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So, a friend and I are in a debate right now about how an opportunity attack works.

From what I understand after reading the handbook, you can only perform an opportunity attack if you use an action to ready a reaction first.

So, for example, I can't use an opportunity attack without using an action to ready a reaction before simply by the fact that an enemy got out of my melee range, meaning that if I want to make an opportunity attack at one point, I should spend my action not attacking any enemy, and then readying a reaction, which in this case is an opportunity attack.

Am I thinking too far? Can I use an opportunity attack just by seeing an enemy getting out of my melee range?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the stack! Please take our tour to learn more about how we operate and we hope to see you around here more. FYI, you can pick your answer at any point, but many folks like to wait awhile (I like to wait 24 hours) to see if other competing answers come in that I like more or if someone changes my mind. Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 16 at 20:34
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You don't need to ready an action in order to make an opportunity attack

The Player's Handbook has this section on Opportunity Attacks (emphasis mine):

Opportunity Attacks

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 occurs right before the creature leaves your reach.

The only things you need are your reaction and for the hostile creature you can see to move out of your reach, so there's no need to ready an action.


For clarity, here's the text on Readying an action (emphasis mine):

Ready

Sometimes you want to get the jump on a foe or wait for a particular circumstance before you act. To do so, you can take the Ready action on your turn, which lets you act using your reaction before the start of your next turn.

First, you decide what perceivable circumstance will trigger your reaction. Then, you choose the action you will take in response to that trigger, or you choose to move up to your speed in response to it. Examples include "If the cultist steps on the trapdoor, I'll pull the lever that opens it," and "If the goblin steps next to me, I move away."

When the trigger occurs, you can either take your reaction right after the trigger finishes or ignore the trigger.

Theoretically, you could take the Ready action to ready an attack to trigger when an opponent moves out of your reach (basically an exact imitation of the Opportunity Attack) but there's no need to do that since you always have the ability to do an Opportunity Attack (as long as you have your reaction and nothing else is preventing you, such as the opponent using the Disengage action). Feel free to use your action on whatever else you want.

You could even choose to ready a different action, and then choose from your readied action and making an opportunity attack (per this question)! Keep in mind though, that you still only have 1 reaction per round (barring specific exceptions such as the Cavalier Fighter).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So, theoretically, I can make two "opportunity attacks" on two different enemies if they happend to leave my melee range. \$\endgroup\$ – salsote Jul 16 at 20:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user56851 No, creatures usually get only one reaction per round. You can use it to make an Opportunity Attack, or to activate a readied attack, but not both. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Jul 16 at 20:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user56851 Not quite. To do that, you would need two reactions, which some subclasses get as features (such as the Cavalier Fighter, for example) but as a general rule, no. You get one reaction per round, but if you ready an attack and someone triggers an opportunity attack from you, you can pick which one you want to do, if they both could apply. \$\endgroup\$ – DucksGoMooful Jul 16 at 20:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I forgot about the one reaction per round. That answers a lot of questions. Thanks, guys! \$\endgroup\$ – salsote Jul 16 at 20:43
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No

Per round each creature in combat can take one Action, a possible Bonus Action (these two on their own turn), and a Reaction. (You can use the reaction at any point in response to a trigger specified by the type of reaction taken and regain the use of your reaction on the start of your turn.)

To make an opportunity attack you need a creature you can see to leave your reach and to have your reaction available.

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.

--- Player's Handbook, p. 195

The Ready action is for taking an action (such the Attack action) in response to some defined trigger. This trigger could be a creature leaving your reach, but also when a creature enters your reach, the moon explodes, or your Sorcerer turn bright pink.

Sometimes you want to get the jump on a foe or wait for a particular circumstance before you act. To do so, you can take the Ready action on your turn so that you can act later in the round using your reaction.

First, you decide what perceivable circumstance will trigger your reaction. Then, you choose the action you will take in response to that trigger, or you choose to move up to your speed in response to it.

--- Player's Handbook, p. 193

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