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The Arcane Archer arcane shot abilities 'Piercing Arrow' (and incidentally 'Seeking Arrow', which causes far fewer issues) say:

When you use this option, you don’t make an attack roll for the attack. Instead, [...]

However, if I had previous cast Lightning Arrow, which says:

The next time you make a ranged weapon attack during the spell’s duration, the weapon’s ammunition, or the weapon itself if it’s a thrown weapon, transforms into a bolt of lightning. Make the attack roll as normal. The target takes 4d8 lightning damage on a hit, or half as much damage on a miss, instead of the weapon’s normal damage.

Following the rules for Arcane Shot, as I

fire an arrow from a shortbow or longbow as part of the Attack action,

And I...

apply one of your Arcane Shot options to that arrow.

I choose to apply the Piercing Arrow option. At this point I haven't rolled resolved the attack, which is a good thing as by then it would be too late. But I've still taken the Attack action to make a ranged weapon attack.

I know that:

if you're making an attack roll, you're making an attack.

But I don't think that necessarily implies the opposite, i.e. if you aren't making an attack roll, you aren't making an attack.


As an aside, the only other time I know about one kind of attack becoming another is Grappling and Shoving:

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. [...] you try to seize the target by making a grapple check instead of an attack roll [...]

Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to shove a creature, [...] [...] Instead of making an attack roll, you make a Strength check [...]

Emphasis mine.

So these are instances of the Attack action being used to make 'special melee attacks', that explicitly don't make an attack roll. Might surmise that my Lightning Piercing Arrow is still some kind ranged weapon attack (special or otherwise)? Or is it implied to not still be a 'ranged weapon attack' by a rule I have missed?


So how do I determine what happens? Is the Attack action I took still a ranged weapon attack if I'm not making an attack roll because of the arcane shot? Is that shot option not possible given my arrow is now a bolt of lightning, for ... reasons? If the two do combine, how is the damage from Lightning Arrow applied, and what counts as its 'target'? Or is that attack wasted and the spell fizzles as you can't make the attack roll as normal? If it doesn't fizzle from not having a target, which creatures are considered in range of the splash damage?

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Piercing Arrow is not a ranged weapon attack

The word "attack", more specifically, "ranged weapon attack", has a specific definition in 5e. Piercing Arrow (and Seeking Arrow) deal their damage without making a weapon attack. Yes, you are using one of the attacks provided by your Attack action, but it's not a ranged weapon attack, same as if you used one of those attacks to shove or grapple.

To answer your later questions...

Is the Attack action I took still a ranged weapon attack if I'm not making an attack roll because of the arcane shot?

No, because you're not making a ranged weapon attack, or in fact any attack roll at all. The option does not require an attack roll, so you do not.

Is that shot option not possible given my arrow is now a bolt of lightning, for ... reasons?

No, you just make a shot with your Arcane Shot, which pierces through all targets, dealing Piercing Shot damage, before it disappears. Because you never made an attack roll with the lightning arrow, the effects of Lightning Arrow do not trigger - the arrow never transforms into a bolt of lightning, since that happens when it is used to make a ranged weapon attack, which did not happen. The spell remains in effect, waiting for the first time you make a ranged weapon attack.

If the two do combine, (...)

They do not.

Or is that attack wasted and the spell fizzles as you can't make the attack roll as normal?

The Piercing Arrow works exactly as described. The spell remains in effect, waiting for you to fulfill its conditions by making a ranged weapon attack.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What keeps tripping me up (and stopping me from wanting to accept this) is the phrase "When you use this option, you don’t make an attack roll for the attack"... If this wasn't an attack, why does it have the part I italicised? For Shoving it says "Instead of making an attack roll, you make a Strength check [...]" Not "Instead of making an attack roll for the attack, you make a Strength check [...]"? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 29 '21 at 22:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage Because the two entries were written at different times, likely by different people? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 31 '21 at 0:07
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Yes

When you use this option, you don’t make an attack roll for the attack. Instead...

This specifically calls is out as still being an attack, but a specific type of attack (with a different method of hitting), and since specific beats general all the other more general means of deciding what is an attack are superseded.

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