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The arcane channeling ability states :

Arcane Channeling (Su): Beginning at 3rd level, you can use a standard action to cast any touch spell you know and deliver the spell through your weapon with a melee attack. Casting a spell in this manner does not provoke attacks of opportunity. The spell must have a casting time of 1 standard action or less. If the melee attack is successful, the attack deals damage normally; then the effect of the spell is resolved.

My question is, does this mean it is a single standard action to both cast the spell into your weapon and attack with it, or is it a standard to cast the spell into the weapon and then a standard to attack with the weapon?

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It's a single action.

The action economy statement can be analysed as:

[you can use a standard action]

to

[cast any touch spell you know and deliver the spell through your weapon with a melee attack]

Notice that there is no action description to interrupt the phrase that comes after and is wholly within the scope of “to”. This means two things:

  • this wording makes it a single action
  • this wording doesn't allow it to be used as part of a different kind of action

    For example, by default it's not possible to arcane channel as part of a full attack — the next paragraph has to add explicit permission to make that work at a later level, reinforcing the single-action analysis. As another consequence example, you can't arcane channel during a Sunder or Trip attack, because you'd be taking one of those Special Attack actions instead of the Arcane Channel action.

So it's a package deal, and that packaging cuts both ways: you get the whole thing as a standard action, but you can't separate them and recombine them with anything else, at least not without gaining an ability that rewrites how you can activate it, or an ability that chains into any other standard action you want.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be worthwhile to address the 13th-level expansion of the ability that does allow you to full-attack with a spell. It’s slightly beyond the scope of what was asked about, but it affects your answer (particularly that second bullet point). +1 either way, though. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 7 '18 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Thanks, after re-reading that ending was too brief and lacking nuance. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 7 '18 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Right you are. It was just as the edge of maybe not needing linguistics/English-arts background to follow that sentence before, and correctly naming it doesn't lead the reader to the connection as explicitly as I was hoping, so I skipped the more technical terms and just described it more directly. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 7 '18 at 20:05
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It is a Single action. It says so directly: "you can use a standard action to cast a spell and deliver it through your weapon with a melee attack.

But do note that you indeed can trip while channeling, according to Actions In Combat section of the SRD (footnote 2 on the last table) (Or PHB page 171, I believe)

These attack forms substitute for a melee attack, not an action. As melee attacks, they can be used once in an attack or charge action, one or more times in a full attack action, or even as an attack of opportunity.

Though I'm not sure how that would interact with Improved Trip and Full-Attack Channeling (as it might effectively double the amount of times the spell affects the targets).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour. While this answer makes an challenging point, I'd be interested to see this instead posed as a question (Can a duskblade arcane channel during a trip attempt?); I suspect there's an argument like A different actions substituting for a melee attack isn't a melee attack (like how if a game show promised a Ferrari yet substituted a Yugo—What? They're both cars!), but I don't know if anyone believes that! Anyway, it's always nice to know others still think about this aging game. And, sincerely, thank you for participating and have fun! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Feb 23 '19 at 20:19

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