I have read some claim that free actions cannot be taken during attacks of opportunity. However,

Free Action

Free actions consume a very small amount of time and effort. You can perform one or more free actions while taking another action normally. However, there are reasonable limits on what you can really do for free.

Emphasis mine. Why would this exclude an Attack of Opportunity?


In general, speaking is a free action that you can perform even when it isn’t your turn. Speaking more than few sentences is generally beyond the limit of a free action.

I've seen references to speaking, particularly, "when it isn't your turn". I've always understood that to mean you can speak out of turn, like an immediate action, not that all other free actions must be on your turn.

For example, you can yell out a warning, even when it isn't your turn, but you can't drop prone unless you were otherwise taking another action.

Is there another rule this comes from? Is it in the Rules Compendium?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ If you want to ask about specific claims made by particular people, you need to link to those claims. At the most extreme, however, only those people could answer the question of why they said what they did. That isn’t a useful or on-topic question here. I have changed your question to focus more on the fundamental question of what you can or cannot do, rather than on “why someone said” you cannot. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 18:05

4 Answers 4


The argument, basically, is that your actions are defined as things you can do during your turn:

When a character’s turn comes up in the initiative sequence, that character performs his entire round’s worth of actions. (For exceptions, see Attacks of Opportunity and Special Initiative Actions.)

(emphasis mine)

Since free actions are defined as one of the sorts of actions you can take during the round, and the default rule says you take all your actions for the round during your turn in the initiative process, that means free actions can only be performed during your turn.

Speaking gets a special exception:

In general, speaking is a free action that you can perform even when it isn’t your turn.

which is taken as an exception-that-proves-the-rule: this wouldn’t be here if free actions could normally be performed outside your turn, as it would be redundant. Speaking gets a special exception, and other types of free action don’t, and so they are limited only to your turn.

Rules Compendium does not repeat the first quote, leaving out a default definition of an action as something you do on your turn. Rather, it merely says that you can perform these actions “during a normal round,” (pg. 7). However, the definition of free actions includes

You can perform one or more free actions during your turn.

(Rules Compendium, pg.7)

Nowhere in the rules are free actions addressed specifically with respect to attacks of opportunity, however. Given that attacks of opportunity are, themselves, an exception to the rules, allowing you to act outside your turn, that may also extend to free actions—after all, as you say, “You can perform one or more free actions while taking another action normally.” But that isn’t spelled out anywhere.

Personally, I have always played with free actions allowed during attacks of opportunity, it has never caused problems, while I do see problems with disallowing it. I recommend allowing them.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ RE: "Personally, I have always played with free actions allowed during attacks of opportunity, it has never caused problems, while I do see problems with disallowing it." I, on the other hand, have had the exact opposite experience. Being able to go prone, quick draw items, and drop items off-turn because some nearby fool drank a potion has created problems in my campaigns. To each his own. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 18:09

Rules Compendium requires free actions to take place on your own turn

As per the Rules Compendium, p.7:

Free actions consume a very small amount of time and effort. Their impact is so minor that they're considered free. You can perform one or more free actions during your turn. However, the DM can put reasonable limits on what you can really do for free.

An attack of opportunity generally takes place on an opponent's turn, it doesn't take place on your turn.

An edge-case might be if you really did make an attack of opportunity on your own turn, such as if you provoke an attack of opportunity from an opponent who in turn provokes an attack of opportunity.


A creature typically can't take one or more free actions during an attack of opportunity because making an attack of opportunity isn't an action

At least, making an attack of opportunity isn't an action as the game defines the term action.

First, let me address free actions. The Player's Handbook presents two slightly contradictory definitions of free actions. Like the question says, Action Types on Free Action does indeed say, "You can perform one or more free actions while taking another action normally" (139). Later, though, Free Actions says, "Free actions don't take any time at all, though your DM may limit the number of free actions you can perform in a turn" (144, emphasis mine, and n.b. a turn is different from a round). In this same section the description of the free action Speak says, "In general, speaking is a free action that you can perform even when it isn’t your turn" (ibid.). No other free action described in that section—like drop an item or drop prone—has a similar special note. This makes the free action speak a largely unique case—and maybe even an abnormal case (see below)—of a free action that can be taken when it's not a creature's turn.

(The above also supports the information provided by this fine answer on how actions are something a creature typically takes on its turn, and the information in this fine answer's succinct quotation from the Rules Compendium.)

Then, on Attacks of Opportunity, the Player's Handbook says

Sometimes, however, a combatant in a melee lets her guard down. In this case, combatants near her can take advantage of her lapse in defense to attack her for free. These free attacks are called attacks of opportunity. (137)

(Emphasis mine.) Thus a creature that's entitled to make an attack of opportunity does not, for instance, take a free action to make that attack of opportunity. Instead, the creature just makes that attack of opportunity, and no action on the creature's part need (or can!) be taken. The free attack that's made as an attack of opportunity is neither a standard, move, full-round, free, swift, nor immediate action; it's not even a not an action action! It's only a free attack, and because this free attack is not an action, a creature cannot simultaneously with it take one or more free actions like a creature can when it takes its actions normally, like it typically does on its turn.

To be clear, the Player's Handbook puts attacks of opportunity before and in a different section from Actions in Combat (138-45) and gives Attacks of Opportunity and Actions in Combat their own unique and independent oversized headers, literally separating the two concepts from each other. Table 8–2: Actions in Combat goes so far as to omit from it altogether an entry for attack of opportunity proper (141).

Further, the Rules Compendium on its chart Actions in Combat puts attacks of opportunity in the section labeled No Action (8), but then clarifies in the chapter Attacks of Opportunity on Making Attacks of Opportunity by saying, "Making an attack of opportunity isn't considered an action…" (18).

Seriously, my heart breaks here. A role-playing game's foremost goal should be explaining—in excruciating detail using multiple examples—who can do what when. Why this game makes who can do what when so incredibly opaque is a mystery.

Long-term implications of this assessment

If this is new information, here're some things to prepare for.

  • Conditions get messy. More than a few conditions say that a creature suffering from a condition can take no actions, yet the condition doesn't specifically prohibit the creature from making attacks of opportunity (e.g. dazed, stunned). Thus a DM could still allow creatures to make attacks of opportunity while suffering from one or more of those conditions. However, the DM must already deal with numerous issues involving conditions as they are often vague and underwritten. (This contributor has written about the weirdness surrounding the conditions unconscious and fatigued, for example.)

    Because of this, this DM approaches conditions with a jaundiced eye and made a house rule saying that A condition that prevents a creature taking actions also prevents a creature from making attacks of opportunity. (That hasn't stopped my players from wanting their PCs to make attacks of opportunity when their PCs are stunned, though!)

  • The special attack grapple typically can't be completed off-turn. For reasons I don't even pretend to understand, the 3.5 revision added to Starting a Grapple to Step 3: Hold that a creature must "[m]ake an opposed grapple check as a free action" (156) to get the hold, and unlike speaking, for example, there's no special off-turn exception made here. This free action requirement makes it essentially impossible for most creatures to grapple off-turn.

    This also means that when Table 8–2: Actions in Combat says in footnote 7 that a grapple can "be used… even as an attack of opportunity," the table, under most circumstances, is largely inaccurate. Although this makes some folks very angry, to this reader, this seems a typical case of text trumps table. (That's the default method Wizards of the Coast's 3.5 errata documents would have readers use to resolve informational conflicts.) (Also see this question for more on grappling and this question for more on source priority.)

  • Equity for the speechless. If the DM rules that taking a free action to speak is a creature taking an action normally, then creatures that can speak have real mechanical combat advantages over those that can't.

    For example, a typical wolf (Monster Manual 283) must take a free action to use its extraordinary ability trip, so during an off-turn attack of opportunity it usually can't use that ability. Nonetheless, a DM that rules that taking a free action to speak is a creature taking its actions normally, then an awakened wolf can make an off-turn attack of opportunity to bite a creature, simultaneously take a free action to speak (rudely—its mouth full of adventurer) to say aloud I bit you! Fall down! then take the free action necessary to use the extraordinary ability trip.

    The same would apply to, for example, creatures that are subject to ranged attacks. Those that can take a free action normally off-turn to speak can, alongside that free action, take a free action to drop prone ("Hit the dirt!"). The same luxury would be forbidden to creatures without speech like maybe the common wolf ("Rowr?").1

    With the same understanding that creatures that can take a free action to speak off-turn shouldn't have combat options unavailable to their speechless brethren, this DM also has a house rule saying that—because it's taken off-turn—An immediate action is not an action that is taken normally. This prevents creatures that can take immediate actions from having a further combat advantage over those creatures that can't take immediate actions. For example, in this DM's campaigns a creature that takes an immediate action to cast a spell that has a casting time of 1 immediate action cannot simultaneously take a free action to use the feat Quick Draw to draw a weapon.

These are the issues that have arisen most frequently in my campaigns, but a DM may have to address during play a few other edge cases (q.v. this question's answers). And while this may sound like a lot of adjustments to make, the DM already had to house rule many conditions to make sense, this player and DM found 3e's off-turn grappling kind of a pain anyway, and this reader is happier with the leveler playing field that comes from everybody having available similar combat options. In short, these changes aren't nearly as onerous or as destructive as they may seem at first… unless, of course, your the player of a PC whose shtick is off-turn grappling.

1 I hedge here because Dragon #293 includes mist wolves that—and I'm not making this up—"speak the language of wolves" (80). However, this language is never again mentioned in the entirety of the game's corpus (cf. the language Worg (MM 257)).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Suggestions for improvement welcome. (I sincerely wonder why this one would get a downvote yet the other two wouldn't.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 14:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry: I wavered on it, but, I just think that, considering all the problems you yourself list, this is an unhelpful suggestion. It has far-reaching consequences that simply don’t make sense or pass the smell-test as far as how likely it is that this was the intent. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 15:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan That's frustrating but fair—the price I pay for adding value. I have played both ways, so I thought it only right to speak about the issues I've encountered from both methods (e.g. no off-turn grapples with the 3.5 revision, if speaking is a normal action the game unfairly favors combat yodeling, etc.). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 15:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mean, I was already familiar with all the problems you described, and would not have hesitated to downvote and point them out if you hadn’t already. As it was, it’s a well-written and thorough answer, but I still think the final suggestion is a poor one. Grappling is problematic but I have not found grappling-on-an-AoO to be particularly problematic, and just saying that talking doesn’t allow other free actions you couldn’t otherwise take is the natural response to that concern. Anyway, you have a typo in your footnote, her instead of here. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 15:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan It's the off-turn movement that's necessary to complete the grapple that often creates the most problems because it requires tracking even more stuff. Combined with making attacks of opportunity against an ally to grapple the ally deliberately to move off-turn started arguments at my tables. But, hey, it's obvious my problems aren't your problems. :-) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 16:15

FREE ACTIONS can only be done during your OWN TURN.

This is as per RAW Ruling.

1 - AOO are not even considered ACTIONS, but must be Melee Attacks

2- You are allowed to make FREE actions or FREE movement during your turn only.

3 - IMMEDIATE ACTIONS and talking are the only free actions that you can take out of your own turn during the round


You could perform one immediate action and one Attack Of Opportunity (or more if your character possess the required qualifications). But you are not allowed free actions out of your own turn, so you cannot do anything else unless that 'something else' is the result of an immediate action except talking and due to a written rule exception.

All Free Actions other than speaking are prohibited during an Attack of Opportunity

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It would be awesome if this answer cited where the game equates attacks of opportunity to immediate actions. It would be equally awesome if the answer resolves the contradiction that ensues from the phrase You can perform one or more free actions while taking another action normally (PH 139) that technically allows free actions to free action to be taken during immediate actions. (I'm not doubting this conclusion, by the way and haven't downvoted the answer, but more support is necessary for me to upvote it.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 16:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ immediately resolve is not the same an immediate action. They are similar, but an AoO does not expend an immediate action, and can be more than one with Combat Reflexes, but that feat doesn't increase the number of immediate actions you can take. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 22:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Compendium ruling actually indicates AOO are not even actions, but can only be melee attacks. I will edit this in my answer \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 4:42

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