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This question is inspired by the following and stems from wondering whether the Steel Defender's "Force-Empowered Rend" action involves taking the Attack action:


Take the Lich for example, It has an action titled "Paralyzing Touch"; does this involve the Attack action? Similarly, the Ogre has the "Greatclub" and "Javelin" actions; do these involve the Attack action? Does the Adult Black Dragon's "Acid Breath" involve the Attack action? How does one know if something listed under "Actions" in a monster's statblock involves taking the Attack action or not?

This matters for various features that key off of taking the Attack action while somebody is polymorphed, shapechanged, Wild Shaped, or by some other means has become one of these creatures while maintaining their class features such as Extra Attack or the Monk's Flurry of Blows.

Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.

Immediately after you take the Attack action on your turn, you can spend 1 ki point to make two unarmed strikes as a bonus action.


The only thing I have managed to find that I think might be relevant is the following SAC ruling:

Q. Can you use a melee spell attack to make an opportunity attack? [...]

A. [...] A few monsters can make opportunity attacks with melee spell attacks. Here’s how: certain monsters—including the banshee, the lich, and the specter—have a melee spell attack that isn’t delivered by a spell. For example, the banshee’s Corrupting Touch action is a melee spell attack but no spell is cast to make it. The banshee can, therefore, make opportunity attacks with Corrupting Touch.


Note that this question is different from my previous question:

Does using an Owl's "Talons" action while Wild Shaped count as taking the Attack action?

The question failed to ask what I actually wanted to ask. It happened to be asking about an action that could effectively be accomplished through unarmed strikes and was not explicitly asking about things like the Lich's Paralyzing Touch and a Dragon's Breath. This question, in contrast, is asking about such features explicitly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth investigating whether there are any monsters with the ability to cast Haste. That might provide direct evidence for whether the monster's attacks are meant to be used with a hasted action. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22 at 15:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson Numerous monsters can cast haste There's also the Clay Golem which has the "Haste" action, but that's pretty different \$\endgroup\$
    – Medix2
    Feb 22 at 16:53
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No, they are special actions specific to the monster

It is, of course, hard to prove a negative, but there is simply nothing in the rules that should suggest they would be the Attack action. The introduction to Monster Manual says as follows:

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, as described in the Player’s Handbook.

The quoted text establishes actions in monster stat blocks as actions in their own right, not shorthands to any other actions in the core rules. The normal Attack action (Basic Rules) is one of those actions available to all creatures, but usually when a creature attacks, it uses one of its special actions to do so. A shapechanged character may of course opt to use the Attack action in lieu of the special attacks of the creature, possibly to weird results – I would believe the interaction between monster-specific attacks and the Attack action was not entirely thought-out in advance by the designers of the system.

For completeness, there is a little section on specific monster attacks, without any mention of the Attack action.

The most common actions that a monster will take in combat are melee and ranged attacks. These can be spell attacks or weapon attacks, where the "weapon" might be a manufactured item or a natural weapon, such as a claw or tail spike. For more information on different kinds of attacks, see the Player’s Handbook.

Conceivably, "different kinds of attacks" includes taking the Attack action to, for example, push the target prone.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So for example, an ogre could take its "Greatclub" action, but it can also just take the attack action and attack with its greatclub? (Obviously these are effectively identical actions for the ogre most of the time, but might matter if someone casts Haste on it.) \$\endgroup\$ Feb 23 at 1:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson Exactly so, yes. This is not the only time monsters will attack without using these specific actions: they can also make attacks as opportunity attacks. \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Feb 23 at 19:10
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In both the case of the Lich and Ogre you linked, the actions (small a) listed under Actions (capital A) bear the descriptor "Attack" (be it Ranged Spell Attack, Melee Weapon Attack, or Ranged Weapon Attack), so therefore they are Attack actions. In the case of the Lich, it also has Spellcasting, which allows it to use it's action to cast one of its prepared spells - instead of using its action to use Paralyzing Touch as an Attack action, more precisely by making a Melee Spell Attack roll with a d20 against its intended target.

For the Black Dragon's Acid Breath, that is not an Attack action, since it does not have the Attack descriptor. So, the Black Dragon might take it's Multiattack to make up to three Attacks after using Frightful presence, or use it's action to use Acid Breath (if it's available).

It seems your question primarily revolves around monster statblocks, and not Player Characters, so I guess if you want to ask something specific about Player's (Attack) Actions, a separate question would be better.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I do not have my sourcebooks available right now, so for now I can just link to the Roll20 Wiki (which afaik basically is the SRD documents), quote "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." via roll20.net/compendium/dnd5e/Combat#toc_31 Since Melee/Ranged Attacks require an Attack Roll, you're making an Attack. \$\endgroup\$
    – John W.
    Feb 22 at 16:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, but making an attack does not mean you are taking the Attack action. Numerous spells and class features involve making attacks but do not involve taking the Attack action \$\endgroup\$
    – Medix2
    Feb 22 at 16:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ True, casting a spell can require a casting time of 1 Action, but could also only take 1 Bonus Action etc.For spells, it's very dependent on the spell itself: Firebolt requires you to make a Ranged Spell Attack, while AoE spells like Fireball require targets in the area to make a DEX saving throw. But, as a general rule, making an Attack requires taking the Attack Action. Since specific rules override general rules, is your question specifically about a certain monster's attack? IMO unless explicitly stated eg "X can make an Attack using its Bonus Action", then it requires an Attack Action. \$\endgroup\$
    – John W.
    Feb 22 at 16:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ "As a general rule, making an Attack requires taking the Attack Action" This is, depending on how you look at it, either not true or at best, technically true but rendered nearly pointless by the vast number of other ways to make attacks in DnD 5e, such as spells, bonus action attacks, special attacks from magical objects, and indeed monster special actions. \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Feb 22 at 20:34
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One Weapon Attack Only

Monsters don't have Attack action options called out from other Actions (NPC stat block section). Even so, given the historic ability of golems to haste themselves (Clay Golem in 5e), haste must provide some benefit. A strict reading of the spell yield clear results:

That action can be used only to take the Attack (one weapon attack only), Dash, Disengage, Hide or Use an Object action.

Given this, let's examine your specific monsters:

  • Lich. Paralyzing Touch is a melee spell attack, not a weapon attack. It does not qualify.
  • Ogre. Greatclub and Javelin are both weapons and described as melee weapon attacks. The values calculate out the same as they would for PCs with the same stats. It makes sense that both of these qualify.
  • Adult Black Dragon. Acid Breath is clearly formatted as a special feature and not a weapon attack. It does not qualify under the wording of haste. Bite, Claw, and Tail are weapon attacks and thus can qualify for the extra action. Multiattack does not qualify though, so the dragon can only pick one of the three.
  • Banshee. By the wording of the haste spell, a melee spell attack doesn't qualify. Personally, I would allow Corrupting Touch under DM fiat as it's clearly meant to represent any physical touch initiated by the banshee.
  • Owl. Talons is a melee weapon attack and thus qualifies for the haste action.
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