My gaming group is brand new. We had our first session tonight. I had a few questions for this SE... the first is this one.

Why does shifting in D&D 4 not provoke Opportunity Attacks? Or am I reading some rule incorrectly?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Because otherwise it would be quite pointless. All the drawbacks of normal movement, but shorter. Why use such an option? Why create such an option in the first place? \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 11:08

4 Answers 4


In fencing you are taught steps that allow you to engage or disengage from an opponent without offering an opening to your enemies blade. I have listed a few examples below:

  • advance - the primary action for forward movement in fencing
  • retreat - the primary action for backward movement in fencing
  • disengage - the act of avoiding the opponent's blade without engaging (touching) it

I have only a little experience in martial arts but I know they teach the same sort of things. First you have to be able maneuver around without setting yourself up for an attack.

D&D 4e gives you this in the Shift.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I was about to type basically this. Brian's answer is a perfect answer to what the rules say that means shifts don't provoke opportunity attacks. Acedrummer_CLB's answer describes why this makes sense. Esentially a normal move involves 'walk fast through the fight and hope', letting people easily swing at you as you pass. A shift is a cautious sidestep while keeping your eyes on your opponents and your guard up (every martial art teaches how to do this in some way). So you move much more slowly, but don't leave openings. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tynam
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 14:39

In 4e, the overriding design philosophy is that "specific trumps general" from this, all else emerges.

The general case is that Opportunity Actions trigger when:

Trigger: Opportunity actions allow you to take an action in response to an enemy letting its guard down. The one type of opportunity action that every combatant can take is an opportunity attack. Opportunity attacks are triggered by an enemy leaving a square adjacent to you or by an adjacent enemy making a ranged attack or an area attack.

This represents someone getting in a quick hit while the opposing creature is distracted.

However, the specific case of a shift 1 overrides the general. A shift is, flavourfully:

Moving through a fierce battle is dangerous; you must be careful to avoid a misstep that gives your foe a chance to strike a telling blow. The way you move safely when enemies are nearby is to shift.

Thereby being a cautious movement while keeping one's guard up. Functionally, a shift is:


Movement: Move 1 square.

No Opportunity Attacks: Your movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks.

With some other special notes about when it can be used. Thus, a shift is an action which uses the creature's move action on their turn, that explicitly limits distance moved (1 square) and what happens on that movement (no opportunity attacks.)

Then, the even more specific powers can override this more generalized definition for increased movement rates, usually during the course of a power.

The hierarchy of authority in this case, looks soemthing like the following:

Move Action: move on your turn
 \-> Shift action: use your move to move one square without provoking
      \-> Passing Attack (a fighter power): You can shift as part of the power

Using the specific to general overrides, we get: you can move 1(in this case) square (movement without provoking) as part of the power (movement without a move action) but you still must follow the rules for movement, such as staying on the ground.

The idea of exceptions is a bit hard to get used to if you're used to playing other editions of D&D. The consequence of "specific beats general" is that you only have to know your character's actions and the rules that they modify, such as shifting.

1usually uppercase

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Couldn't resist the footnote. It was punny. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 7:30
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I now want to make a pun about shifting up a stair case. \$\endgroup\$
    – Quentin
    Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 10:34
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ oooh, If you shift while squeezing, do you turn into small caps? :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 10:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, if you shift while CAPSLOCKING you do. Not sure about squeezing, tho'... \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 12:47

The rule is on page 292 of the Player's Handbook:

No Opportunity Attacks: If you shift out of a square adjacent to an enemy, you don’t provoke an opportunity attack.

The overriding reason is that while Opportunity Attacks look great on paper, they're a pain in the ass in practice, so you need some way to be able to move and not get hit with them. Shifts are in place specifically to facilitate this.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .