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The rend special attack of (let's say) a cave troll deals additional damage against targets hit by both front claws. The description includes the following: "it latches onto the opponent’s body and tears the flesh".

Is it just color or does it mean I can't rend a skeleton?

Please provide official sources where possible.

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Ehhh… asking for official sources on "is it just color?" is kinda asking for a lot. Except for a few vanishingly rare games, the distinction between color and rules is an entirely fan-created concept and not defined officially. –  SevenSidedDie Dec 28 '12 at 18:02
    
I was hoping for a faq or for some better clarifications in some compendium or Monster Manual X glossary. –  Zachiel Dec 28 '12 at 18:16
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Having flesh or not is not defined by the game as a term (no special quality, type, subtype, etc.). As a result, the rules cannot refer to it, unless they do so explicitly with something like "this feature does not affect incorporeal creatures, constructs, or undead described as being bone without flesh." The fact that none of these game terms is used means that it's just color.

Usually it's easy to tell proscription (text that tells you what you can and can't do) from description (text that gives an image for how an action could take place). In contrast with SevenSidedDie's comment, this seems very much intentional on the part of the authors.

In some places (e.g. spell descriptions) they're even marked by different formatting. But in other cases, words of permission (can, may, etc) typically denote rules, and they often (though not consistently, I'm afraid) use the second person. Frequently you'll also see meta game terms (types, classes, actions, features, etc.).

Flavor tends to simply be declarative, using action verbs unqualified by words of permission. Meta terms are avoided or not formatted as they usually would be (though sadly Wizards was less than consistent about that).

While this is not always as clear as one would like, for the most part there is rarely disagreement. No one thinks that it is a rule, for example, that Sorcerers must be jealous of Duskblades' martial prowess, even though Player's Handbook II states it. Being able to tell the difference is an important part of understanding the rules.

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I think your distinction between "permission words" and "declarative statements" is unclear. For example, "Fire and acid deal normal damage to a troll" (d20srd.org/srd/monsters/troll.htm) is a declarative statement with an unqualified action verb, but is most definitely a rule (Being damage of the fire or acid type deal damage to trolls normally). So I'm not really sure what you were trying to get at with those two paragraphs. Is there a way you could elaborate? –  Cthos Dec 28 '12 at 21:21
    
@Cthos: Unfortunately, there are no absolutes here. In that case, rules status is clear from the use of meta-game terms. –  KRyan Dec 29 '12 at 5:56
    
@Cthos the troll example is best understood if you look at how Regeneration is written. Regeneration explicitly states that there are certain things that deal normal damage to the creature and what "dealing normal damage" means. Rend does not state anything similar anywhere. –  Zachiel Dec 29 '12 at 18:20
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The primary idea behind a rend is that the critter in question gets a hold in two spots and pulls them apart as violently as possible. So if you're fighting a skeleton, that has the damage reduction to reflect being scant, you grab two bones and wrench them apart like a perforated loose leaf sheet. So since the cave troll's natural enemies and prey are almost exclusively living things, flesh would be the most operative word.

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Yeah, pretty sure that their resistance to rend would just be their DR against non-bludgeoning damage... –  Cthos Dec 28 '12 at 18:25
    
Yeah, that's how I would read it too. –  Leezard Dec 28 '12 at 18:26
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