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An opportunity attack is described this way (PHB, p. 195):

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 last benefit of the War Caster feat says (PHB, p. 170):

  • When a hostile creature’s movement provokes an opportunity attack from you, you can use your reaction to cast a spell at the creature, rather than making an opportunity attack. The spell must have a casting time of 1 action and must target only that creature.

Without the Crossbow Expert feat, all ranged attacks (including ranged spell attacks) made when an enemy is adjacent suffer this penalty (PHB, p. 195):

You have disadvantage on a ranged attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature that can see you and that isn’t incapacitated.

As an opportunity attack normally grants a melee attack, does it seem reasonable to assume that the target remains at melee range for the spell attack granted by War Caster? If so, does this require ranged spell attack rolls to be made with disadvantage?

The trigger for an OA is a creature moving "out of your reach". This suggests to me that the creature is out of the 5' disadvantage zone, but it seems like that would preclude making a melee spell attack.

Do characters with the War Caster feat get the best of both worlds: being allowed to make either a melee spell attack or a non-disadvantaged ranged spell attack?

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War Caster lets you cast a spell instead of an opportunity attack, which is made just before the creature leaves your reach. If your reach is 5 feet and you use War Caster to cast a ranged spell attack then, yes, the attack is made with disadvantage.

If you have a natural reach greater than 5 feet, then the attack is made when the creature is more than 5 feet away, so this doesn't apply. Similarly, it doesn't apply to melee spell attacks or spells that use saving throws. You are also good if you have the Crossbow Expert feat.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh interesting, I never considered a weapon's Reach property applying to spells, but the description clearly states: "This weapon adds 5 feet to your reach... when determining your reach for opportunity attacks." I think this also implies that you can't make make an Attack of Opportunity with a touch spell if you are wielding a weapon with the Reach property. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – sippybear Aug 21 '16 at 21:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @sippybear Actually, you can either cast a spell when they move from 5ft to 10ft, or attack with a reach weapon when they move from 10ft to 15ft. rpg.stackexchange.com/a/55812/15469 \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 21 '16 at 22:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman Ah, if I had read the description more carefully, I would have seen that the Reach property only applies to attacks (and AoO) made with weapons possessing the Reach property. If I included two more words in my earlier quote, that would have been abundantly clear: "This weapon adds 5 feet to your reach... when determining your reach for opportunity attacks with it." Dale M: I think the rest of your answer is accurate and informative, could you remove the portion about reach weapons? \$\endgroup\$ – sippybear Aug 21 '16 at 23:07
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If an attack of opportunity happened when creatures were out of 5' range then melee AoO's without Reach weapons would be impossible.

Also, from the way the designers answer Sage Advice, it's clear that if the feat negated Disadvantage it would say so explicitly. It doesn't.

If you want the best of both worlds, you have to take both feats.

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No, it doesn't

The War Caster feat has no verbiage negating disadvantage on ranged spell attacks made within 5 feet.

However...

The War Caster feat (PHB, p. 170) does not give you an opportunity attack; it allows you to cast a spell in lieu of an opportunity attack:

[...] you can use your reaction to cast a spell at the creature, rather than make an opportunity attack.

Jeremy Crawford has confirmed in this 2016 tweet that the timing of the spell granted by War Caster is exactly the same as an opportunity attack. (Hat tip: V2Blast)

Personal ruling:

While a conventional opportunity attack requires the target to be within melee range for you to land a melee hit, your target doesn’t need to be in melee range to cast a non-opportunity attack ranged spell at it.

Furthermore, because an opportunity attack wasn’t made, the provoker’s movement is not interrupted (PHB p. 195), allowing it to move out of the 5-foot range removing the close-range disadvantage for ranged attacks:

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

I don’t see the logic of limiting a ranged spell attack by a split-second.

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