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Suppose a creature gets some benefits when they take the Attack action. For example, the Horizon Walker ranger's Distant Strike lets them teleport at will, but only when they take the Attack action.

Could a creature take the Attack action and gain those benefits, without making attack rolls or otherwise targeting a creature (e.g. grappling and shoving)?

Could they "attack" an empty space, as though trying to hit an unseen enemy (even if they don't suspect an enemy is there)?

Note that I am asking about the general case, whether any and/or all creatures can do this, regardless of class or special features.


Inspired by this question: Can a Ranger Use Distant Strike to Pass Through Forcecage?

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100%.

You do not have to target a creature when using the Attack Action.

From the Making an Attack section in the PHB:

  1. Choose a target. Pick a target within your attack's range: a creature, an object, or a location.

So you can take the Attack action, teleport and then attack the air in front of you (location).

As for Horizon Walker specifically, if you did that you would not get the third attack since that part specifically mentions creatures.

If you attack at least two different creatures with the action, you can make one additional attack with it against a third creature.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. The "or a location" clause is exactly what I was looking for. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Oct 23 at 2:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just for additional information: This clause was specifically added so players can try to hit invisible enemies which they could not target otherwise, as you have to have LoS to target practically anything, and invisibility obviously prevents LoS. Also, this is for delayed actions where the target creature is not yet in the targeted location (Waiting for it to become visible or teleport there) \$\endgroup\$ – khaoliang Oct 23 at 11:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can lead to hilariously weird role-play. "Why do you punch the air when teleporting?" "Well that is how you do it, don't you?" \$\endgroup\$ – Hermann Oct 23 at 18:17
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If something requires you to take the Attack action, you can simply attack the ground or empty space or anything else

The Attack action states:

[...] With this action, you make one melee or ranged Attack. See the “Making an Attack” section for the rules that govern attacks [...]

And the "Making an Attack" section in term states:

[...] An Attack has a simple structure.

  1. Choose a target. Pick a target within your attack’s range: a creature, an object, or a location.

Thus the Attack action does not somehow require you to target a creature; you can instead target an object (such as something you carry), or a location (such as empty space)


There are ways to take the Attack action without actually making any attacks at all

One such example is the Battle Master Fighter's Commander's Strike Maneuver which states:

When you take the Attack action on your turn, you can forgo one of your attacks and use a bonus action to direct one of your companions to strike. When you do so, choose a friendly creature who can see or hear you and expend one superiority die. That creature can immediately use its reaction to make one weapon attack, adding the superiority die to the attack's damage roll.

Here the ally makes the attack instead, but note that the ally could also choose not to use their reaction. This would result in you having taken the Attack action without yourself, or anybody else, making any attacks.

Similarly there is the Warlock's Pact of the Chain feature which states:

[...] Additionally, when you take the Attack action, you can forgo one of your own attacks to allow your familiar to use its reaction to make one attack of its own.


There are also a few things which require you to take the Attack action but that occur before you've actually made any attacks. This includes things which increase your reach but also the Eldritch Knight Fighter's Arcane Charge feature which states:

At 15th level, you gain the ability to teleport up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space you can see when you use your Action Surge. You can teleport before or after the additional action.

Another such example is the Horizon Walker Ranger's Distant Strike feature which states:

[...] When you take the Attack action, you can teleport up to 10 feet before each attack to an unoccupied space you can see.

This would allow you to teleport before making any attacks (including the first one); however, it doesn't prevent you from making attacks entirely.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent info, this is very useful in niche situations! You did a good job finding all this! \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Oct 23 at 9:10
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Yes, you can attack empty spaces

From the rules for Making an Attack:

  1. Choose a target. Pick a target within your attack's range: a creature, an object, or a location.

Attacks against empty squares automatically miss

From the rules for Unseen Attackers and Targets:

[When guessing the target's location] If the target isn't in the location you targeted, you automatically miss

Attacks against empty locations automatically miss, so you cannot use this to trigger effects that happen when your attack hits, but you can use it to trigger effects that happen on attack or on miss.

Attacking objects

You can however attack an object. Attacks against objects automatically hit, so they make great targets for triggering "on hit" effects:

From Object Armor Class

An object's Armor Class is a measure of how difficult it is to deal damage to the object when striking it (because the object has no chance of dodging out of the way)

If you want to trigger an "on damage" effect, then be aware that objects often have high AC:

From Object Armor Class

Cloth, paper, rope 11AC

Even paper can be challenging for a low level character to damage consistently. Pick your inanimate targets carefully.

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No, because that's not the Attack action.

The Attack action is described like this:

With this action, you make one melee or ranged attack.

If you're making zero attacks, then what you're doing isn't an Attack action.

First principles:

  • The DM describes the situation.

  • You say what your character tries to do.

  • The DM tells you the result.

Nowhere here is "you declare which action you take". You say what you try to do, and the DM decides which mechanics apply to resolving it. If you say "I hit a dude with a chair leg" then that's going to be a melee attack, and most likely you're doing it as an Attack action. But you can't just declare what you're doing to be an Attack action when you're not attacking.

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