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The artificer (from Unearthed Arcana: Artificer) gets the Mechanical Servant feature at 6th level, part of which states:

If you are the target of a melee attack and the servant is within 5 feet of the attacker, you can use your reaction to command the servant to respond, using its reaction to make a melee attack against the attacker.

The text does not explicitly state that taking any damage is necessary, just that "you are the target of a melee attack"; the actions of both parties (the artificer's and the mechanical servant's) are reactions, which are capable of interrupting others' turns.

When the Mechanical Servant uses its reaction to make a melee attack, does it interrupt the triggering attack against the artificer? Or does it occur only after the attack against the artificer?

For example, in the scenario that a goblin proceeds to attack my artificer, and I use my reaction to command my mechanical servant to make a melee attack against this goblin, if the mechanical servant's attack kills the goblin, does the goblin's attack land? Or is it killed before connecting?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good question on the "playtest material" that is UA. Whichever you decide to do based on the answers below, consider keeping track of how it worked out and forwarding your experiences to WoTC. Even better would be to try it both ways, and see if you detect a difference. The UA has been presented as "for play test" so why not make a contribution? Up to you and your table, of course. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 10 '18 at 13:32
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It (probably) can prevent the damage, if it kills the attacker

As you stated, the trigger for the action is not taking/being hit or taking damage, but specifically being targeted. So the reaction may take place between being targeted and being hit, and therefore it might prevent the attack if it kills the attacker. If it doesn't kill the attacker, the attack continues normally, after the reaction is resolved.

Compare some spells with casting time of reaction, which carefully show the timing:

  • Hellish rebuke

    1 reaction, which you take in response to being damaged by a creature within 60 feet of you that you can see

  • Shield

    1 reaction, which you take when you are hit by an attack or targeted by the magic missile spell ... ... you have a +5 bonus to AC, including against the triggering attack

  • Counterspell

    1 reaction, which you take when you see a creature within 60 feet of you casting a spell

Keep in mind that this is both nitpicky territory and Unearthed Arcana material, so the DM's decision will be the final arbiter. One issue is that – mechanically speaking – there is no such thing as targeting in the rules. You simply attack someone, without any special declaration, but this is more of a phrasing issue.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the answer. I'm quite new to the site, is there anything I should add to/change about the question? \$\endgroup\$ – ThousandEmu Sep 10 '18 at 7:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThousandEmu Thanks for accepting. I think you question is fine; if someone finds a way to improve it, they might suggest an edit. But you might want to wait (for a day or so) before accepting an answer, so that you don't discourage other potential answerers, who might provide some other important information. \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Sep 10 '18 at 7:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would argue that, although this reaction occurs on attack, this doesn't mean it stops the attack from happening or prevents the damage. Similar example - attacks of opportunity trigger on movement but do not stop the movement unless you have a specific ability (like the Sentinel feat) that says it does. Similarly, the Shield spell specifically can prevent the attack by the AC increase (though this needed some clarification via Mr Crawford I believe) \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Sep 10 '18 at 9:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PJRZ the question specifically asks "if the mechanical servant's attack kills the goblin, does the goblin's attack land?", so that is the thing being answered here. Just the reaction itself does not stop the attack, of course. Will edit to make clear. \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Sep 10 '18 at 10:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.E: Sorry - you're right. My attention was grabbed by the question in bold so I didn't read the follow-on questions properly. \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Sep 10 '18 at 10:10
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Probably not, but the wording is ambiguous and up to the DM

The closest parallel is that of the Sentinel Feat. The mechanics are very similar and both utilize the expenditure of your reaction. The feat itself states (emphasis mine):

When a creature within 5 feet of you makes an attack against a target other than you (and that target doesn't have this feat), you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against the attacking creature.

The main differences between Sentinel's wording and The Mechanical Servant is:

[Sentinel] When a creature within 5 feet of you makes an attack...

[Mechanical Servant] If you are the target of a melee attack

Sentinel goes on to utilize the same target term, but ultimately they are very similar in that you have an opportunity to use a reaction when an enemy targets/attacks.

Wording Maybe...Intent No

We do have a previous question on Can Sentinel interrupt an enemy's attack? where the answer there, along with a tweet from Jeremy Crawford, says that is not the intent.

Targeting vs Attacking

Because there really isn't a separate targeting mechanic for melee attacks, it makes it hard to create a mechanical trigger that isn't based on something within the rules. I think that this is where Crawford was going with his ruling that you have to let the triggering event complete - which is the attack (of which targeting is a part of...not separate from.)

Order of events

The requirement for the trigger to complete is how we get to the order of events.

If we go by Crawford's intent, the the Artificer must wait for the attack to complete before using the reaction (does not stop the attack.)

If you go by your own ruling that you can do so once the enemy has 'targeted' but not actually rolled an attack, then you can utilize your reaction before the enemy rolls their attack.

Up to the DM

Because of the ambiguity in the RAW, and not withstanding Crawford's intent clarification, I think it's safe to leave this up to the DM.

Personally, I like the idea of interrupting the attack - but it may be too powerful. Let the DM decide how they want to run it, but make sure to stay consistent in the ruling - or communicate a change if you feel it's not working and why.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The issue I have with comparing Sentinel to this, using DMG pg 252 advice on Adjudicating Reaction Times is that this source specifies that the reaction occurs after the trigger, which is when you are the target of a melee attack in this case, as opposed to Sentinel, where the trigger is when a creature makes an attack. Therein lies the difference between making an attack and targetting a creature for an attack. However, you have not specifically cited this source, so I cannot fault you, I just felt that mentioning this distinction was important. \$\endgroup\$ – ThousandEmu Sep 11 '18 at 7:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThousandEmu Yup - and that's kinda where it gets weird. First, UA is UA and the wording may simply be 'unfinished.' Second, the language is VERY close between the two in terms of trigger, but separating "target of a melee attack" from the attack itself is difficult because there is no separate targeting mechanic for melee attacks - it's part of the attack. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 11 '18 at 12:26

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