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Simple scenario:

  • Cleric casts Sanctuary
  • An enemy with a spear attempts to melee attack the cleric with his spear
  • Enemy fails his wisdom save and thus can't attack the cleric

Now what?

According to the spell,

On a failed save, the creature must choose a new target or lose the attack or spell.

No one else is currently in melee range, but others are within move distance.

So does the enemy now get to hold the melee spear attack, use a move action and then resume the same melee spear attack on someone else?

Can the enemy change the attack method of the spear melee attack and decide to throw the spear instead?

Can the enemy change his attack method to a short bow attack and attack someone else instead either before or after a move with a different weapon?

Can the enemy choose to change his attack method to a spell?

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If no one else is in melee range, then there is no longer a valid target for the attack and the attack is lost.

Sanctuary says:

the creature must choose a new target

not that the creature gets to change the attack or make a new attack.

The type or “method” of attack has already been chosen - a melee attack with a spear – and Sanctuary does nothing to change that. You can’t change the attack to a ranged attack with the spear, you can’t swap weapons and change the attack to a ranged attack with a bow, you can’t suddenly decide to cast a spell.

As for holding the attack and moving so that you can attack another creature, you can’t do that either.

The PHB states:

Breaking Up Your Movement

You can break up your movement on your turn, using some of your speed before and after your action.

Moving between attacks

If you take an action that includes more than one weapon attack, you can break up your movement even further by moving between those attacks.

Since this takes place during an attack, during an action, you’re unable to move.

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So does the enemy now get to HOLD the melee spear attack, use a move action and then resume the same melee spear attack on someone else?

Personally I'd say they can't hold the attack. I envision the spell as the character is mid-swing and it's been declared that they will miss, they now have a short window of opportunity to redirect their attack.

However, holding their attack and moving appears to follow the "letter" of the spell so it's possible for a DM to allow this.

Can the enemy change the attack method of the spear melee attack and decide to throw the spear instead?

I'd say this is reasonable as it's still the same weapon and the attack isn't being held, but some DMs may consider this a different type of attack.

Can the enemy change his attack method to a short bow attack and attack someone else instead either before or after a move with a different weapon?

Can the enemy choose to change his attack method to a spell?

I don't often play with any hindrance for switching weapons (because I forget) but some DMs do. For instance it might take a bonus action or even an action to sheath one weapon and draw another.

Also in general this sounds like a bit much. Since the Player's Handbook says "on a failed save, the creature must choose a new target or lose the attack or spell" it sounds like you merely have the option to redirect the attack, not make a new attack with a new weapon/spell. If you switch the weapon being used then it sounds like that original attack has been lost.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think choice of attack supersedes choice of target. If that's the case then the enemy is left with having to finish a melee spear attack. If so, then can you move between starting a melee spear attack and finishing it? \$\endgroup\$ – Darrell Rodgers Jun 19 '17 at 1:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am curious about your comment that moving appears to follow the "letter" of the spell. Where can I find rules on moving during an attack action? I can't find any in 5e? \$\endgroup\$ – Darrell Rodgers Jun 19 '17 at 1:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ It appears by the letter of spell that they specifically can not change the spell or attack since to do so would negate the choose a new target language. \$\endgroup\$ – Darrell Rodgers Jun 19 '17 at 1:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ For following the "letter" I meant to my understanding I don't see anything that explicitly says that they can't move, though it sounds out of place for to be able too. I don't have access to any additional rules, it's just my interpretation of the spell. Also I agree that they cannot change the spell/attack. \$\endgroup\$ – JKSketchy Jun 19 '17 at 3:13
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No, they don't.

Consider an attack spell like eldritch blast which can target multiple characters. You have to pick all of your targets at the time of casting and all blasts fire simultaneously. If you pick a target who is protected by sanctuary at the time of casting you have to choose a new target immediately. You can't fire off a couple of blasts at non-sanctuary targets and then move around before firing off the last blast since all of the blasts fire simultaneously. You also can't put the spell on hold until you've moved. You have to pick the new target immediately or lose the attack entirely.

The opening question was regarding a melee weapon attack and not a spell attack, but the rules for attacking are essentially the same regardless of what kind of attack is being made.

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