MORE Rules You Never Knew

Click here for Part One.

Last week, I wrote a post examining some of the most easily overlooked rules of the Player’s Handbook. That was Chapters 1 to 3. Today I’m looking at Chapters 1 to 8. I suspect combat will need an article on its own. Spellcasting, too.

Again, if I’ve made any howlers, let me know in the comments. And the usual disclaimer: this post is about rules as written (or, occasionally, rules as intended). Feel free to ignore them if it makes the game more fun!

Chapter 4: Personality and Background

Inspiration is not a reroll. (125)

‘If you have inspiration, you can expend it when you make an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check’ (italics mine). In other words, no, you can’t use inspiration to reroll a check: you need to say that you are using inspiration before you roll.

You can use inspiration on initiative rolls and death saves. (125, 177, 197)

You can use inspiration on ability checks and saving throws. Initiative is an ability check (177) and death saves are saving throws (197).

Chapter 5: Equipment

You don’t have to take the starting equipment for your class. (143)

If you want to, you can roll to see how many gold pieces you start with and then spend your gold accordingly. However, you probably get more bang for your buck if you take the starting equipment. ThinkDM has run the maths on this, and only bards and sorcerers are likely to do better with rolling.

50 coins weigh 1 lb. (143)

It’s not for everyone, but I actually like this rule. If everyone can carry 10,000 gp in their back pocket, it stops feeling special. If a wizard with Strength 8 can only carry 120 lbs, and half of that is taken up with starting equipment, a hoard of 2,000 gp is a logistical challenge. (And by the way, where are you storing these coins? A pouch can only hold 300 gp, and a sack can only hold 1,500. Hope you brought a pony with you.)

Equipment sells for half its value. (144)

Something something capitalism.

Most thrown weapons are not ranged weapons. (146)

Wha? Don’t believe me? Have a look. The dart and the net are the only ranged weapons with the ‘thrown’ property. Why does this matter? Because it determines what ability score you use for attack and damage. A dagger can be thrown with finesse (Dexterity) whereas a handaxe can only be hurled with Strength. Note that a rogue can only sneak attack with a finesse weapon or ranged weapon. Only 14 weapons in the PH have these properties.

You can recover half of your expended ammunition at the end of a battle. (146)

It takes one minute, but it’s worth knowing. In this way, a quiver of 20 arrows will keep you going for about 40 attacks.

You need to reload crossbows. (146)

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 has implications for classes with the Extra Attack feature, like fighters. You need the Crossbow Master feat to ignore the loading property.

Note that loading doesn’t consume any kind of action, so you can always assume your crossbow is ‘ready to shoot’.

The price for skilled hirelings is a minimum. (159)

The pay shown is a minimum; some expert hirelings require more pay.

In other words, don’t assume that you can hire skilled mercenaries for just 2 gp per day.

Chapter 6: Customization Options

Multiclassing and feats are optional rules. (163)

I ran a poll on Twitter a few weeks ago, and, as expected, very few games ban both.

There are ability score prerequisites for multiclassing. (163)

And not just for your new class:

To qualify for a new class, you must meet the ability score prerequisites for both your current class and your new one.

You still need a free hand to load a crossbow, even with Crossbow Expert. (165)

I am definitely guilty of overlooking this one. As Sage Advice puts it, no, Crossbow Expert does not turn a hand crossbow into a semiautomatic weapon. The feats lets you ignore the loading property, not the ammunition property. You are still expected to load a bolt into the weapon when you attack with it.

Crossbow Experts lets you make close-range spell attacks without disadvantage. (165)

This is not a glitch!

Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.

The feat refers to ‘ranged attack rolls,’ not crossbow attacks, and Sage Advice has confirmed that this is intentional. The benefit applies to longbows, crossbows, spell attacks . . . any ranged attack roll.

You can essentially bypass disadvantage with the Lucky feat. (167)

Lucky lets you roll another d20 and choose the result that you want to use, so, if you make a roll with disadvantage, you can then roll a third d20 and take the best of the three.

You can add your Strength modifier to the bonus attack from Polearm Master. (168)

This isn’t two-weapon fighting. (Incidentally, did you know that you can use Polearm Master with a spear? If you hit with the spear shaft, you’re doing 1d6 + 1d4 damage a round, which is more than any one-handed weapon in the game. Pretty good if you want a shield!)

Sentinel lets you use a reaction when an enemy attacks a target other than you – but you don’t intercept it. (169)

In some ways, Sentinel feels like an opportunity attack, a reaction that ‘interrupts’ a trigger. But opportunity attacks are a specific exception to the general rule: when a reaction has no timing specified, the reaction occurs after its trigger finishes. For more on this, see p 252 of the DMG.

You can’t make a shove with Shield Master until you have used the Attack action. (170)

It’s an ‘if, then’ set-up.

Chapter 7: Using Ability Scores

Charisma is not comeliness. (173)

And never has been. If you want your character to be hot, fine, but their Charisma score has nothing to do with it. You can be very physically attractive yet extremely uncharismatic and extremely charismatic yet physically unattractive. (While we’re at it, the horny bard trope really needs to die.)

All and any disadvantage cancels out all and any advantage. (173)

This is an important rule. If you have advantage from three sources and disadvantage from one source, you have neither disadvantage nor advantage. This is particularly noteworthy for rogues who want to sneak attack: you cannot sneak attack if you have any form of disadvantage.

It’s an ability check, not a skill check. (174)

This might seem pedantic, but it’s worth bearing in mind. A DM can always ask you for a skill check using a different ability score, or an ability check where no proficiency bonus applies.

If the whole party can succeed or fail as a group, there are rules for that. (175)

Consider this next time your party is sneaking past a guard. If at least half of them succeed, the whole group succeeds!

You have a carrying capacity – and it’s a hard limit. (176)

Even if you are not using the optional rules for encumbrance, your character can only carry their Strength score times 15 in pounds. The PH says this is ‘high enough that most characters don’t usually have to worry about it,’ but it’s worth checking. For example, a 1st-level bard with 8 Strength is probably close to half capacity already with starting equipment alone.

Note that the rules don’t say what happens if you are carrying more than 15 times your Strength score. Presumably, you are simply unable to.

Hiding is not a skill contest between Stealth and Perception. (177)

A creature only rolls a Perception check if it is actively searching for signs of your presence (which, by the way, is an Action – PH 193). Otherwise, the hiding creature rolls Stealth against passive Perception, which gets +5 or −5 for advantage and disadvantage respectively.

Investigation is based on deduction. (177)

This is a fairly common misconception, possibly rooted in the fact that ‘Search’ was an Intelligence-based skill in 3rd edition whereas ‘Spot’ was Perception based. Investigation – strictly speaking an Intelligence (Investigation) check – involves ‘[looking] around for clues and [making] deductions based on those clues.’ If you are just generally looking around to see what you can detect, that’s Perception.

Again, though, it’s worth remembering that these are ability checks, not skill checks. Intelligence measures ‘mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason’. These are great for deduction, but they won’t generally help you with trying to find something in a room.

You can use Arcana to recall lore about celestials, elementals, and fiends. (177)

‘Your Intelligence (Arcana) check measures your ability to recall lore about [. . .] the planes of existence, and the inhabitants of those planes.’ As per the Monster Manual (6), celestials, elementals, and fiends are native to other planes of existence. By extension, your DM might allow you to use Arcana to recall lore about some fey and aberrations, too.

Similarly, you can use Nature to recall lore about beasts and plants. (177)

Sadly, there are only 14 plant monsters in the MM, but hey, you’re ready for them!

You can use Intelligence to pull together a disguise. (177)

Deception is generally considered to be a Charisma check, but ‘pulling together a disguise to pass as a city guard’ is listed as an example Intelligence check.

You can use Wisdom to get a gut feeling about what course of action to follow. (178)

Another Wisdom check you might not have noticed.

Charisma is your old ‘Gather Information’ check. (178)

Gather Information was a skill in 3rd edition, and veterans might wonder what happened to it. You can make a Charisma check to learn of news, rumours, and gossip.

Chapter 8: Adventuring

Climbing and swimming is usually slower than walking. (182)

Each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot (2 extra feet in difficult terrain) when you’re climbing, swimming, or crawling. 

The exception is if you have a climb speed or a swim speed. So far, only two official PC races have a climb speed (the dhampir and the tabaxi), and four (sea elves, water genasi, lizardfolk, and tritons) have a swim speed.

If you’re jumping in difficult terrain, you might not land on your feet. (182)

When you land in difficult terrain, you must succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to land on your feet. Otherwise, you land prone.

You don’t necessarily need to make a Strength (Athletics) check to jump. (182)

Not only this, but your character might be able to jump farther than you realize:

  • A 1st-level goliath character with Strength 17 can jump eight feet horizontally or 17 feet with a running start (assuming a goliath is seven and a half feet tall).
  • A 2nd-level human monk (average Strength and height) can jump ten feet horizontally, 20 feet with a running start.
  • A 3rd-level half-orc barbarian and the tiger totem (17 Strength, height 6 ft 6) can make a jump of 27 feet assuming a running start

I recommend bookmarking this 5e jump calculator in case you need to check these rules on the fly.

You might be able to hit a flying creature if you jump high enough. (182)

you can reach above you a distance equal to the height of the jump plus 1½ times your height.

Using the same examples above, our goliath character could reach a distance of 14.2 feet on a high jump (17.2 feet with a run-up), and our half-orc barbarian could manage 15.7 feet (or 18.7 feet with a run-up). Who says you can’t hit a flying creature in melee?

If you want to try to surprise other creatures or sneak past them while travelling, you need to be travelling at a slow pace. (182)

There are a few exceptions, like the ranger’s Natural Explorer ability, but, in general, this rule stands.

If an enemy is stalking the PCs, the DM can decide that only the rear guard has a chance to perceive them. (182)

Marching order matters. This is from ‘Noticing Threats’:

The DM might decide that a threat can be noticed only by characters in a particular rank. For example, as the characters are exploring a maze of tunnels, the DM might decide that only those characters in the back rank have a chance to hear or spot a stealthy creature following the group, while characters in the front and middle ranks cannot.

There are no rules for encounter distance in the core rules.

What gives? Bizarrely, there are rules for encounter distances, but they’re not in the PH or the DMG. They are on the inside of the DM’s screen!

Encounter distance depends on the terrain (averages mine):

TerrainEncounter Distance
Arctic, desert, farmland, or grassland210 feet (6d6 × 10)
Forest, swamp, or woodland90 feet (2d8 × 10)
Hills or wasteland110 feet (2d10 × 10)
Jungle70 feet (2d6 × 10)
Mountains220 feet (4d10 × 10)

There are also distances for audibility:

Audible Distance
Trying to be quiet35 feet (2d6 × 5)
Normal noise level70 feet (2d6 × 10)
Very loud350 feet (2d6 × 50)

And visiblity outdoors:

Visibility Outdoors
Clear day, no obstructions2 miles
Rain1 mile
Fog100 to 300 feet
From a height× 20

Wizards, please make this part of the Basic Rules so that everyone can access it for free!

Characters don’t get to watch out for danger while travelling if they are navigating, map-making, tracking, or foraging. (183)

This really matters for hexcrawls like Chult in Tomb of Annihilation, especially as the character with the best Perception check is also likely to be good at navigating, tracking, or foraging!

An 8th-level barbarian can survive a fall from the stratosphere. (183)

OK, this one requires a bit of explanation.

According to the PH, falling damage is capped at 20d6 for a 200-foot fall (about 60 metres). That’s roughly the height of Tower Bridge in London, or somewhere between the height of the Statue of Liberty (New York) and Christ the Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro).

An 8th-level barbarian is likely to have 61 hp, plus maybe 2 or 3 hp per level from their Constitution modifier. Let’s go with 77 hp as an average.

A 200-foot fall does 70 damage on average.

The stratosphere starts around 31 miles above earth’s surface. Of course, pressure and temperature might be an issue, but in terms of fall damage alone, an 8th-level barbarian could probably survive.

Even with darkvision, you still can’t see in the dark perfectly. (183)

Multiple D&D races have darkvision, and players sometimes assumes that this means their character can see in the dark without obstacle. Not quite. For a creature with darkvision, total darkness is still lightly obscured, and this means they have disadvantage on Perception checks (or a −5 penalty to passive Perception). Essentially, it’s shadowy, and a torch or other light source would still be helpful.

Creatures with truesight can see through illusions and shapechangers. (185)

They can also see into the Ethereal Plane. Fortunately, only 23 creatures in the Monster Manual have truesight, and only 13 of these are evil.

You need to eat. (185)

The question is, how much? Confusingly, the rules in Chapter 8 state that a character needs one pound of food per day, and yet the listed weight for one day’s trail rations in Chapter 5 is two pounds. For now, let’s talk about days rather than pounds, but there’s clearly a mistake somewhere.

Let’s take an ‘average’ adventurer with Constitution 13. They could make four days’ rations last eight days. Beyond that, they start to suffer one level of exhaustion per day. So, at the end of day ten, their speed is halved, and at the end of day 13, their speed becomes zero. At the end of the 14th day, they die.

By the way, reducing exhaustion isn’t easy. Greater restoration can do it, but that’s a 5th-level spell that requries diamond dust worth 100 gp.

Most adventurers start with an equipment pack, but some of these don’t contain rations. A priest’s pack only contains enough for two days, and both the diplomat’s and scholar’s packs contain none.

A waterskin is only enough water for half a day. (185)

Check the rules:

A character needs one gallon of water per day, or two gallons per day if the weather is hot.

PH 185

And:

A waterskin can hold up to 4 pints [half a gallon] of liquid.

PH 153

So unless you have access to drinking water, a waterskin isn’t enough.

Let’s go back to our average adventurer. After one day, they need to make a DC 15 Constitution save or suffer a level of exhaustion. Unless they’re a barbarian, a fighter, or (bizarrely) a sorcerer, all of whom are proficient with Constitution saves, that’s a +1 save with a 35 percent chance of success. Most characters will fail on their first day. (The chance of succeeding two days in a row is 12.25 percent. Three days in a row: 4.29 percent. Four: 1.5 percent.)

At this point, the death spiral begins. ‘If the character already has one or more levels of exhaustion, the character takes two levels in either case.’ So assuming the character failed their save at the end of the first day, they are on three levels of exhaustion at the end of day two and five levels (speed zero) at the end of day three. At the end of day four, they’re dead.

Suddenly, create food and water doesn’t seem like a terrible choice for a 3rd-level spell.

Combat interrupts a short rest. (186)

Or at least, that’s what the rule below seems to suggest:

A short rest is a period of downtime, at least 1 hour long, during which a character does nothing more strenuous than eating, drinking, reading, and tending to wounds.

By extenson, if you are doing something more strenuous, you don’t get the benefit of a short rest.

You cannot cast spells during a short rest. (186)

See above! It’s strenuous activity. No identify, no detect magic, no alarm . . . nothing. If you want to cast a spell, do it before or after the rest, not during.

It is possible to gain zero hit points from spending hit dice. (186)

Yup. Bad luck if you have a negative Constitution modifier. On the plus side, you can’t lose hit points from resting.

You don’t get all your hit dice back on a long rest. (186)

In fact, you only get back half of them (with a minimum of one).

You can only gain the benefit of a long rest once a day. (186)

This can present adventurers with some difficult decisions. Do we fall back and let the clock tick on? For a time-sensitive mission, this might not be an option. Do we proceed anyway? You might be dangerously low on hit points and spell slots.

A character must have at least 1 hit point at the start of the rest to gain the benefits of a long rest. (186)

Interestingly, this is not a requirement for a short rest, so a character on 0 hp would need to recover at least one hit point from a short rest before they can recuperate fully from a long rest.

Combat probably won’t interrupt your long rest. (186)

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.

D&D combat is designed to last three rounds. So unless you end up fighting a lot of wandering monsters, you should still get the benefit of the long rest after eight hours. (That said, you don’t get your hit points back until the end of the rest, so you’re still vulnerable, and characters will need to remove their armour if they want to avoid exhaustion. That’s technically not a core rule, mind you. See Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, p 77.)

Downtime can help you recuperate from long-term illnesses. (187)

If you don’t have access to lay on hands or lesser restoration, diseases can be hard to get rid of. Even low-level critters like giant rats can put you in a death spiral. If you survive three days of recuperation, you can end an effect on you that prevents you from regaining hit points or gain advantage on saving throws against disease or poison.

Next week: combat rules you never knew.

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