Greg and Shelly get things going with some very exciting D&D news, the release of Van Richten’s Guide To Ravenloft! We’re also getting very close to the release of Candlekeep Mysteries, coming your way March 16th!...
Sage Advice is a monthly column that gives official clarifications of D&D rules. Sometimes it also provides reference documents to help your D&D game run smoothly.
If you have questions for a future installment of Sage Advice, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach me on Twitter (@JeremyECrawford), where I answer questions between installments of this column.
Sage Advice doesn’t trump the rulings of a Dungeon Master; the answers and information provided here are meant to assist a DM in adjudicating the game.
Can a rogue use Sneak Attack more than once per round? Yes, but no more than once per turn. In combat, a round comprises the turns of the combatants (see the Player’s Handbook, p. 189). Many features in the game, such as Extra Attack, specify that they work only on your turn. The Sneak Attack description specifies that you can use the feature once per turn, but it’s not limited to your turn. The feature also doesn’t limit the number of times you can use it in a round.
This rule is relevant because you sometimes get a chance to use Sneak Attack on someone else’s turn. The most common way for this to happen is when a foe provokes an opportunity attack from you. If the requirements for Sneak Attack are met, your opportunity attack can benefit from that feature. Similarly, a fighter could use Commander’s Strike to grant you an attack on the fighter’s turn, and if the attack qualifies, it can use Sneak Attack. Both of those options rely on your reaction, so you could do only one of them in a round.
Because of getting only one reaction per round, you’re unlikely to use Sneak Attack more than twice in a round: once with your action and once with your reaction.
How do I know which ability modifier to use with an attack roll and its damage roll? The Player’s Handbook specifies which ability modifier to use with an attack roll (p. 194) and which one to use with the corresponding damage roll (p. 196). Here’s a summary:
Melee weapon attack
Ranged weapon attack
Spellcasting ability mod.**
Depends on effect
*Add your proficiency bonus if you’re using a weapon with which you’re proficient.
**Add your proficiency bonus. Your spellcasting ability is determined by your class or whatever feature gave you the ability to make the spell attack.
For example, if you make a melee weapon attack with a longsword, you add your Strength modifier to the attack and damage rolls of the attack. In contrast, if you make the spell attack of the fire bolt cantrip, you add your spellcasting ability modifier to the attack roll. If you’re a wizard, Intelligence is your spellcasting ability, so add your Intelligence modifier. Fire bolt doesn’t tell you to add your modifier to its damage roll, though, so you don’t.
Various features in the game make explicit exceptions to the rule. For example, a weapon that has the finesse property lets you choose whether to use your Strength or Dexterity modifier with it. Another example: when you use the two-weapon fighting option in the Player’s Handbook (p. 195), you don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack, unless that modifier is negative. You do, however, still add your ability modifier to the attack roll, since the option doesn’t tell you not to. In other words, you follow the general rule until an exception in the game tells you not to.
What about unusual cases like the green-flame blade spell? The spell, which appears in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, tells you to make a melee attack with a weapon. Look at the table above, and you see that, under normal circumstances, you use your Strength modifier when you make a melee weapon attack. It doesn’t matter that a spell told you to attack. If a spell expects you to make a spell attack, the spell’s description says so. For examples, take a look at fire bolt and ray of frost. Both say it—“spell attack.”
Is the breath weapon of a dragon magical? If you cast antimagic field, don armor of invulnerability, or use another feature of the game that protects against magical or nonmagical effects, you might ask yourself, “Will this protect me against a dragon’s breath?” The breath weapon of a typical dragon isn’t considered magical, so antimagic field won’t help you but armor of invulnerability will.
You might be thinking, “Dragons seem pretty magical to me.” And yes, they are extraordinary! Their description even says they’re magical. But our game makes a distinction between two types of magic:
- the background magic that is part of the D&D multiverse’s physics and the physiology of many D&D creatures
- the concentrated magical energy that is contained in a magic item or channeled to create a spell or other focused magical effect
In D&D, the first type of magic is part of nature. It is no more dispellable than the wind. A monster like a dragon exists because of that magic-enhanced nature. The second type of magic is what the rules are concerned about. When a rule refers to something being magical, it’s referring to that second type. Determining whether a game feature is magical is straightforward. Ask yourself these questions about the feature:
- Is it a magic item?
- Is it a spell? Or does it let you create the effects of a spell that’s mentioned in its description?
- Is it a spell attack?
- Does its description say it’s magical?
If your answer to any of those questions is yes, the feature is magical.
Let’s look at a white dragon’s Cold Breath and ask ourselves those questions. First, Cold Breath isn’t a magic item. Second, its description mentions no spell. Third, it’s not a spell attack. Fourth, the word “magical” appears nowhere in its description. Our conclusion: Cold Breath is not considered a magical game effect, even though we know that dragons are amazing, supernatural beings.
Do magic weapons give you a bonus to attack and damage rolls? A magic weapon gives you a bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls only if its description says it does. Every magic weapon can bypass resistances and immunities to damage from nonmagical attacks, but only certain magic weapons are more accurate and damaging than their nonmagical counterparts. For example, a +1 longsword and a giant slayer both give you a +1 bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls, whereas neither a flame tongue nor a frost brand provides such a bonus. All four weapons, however, can bypass an earth elemental’s resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical attacks.
In short, a bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls is considered a special property of a magic weapon, not something that all magic weapons provide automatically.
Sage Advice Compendium
The Sage Advice Compendium gathers every installment of Sage Advice in one PDF. It’s been updated to include this month’s questions and answers.
Here are other D&D reference documents we’ve posted on this website.
D&D Spell List (version 1.01)
Monsters by Challenge Rating (version 1.0)
D&D Monsters by Type (version 1.0)
Magic Items by Rarity (version 1.0)
Conversions to 5th Edition D&D (version 1.0)
About the Author
Jeremy Crawford is the co-lead designer of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. He was the lead designer of the fifth edition Player’s Handbook and one of the leads on the Dungeon Master’s Guide. He has worked on many other D&D books since coming to Wizards of the Coast in 2007. You can reach him on Twitter (@JeremyECrawford).