5E List of Ambiguous Spells
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 19
  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    C'ville
    Posts
    2,503

    List of Ambiguous Spells

    For the most part 5e does a good job describing spells in a clear way and providing enough information for a DM to make sensible judgements about them. But there are a few exceptions where there are spells with ambiguities or at least confusing points. I've tried to collect some here as reference, based on my own experiences, discussions on the forum, and questions on twitter.

    None of these are things that a DM can't easily deal with. But they are things where the DM and player might not see it the same way. So I would mainly say that if you are player looking at one of these spells, you should check with your DM ahead of time to see how they would rule.

    Where relevant, I note any information the designers have provided via Twitter or Sage Advice.

    Note I've only got spells from the Player's Handbook here. I hope someone finds it useful!

    Spells

    Animal Shapes – While the spell in effect, you can use your action to transform affected creatures into new forms. Does this reset their hit points to the maximum for the new form? (Compare to the wording of Shapechange.)
    Comment: Twitter say yes, it does reset hp.

    Astral Projection – If you leave the astral plane through a portal, does the spell end or can you later create new astral forms and return to the astral plane?

    Barkskin – It is confusing how this spell interacts with other AC bonuses.
    Comment: The Sage says that if you are benefiting from the spell, you ignore all bonuses. But if a bonus would put your normal AC above 16, use that instead.

    Beast Sense – There doesn’t seem to be an obvious way to decide if a random beast would be a willing target.
    Comment: Two simple answers are that only friendly beasts are willing, or that any non-hostile beast is willing.

    Conjure Animals/Celestials/Elemental/Fey/Minor Elementals/Woodland Beings – It is not clear how the type of conjured creature is determined.
    Comment: The Sage says that the DM chooses the type.

    Contagion – Do the disease effects apply as soon as the target is afflicted, or after it fails three saves?
    Comment: The Sage says it is after failing the saves.

    Creation – What is the duration for a non-precious metal like steel?

    Disintegrate – How does the 0-hp effect interact with abilities like Wild Shape and Relentless Endurance?
    Comment: The Sage says disintegrate kills you outright, so you die regardless.

    Faerie Fire – The wording isn't perfectly clear whether you gain advantage on attacks against an invisible opponent, or whether their invisibility is simply negated.
    Comment: Per Twitter, you do gain advantage.

    Freedom of Movement – The spell lets you spend 5 ft of movement to end the Grappled or Restrained conditions, but while grappled or restrained your movement is 0 so you don't have 5 ft to spend.

    Gentle Repose – Does the time extension apply to the Revivify spell?
    Comment: Twitter says yes.

    Goodberry – How does this interact with the Disciple of Life feature and other healing bonuses?
    Comment: The Sage says bonuses apply to each berry.

    Imprisonment – Is it required to specify an ending condition for the spell?
    Comment: The spell doesn’t say you are required to set a condition. But it also requires that any condition set have a reasonable likelihood to come to pass. The implicit ending condition “Never” violates the likelihood requirement, so the intent seems ambiguous.

    Incendiary Cloud – Each turn the cloud moves directly away from you in a direction you choose. How can you choose what direction is directly away from you?

    Invisibility/Greater Invisibility – If the target is carrying a light source, does it continue to provide illumination?

    Jump – What happens if the distance you jump exceeds your remaining speed?
    Comment: Twitter says your jump distance is limited by your speed.

    Leomund's Tiny Hut – Can planar travel be used to enter or exit the hut?

    Lightning Arrow – Does the initial target also take the 2d8 secondary damage?
    Comment: Twitter says no.

    Mage Armor – Can you use this with a shield?
    Comment: The Sage says yes.

    Major Image/Minor Illusion/Programmed Illusion/Project Image/Silent Image – Does the illusion fade any time you discern it to be an illusion, or only if you succeed on the Int check? If the former, it is not always clear what is required to discern something as an illusion; for instance if the illusion is of an insubstantial effect. Also: Does an illusion of a light source provide actual illumination?

    Meld Into Stone – While in the stone, you can cast spells on yourself. Can you see yourself for that purpose?

    Mirage Arcane – Can you use this terrain effects to walk over water or through air?
    Comment: Twitter suggests yes, as you could climb a tree created by the spell.

    Mislead – Can the illusory double walk through walls and the like? Can it be discerned as an illusion?

    Nystul's Magic Aura – The mask usage mentions disguising only creature type in one place, but both alignment and type in another.

    Otiluke's Resilient Sphere - Can you teleport through the sphere, or use planar travel to escape it?

    Pass Without Trace – Does the "veil of shadows and silence" have any effect besides the Stealth bonus? For instance can people hear you normally? Can you hide in the shadows?
    Comment: Twitter says the spell doesn’t remove the need to hide behind something or in an obscured area.

    Phantasmal Killer/Weird – The frightened condition affects you while you can see the source of your fear, and you cannot move closer to the source. The location of the source of fear for these spells is not clear. Also, note the errata for these spells.
    Comment: In my opinion, it works well if you rule the source of fear is omnipresent, and therefore the targets cannot move. You could also let the caster choose the location of the fear source.

    Planar Binding – The spell is intended to work with Magic Circle, but Magic Circle’s duration will end shortly before the Planar Binding casting is finished. Is this something you can ignore, or do you need to use a higher-level version of Magic Circle to extend the duration?

    Plant Growth – Is some minimum density of normal plants required in the area to get the first effect? Would dungeon fungus qualify?

    Prismatic Wall - When destroying the layers in order, does the order matter which side of the wall you start from? If so, can you choose the orientation of the sides when you cast the spell?

    Raise Dead/Resurrection/True Resurrection – If you kill an undead creature can you return the corpse to its previous living state?
    Comment: Twitter suggests no.

    Ray of Enfeeblement – It is sometimes hard to determine if a monster's attack uses Strength.

    Reincarnate – This nominally requires a record of racial choices made at character creation, like which skills a half-elf picked or which feat a variant human chose. Probably most players won’t track this, so a method will be required to decide which abilities are lost. In addition, some people may balk at things like an ex-dwarf remembering his former life and experience, but no longer speaking dwarven.

    Rope trick – Can planar travel reach in and out of the space?

    Scrying - Can a creature physically interact with the sensor?

    Shatter - Does any creature made of inorganic material have disadvantage on the save, or only creatures made of materials similar to stone, metal, or crystal?

    Simulacrum – Not really ambiguous as written, but this is unbalanced enough that probably most DMs won't let you play it by the book.
    Comment: There are well documented abuses in regards to creating an unlimited number of sims, and also with bypassing the stress from wishing for an exceptional effect. Aside from that, personally I think this spell is overpowered in its ability to exchange one 7th level slot for a full (or nearly full) daily allotment of spells, including of 8th and 9th level. For comparison, a conjuration spell that summoned an archmage (CR 12) would presumably require a 12th level slot.

    Spirit Guardians – Is the effect triggered if you are in the area when the spell is cast? What if the caster moves the spell area onto you?
    Comment: The Sage says no to both. This also applies to Blade Barrier, Cloudkill, Cloud of Daggers, Evard’s Black Tentacles, Forbiddance, Moonbeam, and Sleet Storm.

    Telekinesis - If you target a willing creature, can it forgo the Str contest and let you succeed automatically?

    Time Stop – Is the d4 roll for the duration secret or known to the player?

    True Polymorph – Is it possible for the new creature have class levels or other extraordinary traits? (Compare wording to shapechange.)

    Unseen Servant – Can the servant act as an ally in combat?
    Comment: The Sage says no.

    Wall of Fire/Thorns - If you enter the wall on your turn and also end your turn there, do you take damage twice?

    Wall of Force – Nothing can physically pass through the wall, but this requires interpretation in regard to spells.
    Comment: Twitter indicates that the wall provides total cover in regards to spells.

    Word of Recall – The sanctuary must be in a region dedicated to or linked to your deity. What if you don't have a deity?



    The Sage Advice Compendium discusses a few other spells, mostly making points that seem to me clear already from the spell description. But for completeness, those spells are:
    Armor of Agathys, Darkness, Dispel Magic, Fireball, Hail of Thorns, Heroes’ Feast, Heroism, Hex, Minor Illusion, Planar Binding, Polymorph, Shillelagh, Suggestion, Wish

    And here are all the spells that have received official errata:
    Mass Cure Wounds, Mass Heal, Phantasmal Killer, Polymorph, Revivify, True Polymorph, Weird
    Last edited by jaelis; Thursday, 18th May, 2017 at 07:15 PM.
    XP vpuigdoller, 77IM, mflayermonk, l0lzero, not-so-newguy and 4 others gave XP for this post

  2. #2
    I think you missed Freedom of Movement and its "spend 5ft of movement while grappled" part. Nothing too difficult to fix in house, but still needing official clarification.
    XP jaelis gave XP for this post

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2016
    Location
    Milwaukee, WI
    Posts
    251
    Although simple sounding, each spells does nothing more and nothing less than written. Although I'm AFB, I'll take a stab at a few of these.

    Rope Trick: Does the spell say a creature can leave the space of Rope Trick? If so, then a creature can leave the zone and grab something. Can a portion of a PC leave the zone and grab something? I believe that is up to the DM.

    Word of Recall: If the sanctuary must be linked to the casters deity and the caster does not have a deity then the spell cannot be cast or completed.

    In some instances, such as Time Stop, it does not say if the d4 is known. However, I would find it unusual for a player to have a character cast a spell and not know what dice were rolled and the result.

    Other spells such as Wall of Force refer to rules at the beginning of the chapter on spells. In this particular case, a spell must have a clear path to the target or it completes (explodes, forms, etc.) once it's path is blocked. There may be some discussion on the term "clear" between a DM and a player since the Wall of Force is transparent.
    XP jaelis, MNblockhead gave XP for this post

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    C'ville
    Posts
    2,503
    Quote Originally Posted by ThePolarBear View Post
    I think you missed Freedom of Movement and its "spend 5ft of movement while grappled" part. Nothing too difficult to fix in house, but still needing official clarification.
    I'm not familiar with this, what is the issue?
    Oh, I see your movement is zero so you can't spend it, right. Added, thanks!
    Last edited by jaelis; Tuesday, 17th January, 2017 at 08:13 PM.

  5. #5
    Freedom of Movement provides different benefits:

    • Target is unaffected by difficult terrain
    • Spells and magical effects in general are unable to reduce the Target speed or cause it to become Restrained or Paralyzed
    • Target can spend 5ft of movement to automatically break free of non magical restraints (such as chains or grappling creatures)
    • Target's movements and attacks are unimpeded underwater.


    Spending movement is possible only in very specific conditions and while this is an exception it does not say "out of your turn", so the "automatically" can (and honestly has sense to) be interpreted as "no check required" more than "instantaneously".

    For non magical types of restraints and grappling you end up having speed 0 and thus no way to spend 5ft.

    It's easy to fix (instead of "can spend" use " breaks free and reduces its movement by 5ft for the rest of the round. A creature can still break free if it has no movement remaining." or something, allowing monsters that rely on grappling for comboes to stll have a chance at working properly - something that would not happen to a fix like "you are immune to grappling and whatever") but still as written is clearly problematic.

    Edit: Welp well you beat me to it
    XP jaelis gave XP for this post

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    C'ville
    Posts
    2,503
    Quote Originally Posted by cooperjer View Post
    Although simple sounding, each spells does nothing more and nothing less than written. Although I'm AFB, I'll take a stab at a few of these.

    Rope Trick: Does the spell say a creature can leave the space of Rope Trick? If so, then a creature can leave the zone and grab something. Can a portion of a PC leave the zone and grab something? I believe that is up to the DM.

    Word of Recall: If the sanctuary must be linked to the casters deity and the caster does not have a deity then the spell cannot be cast or completed.

    In some instances, such as Time Stop, it does not say if the d4 is known. However, I would find it unusual for a player to have a character cast a spell and not know what dice were rolled and the result.

    Other spells such as Wall of Force refer to rules at the beginning of the chapter on spells. In this particular case, a spell must have a clear path to the target or it completes (explodes, forms, etc.) once it's path is blocked. There may be some discussion on the term "clear" between a DM and a player since the Wall of Force is transparent.
    Thanks for the feedback!

    Regarding Rope Trick, my concern was whether and how the extradimensional space was accessible by planar travel, like plane shift or astral projection. Were you getting at a different issue?

    For Word of Recall, isn't it just as valid logically to say that if you don't have a deity, then you need to use a sanctuary space that is not dedicated to any deity? That's what you get if you replace "your deity" with "no deity at all." But I'd rather not rely on rules lawery methods in any case; it seems clear that the developers just didn't consider the case that you wouldn't have a deity here.

    For Time Stop, I would certainly play myself as you suggest. But it isn't quite like other spells, since normally you make a roll just when the result is needed. Like if you cast magic missile, your make the roll as the damage occurs so it makes sense that you know what it is. I can't think of another example where you would make a roll relevant to something in the future but learn the result now. For instance, you wouldn't roll the damage for delayed blast fireball at the time the spell is cast. I don't think Time Stop is the same, but maybe it illustrates the issue. At any rate I've seen people argue about this, for instance http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthr...-her-Time-Stop. Apparently in 3E there was an explicit rule that variable durations were not rolled openly.

    For Wall of Force, certainly cover blocks spells. But it's ambiguous whether WoF is intended to serve as cover for spells, since spells aren't obviously (or not always obviously) physical. Jeremy Crawford says it does provide cover, but Mike Mearls said it doesn't.
    Last edited by jaelis; Tuesday, 17th January, 2017 at 08:52 PM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Location
    Edenvale, San Jose, CA
    Posts
    14,043
    Sorry to be a pedantic, party-line apologist on this one, but 5e is consciously written in a natural-language style that leaves ambiguity throughout. That ambiguity creates a genuine need for DM interpretation, which is a foundation for 'rulings not rules' and DM Empowerment.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    C'ville
    Posts
    2,503
    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    Sorry to be a pedantic, party-line apologist on this one, but 5e is consciously written in a natural-language style that leaves ambiguity throughout. That ambiguity creates a genuine need for DM interpretation, which is a foundation for 'rulings not rules' and DM Empowerment.
    Sure. But that's all the more reason to check with your DM before you try to use a spell that could be interpreted different ways

    Plus, most of these are kind of mechanical, game-rule type things. You want to know what happens if you cast Charm Person on a merchant you're buying a sword from? I don't think that needs to be in the rules. You want to know how long a Created sword lasts? I guess I think that probably should be.
    Last edited by jaelis; Wednesday, 18th January, 2017 at 07:26 PM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    Wollongong
    Posts
    6,646
    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    Sorry to be a pedantic, party-line apologist on this one, but 5e is consciously written in a natural-language style that leaves ambiguity throughout. That ambiguity creates a genuine need for DM interpretation, which is a foundation for 'rulings not rules' and DM Empowerment.
    Except then the writers come back and clarify exactly what the natural language means, often in ways that run contrary to the existing wording and/or to good sense, which runs counter to the rulings not rules sentiment and leaves it looking like they just weren't that good at making coherent rules.

    Given that, it seems reasonable from the point of a player to either avoid or clarify ambiguous spells, and from the point of view of a DM to work out how the spells should work and what the pitfalls of them could be with specific rulings.

    Personally I don't think simulacrum should be on this list: it's not ambiguous in the least, it's simply completely bonkers overpowered as written. I would recommend using the 3.5 wording for the spell instead, which creates a final creature that has half the levels of the original, completely doing away with most of the issues of the 5.0 spell.

    Contagion is one where the spell as written suggests that the creature is slammed by a powerful effect before it makes any saves at all, and the sage's suggestion that it requires 3 failed saves for the spell to work is rubbish too. My suggestion for the spell is to simply have it infect (no initial save) the target with the disease in question, which runs it's course naturally including the incubation time, but with the recovery DC set by the spell DC of the caster. This makes the spell mostly useless for the problematic case (crippling a powerful solo) because every disease has an incubation period of at least one day. It still has some uses, but they are more subtle.

    My view of weird and phantasmal killer is that the caster would choose where the source of fear is, and can thus sort of use the spell to herd if he wishes.

    The interpretation of raise dead/resurrection not being able to bring someone back after they've been turned into an undead requires some more details:

    1. One twitter response is talking about resurrecting Strahd to cure him of vampirism. This won't work because Strahd never died prior to becoming a vampire: he made a pact that turned him into a vampire while he was still alive. Regular vampires and Vampire spawn are explicitly created after the original creature dies, and therefore might be raise/resurrectable. Note however that vampirism is often termed a magical curse or disease, and if that is the case (ie - DM fiat) raise dead and resurrection would not be able to cure it (and therefore would not be able to bring the creature back either).

    2. Other twitter responses suggest that it's up to the DM whether (for instance) a zombie raised from a corpse can be subjected to raise dead (or the rest of the line) once killed. The specific reason given by the sage as to why it doesn't work is that being animated "damages the soul" in his world, which would also make animating corpses a significantly more evil act than the straight MM/PHB version, but doesn't impact worlds where that's not the case.

    I think that it comes down to whether you think a 'creature' is it's corpse. If 'creature' is an abstract targeting mechanic (ie - you can choose "bob" or "the last non-undead creature that this corpse was" as a resurrection target), then it works fine unless the DM has specific mechanics in place to obstruct it. If a corpse and creature are one and the same (ie - you MUST choose "the creature that I'm touching the corpse of") then the DM needs to decide which creature a corpse is - the original, or the raised undead, or both. If it's anything other than "only the last thing it died as", then raise and resurrect work fine because they exclude undead. Note that revivify can possibly bring an undead back to undeath, so it's an especially important question here, and utterly confusing if a corpse can be multiple creatures at the same time.
    Last edited by Saeviomagy; Thursday, 19th January, 2017 at 01:19 AM.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Location
    Edenvale, San Jose, CA
    Posts
    14,043
    Quote Originally Posted by Saeviomagy View Post
    Except then the writers come back and clarify exactly what the natural language means, often in ways that run contrary to the existing wording and/or to good sense, which runs counter to the rulings not rules sentiment and leaves it looking like they just weren't that good at making coherent rules.
    It's not like twitter comments carry the same weight as rules, nor even as rulings at the table. They're made off the cuff and out of context. A ruling, at least, has the latter going for it.

    Errata's a different story, I suppose.

Quick Reply Quick Reply

Similar Threads

  1. Spell database class spell list?
    By Bupp in forum *D&D 5th Edition
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: Thursday, 27th November, 2014, 12:55 PM
  2. Spell List vs Ritual List
    By Traycor in forum *Pathfinder, Starfinder, Older D&D Editions (4E, 3.x, 2E, 1E, OD&D), D&D Variants, OSR
    Replies: 49
    Last Post: Wednesday, 9th January, 2008, 08:19 PM
  3. Extra Spell allowing Spell List poaching
    By Viktyr Gehrig in forum *Pathfinder, Starfinder, Older D&D Editions (4E, 3.x, 2E, 1E, OD&D), D&D Variants, OSR
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: Friday, 11th February, 2005, 04:55 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •