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The skullclan hunter, found in the Miniatures Handbook, p. 21, gets the ability Divine Strike at level 2.

Divine Strike (Ex): Due to his specialized skill, training, and connection with the forces of light, a skullclan hunter of 2nd level or higher can make a special attack that is infused with positive energy. Effectively, this ability allows him to deal extra damage to undead as though making a sneak attack. Divine strike damage applies to any sneak attack dice the skullclan hunter already has, as well as those gained through advancement in this class.

This is frustratingly unclear, to me. Firstly, does the undead need to be flanked or denied Dex to AC? Divine Strike "deal[s] extra damage as though making a sneak attack." My initial assumption was that it applied when sneak attack would apply, but the phrase "as though making a sneak attack" actually appears to just refer to the damage; there's no language that specifies that the conditions for making a sneak attack must be met. Though the phrase "special attack" loosely implies Divine Strike doesn't affect all the skullclan hunters attacks, this looks like fluff text (though "fluff text" isn't a defined thing—and ignoring this sentence in particular also ignores the mention of positive energy, which raises questions of its own). The spell grave strike (Spell Compendium 107), for example, has the line

For 1 round, you can deliver sneak attacks against undead as if they were not immune to extra damage from sneak attacks. To attack an undead creature in this manner, you must still meet the other requirements for making a sneak attack.

But the presence or absence of clarification in a similar ability isn't necessarily precedent in 3.5, because such lines are often redundant. A greater truedeath crystal (Magic Item Compendium 66) says

...the weapon can deliver sneak attacks and critical hits against undead as if they were living creatures.

This doesn't explicitly say that the target must otherwise be eligible to be sneak attacked, but since it's still explicitly a sneak attack, it doesn't necessarily need to. Grave strike probably didn't need to say so, either.

Divine Strike, on the other hand, adds extra damage equal to the skullclan hunter's sneak attack damage rather than simply allowing sneak attack to work against undead, so it really could have used some clarification. One thing perhaps worth noting, or perhaps not, is that the fluff for the skullclan hunter says that they shine when "when putting the fear of discorporation into sentient undead." If Divine Strike did require the undead to be otherwise-eligible for sneak attack, incorporeal undead (who are doubly immune to sneak attack) would still be immune. This doesn't have rules weight, of course, but may shed some light on the author's intent.

To break down my points of confusion:

  1. Does an undead need to otherwise be eligible for a sneak attack for a skullclan hunter to use Divine Strike on it? I'm interested in both Rules-As-Written and what would work over the table, here (these might not be the same).
  2. Does Divine Strike deal positive energy damage (for the purposes of, say, the Positive Energy Resistance feat from Libris Mortis)? Precision damage? Both? The Rules Compendium's section on precision damage (RC 42) seems to imply that it can't be precision damage, since it works against undead, but there might be something with specific vs. general here.
  3. This might be straying a bit far from the main question, but how does the feat Craven (Champions of Ruin 17) interact with skullclan hunter? Does Divine Strike "see" Craven and add it to the bonus damage vs. undead?
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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think it would be better to carry your 3.2 part of the question, which asks about immunity to fear, to it's own separate question. Then, maybe, cross-link them with each other. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 11:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've moved it to its own question here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 16:52

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For your first (and main) point, honestly, it may be argued either way (hence, the question)... but I think, stronger case can be made for divine strike modifying sneak attack, not it using sneak attack numbers to define itself.

This is because the problem with using sneak attack vs undead is exactly dealing damage. It is not "not subject to flanking", it can be denied Dex bonus to AC, you just can't inflict Sneak Attack bonus damage (thanks to type's immunity to critical hits) to undead creature.

So, in my opinion, hunter's ability says: "One can't damage undead with sneak attack? Now you can!"

The word "applies", found in the third sentence, also contributes to this point.

For second point, no, damage does not become positive energy. Because an ability doesn't say it does. Divine strike says, because positive energy is now involved, your sneak attack damages undead.

Third part is tricky. RAW, no, craven doesn't work. Divine strike applies to dice, and craven grants no dice at all. But it is way too pedantic reading. More, I don't know if craven was even released, when WotC were writing scullclan hunter. It is a possibility, they didn't even think there may be sneak attack bonus damage not expressed in dice.

If you are interested in my ruling on the last, I, generally, would allow it. I also suggest being consistent with other abilities with similar language. For example, in my default group's games rogues inflict half damage from craven when they use sneak attack with death ruin or penetrating strike ACFs, despite those also talking about dice only.

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