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Looking at the Ghoul and the Ghast from the MM, we see that they both have a bite and a claw attack. The claw attack has two points more for the attack modifier which seems to indicate that the proficiency bonus is not added to the bite attack.

Now, bite has slightly higher damage, but claw has an additional paralysis effect. Given the attack modifiers and the paralysis effect, it seems like the claw attack will almost always be superior, even against undead or paralysis immunity, since 2 points on the attack modifier are usually better than two points of damage.

Ghouls and Ghast do not have a multiattack using both attacks which might make it necessary to balance the total damage of that multiattack.

For these reasons I suspect, that this is based on lore rather than mechanical / balance reasons.

I am also pretty sure these two monsters are the only ones having an attack without proficiency bonus.

Is there published information giving a reason why Ghouls and Ghasts are not proficient with their bite? I am looking specifically for published lore to explain this.

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2 Answers 2

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One of the designers offered this commentary on the issue. While not an official ruling, it offers some clarity and is in the Sage Advice Compendium by WoTC.

It's a ghoul/ghast thing. They're exceptionally bad at biting. Monsters sometimes have stat quirks like that.

This gives a good idea of the thinking behind the idea.

So, in terms of lore, it's because ghouls/ghasts are bad at biting.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't expect a ruling, since it is a question of design, not about how something works within the rules. It's pretty clear how an attack roll works given the modifier. This is definitely a good source. \$\endgroup\$
    – Anagkai
    Jul 1, 2020 at 10:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I remember reading somewhere that the reason ghouls/ghasts had a lower attack roll on the bite was because, tactically, it was expected for them only to do that to paralyzed targets (or dead targets, because they're now eating them). However, without me remembering that source (it believe it was an official source), then this is just a baseless statement, hence I can't really provide my own answer, but maybe someone else knows of the source I'm talking about? \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Jul 1, 2020 at 10:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ You'd probably do well to mention that this is also in the official Sage Advice Compendium: "The bite attacks of ghouls and ghasts don’t appear to have proficiency bonus added in. Intentional or mistake? Intentional; it’s a ghoul/ghast thing. They’re exceptionally bad at biting, compared to their claw attacks. Monsters sometimes have stat quirks like that." \$\endgroup\$ Jul 1, 2020 at 11:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I changed the link from the tweet on Sageadvice.eu to the actual published compendium. FYI, SageAdvice.eu is not associated with WoTC. It's just a guy who aggregates tweets by WoTC and puts them on a website. Additionally, those tweets are just snapshots into their thought process at the time they wrote the tweet - nothing more. The published Sage Advice Compendium does provide something more, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jul 1, 2020 at 17:15
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From a in-world point of view, proficiency would be defined as what you are proficient with. Do ghouls readily practice attacking foes with their mouths? The limbs are what humanoids usually attack with.

Evolutionary, creatures that perform bite attacks usually have no other option. As a result they tend to be evolved towards doing so. For example, by possessing venom or a powerful leap (like a large cat). The lack of reach that a bite has, compared to a claw, perhaps should be reflected mechanically some how.

From the point of view of fighting, biting is a pretty terrible option as it leaves you very vulnerable to counter attack. Humanoids can only really use it in a grapple. Is there much skill to be gained in performing a bite or is the skill really reflected in how well you grapple a foe?

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I can follow your reasoning on evolution this does not seem to be true for dnd. There seem to be no other monsters with such attacks while there are monsters that are proficient with bite and claws, such as different types of bears. \$\endgroup\$
    – Anagkai
    Jul 1, 2020 at 10:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Bears can have canines longer than that of a tiger, and bear jaw muscles are capable of crushing bones. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bertrand
    Jul 1, 2020 at 11:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ OP has clarified they want published materials to support an answer. Can you please add? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jul 1, 2020 at 16:20

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