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A situation came up in game where a battle master wished to use a Goading Attack maneuver inside the area of a silence spell. As DM, I ruled that the enemy would get advantage on the wisdom save since the goading could not include any vocal component in this situation. The player thought that was incorrect, and I agreed to take a closer look after the game.

Upon careful re-reading of the maneuver afterwards, I conceded that the maneuver does not state that the target has to be able to see or hear the battle master for the maneuver to work.

I see nothing in the description of the battle master archetype to suggest that the maneuvers are considered magical. The victim gets a saving throw for some of them, but saves are not limited to resisting magical effects.

If the maneuvers are not magical, how do they work? The fact that the save DC is based on the battle master's strength or dexterity suggests that bonus effect comes from something about the way the weapon strikes the target, which I'm having a hard time making sense of for many of the maneuvers. Similarly, I'm unclear on how a battle master's skill, if that really is all that these maneuvers are supposed to represent, could grant another player an additional action in a round, via Commander's Strike.

I think RAW is pretty clear (they are not stated to be magical, and require only what their descriptions say they require) but feel free to correct me if I've missed something. But has there been any insight on RAI or does anyone have a better way of thinking about these maneuvers that makes sense to them?

To clarify what I'm asking:

  • Have I missed any rules that would clarify this?
  • Have the developers provided any RAI insight into the maneuvers?
  • How does your group interpret them in a way that makes sense to you?
    • Do you (or your DM) allow them to work flawlessly in every circumstance, or can advantage/disadvantage be applied as logical according to the "flavor" of the maneuver?
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  • \$\begingroup\$ To be clear, you are just looking for the RP reasoning behind the abilities? \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Jul 8 '16 at 18:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Either RP reasoning or rules I have missed that make this make more sense. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Jul 8 '16 at 20:02
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They are special nonmagical techniques based on being a scholar of combat. This is explained in the Battle Master entry:

Those who emulate the archetypal Battle Master employ martial techniques passed down through the generation. To a Battle Master, combat is an academic field...

Individual maneuvers explain what you're actually doing:

Commander's Strike: You can forgo one of your attacks... to direct one of your companions to strike.

Goading Attack: You can... attempt to goad the target into attacking you.

In each case, you're mundanely directing your ally or goading (through voice or gesture or just annoying attack placement) your enemy. You're just really good at it because of your battle mastery.

Although I can't find a reference in the PHB, it's generally accepted in D&D that you're doing more with your turn than your single attack. Your PC might constantly be feinting, dodging, making threatening jabs, and so on. Your attack rolls represent those actions that are actual opportunities to do damage. From this perspective, then, a Commander's Strike doesn't mysteriously make your ally move faster; it just gives them an extra opportunity that they otherwise might not have had, just like a retreating enemy lets them make an opportunity attack.

In the games I've played, these maneuvers have been explained however seemed appropriate in the situation and were never assigned advantage or disadvantage, but I don't see a problem with the saves being modified in unusual circumstances. I'd just make sure that you're treating other players' unusual abilities with the same level of scrutiny.

P.S.: The Battle Master is, in part, 5e's version of the Warlord class from fourth edition. That class has the Martial power source, indicating that it's wholly nonmagical, with the following explanation:

You have become an expert in tactics through endless hours of training and practice, personal determination, and your own sheer physical toughness.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the suggestion of "annoying attack placement" for how someone could goad without being seen or heard. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Jul 8 '16 at 20:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yup! The classic gag of slicing their belt or giving them an ugly face wound or some other thing that makes the enemy mad or determined to hurt you. \$\endgroup\$ – Gregory Avery-Weir Jul 8 '16 at 20:26
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Our group role plays them as timing and techniques that the fighter can exploit for extra effect. Maybe the goading attack is him yelling insults about the enemy's lineage or maybe it's a series of quick motions that almost hypnotize the enemy or a move that puts the enemy into an off balance position so he has a hard time attacking someone else. Commander's strike could be the fighter positioning the enemy so the rogue can get close enough to hit again this round or a coordinated feint that lets another player hit him while his guard is down.

They're much easier to think about if you see combat as a fluid back and forth between combatants rather than I swing, you swing, next round.

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•Have I missed any rules that would clarify this?

No. Nothing in the description describes them as a magical effect, nor as having verbal, somatic, nor material components as a spell does.

•Have the developers provided any RAI insight into the maneuvers?

This question would be a good stand alone question by itself. (The entirety of dev tweets does not seem to have been collated yet ... note that the latest Sage Advice Compendium (June 2016) does not address this).

•How does your group interpret them in a way that makes sense to you?

We accept that they work as described. Part of the 5e KISS principle at work.

•Do you (or your DM) allow them to work flawlessly in every circumstance, or can advantage/disadvantage be applied as logical according to the "flavor" of the maneuver?

Advantage / disadvantage is applied per the DM's call, and so far I have not seen "flavor of the maneuver" used as a criterion for judging that.

Specific point:

Similarly, I'm unclear on how a battle master's skill, if that really is all that these maneuvers are supposed to represent, could grant another player an additional action in a round, via Commander's Strike.

In combat, a turn is six seconds and a lot happens then. The enemy is presumed to be trying to act as you are trying to act. The Commander's Strike can simply represent (somewhat abstractly, as HP are an abstraction) how the battle master maneuvers, positions himself, or moves so that his ally is not obstructed and can thus act more freely and more efficiently -- the ally's attack efforts are more efficient or more effective and gain a benefit from Commander's Strike. Part of the point is to not get too granular about each and every little body movement in the flurry of combat. (Note the lack of a garrote and rules for choking ...) This is a design feature of 5e: de-cluttering combat.

For a sports analogy or two:

  • Some basketball players are better at moving without the ball, and so are open for a pass from the point guard more often. Point Guard gets more assists. Basketball Master!
  • Some pass receivers are better at finding holes in the defensive zone. Their ability makes their quarterback better since they end up hitting an open receiver more often. Gridiron Master!
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If this was the real world, we'd call it Magic. In the DnD world, it's just Logic.

In the real world, dragons could not possibly fly. But they do in the DnD world, and Dispel Magic can't stop it from happening. There is a sort of magic that is implicit in the structure of the DnD universe. To the people in that universe it seems as unremarkable as the ability to breath air seems unremarkable to us. To us, of course, this quasi-magic seems as remarkable as breathing air must seem to a fish. Unlike spells, this magic is so deeply woven into the structure of the world that it cannot be dispelled or even analyzed to any depth. Indeed, it is unlikely that it would even occur to anyone but the most creative thinkers within the world that it could be analyzed.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There's plenty of explicit magic in D&D that can't be dispelled by Dispel Magic. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Jul 8 '16 at 20:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ And even more implicit magic, like dragon flight or bardic inspiration \$\endgroup\$ – András Jul 8 '16 at 20:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @András basically, I would have expected goading attack to work like bardic inspiration. BI requires the bard to be heard. GA does not. If the goad does not need to be seen or heard, it seems that it must be magical. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Jul 8 '16 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleVermont it was much more clear and honest in 3.5, where you had supernatural and spell-like abilities. Now the 4 Elements Monk's abilities are magical because they say so. Maneuvers don't, so... \$\endgroup\$ – András Jul 8 '16 at 21:39

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