In D&D 3.5, the Ettin (Monster Manual p.65) has an ability to make offhand attacks without penalty. Its statline lists a full attack of "+12/+7" with two morningstars.

My best guess is that this is the iterative attacks, and there is a free additional attack at +12 with the other hand. But I would have expected that to be listed as "+12/+12/+7" in that case.

So, what's up?

(Almost a read-the-rules question, but the rules are unclear to me.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ This question came up in my answer to this question, but it’s not a duplicate since the question didn’t actually ask this, it just needed an answer to this in order to get to an answer to its actual question. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 16 '19 at 2:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, just moved the portion of my answer to that over here, and linked here in that answer. Still a related question. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 16 '19 at 2:25

Four attacks (+12/+7/+12/+7).

Full Attack: 2 morningstars +12/+7 melee (2d6+6) or 2 javelins +5 ranged (1d8+6)

Whenever a creature in the Monster Manual wields multiple manufactured weapons and its attacks are divided between primary and off-hand, the statblock always makes this clear by stating them separately. Compare it to the three-armed athach (Monster Manual p.21):

Full Attack: Morningstar +12/+7 melee (3d6+8) and 2 morningstars +12 melee (3d6+4) [...]

The athach's first morningstar is primary, so it can make iterative attacks. The other two are off-hand (Multiweapon Fighting, Monster Manual p.304), and stated separately. The same occurs with the marilith (p.44):

Full Attack: Primary longsword +25/+20/+15/+10 melee (2d6+9/19-20) and 5 longswords +25 melee (2d6+4/19-20) [...]

This makes it clear that if the ettin was intended to wield its second morningstar off-hand, it would normally be stated separately, like in the the athach statblock.

In fact, according to Monster Manual p.6, "Full Attack", weapons listed as the first entry in the Full Attack entry are always primary weapons:

This line shows all the physical attacks the creature makes when it uses the full-round action to make a full attack. It gives the number of attacks along with the weapon, attack bonus, and form of attack (melee or ranged). The first entry is for the creature's primary weapon [...]

Both of the ettin's morningstars are therefore primary, meaning that neither of them are off-hand. This means it's not fighting under normal Two-Weapon Fighting rules (which only apply when one weapon is off-hand), and therefore the limit of a single off-hand attack does not apply.

  • \$\begingroup\$ “However, [the three attacks] argument would have to be be that the ettin's statblock was calculated incorrectly,” and the four-attacks argument would require the text to be incorrect, which is usually, officially, considered the primary source and therefore not the one you change when they are in conflict. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 19 '19 at 11:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your feedback. I've rewritten my answer to account for these points, while also saying more with fewer words. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Sep 19 '19 at 15:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure if Drider fits your claim, does it? It has its primary and secondary attacks listed the same way as Ettin has its two primary attacks listed (simply because they both have idential number of attacks and idential attack bonus). If Drider's Str score was 10 (+finesse for easier attack bonuses), I bet it have looked like: Full Attack: 2 daggers +3 melee (1d6/19-20) and bite +1 melee (1d4+1 plus poison), for a melee full attack. \$\endgroup\$ – annoying imp Sep 20 '19 at 7:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @annoyingimp Good point. The drider's 2 daggers, condensed into in the primary listing even though damage suggests one is off-hand, may be an accidental hold-over from 3.0, where the primary listing rule only applied to natural weapons. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Sep 20 '19 at 18:12

The description of superior two-weapon fighting does not mention iterative attacks with the offhand, and the ettin lacks the Improved Two-Weapon Fighting feat which would otherwise be required for “iterative” offhand attacks.

But then the full attack line of ettin’s statblock is wrong... probably? As a creature with BAB +7/+2, the ettin should, assuming it using the two-weapon fighting (and benefiting from superior two-weapon fighting) be making a main-hand morningstar attack at +12, an offhand morningstar attack at +12, and then a single morningstar attack, with either hand, at +7.

What we get is

Full Attack 2 morningstars +12/+7 melee [...]

It’s not all that clear to me if the two morningstars are meant to each get attacks at +12 and +7 (for a total of four attacks, adding an “iterative” to the offhand attack), or if this line isn’t including two-weapon fighting and just shows the +12/+7 that would be the ettin’s base case (which can be made with either of two morningstars). The former contradicts the text insofar as the text offers no way for the ettin to get that iterative, and the latter is just useless and unhelpful since the ettin should never attack that way. Either seems like a mistake to me, but I can’t decide what, exactly, the ettin is supposed to have here.

Long story short, you can make a case for +12/+12/+7 or for +12/+12/+7/+7, and it’s not clear which it’s supposed to be.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, this actually does narrow it down. I had originally tried to list out all the options I could think of, but “I’m confused” seemed like a clearer question. (“…or it could be a nullity growing from 3.0 roots, meaning that Ettins aren’t right or left handed (just like everyone else in 3.5), or, or, or… “) \$\endgroup\$ – fectin - free Monica Sep 16 '19 at 3:38

The Ettin gets four attacks total with its 2 MorningStars. The way it is written is identical to that of the Hydra, which simply lists the number of times it gets the listed attack iterations. thematically, each head of an Ettin controls one of its two arms (as stated in its description of Superior Two-Weapon Fighting (EX)) and is treated kind of like a different monster than the other head, retaining full bonuses with each arm.

Note that the ettin is slightly worse-off than the Hydra in that it can only make a single attack as a standard action instead of attacking with each head's controlled arm, and it doesn't get to use both its heads on attacks of opportunity because it doesn't have the Hydra special combat reflexes feat.

Also note this excerpt from the monster manual errata, which gives authority to the stat blocks of monsters (where the number of attacks are defined for the ettin and hydra):

A monster’s statistics block supersedes the descriptive text.

(Monster Manual errata 1)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that statblocks are defined as secondary sources, and the primary source (the text) makes no mention of the ettin being able to attack more than a creature ordinarily would—unlike the hydra’s, which does. I’m not sure I buy that we should read anything at all into the similarity of the formatting of a secondary source. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 18 '19 at 21:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ On the other hand... maybe it’s better than nothing. I’m waffling on it. I’d definitely upvote this answer if it noted the problems and that this is highly-circumstantial evidence. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 18 '19 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think kryan is unsure if the secondary source's statblock is valid. Might be something lost in translation. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 18 '19 at 23:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WannabeWarlock Sure, except plenty of text describes how attacks work, and it’s not like this. Moreover, nothing about the statblock really says this, you’re relying on it being the same as with the hydra, except it isn’t the same, since the hydra has explanatory text and the ettin does not. You’re making a lot of assumptions, on a source that’s already weak, is where my hesitation is coming from. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 19 '19 at 0:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan RE: "Note that statblocks are defined as secondary sources, and the primary source (the text) makes no mention of the ettin being able to attack more than a creature ordinarily would…." Actually, for monsters, it's the other way 'round: "A monster’s statistics block supersedes the descriptive text." (Monster Manual errata 1). \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 19 '19 at 13:18

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