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According to the sunder special attack entry in the Player's Handbook, page 158, "You can use a melee attack with a slashing or bludgeoning weapon to strike a weapon or shield... (Attacking held objects...is covered below)."

However, according to the "Behind the Curtain: Hydras" sidebar under the hydra's entry on page 155 of the Monster Manual, "Characters without the Improved Sunder feat will find it difficult and dangerous to attack by lopping off the monster's heads..."

The rules don't specifically mention this as a possibility, but spells like regenerate and abilities like regeneration suggest limb loss may occur.

Is the sidebar implying that sunder attempts can be made against a hydra's heads, and, extrapolating from that, can sunder attempts be made against other creatures' tentacles, arms, legs, or heads, possibly resulting in instant death attacks?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ AD&D had the Vorpal Sword that chopped off the head. In 3.5 this kind of "instant death attacks" is simulated by the "death by massive damage" rule. \$\endgroup\$
    – Giorin
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 9:10

1 Answer 1

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Hydras are a special case:

A hydra can be killed either by severing all its heads or by slaying its body. To sever a head, an opponent must make a successful sunder attempt with a slashing weapon.

(Monster Manual pg. 155)

Without this clause, you could not do this. That is because sunder is defined as

You can use a melee attack with a slashing or bludgeoning weapon to strike a weapon or shield that your opponent is holding.

(Player’s Handbook pg. 158)

So unless there is a special exception, like there is for hydras,1 you can only use sunder on weapons or shields held by an opponent. You cannot extrapolate outward from the hydra’s special case to other creatures; that is not how the rules work.

  1. And, as far as I know, no other creatures. But of course, with the size of 3.5 it’s entirely possible there are more, so I could not swear to that.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Giant Squid is another example of a creature with a special exception allowing you to sunder its limbs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Topquark
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 0:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Likewise the Giant Octopus and Kraken. \$\endgroup\$
    – SPavel
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 17:08

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