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So, a 15th level druid (with other classes added) wildshapes in to a legendary ape.

He possesses the following feats/abilities:

Craven You take a -2 penalty on saving throws against fear effects. However, when making a sneak attack, you deal an extra 1 point of damage per character level.

Sudden Strike (Ex): Whenever a target is denied a Dexterity bonus to its AC (whether the target actually has a Dexterity bonus or not), you deal an extra 1d6 points of damage with the attack. You can’t use sudden strike when flanking an opponent unless that opponent is denied its Dexterity bonus to AC.

Rend (Ex): If a legendary ape hits a single target with both claws, it latches onto the opponent's body and tears the flesh. This attack deals 2d8+15 points of damage.

My question is: if said druid wildshaped attacks and hits with all of his attacks does he apply the Craven damage to the rend - technically the claws are in the target and he rips them out - during this last phase - no to hit roll is needed and certainly dexterity is not a factor - but is it irrelevant? Or does it only apply if the target had previously had no Dex bonus (for whatever reason).

Many thanks.

Also - Is the answer any different if he had sneak attack instead of sudden strike?

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Rend is really weird: despite being a kind of “bonus damage,” it is worded as though it was a separate attack, albeit one that doesn’t involve an attack roll. It even says “This attack” to refer to itself in the description.

If rend is a separate attack, and the rend damage is applied to a character denied their Dexterity bonus to AC, then sudden strike or sneak attack damage should apply: both say that “the attack” deals the extra damage in this circumstance (sneak attack says the attack also gets this bonus when flanking). There’s nothing about needing an attack roll for this.

And if you are adding your extra damage from sudden strike or sneak attack, you should be increasing that damage by your level if you have Craven.

Is this reasonable? By definition, when you trigger rend, you have already struck (and applied your extra damage) multiple times already. Narratively, rend seems much more like bonus damage than it does a separate attack, particularly given the absence of an attack roll.

On the other hand, this is a character who has potentially nerfed their druid spellcasting and wild shape forms getting sudden strike, and who has equally nerfed their sudden strike damage getting wild shape. Sudden strike, in particular, is a really poor form of bonus damage, being difficult to trigger. This does not seem like a particularly high-optimization approach, which might encourage me to throw the character a bone and let rend apply sudden strike (and Craven) again. But you know your table better than we ever can, and my recommendation is (as always) that you do whatever is best for your game. If another application of sudden strike and Craven is going to chew through monsters too quickly/make this character too dominant/let them have too much spotlight, then don’t allow it.


Is the answer any different if he had sneak attack instead of sudden strike?

Well, the obvious difference is that the damage would trigger while flanking, instead of only when the target is denied Dexterity to AC.

Beyond that, strictly speaking, sudden strike doesn’t qualify for or trigger the use of Craven, because Complete Adventurer and Complete Scoundrel say

For the purpose of qualifying for feats, prestige classes, and similar options that require a minimum number of extra damage dice, treat the ninja’s sudden strike ability as the equivalent of sneak attack.

(Complete Adventurer pg. 8, Complete Scoundrel pg. 25)

Craven doesn’t require a certain number of extra damage dice, it just requires “sneak attack class feature.” Since that’s not a minimum number of extra damage dice, this rule doesn’t apply. This is stupid and an oversight, and should be ignored by any reasonable DM, but you asked.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What if you have both SA and SS? Should both trigger Craven, or should SS be some sort of part of SA? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 3 '20 at 18:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @annoyingimp Craven increases the damage of the attack, rather than the bonus of sneak attack/sudden strike, so any attack that triggers both would still apply Craven only once. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jun 3 '20 at 18:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ According to the Player's Handbook glossary, the definition of an Attack is: "attack: Any of numerous actions intended to harm, disable, or neutralize an opponent. The outcome of an attack is determined by an attack roll." (emphasis mine). Does the lack of an attack roll prohibit something from being considered an "attack"? Is this a case where specific trumps general? Or is that flavor text that does not define an attack? Obviously, it is a "special attack", but is it also an "attack" attack? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 3 '20 at 21:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @InterstellarProbe Yes, this would be “specific trumps general.” I would have gone with the same, but rend explicitly uses the word “attack” to describe itself. And, really, the glossary is inherently problematic: it’s a decidedly secondary source by definition, so it gets overruled by just about everything. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jun 3 '20 at 21:39

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