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The PH is clear about what counts as an attack:

If there's ever any question whether something you're doing counts as an attack, the rule is simple: if you're making an attack roll, you're making an attack

However, it's a general principle, and we know that specific beats general. Are there any specific cases in 5e when you actually performing an attack (that will trigger any "when you hit with an attack" feature) without making an attack roll?

Grapple and Shove doesn't count — they do not count as a hit, so technically they are not "attacks", despite they are called "special melee attacks" in the PH.

Related: What does upper-case-A-Attack action vs. lower-case-a-attack mean?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor Does grappling count as a hit? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 12 '18 at 20:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that this is not a case of specific beats general. 'if A then B' does not imply 'if B then A'. They would have used the phrase 'if and only if' or in short, 'iff'. i.e. the quoted text says that all things that require an attack role are attacks, but it does not mean that all attacks require an attack roll. So there is no general rule for the specific rule to beat. \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Feb 13 '18 at 3:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Scott I think it does impy 'if B then A' in this case. Because of the premise "If there's ever any question whether something you're doing counts as an attack, the rule is simple". \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Feb 13 '18 at 13:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you interested in cases where no attack roll is made at all? There are various features that turn a miss into a hit which are a bit odd since things like the shield spell, critical hits, and the target's AC won't do anything or can't happen. Do these qualify? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 28 at 15:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 that was an abstract question regarding mechanics in general, and yes, I was interested in not making roll at all. But the only answer I've got so far was "no". Turning miss into hit is an edge case, I think this would be useful to know. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor May 28 at 16:03
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No, to the topic question

There are examples of attacks which don't involve attack rolls. The Arcane Archer's seeking arrow is an example of this. "When you use this option, you don’t make an attack roll for the attack." (XGE, p. 30).

But there is no way to trigger an "on a hit" ability without an attack roll. JC has clarified this, saying:

If a feature, such as Sneak Attack and Assassinate, does something special when an attack hits, that special effect doesn't occur if there's no attack roll that hits.

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    \$\begingroup\$ JC's answer doesn't clear it up for me. If you can't add sneak attack what modifiers can you add? The text for adding your dex modifier actual says add the ability modifier you rolled to hit so as written you should not be able to add it. Can you add the +1 from a magic bow, the text as written doesn't preclude it but you could argue it is a special effect that does something when an attack hits, so maybe not. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Bauer Feb 12 '18 at 22:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SteveBauer "the target takes damage as if it were hit by the arrow," in the same paragraph. It explicitly states that the damage is treated AS IF HIT. So your normal damage modifiers apply as if hit. JCs answer doesn't contradict that. \$\endgroup\$ – Luke Feb 13 '18 at 0:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Luke Which damage modifier would that be? The PHB says "you add your ability modifier-the same modifier used for the attack roll" There was no attack roll so why would you get your modifier and which modifier would it be? If it was really AS IF HIT then I would get sneak attack and automatic critical from Assassinate. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Bauer Feb 13 '18 at 5:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or maybe I should ask it what is a normal damage modifier that can be applied to any attack and what is a special modifier that can only be applied to attacks that have an attack roll. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Bauer Feb 13 '18 at 5:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are the any other good examples other than Seeking Arrow that are attacks which don't require an attack roll? I FEEL like I remember seeing some but my memory sucks. \$\endgroup\$ – M C Feb 13 '18 at 21:14
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It is possible to turn a miss into an automatic hit

There are at least two features which can turn misses into hits without any sort of rerolling of dice:

  • The Way of the Drunken Master Monk's Redirect Attack feature:

    This turns a miss against you into a hit against somebody else.

  • The Rogue's Stroke of Luck feature:

    [...] If your attack misses a target within range, you can turn the miss into a hit. [...]

Though these both require an initial attack roll they are rather exceptional in that the attack hits regardless of what the initial attack roll was.


Potentially you could combine these with automatic misses

The Land Druid's Nature's Sanctuary feature states:

[...] When a beast or plant creature attacks you, that creature must make a Wisdom saving throw against your druid spell save DC. On a failed save, the creature must choose a different target, or the attack automatically misses. [...]

Thus, theoretically a multiclass with 14 level in Land Druid and 6 level in Drunken Master Monk could turn an attack into an automatic miss and turn that miss into an automatic hit.

Unfortunately, the automatic miss probably technically still involves an attack roll, so this doesn't actually lead to a hit with no attack rolls involved.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "turns a miss against you into a hit against somebody else" — it does not require you to make an attack roll, but does it make the hit "yours"? (so it triggers yours on-hit features) \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor May 29 at 8:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor Yeah I'm honestly wondering that, I don't think so, but it probably makes the hit the attacker's so if your blinded GWM-using ally attacks you, you just redirect it to a nearby enemy and I think that ally could activate their on-hit features. I might ask this as its own question \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 29 at 13:55

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