"(Melee / Ranged) Weapon Attack" vs. "(Melee / Ranged) Attack": Non-Weapon Attacks and Game Terminology

Rules Questions

2 people marked this as FAQ candidate.

These terms show up in different places, 'attack' with or without melee/ranged designators is way more common, but 'weapon attack' shows up in a few places as well: Crane Wing, Magus Accurate Strike Arcana, Gnome Great Hatred Feat, and the Bloody Assault Feat. (the latter mixes the term up to become "weapon melee attack" but AFAIK they mean the same thing as "melee weapon attack")

The question is: is there a difference between these, and if so, what does "weapon attack" not apply to that "attack" DOES?

First, terms like 'melee' and 'ranged' don't really distinguish much beyond whether melee or ranged is being used: a normal Grapple or Bullrush are 'melee attacks', or indeed ranged if you have some special ability allowing you to do that. Nothing I know of excludes e.g. CMBs from those terms' remit.

Second, 'weapon' should minimally refer to an actual weapon being used. This could be either manufactured or natural, those are just qualifiers/descriptors of the general class 'weapons'. But CMBs like Grapple and Bullrush and Over-Run don't normally use weapons, and are never described as weapons. Grapple works with Weapon Focus only by special exception. Trip and Sunder and Disarm are CMBs that explicitly happen in place of a melee attack, which most often is a 'weapon' attack, whether manufactured or natural or 'unarmed strike' and thus should count as 'weapon attacks' in those cases. (Technically you could also substitute a Trip/etc in place of a Grapple or Bullrush or Over-Run attack, and that would not be a weapon attack)

There of course can be exceptions, Shield Slam or Barbarian Knockback DO let you achieve Bullrushes via a weapon, so those WOULD count as weapons even though at least Shield Slam may do no damage. Likewise, some 'weapon' could potentially do no actual damage, but just have some special magical effect: probably that would be seen in Touch Attacks (which seem to be treated as natural weapons in monster stat blocks, and in other cases as an iterative weapon otherwise... the definition of Touch Attacks seems skewed to Spells and doesn't really address the broader issue).

Third, another definition, which isn't clearly supported by RAW AFAIK, is that 'weapon attacks' are attacks that do damage, or 'weapon damage' (usually dice+bonuses, but sometime 'minimum 1+bonuses'), likely using a 'weapon'. The Maintain for Damage option of Grapple would be a borderline case there, if Grapple isn't actually a weapon but the check is dealing damage. That definition would mean weapon-based Trips, Disarms, Bullrushes would NOT count as 'weapon attacks' because they don't deal damage. Barbarian Knockback DOES also deal damage, even if not using the normal base weapon damage dice, so it might be an exception. Likewise Sunder doesn't normally deal damage to the target creature (it has a special effect dealing damage to their gear), but Greater Sunder CAN deal damage to the target so SHOULD plausibly count as a weapon attack (by this definition) even if base Sunder does not. (base Sunder itself could also be an exception and count as a 'weapon attack')

I believe something like the latter definition is probably what Paizo is going for, just because it's nice to have a simple direct term to refer to damaging attack rolls that excludes CMBs... But AFAIK, the term just isn't really defined in the rules anywhere, that was seemingly missed when Pathfinder made CMBs count as "attacks". There are really very few cases now using this "melee weapon attack" phrase, none in the Core Rule Book, but it would be nice to get clarity on what this term actually means, and the functional difference of it vs. the more common '(melee) attack'.

This came up from this thread, where I raised basically the same points, also giving the specific texts of the Feats I mentioned here at the top, and how the Feats would work per the definitions of 'weapon attack' I discussed here.

Please hit FAQ if you can't point me to a page defining these terms :-)

Quandary wrote:
The question is: is there a difference between these, and if so, what does "weapon attack" not apply to that "attack" DOES?

Attacks with spells? holy water? throwing a healing grenade at someone? maybe.

To be honest, I didn't read your entire post. It makes sense that it's spelled out for a magus arcana since he uses spells and weapons together.

My view:
Did you attack with an actual weapon? consider it a weapon attack.
Did you attack with a spell or an improvised weapon(*)? don't expect that the "weapon attack" condition is always met.

Your wish for clarification is understandable given PFS and "official rulings" if those are needed at a private table.

Remember, the rules are not a legal document where people go to war in court over a misplaced comma (they come here :P), they are mostly for regular people who wants to play some RPG, their complexity just tends to attract ruleslawyers like us. Legalese will not fix this.

(*) I know that distinction might blow up in my face, but I find it reasonable that not all combat training automatically applies to improvised weapons.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Improvised Weapons are weapons.


Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Pathfinder is a game written by multiple authors, whose texts are further edited for word count, and in some places it's "cut and paste" from 3.5.

You are reading way too much into a distinction that doesn't exist.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

I don't understand what's complicated.

"Attack" is a clearly-defined term. Any reference to a "[modifier] attack" would refer to a subset of "attack" which is modified by the listed term, and exclude any attacks to which that modifier does not apply.

Just like the difference between "apples" and "red apples". The former refers to everything that's called an apple, while the latter only includes those apples which are red (excluding any which are instead green or yellow or rotten brown or whatever).

That's how english works.

A "weapon attack" is any attack which uses a weapon. Any attack which does not use a weapon—which includes most combat maneuvers and several spell effects—would not be included in the term "weapon attack".

I admit I didn't read the entire OP (it was a bit wordy), but the primary question asked seems to be fairly easily answered. Is there something I missed?

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