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An adult bronze dragon has a lair deep inside of a coastal mountain. To get to where she hides her stuff (and where she is keeping a clutch of eggs warm) an adventuring party needs to swim deep underwater, then through a water-filled passageway, and then up to emerge on the surface of a lake inside of the mountain (they end up inside a very large dome, roughly).

If the dragon detects them before they surface, and leaps into the water (she has a swimming speed of 40) can she use her wing attack (Legendary Action) against the party while fighting underwater?

The dragon beats its wings. Each creature within 10 feet of the dragon must succeed on a DC 20 Dexterity saving throw or take 14 (2d6 + 7) bludgeoning damage and be knocked prone. The dragon can then fly up to half its flying speed.

My instinct is that she cannot use the wing attack, and I don't think that she can fly while in the water (for half of her flying speed) by beating her wings. Whether or not dragons swim by using their wings, or if they move more like a sea serpent, is unclear but I believe the latter fits better.

Underwater Combat rules leave me little to work with. The restrictions are

When making a melee weapon attack, a creature that doesn’t have a swimming speed (either natural or granted by magic) has disadvantage on the attack roll unless the weapon is a dagger, javelin, shortsword, spear, or trident. A ranged weapon attack automatically misses a target beyond the weapon’s normal range. Even against a target within normal range, the attack roll has disadvantage unless the weapon is a crossbow, a net, or a weapon that is thrown like a javelin (including a spear, trident, or dart). Creatures and objects that are fully immersed in water have resistance to fire damage. (Basic Rules, Ch 9, p. 80)

She has a swimming speed, so her tail attack or her bite attack are not at disadvantage. Her Wing attack doesn't seem to be either of those two attack categories since it requires a Dexterity saving throw and there is no "to hit" roll. The other issue of concern is the association of the wing attack with flying (the dragon does have a flying speed).

Does the dragon retain her ability to use that legendary action, Wing Attack, if she is fighting underwater?

This becomes an issue if they steal some stuff, or an egg, and she pursues them. Can she knock them prone with a wing attack during the pursuit?
Answering the general question takes care of that specific case.
(While I am also puzzling over 'prone' while swimming underwater, I don't need that answered for the purposes of this question and @Medix2 kindly linked to a realted question)

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Yes, Beat It(them?)!

The language around the Adult Bronze Legendary Action states:

The dragon beats its wings. Each creature within 10 feet of the dragon must succeed on a DC 20 Dexterity saving throw or take 14 (2d6 + 7) bludgeoning damage and be knocked prone. The dragon can then fly up to half its flying speed.

There is nothing in here that calls it a melee weapon attack, so the underwater combat rules really aren't triggered. It's just an action that results in potential bludgeoning based on a saving throw.

Looking purely at the rules, there is nothing to stop them here. But, as you know, you don't have to stick with them if it doesn't seem to make sense for you and your table. But you can easily narrate the attack to beating water towards the creatures with their powerful wings. Still the same action with same damage type. Just a different fluff.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was thinking of offering advantage on the save, in the name of verisimilitude, but I am still pondering on that. I also don't have to have the answer right away, I need it mostly for encounter planning, and, if she is pursuing them after they steal an egg (yeah, it might happen) can she knock them down with her wings? The prone thing already has a Q&A, though I do not sure I like how 5e does prone for other than standing on the ground ... \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13 '20 at 15:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I'd try and think of Prone less about a ground-based condition and more of a condition where you aren't able to do as much. Narrate as you will to make it work, but 'prone' in water could be flailing around or fighting their buoyancy or something similar. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Nov 13 '20 at 15:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree, at my table we narrate underwater prone more like being upside down, you need to spend movement to get your balance straight \$\endgroup\$
    – BlueMoon93
    Nov 13 '20 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BlueMoon93 Ooh, i like that! It also generally makes prone less problematic for things that seem weird to be prone...like snakes. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Nov 13 '20 at 15:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BlueMoon93 hmm, that's a promising way forward, thanks. I also thank Naut for the Michael Jackson/Thriller vibe/addition! 😎👍 \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13 '20 at 15:31
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It works.

Let's start by keeping in mind D&D is not a simulationist type of game. So being prone while swimming is just a thing. Now about beating wings, the DM can adjudicate that the dragon can't do it. But at the same time, why?

The dragon beats his wings underwater and makes such a massive wave and current that you need to made a Dexterity check to avoid taking 2d6+7 bludgeoning damage.

It's not the most complicated ability to narratively shift into working in these unexpected conditions. And if anyone asks you why it can do so, it's for the same reason a creature weighting multiple tons can fly: magic.

Regarding whether the dragon can fly away, you cannot fly underwater, only swim, so the dragon cannot fly away when using this underwater. I don't think it would be broken to make it also able to swim away (since this is probably a niche case), but that's my ruling.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can also, as DM, at any time assign adv/disad situationally, and I am at the moment leaning toward advantage on the save ... and D&D is mildly/partially simulationist, but not to the extent that a game like GURPS tried for, or even AD&D 1e. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13 '20 at 15:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Part of the reason I asked was the association of the attack with the flying speed. I may need to make that more clear. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13 '20 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I hadn't realized that at all, actually. RAW, you can't fly underwater, so the dragon can cause damage, but not fly away. I'd rule that the dragon could swim away if underwater, but that's my ruling \$\endgroup\$
    – BlueMoon93
    Nov 13 '20 at 17:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good thought, that, thanks. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13 '20 at 17:35

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