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Consider a druid who has the Elven Accuracy racial feat (available to Elves and Half-Elves). Among other things, this feat says:

Whenever you have advantage on an attack roll using Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma, you can reroll one of the dice once. [XGtE, pg. 74]

As discussed here, when in Wild Shape:

You retain the benefit of any features from your class, race, or other source and can use them if the new form is physically capable of doing so. [PHB, pg. 67]

Because of this, Elven Accuracy should apply to any attacks made while in Wild Shape.

However, beasts' stat blocks don't explicitly say which ability is being used in an attack. For example, the Wolf's bite attack simply says it's +4 to hit and does 2d4+2 piercing damage.

Now, it may be possible to deduce which ability was used. In the case of the Wolf, from a +2 damage bonus, we can guess that that relevant ability score modifier is equal to that bonus (+2). This would be consistent with +4 to hit if the wolf has a proficiency bonus of +2 (since +2+2=+4), which it does (according to its stat block). As a mundane attack, the Wolf must have used Strength or Dexterity, but the Wolf's Strength is only +1 while its Dexterity is +2. Therefore the Wolf used Dexterity.

In contrast, a similar line of reasoning with the Dire Wolf leads to the conclusion that it uses Strength to power its bite attack.

So a druid in Wolf shape should be able to apply Elven Accuracy, but a druid in Dire Wolf shape should not.

Is this the correct way to determine a druid's eligibility to use Elven Accuracy's reroll while in Wild Shape?

It seems awfully convoluted.

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4 Answers 4

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Melee attacks use strength by default, but sometimes smaller monsters use dexterity.

The rules for attack rolls state:

Ability Modifier. The ability modifier used for a melee weapon attack is Strength, and the ability modifier used for a ranged weapon attack is Dexterity. Weapons that have the finesse or thrown property break this rule.

But, we see in the Dungeon Master’s Guide:

When a monster has an action that requires an attack roll, its attack bonus is equal to its proficiency bonus + its Strength or Dexterity modifier. A monster usually applies its Strength modifier to melee attacks, and its Dexterity modifier to ranged attacks, although smaller monsters sometimes use Dexterity for both.

So if you have a melee attack, the ability modifier is assumed to be strength unless it’s not. Great system, I know. So your intuition to reverse engineer the bonus based on attribute scores is probably the best approach here. In the case of the wolf, the calculations indicate that we are using dexterity.

And sometimes the bonuses make no sense at all.

That said, as Eddymage states in a comment, even our method of calculating backwards to determine which attribute is used can fail:

There is quite a number of incrongruences in monsters' attack bonuses. See the quasit for example: the proficiency bonus is +2, its STR is 5(-3) and its DEX is 16(+3), but it has a +4 to hit and the damage is 1d4+3.

So generally, you should be able to figure out which attribute is used if the modifiers are different, but sometimes you will just have to ask your DM.

To further complicate things, we have this question from the Sage Advice Compendium:

The bite attacks of ghouls and ghasts don’t appear to have proficiency bonus added in. Intentional or mistake?

Intentional; it’s a ghoul/ghast thing. They’re exceptionally bad at biting, compared to their claw attacks. Monsters sometimes have stat quirks like that.

So just talk to your DM about it if the usual rules don't add up.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is quite a number of incrongruences in monsters' attack bonuses. See the quasit for example: the proficiency bonus is +2, its STR is 5(-3) and its DEX is 16(+3), but it has a +4 to hit and the damage is 1d4+3. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Jun 29, 2021 at 10:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ You could also add the guidance on monster creation like here rpg.stackexchange.com/a/139295/44723 and the sac tidbit, but this now looks correct. You probably also want to answer whether this actually is the correct way to determine eligibility (instead of assuming that it is, and going trough the motions of figuring out used attributes). \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Jun 29, 2021 at 11:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question also holds the assumption (and question) that this feat works in Wild Shape. However the feat has the pre-req of "Elf/half-elf". Does that carry over when you are now a wolf, and no longer an elf? \$\endgroup\$
    – Baergren
    Jun 29, 2021 at 14:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Baergren That’s a different question, for sure, and I’m not sure. The clause from Wildshape about using your racial traits is unfortunately ambiguous in a lot of cases, and so there is a lot of “it’s up to the DM” that goes into the interaction between Wildshape and racial features. Is “being an elf” a racial trait that carries over? It’s up to the DM. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 29, 2021 at 14:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Baergren: the general case of this has already been asked: Do any feats carry over when in Wild Shape?. Also How do I determine if a Racial Trait applies to Wildshape? - generally yes, unless your DM decides that you aren't sleep-immune when wildshaped into a beast that can sleep because it was something physical about Elf biology that made them not sleep... \$\endgroup\$ Jun 29, 2021 at 22:23
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When you are in a wildshape, you lose benefits of Elven Accuracy

You look from a bit wrong side here, as you lose benefits of the feat altogether. From PHB chapter 6, Feats:

You must meet any prerequisite specified in a feat to take that feat. If you ever lose a feat’s prerequisite, you can’t use that feat until you regain the prerequisite. For example, the Grappler feat requires you to have a Strength of 13 or higher. If your Strength is reduced below 13 somehow — perhaps by a withering curse — you can’t benefit from the Grappler feat until your Strength is restored.

Elven Accuracy demands you to be an elf or a haf-elf. When you are, let's say, a newt, you are not an elf, so you cannot benefit from this feat. And there is no beast in game which is also an elf or a half-elf.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! I neglected to include this in my answer but will surely be adding it! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 19, 2023 at 16:48
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Wild shapes are ineligible to use Elven Accuracy

On feats, the PHB says:

You must meet any prerequisite specified in a feat to take that feat. If you ever lose a feat’s prerequisite, you can’t use that feat until you regain the prerequisite.

So our first question is whether we can meet the prerequisites for Elven Accuracy while we are in wild shape. The prerequisite for Elven Accuracy is "Elf or half-elf" (XGtE 74). So how are we to interpret this phrase - your race upon character creation must be elf to later take the elven accuracy feat, or you must currently be in the body of an elf to meet the prerequisite of the feat (as Cezaryx suggests)?

Since Xanathar's does not define what they mean by a prerequisite, how does it describe the racial feats?

A racial feat represents [...] a deepening connection to your race’s culture.

It doesn't seem, on the face of it, that being in wild shape would lessen your connection to your culture, since the druid retains their Intelligence, Wisdom, alignment, and personality. So if all we need to use Elven Accuracy is is an authentic understanding of Elven culture, perhaps the feat can be used in wild form.

What are the limitations of wild shape? As correctly cited by the querent:

You retain the benefit of any features from your class, race, or other source and can use them if the new form is physically capable of doing so.

Feats, including Elven Accuracy, are benefits of a feature 'from another source'. Thus one part of our decision is whether the wild shape is physically capable of using the feat. Again, if all we need is an appreciation for elven culture, the wild shape should be physically capable of that.

Turning to the feat itself, just the small part quoted by the querent says:

Whenever you have advantage on an attack roll using Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma, you can reroll one of the dice once.

There are certainly plenty of wild shapes that will be making attack rolls using their Dexterity. However, this is not the only part of the feat. In particular, just as there is no flavor text in spells, there is no flavor text in feats. Examining the full description of the feat, we find:

The accuracy of elves is legendary, especially that of elf archers and spellcasters. You have uncanny aim with attacks that rely on precision rather than brute force.

This is not a prohibition against melee attacks just because archers and spellcasters are exemplars; of course an elf with Elven Accuracy is going to to be able to use it for melee finesse weapons. However, what we are trying to determine is the appropriateness of the feat for use with the natural attacks of a Beast. Thus we need to consider, are there any Beasts1 for which their attacks physically resemble those of elven warriors and spellcasters? Certainly there are beasts that rely on precision rather than brute force. But do they attack in such a way that resembles legendary elven accuracy? That is, are they physically capable of attacking in such a way that they could benefit from a deeper connection to the attack forms celebrated in elven culture?

Dating back at least to first edition, D&D elves have been associated with swords, bows, and spells. 5e expresses this in Elf Weapon Training, a racial feature of High Elves. Regardless of class, High Elves have:

proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.

This is how I would understand the feat - elven culture places an emphasis on training in spells and certain weapon forms that favor accuracy over force. And the kinds of attacks available to Beasts just do not match this 'style' of fighting2, either delivering accurate missile fire, or darting in to deliver accurate thrusting and slashing blows with a long, light weapon and then backing out to parry. Using a bipedal (Humanoid: Elf) body, with two limbs for movement and two hands holding weapons. The Beast forms available to a druid simply are not 'physically capable' of the fighting styles for which the Elven Accuracy feat applies. Can you imagine the druid attacking as a wolf and observers remarking, "Wow, that wolf's bites really remind me of the sword attacks of the legendary elven bladesingers."?

So we have two possible ways to understand the 'prerequisite' for using the feat. Either you must use the feat while you are in the body of an elf (and a wild shaped druid is not in such a body), or you must use it to make attacks in such a way that they rely on your deep connection to elven culture, especially like an archer or spellcaster (and while a wild shaped druid could mentally retain this cultural connection, their mode of fighting would not be like that of elven warriors, even if it used Dexterity for their attack roll). Thus, wild shapes are ineligible to use Elven Accuracy.

Obviously this is a rules interpretation, which is what the wild shape phrase 'physically capable' insists we do, interpret. Most of my games are pretty narrativist and I would be very comfortable with this ruling in them. If I was running a character optimization game where backstory was optional and the concept of 'deepening their connection to elven culture' got me blank stares from the players, then sure, I would let them use the feat with any beast form attack that was clearly based on Dexterity.


1Perhaps any druid casting Beast Spells once they had attained the class feature at 18th level.

2I could see making an exception for Dex-based beast attacks that are clearly rapier-like, for example a stirge or scorpion.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If a racial feature by definition requires you to be a certain race, and an ability that transforms you into another creature type explicitly states that you keep racial features when using it (contingent on physical ability, not creature type), wouldn't the plain English RAW implication be that the racial requirement is waived in that form for that ability when paired with specific beats general? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 20, 2023 at 1:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TheFallen0ne Perhaps, but those are some ifs. For starters, XGtE doesn't say the prerequisite for Elven Accuracy is being an elf. It just says: "Prerequisite: Elf", with no explanation. Maybe that means you had to have been an elf at the time of character creation. Maybe that means you had to have been an elf at the time you selected the feat. Maybe that means you have to be in the body of an elf to use the feat. We are not told. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 20, 2023 at 4:56
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I think instead of looking to the monster attributes you should try to figure out what makes sense for each creature (with confirmation from your DM). The attribute bonuses can help of course but they don't need to be the end of it.

As Thomas Markov's answer points out, sometimes the monster's damage bonuses doesn't line up with their attributes:

There is quite a number of incrongruences in monsters' attack bonuses. See the quasit for example: the proficiency bonus is +2, its STR is 5(-3) and its DEX is 16(+3), but it has a +4 to hit and the damage is 1d4+3.

We can still assume a Quasit is using Dex, since they are fast and nimble creatures, and the bonus is much closer to the one of that stat. That's why it's reasonable to use yours and your DM's intuition for this matters.

You mention how for the Wolf and Dire Wolf, judging from the attributes, you'd conclude that the Wolf's attack is Dex and the Dire Wolf's is Str. This makes sense, each are using thier highest stat to attack.

However, a Dire Wolf can still be an agile creature or at least it can be portrayed that way. It has a Dex score of 15(+2) and a Str score of 17(+3) so the difference isn't that large. Moreover, Wolves and Dire Wolves are usually used in the same encounter (e.g: 2 Dire Wolves and 4 Wolves), which gives the idea they can be part of a pack, meaning the Dire Wolves could just be grown out Wolves (again, this depends on the DM). As such, a Dire Wolf may be attacking the same way it was when younger and just gets its +2 upgraded to a +3 for its shear size. So it may still be relying on it's ability to quickly go in and bite rather than it's now improved brute strenght.

That's a long explanation but what I'm trying to get at is that it seems reasonable that a Dire Wolf uses Dex, stats aside. Wolves are agile, a larger wolf can be agile too.

Now, your DM could say that they see Dire Wolves as taking advanteage of their size and the strength it gives them to power their attacks and that's reasonable too.

I'm saying that using your intuition and what you know about these creatures can be the best and quickest way to get out of this doubt. It's the kind of thing DM's have to make a ruling about all the time. Say one of the players gets ahold of a weapon type not in the DMG, you'll expect to be asked "can this use Dex or Str?", I see it as in the same vein as "Does the Giant Ape use Strenght for its attacks?" (personal asnwer is yes, definitely).

Also, you'll likely use the same animals multiple times, it's not like you always turn into something different so it's not somethng you'll be asking about every session.

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