A rogue and fighter are engaged in melee combat with a goblin. The rogue is unarmed. Can the rogue activate Sneak Attack?
The rules for Sneak Attack state:
Beginning at 1st level, you know how to strike subtly and exploit a foe’s distraction. Once per turn, you can deal an extra 1d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll. The attack must use a finesse or a ranged weapon.
You don’t need advantage on the attack roll if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn’t incapacitated, and you don’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.
The question arises from the difficulty in parsing the bolded sentence. I have heard 2 interpretations:
- You can sneak attack if (you have advantage and the attack is made using a finesse or ranged weapon) or (an enemy of the target is within 5ft, etc).
- You can sneak attack if ((you have advantage) or (an enemy of the target is within 5ft, etc)) and the attack is made using a finesse or ranged weapon.
The second interpretation hinges on the idea that when the second paragraph says "on the attack roll" it is still talking about the same "attack" as in the first paragraph. The first interpretation hinges on the idea that the second interpretation is bizarre and unnatural - if that was the intent, there are many ways that it could have been worded to be clearer.
Thematically, I am leaning towards the first - not having a finesse or ranged weapon shouldn't stop the rogue from exploiting a distracted foe.
Considering RAW only (no twitter please), how should this feature be interpreted?
I understand that many people have played a certain way without thinking about it, that's ok, but I'm looking for the reason why. I do appreciate answers about how people play regardless, but please do not be offended if I don't accept the answer. I'm looking for reasoning behind why you play that way based off RAW. If you can't provide that, no worries, again I appreciate the answers, but I will wait for someone who can offer an explanation.
This question is not relating to a particular game, I usually DM, someone who is usually a player (but not in my games, just a friend) asked me this question. The player in question is not playing a rogue as far as I know, they are not trying to exploit the system. I wasn't sure about the answer, I asked some other friends who are both DMs and players, they weren't sure either. All of us have been playing 5e basically since launch, all of us are native English speakers, all of us have D&D history before 5e.
The ambiguity is whether or not the final sentence of the first paragraph is in reference to the previous sentence - contextually it appears that it could either be or not. I am looking for an argument as to why one or the other is correct, not for someone to just assert that one is correct because that's how they play. It's obviously easy to contrive examples where the sentence is undeniably linked, eg: "You can cross the border in a vehicle if you have filled form 5b. You must cross at a vehicle crossing. You do not need to fill form 5b if you are crossing on foot."
Some users have been insulted when I pointed out problems in their answers and told me "just accept the answer already!", please do not be offended if I say I have a problem understanding your answer. This question is about trouble understanding the rule, so if I have trouble understanding the answer then I don't feel like anything is particularly gained. I know the stack isn't set up this way, but it would be highly appreciate if you tried to address the problem directly, either by explaining it or adapting to the problem. I know that from the answerer's perspective it's best if it gets accepted as soon as it is voted and you don't want to think about it any more, but from my perspective to have an answer that has problems that the answerer doesn't want to acknowledge or address isn't ideal. Of course you have no obligation to address problems, but I just don't like hearing people being dismissive or insulting me for discussing the problems.
I also mentioned playing RAW. RAW in this context means Rules As Written, and refers to only analyzing the rules as they appear in the text. That means no twitter, no analyzing (or guessing) intent, no outside references, just what is written in the rules. Yes there are innumerable ways to play the game, people are free to read SA, check JC's twitter, play homebrew, or make their own house rules. By asking about RAW I am not saying that any of those approaches are worse or undesirable. I am just asking about RAW because that is what I am interested in. I appreciate everyone telling me about RAI or how they play at their table or how they would homebrew it, and you are of course welcome to make these answers. Just be aware that they are not the kind of answers I am looking for.
I understand that a certain amount of snark is part of SE culture, but if you could please refrain it would help me a lot. I do not appreciate it, and frankly it feels demeaning to read these comments accusing me of this or that. I cam here for help and to hear what expects have to say, not to be abused. I understand that the snark is not meant to be taken offensively, it's more like good natured ribbing, but please understand I am not particularly feeling that way at the moment. It's not very friendly to me, so I'm not trying to insult the stack culture, I am just saying that I would appreciate if you let up with the snark, is that ok?
Let me provide another example, where there is more room.
You can eat dessert after dinner if you have at least 3 vegetables. You have to finish everything on your plate.
You don't need to have have 3 vegetables if it's your birthday.
The question is if the kid has to finish everything on their plate to eat dinner on their birthday. The problem is that the relationship between the first a second sentences is not strongly defined.
Some people have argued that because it is not a subordinate clause that means it is completely independent. But that denies both context and structural elements. It's not grammatically sound to argue that sentences within the same paragraph have no relationship, or that they have the same relationship as they do to sentences in other paragraphs. That's not how English works.
So through discussion with other users I have determined this seems to be the core of the issue. It is possible that in some English dialects there is a looser relationship between paragraphs, or that paragraphs are used more for spacing or timing rather than as structural elements. This kind of issue is a lot harder to track down than an a grammatical issue.
If I could break it down further, is "The attack" mentioned in the 3rd sentence of Sneak Attack the same as "an attack" in sentence 2, or is it referring to the attack that has advantage and thus is a candidate for sneak attack? The wording is certainly ambiguous.