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One of the interesting parts of the owl is its flyby ability

Flyby: The owl doesn't provoke Opportunity Attacks when it flies out of an enemy's reach.

With this ability, could a druid wildshape into an owl (lets assume circle of the moon bonus action transformation for the sake of action economy) and go for a direct attack against the eyes, blinding the enemy? And if so, what's stopping the druid from abusing this ability and making every enemy they face blind with no opportunity attacks?

Considering how crippling a permanent blind condition is...

A blinded creature can’t see and automatically fails any ability check that requires sight.

Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature’s Attack rolls have disadvantage.

This just seems like a really powerful strategy and I can't see any downsides to just spamming this strategy, are there any drawn backs I'm not seeing (pardon the pun)? Or are owls just straight up unable to be that specific with there attacks?

To be specific, this question is not called-shots or "could that attack work?", but rather preventing abuse of the ability or "what is the counter towards the attack?" Without an attack of opportunity I don't see how a creature could prevent this from happen or counter the attack with an attack of its own, it just seems like a free blind condition on anyone you chose with no consequences.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of Aiming at specific body parts \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Sep 29 '18 at 11:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why an owl should be different from any other creature, trying to blind an opponent? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Sep 29 '18 at 11:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think there's two separate questions — first, "called shots" in melee (which I personally think is covered just fine by the existing question, but you could try for a new one making your arguments about melee range being different), and second, "flyby abuse" — which is a totally different issue. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Sep 29 '18 at 12:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would also note that the question linked by enkryptor does more than just address ranged attacks. The accepted answer discusses why Called Shots are problematic in 5E in general. Your question isn't a dupe of that one at this point, but I'd recommend giving that one a read before you let your players start making called shots. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Sep 29 '18 at 12:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd recommend you clean up this question to address only flyby abuse, per Bloodcinder's comment. It can get reopened when it is scoped to a single problem. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 29 '18 at 13:03
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I'm going to address only the "flyby abuse" aspect, because Aiming at specific body parts I think covers the issue of "called shots" pretty well.

Also the problem with the owl is there immunity to opportunity attacks preventing any consequence to getting that close to a creatures face, "the owl blinds you", "I wildly swing towards my face in an effort to punch the bird", "that's an opportunity attack so that misses". Rinse and repeat for the entire game, seems OP when there's no counters

There is, however, an easy counter, which I've used as a DM on a player who was convinced that the owl familiar meant a free, unstoppable "help" action each turn (despite my repeated warning that that familiars that engage in combat are fair game for enemy attacks): flyby attack does not protect against readied actions. Any even slightly intelligent enemy faced with a repeatedly swooping owl will not hope for opportunity attacks but instead ready to swat it from the sky. Poor beastie has AC 11 and 1 (one) hit point. Problem definitely countered.

It's worth noting that with that AC and the single hit point, the owl is a very vulnerable target in combat to any ranged attacks, as well. Even if the intended victim's entire party has no ranged attacks, an improvised weapon attack like throwing a stone is quite likely to bring it down.

Of course, you make the problem worse if you allow called shots targeting vulnerable areas. If you really want to to house rule that, I encourage you to make the chance of success low enough that this remains a very risky tactic.

Also, in the case of a wild-shaped druid, the consequences can be more dire than those of losing a familiar and having to re-cast that spell, since losing single HP means the druid is:

  1. Probably going to take some amount of excess damage — if the retaliatory strike does 20 damage, that's 19 left over in "real" damage for the druid's native form. Compare instead being a giant snapping turtle: 75 HP.

  2. And, in taking that damage, the druid is back in native form. That in itself may be inconvenient — you might find yourself in melee when you didn't want to be! — but worse, there's no "you drift gently to the ground" protection for this situation. You are going to be prone, and may take additional bludgeoning damage from falling.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a bunch! Sorry for all the confusing. \$\endgroup\$ – Youjay Sep 29 '18 at 12:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Edit just fixed a few typos. The theory crafting at GiTP forums regarding the free help/OA from familiars is causing no end of trouble, it seems, at actual tables. Very well presented explanation of why it does not work. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 29 '18 at 13:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Thanks. Wrote that on my phone, hence all the typos. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Sep 29 '18 at 13:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ You could add, the owl can also be attacked and killed easily using normal attack, so you can't "spam this strategy" even if it would work once. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Sep 29 '18 at 14:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Youjay Readied attacks are actually a terrible idea that makes a Flyby more powerful. If I have Flyby, then I can just ignore the enemy that readied an attack, thereby wasting its action. The more enemies ready their actions the better! \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Sep 29 '18 at 18:09
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The blindness is the problem, not the Flyby.

Considering how crippling a permanent blind condition is... This just seems like a really powerful strategy

Yes, I agree. Blindness is extremely crippling. Which is why there is a core rule that shuts down this kind of strategy. The rules for Damage and Healing state:

The loss of hit points has no effect on a creature’s capabilities until the creature drops to 0 hit points.

Sight is a perfect example of a capability that suffers no effect from damage. So if damage can't blind a creature, what can? Only abilities that explicitly say so!

Ows have no such ability, hence they can't blind an enemy, at least not until that enemy drops to 0 hit points!

On the other hand, Flyby contributes almost nothing to the strategy that you have described, because a creature can't take opportunity attacks if it can't see its enemy. In other words, anyone can safely back away from a blind enemy, whether or not they have Flyby.

Moreover, consider that all the options available to players to blind enemies mid-combat consume some kind of resource (i.e. spellslots for blindness/deafness) and even then, the blindness typically lasts only a couple of turns.

Strategies against Flyby

If you set aside the blindness, it becomes clear that an Owl is basically useless for combat1. A druid that is high enough level to turn into a flying beast would become a Giant Owl, a Pteranodon, or (if they are a moon druid) a Quetzalcoatlus. Like the Owl, these beasts have Flyby and unlike the Owl, they actually pose a threat, especially the Quetzalcoatlus. Therefore, the question of how to deal with Flyby is relevant.

In the case of a Giant Owl or Pteranodon druid, the best strategy is probably to ignore them, because druids deal more damage if they sling cantrips and spells. Of course, that is only true if the druid is not doing something notable (like concentrating on a powerful spell) while in the shape of a Giant Owl or Pteranodon.

In general, the best way to deal with enemies with high mobility is to use ranged attacks or magic. For example, magic missile doesn't care whether the enemy is 5 or 80 feet away.

The next best way to deal with enemies with high mobility is to rob them of said mobility. Nets, grapples, and magic all do the trick.

The worst way to deal with enemies with high mobility is to ready melee attacks, because a readied action is a wasted action if the trigger does not occur. Any creature skilled in hit-and-run tactics will know not to approach an enemy who has done nothing on it's turn. Moreover, readied attacks cannot benefit from multiattack nor extra attack and readied spells require concentration, so the Ready Action is typically a losing move even if it does trigger.


1 The exception being the notorious Owl familiars.

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