5th Edition D&D – Rules Clarifications

There are a handful of rules in the 5th edition game that are a little ambiguous. They’ve engendered a fair amount of online discussion and, as is always the case with online discussions, no consensus is ever likely to be reached. I don’t pretend to have the answers to these conundrums, but I do know how I’m going to deal with them in the new campaign. What follows are not house rules, but they are house rulings. These are the rules I think need the most clarification for the table, and I’m hoping to pre-empt any discussions before the campaign starts.

Also included are rules that aren’t ambiguous, but are just different enough to third and fourth edition to trip up veteran players. The fact that these things might have been handled differently in playtesting hasn’t helped! I may come back and revise this post as more things pop up during the campaign, but here’s the list as it stands:


Actions

Over the space of a round, all characters get to take a turn. During that turn they have a number of options, which I’ll go through here. These options are quite different to third edition, Pathfinder and fourth edition so it’s worth taking a moment to absorb this.

In brief, all characters can take one Action and one Move. They might also be able to take a Bonus Action or a Reaction if circumstances allow, but these are by no means assured.

Action: On your turn you can take one Action. The Action is the meat of what you do in a round. You can use it to (deep breath!): make a mêlée or ranged attack, cast a spell, move further, disengage safely from combat, help another character do something, hide yourself, ready an action (more on that below), devote your full attention to search for something, use an item, climb a larger creature, disarm (more on that below, too), shove a foe, overrun your opponent, tumble, mark a foe… Those are just the prescribed actions. Generally you can try anything you like. If it sounds like something that takes a little bit of thought and focus, then it’s an Action. Some actions can involve doing more than one thing. A 5th level fighter gets to attack a foe twice when he uses his Action to attack, for example.

Move: On your turn you can also move your speed in feet. This movement can happen before or after your action, before and after your action, or even during your action. So a 5th level human fighter who can move 30 feet in a round could move 10 feet and attack, more 15 feet and attack someone else, and then move a further 5 feet. If you want to move more than your speed  would usually allow in round you can use your Action to “dash”. This allows you to move your speed again – so a total of sixty feet for a standard human. You can’t move further than that in a round – there’s no distinction between hustling, running and sprinting in 5th edition – you can’t move at ×4 or ×5 speed; all of that has been subsumed into the Dash Action. Please note, your Move is only ever spent moving. There is no concept of a ‘Move-Equivalent action’ in 5th edition. All the move-equivalent actions from third edition are either full Actions or not actions at all. See “Other Activities” for more information.

Bonus Action: These actions represent something else you can do on your turn – something extra beyond the Action and the Move. Whether you’re able to take a Bonus Action or not depends on your circumstances and your abilities. Rogues, for example, get the Cunning Action class feature at level two, that allows them to take a bonus action every round – as long as they use it to do one of three prescribed things. If you’re fighting with a weapon in each hand, the attack with the second weapon counts as a Bonus Action. Your character has no right to a bonus action on his turn. Either he has an ability that says he can take one, or he doesn’t. Regardless of whether you have a Bonus Action available or not, you can never (never ever!) take more than one Bonus Action on your turn.

Reaction: Every character has the potential of taking one reaction in a round in addition to their Action, Move and (possible) Bonus Action. The Reaction is an instant response to a triggering event. It might happen on your turn or on someone else’s turn. So the Reaction could interrupt another character’s Action. The most obvious example of this would be the Opportunity Attack, which I’ll mention below. Once you have taken a Reaction you can’t take another one until the start of your turn on the following round.

Other Activities: There are plenty of other small things you can do in a round, such a picking up a dropped object, drawing a sword, opening a door, conduct a sneering monologue (villains only)… In and of themselves, these things are too insignificant to be Actions. However, if you try to take a number of them in a combat round – drawing or sheathing multiple weapons, unlocking and opening a door… then the DM can quite legitimately ask you to spend your Action on the activity instead. You can try anything in combat. The DM decides whether what you’re doing is an Action or not an action.

Character vs. Class vs. Caster Level

Differentiating between your a character’s total number of levels (his “character level”), his levels in a particular class (his “class level”), and his overall spell-casting power (his “caster level”) is extremely important in third edition and Pathfinder. It’s much less important in 5th edition, to the extent that these terms aren’t used within the rules at all. However, multiclassing muddies the waters slightly in this regard, so it’s worth taking a look at this.

For single class characters Character Level = Class Level = Caster Level. There’s no difference at all. Rangers and Paladins may gain spells more slowly than bards and clerics but they still have what we’d consider full caster levels if we were looking at them through a Pathfinder lens. Equally, any spells you gain from acquiring a feat (such as Magic Initiate) are cast at your full level. A 20th level fighter who knows the Firebolt cantrip because he took the Magic Initiate feat casts a bolt of fire than inflicts 4d10 damage. The same goes for any magic you gained from your choice of race.

When multiclassing, your “caster level” in the way we understand it from previous editions, still continues to be the same as your character level – but it’s a largely meaningless term. The concept of a “caster level” doesn’t jive with the way spells (aside from cantrips) work in 5th edition. Your caster level doesn’t affect the effect, area or duration of spells, or the DC of the saving throws. The important thing for casters is how many spell slots they have available and what level spells they can prepare.

Here the multiclassing rules (PHB p163-165) give us some very specific guidance. Although your levels in individual classes determine the number of spells you know and get to prepare, you only have one pool of spell slots for all your classes. The pool is determined by what is the closest thing 5th edition gets to caster level, but it’s only something you have to reference when gaining levels and has no impact during play.

As for class abilities beyond spell-casting… here multi-classing continues to complicate our lives. The rules tell us exactly how Channel Divinity, Extra Attack and Unarmoured Defence function, but then leave us to make up our own minds about everything else. Honestly, this is something we have to take on a case-by-case basis. My instinct is that “class levels” trump “character levels”, but I know that I’m coming at the problem with an inherent third edition bias. By treating class and character levels as synonymous the multiclassing rules can be used to create overly powerful player options. But there are no firm rules for us here. We just have to use common sense, and a bit of sanity.

Concentration

A significant part of being a spellcaster in third edition or in Pathfinder is making Concentration checks to successfully cast spells in difficult situations. There is no “concentration check” in 5th edition, but the mechanic survives, in part, as a Constitution Saving Throw made in particular circumstances. Here’s how it works:

In 5th edition some spells are labelled as “Concentration Spells”. If you cast such a spell then the game assumes that you have to devote some of your attention to keeping it running for its duration. While your Concentration spell is running you can still fight, read, run, or even cast another spell that is not labelled a Concentration spell; but you do have some limitations. Notably, you cannot cast another spell that is a Cocentration spell. If you try, then the first Concentration spell immediately ends. This is 5th edition’s very effective method of stopping you stacking buffing spells.

(Concentration spells also immediately end if you’re incapacitated or dead – but that seems too obvious to mention)

So where does the saving throw come in? If you take damage while you have a Concentration spell running, you must make a Constitution saving throw at DC 10 or half the damage you receive (whichever is more), or the spell ends prematurely. The DM can also call for a DC 10 Con save if something else happens that might legitimately distract you – such as falling off a wagon, being hit by a large wave, or walking in on two beholders sharing an intimate moment.

Here’s an example: the druid spell Barkskin is a concentration spell. Once cast the recipient enjoys a fairly hefty armour class bonus. A spellcaster can concentrate on the barkskin spell for up to an hour. If at any point during that hour, the caster takes damage from any source then he has to make the above saving throw or the spell immediately ends.

Sorcerers are the only spellcasters who start the game with proficiency in Constitution saving throws. But even if you are able to add your proficiency bonus to your Con saves, the DC doesn’t scale particularly well with level – i.e. your Con save doesn’t keep pace with the damage you receive at high levels. There is a feat called War Caster that gives a caster advantage on Con saves to maintain concentration on a spell… but even that seems small potatoes. Basically if you have a Concentration spell running: don’t get hit. The chances of you keeping it going if you do are not high.

Disarming

A bit of an aberration this one. As a general combat option, and as an advanced feature of the Battlemaster Fighter, it is possible to disarm your foe of his weapon. If successful, the weapon drops to the ground near the feet of your foe. However, the rules state that recovering a weapon from the ground doesn’t take an action, and it won’t provoke an attack of opportunity either. So what’s the point of disarming your foe, except to look a bit flash?

My ruling on this is a simply one: If you disarm an opponent the weapon falls to the ground at their feet. On their turn the opponent can pick it up and continue fighting as if nothing happened, as long as the weapon is still there when it gets around to their turn. There’s a limited number of things that the attacker can do as well as defender – as noted in “other activities” above – to prevent his foe from getting his hands on the weapon.

On his turn the attacker can make a disarm attempt on his foe. If it’s successful the foe is disarmed. For the rest of the attacker’s turn, he can interact with that disarmed weapon. He can pick it up, or kick it away, or toss it in a lake if he wishes. Circumstances affect what is possible, and the DM has the final call, but it seems clear that is the way the rules are designed to work here.

Elven Trance and Long Rests

In 5th edition, elves don’t need to sleep. Instead they can enter a meditative trance during which time they are semi-conscious. Four hours of trance are the equivalent of eight hours sleep, so they only need four hours rest in this fashion to recharge their batteries. The game also states that a Long Rest is eight hours in length. Take these two things together, and it’s implied that elves can take a long rest in just four hours, right? Wrong. I know there’s much disagreement on this topic, but I’m going to rule that a Long Rest is eight hours for an elf in the same way it is for everyone else. The key to this is in the description of what a Long Rest actually is. This is what the PHB says about it:

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps or performs light activity: reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours. If the rest is interrupted by a period of strenuous activity — at least 1 hour of walking, fighting, casting spells, or similar adventuring activity – the characters must begin the rest again to gain any benefit from it.

A Long Rest is not synonymous with sleeping. A human needs to sleep for eight hours per day. A human may also choose to take a Long Rest. He can sleep during his long rest, but he can also take a long rest without sleeping. Of course, if he doesn’t sleep during his long rest, he will have to sleep at another time if he wants to avoid fatigue. It’s the same with elves and their Trance. During a Long Rest an elf can spend four hours in Trance if he wants, but he could do any number of other light activities instead.

Trance is a flavourful element of an elf’s description, but I don’t think it was designed to give them a major mechanical advantage in the game. The same applies to the Living Construct trait of the warforged that let’s them enter an inactive state for four hours per day instead of sleeping – that doesn’t shorten their Long Rests. At best Trance will let the elf get more done during a long rest because if the Long Rest is being used for sleeping (which it probably will be) then the elf has 4 hours more free time than a human does.

Evasive Footwork

Evasive footwork is one of the special combat manoeuvres of the battle-master fighter. It’s come to my attention as it’s one of the abilities of Jack’s character in the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure I’ve been recently running. The ability as written is extremely confusing. This is what the text says:

When you move, you can expend one superiority die, rolling the die and adding the number rolled to your AC until you stop moving.

What does that actually mean? When it says “move” does it mean a Move Action? If it does, why doesn’t it say so? And if you keep moving, does that mean you get the bonus to your AC perpetually? This is a very bad description, because it looks as though it’s couched in rules terms, when actually it isn’t.

So far we’ve been playing it along the lines of: “As long as you spend a Move action every round the benefits of the manoeuvre remain in effect”. I have to think that this is a very liberal way of reading the description. A superiority die in 5th edition starts as a d8, and rises to a d10 at tenth level, and a d12 at twelfth level. So the bonus to armour class is (on average) between +4 and +6 depending on your character level. In 5th edition, that’s a huge bonus.

A 1st level battle-master fighter can roll the die and add up to 8 to his Armour Class, and that can last as long as he keeps moving? Extrapolate that assumption out to a ridiculous extreme: if the fighter heads off across the wilderness to the next village 10 miles away, does he keep that bonus to AC for the entire journey as long as he doesn’t stop moving?

Every other battlemaster manoeuvre prompts the fighter to spend a superiority and initiate a manoeuvre that starts and finishes within one combat round. Spells that grant a comparable bonus to Armour Class (such as the Shield spell) also only grant the bonus for one combat round. I can only imagine that the intention behind evasive footwork was to allow the Battlemaster to race across an area of open ground avoiding attacks.

You don’t just move with a Move Action, of course. Certain bonus actions, and other Actions (such as dash or disengage) are also forms of movement. I can see how the wording could become a bit tricky. So, in order to keep things simple (and pending any official word on this from Wizards) I am going to  rewrite the text of the manoeuvre as follows:

When you move, you can expend one superiority die, rolling the die and adding the number rolled to your AC. The bonus to your AC persists until the start of your next turn.

This brings its power level in line with the rest of the battlemaster’s manoeuvres, and its utility close to that of the shield spell – although the spell is still a little better. I think this is also closer to the intention behind the rules in the first place.

I’d be interested to hear any comments on this – particularly from Jack.

Flanking

There are no flanking rules in 5th edition. Ganging up on a foe doesn’t provide any benefit as it might have done in previous versions of the game, unless you’re a rogue. Scroll down to the section on sneak-attack and you’ll see why the rogue wants to be fighting in tandem with someone while engaging in mêlée combat. The other classes? Not so much.

So don’t expect flanking to give you +2 to hit as it did in third edition, or Advantage or anything else. It’s not the way the game works… so allow me to manage your expectations!

Guidance

Guidance is a cantrip that’s on the Cleric and Druid spell lists. Once cast it lasts for up to a minute, and because it’s a concentration spell the caster can’t have more than one of these spells running at the same time. The recipient of the spell can roll 1d4 to any one ability check of his choice (that includes skills, but not saving throws or attacks) before the spell ends. Because Guidance is a cantrip, the caster can keep casting it indefinitely. This has led to some comment online that a caster could basically have the spell running all the time.

That argument is obviously ridiculous. It only lasts for a minute. No-one’s going to cast the same spell every minute of their waking life! But it does raise the question of how this spell can be used and what it can be used on. To my mind, Guidance has two unspoken limitations.

Firstly, it can only be used on a task that can be accomplished within the time frame of the spell (one minute). You can’t use it to help you win at poker if the game lasts an hour, you can’t use it to follow tracks for half a day across the wilderness. You could use it to shuffle the cards in such a way to cheat to victory, you can use it to find a set of tracks or a secret door. I think it’s obvious that you can’t use this spell for long term projects such as crafting or armour-smithing.

Secondly, there’s a certain degree of planning implied by the spell. The way it’s supposed to work (I am sure) is that the PCs are faced with an obstacle or problem that will call for an ability check. They know the check needs to be attempted, therefore the spell is cast on the least able character. Obviously, this isn’t always going to be the case. You can cast Guidance on the rogue and send her into a dungeon, and she might decide to use the spell to improve her Perception, Stealth or Thieves Tools check as the need arises – as long as the need arises within one minute. But, casting the spell on the off-chance it might useful, isn’t really what the spell seems to be designed for.

Holding your Action

There are times when you don’t want to act on your initiative count in combat. Often you want to wait and see what happens, or wait until another character has acted before doing anything. The rules for doing so have had different names in previous editions. In 5th edition, these rules have been merged with the existing rules for readying an action, which means they play out at the table very differently to what we might expect. This is how they work:

You can’t change your initiative count in 5th edition. What you roll is what you have for the entire combat. If you want to act out of your turn, then you use your Action during a round to Ready. If you Ready you then get to use your Reaction later in the round in a specified manner. It’s clearer with an example:

Amalgaer the dwarven rogue is hidden in the shadows of a dark alley. When the bad guy walks past, he intends to leap out and heroically stab him in the back. However, he has to time this attack correctly. Too soon, and the foe hasn’t arrived yet; too late, and the foe will escape. When initiative is rolled, Amalgaer gets a 20 which is much higher than the poor rube he wants to fillet. Normally, Amalgaer would act long before his unfortunate target.

On Initiative point 20, Amalgaer takes his turn. On his turn he may take a Move and an Action, and because he’s a rogue he also gets a Bonus Action. Amalgaer must take (or choose not to take) his Move and his Bonus Action at initiative point 20. These cannot be delayed. For his Action, he chooses to Ready. He will perform a certain feat in response to an outside stimulus: a trigger. He therefore needs to determine what that trigger will be. Amalgaer chooses: “As soon as the bad guy comes into range, I’m going to leap out of the shadows and backstab him.”

The round continues; other events may happen. On the bad guy’s initiative, he rounds the corner. Amalgaer’s trigger conditions have been met, so he can take his Reaction. He leaps out of the shadows and kills his foe, or misses horribly depending on the die roll. Of course, no character can have more than one Reaction per round, so if something else happened to make Amalgaer use his Reaction, then he can’t do anything else even if the trigger takes place.

If the trigger does not occur, then Amalgaer’s attack never happens. He can’t change his mind and ready something else. He has to wait until his following turn instead. He didn’t do anything with his Action except wait during the round. However, when we start the next round, his Initiative score hasn’t changed. He still acts at Initative point 20.

The Ready rules can be used for spells that have a casting time of one action. But you cast the spell on your Action and hold the charge until the trigger takes place – you need to use your Concentration to hold the charge between when you cast it and when you release it, so you can’t have any other concentration spells running at the same time.

The Ready rules are one of those things that sound more complicated the more you try to explain them! I will leave you with this observation:

In third edition and Pathfinder, the most common use of holding an action was to hold your ground and allow your enemy to come to you. That’s because if you Move during a round in third edition your character can make a full attack action. So it makes sense for higher level mêlée combatants to stay where they are, so they can take all their attacks, and their approaching opponent can only take one. This isn’t a thing in fifth edition at all. You can always move and take all your possible attacks (if you have more than one, which is less likely). So I don’t think that this change to the rules is going to have as profound an effect on play as you might think. But it will take some getting used to.

Knowledge Skills

I wrote a lengthy post on skills in 5th edtion and suggested some variant rules to shore up perceived shortcomings. In the end I think the general agreement was to do nothing with the rules, and see how they panned out in practice. I’m fine with that. However, what still needs some clarification is which Knowledge-based skills in this edition map onto the knowledge skills of editions past. So here are the some 5th edition proficiencies and what I think you could use them for.

Arcana: Allows you to recall lore about magic spells and symbols, traditions and schools of magic, magic items, psionics, the planes of existence and the extraplanar creatures that dwell there. Arcana is also the skill to find out about magical creatures that are native to the Prime Material plane, such as dragons or owlbears. In this way it replaces the Knowledge (Arcana), Knowledge (The Planes) and Spellcraft skills from third edition D&D. It also partially covers Knowledge (Dungeoneering). This skill is largely the same as the 4e Arcana skill, although in fourth edition you used the Religion skill to find out information about the Outer Planes and its denizens, and the Arcana skill for creatures of the elemental, shadow and fey planes.

History: Gives you information on historical events such as ancient kingdoms, legendary figures, and lost civilisations. It also gives you an understanding of wider political and social issues within a country or region, some of which may be current. The location of national boundaries and therefore a reasonable understanding of the position of countries in relation to one another is also implied. If you’re trained in this skill, the DM assumes that your knowledge is predicated toward your own country, continent, or world unless you specify otherwise. You can always make an Intelligence (History) check to see if you know any historical fact, but the DM would increase the DC if he felt it was an area in which your character would have limited expertise. Limited expertise can be overcome. A group of adventurers who are born in the Forgotten Realms and spend 10 years adventuring on Krynn, would find it equally easy to make History checks for either world. This skill covers the same ground as Knowledge (History) and Knowledge (Nobility and Royalty) from third edition. In some circumstances (though not all) it can be used as Knowledge (Local)Knowledge (Geography) and Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering). It is extremely close to the 4e version of the History skill in scope.

Investigation: This isn’t really a knowledge skill. It tends to be used for working out problems – doing research with dusty scrolls, deducing the location of a hidden object, or identifying a murder weapon. It’s also good if you’re playing Cluedo. However, a Charisma (Investigation) check can be used in the same way as the 4e Streetwise skill, which aligns it with third edition’s Gather Information and Knowledge (Local).

Nature: This is lore about natural creatures and plants, terrains, habitat, environment and topography. You can use Nature to find out information about ‘natural’ – i.e. non-magical – creatures. This would include all real-world creatures that live or have lived on Earth, but also fictional creatures that have a natural biology and non-planar origin such as a bulette, a carrion crawler, or an aarakocra. There is inevitably some crossover between the Nature and Survival skills when it comes to things such as identifying edible berries or poisonous mushrooms, although Survival is an inherently more practical skill. Knowledge of Nature isn’t limited by terrain type, if you have the skill then you well-versed all types of terrain – although the DM may increase the DC if you find yourself in an entirely alien environment. This skill is the same as Knowledge (Nature) from third edition, and also subsumes some of the elements of Professional (Herbalist) and Knowledge (Dungeoneering) from that edition. Your knowledge of topography might also double for Knowledge (Geography) in certain circumstances. It is similar to the Nature skill in 4e although some of the elements of that skill have devolved out into Survival and Animal Handling.

Religion: This skill allows you to recall information about deities, religious hierarchies, pantheons, rites, prayers, holy symbols, secret cults, theology, prophets and important church figures. It’s also the skill of philosophers, and deals with such matters as life and death, the soul and by extension undead creatures. Where the Arcana skill would give you practical information about the creatures and conditions of the Outer Planes, the Religion skill would tell you about the spiritual challenges of such places. Clerics who worship a particular deity will find it easier to remember lore about their own faith, but a Religion check encompasses all faiths and philosophies – albeit with increasingly difficult DCs. I’ve expanded the remit of this skill in 5th edition to include philosophy and the undead, and now the skill is very similar to Knowledge (Religion) from third edition, and Religion from 4e.

Survival: This skill enables you to live off the land – to hunt, track, set snares and forage for food. Someone skilled in survival knows about game, the weather, can notice signs of predators and avoid natural hazards. You could become trained in the Nature skill without ever leaving a library, but those skilled in survival are used to living in the wilderness. For many, such as druids and rangers, the two skills go hand in hand. There’s obviously some crossover with the Nature skill, but generally Survival sits on its own. Depending on the area, you might use Survival to duplicate the Knowledge (Geography) skill from the third edition, but it most closely resembles the Survival and Wilderness Lore skills of 3.5 and 3.0. In fourth edition, Survival is closest to the Nature skill – although doesn’t assume the comprehensive knowledge of that skill.

Tool Proficiencies: Proficiency in certain tools may also double for knowledge skills in certain circumstances. For example, proficiency in Navigator’s Tools assumes that you know your way around sextants, maps and compasses. You could therefore use this proficiency as a Knowledge (Geography) skill in certain circumstance. Proficiency with the right Artisan’s Tools might lend you an insight into the construction of buildings in the same way as a Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering) check may have done in third edition. There are many possibilities here. You just have to think outside the box.

Backgrounds: Remember also that your background can be used as a source for additional talents and ‘skills’. For example, the Sage background gives you an understanding of a particular area of knowledge such as Astronomy or Alchemy. The Outlander background gives you knowledge of Geography. Normally having those backgrounds is enough to simply know something, but if the DM decides a check is required then it’s entirely appropriate (in my opinion) to add your proficiency bonus to any check associated for background knowledge.

Loading Crossbows

In fifth edition, the blowgun, hand crossbow, light crossbow, and heavy crossbow have the “Loading” weapon property. That property is defined as follows:

Because of the time required to load this weapon, you can fire only one piece of ammunition from it when you use an action, bonus action, or reaction to fire it, regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make.

This means that a seventeenth level fighter using a crossbow can only make one attack with it using his Action, even though his Extra Attack class feature would normally allow him to make four attacks. Note that the rules do not state that reloading a crossbow takes any particular sort of action, it just states that when you take an action you can only fire it once because of the time it takes to reload.

Reading those rules closely you could argue (rightly in my opinion) that a character could fire a crossbow once with an Action and once with a Bonus Action in the same round, if he were somehow granted a bonus action during the course of the round that he could use to fire a crossbow. Also, if that seventeenth level fighter has four pre-loaded crossbows on a table and front of him he could pick up and fire all four of them as part of one Action because he doesn’t have to worry about reloading them. I don’t think that’s stretching the rules too far at all.

The feat, Crossbow Expert, gives the user of a Crossbow a number of cool abilities. These are the benefits granted by the feat:

1) You ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient.
2) Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
3) When you use the Attack action and attack with a one-handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a loaded hand crossbow you are holding.

Applying these rules has been the source of some confusion for DMs and players (myself included). So much so, that Wizards recently published a Sage Advice Column addressing this particular feat.

These are the rulings regarding this feat:

Point one. If you have this feat, you can ignore the Loading quality on any crossbow you are proficient in. As far as you are concerned the crossbow no longer has the Loading quality. It operates in the same way as a longbow. The process of loading and cocking the crossbow is considered so trivial that it isn’t worth mentioning. However, the crossbow still has the Ammunition property. This means that although the process of drawing ammunition and loading the weapon is so trivial it no longer incommodes you, you still need to have a free hand with which to draw the ammunition.

Point two, is just seven shades of awesome. I’m all for using missile weapons in mêlée combat. Although originally thought this benefit only applied to crossbows, it’s now been made clear that it applies to all ranged attack rolls – including those made by spells, longbows and throwing knives.

Point three has caused the most problems. What’s the intention behind this rule? Ranged weapons normally can’t be used with the two-weapon fighting rules or the Dual-Wielder feat. Does the Crossbow Expert feat intend you to be holding a mêlée weapon in one hand, and use a hand crossbow in the other? And why use the phrase “loaded hand crossbow”? Surely it doesn’t matter if it’s loaded or not as you now always ignore the loading quality.

Well, it does matter because if you’re holding a weapon in your other hand you don’t have a free hand to reload the crossbow with. So all this feat let’s you do is use your bonus action to attack with a crossbow once, unless you put down the weapon in the other hand to reload it. Now the weapon in the other hand can be another crossbow hand crossbow, so you can get two shots off in one round… but you can’t do this in successive rounds.

What this ruling means is that you can’t use this feat to become a mediaeval Lara Croft, blazing away with dual hand crossbows. Even thought the feat allows you to ignore the Loading property, you’re still stymied by the Ammunition quality. Now there may be ways around that for inventive players – maybe you’re using a special self-loading crossbow of gnomish manufacture, or a repeating crossbow (like the one in the third edition PHB), or maybe you attach each crossbow to your wrists with leather loops so you can ‘drop’ the crossbow in one hand, reload the other crossbow and then snatch the dangling first crossbow up again.

Such approaches are bordering on the impossible, but it’s D&D and one’s tolerance for this sort of thing varies depending on the campaign setting, the group or even the particular character who wants the ability. Dual wielding hand crossbows doesn’t seem any more over-powered to me than dual-wielding any other weapon.

Opportunity Attacks

A perennial ‘favourite’ of mine… 5th edition does not assume the use of miniatures and a battle grid, therefore the rules for opportunity attacks are much simpler than in previous edition. So gone is the laundry list approach of actions that provoke opportunity attacks, it has been replaced with this simple rule:

You can make an opportunity attack when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach. To make the opportunity attack, you use your Reaction to make one mêlée attack against the provoking creature. The attack interrupts the provoking creature’s movement, occurring right before the creature leaves your reach.

You only make opportunity attacks when a hostile foe within the reach of your weapon moves away from you combat. You don’t have to be fighting the target yourself, but they need to be close enough for you to hit. If the foe retreating uses his Action to “Disengage” then you may not make an opportunity attack. And that is it.

So you don’t make opportunity attacks when someone starts casting a spell in your vicinity. You don’t make them if a foe has to rummage through a bag. You don’t make them when people attack you. You don’t make them if someone attempts to punch your with a bare hand, or start a grapple, or disarm you, or trip you up. Mostly everything that provokes an attack of opportunity in third edition or Pathfinder does not apply any more. Unless you have the Polearm Master feat… but more on that below.

And note that the opportunity attack requires you to take a Reaction to make it. Once you use your Reaction you can’t use it again until the beginning of your next turn, so everyone is limited to one opportunity attack per round. And because there are other things you might be doing in a round with your Reaction, you may not be in a position to take advantage of opportunity attacks when they present themselves.

Reach

Reach extends the range of your mêlée attacks. Normally characters have an effective range of 5 ft. with their mêlée weapons. Most weapons with the Reach property add another 5 ft. to this range. Reach isn’t as useful as it was in third edition and Pathfinder. In those editions a character without reach who attacked a character that had reach would provoke an attack opportunity because of how such attacks were determined in the old ruleset. That doesn’t apply any more.

Using a Reach weapon in 5th edition allows you to make opportunity attacks against foes that are further away from you, but only if that foe is moving out of the reach of your weapon. However, there are also plenty of circumstances not covered by specific rules in which using a reach weapon can be advantageous – such as threatening foes, jabbing at out of reach enemies, and keeping your distance from an inherently dangerous monster such as an ooze.

Logically, Reach weapons should also be able to be used to keep a foe at bay. In this (as it many cases, come to think of it) the 5th edition rules the standard options are pretty similar to the house rules we already came up with for Pathfinder. A character with a weapon such as a long spear who wants to keep a foe at bay to can use the Ready action to attack the foe with the spear before he manages to close in and attack. If you want to push the foe back instead of wound them, you just take the Shove option instead.

Alternatively, you can take the Polearm Master feat which means that (as long as you are using a reach weapon) opponents provoke opportunity attacks when they enter your reach. This is the sole exception to the normal rules on opportunity attacks.

Sneak Attack – once per turn?

Okay, this is a bit of a sticky one on-line, but I think I’ve decided how I want to rule it. Before I get started, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page with Sneak Attack itself. This is what it says on p96 of the Player’s Handbook:

Once per turn, you can deal an extra 1d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll… The attack must use a finesse or a ranged weapon… You don’t need advantage on the attack roll if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn’t incapacitated, and you don’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.

The circumstances under which Sneak Attack can be used are pretty clear. It’s also pretty clear that the rogue can only use sneak attack once on his turn, even if he can make more than one attack. So a multiclass rogue/fighter who has the Sneak Attack and the Extra Attack class features, or a rogue fighting with two weapons can only use Sneak Attack once on his turn. That much seems obvious.

Where the confusion lies, is that the rules don’t say that ‘the rogue can only use sneak attack once per round’, or that ‘once he has used sneak attack he can’t use it again until his next turn’… the rules say it can be used “once per turn”. So that’s once on the rogue’s turn, and once again on another character’s turn.

Sneak Attack in and of itself doesn’t grant the rogue any ability to make an attack on someone else’s turn. What the rules say is that if circumstances align and the rogue does happen to get an attack on someone else’s turn, and that attack qualifies as a sneak attack, then the rogue can add their sneak attack dice to damage again.

The most obvious example would be an opportunity attack. If the rogue is fighting side-by-side with an ally against a single foe, and that foe runs away, the rogue can use his Reaction to make an opportunity attack. If successful, then he can add his sneak attack damage to the roll because the attack meets the criteria for sneak attack damage, and it’s also happening on someone else’s turn and not the rogue’s.

All the ways in which combat is designed in 5th edition conspire to limit the number of attacks you can make in a round, and especially the number of attacks you can make when it is not your turn. I can’t think of any way a rogue could add his sneak attack dice to damage more than twice per round, and even then using it more than once would be an unusual event.

Stacking Short Rests

Some character abilities – such as a fighter’s second wind – recharge during a short rest. The default game defines the short rest as an hour, so can characters take multiple short rests in a row, thus enabling them to gain these benefits repeatedly? The answer to this question is definitely NO. This interpretation is definitely at odds with the intention of the rules – you can’t imagine for a moment that the designers would have wanted the game to be played this way. Fortunately, the rules as written also bear this out.

The new Player’s Handbook states (on p186) that a short rest is a “period of downtime, at least 1 hour long” and that a long rest is a “period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long”. It doesn’t give a definite length for these rests, it just says that they to be “at least” this amount of time. So I rule that any rest that lasts between 1 hour and 7 hours 59 minutes is a short rest. Anything 8 hours or more is a long rest. So resting for three hours doesn’t count as three short rests, it still only counts as one.

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14 thoughts on “5th Edition D&D – Rules Clarifications

  1. Evasive Footwork : This does seem to be badly worded Neil. I’m not sure I would limit it to a single round though as I think this takes it from really good to really not worth the superiority die! Yes, +4 to +6 on average is awesome, but don’t forget the fighter only gets 4 of these. From playing so far I have normally run out half way through each fight and this is mostly on other Maneuvers, not Evasive Footwork. If I were in your position I would allow it to keep running whilst a move action was being taken – just like we’ve been doing the last few sessions. However I would also say it can only be used in Light or No Armour – there are already some pretty awesome Feats for those in medium or heavy armour. I would also say it only lasts for the duration of one combat (ie not to be used whilst hill walking or sight seeing). Hopefully thats not over complicating it?

    • I hear what you’re saying, Jack. I’ve been all over the internet looking for a consistent ruling on this ability. Still waiting for some replies on the Wizards forums. I talked it over with Marc as well. General consensus on how the manoeuvre works is even more restrictive than my interpretation. General view is that you can spend a superiority die to activate the ability when you start moving but as soon as your move action ends, or you interrupt the move action by doing anything else (like attacking), or your turn ends, then so does this bonus. It seems designed to help the fighter break away from mêlée combat more safely without having to use an action to Disengage, rather than provide a bonus you can use in combat.

      As we’ve been playing it, it’s definitely better than every other battlemaster manoeuvre. As other people have been playing it, it seems to be worse than every other battlemaster manoeuvre!

      • Great explanations of many of the less clear rules in 5th. I agree that the Evasive Footwork is meant to be more restrictive than your interpretation. To me it sounds like it is really only meant to protect against attacks of opportunity(which are the only attacks that would happen during your move except maybe if something had a held action). I am curious if any of the wizards guys have said anything about this on Twitter.

  2. As for Concentration checks, I thought that I read in the players handbook that the DC was 10 or half damage when hit whichever was higher, not 10 + half damage. This seems to make more sense to me as otherwise spells kept up with Concentration (which are often used as protection) would end up pretty useless. I’ll check the book when I go home this evening.

    • You’re right, James. I’ll modify the post accordingly when I get the chance. This is obviously a case of my old third edition brain inventing rules where none existed.

  3. “Point two, is just seven shades of awesome. I’m all for using missile weapons in mêlée combat. It’s a shame there isn’t a similar feat for bows to allow you to go all Legolas on your enemies.”

    Read it again: it applies to all ranged attacks.

    • Hi there. I know what you’re saying. The wording doesn’t completely connect all the benefits of the feat with using a crossbow. We have a list of three benefits from choosing the feat, one of which is simply: “Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls”. A strict rules-as-written reading would conclude that the benefit applies to all ranged attacks.

      But the feat is called *Crossbow* Expert. The intent behind the rules seems pretty clear to me. This is a feat you take if you want to be good with the crossbow, and the benefits you get apply only to the crossbow. It’s totally counter-intuitive to be able to cast firebolt without disadvantage just because you’re well trained in using the crossbow.

      Of course, that’s just the way I read it. Your mileage may vary.

      • If you read the feat creation UA, they mention that such weapon feats were specifically designed to have at least one benefit that would generalize.

  4. “Some character abilities – such as a fighter’s second wind – recharge during a short rest. The default game defines the short rest as an hour, so can characters take multiple short rests in a row, thus enabling them to gain these benefits repeatedly?”

    I completely agree a two hour rest only counts as a single short rest, but I don’t understand your example concerns. The reason you would want to stack short rests is to stack healing powers that activate on short rests.

    As for second wind, you can only ever have one, or rather, you either have it or you don’t. You certainly can’t take three short rests to save three second winds for later use…

    Thus, I don’t understand what you mean by “enabling them to gain these benefits repeatedly”.

    You can have a fight (and use second wind), take a short rest, have another fight (and use second wind again), take a short rest, have a third fight (and use second wind for the third time today)… and so on.

    What you can’t (and shouldn’t) is get bonus hit point healing more than once per short rest, no matter how long that rest actually is.

    I believe we are in agreement (and that it’s just a matter of wordage), but checking to make sure you agree to the above :)

  5. Yes, I do agree with you. Perhaps the fighter’s second wind wasn’t the best example of the point I was trying to make – or I didn’t explain it very well.

    Second Wind recharges with a short rest, so if you use it and then take a short rest you get it back again. My concern in stacking short rests is not that the fighter can save up multiple second winds to use later, but that he would be able to completely heal himself without spending hit dice to do so.

    Say a wounded fighter has already used all his hit dice for the day. If short rests stacked he could use second wind, rest for an hour, use second wind, rest for an hour, and so on indefinitely. Over a number of hours he could potentially regaining all his hit points without magical intervention or spending hit dice.

    That was the general point I was trying to make.

    There are other class abilities that recharge during a short rest that somewhat break the game if you stack them. A 20th level sorcerer regains 4 sorcery points every time he finishes a short rest… allowing short rests to stack makes a mockery of that limitation.

    But anyway – I believe we’re in agreement too!

    • I think the fighters second wind and short rests are a prefect example of a problem with unlimited short rests per day. As the rules are written there is no limit to the number of short rests you can take in a day other than the time constraints of 1 hour per rest. You can rest an hour, stop, use your second wind and then rest another hour, repeat. I like the house rule limiting the number of short rests per day.

  6. Lol… sorry, but no one can stop a player from resting an hour, doing the dishes for ten minutes, then resting for another hour. The dishes got done, so resting wasnt happening…

  7. Lol… sorry, but no one can stop a player from resting an hour, doing the dishes for ten minutes, then resting for another hour. The dishes got done, so resting wasnt happening in between… the next period of rest is a NEW one. While we’re at it, what if the dishes were soaking and only took 4 minutes? What if the dishes were done, and the player just sat there for a few minutes and thought about how cool it was that they were already in the strainer? A NEW short rest must follow… :P I hate doing dishes

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