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One of the players in a party I DM is an Eldritch Knight and he uses "Protection " in every single battle. Here's what Protection is:

Protection

When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll. You must be wielding a shield.

The level 1 and then 2 Eldritch Knight is using Protection everywhere and claims that even if a creature does not provoke an attack of opportunity, such as the flying snakes he and the others in his party were nearly killed by yesterday, he still gets a reaction attack against them whenever they're nearby, flying past.

Furthermore, since he is always sitting in his Protection stance in the middle of the party during battles and was doing so yesterday during the snake attack, every single time a flying snake fly by or attacked anyone else in the party, he felt certain he got to attack the snake. Several attacks in a round, some more than once or a snake, once flying one way, once flying back. I, the DM, said that was unreasonable. He responded in a very upset manner and said that it was of no use unless that was how it worked.

Then another player pulled up the DND Beyond app, read the definition of Protection out loud in a way that made it sound as though that was the interpretation. Feeling uncertain and ganged up on, I called a break.

Again, the definition of Protection is below, but consider the definition below, from Dnd beyond, read outloud at a gaming table replacing "you can use your reaction to impose Disadvantage" with "you can use a reaction and impose Disadvantage" instead.

So, what do you say? Does Protection give Eldritch Knights reaction attacks against creatures that pass close? Even those that don't provoke attacks of opportunity? And isn't there a limit in there to how many attacks a "Protector" has? Because I think maybe he doesn't get any actual attacks of his own, but rather, just causes the enemy to attack at a disadvantage. But maybe I'm reading this wrong?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Side note: you might want to point your player at the Sentinel feat, which is pretty close to what they think Protection does. Of course, they will need to forgo an ASI to take the feat. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Nov 16 '19 at 17:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ We can clarify the rules question for you, but if your players are this angry and confrontational about the rules, I don’t think that will help much. \$\endgroup\$ – 40355 says Reinstate Monica Nov 17 '19 at 3:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm still not sure how the players got to thinking he could make many OA from either passage...? Some people just read what they want to I guess. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Nov 18 '19 at 1:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ "He responded in a very upset manner and said that it was of no use unless that was how it worked." He's dead wrong about most things, but he's half-right here -- Protection Fighting Style is widely regarded as the weakest of the fighting styles, and there are entire blog posts dedicated to picking it apart and making it actually work. I'd strongly suggest you look into him picking another style, because that one is just... weak. Or look at some homebrew fixes (like forcing a reroll instead of disadvantage) to make it better. \$\endgroup\$ – RonLugge Nov 18 '19 at 18:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Correct me if I'm wrong, but Protection isn't a Stance is it? \$\endgroup\$ – NeutralTax Jan 15 at 1:49
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Protection does not grant additional opportunity attacks

The Protection is one of the options for a Fighter's fighting style. It allows, exactly as you quoted, to use one's reaction to impose disadvantage on enemy attack rolls under certain conditions. It doesn't say anything about giving additional ways to make an opportunity attack, and hence it doesn't unless you have agreed on such houserule.

Notably, when one uses their reaction with Protection to cause disadvantage on an enemy attack roll, one cannot take another reaction until their next turn. See the rule on Reactions in the Basic rules (available for free on DnD Beyond):

Reactions

Certain special abilities, spells, and situations allow you to take a special action called a reaction. A reaction is an instant response to a trigger of some kind, which can occur on your turn or on someone else's. The opportunity attack, described later in this section, is the most common type of reaction.

When you take a reaction, you can't take another one until the start of your next turn. If the reaction interrupts another creature's turn, that creature can continue its turn right after the reaction.

The opportunity attack is one way to use one's reaction, while Protection gives another way to use it, but whichever (if any) one uses, they only have one reaction to use until the start of their next turn. This means that unless the player character is under an effect that allows them to take multiple reactions per turn, they can only use Protection against a single attack roll between their turns, or make a single opportunity attack, but not both nor more than one of a kind.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In terms of a path forward, if the player is dissatisfied with their fighting style choice once they understand how it actually works, the DM could allow them a one-time opportunity to swap it out for a style that works more like what they originally wanted. (I don't recall if/when fighters get to swap out fighting styles normally.) \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Nov 16 '19 at 17:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanThompson Fighters get it at level 1 and RAW do not have the option of swapping it out; that said, I agree with your suggestion, letting them swap it out just this one time if their original choice was based on a misunderstanding of how it works... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 16 '19 at 18:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer is the best, because it explains what a reaction is, and I think the players seem to think that "use your reaction" means "make an opportunity attack". Spelling that out might be helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Nov 19 '19 at 8:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, I think the DM also made an error, because the defense seems to rest on the monster's Flyby ability. The players are right that this does not apply. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Nov 19 '19 at 8:56
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You only have one reaction per round

The bottom line here is that a PC only has one reaction, as kviiri's answer also states. From the rules of Reactions:

When you take a reaction, you can't take another one until the start of your next turn. If the reaction interrupts another creature's turn, that creature can continue its turn right after the reaction.

Making an opportunity attack uses up your one reaction. You then cannot do anything that requires a reaction until the start of your next turn.

The Protection fighting style simply grants another way to use your one reaction

The Protection fighting style says:

When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll. You must be wielding a shield.

This uses your reaction. You only have one reaction per round, so once they've done this once against one attack roll, they cannot do that against until they gain another reaction (i.e. at the start of their next turn).

Since they only have one reaction, they must either use the Protection fighting style once or make one opportunity attack, not both, and certainly not more than once, because they only have one reaction per round.

Given that Fighters pick this at level 1, even though RAW you cannot swap Fighting Styles out for another once picked, you could allow them to swap it out for another style just this one time if the player is dissatisfied with their choice now that they know how it is supposed to work, given that they originally picked it based on a misunderstanding of how it worked.


They may be confusing this with the Sentinel feat

The Sentinel feat includes the following benefit:

When a creature within your reach makes an attack against a target other than you (and that target doesn't have this feat), you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against the attacking creature.

Firstly, this is not the Protection fighting style, it is an entirely separate thing. Secondly, it also uses your reaction, which means, for a PC who has this feat and the Protection fighting style, they can use their one reaction to:

  • Make an opportunity attack;
  • Grant disadvantage to one attack roll (as per Protection fighting style);
  • Make an attack against a creature attacking an ally (as per Sentinel feat);

And the can only do one of these things once until the start of their next turn.

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    \$\begingroup\$ one reaction per round* \$\endgroup\$ – BlueMoon93 Nov 23 '19 at 14:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BlueMoon93 Yes, that's true, I think I was thrown by the fact that it says "until the start of your next turn" in a lot of places, so I just used the term "turn", but yes, you are right, it is actually "round". I updated my answer. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 23 '19 at 19:55
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Your interpretation is correct and your players have misunderstood the ability.

Your interpretation of this feature is absolutely correct; the only thing the protection fighting style allows a character to do is, upon seeing a creature attack a target adjacent to the character, use their reaction to impose disadvantage on the roll. There is no wording in this feature that allows the protector to make an attack of their own in response to this trigger, and certainly no wording that grants the protector the ability to take more reactions than they would normally have (i.e. one).

If your Eldritch Knight thinks this (correct) interpretation of the protection fighting style is underwhelming, and only chose it based on misunderstanding the rules, the path of least resistance is most likely to just allow them to swap it for a different fighting style instead. If they're committed to being a sword-and-board fighter, I'd point out that the duelling fighting style is compatible with using a shield.

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Protection does not work this way, but Tunnel Fighter does

As several others have said, your interpretation of Protection here

Because I think maybe he doesn't get any actual attacks of his own, but rather, just causes the enemy to attack at a disadvantage.

is entirely correct. To be honest, it sounds like your Eldritch Knight player is using the 'Tunnel Fighter' fighting style from Unearthed Arcana, which reads as

Tunnel Fighter: You excel at defending narrow passages, doorways, and other tight spaces. As a bonus action, you can enter a defensive stance that lasts until the start of your next turn. While in your defensive stance, you can make opportunity attacks without using your reaction, and you can use your reaction to make a melee attack against a creature that moves more than 5 feet while within your reach.

The "Protection stance" that you mention him using also matches what the Tunnel Fighter style includes. I'd suggest talking to your player to see if they were actually using this style, and deciding whether you want to allow an Unearthed Arcana fighting style in your game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe it should be noted that the tunnel fighter fighting style made it's way to the official ruleset in some modified way: As Vigilant Defender class feature for the Cavalier archetype. It should be noted that this is a level 18(!) feature and even that one restricts the number of opprotunity attacks to 1 per enemy per round. \$\endgroup\$ – fabian Nov 17 '19 at 15:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point about Tunnel Fighter, though if he's using Tunnel Fighter, then I suspect he's not using it correctly. For example, he's not using it in tunnels, narrow passages, and tight spaces. Last gaming session, the players were in a wide, unprotected space riddled with live and/or awakened plants that were mostly just impeding their movement while flying snakes were making flyby attacks. The eldritch knight dropped into Protection, and he's level 2 now, and kept saying he got an attack of opportunity everytime a snake flew within reach (10 feet). \$\endgroup\$ – Jamie Watts Nov 24 '19 at 4:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Although it's true the space was somewhat restricted, they were ideal for druids and the plants were low lying, 2 feet tall, designed to slow them down and force dex checks, nothing like tunnels. \$\endgroup\$ – Jamie Watts Nov 24 '19 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JamieWatts While the name implies an environment, the rules do not require it. Of course, as somebody else pointed out, the ability is so powerful that WotC's final version is available to only one class, and only in T4. They clearly believe the UA version is unbalanced as presented in the UA. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. 2 days ago

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