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Ghostly Vitality: While you have 0 or fewer hit points, you gain insubstantial.

Case: Player has 10hp. An enemy deals 20 damage to him.

Question: Does the attack leave the player at -10 or -5hp?

What I believe: the damage is dealt at once, taking the player from 10 to -10 without being at -10 to 0hp at any point. Thus, the damage reduction from the insubstantial condition does not apply to the attack.

What my player believes: when the player's health reaches 0, the damage reduction kicks in. The excess damage is then mitigated.

Please provide rule quotes for any answers.

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I suppose the overarching question is "do conditions that affect attacks and are triggered by attacks apply to the attacks that trigger them?" – Ravn Feb 2 '14 at 18:12
Which book is Ghostly Vitality from and/or is that the full text of it? – okeefe Feb 2 '14 at 20:44
@okeefe Dragon Magazine 376 – MC_Hambone Feb 2 '14 at 22:06
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It does not apply to the triggering attack.

The way actions are resolved in 4e would seem to dictate that he receives the full amount of damage, then if he is below 0hp, and chooses to remain conscious from Unnatural Vitality, he gains insubstantial along with the other effects of Ghostly Vitality. This is just a part of turn based combat. each action on a turn is resolved before another action is resolved. Therefore the damage roll is resolved before Ghostly Vitality kicks in.

The only exception I can think of that would cause Ghostly Vitality to work how your player thinks it should work is if it was an immediate interrupt. Unfortunately, neither Unnatural or Ghostly Vitality are immediate interrupt and therefore the feat does not activate until the full damaging attack has been resolved.

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I would add to this that your (OP) logic is correct, and the damage IS all dealt at one instant. If there was some special ability (and I can't think of a reason for this, it's just an example) that activated when you are AT 0 (not at or below) it would not be activated by this attack at all. The player is never AT 0, or any other number other than 10 or -10, so there's no reason to activate anything half-way through the HP-loss. If the text for Ghostly Vitality read "when an attack would drop you to 0 or less" you could activate it before the attack, but then it would apply to all 20HP. – Ryno Feb 3 '14 at 4:30
@Ryno Exactly, it's also why minions never become bloodied. – Ravn Feb 3 '14 at 7:07

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