Some creatures in D&D 3.5 have ability drain attacks, such as the Fang Dragon's bite attack. I remember reading somewhere that for such an attack to actually 'drain' it has to deal lethal damage, implying that for non hostile situations such a creature could use it's bite attack to inflict subdual damage and not permanently damage it's opponent.

The snippet below is taken from Draconomicon to illustrate the example's ability:

Ability Drain (Su): A fang dragon does not have a breath weapon, but its bite drains Constitution if the victim fails a Fortitude save. The number of Constitution points drained and the saving throw DC are given on the accompanying table.

The question is that I can't remember where I read that nor can I find it back now when looking for it. Does anyone know which particular book, rule or page covers this subject and if my 'assumption' is correct?


The ability drain rule says this:

This effect permanently reduces a living opponent’s ability score when the creature hits with a melee attack.

Damage is never mentioned. In fact the Shadow has an attack that does no HP damage (it only does 1d6 STR damage).

It's worth noting that Damage Reduction says this:

Whenever damage reduction completely negates the damage from an attack, it also negates most special effects that accompany the attack, such as injury type poison, a monk’s stunning, and injury type disease. Damage reduction does not negate touch attacks, energy damage dealt along with an attack, or energy drains. Nor does it affect poisons or diseases delivered by inhalation, ingestion, or contact.

As a non-touch attack, ability drain isn't mentioned in that list. So presumably if DR could fully stop the damage, no drain would be taken. Non-lethal damage won't stop it on its own, though.

In the case of the Fang Dragon, since the ability drain is Supernatural, perhaps it can simply not use it as part of a non-lethal attack? I don't believe that you have to turn it on if you don't want to.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The difference is that the shadow does ability damage while the fang dragon does an ability drain, furthermore, the way I read/interpret the dragon's ability is that it is some form of automatic poison/blood drain type thing and as such can not be actively turned on or off (much like supernatural damage reduction, which also can not be controlled). \$\endgroup\$ – Bas Jansen Feb 19 '14 at 14:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BasJansen Could be, I can't find a clear ruling on that part. Though if it was poison it'd probably be Ex and not Su. \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Feb 19 '14 at 14:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ That would be exactly the reason for this question I guess :) \$\endgroup\$ – Bas Jansen Feb 19 '14 at 14:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BasJansen Yeah. I added a note about damage reduction, which seems relevant. But without DR, far as I can tell doing lethal or non-lethal makes no difference. \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Feb 19 '14 at 14:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think I might have read the DR section and interpreted that as I stated in my question. The DR part clearly indicates that if no damage is taken then the special affects aren't applied, the assumption (probable mistake) that I must have made is that in my head I consider damage and subdual as two different things shrug. \$\endgroup\$ – Bas Jansen Feb 19 '14 at 15:00

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