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4 Surprising D&D Rules You Should Know About

Written by Janna - Published on April 24, 2009

Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.

It seems that Wizards has tried to cut down on arbitrary rules by doing away with a lot of the flavor text of older editions. What remains in 4E is pretty cut and dry. But some rules still get misinterpreted, forgotten, or lost in obscure corners of rulebooks where no sane person would think to look.

Here are four commonly misunderstood rules and their actual mechanics, according to WotC.

Rule #1: Paladins can’t lay themselves.
According to the Rules… They totally can.
Why It’s Confusing: The entry for the paladin’s ‘Lay on Hands’ power states that the paladin can target ‘one creature’. It’s assumed that this includes the paladin’s allies, but the rule doesn’t specifically say that the paladin can target himself with the power. Luckily for those heroic (and oft-squishy) paladins, the PHB defines the ‘creature’ target as an enemy, an ally, or the paladin himself.
Where to Find the Rule: ‘Targets’, Player’s Handbook p. 57.

Dice and Manuals in Dungeons and Dragons RPG
Picture by Great Beyond

Rule #2: You can’t stand up by teleporting.
According to the Rules… This is true.
Why It’s Confusing: If you’re knocked prone, you can use a teleportation power to move yourself to a nearby square. When you arrive at the destination square, you’ll find that you’re still prone. Some argue that if you can warp space and time to create your own mini wormhole and come out the other end, you should also be able to arrive in an upright position. But according to the pros, standing up from prone takes a move action and can’t be accomplished with teleportation alone.
Where to Find the Rule: ‘Ask Wizards: 07/12/2008’, D&D Insider.

Rule #3: Sleep spells don’t work on oozes, constructs, or the undead.
According to the Rules… Sometimes they do!
Why It’s Confusing: In the past, sleep spells only worked on living creatures capable of sleeping. Golems, for example, couldn’t be affected by sleep spells because they were mindless creations that just didn’t sleep. 4E has changed that. Unless a monster’s stat block states that it has an immunity to sleep, it’s safe to assume that the monster can be affected by sleep spells – even if it’s a creature type that was immune in previous editions.
Where to Find the Rule: ‘D&D Q&A Archive’, D&D Insider.

Rule #4: PCs can be marked by multiple monsters.
According to the Rules… They cannot. (Phew!)
Why It’s Confusing: Like some PCs, some monsters have the ability to mark their opponents. Unlike the PC power blocks, which specify that the enemy can only be subject to one mark at a time, the monster stat blocks don’t always make this clear. But the mechanics are the same in each scenario: The target of a mark is only subject to the most recent mark placed upon them.
Where to Find the Rule: ‘Overlapping Durations’, Player’s Handbook p. 278.

Now, before you run off and tackle your DM in a righteous rules frenzy, let me make this perfectly clear: In any D&D game, the DM is the ultimate rules authority. But most DMs are willing to work with their players, so if you’ve found a mechanic that isn’t being played correctly, bring it up to them and provide a reference so they can read and interpret the rule for themselves.

Were you surprised by any of these rules? Do you disagree with some of them? Tell us all about it in the comments section!

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Written by Janna

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Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.



24 Responses to “4 Surprising D&D Rules You Should Know About”
  1. Macguffin says:

    #1 I coulda swore it had a burst 1 range…
    But it specifically says “you spend a healing surge but regain no hit points.”

    “In any D&D game, the DM is the ultimate rules authority.” Tell that to my players! >.<

  2. Imadestroyer says:

    Being a former Magic: The Gathering player, I’ve never really had any trouble with WOTC’s talk of “targets” and “creatures” in 4E, but I can see how someone could easily get confused.

  3. greywulf says:

    The oddest rule I’ve found in 4e so far are the drowning rules.

    Outside of strenuous situations, any character can hold their breath underwater for 3 minute regardless of CON, Size or whatever (DMG159). In a combat situation, they have to make a DC 20 Endurance check at the end of any round in which they take damage – so a Wizard could theoretically keep himself at a distance underwater and lob Magic Missiles to their hearts’ content, or a Fighter could mix it up mano-a-mano and, so long as he doesn’t get hit, he doesn’t even need to make a check, ever.


  4. Halfbat says:

    I think most of the 4e rules have been well thought out and play balance and encounter build has been key. We’ve come across these and whilst, for some, the initial reaction is huh?, on thinking it through it makes real sense.

    #1 – Yeah, our paladins do it from time to time. They spend a healing surge, get no hit points, but then their target (themselves) and regain hit points “as if they had spen a healing surge”.

    #2 – It’s a pretty good rules balance to not let the teleport be too powerful as prone is a really useful “waste an action” combat condition. I guess if you are prone, and twist space/time to become upright, then you should make an acrobatics check to keep your balance when you end in the target square, at least. Knowing what shape I’m in when I fall prone after coming off a motorbike, I’m not sure I could make it!

    #3 – There are very few automatic immunities in the Monster Types, almost all that actually say anything prefix it with the word “most”. Interestingly, a swarm appears to be the exception to this and _is_ stated as being immune to push/pull effects (forced movement), though there’s not a single swarm that states this in its monster block. But they do give the other resists and vulnerabilities. I can’t remember whether the squeeze rules are listed in each block, either, though I recall they are for specials such as a lamia.

    The general rule of thumb “if it’s not their, don’t use it” is excellent. Saves all the hunting round in the appendices and glossary for the various immunities, etc. And that’s another solid 4e design decision, I think.

    #4 – ::shrugs:: Yep. In our experience (ioe?), marks are really powerful at lower levels but its only the special marks that are really useful at higher levels.

    We found it useful to have several copies of the conditions on the table as they’re so key to the game. They end up being part of each character pack!

    Have fun!

  5. Felonius says:

    #1: @MacGuffin: The range is “Melee Touch”
    Also: If a Paladin takes the “Healing Hands” feat, to give that extra boost to his Lay on Hands power, the Paladin does *not* get the extra healing. This is where wording gets iffy, because they said “*the* affected ally”, when “*an* affected ally” would have been better… This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder if lay on hands was once an ally only power, then they wrote the feat, then they changed the power. There’s a few other places where I get the idea that somethings were conceived, something followed, and the original something was changed without regard for what it affects.

    #2: I do have to wonder if you could teleport to a height (within the rules, this much at least is possible), fall, make an acrobatics check to reduce the damage, and land on your feet when you don’t take damage from the fall… Kind of a wonky way to do it, and it feels a little “cheaty”.

    #3: Pretty much what halfbat said. ;-) I would say that it’s worth noting what creature types have immunities to as a whole, but there’s not much out there that has anything based on type, so it’s pretty safe.

    #4: Also keep in mind that just because you (as a PC) have something marked, that doesn’t mean you get all the benefits you’re used to. For example: The bard can grant marks to other players. While the fighter would still get the usual benefits, the Paladin only damages the target of his divine challenge, not just anyone (s)he has marked.

    Other things to keep in mind:
    The second half of the Fighter’s Combat Challenge (attack against a marked enemy) is an immediate interrupt. You only get one per round (and that’s one immediate interrupt, not just one ‘free’ attack). It’s also not an opportunity attack, so you don’t get the wisdom mod bonus from combat superiority.

    Hrm… That may be all I have at the moment… I’m sure I’ll remember something else…

  6. Craig says:

    I love things like this – as yes indeed – many of the rules, etc., can seem to be fairly ambiguous

  7. Ameron says:

    There was a lot of confusion about the Paladin’s Lay on Hands within our group when we first started playing 4e, but we eventually realized that he could indeed Lay himself. I think all of these rules could be presented more clearly and I think you’ve done that here. Thanks.

    Speaking of rules, we’ve come up with two New 4e House Rules and would love some feedback. Check us out.

  8. Nightmare says:

    REALLY?!?!?! wow this is almost like more fodder against 4th.
    I disagree with 2 and 3.

    As DM, i would absolutly let my players arrive standing up. just apply glRotatef to the character before the translation…I do it all the time in my programming! lol

    as for 3, the immune to sleep should completely universal to those creatur types. or maybe it should be that the Yes, the can be affected by sleep, but, sence it is an undead or ooze, sleep doesn’t do anything, Like they can still preform their full allotment of actions while asleep. That would be my DM ruling but that’s just me. I ahve never been one to take the book to be the universal, infallable world of Gary and Dave (R.I.P. guys, we miss you)

  9. Christopher says:

    Another rule that I noticed by accident, is that burst and blast are two different aminals!

    Close blast 2 is a square 2×2, generally (could be diagonal, but it’s effectively a square).

    Burst 2 is a lot larger! You pick a target square, then go 2 squares from that in ALL directions, up, down, left, right, forward, and back!

    Sure makes those blast 2 spells seem better, eh? :)

  10. Felonius says:

    @Nightmare: I don’t think any of this is fodder against 4e at all… Especially the teleport not standing you up. With the increased amount of teleportation (Eladrins, Feypact Warlocks, Swordmages of a certain bent, Whatever else people can think of), it would make teleportation effects too powerful. The economy of actions is a fragile beast already, and teleportation, even without free-stand, is a powerful effect.

    As for undead etc being immune to sleep… why? What’s the reason for it? I can understand making them immune to the “unconscious” condition, and still have sleep slow them…. But, really, is it worth the effort to give them immunity to a single, low-level spell that no one took in previous editions because it didn’t work on undead (and became useless at higher levels anyway…)? I don’t see the point in punishing a character for a simple choice. It’s one thing to not have the *best* power/spell, it’s entirely another to have a completely useless one.

    I’d also like to expand on what Christopher said… All Bursts and Blasts are cubes… They go up, and theoretically down, as many squares as they go in any other direction. Also: Bursts affect the origin square (unless the power specifies otherwise), and Blasts do not.

  11. Pangalin says:

    Oozes/undead/golems being sleep-immune makes sense when you’re dealing with NATURAL sleep, but adventurers aren’t singing lullabies to the iron golem and tucking it in. They’re magically compelling it to lie down and stop paying attention. Is it “sleep” in a strict literal sense? No. But from a mechanical perspective a zombie that’s “asleep” and a zombie that’s immobile and defenseless are the same thing.

    But grognards will continue to pretend that their wizards are reading “Goodnight Moon” to the enemies instead of, say, *casting a spell*.

    As for the teleportation, I can’t think of a single example in fiction where someone entered a teleport and exited it in a different posture except for the sake of comedy. A teleport displaces you. It doesn’t spin you around like a carousel. I think Felonius’ compromise here is a good one; I don’t see a problem with characters “landing on their feet” if they’re willing to risk the fall damage. It’s a good tradeoff.

  12. MaleAlphaThree says:

    I feel that teleportation is flexible enough to allow you to change your position mid-port. Think Sliders. Sure, make a Tumble/Balance check. Or a Spellcraft/Tumble/Balance check, whatever combination feels right for you. Also think Jumper.

  13. Cedric says:

    An acrobatics check prevents damage from falling (and being knocked prone), but it doesn’t allow you to right yourself up from a prone position while falling.

    However, someone who is paranoid about getting knocked prone and has access to teleport magic might consider investing in some catstep boots. They’re fairly cheap and have the property of allowing you to always land on your feet when you fall. So you can teleport 1 square up, fall, and land on your feat.

    Or you could, I dunno, spend a move action and just get up…

  14. Pastadiablo says:

    There’s a forum thread on the WotC website with essentially the same topic (“Rules you didn’t Realize”) which is great for old hats coming into 4e from 3.X, although it’s a bit longer.

  15. Felonius says:

    @MaleAlphaThree Are we thinking of the same Sliders? I seem to recall them most often ending up Prone (also, they almost always started not prone)

  16. Matt says:

    one moment, slaying my DM.

  17. Kevlar says:

    greywulf: When they say combat situation, they mean being IN an encounter.

    for example: A party dives into an underwater cave, judging that they can get in and out in 3 minutes. But then they are attacked by sharks. Because they are all in a combat encounter, they ALL must make the checks. I’m guessing its because when you are in a high intensity fight, you can’t keep calm enough to hold your breath consistently.

    And about the sleep spell thing: that’s just stupid. I’d make a DM Rules intervention on that for sure.

  18. Halfbat says:

    The concept ‘Sleep’ really does work if you regard it as the application of the Unconscious condition (have a look at it), which doesn’t mention anything about sleeping, just that the target is helpless, takes a penalty to all defenses, can’t take actions, can’t flank, and falls prone (if poss).

    You can imagine applying that to a jelly or construct as a jolt from a tazer. And looking at it that way, you can imagine how it would work on constructs as well, as it temporarily fries whatever it is that controls their animation.

    That’s how I look at it, anyway. :D

  19. DeZwarteMaan says:

    #1 and #4 are auto duh’s I mean really… If you want to target yourself with a Magic missile, I believe you can do it… err.. :) in theory ;) i remember a Sea Elf Fire Mage of mine that was obsessed with Fire magic. Inciniterated himself with a targetted fireball on himself. Situation called for it and I made a madness roll.. hehehe As for marks, Once you were Blessed you got your +1. If 20 clerics blessed you…. duh.. +1 (Old and new rules still apply)

    #2 teleport. As a DM I allow teleporting in air. It was safer than landing inside a wall in older editions. With a ring of flight, I had teleport zones where I would teleport from one location to another while flying and i even used clairvoyance items to make sure there were no issues. heh. BUT.. as you are before, you are after. Ergo, prone is to teleport is prone is to arrive. Altough… acrobats check… doesnt it take a partial action (or did) to make the roll? so prone and teleport/fall.. lands prone as you have no move left to acrobat roll? Unsure if I remember that one off hand. :) I didnt play a lot of theives. I’d go for the CatStep boots as described by Cedric. :) (writing this one down).

    – My use of teleport. If you were on a ledge and feet first dropped off a cliff… 3 square before landing you teleport and arrive on the ground safely. You are standing… If you were facefirst, you arent. LOL (Get some boots) :)

    #3 Sleep spells: I always envisioned this spell as increasing the Saratonin ina target causing a sudden spontaneous Narcolepsy. Ergo a Living creature would fall asleep standing or sitting where it was. Just like those people who are driving and have sudden sleep syndrome. ERGO, Undead, slimes, golems.. DO NOT GET AFFECTED. It’s not a sudden lullaby, not reading a bedtime story… although it works for a druid. heh. This isnt a level 1 auto off switch to the most powerful automaton in the game?!?!?! WTF?

    I love playing Mages at low levels. In 1st-3rd edition it was a challenge to actually find unique ways to be useful in a party. that sleep spell at the right moment worked wonders. Finding a ring of prestidigitation was like finding a wand of ultimate power to my low level mage. :) Unlimited cantrips.. muhahahhahaha

    Burst vs Blasts: A blast is explosion that occurs in an area away from the caster. A burst is a centered affect starting at the caster and expanding outwards in a Burst. Havent read all the rules, but I believe this is the intent of the wording. B#.. a Blast or burst expanding in each direction fromt he B point and reaching in every direction. Although there might be powers which only follow the same X-Y and not Z. Although a burst from a flying Mage is sure to go in a full circle Burst. I imagine a Helaing Burst heals the caster. The Burst that is damaging doesnt affect the caster, because he’s immune or the affect doesnt target friends only foes.

  20. Tim says:

    Teleportation: It’s a question of game balance. The whole point of knocking prone is that the target needs to spend a move action to get up, and therefore doesn’t have a move action to chase you down. If you grant teleportation an extra ability that the people balancing powers did not intend it to have, then you make it more powerful than it was meant to be and unbalance the game. That said, I can certainly imagine reasons why it would be impossible to change your position during a teleport: If you think of teleportation in a star trek-esque sort of way (ripping you apart and sending you to the new location in packets), applying a rotational translation is some fairly complex math to be doing instantaneously in your head. Imagine if you forget to carry the one, and your hand ends up disconnected from your the rest of your body… I would, however, allow teleportation into the air combined with an acrobatics check. A successful acrobatics check while falling results in you taking 10′ less falling damage, and if you do not take damage then you land on your feet. The idea is, you have 10 feet to fall, which gives you enough time to twist your horizontal body into an upright position (not easy to do, but that’s why its a DC15 check).

    Sleep: Granted, sleep doesn’t make a whole lot of sense against constructs and oozes if you think of it as actually inducing the state referred to as sleep. But it’s not hard to just say that “sleep” is a misnomer, after all the condition it applies is “unconsciousness” and there’s no reason a zombie or a golem can’t be rendered unconscious. Computers have sleep modes too, you know. Again, it comes down to balance: if a power is only going to work on half the monsters out there, it has to be better than all the alternatives against the ones it CAN effect or you would NEVER take it. That makes it impossible to balance appropriately.

    I’ve got another rules question for you guys to mull over. Supposing a sorceror or swordmage is using a flaming blade as an implement. The flaming weapon rules say that it can make all damage dealt with the weapon become fire damage. But if the weapon is being used as an implement (i.e. you’re using a power with the implement keyword as opposed to the weapon keyword), is the damage dealt by the weapon? It’s never actually coming in contact with the target, you’re just channeling your arcane power through the weapon. This becomes important with feats like hellfire pact, or similarly a frost weapon with lasting frost feat. (Although personally, I’ve always felt this was something of an abuse even with weapon powers, why should the tiefling have a better chance of hitting something with his sword just because the sword is now on fire? Chalk it up to better fire = better armor penetration, I guess).

  21. Felonius says:

    Weapon damage types would not apply to those powers, since they lack the “Weapon” keyword. Also, things like “Lasting Frost” don’t matter since they don’t grant the Keyword “Cold” (or whatever type) to powers delivered through them. (I thought I saw this in an errata… Or somewhere… More than happy to admit to being wrong if someone can provide documentation to the contrary).

    Also, note that Acrobatics is a check to reduce damage (1/2 your result = damage reduced), and no damage = not prone. I would rule it the same, though. At least 10 ft, you have to risk the damage, and if you fail, you take damage and are *still* prone.

  22. Halfbat says:

    @Tim: ” Supposing a sorceror or swordmage is using a flaming blade as an implement. The flaming weapon rules say that it can make all damage dealt with the weapon become fire damage.”

    Don’t think it does. An important thing to note here (as always) is what the rules say. In this case, the rules say “by” the weapon, not “with” the weapon. When’s it’s just being used as an implement, it’s not “by” the weapon – it’s just a channel. The weapon doesn’t give its proficiency bonus to the attack, either. In addition it’s as Felonius points out – those powers which don’t say weapon anyway, don’t get the weapon specs applied.

  23. maddogtime says:

    Concerning “Sleep”:

    Why not just make a house rule allowing the constructs, oozes, undead, what-have-you a BETTER SAVE / BONUS against the effects of the spell to simulate their inherent resistance towards it due to their mindlessness?

    Just a (very late) thought.


  24. aaron says:

    i have a quick rules question regarding teleport say your character has a teleport ability and he is about to be attacked within melee would it be feesible to teleport out of range hence dodging the attack

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