My confusion comes from the somewhat ambiguous wording of the Disarm action as described in the Dungeon Master's Guide (p. 271):

A creature can use a weapon attack to knock a weapon or another item from a target's grasp. The attacker makes an attack roll contested by the target's Strength (Athletics) check or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If the attacker wins the contest, the attack causes no damage or other ill effect, but the defender drops the item.

Two things stand out to me:

A creature can use a weapon attack

One way to interpret this is to mean that this is replacing a normal weapon attack, disarming the target instead of dealing damage. The other way to interpret this is that this weapon attack is special; that despite being called an attack, it's intended to be its own action type.

If the attacker wins the contest, the attack causes no damage or other ill effect

This also stands out to me. If this were its own action, and not a replacement for a regular attack, then it wouldn't be necessary to specify that damage is negated; it would simply be presumed to deal no damage.

What is the correct way to interpret this action? Is it its own action, or a replacement for a single attack as part of the Attack action? If a character gets the Extra Attack feature, can Disarm replace every attack they're otherwise allowed to make?


It's an attack, not a separate action

The answer is in the text you quoted:

A creature can use a weapon attack

If it took its own action, it would say something along the lines of "As an action, ...". The "weapon attack" wording is uniformly used to indicate that you can swap out one of your attacks for the effect.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think is the way it's meant, too - the answer would be improved if we can provide a concrete example of another rule where the same wording is used to mean this, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Sep 24 '18 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ My understanding of this also means that you could attempt a disarm on an opportunity attack, because that is a 'weapon attack', even though it is not an 'Attack action'. \$\endgroup\$ – Theo Brinkman Sep 24 '18 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yup, that's correct. \$\endgroup\$ – Xanthir Sep 26 '18 at 3:26

It isn't clear, but it's probably easiest to treat it as an attack

The optional Disarm is listed under Action Options in the DMG (pp271). Emphasis is mine.:

This section provides new action options for combat.

However, as you've quoted in the text above there is the reference to:

A creature can use a weapon attack...

Reviewing the Options

Looking at the other Action Options, there are some directional differences:

  • Climbing onto a Bigger Creature - Only states to use a Grapple but provides additional functionality.

    If one creature wants to jump onto another creature, it can do so by grappling

  • Shove Aside - Specifically references using the Shove attack

    With this option, a creature uses the special shove attack from the Player’s Handbook to force a target to the side, rather than away

  • Tumble Specifically states to use an action or bonus action

    As an action or a bonus action...

This gives us some instances where they reference existing mechanics and some where they say it's an entire action.

Unfortunately, neither is really specified for the Disarm, unless you take the "use a weapon attack", which would be perfectly reasonable, as the reason for doing so.

Recommendation: it's a weapon attack

I think this makes the most sense. There is only one example of these Actions that actually take an action, so we can use that type of language to guide us.

As Disarm doesn't have that and it does state "use a weapon attack" is sufficient to suggest that it's just an attack and not a full action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this mean that, if a character is dual-wielding, they can attack with their main hand and then as a bonus action attempt to disarm the enemy? This would be awesome for a rogue who hits on his first attack (getting sneak attack damage) and then disarms the enemy since they don't need the extra damage (and I'd consider a disarm more worthwhile than the extra d6 damage). \$\endgroup\$ – Doc Sep 24 '18 at 21:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Doc The offhand attack is a weapon attack, so yes. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Sep 24 '18 at 22:29

The entire Action is used to Disarm

My reasoning is the inclusion of the specific text on the Grapple action

When you want to grab a creature or wrestle with it, you can use the Attack action to make a Special melee Attack, a grapple. If you’re able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this Attack replaces one of them.

Emphasis mine. The same wording appears on the Shove action. This is not specified for the Disarm action.

I believe the reason Disarm is a "weapon attack" that deals no damage is that it requires a weapon, an enemy within reach, and all other limitations and requirements of a weapon attack.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The absence of that text doesn't really tell us anything specific. One possible reading is that Disarm doesn't have that language because Disarm is different. Another is that Disarm doesn't have that language because they figured you understood the pattern from Grapple and Shove. Another is that by the time the DMG was written, the writers were using different language to express the concept: "use a weapon attack" rather than "use the Attack action". \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Sep 24 '18 at 17:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is true that when interpreting many legal codes, an exception being called out in one case implies the opposite in other cases, that is not a practical way to interpret D&D. And it isn't a universal way to interpret legal codes or rules either. If you have any rules text that states this is a proper way to interpret D&D rules, please include it in your answer. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Sep 24 '18 at 18:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ In general, anything that's a correct way to interpret a legal code is the wrong way to interpret D&D rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Sep 24 '18 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I want to stress what Mark Wells pointed out. The disarm option says that you use "a weapon attack" while grappling says you use "the Attack action." The clarification is absolutely essential in the case of grapple, if you want to claim that grappling takes a single attack (not the entire action). You'd need to make a case for why the same exception is needed in the case of Disarm. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Sep 24 '18 at 19:18

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