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The following question is for DND 3.5 -- The links however are SRD rules links IF that matters somehow.

Shadows deal 1D6 strength damage with their incorporeal melee touch attacks. If a shadow were to attack a sleeping human, what is the correct attack / damage result with and without Coup De Grace rules?

The sleeping opponent is considered a helpless defender and thus 0 Dex, receives no dex bonuses and is -5 to flatfooted AC. Does the defender ALSO suffer a -4 to AC for being prone? Can the shadow do a full round "Coup De Grace" on such an opponent? The question revolves around the term "melee weapon" for unarmed monsters. Are unarmed melee attackers considered "armed" when using natural touch weapons. This question is closely related to the topic of Coup de Grace attacks using touch attack spells which is separately discussed. And if you allow the Coup De Grace in this case, does that mean the automatic hit and double damage to strength apply? What about the Fortitude Save or Die DC? Is that based on the 2d6 strength damage or the zero physical damage? Finally, do think a summoned Shadow with a Int of 6 is capable of being told to do a Coup De Grace?

I believe the answer is likely yes, Shadows (summoned or otherwise) can Coup De Grace sleeping opponents with automatic hits, critical damage and thus double normal str drain. If you disallow Coup De Grace, I think the bonuses for helpless and prone probably do stack. But all of it is clearly debatable for the above reasons.

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Don't answer in comments, please. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Aug 10 at 12:13

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The sleeping opponent is considered a helpless defender and thus 0 Dex, receives no dex bonuses and is -5 to flatfooted AC. Does the defender ALSO suffer a -4 to AC for being prone?

Yes, sort of. Here's what the Helpess rule says:

A helpless target is treated as having a Dexterity of 0 (-5 modifier). Melee attacks against a helpless target get a +4 bonus (equivalent to attacking a prone target).

Why did they flip the wording here from a -4 AC to a +4 on the attack? I don't know. They're basically the same thing, and the rule even mentions it's an equivalent bonus. That means you don't impose both this one and the Prone one.

Rules Compendium actually changed this wording so that it's a -4 to AC instead of +4 on the attack, which is identical to Prone.

Can the shadow do a full round "Coup De Grace" on such an opponent? The question revolves around the term "melee weapon" for unarmed monsters. Are unarmed melee attackers considered "armed" when using natural touch weapons.

Here's what Coup de Grace says (Rules Compendium, emphasis mine):

As a full-round action that provokes attacks of opportunity, you can use a melee weapon to deliver a coup de grace to a helpless defender. You can instead use a bow or crossbow, provided you’re adjacent to the target.

Here it says "melee weapon". Are natural weapons considered melee weapons? See below for a wall of text on that, but I say "yes". Based on that, a Shadow can deliver a coup de grace. (If your DM rules the other way that natural weapons aren't "melee weapons", then the Shadow can't deliver one.)

The ability damage would be doubled, since coup de grace is considered a critical hit:

This attack damages an opponent’s ability score. The creature’s descriptive text gives the ability and the amount of damage. If an attack that causes ability damage scores a critical hit, it deals twice the indicated amount of damage (if the damage is expressed as a die range, roll two dice).

As for the Fort save... this is all that coup de grace says:

If the defender survives the damage, it must succeed on a Fortitude save (DC 10 + damage dealt) or die.

It doesn't really cover anything explicit for ability damage, so if you just treat it as a type of damage you should make the roll. It's at least not unreasonable int his case, since the Shadow's attack can be lethal (if you get to 0 STR it kills you).

Are Natural Weapons Melee Weapons

This is where it gets weird. First off, the Rules Compendium (p.64) says this about incorporeal attacks:

An incorporeal touch attack isn’t the same as a melee touch attack— armor can work against an incorporeal touch attack if the armor has the ghost touch property.

Going by that, "incorporeal touch" is not the same as "melee touch". It's actually more like "incorporeal natural weapon". From the same rule is this:

Nonmagical attacks made by an incorporeal creature with a melee weapon have no effect on corporeal targets, and any melee attack an incorporeal creature makes with a magic weapon against a corporeal target has a 50% miss chance, except for attacks it makes with a ghost touch weapon, which are made normally (no miss chance). If an incorporeal creature throws a thrown weapon or a shoots a ranged weapon, the projectile becomes corporeal as soon as it’s thrown or fired, and thus can affect a corporeal target normally (no miss chance).

So, we don't treat an incorporeal creature's natural weapons the same way we would treat it's attack if it was using a sword. Notice there's a distinction here on "melee weapon". That's important.

Natural weapon attacks are considered armed. If it wasn't, the Shadow would provoke an AoO anytime it tried to attack.

A creature making a melee attack with a natural weapon is considered armed and does not provoke attacks of opportunity.

The trouble is surrounding the term "melee weapon". As we've seen, "melee weapon" can be used to refer specifically to a separate weapon that the creature is using to strike into melee (ie: a sword), and not a natural weapon being used to strike into melee. You can see other examples like this one from the Rules Compendium, for the basic standard action attack:

With a melee weapon, a natural weapon, or even a bare fist, you can strike any opponent within reach, which is normally 5 feet for Small and Medium creatures.

Are melee weapon and natural weapon listed separately because they're distinct things, or just because they're trying to be inclusive in what's supposed to use the attack rules that follow? "Melee Weapon" is actually a term from the equipment list, to make it distinct from ranged weapons:

Melee weapons are used for making melee attacks, though some of them can be thrown as well. Ranged weapons are thrown weapons or projectile weapons that are not effective in melee.

Obvious, right? Natural weapons are also used to make melee attacks, but nowhere in the rules will you find the phrase "natural weapons are melee weapons".

Is that distinction important? In other cases they use the term "manufactured weapon" instead, like the Monk's unarmed strike:

A monk’s unarmed strike is treated both as a manufactured weapon and a natural weapon for the purpose of spells and effects that enhance or improve either manufactured weapons or natural weapons.

Monks are a great example, because their unarmed strike doesn't say it's a "melee weapon", it says its a "manufactured weapon". Monks are mentioned specifically in the combat rules:

Sometimes a character’s or creature’s unarmed attack counts as an armed attack. A monk, a character with the Improved Unarmed Strike feat, a spellcaster delivering a touch attack spell, and a creature with natural physical weapons all count as being armed.

So... what does all that mean? By a very strict RAW reading, you could argue that no, natural weapons are not melee weapons.

But that raises additional weirdness, because in that case a Dragon can never coup de grace. Does that make a lot of sense, considering that we're talking about highly intelligent apex predators? On top of that, a Monk could also never coup de grace with her unarmed strike, even though it's considered "armed" and does lethal damage. Yet if you hand that Monk (or Dragon) a sufficiently pointy stick, now they can? It also means that you have a bunch of weapons that are used to attack in melee and considered weapons (they do lethal damage and the user is considered armed) but are not counted as "melee weapons".

Because of all that, I believe that "melee weapon" means "weapon that makes melee attacks", which includes natural weapons. That's also the most natural way to read "melee weapon" in normal English, with "manufactured weapon" being different than "natural weapon" in this regard.

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Yes.

Coup de Grace

As a full-round action, you can use a melee weapon to deliver a coup de grace to a helpless opponent. You can also use a bow or crossbow, provided you are adjacent to the target.

You automatically hit and score a critical hit. If the defender survives the damage, he must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + damage dealt) or die.

Natural Weapons

Natural weapons are weapons that are physically a part of a creature. A creature making a melee attack with a natural weapon is considered armed and does not provoke attacks of opportunity.

Ability Damage

This attack damages an opponent’s ability score. The creature’s descriptive text gives the ability and the amount of damage. If an attack that causes ability damage scores a critical hit, it deals twice the indicated amount of damage (if the damage is expressed as a die range, roll two dice).

Touch Attacks

Some attacks disregard armor, including shields and natural armor. In these cases, the attacker makes a touch attack roll (either ranged or melee). When you are the target of a touch attack, your AC doesn’t include any armor bonus, shield bonus, or natural armor bonus. All other modifiers, such as your size modifier, Dexterity modifier, and deflection bonus (if any) apply normally.

A Natural Weapon, when used in a Melee Attack, is a Melee Weapon.

It is rather cut and dry in it's definition. The ability damage (not drain) from the Shadow would be double dice, and subject to all the bonuses provided by a Coup de Grace.

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