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We were recently playing a campaign, where one of the hostiles used Crown of Madness against our Barbarian. The spell succeeded, and as we were standing beside him we got attacked. So far so good, but then the DM argued, that because the Barbarian can do an Extra Attack he is obliged to use it, and attack until possible, and had to hit us again. Ouch.

We argued, that from our understanding based on the rules "a melee attack" only refers to one attack, while the DM argued that "a melee attack" means the whole Attack action, which would include the Extra Attack as well.

The rules for the spell state the following:

The charmed target must use its action before moving on each of its turns to make a melee attack against a creature other than itself that you mentally choose.

Fortunately we did survive both blows by our Barbarian, and managed to escape, but we're still wondering whether the DM's ruling was appropriate based on the rules or not.

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No, you only make one attack. When you can use Extra Attack is very specific:

Extra Attack

Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.

The spell does not say that you "Take the Attack action on your turn", which means you can't trigger Extra Attack. (If they meant that, it would have mentioned that you take the Attack action. The designers have been quite explicit about the difference between "The Attack action" and "an attack" throughout the book. See also this question: What does upper-case-A-Attack action vs. lower-case-a-attack mean?)

Forcing someone to use all their attacks on this spell makes it very powerful; if your DM wants to continue ruling that Crown of Madness forces someone to make all their attacks then I would suggest your party members all pick it up as well; most (stronger) monsters can make 2 or more attacks, so the spell will work in your favor as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Since both happen in your turn, so basically I'd need proof that "take the Attack action" != "make a melee attack". The link looks useful in this case, thanks \$\endgroup\$ – SztupY Oct 1 '17 at 21:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not even this change is enough to make Crown of Madness powerful. \$\endgroup\$ – András Oct 1 '17 at 22:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Absolutely. "Use your action to make a melee attack" is not the same thing at all as "Use your Attack action". It's not the Attack action, otherwise it would say so in the spell description. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Oct 2 '17 at 2:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ It would be very powerful (for a 2nd level spell), if it didn't have the humanoid criteria. \$\endgroup\$ – SztupY Oct 2 '17 at 8:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, I had missed the "targets humanoids only" part, that does power it back down quite a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 2 '17 at 8:36
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In short, your DM made a bad ruling, and here is why:

(This may seem non-sequitur, but bear with me)

If your DM ruled that "a melee attack" as stated in the Crown of Madness spell description means a full Attack action, then they would also have to accept the same meaning from the following:

Polearm Master: When you take the Attack action with only a glaive, halberd, or quarterstaff, you can use a bonus action to make a melee attack with the opposite end.

If you take "a melee attack" to mean a full attack action with the Polearm Master feat, then a level 5 Fighter with an Extra Attack and this feat could, while wielding a glaive, make 4 attacks every round, 2 with your Action and 2 with your Bonus Action, and 6 if they used Action Surge for another full Attack action that round.

The following ability has a similar problem, allowing a creature to take a full Attack action as a reaction if you DM's interpretation of "a melee attack" is applied.

Riposte: When a creature misses you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction and expend one superiority die to make a melee weapon attack against the creature.

See also the Monk of the Open Palm's Opportunist ability, and the Against the Tide ability for Hunter Conclave Rangers for similar situations.

Finally, on page 195 of the PHB, Melee Attacks are defined as:

Used in hand-to-hand combat, a melee attack allows you to attack a foe within your reach. A melee attack typically uses a handheld weapon such as a sword, a warhammer, or an axe. A typical monster makes a melee attack when it strikes with its claws, horns, teeth, tentacles, or other body part. A few spells also involve making a melee attack.

With all this as evidence, it seems apparent that the wording "a melee attack" is intended principally to differentiate it from a ranged attack (which is detailed on the same page in the PHB), but either way, it means a single attempt to hit a target, not a full Attack action.

Also, as a side note, in case anyone was wondering, the phrase "melee weapon attack" as cited in the Riposte text is written that way to show that this combat maneuver can only be performed while wielding a melee weapon, you cannot use the ability if you are unarmed, nor can you use it with a ranged weapon.

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