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My group and I recently picked up D&D 5e and I made DM for no better reason than having watched more episodes of HarmonQuest.

One of the questions that came up early in our first session was whether an archer adjacent to enemy 1 would trigger an opportunity attack if he decided to target enemy 2 further away. He does not move from his square since it's a ranged attack, but since the action would require him to turn his back on enemy 1, would an OA be triggered?

The PHB seems to say no, except for this blurb:

In a fight, everyone is constantly watching for enemies to drop their guard.

Also, how does an AO happen if the attacker has a ranged weapon equipped?

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The trigger to opportunity attacks is movement away, not facing.

You {any creature, to include enemy 1}can make an opportunity attack when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach. (Basic Rules p. 73)

That's the trigger: movement out of reach. Unless you use the optional rules in the DMG about facing, simply changing targets won't significantly change how the combat progresses. What the basic 5e combat system does is simplify a lot to speed up play.

What the rules do in that case is make it more difficult to score a hit if you are in melee range and trying to make a ranged attack.

Ranged Attacks in Close Combat

Aiming a ranged attack is more difficult when a foe is next to you. (Enemy 1) When you make a ranged attack with a weapon, a spell, or some other means, you have disadvantage on the attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature who can see you and who isn’t incapacitated. (p. 73 Basic Rules; p. 195 PHB).

DM judgment and advantage

Any DM could offer enemy 1 {to whom you are adjacent} advantage if the DM ruled that, based on that particular tactical situation, your choosing to target another enemy while standing next to him provided him with tactical advantage. (Roll d20 twice, take the best roll). That you already have disadvantage on your attack may be sufficient penalty for that turn.

DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result. (SRD p. 77, Basic Rules p. 4, p. 67).

Be careful: such ruling may have ripple effects. If one melee characters is facing two other melee characters, simply choosing one to attack does not, and should not, provide the other character with advantage.

Opportunity Attacks apply to melee attacks

Also, how does an AO happen if the attacker has a ranged weapon equipped?

It doesn't.

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. (Basic Rules p. 73)

That said, a character equipped with a ranged weapon still has a reach (usually 5 feet) and can make an opportunity melee attack either with an unarmed strike or by using the ranged weapon as an improvised melee weapon (i.e. hitting them with the crossbow). (Credit to @DaleM)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm understanding that there is a fair bit of breathing room for the DM to make judgement calls as long as there is consistency. Thank you for your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Karthik. V Feb 8 '17 at 15:21
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An opportunity attack is only triggered when a target moves out of the creature's* melee reach. Most melee weapons have a reach of 5 feet, including bare fists. This means if an enemy is within 5 feet, and then moves out to 10 feet or more, the creature may use their reaction for an opportunity attack. Similarly, if the creature is wielding a reach weapon, their reach is 10 feet, so the opportunity attack is triggered if the enemy moved from 10 feet to 15 feet or more.

Should a creature have an even greater reach, the threshold is whatever the maximum reach is for that melee attack. This does mean that creatures with only long reach may have a "safe zone" where enemies can move back and forth without triggering an opportunity attack. Keep in mind that a creature wielding a reach weapon with their hands has the choice of making an opportunity attack with their fist, should an enemy move from 5 feet to 10 feet, but not exceed the 10 foot reach of the weapon.

In your case, because your archer is not moving at all, he would not trigger an opportunity attack simply by aiming at the farther enemy. There is, however, disadvantage applied to the archer's attack because there is an enemy within 5 feet.

Also, ranged weapons are not valid for opportunity attacks.

*Note in this case creature is the general sense, including all NPCs and PCs.

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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mentioning the disadvantage caused by the adjacent enemy. \$\endgroup\$ – Meta4ic Feb 7 '17 at 23:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Enemy 2 is indeed further away : I don't think NaturalOne's answer nor my comment say otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – Meta4ic Feb 8 '17 at 12:32

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