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The banshee is described on page 30 of the Monster Manual II:

Wail (Su): During the night, a banshee can loose a deadly wail. This attack can slay up to eighteen living creatures within a 30-foot spread centered on the banshee, or within a 60-foot cone extending from the banshee, at the creature’s option. A successful Fortitude save (DC 26) negates the effect. Once a banshee wails, it must wait 1d4 rounds before it can do so again, and it can wail no more than three times per day.

In 3.5 edition, the rules for a death effect are as follows:

DEATH ATTACKS
The bodak’s abyssal eyes can kill with a glance. The dreaded power word kill spell can slay without even allowing the victim a saving throw. A single arrow of slaying can fell a dragon. Even a fighter with 100 hit points can be killed by a single death attack. In most cases, a death attack allows the victim a Fortitude save to avoid the affect, but if the save fails, the character dies instantly.

  • Raise dead doesn’t work on someone killed by a death attack.
  • Death attacks slay instantly. A victim cannot be made stable and thereby kept alive.
  • In case it matters, a dead character, no matter how she died, has –10 hit points.
  • The spell death ward protects a character against these attacks

I've looked in the errata and the 3.5 update, but haven't found any mention of whether the banshee's wail is a death attack or not. It certainly fits the description. I'd be interested to hear other DM's opinions.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

As a DM, I would say yes. Compare the spell Wail of the Banshee, which has the [Death, Sonic] descriptors. I don't know if there's an errata for it, though.

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As the section on "Death Attacks" gives the bodak's gaze as an example of a death attack, it stands to reason that the Banshee's ability is also a death attack. Both are supernatural (Su) Fort save or die effects which instantly kill the target.

The section also describes death ward as protecting against death effects. The description of death ward in the SRD says it provides immunity to "death spells, magical death effects, energy drain, and any negative energy effects." At least one of these must count as a death attack for the statement in the section "Death Attacks" to be valid. It's reasonable to assume that at least, death spells and magical death effects count as "death attacks".

Therefore, at least, any (Su), (Sp) or spell with an effect of "death" is a death attack.

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I don't think this necessarily follows from the rules. For example, killing someone by reducing their HP to 0 through damage is not considered a Death Attack for the purposes of death ward. There are other examples. Not all things that inflict death are Death Effects. –  KRyan Jan 25 '13 at 22:37
    
I think there's a slight difference between things with an effect of "death", and things with other effects that can cause death (e.g. damage). Related question here: Is the assassin's death attack, a death attack? –  Jonathan Drain Feb 7 '13 at 17:04
    
Yes, but there are, I'm fairly sure, things that outright cause Death that are nonetheless explicitly not a Death Attack/Effect. Also, at least two spells with the [Death] descriptor (avasculate and mass avasculate) not only do not automatically cause death, they cannot cause death since they do damage equal to half your remaining HP. Also, the highest-rated and accepted answer there agrees with me (and has just gotten my upvote, thanks for the link, that's a great answer). –  KRyan Feb 7 '13 at 17:10

The Player's Handbook on page 307 defines a death attack as "a spell or special ability that instantly slays the target." The banshee's death wail instantly slays the target, so I'd say that it's a death attack. :-)

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3  
Is it a definition or a description? A definition would start something like: "A death attack is any spell..." while a description would start "A death attack is a spell..." –  starwed Aug 20 '12 at 15:05

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