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Battle Master fighters can choose the Commander's Strike maneuver option (PHB, p. 74):

When you take the Attack action on your turn, you can forgo one of your attacks and use a bonus action to direct one of your companions to strike. When you do so, choose a friendly creature who can see or hear you and expend one superiority die. That creature can immediately use its reaction to make one weapon attack, adding the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.

Fighters choose a Martial Archetype at 3rd level, when they generally have only one attack. If that attack is used for the Commander's Strike maneuver, would it be an attack at all?

From the attack description (PHB, p. 192):

The most common action to take in combat is the Attack action, whether you are swinging a sword, firing an arrow from a bow, or brawling with your fists.

With this action, you make one melee or ranged attack.

But in this case, the fighter will not, say, swing their sword - so it doesn't fit with the description.

If a Battle Master fighter has only one attack, can they forgo that attack to use the Commander's Strike maneuver?

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Yes, a Battle Master can give up their single-attack Attack action to use Commander's Strike.

You appear to be confusing the Attack action with an attack.

The Attack action is one of the things you can choose to do with your action; others include the Dash action, the Cast a Spell action, and the Use an Object action.

An attack is anything you do that causes you to roll a die to overcome someone's AC. Trying to hit with a weapon is an attack, but so is using a spell that rolls against AC, such as eldritch blast. You can make attacks without taking the Attack action, e.g. attacking with a spell using the Cast a Spell action, attacking with a magic item using its own unique action, or attack with a weapon using a reaction (e.g. using the Ready action, or making an opportunity attack) or bonus action (e.g. from Two-Weapon Fighting).

The prerequisites for the Battle Master fighter's Commander's Strike maneuver are that you:

  • take the Attack action, which always allows at least one attack, and
  • forego one of those attacks, even if it is the only one

The rules for grappling and shoving a creature are similar.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this mean that taking Attack action is just simply declaring it? \$\endgroup\$ – RollingFeles Jan 23 '16 at 10:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well yeah. "What do you do?" "I attack" = Attack action, "I hide" = Hide action etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Jan 23 '16 at 11:05
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Yes, a Battle Master can use Commander's Strike even with only 1 attack as part of their Attack action.

It says you can forgo one attack out of your pool of attacks.

Every turn you get one action. When you take the Attack action, you can make one (melee or ranged) weapon attack (the fighter and several other classes/subclasses can make one more at level 5, and the fighter can make even more at later levels). You can then sacrifice that single attack and use your bonus action to let an ally attack using its reaction.

Keep in mind that you get only one bonus action per turn, so you can only use this maneuver once per turn regardless of the number of attacks you can make per turn.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What bothers me is that it doesn't fit attack description. Attack action is the making attack itself and in this case there is none. \$\endgroup\$ – RollingFeles Jan 22 '16 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is one, just not made by the fighter. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Jan 22 '16 at 18:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RollingFeles the distinction is that "Attack" is an action you can choose on your turn, whereas "attack" is a thing you can do during that action. Commander's Strike lets you swap one attack which is part of your Attack to let someone else attack. That's why it says "when you take the Attack action" and not "when you attack". \$\endgroup\$ – anaximander Jan 22 '16 at 21:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DerekStucki I think that's the case :) \$\endgroup\$ – RollingFeles Jan 23 '16 at 4:32
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The logic used by the most accepted answer should be questioned in the case of one attack. The Attack Action is still a requirement that is forfeited if the player only has one attack.

Use Case 1

If they use Commander's Strike with one attack, then in effect they have removed the Attack action for that round. If that were the case then the wording for Commander's Strike would say "consume your Attack action and use a bonus action to direct one of your companions to strike."

Use Case 2

If they use Commander's Strike and are allowed to use their one and only attack then the wording would say, "When you take the Attack action on your turn, you can use an attack and use a bonus action to direct one of your companions to strike." They would have worded it this way to allow for the interpretation of one or many attacks to hold true.

Use Case 3 (the intended method)

When you take the Attack action on your turn, you can forgo one of your attacks and use a bonus action to direct one of your companions to strike. English is very particular about the use of "one of". When used in a sentence it is followed by a plural verb because it is used to demonstrate the plural form of something. On this case "the attacks".

Attacks in D&D

During this turn a player is allowed to make either a ranged attack (singular) or melee attack (singular). The attack does not specify that you can use both ranged and melee. This means that when it's the players turn they use 1 Attack Action, then 1 ranged or melee attack. After they have gone down the road of melee or ranged is where the plurality comes in.

In other words, Commander's Strike necessitates being capable of performing a multi-attack. The idea is that you face an enemy, you hit that enemy and then follow up like you're about to hit the enemy again. Most foes would brace as best they can for the second hit only to see the strike be bolstered for your teammate on the next turn. That is how it is properly used. "One of" followed by "attacks" means plural attacks are available, not either a melee or ranged.

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