You Make the Call – Questions About Rules (Part 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 15, 2011

Every now and then a situation arises during game play that we’re not sure how to adjudicate. This kind of thing happens much less frequently now that we’re familiar with the 4e rules, but it does still happen. In our experience it’s better for the DM to make a quick ruling and keep the game moving foreword, and most time this is how we handle these unusual situations at my game table. However, we pride ourselves on knowing the rules inside out so when we have something unexpected come up and we don’t know the answer we see it as a challenge and after the game’s over we start digging.

When trying to find the right answer we of course begin by searching in the PHB, DMG, Rules Compendium or online compendium. If we can find a definitive ruling we go to the internet and the various forums. But this doesn’t always provide us with a satisfactory answer either. So we’ve decided to try a new series where we present the situation, explain our ruling and ask for your feedback. This might end up being a very informative series that clears up a lot of confusion for players and DMs alike or it may become a series where we get flamed by the online community for not knowing something obvious. We’re hoping that the good outweighs the bad so we’ve moving forward with it.

Prone

We’ve had a lot of situations in our home game lately where the PCs are knocked prone. The rules for what you can and can’t do while prone are pretty straight forward, but we’ve had a few unexpected scenarios come up that were not as clear cut – specifically around moving while prone.

  • Can a prone character charge while prone?
    According to the rules you have to move at least 2 squares in order to charge. A prone character can still move (albeit at half their speed). If the character’s speed is 4 of higher they can certainly move the required 2 squares. So can you charge while prone? A silly as it might look I think you can. However in my home game we’ve house ruled that you cannot because we think that it’s contradictory to the intent behind the charge action.
  • Can a prone character jump?
    Much like the situation with charging, the rules as written don’t specifically say one way or the other so I’d be inclined to say you can. However, for the same reason as the charging example, we’ve house ruled it that a prone character cannot jump across a pit or over lava unless he stands up first. Jumping while prone doesn’t seem in keeping with the intent of how the jumping rules work.
  • Can a prone character fly while prone?
    This is really something that is likely to affect monsters more than PCs, but with the introduction of the Pixie in Heroes of the Feywild (a playable race that can fly) it may become more relevant in the coming months. It’s always seemed silly to me that a flying creature can be subjected to the prone condition, but that’s not what’s on the table now. If the flying creature is prone, can it fly (equivalent to a crawl for non-flying creatures)? Can it gain elevation as it flies while remaining prone? We’ve ruled that horizontal (side-to-side) movement is allowed but not vertical movement, even at crawl speed.

Reduce the Area of Effect and Damage

A lot of powers are blasts and bursts. In most cases these powers are intended to target multiple creatures in a larger area. But what if I don’t want to target everyone?

  • Can a character reduce the size of a blast or burst?
    The most common reason to reduce the size of a power’s area of effect is to avoid hitting your allies. There are feats and items that will allow you to make the area larger but nothing to make it smaller. So the question remains can you reduce the size of a power’s burst or blast if you want to? Doesn’t it make sense that a Dragonborn knows how to control his breath weapon well enough that he can make it a blast 2 rather than a blast 3? Our group has ruled that you cannot reduce the size of a blast or burst, although I disagree with this ruling (majority wins).
  • Can a character choose to inflict the minimum damage?
    Along the same lines as the questions above, if you know that you’re going to get your allies in a blast or burst can you choose to deal the minimum dice damage to the entire area? This would be especially beneficial if you know there are minions in the blast. Since minions will fall as soon as they’re hit, there’s no need for me to BBQ my allies in the process. If I would normally deal 2d8+6 fire damage can I opt to deal only 8 damage (1+1+6)? I’d assume that the modifier damage cannot be reduced but what about the random dice damage? Again my group ruled that you have to roll the dice in all circumstances (except for crits, obviously) despite my recommendation to the contrary (again the majority ruled).

It’s important to remember that in any situation where you have to make a call on the rules that the outcome needs to be applied consistently across the board. If it’s going to work that way for the PCs then it’s also going to work that way for the monsters. When we vote on a house rule that’s the number one reason to err on the conservative side of the argument.

Have you you’ve experienced a unique situation during your game where the rules are murky and you haven’t been able to find a satisfactory answer? Send me an email with the specifics and we may feature your plight in an upcoming installment of You Make the Call.

Have you had any of these situations come up at your gaming table? How did you rule them? Where do you stand on these prone questions? What about reducing the size of blasts and bursts or inflicting less damage? You make the call!

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sentack November 15, 2011 at 9:59 am

I like most of the rulings you put forth, although for “Pulling a Punch”, i would suggest something simple like “Take a -2 attack penalty and the attack is ‘weakened'”.

But I was expecting from your post was more related to ruling on the fly and checking rules later. I see a lot of games where the DM (myself included) will often want to look at the rules and spend 5 minutes digging things up which wastes valuable game time.

2 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 15, 2011 at 10:15 am

@Sentrack
For more about ruling on the fly and not bogging down the game, see our article Adjudicating and House Rules which covers that facet in greater detail.

3 QuackTape November 15, 2011 at 10:32 am

I agree with you a lot Ameron. I have always allowed a pulled punch (minimum damage) in order to represent people not trying to hurt someone. Obviously they need to be willing and able to do that, but it does come up (dominated? You’re rolling the damage for sure). This would be for the entire attack though and you couldn’t pull just one roll from a multi-target power like Hunter’s burst for example.

I do like Sentack’s option of opting to be weakened for the attack though as a nice alternative since the condition could last. The PC is so focused on not hurting their friends that they aren’t fighting at full strength until their ally is clear (Weakened until the Start or End of their next turn).

As for the size of the blast, I’d disagree with you though. My counter example is the feat “Focused Breath” which lets you choose to reduce the blast to a close blast 1 for Dragon’s Breath. Given that a feat gives you the ability to do that (albeit for a small damage buff), I’d consider that you couldn’t do it normally.

Great article as always by the way!

4 Jacob Zimmerman November 15, 2011 at 10:46 am

I agree with your prone rules. The flying one is tricky though, and I would probably rule it as okay to go up at half speed or something. As for charging, I was under the impression that you couldn’t charge while slowed in any way anyway. I could be wrong…
I would definitely allow shrinking the size AND doing minimal damage (it would have to be to ALL targets obviously). In almost all cases, it makes sense that the user has a decent amount of control. But reducing the size cannot be simply removing one square from the zone (I don’t think this is what you were thinking either), it would have to be an entire edge if the zone, and I probably wouldn’t let them reduce it by more than one.

5 Toldain November 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm

I think, as a strict, literal rules interpretation, you could gain altitude at half movement while prone (and flying).

I would think that many flying abilities might be enhanced by allowing them to recover orientation (stand up, but you’re in the air) as a minor action, rather than as a move action.

You could also rule that prone, flying characters, at the beginning of their turn lose 2 squares of height. They may then recover, or move half, as they choose.

6 JSchuler November 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm

I see a prone character as someone who is completely off balance and hasn’t regained solid footing. You aren’t necessarily laying on the ground, but your hands and knees are going to come in contact with it as you try to move. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible to charge or jump while in this condition. You just won’t do those actions very well.

7 Brian November 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I would say that in order to fly (just like in order to walk), you have to first stand up from prone. If you’re prone and want to move you’d normally have to crawl, and it just doesn’t make sense for a creature to substitute its fly speed to crawl.

While the charge description doesn’t EXPLICITLY state that you can’t charge while prone, I think it’s pretty clear that it’s not intended for you to be able to. Furthermore, the RC states: “the creature moves up to its speed toward the target.” Since a prone creature is incapable of moving up to their speed, you might rule that they cannot charge.

For jumping, I’d say you need the use of your legs to jump. A prone creature is LYING on the ground, and thus not on their feet. I wouldn’t let them jump from such a position. As a compromise, I might let them attempt to jump but suffer a -5 penalty.

I would NOT allow AoEs to be reduced, nor would I allow minimum damage. That’s part of the inherent risks of AoEs, and if you want to get around that the solution is to use better tactics. Besides, that would devalue feats like War Wizardry (which imply that AoEs cannot otherwise be “modified”).

8 Brian November 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm

@JSchuler: The rules for Prone explicitly state that you ARE lying down (RC 232).

9 rabbitiswise November 15, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Jumping while prone –

This came up this past week. A room with Ice one the floors, walls and ceiling. It was so hazardous that in order to move more than 1 square you had to get a pretty high acrobatics check(even if you were trained).

sooo… my PC stayed prone pushing off from wall to wall sliding on his back we ruled for this specific circumstance that you could charge but with a -5 to attacks. We ruled also that the sliding would work like a jump (in that particular circumstance)

10 Fronch November 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm

It seems pretty clear to me that you’re wrong on all counts when it comes to the prone questions. The glossary says: “When a creature is prone … the only way it can move is by crawling, teleporting, or being pulled, pushed, or slid.” The crawl action is a specific action that is only usable while prone. It cannot be combined with other actions like charge, walk, run, etc. Now, I don’t disagree that you might come up with some house rules to cover some special cases, but the base rules seem clear here.

11 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm

@Fronch
The ruling we’ve gone with in our home game is that a prone character cannot charge. However, I don’t think that the rules specifically forbid the possibility of charging while prone. As long as a prone character can still move (in this case crawl) the required 2 squares towards the target, I believe that they can make a charging attack if we adhere to the RAW. A character that charges while prone would still suffer the -2 penalty for attacking while prone, but gain the +1 to their attack for charging. I agree that it seems silly and allowing such action simply because the rules don’t say otherwise is not a great idea. But I don’t think that it’s crystal clear either way which is why I encouraged this discussion.

I think the fact that “the crawl action is a specific action that is only usable while prone” is irrelevant to the charge debate because charging only requires that you move. It makes no stipulation that you have to be upright when you move. Assuming that you must be standing to charge would cause additional complications when fighting in water (while swimming) or in the air (while flying) regardless of being prone or not. But that’s a whole new argument that I’m not interesting in debating at this time. I only bring it up for purposes of example.

12 Steve November 15, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Off the top of my head, without a rule book in my hands, I would say no to all of these requests if I were running the game.

Regarding the Prone questions:

Charging is a Standard Action. Use you move to stand up, then charge the enemy. I think that solves the problem. Wanting to charge while prone feels like a munckiny way to keep a cover bonus from an atrillery creature across the board or similar. Feels like cheating/exploiting to me.

Can you the player jump in a prone position without standing up first? ‘Nuff said.

I agree with the above comments about flying. You are lying on the ground while prone, so by definition you can’t also be flying.

With regard to AoE attacks:

You are trading accuracy for damage with these powers. If you don’t want to hit your friend, make them delay so you can lob the power first or ready your action to cast the spell after they have shifted out of danger, agreeing that they will do so. Concern about the casters control over these powers is reasonable, but I woukd argue that the fact a wizard can even throw or direct the kind of raw power these spells represent at all *is* the expression of their control. If you want finer accuracy, use a striker style spell. Again, this question feels a bit like a player trying to cheat/exploit to me. Combat is messy, that’s part of the fun. Plus, you all have a healer in your party right?

Minimum damage feels like another way to get around the same problem addressed above; hitting your allies. Listen, Burning Hands is a D&D flamethrower. If I aim a flamethrower into a group of soldiers, I don’t have any control over how on fire they become. Using AoEs is a strategic choice, and part of the fun they offer in my opinion. Another poster said these kind of issues should be solved with sound tactics, not fiddling with the rules, and I agree with that.

And for the record, despite my negative responses to all this, I let my players get away with all kinds of craziness because it makes the game much more enjoyable for everyone. I just think that these particular questions go too far beyond the spirit of the rules beingg discussed and break my personal suspension of disbelief.

Great article. Can’t wait to see the next part of this series.

13 Patrick November 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Prone creatures cannot fly. It’s silly to argue otherwise, but the rules do actually forbid such a thing. You just have to piece it together.

Exhibit A: “When a creature is prone, it is lying down. It takes a -2 penalty to attack rolls, and the only way it can move is by crawling, teleporting, or being pulled, pushed, or slid.” (Rules Compendium p.314)
Exhibit B: “If a creature is flying when it falls prone, it safely descends a distance equal to its fly speed. If it doesn’t reach a solid surface, it falls.” (Rules Compendium p.314)
Exhibit C: “Fly Speed: To fly, a creature takes the walk, run, or charge action but uses its fly speed in place of its walking speed. A creature that has a fly speed can also shift and take other move actions, as appropriate, while flying.” (Rules Compendium p.210)
Exhibit D: “Falling Prone: If a creature falls prone while it is flying, it falls. This means a flying creature falls when it becomes unconscious or suffers any other effect that knocks it prone. The creature isn’t actually prone until it lands and takes falling damage.” (Rules Compendium p.210)

So, if you’re flying and you become prone, Exhibits B and D say it can’t fly anymore. If you’re prone, you can’t start flying because in order to fly you have to walk, run, or charge and while prone you can’t do any of those.

This also answers your question about charging while prone. Charging is a move action of its very own, not simply something you do while you move via another mode. While prone, you can only crawl (or teleport or move via forced movement). You can’t walk, run, crawl, or fly while prone.

14 Anaxeto November 15, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Ok. Lots going on here.

1. Charge while prone – sure

Crawl action is half getting to your hands and knees and half scrambling across the ground baby or crab style. If your enemy is within 2/3 you crab walk and kick him in the knee or tuck and roll and slice his hammy. That cumulative neg 1 settles that. Besides there is a whole special forces fighting style based on never getting off yer backside.

2. Jump while prone

Your not running so jumping while prone is a 1 square or 5 foot dive. Max speed of 7 div by 2 for crawling div by 2 again for jumping without running. Sure I’d allow it. Jumping vertical would be what 1 foot up. I have seen dancers beat that from their backs.

3. Flying while under the prone condition.

From exhibit c above the creature can use other movement types should be nuff said. If you want to be stricter; a creature is not prone until they reach the ground per exhibit d. Pending altitude and falling you could use a move action to simply pull out of the dive. If you have already fallen prone you could use your move action to fly up (ie stand) or to hover around on the ground as you try to sort your wings arms and head out from the impact you just sustained. See aerial battles in Van Helsing or the harpies in clash of the titans for visual examples.

As far as pulling punches on AoE I would say no way. If you want a smaller or less powerful spell use one or learn one. There are plenty of feats that eliminate allies or give negative attack bonuses. In a truly dire circumstances I might allow an arcana check against a hard dc to “shape” the spell failure you eliminate on foe success you eliminate one ally. Magic is an unpredictable force and only magic missile is a guaranteed hit amount of damage…

15 Fronch November 15, 2011 at 9:42 pm

“Charge” is an action that involves moving, and it is not the “crawl” action. So you can’t charge while prone. I don’t vehemently object to house rules to the contrary, but in my opinion that is exactly what they are: house rules.

16 Taed November 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm

One issue that I recall from when I was DMing was when someone was using a crossbow while prone, and we made it a house rule that “aimed” weapons that were not bulky (such as a crossbow or blowgun, but not a bow) got +2 while prone. Think sniper.

While there’s many cases of rule calls that I or others have made, we always figure out the right answer later. That is the only case of a house rule that I recall.

17 Sunyaku November 15, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Prone: No jumping, no charging, and no flying. Most birds that fall out of the sky cannot fly until they “right” themselves. A pixie can’t flap a pair of wings when it is laying on them.

Blast/burst: For home play, I would entertain a skill check to accomplish this, much like the 3rd ed. “concentration”. For strict public play (like Lair Assault) however, I would not allow this.

Min dmg: I would not allow this under any circumstance. Minions are abused enough as it is. :-P

Lair Assault has triggered LOTS of strange situations that required special rules, which have made it a very frustrating play format. Here are a few examples:

–Ask to make an acrobatics check to ‘kip up’ and stand as a minor action.
–Ask to make checks to avoid opportunity attacks in various ways, but usually with an acrobatics/athletics check as part of a movement.
–Ask to climb ABOVE and PAST enemies on a wall, and then drop down behind them. This happened a lot in the platform room. Does such a movement provoke an opportunity attack?
–Ask to use miscellaneous adventuring gear to aid another. For example, tie rope(s)/chain(s) around the cleric boiling to death in the mud and have several players “tug of war” them upwards.
–Ask to climb a chain supporting a platform, and then jump off of that to avoid enemies or get extra distance out of their jump (starting from a higher spot).
–When move actions like “Ride the Fire” teleport a character into harm, do they get a save? There is WotC erratta that says yes, but I think the idea of resisting a teleport is ridiculous. If I can resist one teleport, I should be able to try to resist any teleport, or ANY forced movement for that matter, whenever I feel like resisting it.
–Make knowledge checks other than the ones specified in the mod to glean information. For example, using dungeoneering, thievery, or arcana to detect trapped statues.

18 Paul November 16, 2011 at 9:02 am

Great idea for a series. I look forward to seeing more.
I’ve never had any of these situations/questions come up at home, but I can guess how I’d rule. I don’t think it’s possible to charge or jump while prone, and I think that plenty of reasons have been cited why. Likewise, a creature would have to right itself after being knocked prone before flying. The rules for knocking a character prone while flying are pretty clear, as stated in the comments above. If a creature that is prone wants to engage in any sort of movement (walk, fly, climb, swim) other than crawling or teleporting it has to remove that condition first. Even if the creature isn’t technically laying down, it still has to take a moment to regain its balance or composure enough to move properly. If you knock an ooze prone, it’s not necessarily laying on the ground, but it still has to use a move action to remove the prone condition (whatever that might mean for a legless creature) before it can walk, climb, etc.
Also, I don’t think a creature can reduce the size of an AoE or cause it to deal less damage. The size and power of area attacks is what makes them so dangerous to use. If a character is worried about hitting allies, she has to take feats to remove them from the area’s effect, or choose powers that specifically target enemies.
All that being said, though, I’m a fan of the “say yes” rule. I’d probably be strict on these rulings in a public play setting, but at home it might be a different story. I might allow difficult skill checks in specific situations with my players at home.. acrobatics, or athletics for the prone stuff, and arcana for the AoE’s.
Again, great article. Keep up the good work.

19 valadil November 17, 2011 at 12:08 pm

The way we ruled prone flight depended on how a creature has flight. A prone dragon is in no position to use his wings. A dude with hoverboots will continue to hover no matter what his position is.

We also allowed characters to teleport out of prone. If you can change your position magically, why not also add a little rotation? I liked this option at low levels, but once everyone had teleportation abilities, it made prone too weak.

20 Taed November 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm

We also allow the use of teleport from a prone position to a standing one. The first time, it was a rules call, but I think that we found some rule or errata to back it up or at least give it some weight.

21 JSchuler November 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm

@Brian
So how do you prone an ooze? “You are lying down” is fluff. Fluff is infinitely mutable and non-binding.

22 donalbain December 1, 2011 at 4:21 pm

When i think of attacking while pron i think a -2 to attack and a nice football type tackle very useful if you wanna get someone off ballance or your pushing your friend out of the way but my DM brought it back i thiink because it was gonna be a killing blow to our jungle guide

23 Svafa January 10, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I agree with JSchuler and Anaxeto on the prone issues. Anaxeto provides all of the arguments I would make fairly well. And for those quoting the rules on prone being “lying on the ground”, can you seriously move 15, or even 10, feet in 6 seconds while lying on the ground? You have to be on your hands and knees at least- you might not be in the best position or have the best control, but you can certainly charge or jump from that position.

As for AoE… I’m not sure I would allow decreasing the size of a burst or blast without some feat. If a character wants to be able to, I would be happy to draft a homebrew feat that let them modify the size of their bursts/blasts to some extent. On the other hand, I think I might let them reduce the damage of a burst/blast attack, though it would be for the attack as a whole. I believe the rules still state that you can always elect to fail a roll, so why not the same with damage rolls?

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