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The crown of madness spell states:

The charmed target must use its action before moving on each of its turns to make a melee attack against a creature other than itself that you mentally choose...

I am unsure whether this is its own unique action that the spell forces you to make, similar to how class features which "use your action" are their own unique actions. Or if an affected creature can take any action so long as it includes a melee attack.

For example the sections on "Grappling" and "Shoving a Creature" state:

[Y]ou can use the Attack action to make a special melee attack, a grapple...
Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to shove a creature...

Grapple/Shove require specific actions but involve making a melee attack so my question is this:

If you are under the effects of crown of madness, can make a grapple/shove by taking the Attack action, or is it the case that the attack the spell requires is its own, unique action?

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No

As you say, the creature ”must use its action ... to make a melee attack”. It is not taking the Attack action so this melee attack cannot be replaced with a grapple or shove.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So you'd say this is some unnamed specific action the spell grants/forces? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 26 '19 at 1:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 IMO, yes. Similar to this, you are not taking the Attack action required to Grapple or Shove. The spell "hijacks" your action to make its course. \$\endgroup\$ – StackLloyd Aug 26 '19 at 12:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 and the practical difference is ... \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Aug 26 '19 at 12:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ "I am unsure whether this is its own unique action that the spell forces you to make... Or if an affected creature can take any action so long as it includes a melee attack." That is the practical difference \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 26 '19 at 12:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 "[...] whether this is its own unique action that the spell forces you to make...", this is what I meant with "The spell hijacks your action to make its course". The spell forces you to take your action to make one (as highligthed by the Q/A you linked) melee attack. You can't do anything that merely includes an attack, you're forced to spend your action to only do that one melee attack. \$\endgroup\$ – StackLloyd Aug 26 '19 at 12:59
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Yes, you can

As we see in the 'Attack' vs 'attack' Q&A, a lowercase 'attack' means anything with an attack roll, not only weapon attacks. This is further reinforced by the text in the PHB (p. 195, emphasis mine)

...you can use the Attack action to make a special melee attack, a grapple....

Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to shove a creature,...

With that we see that grappling and shoving are special kinds of melee attacks, which makes them eligible options for mitigating the effects of the spell if it's cast on you.

If the spell said "make a melee weapon attack" instead, you would need to make a melee attack with a weapon.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The Sage Advice Compendium (page 11) has stated: "Grappling and shoving are special melee attacks that require the Attack action (PH, 195).", how would you reconcile this with your answer? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 26 '19 at 12:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ IMHO, the rules themselves, as quoted by you, differentiate between the Attack action and an attack and disprove your claim. The Attack action allows you to make an attack. If you take the Attack action, you can choose to make a special melee attack, either a Grapple or a Shove. The action hijacked by Crown of Madness allows (i.e., forces) you to make one melee attack. It's not an Attack action and it doesn't mention special melee attacks. \$\endgroup\$ – StackLloyd Aug 26 '19 at 13:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not only does this make sense, but anything that can buff such a poor spell is worth doing even if sage advice disagrees \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Aug 27 '19 at 7:26

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