I noticed that the attacks in Statblocks mention one target (and sometimes one creature). This made me curious. I have been poring over the MM and VGtM, but have not found any monster that can make a melee/ranged attack against more than one target / one creature.

  1. Do we know of any example within the 'official' books where this is more than one?
  2. If it's always one, do we know of any reason why this is at all mentioned in the statblocks?

Related: Are there any issues with creating creatures that can make multi-target melee attacks?

Related: In the descriptions of monster action options, what's the difference between "one target" and "one creature"?

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    \$\begingroup\$ does multiattack count? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jun 23 '20 at 9:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Probably not. The question is clearly about the fact of a single attack targeting multiple targets. \$\endgroup\$ – Anagkai Jun 23 '20 at 11:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Can the Deathlock Mastermind's Grave Bolts be used to attack a single target twice? \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jun 23 '20 at 12:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ “A melee/ranged attack” is pretty clearly singular. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jun 23 '20 at 14:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question cites the target number specification of attacks in stat blocks which appears so far as I know or can tell only on single attacks. Multiattack on the other hand does not specify anything about targeting in most cases, except for very few instances like the TRex. \$\endgroup\$ – Anagkai Jun 23 '20 at 15:06

There is one: Deathlock Mastermind (MToF, pg. 129).

The Deathlock Mastermind's attack Grave Bolts says:

Grave Bolts. Ranged Spell Attack: +6 to hit, range 120 ft., one or two targets. Hit: 18 (4d8) necrotic damage. If the target is Large or smaller, it must succeed on a DC 16 Strength saving throw or become restrained as shadowy tendrils wrap around it for 1 minute. A restrained target can use its action to repeat the saving throw, ending the effect on itself on a success.

I have searched through all three primary monster source books and this is the only one I found.

Honorable mention: There is another example of a creature that specifies something different than simply "one target" for actions requiring attack rolls. The Mind Flayer (MM, pg. 222) and its variations1 have the Extract Brain action, which specifies,

one incapacitated humanoid grappled by the mind flayer.

This is still a single target, but it does represent a departure from the near universal "one target" for actions that use attack rolls.

1Mind Flayer Psion (VGtM, pg. 71), Mind Flayer Arcanist (MM, pg. 222), and Mind Flayer Lich (VGtM, pg. 172).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Beholders and Gazers also have the language of "target up to three creatures", but they are saving throw abilities, not attack rolls. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jun 23 '20 at 13:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've found several examples of "targets up to N creatures" and "targets one or more creatures", and all of those abilities are saving throw abilities. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jun 23 '20 at 13:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jun 23 '20 at 14:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure that there are other attacks that specify things like a grappled. \$\endgroup\$ – Anagkai Jun 23 '20 at 15:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Other examples: Tree Blight's Grasping Root can attack on creature not grappled by it, Giant Subterranean Lizard can tail under similar conditions and swallow a Medium or smaller creature grappled by it, Rug of Smothering smothers a Medium or smaller creature. Not sure you'd want all of these as honourable mentions, but maybe rework and give them as examples of why "one target" is used (i.e. that sometimes there are restrictions on what kind of target is attackable). \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jun 23 '20 at 19:23

Future-proofing (up until MToF), and just being explicit for clarity

Thomas Markov's answer shows that there is one monster in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes that can target more than one creature; the Deathlock Mastermind. However, before that, the only reason for explicitly stating what is always true for each attack in Monster Manual and Volo's Guide to Monsters must have been for future-proofing, in case one day they bring out a new monster, like they eventually did in MToF.

It's also perhaps simply good practice for them to be explicit to remove any doubt that an attack was intended to target only one creature (an easy mistake for players or DMs to make when considering gargantuan creatures; I can easily imagine someone thinking "but this creature is massive, of course its tentacle attack could hit all of the party members at once" were it not explicitly stated).

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd assumed it was to mirror the same language used by spells and abilities, including for players. \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck Jun 23 '20 at 20:17

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