13 of the Craziest Quirks in the Dungeons & Dragons Rules

Eventually, everyone who plays Dungeons & Dragons finds a place where rules seem to defy logic and common sense. These quirks tend to stem from three good reasons:

  • The D&D rules don’t attempt to cover every situation. Few players would want to grapple with so many rules, so the design brings a more compact set of rules that apply to most of what happens in a game. To make sense of unusual situations and corner cases, D&D relies on the judgement of dungeon masters.

  • Rarely, the designers wrote rules that failed to work as intended. Often when the rules as written serve well enough, the D&D team chooses not to tamper with the text.

  • The D&D rules accommodate a legacy of earlier editions spanning 40-some years of history.

I asked D&D enthusiasts to name the strangest quirks in the rules. This post lists some of the best answers. I skipped the part of D&D that most brazenly defies reality: The rules for damage and recovery. Those unrealistic hit points enable the games’ combat-intensive, dungeon-bashing style, so I count that absurdity as a feature. (See Why Gary Gygax Added Unrealistic Hit Points to D&D.) To learn to love hit points, just avoid asking questions. For example, I wish I could stop wondering how (#13) one healing potion completely cures a new adventurer while a legendary hero needs to guzzle 20 for a similar recovery.

12. Characters with the Lucky feat can close their eyes, swing blindly at a foe, and gain a better chance of hitting than they would get from attacking as normal. When you use Lucky, you roll an extra d20 and choose your attack roll from any of the d20s you rolled. When you roll at disadvantage, you roll two d20s. So Lucky lets you choose your best roll from any of the three dice: the two dice rolled for disadvantage and the one for lucky. Use the force, indeed!

11. In one round, someone who flees a Wall of Fire, and then gets forced back in on another character’s turn takes more damage than someone who just stayed in the flames through the entire round. (See D&D’s Inconspicuous Phrases That You Notice Once You Master the Rules.)

10. Archers shooting blindly into impenetrable fog hit as easily as they do when they see their targets. A blinded attacker suffers disadvantage and typically gains advantage because their target can’t see the strikes to defend. Advantage and disadvantage cancel, so the attacks roll as normal. This makes some sense for melee attackers flailing in the dark. For someone shooting blindly, the lack of a to-hit penalty flouts common sense.

9. Daylight fails to generate sunlight. Daylight originated from the first-edition spell Continual Light. Back then, every new D&D player counted themselves as the first to realize a 2nd-level spell enabled them to easily destroy vampires! They were wrong. Then, as now, you don’t become a D&D designer without being pedantic enough to rule that light “as bright as full daylight” falls short of “direct sunlight.”

8. The Chill Touch cantrip isn’t a touch spell and doesn’t deal cold damage. In past editions, the spell really had a range of touch, but even then, its damage came from negative energy, the necromantic damage of the era.

7. Faerie Fire doesn’t deal fire damage or involve fairies. The spell references naturally glowing fungus.

6. Detect Evil and Good doesn’t detect evil and good. The spell’s name comes from past editions when it worked as described. Back then, too many players took shortcuts through adventures by detecting for evil and murdering potential villains in the first scene. Now the spell detects the creature types that are supernatural representatives of good and evil.

5. Only crossbow experts and sharpshooters can attack with a net without suffering disadvantage. Nets are ranged weapons with a normal range of 5 feet, so most net attackers must either make a ranged attack within 5 feet of a foe or at long range. Either way, the attack suffers disadvantage. Crossbow experts can make ranged attacks within 5 feet of a foe without disadvantage. Sharpshooters can make ranged attacks beyond normal range without suffering disadvantage.

4. Invisibility, a spell that makes you invisible and monitors your movements to see if you intended to hurt someone, rates as simpler than Greater Invisibility, a spell that just makes you invisible.

3. Creatures who lose temporary hit points to caltrops can have full health and still move slower. Worse, they can’t regain their speed until they take more damage. The speed penalty from caltrops only ends when you regain a hit point, so you might need to lose more hit points to have some to heal.

2. A cleric can cast a spell like Aid with somatic and material components while holding both a mace and a shield with a holy symbol. But casting a spell like Cure Wounds that drops the need for material components requires putting the mace or shield away. Fewer components makes the spell more cumbersome because the shield only doubles as a somatic component when you also use it as a spell focus to satisfy a need for material components. Confusing? Awkward? That’s why I’ve never seen this rule enforced. (See the Sage Advice Compendium.)

1. By relaying an object from creature to creature on consecutive turns in a 6-second round, a group can make the object outrace a jet. In an actual fight, everyone acts at the same time. But in the game, turns serve as a simple but unrealistic way to make sense of 6 seconds. To squeeze turns until their absurdity shows, just have everyone on the party run a relay. If each of 7 characters dashes 60 feet before passing a baton to the next person, the baton travels at almost 50 miles per hour. The more characters who can move an object in a round, the faster it goes. To weaponize this quirk, hire 1000 laborers to pass a 10-foot pole and create a peasant railgun. No DM allows such weapons, but some encounters force players to transport things like potions or keys across the battlefield. DM Tom Christy enforces a house rule where no object can be manipulated by more than one of each type of action in a round. No chaining move actions to rocket something across the battlefield.

All this points to the importance of the DM. D&D designer Dan Dillon writes, “If a confluence of circumstances in D&D creates rules interactions that don’t make sense to you, ignore it. Change it. Do what makes sense for the given situation the characters find themselves in.”

For example, if you prefer a game where shooting into darkness yields disadvantage, impose it. If you want Lucky characters to always suffer a disadvantage from disadvantage, then tweak the rule. Lead rules designer Jeremy Crawford suggests letting the lucky character choose between either (a) the lower of the two disadvantage dice or (b) the lucky die.

“The rules aren’t written to cover every possible circumstance,” continues Dan Dillon. “Think about how many pages would have to be added to the already 316-page Player’s Handbook if we added every possible ‘unless’ to a rule that applies advantage or disadvantage to an attack roll.”

The designers could try to patch every quirk and corner case, but if they did, you wouldn’t want to play that game.

Related: How Years of Trying to Fix Obnoxious People Shrank D&D’s Appeal.

17 thoughts on “13 of the Craziest Quirks in the Dungeons & Dragons Rules

  1. ericscheid

    #4 makes sense if you apply the laws of magic, not the laws of modern physics.

    eg. Law of Equivalent Exchange, i.e. everything has a price. A thaumaturgist would argue that Greater Invisibility, being an Invisibility of a kind, is also potentially vulnerable to collapse if you attack with intent … but has additionally has been hardened to not do so.

    Note also that both spells’ magic is based on illusionism, and not simple alteration, so the continued operation could well be influenced by mental/psychic overflow.

    Reply
  2. Tom

    Wish spells, easiest way to destroy everything. Actually giving them what they want or emproving spelling appilliities Never.

    Reply
  3. Chris

    Six of these are great and I wish there were more like 2, 3, 5, 10-12. Many are just misleading names that actually have no rule quirk/issue involved, so they fall flat of the intent of the article.
    Comments about specific points:

    4. Disagree. Invisibility does not state it tracks intent and does not care if the invisible person specifically hurts someone. Casting a healing spell for example would also break invisibility. I see this more as the spell is more unstable, so actions that require exertion can cause it to fail, though the spell restriction only specifically limits itself to the primary exertion activities found in combat. So the RAW version of the spells does not make it seem that Invisibility is more complex than Greater Invisibility, quite the opposite.

    1. The house rule mentioned does not help against the 1000 peasant railgun. They can all be standing in a line next to each other, no movement necessary, and a single interaction is not an Action. However, since real official game rules trump real physics, an object thrown from the 1000th peasant is limited to its listed range and damage, no bonus damage for real world physics, so no house rule is needed to prevent this scenario as there is not game rule issue.

    Reply
    1. Stormbow

      Where does it say that?

      “You have mastered ranged weapons and can make shots that others find impossible. You gain the following benefits:

      • Attacking at long range doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged weapon attack rolls.
      • Your ranged weapon attacks ignore half cover and three-quarters cover.
      • Before you make an attack with a ranged weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, you add +10 to the attack’s damage.”

      I maintain that Crossbow Expert is literally only Crossbows. Otherwise it would be called Ranged Weapon Expert.

      Reply
        1. Stormbow

          The first bullet, you say?

          • Attacking at long range doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged weapon attack rolls.

          ↑ (Sharpshooter) Does not allow melee-range shots without Disadvantage. Literally nothing about melee range there.

          “Crossbow Expert” =/= “Every Ranged Weapon and Spell Attack Expert”. To try to convince anyone otherwise is flat-out stupid.

          Common Sense: so rare it should be considered a super power.

          Reply
          1. GavinRuneblade

            I think you misunderstood what we are both saying. The disadvantage at 10-15 feet with a net is the long range penalty. Sharpshooter let’s you attack at long range without disadvantage per the first bullet. So with a net you would be able to attack normally from 10 or 15 feet.

        2. Stormbow

          There wasn’t anything to misunderstand. You were inarticulate and didn’t actually say what you were talking about. #5 is all about melee-distance ranged attacks. That’s also not my fault, someone else being off-topic.

          Reply
          1. ericscheid

            I understood what he was saying.

            Remember that #5 starts out with “Only crossbow experts can attack with a net without suffering disadvantage”. The thesis of the point is that, not “Only crossbow experts can attack with a net in melee range without suffering disadvantage”.

            #5 ends with “Crossbow experts can make ranged attacks within 5 feet of a foe without disadvantage”, but as we’ve seen should also say “and Sharpshooters can make long ranged attacks without disadvantage”.

  4. GavinRuneblade

    My vote goes to mounted combat and reach. No specific rule over writes these two general rules: your medium or small character takes up one 5×5 space. Your large mount tales up 10×10. Mike Mearls (not the official sage) tweeted to this effect as well.

    So my mounted character is in one of the four squares of my mount and unless I have a reach weapon I can hit and be hit by things on the left side of a horse but not the right?

    Most people I’ve spoken to appear to play with a blob houserule where the medium or small rider exists everywhere the mount does.

    Reply
  5. Carrie

    I have to disagree about the Lucky feat and disadvantage. My reading of the RAW is that if you spent a luck point on a disadvantaged roll you wouldn’t have to apply disadvantage to the additional roll, but since it states you use luck points after the original roll, I would interpret “you choose which of the d20s” to be a choice from “the one that was the result of your original roll or the additional one.”

    I guess it’s sufficiently non-specific that a DM could choose to interpret it the other way and still call it RAW, but nothing in the wording enforces it, to my understanding.

    Reply
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