you attack with it, which can be interpreted to mean that, if an enemy is 10 feet away on his turn, he isn't actually in your reach (since you aren't attacking with the weapon yet) so you don't get an Opportunity Attack. Is this interpretation correct and you only threaten 5' away, or does a reach weapon always increase your reach for the purpose of threatening distance?

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Related: Why does everyone carry a 10' pole? –  Doorknob Aug 20 '14 at 9:32

4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

My initial rules reading, maybe...

Opportunity Attacks

In a fight, everyone is constantly watching for enemies to drop their guard. You can rarely move heedlessly past your foes without putting yourself in danger; doing so provokes an opportunity attack. You can make an opportunity attack when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach. To make the opportunity attack, you use your reaction to make one melee attack against the provoking creature. The attack interrupts the provoking creature's movement, occurring right before the creature leaves your reach.

-PHB p. 195. Basic p. 74

On the face of it this leads me to interpret Reach as being always on, however...

Most creatures have a 5-foot reach and can thus attack targets within 5 feet of them when making a melee attack. Certain creatures (typically those larger than Medium) have melee attacks with a greater reach than 5 feet, as noted in their descriptions. - PHB, p. 195.

When I read this I reversed my initial decision, however searching through all the creatures in the PHB at no point was Reach 10 ever specified, nor a feature having anything to do with reach. This might be something featured in the DMG or the MM though.

Whatever decision you make, stay consistent. If players with reach weapons have threatening reach, then monsters that can attack at reach 10 feet should also be able to threaten out to that range. It shouldn't have a huge impact since opportunity attacks eat the sole reaction of a player or monster (unless they have special extra reactions).

Mearls weighs in

Mearls' response via twitter

So with that tweet I would say that semi-officially reach weapons threat 10 feet out/2 squares. keep in mind that this is a double-edged sword as in monsters are a wider range of movement within your threaten range because they only provoke upon leaving your threatened area aka when moving from within 10 feet to 15 feet of you.

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I think you'll find these conversations more enlightening. twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/502520711395557376 and twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/502924332088053764 –  GMNoob Aug 26 '14 at 16:58
@GMNoob mearls is also co-designer soooo.... yeah that moves this to incredibly unclear until official errata. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Aug 26 '14 at 17:05
@JoshuaAslanSmith Huh? They agree. –  GMNoob Aug 26 '14 at 17:13
Jeremy Crawford says that reach only matters when attacking. Mike Mearls says that reach means they can threaten 10 squares. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Aug 26 '14 at 17:48

To quote Joshua Aslan Smith's answer...

You can make an opportunity attack when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach.

This seems pretty clear to me. A creature using a reach weapon has a larger reach than normal for the purposes of weapon attacks, which an opportunity attack with a weapon is. Do recall that you can attack adjacent foes with reach weapons in 5e, so characters with reach weapons no longer get a free attack when a foe moves adjacent to them, since they haven't "left their reach".

The emphasized portion of the above paragraph is a reminder than their barehanded reach isn't any longer than normal, since the grapple rules state they work on someone "within your reach" but go on to clarify "using a free hand", so no one can say my interpretation allows ranged grapples.

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I will admit, that this is how I read the situation when I first read it, but after seeing the polearm master feat and arguments over the internet, I think it's a reading heavily biased by previous editions. –  GMNoob Aug 20 '14 at 14:09
@GMNoob Agreed. It's not "for the purpose of attacks" it's only when you attack. Before you attack your reach is 5', and that determines your threatened area. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 20 '14 at 16:38
Based on this twitter conversation, this is indeed the correct reading of the rules: twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/502972149175287808 –  GMNoob Aug 26 '14 at 16:56

The Following is an analysis based on a strict reading of the rules, and ignoring designer intent and their use of language. The lead designer for 5e had this to say about Reach weapons:

enter image description here

Rules for Opportunity attacks and Reach weapons don't make (narrative?) sense, but they are consistent. Reach is always 5 feet when not actively making an attack, and not the weapon being used.

  • As you will see from the rules of the polearm master, the purpose of opportunity attacks is mainly to prevent people from running past you, and not to punish people who flee your engagement with them.

To understand how/why this is the case, we must first work with the assumption that it's possible and logical that a person with a 10 foot reach weapon when they attack, is going to have a reach of 10 feet for the purpose of opportunity attacks.

Let's first be clear about what an opportunity attack in 5e is. Normally, an opportunity attack is an attack you are able to make when a creature leaves the area you can reach. It's a penalty for a creature leaving combat without first disengaging. It is not an attack which demonstrates what area you threaten. That is, if somebody enters your reach, or moves about within your reach, you do not threaten them. Opportunity attacks seem to serve two purposes:

  1. It creates a cost by way of the "disengage" action to leave melee combat with someone once it has been initiated. (This is based the application of the rules with 5 foot reach weapons, but not directly stated in the rules)
  2. It prevents enemies running right past you to engage with someone else you are defending/blocking. (Page 195 of the players handbook)

    You can rarely move heedlessly past your foes without putting your self in danger; doin g so provokes an opportunity attack.

However, when using reach weapons, this seemingly falls apart, no matter which way you interpret the rules.

enter image description here

The blue square with an x is you. The purple square with an x is an ally, and the green square with an x is a medium creature with speed 30. The red square is your 5foot reach, the Orange square is your 10 foot reach.

Scenario 1: Reach for opportunity attacks is 5 feet.
In this scenario, you have just finished attacking the green monster. It is now the monster's turn. You engaged them in melee combat, but he can now step away from you and go off and do something else without any penalty. Purpose 1 of opportunity attacks has been subverted. It's arguable that this isn't really the purpose of opportunity attacks, but I think it's the basic assumption for most people, and it's consistent with the rules for 5 foot reach weapons.

Scenario 2: Reach for opportunity attacks is 10 feet.
In this scenario, you have just finished attacking the green monster. The green monster now wants to go and attack the purple ally since he is an easier target than you to hit. The monster can smoothly walk right past you, without ever leaving your 10 foot reach. This means you can never do an opportunity attack against them. Purpose 2 of the opportunity attacks has been subverted, as directly stated by the rules.

That is the situation with your run of the mill opportunity attack. But now let's include the polearm master feat. (Page 168 of the Players Handbook)

Polearm Master
You can keep your enemies at bay with reach weapons. You gain the following benefits:
• When you take the Attack action and attack with only a glaive, halberd, or quarterstaff, you can use a bonus action to make a melee attack with the opposite end of the weapon. The weapon's damage die for this attack is a d4, and the attack deals bludgeoning damage.
• While you are wielding a glaive, halberd, pike, or quarterstaff, other creatures provoke an opportunity attack from you when they enter your reach.

And now looks more closely at the wording of the opportunity attack rule.

Page 195 of the Players handbook
The attack interrupts the provoking creature’s movement, occurring right before the creature leaves your reach.

If we edit the rule with polearm master in mind it would read as follows:

The attack interrupts the provoking creature’s movement, occurring right before the creature leaves or enters your reach.

So now, with this wording, if your reach with the polearm is 10 feet, you can never actually reach the target which you are stopping. The creature will be 15 feet away from you when you interrupt it's movement before it enters your reach. However, if your reach is 5 feet, then before it enters your reach the creature is 10 feet away from you. When you attack the creature, your reach now extends to 10 feet, and you and you can hit it. This would seem to strongly suggest that two important things.

  1. Reach for opportunity attacks is always 5 feet, and not your weapon or attack.
  2. The purpose of opportunity attacks is ONLY to prevent people from running past you, and not to prevent people from running away from you after being attacked.

The alternative is assuming that the rules are wrong and lots of errata is needed all over the place to "fix it".

Something else to notice, is that none of the monsters in the DM Basic rules are listed as having a reach of 10, or anything other number. However, many attacks are listed as having a reach of 10. Such as the Adult dragons' bite. (Though the claw attack is listed as having a reach of 5). In many cases, you can see one attack having a reach of X, while another attack has a reach of y. The section in the rules which discusses the reach of a creature extending beyond 5 feet is specifically in the "Melee Attacks" section, and not in the other sections which mention reach.

Most creatures have a 5-foot reach and can thus attack targets within 5 feet of them wh en making a melee attack. Certain creatures (typically those larger than Medium ) have melee attacks with a greater reach than 5 feet, as noted in their descriptions.

Of course, if your table decides to play things out differently, you may do so, but be consistent if you do.

All that being said, in the end, the intention of the rules is that an Opportunity Attack is an attack and so the reach property applies to the conditions that allow you to attack as well. As can be seen from this conversation on Twitter.

enter image description here

For creatures, you will see that different attacks have different reaches, and so an Ancient Red Dragon for example will have one reach domain for it's claws and another for it's bite, giving it a greater "threat area".

enter image description here

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Reach is an attribute of a entity. Normally it based on the creature's size. But it can otherwise if the entity wields a weapon with reach or has some other attribute (like long tentacles) that give is a longer reach for its size. Attacks of opportunity work within a entity's reach period. Finally what Polearm master does, among other things, is grant opportunity attacks when creatures ENTERs your reach. This is a benefit on top of the existing rule as it does not normally happen. –  RS Conley Aug 20 '14 at 12:09
+1. Aside, this does actually make narrative and fighting sense. Ducking and weaving past a polearm's reach is (relatively compared to shorter weapons) easy because it is a clumsy weapon and hard to reorient. You need pike squares to prevent that. That covers (2). At maximal extension it also doesn't "lock down" an opponent in their place, and is in fact design to keep people from approaching/encourage them to go away, making (1) make sense. (Again, formations matter for polearms.) I'm actually pleasantly surprised that this one little rule adds so much reasonability to polearms in 5e. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 20 '14 at 16:33
I was just poking around Jeremy Crawford's twitter feed, and there is a conversation you'd be interested in I think. twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/502917024834539521. Basically Polearm Master is an exception to the OA rule and happens when they enter the 10' square. –  wax eagle Aug 26 '14 at 15:43
@waxeagle Thanks –  GMNoob Aug 26 '14 at 17:10

An attack of opportunity is an attack and that attack extends it's reach to 10 ft. You only get an attack of opportunity if a foe leaves that 10ft threatened area. The post above is just editing what the book says to make things more confusing than they should be. If you are a polearm master then you get a reaction attack when the foe enters within 10ft of you.

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Hey there, and welcome to RPG.SE! Check out our tour for an idea of what we're like. This answer is nice and clear and to the point, but there's one quibble I have to make: there is no "above" or "below" here, because of those sorting buttons at the top of the list of answers, so nobody knows that you mean by "the post above". In general, it's best to not comment on other posts, and just focus on answering the question as best you can. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 30 '14 at 18:33

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