I'm not sure if anyone has gone about trying to find a list of the mechanics that explicitly make reference to extraordinary abilities (for example, mechanics that derive from spells, class features, etc.).

An obvious example is polymorph and related spells that change your form (and in turn your access to certain extraordinary abilities).

Another example is the level 19 ability of the factotum, which lets you "prepare" extraordinary class abilities for use throughout the day:

Cunning Brilliance (Ex): At 19th level, you become the ultimate jack of all trades. Your sharp mind and keen sense of your surroundings allow you to duplicate almost any ability you witness. At the start of each day, choose three extraordinary class abilities. Each ability must be available to a standard character class at 15th level or lower, and must appear on the advancement table or in the text description for that class. By spending 4 inspiration points as a free action, you gain the benefits and drawbacks of one chosen ability for 1 minute. You use the ability as if your level in the relevant class equaled your factotum level. You can use each chosen class ability once per day. For example, if you use a monk's flurry of blows ability, you gain all the benefits and drawbacks described under Flurry of Blows. You do not gain the benefits of unarmed strike, because that is a separate ability in the monk's class description.

Does anyone else know of other mechanics that explicitly concern extraordinary abilities?

Inspiration for Question

I'm trying to get a nuts-and-bolts answer to this question about whether or not feats are extraordinary abilities by default, but of course, there's a lot to dig into. I figure a good way to go is to look at all the explicit mechanics involving extraordinary abilities. The factotum answer above seems to indicate that one could take a monk's Unarmed Strike ability (PHB p.41), which has no label (Ex or otherwise) and thus by RAW from the PHB (p.180) would be designated as a natural ability. If that were true then I guess you could also pick fighter feats using the factotum ability (their bonus feats aren't labelled as extraordinary by the same logic as unarmed strike)?

The picture that's emerging slowly is that you have three kinds of (special) abilities: spell-like, supernatural and everything else. I see no mechanical difference between extraordinary abilities, natural abilities (PHB p.180), feats or anything else that doesn't qualify as spell-like or supernatural, other than the fact that extraordinary abilities are differentiated as racial or non-racial for the form-changing spells like polymorph.

  • \$\begingroup\$ At least a few things are pretty clearly distinct from the categories you list: spells, psionic powers, incarnum soulmelds. The last are pretty similar to magic items, but then, we could also add magic items themselves as another category. Just food for thought, not especially relevant to the actual question here. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 29, 2023 at 3:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ This distinction is textually obvious, but digging deeper I find it's not semantically clear that any of these count as "special abilities" (SAs). Technically spells are "class features" (PHB p24), which aren't explicitly SAs. Spells became "uncategorized" in the transition to 3.5 (the 3.0 monster manual, p.9, explicitly lists spells as being a spell-like special attack). From what I can tell, the (Sp, Su, Ex) categories' only purpose is to quickly indicate whether or not the ability is subject to dispelling/antimagic/disjunction (or analogous mechanics in psionics/incarnum). \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Dec 29, 2023 at 4:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ The 3.5e solar lists “Special Attacks: Spell-like abilities, spells,” pretty clearly indicating that those are special abilities and distinct from spell-like abilities. And yes, quickly summing up rules about counterspelling, dispelling, disrupting, and antimagic is most of the point of them, which is part of why I list those three things in particular—they have their own rules for those things that don’t fit into any of the three categories. But the categories are also used as a way of grouping features—Ex pretty rarely, but Sp and Su get called out pretty often. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 29, 2023 at 15:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Being nitpicky with semantics (further to your sentiment of "explicit as possible" in the linked question), I could argue "spells" & "spell-like abilities" are both "spell-like special abilities" (surely X's fall into the category of X-like things). The 3.5 MM (p6) has a "Special Attacks and Special Qualities" header; in the 3.0 MM the header was "Special Abilities", meaning at least by the MM special abilities were explicitly the special attacks and special qualities entries in a monster stat block. I think that permits a ruling that feats are not even special abilities, but 3.5 erased that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Dec 29, 2023 at 16:07
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ “surely X’s fall into the category of X-like things,” absolutely not. Spell-like abilities are so-called because they are each, individually, like some spell. That is, a fireball spell-like ability is “like” the spell fireball. As a class, though, they are explicitly separate and distinct. Those differences, in fact, are precisely why a fireball spell-like ability is only “like” the spell fireball, and not just actually casting the spell itself. So much breaks down trying to read it your way; it’s just not tenable. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 29, 2023 at 16:25


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