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I've been through an encounter that included something like 3 ghouls. While my character could evade most of the attacks because of the AC bonus (level 3 Path of the Beast barbarian, Tail transformation), my DM ruled that I still had to make the save against paralysis, as it was not related to whether the attack landed or not.

RAI, I think the save would only be needed if the attack landed, as technically you don't hit when an attack roll is lower than the target's AC, so we can assume there was no contact from the attacker to the attacked, or it was ineffective somehow and thus did not deal its damage, like hitting a shield or stopping on a piece of armor.

But I want to know if the save is needed per RAW.

Does the target of a ghoul's claw attack have to make a Con save to avoid being paralyzed only if the claw attack hits?

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    – V2Blast
    May 21 at 19:16
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Yes, the paralysis can happen only on a hit.

This is explained in the introduction to the Monster Manual (p. 10-11), under "Melee and Ranged Attacks":

Hit. Any damage dealt or other effects that occur as a result of an attack hitting a target are described after the “Hit” notation. You have the option of taking average damage or rolling the damage; for this reason, both the average damage and the die expression are presented.

Miss. If an attack has an effect that occurs on a miss, that information is presented after the “Miss:” notation.

Since the additional effect for the ghoul's Claw attack comes after the Hit notation, it only triggers on a hit:

Hit: 7 (2d4 + 2) slashing damage. If the target is a creature other than an elf or undead, it must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or be paralyzed for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.

There is no "Miss" notation in the ghoul's Claws attack description, so nothing happens on a miss.

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