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This is how Player's Handbook (p. 194) describes what counts as an attack:

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

There are ambiguous exceptions from this rule though — so-called "special attacks". There are only two of them — Grapple and Shove from the PHB.

As a DM, for the sake of clarity and consistency I want to call Grapple just "an action" or "a contest", not "special melee attack". So instead of

you can use the Attack action to make a special melee attack, a grapple

the text of the house rule (or the errata proposal, if you wish) will be

you can use the Attack action to make an action in combat, a grapple

So does for Shove. This is also consistent with the PHB "Contests in Combat" (emphasis mine):

Battle often involves pitting your prowess against that of your foe. Such a challenge is represented by a contest. This section includes the most common contests that require an action in combat: grappling and shoving a creature. The DM can use these contests as models for improvising others.

So the lowercase "attack" is changed to "action" or "contest". For instance, the next passage in the Grappling description will be "If you're able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this contest replaces one of them". The rest of the rules remains unchanged.

I want to figure out what possible impact this will make to the game balance. For instance, will some feats/class features change substantially.

In terms of the game mechanics, what consequences/repercussions this change will have? For sanity's sake let's confine ourselves to the the Player's Handbook.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you intending for this to still take the place of a single weapon attack, or does it not being an attack also means it takes up your whole Action? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Jan 8 at 18:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik all the mechanics remains unchanged. So grappling takes the place of a single weapon attack, it's just not called "an attack" anymore. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Jan 8 at 18:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why not just make a ruling to each edge case rather than making a potentially significant change like this and likely open up a whole new bunch of edge cases? This doesn't seem to be solving an actual problem and is just a case of specific beats general. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jan 8 at 21:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri rulings solves rising questions ad-hoc. A change to the rules is supposed to prevent these questions from rising. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Jan 9 at 15:16
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Things that require or modify melee attacks

  • Swashbuckler Rogue's Fancy Footwork
  • Echo Knight Fighter’s Unleash Incarnation
  • Shadow Monk’s Shadow Step
  • Mobile Feat
  • Slow
  • Kocking Creature’s Out (If you can damage with a Grapple/Shove)
  • Marking (optional rule)

Things that require or modify attacks

  • Aasimar Transformations (If you can damage with a Grapple/Shove)
  • Firbolg’s Hidden Step
  • Goblin’s Fury of the Small (If you can damage with a Grapple/Shove)
  • Barbarian's Rage
  • Barbarian’s Reckless Attack
  • Forge Cleric’s Saint of Forge and Fire.
  • Moon Druid’s Primal Strike (If you can damage with a Grapple/Shove)
  • Echo Knight Fighter’s Manifest Echo
  • Shadow Monk’s Cloak of Shadow
  • Redemption Paladin’s Channel Divinity: Rebuke the Violent.
  • Vengeance Paladin’s Soul of Vengeance
  • Archfey Warlock’s Misty Escape
  • Undying Warlock’s Among the Dead
  • Fade Away Feat
  • Mounted Combatant Feat.
  • Sentinel Feat
  • Charmed Condition
  • Unseen Attackers
  • Invisibility
  • Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere (If you can damage with a Grapple/Shove)
  • Rope Trick
  • Sanctuary

These lists are from my own personal list of attack types. They are not necessarily complete (human error exists) and they do not include any options from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything as I have not gotten around to adding those to my personal list

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What does attack type mean in this case? \$\endgroup\$
    – Anagkai
    Jan 9 at 16:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Anagkai I have a list of features that require any one of the following, all categorized: Attack, Attack Roll, Melee Attack, Melee Attack Roll, Ranged Attack, Ranged Attack Roll, Attack with a Melee Weapon, Attack with a Ranged Weapon, Melee Weapon Attack, Ranged Weapon Attack, Weapon Attack, Attack with a Weapon, and a few one-off exceptions (Ex: Spell Sniper feat, Rogue's Sneak Attack, Ranger's Whirlwind Attack, and Ranger's Volley). Each category is technically different \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9 at 16:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right, so what effect does it have? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Jan 10 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mark Meaning? How does it impact each individual feature? Similar to Enkryptor's answer? I'd rather not do that and explain every single one of these especially because I would like to avoid summarizing or quoting them when they are from numerous non-free resources. The overall effect is just that some features work differently now. A notable example is that various sources of invisibility are no longer ended by a shove or grapple \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10 at 21:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Invisibility interaction is the biggest one IMO. Being able to grapple a creature and remain invisible could be incredibly strong. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11 at 14:16
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These are only the effects off the top of my head - there are bound to be more

Rage

A Barbarian's rage requires that they attack or they take damage (not just an attacked, the attack has to hit them).

Your rage lasts for 1 minute. It ends early if you are knocked Unconscious or if Your Turn ends and you haven't attacked a Hostile creature since your last turn or taken damage since then. You can also end your rage on Your Turn as a Bonus Action.

If a shove doesn't count as an attack, then there is a risk the barbarian would lose his rage if they don't take damage before the next turn

Mobile

The mobile feat says:

When you make a melee attack against a creature, you don't provoke opportunity attacks from that creature for the rest of the turn, whether you hit or not.

Grapple and Shove both count to this RAW but wouldn't if you don't count them as attacks.

There are many other cases I believe making this change would cause more questions than answers.

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Few feats and features triggers will change

Basically, Grapple and Shove are melee attacks which can't hit.

That means these requirements can't be satisfied anymore with shove and grapple:

  • "when smb. attacks"
  • "when smb. makes a melee attack"

On the other hand, the following triggers remain unchanged:

  • "when smb. hits with an attack"
  • "when smb. hits or misses with an attack"

So what WILL be affected? From the PHB:

Class features

  • Barbarian's Rage now cannot be maintained using grapple/shove, because it ends "if you haven't attacked a hostile creature".
  • Barbarian's Reckless Attack states "when you make your first attack on your turn, you can decide to attack recklessly". The difference is insubstantial, but if you have multiattack and starts with grapple/shove, you can now wait for an actual attack to decide.

Spells

Making an attack can be the trigger that ends a condition or spell effect:

  • Invisibility/Greater Invisibility — rules as written "the spell ends for a target that attacks or casts a spell", so grapple/shove won't end the invisible condition anymore.
  • Sanctuary ends when "the warded creature makes an attack". Nothing else in the spell description says a contest with an enemy will end the effect.

Feats

  • Mobile — the trigger is "when you make a melee attack against a creature". It works "whether you hit or not" so presumably it could work with "special melee attack" like shove/grapple, but not anymore.
  • Sentinel — the third bullet triggers when "a creature within 5 feet of you makes an attack", so it is clear it won't be triggered with shove/grapple
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