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In Player's Handbook 2 (D&D 3.5), there's a feat called "Telling Blow":

When you strike an opponent's vital areas, you draw on your ability to land crippling blows to make the most of your attack.

Prerequisite: Skirmish or sneak attack ability,

Benefit: When you score a critical hit against a target, you deal your skirmish or sneak attack damage in addition to the damage from your critical hit. Your critical multiplier applies only to your normal damage, not your skirmish or sneak attack damage. This benefit affects both melee and ranged attacks.

I don't understand the "or" (you deal your skirmish OR sneak attack damage).

I understand that I can't choose to apply both, but what if I'm already sneaking, can I choose to add the skirmish bonus? Or if I moved 10' before my attack (so I have my skirmish bonus), can I choose, on a critical hit, to add my sneak attack bonus as well?

Thanks!

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This is not an exclusive or. You get both on every critical hit; you don’t have to pick one, and you don’t have to qualify for either. You just get to “deal [any damage that is sneak attack or skirmish] in addition to the damage from your critical hit.” Basically, resolving your critical hit looks like this:

  • Roll a high enough number to hit and threaten a critical hit

  • Confirm the critical hit

  • Decide if sneak attack applies—Telling Blow says it does

  • Decide if skirmish applies—Telling Blow says it, too, does

  • Roll your damage, multiplying your damage appropriately (read: not multiplying extra damage dice like those from sneak attack and skirmish)

While reading that “or” as an exclusive or is possible, that reading fails because in such instances, Wizards of the Coast typically explains when or how you have to choose. It would specify if you have to choose on taking the feat, or on dealing the critical hit, or whatever, and it would specify whether or not you can change your choice later. Without this information, reading it as an exclusive-or means the feat is missing necessary information. When two readings are possible, but one of those readings requires additional information that is conspicuously absent, that is very strong evidence that the other one was the one meant.

It’s also just consistent with the English language, and D&D 3.5e rules text generally—“or” is often inclusive, probably more often than not. English relies on context to indicate the difference, and the 3.5e rules text is no exception here. Again, the lack of details about how and when such a choice is made is the context here that suggests that no choice was actually intended at all. We know that Wizards of the Coast knew how to write about mutually-exclusive choices; we have lots of examples of them doing so, talking about how and when the choice is made. There isn’t a whole lot of evidence that they suddenly forgot how to do it for this one feat.

Finally, reading this as an exclusive-or also fails because making it an exclusive or turns a mediocre feat into an absolutely terrible one.

By definition, having both skirmish and sneak attack means multiclassing. Both are inefficient approaches to damage, and they largely interfere with one another. Sneak attack wants you to stay largely in place and flank with someone, skirmish demands you move. Unless you can move from flanking position to flanking position, or move and simultaneously deny your opponent’s Dex to AC, and do all that without giving up your full-attack, you are doing dramatically worse than a rogue or scout typically would be—and those are not high-damage classes in the least. And here you are, investing a feat—an incredibly precious, scarce, and valuable resource!—into critical hits, which happen all-too-rarely, just to try to get around that awkwardness.

A rogue/scout has a lot of difficulties. Trying to build around critical hits has even more difficulties. Making life even more difficult by forcing you to pick one with this feat is simply inappropriate.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Obviously, I disagree that the 'or' means 'and/or'. Just because the feat is weak doesn't mean that the rules read the most powerful way. Also, the Swift Ambusher feat (C. Scd. p81) stacks the rogue and scout levels for skirmish damage (and AC bonus). That's how I believe that you're supposed to stack them. The authors of 3.5 are not in the habit of just handing out damage dice to mundanes for the price of one feat, especially stacking them. I honestly believe that you've got this one wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus May 26 '18 at 5:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Chemus That would be inconsistent with how they write about exclusive choices—which isn't impossible, of course. But in every other case of an exclusive choice, they spell out when you have to make the choice and whether or not, and when, that choice can be changed. The absence of that is very strong evidence that no choice was intended. If you read it as exclusive, you are also reading the feat as incomplete, missing necessary info. And in both English generally, and 3.5e rules text, “or” is often inclusive—probably more often than it is exclusive. The phrase “and/or” is relatively rare. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 26 '18 at 12:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chemus Also, for the record, Complete Scoundrel was published in Jan. 2007, while Player’s Handbook II was published in May 2006—nearly a year prior. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 26 '18 at 12:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer would benefit from having at least an example of one of XOR from the books. Because as it is, it kind of sound like a baseless statement. Maybe it's the french-speaker talking, but in everyday conversation, if someone tells me to "go and buy ice cream or cake for tonight", I'll ask "what if they have both?". \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 May 26 '18 at 21:44
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"You deal your skirmish or sneak attack damage" does not mean "You deal your skirmish damage or your sneak attack damage". It means "You deal your damage that is classified as skirmish or sneak attack".

Is skirmish damage "skirmish or sneak attack"? Yes, it is.

Is sneak attack damage "skirmish or sneak attack"? Yes, it is.

So, you deal both.

"You deal your skirmish and sneak attack damage" might have meant "damage that is both". I've never seen WotC writers use and/or in their books (unfortunatley, because that would have been clearer).

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The feat allows you to add the precision damage from either ability to critical hit damage, whether or not you're sneaking or moving 10' or more that round. You may choose the best one for the situation.

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