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Fizban's Treasury of Dragons presents an alternative version for dragonborns. One of the features that have been changed is the Breath Weapon:

Breath Weapon. When you take the Attack action on your turn, you can replace one of your attacks with an exhalation of magical energy in a 30-foot line that is 5 feet wide. Each creature in that area must make a Dexterity saving throw (DC = 8 + your Constitution modifier + your proficiency bonus). On a failed save, the creature takes 1d10 damage of the type associated with your Chromatic Ancestry. On a successful save, it takes half as much damage.

The above description refers to a Chromatic Dragonborn: the other types have similar text, but the shape of the Breath is different.

Then, once the character has taken the Attack action one of the attacks can be substituted with this Breath Weapon. Despite the name, it is not clearly stated that such option constitutes an actual attack.

Is this version of the Breath Weapon from FToD an attack?


For a possible scenario where this could matter, consider a Goblin Boss and their Goblin minions: the Boss has the following reaction available:

Redirect Attack. When a creature the goblin can see targets it with an attack, the goblin chooses another goblin within 5 feet of it. The two goblins swap places, and the chosen goblin becomes the target instead.

Suppose that the Boss is next to a Goblin, and the former is targeted by the Breath Weapon of a Chromatic Dragonborn (see the scheme below, where D stands for dragonborn, B for Goblin Boss and G for the Goblin): can the Boss use its reaction and switch position with the other Goblin?

A goblin boss targeted by the breath of a dragonborn, another goblin stands 5 ft on the left of the Boss.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Interacting with the specific language of this feature is worth not duping this, but we do have a general question for this: What counts as an attack? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2023 at 16:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Yep, I know that one, but I didn't manage to see any clue due to the wording of the feature (it replaces an attack but it is not explicitly said that's an attack) \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Feb 28, 2023 at 16:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also interesting in that the breath is specifically called out as magical, since we know that dragon breath from a dragon is not. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 28, 2023 at 18:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even if it was an attack (which it's not), note that it's an area of effect thing, not a target thing, so the "targets with an attack" part of the condition wouldn't be satisfied either. It's a 30-foot line, not a "number of creatures within range" or whatever. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 1, 2023 at 7:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes If you want to provide an answer supporting your claim about not being an attack, which differs from the already posted ones, you're more than welcome. Regarding targettng, the definition of target is not crystal clear and even creatures inside an AoE can be considered as targets: see for example this Q&A and this answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Mar 1, 2023 at 11:54

3 Answers 3

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It’s not an attack

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.

This is the general rule. Specific rules that break it, like the grapple or the shove, are explicit that they are attacks notwithstanding the general rule. The breath weapon description doesn’t do that, so the general rule applies.

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It is not an attack

There are two ways in which something could be called an attack.

  1. The following section from the Basic Rules states:

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.

  1. A specific rule (see the below section of the Basic Rules) could be called an attack in the text.

Remember this: If a specific rule contradicts a general rule, the specific rule wins.

Since Breath Weapon does not make an attack roll, and the effect is not called an attack in the text, Breath Weapon is not an attack.

Here's a similar example

A similar rule that replaces an attack with a magical effect involves the Bladesinging wizard's Extra Attack:

You can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn. Moreover, you can cast one of your cantrips in place of one of those attacks.

If you were to replace an attack with a spell like mending for example, it is quite clear that you are not making an attack. The same is true for the Breath Weapon.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that the Bladesinger feature is a good example, due to the particular nature (a cantrip) of the replacement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Feb 28, 2023 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage The answer does address the specific Is this version of Breath Weapon[...] part of your question, that it being part of an Attack Action does not make it an attack per se. This simplifies your question to whether a dragonborns Breath Weapon, whether PHB or FToD, is an attack. In which case Thomas Markov's link is preeminently relevant with a Jeremy Crawford tweet (I know) further corroborating evidence. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2023 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage Yep, I get that - it ties into that other option for something being an attack apart from an attack roll, it [being] called an attack in the rules. Is an action you do as part of an Attack Action an attack by this rule? And this is the aspect that I see this answer addressing. Phrasing is not identical, but very similar - compare replace one [...] attack with in place of one [...] attack. So if using the Breath Weapon becomes an attack by being exhaled as part of an Attack Action, then so does viciously mending that Ming vase you knocked over when entering the room. Or? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2023 at 20:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage How is the fact that is a cantrip make it a non-sequitur? They are both replacing an attack with a magical effect. I will elaborate on the main aspect of the question. The reason I was brief is that I felt it was pretty cut and dry. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2023 at 21:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage That is the same situation we have with the Breath Weapon. It does not include an attack roll. That is precisely why it is a corollary. The analogy lends an additional intuitive understanding to the claim that it isn't an attack since a breath weapon would be an attack in a colloquial sense while mending would not. If you were to accept that breath weapon is an attack since it replaces one, you'd have to accept that mending is when used by a Bladesinger in this way. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2023 at 21:30
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Even if this AoE was considered attack when used this way (which it's not: no attack roll, and see other answers), note that Redirect Attack still wouldn't apply.

When a creature the goblin can see targets it with an attack

The target of the breath weapon is a 30-foot line, not a "number of creatures within <some restriction>". Creatures in the area aren't targets of the dragonborn directly, only of the magical effect created by the dragonborn. An answer on What counts as a target for a spell? goes into detail about the two usages of "target" in 5e rules, one being the technical term that ties into the spell targeting rules (line of effect / clear path to target), and the other broader English meaning that can include being affected by an AoE. (Fireball's spell description even uses the word "target" to describe creatures in the area, separate from the point-within-range targeting part.)

The Redirect Attack wording is somewhat similar to Sanctuary (1st), except that Sanctuary also includes being targeted by a creature with a harmful spell in general, not just an attack.

You ward a creature within range against attack. Until the spell ends, any creature who targets the warded creature with an attack or a harmful spell must first make a Wisdom saving throw. [...]
This spell doesn't protect the warded creature from area effects, such as the explosion of a fireball.

This is part of one spell's description, so it not covering AoEs doesn't necessarily mean that the same wording elsewhere should be parsed the same way. But it does support that interpretation.


The dragonborn targets an area with their breath

The target of a spell like Lightning Bolt or Fireball, or a breath weapon, is an area. A creature in that area isn't a target of the ability or spell in the technical terminology of 5e; a spell would need a line of effect / clear path to target. (Non-spell things might have different targeting rules.)

Compare spells like Word of Radiance: Each creature of your choice that you can see within range must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take 1d6 radiant damage. - you see and target those creatures.

Chain Lightning (7th) makes it even more explicit because its target can be a creature or object, so it uses "target" as a placeholder to define later: You create a bolt of lightning that arcs toward a target of your choice that you can see within range. Three bolts then leap from that target to as many as three other targets, each of which must be within 30 feet of the first target. A target can be a creature or an object and can be targeted by only one of the bolts.

When the target is an area, the thing you need a line-of-effect to is some part of the area, not to each creature in the area. e.g. for Shatter, A sudden loud ringing noise, painfully intense, erupts from a point of your choice within range. The stuff about "each creature" within 10 ft of that point making a save comes later.

Some things are less explicit about separating the choosing of area from the effect on creatures within it, like your breath weapon, or like Burning Hands (1st): Each creature in a 15-foot cone must make a Dexterity saving throw. But Burning Hands lists Range: Self (15-foot cone) which makes it explicit that you aren't targeting creatures in the area, the target of the spell is yourself.

I've mostly picked spells as examples, not other non-spell class abilities, but the principle is the same. For example, Summon Wildfire Spirit: The spirit appears in an unoccupied space of your choice that you can see within 30 feet of you. Each creature within 10 feet of the spirit (other than you) when it appears must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw against your spell save DC or take 2d6 fire damage.

Sanctuary wouldn't stop you from doing this because it's not an attack, and doesn't target them directly. (Also because it's not a "harmful spell"; that wording in Sanctuary excludes even single-target class abilities like Ancients Paladin channel divinity: Nature's Wrath, a single-target save or restrain effect.)


Attacks always target creature or objects

In general, all attacks have a creature or object as a target. So do some non-attack things like Sacred Flame (target a single creature, save or take damage), but AoEs like fireball or lightning bolt don't target individual creatures or objects.

An attack involves an attack roll against each targeted creature. (Or it's a special attack like a grapple that involves contested ability check.)

Replacing an attack in the Attack action isn't sufficient to be an attack

If you were a bladesinger and replaced one of your attacks with a saving-throw cantrip like Toll the Dead, it wouldn't be an attack. You're giving up one of your attacks from the Attack action to do something else, not doing something else as an attack.

It doesn't matter if the cantrip deals damage or not, you're still casting a cantrip instead of making an attack. If the cantrip itself involves a spell attack or weapon attack, then it's also an attack for that reason. Otherwise it's not, e.g. an AoE or single-target saving throw cantrip, or non-damaging like Dancing Lights or Minor Illusion.

(The bladesinger rules wording doesn't require it to have a cast time of 1 action, so Mending is possible instead of the normal 1 minute?)

Same thing applies for this breath weapon: it's a non-attack thing you can do instead of one of your attacks when you take the Attack action. It targets an area, and has no attack roll.

Compare with grapple and shove

Grapple and shove explicitly are special types of attacks, because they say so in their wording:

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. If you’re able to make multiple ATTACKS with the Attack Action, this Attack replaces one of them.

It's an attack because the rules say it's a "Special melee attack", not because it's replacing one of your attacks in the Attack action.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It is not completely true that creatures in AoE aren't targets: see this answer if you didn't do already. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Mar 1, 2023 at 21:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage: Thanks, you're right, the word "target" does get used for creatures in areas of effect. Updated. That's separate from being the direct target of something another creature does, though. For the Morkoth ability in question in that linked Q&A, the Morkoth is a target of the magical effect (the 20ft AoE), and can redirect its share of the damage to another creature, but not re-target the whole AoE (the point-within-range target of the caster of the spell). \$\endgroup\$ Mar 1, 2023 at 23:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the update. Anyway, the Sanctuary spell may serve exactly as a counterexample of what you claim: it has to specify that creatures in an AoE are not affected by the AoE itself, i.e. are not targets. This seems to me a case in which specific beats general applies. Moreover, the BW wording includes the sentence "Each creature in that area must make a Dexterity saving throw...". Regarding bladesinger, as I wrote under David's answer, the comparison is not useful, since the replacement is done with a complete different game feature. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Mar 2, 2023 at 7:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage: it has to specify that creatures in an AoE are not affected by the AoE itself, i.e. are not targets. - That's the opposite of how Sanctuary works. It has no interaction with AoEs like Fireball. It doesn't stop a caster from picking a point near you (or require a Wis save for it), nor does it stop you from taking damage due to being near that point. You are a target of the magical effect, but not directly a target of the caster; they didn't aim it at you specifically, they aimed it at an area you happened to be in. That distinction is the whole point of this answer. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2, 2023 at 8:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage: I posted an answer to the question you linked earlier, Does a Morkoth's Spell Reflection work against area-of-effect spells like Fireball? The two senses of the word "target" (actively targeted by the caster or breath-weapon user) vs. being in the area of effect is the same distinction I'm making here. In that case, it lets us understand "target" in a way that makes sense for reflecting the effect of a Fireball or Shatter on the morkoth, but not retargeting the point the AoE centers on. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2, 2023 at 8:13

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