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I have a few questions regarding what falls under the category of "attack[ing] its target" for the Shadow Magic sorcerer's Hound of Ill Omen feature, which summons a hound to target a single creature. The relevant part of the feature description states (XGE, p. 51):

On its turn, [the hound] can move only toward its target by the most direct route, and it can use its action only to attack its target.

So the hound is limited to using its action to attack its target. But does "attacking its target" specifically mean taking the Attack action to make an attack roll? Or are there other things that qualify as an attack?

  • For example, could the hound use the Attack action to attempt to shove or grapple a creature?
  • Or, stretching it a bit further, could it take an action (that is not the Attack action) to attempt to damage its target (for example, using the special action granted by the Dragon's Breath spell)?
  • Or if attack were impossible given the hound and the target's positions, could the hound take the Dash action to be able to make a future attack possible?

Furthermore, would a hound be free to use its bonus action however it wants?
For example, if something granted it a bonus action to do something other than attack, could it take that bonus action?

I would appreciate answers that include some sort of RAW citation that makes clear whether "attack[ing] its target" and taking the Attack action are either distinct or the same thing.

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Shoves and grapples count as an "attack" for Barbarian rage, so they also count for the Hound

If a Barbarian does nothing but attempe a grapple or shove, they maintain their rage, since grapples and shoves are "special melee attacks".

Grappling a foe requires an action (the Attack action, upper-case "a") and it is an "attack" (lower-case "a"), so it is covered by the restriction "…can use its action only to attack its target."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice comparison to the barbarian to give context to the "special melee attack" rule. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23 '20 at 21:44
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A typical creature, on their turn "can move a distance up to [their] speed and take one action". By default, they don't get a bonus action; those are usually granted by class features, spells, etc..

More specifically, regarding Bonus Actions:

Various class features, spells, and other abilities let you take an additional action on your turn called a bonus action. ... You can take a bonus action only when a ... feature of the game states that you can do something as a bonus action.

The Hound's description doesn't specifically preclude their taking bonus actions, so they would be able to were a spell to grant one (note, though, that Expeditious Retreat has a target of "self", so getting it cast on the Hound might be tricky).

So, what can the Hound do on their turn? They can move, and they can use their action to attack. What does that mean?

If there’s ever any question whether something you’re doing counts as an attack, the rule is simple: if you’re making an attack roll, you’re making an attack.

-- Making an Attack

Clearly, then, they can try to bite their target (as per the dire wolf on which they're based). But, can they grapple or shove? Yes!

Making an Attack calls out those two options:

Grappling

When you want to grab a creature or wrestle with it, you can use the Attack action to make a special melee attack, a grapple.

and, Shoving

Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to shove a creature, either to knock it prone or push it away from you.

In both cases, the key bit is that they "make a ... melee attack". Since the Hound of Ill Omen can use their action to attack and both grappling and shoving are types of attacks, the Hound can do so.

Expanding on that a bit, there are a few actions one can take on their turn; the ones called out in the SRD are:

  • Attack
  • Cast a Spell
  • Dash
  • Disengage
  • Dodge
  • Help
  • Hide
  • Ready
  • Search
  • Use an Object

The Hound of Ill Omen's description includes:

On its turn, [the Hound of Ill Omen] ... can use its action only to attack its target.

thus, it is prohibited from, say, taking the Ready action or attempting to Hide. They are similarly precluded from Dashing as their action. But, since grappling and shoving are both attacks, they're welcome to do either if they so desire (and the other requirements are missed, eg., that the target isn't too large).

I will note that grappling specifically "[uses] at least one free hand..."; this GM would generally allow a creature with a free appendage (including a wolf's mouth) to grapple but, RAW, there's room to say that a Hound can't grapple because they don't have a hand.

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Attack

The Monster Manual and Basic rules say about Monster Actions:

When a monster takes its action, it can choose from the options in the Actions section of its stat block or use one of the actions available to all creatures, such as the Dash or Hide action.

.The Hound of Ill Omen "uses the dire wolf’s statistics", which only gives it. Since the Dire Wolf doesn't have an Attack action - only a Bite action, which is an attack but not an Attack action - the latter must be true:

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (2d6 + 3) piercing damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 13 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.

In addition, any creature can use the Attack action to grapple or shove. There aren't any other "attacks" available to it outside of those.

It probably can't use a free action or bonus action

The many uses of the only would lead me to believe that the designer's intent is that it doesn't get a "free action" (technically a "free object interaction") or bonus action. However, careful reading of the wording on the page seems to not technically exclude that from happening. I expect this is a place that an errata will fix. I'd rule in my games that the designers meant to write:

On its turn the it can only use movement to get closer to the target and/or take the bite attack action.

I'm guessing the editors didn't like the first way the "and/or" was written and we ended up with something that has more unintentional ambiguity. Final call and reading at a table would be up to the DM. A DM allowing it to have a free object interaction isn't game-breaking, but nothing in the stat block gives it a bonus action.

Other actions are not allowed

Using the effects of the dragon's breath spell would not be an action it can take, as it is not an attack; the hound's action can only be used for an attack. Likewise, it could not take the Dash action, which is not an attack. RAW, these are cut and dried. A forgiving DM might give a player a little leeway and allow one or both of these things, even if they aren't allowed by RAW.

What is an Attack

How an attack is defined is a seperate question that is already answered in this question. What counts as an attack?

Player's Handbook (p. 194) or here in the basic rules. Specifically, it states:

If there's ever any question whether something you're doing counts as an attack, the rule is simple: if you're making an attack roll, you're making an attack

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