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DMG p161 describes the Dancing Sword. However it only talks about the sword attacking, not defending. Can a character attack the sword?

I'm picturing a situation with a narrow (one person wide) passage. The guardian of the passage has the Dancing Sword and he unleashes it upon the closest member of the party. Is the party member just going to have to defend for 4 rounds until the sword returns to its owner or can the party member attack and damage the sword or try to grab it and take control?

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It's up to the DM.

You can use the rules for Objects in the Dungeon Master's Guide. The sword is likely made of steel, so it would have AC 19. It's a small resilient object, giving it 3d6 (10) hit points. Since it's a magical item, it should have resistance to all damage, according to the Dungeon Master's Guide (see "Magic Item Resilience").

If this seems to make the sword too fragile, the DM could assign a damage threshold:

An object with a damage threshold has immunity to all damage unless it takes an amount of damage from a single attack or effect equal to or greater than its damage threshold, in which case it takes damage as normal. Any damage that fails to meet or exceed the object’s damage threshold is considered superficial and doesn’t reduce the object’s hit points.

Grabbing the sword

The DM could allow a character to attempt to grab the sword. But even if a character can grab the sword, they cannot take control of it, since it requires attunement to use. They could however prevent the sword from moving, with creative use of their spells and equipment.

How the sword interacts with the battlefield

Note that the Dancing Sword is not a creature and therefore does not provoke opportunity attacks as it moves, doesn't have actions or reactions, and doesn't make opportunity attacks. It also does not occupy its space. Any character is free to move past the sword, as it would any other small object.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Doesn't this set a dangerous precedent of allowing to attack other creature's weapons? Since any small-ish object is going to have quite a laugable pool of HP, it would probably be often easier to get rid of the weapon first to cripple the attacker. That sounds like a creative RP at first, but stops being funny when the DM starts to obliterate the whole collection of PC's magic items. Also: aren't magic items supposed to be extra durable, nearly indestructible? \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Jun 28 '18 at 6:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I second the comment from @J.E, having your fancy Dancing Sword destroyed in 1 hit is going to mean nobody dares use it! \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jun 28 '18 at 10:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ The rules for attacking objects are not intended for objects that are being worn or carried. See this Sage Advice \$\endgroup\$ – Apocalisp Jun 28 '18 at 12:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Apocalisp Erm, the sage advice does not actually say that, it just says that >"Those rules are entirely in the DM's hands." and that he's >"encouraged to rule that certain types of attacks/damage do nothing to certain objects". I would for example rule to that attacks do nothing to the sword, as it is with any other weapon vs. weapon (or armor) interaction in the game. \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Jun 28 '18 at 12:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Apocalisp Please don't take it personally. What you wrote was not in line with the source you cited, so I included the source text for anyone who would skip opening the link. \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Jun 28 '18 at 13:53
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I would like to add some points to the accepted answer:

  • As I said in a comment, allowing to attack weapons using the objects rules can spiral into a very weird game. Imagine the players claiming to attack not the monster, but it's sword. And then it's shield. Or it's talons. Talons are a tiny inanimate object made of bone and therefore they have stupid AC and almost no HP. And sudenly the monster has nothing to attack with. I am obviously driving this ad absurdum, but you see my point. Especially when you imagine the DM declaring an attack against your +3 lifesteal dagger of Awesome (yes, magical items have resistances; that matters very little, still a much easier target than the PC themself).

  • An unattuned character might not be able to control the sword, but sure as hell can try to take it and restrain it. Maybe the DM might simulate it using graple rules, even though they might not be technically applicable. Putting a sack over it might actually be – RAW – enough to make it stop and fall:

    If the sword has no unobstructed path to you, it moves as close to you as it can and then falls to the ground.

  • As mentioned, the sword is not that big of an issue, you can just run past it and punch the user (the sword cannot be there alone, someone must issue orders/wield it). It is a strong magic item, but in the scenario you describe, you would get into more trouble against any sort of magic user with any sort of wall of ... spell.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The rules for object attacks don’t require the DM to allow attacking every object in the game whether it’s worn, carried, or otherwise attended. It’s not a slippery slope unless the DM wants it to be. \$\endgroup\$ – Apocalisp Jun 28 '18 at 13:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Apocalisp I sort of agree with you, but to me there is not much of distinction between the dancing sword and any other sword. So to me it's a matter of consistency. Even if you limit it to the dancing swords, as a player I would be pretty mad if a DM destroyed mine with a few hits. \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Jun 28 '18 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ A weird game would be one where you can attack objects (which you can in the basic rules) unless they are swords. \$\endgroup\$ – Apocalisp Jun 28 '18 at 13:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Apocalisp Again, I agree with you, but the point of DnD really isn't plausible simulation of reality. For it to be totally not weird, if you smacked the dancing sword with your own sword, your own sword would give up and break sooner than the magical dancing one (since whacking objects against each other should probably realistically damage both). \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Jun 28 '18 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.E. There's quite a large distinction, which is that nobody's holding the dancing sword. What it's much less distinct from is the Flying Sword. It's really hard to justify being able to attack some animated autonomous magic swords but not others. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jun 29 '18 at 20:27
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Honestly, there is not much I can say about this. I looked at page 161 of the DMG and there is not much I can say about it. This is a situation where I have to say that you have to ask the DM about something such as hit points or a certain amount of damage done to it before it falls to the ground. If you are the DM, go ahead and come up with some cool new way (If you wish) to figure out how this dancing sword should work in that case. If the four rounds is how it goes, then that situation would go just fine.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The answer above looks really good. Adding and looking at certain mechanics from the handbooks is an excellent idea to use. \$\endgroup\$ – Broderick Smith Jun 28 '18 at 3:14

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