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The Way of the Open Hand monk subclass contains the Quivering Palm feature, which has this rule:

You can have only one creature under the effect of this feature at a time.

However, it doesn't specify if you are allowed/forbidden to apply several Quivering Palms on the same target.

If you are indeed allowed to apply this effect multiple times on the same target, can you then activate each Quivering Palm instance one by one (or are all the instances cleared out when one of them is used) ?

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Yes, multiple Quivering Palms can be applied to a single Target.

No, they can not each be activated separately - only the effects of one will be delivered.

The only stipulations to apply Quivering Palm (PHB, 80) are that you:

Spend 3 ki points...

You can have only one creature under the effect of this feature at a time.

Stacking multiple Quivering Palms (and using your Ki to do so) is completely permissible against a single target. However, the rule regarding Combining Game Effects determines what happens here (from the DMG Errata.)

When two or more game features have the same name, only the effects of one of them—the most potent one—apply while the durations of the effects overlap. [...] Game features include spells, class features, feats, racial traits, monster abilities, and magic items

Ultimately, they will only have 1 saving throw to make - all of the effects are equal, so the most potent can be any of them, but only ONE of them. When the save is triggered, the ability dictates:

The vibrations are harmless until you use your action to end them.

Whether you have a single instance of vibrations or multiple - ending them ends all of them - with only one of them getting to provide an effect.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nitpick: Quivering Palm isn't a magical ability. See "Is the breath weapon of a dragon magical?" in Sage Advice Compendium for what counts as magical. Related Crawford tweets: "The lore about ki is a great example of the magic-enhanced nature mentioned in this month's Sage Advice." and "Neither the Ki feature nor the Stunning Strike feature (PH, 78 & 79) is defined as magical for game purposes." \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Jul 26 '17 at 19:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Doval fair enough, I'll remove the Stacking Magic Effects. The DMG Errata suffices for the answer here. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 26 '17 at 19:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good ruling. The text in the class feature seems to assume that anyone with this feature would no do it more than once. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 26 '17 at 21:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, we have two opposing answers, which both seem very reasonable. Difficult to choose the accepted answer, then. \$\endgroup\$ – Gael L Jul 26 '17 at 21:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, @NautArch my friend, I finally came to the conclusion that your answer will be the accepted one : as mentionned by Chad below, the intent of the authors (RAI) clearly was to allow only one working Quivering Palm instance at the time. You have successfully convinced me that stacking Quivering Palms, although possible, is useless (a waste of ki). Thanks for your insight. \$\endgroup\$ – Gael L Jul 27 '17 at 18:20
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Yes, Quivering Palm can be applied multiple times to the same target

Yes, each instance can be activated one by one

To oppose the second part of NautArch's answer (I agree with the first part), I argue that each applied Quivering Palm "is its own thing" (produces its own set of vibrations).

The vibrations are harmless until you use your action to end them.

You can see each set of vibrations as a "different frequency based on the circumstances of the hit". Therefore, each set can be individually ended.

If two different monks apply a Quivering Palm on the same target followed by the first monk activating his Quivering Palm, then the second monk's Quivering Palm is not lost (and can be used later). The logic should be the same when a monk applies two Quivering Palms to the same target.

Even considering the Game features rule...

When two or more game features have the same name, only the effects of one of them—the most potent one—apply while the durations of the effects overlap. [...] Game features include spells, class features, feats, racial traits, monster abilities, and magic items

...You can see one of your stacked Quivering Palms as being the "most potent" (the "strongest vibrations", RP-wise), while the others stay "dormant". Then, once the "most potent" is activated (thus used), you then choose what's the next "most potent" Quivering Palm from your stack to be applied on a later date.

In summary : if you apply two Quivering Palms on the same target, then stop the vibrations for your first Quivering Palm (and get its effects), you can still stop the vibrations for your second Quivering Palm on a later day (and get its effects).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting ruling. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 26 '17 at 21:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd ideally want the accepted answer (whether mine, NautArch's, or someone else's) to not fall into houseruling territory, but thank you for the compliment ! \$\endgroup\$ – Gael L Jul 26 '17 at 21:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't call that a House Rule, I called it a ruling, which was indeed intended as a compliment. :) DM's in 5e are expected to make rulings. your decision to use the example of "the other monk doing it" intrigued me. Also, the rules in the PHB don't specify, and it took an errata to the DMG to support the other answer. (Which is also a good ruling). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 26 '17 at 21:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is the ruling I agree with if for nothing other than the line "while the durations of the effects overlap". The way I read it, once one quivering palm is triggered, it no longer overlaps with the other quivering palm(s) and so they are free to be activated normally as well. The only stipulation I can see from this would be that you cannot activate all your quivering palms simultaneously. There's nothing to suggest ending one palm ends all other palms on the target. \$\endgroup\$ – zach Jul 26 '17 at 21:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would agree with KorvinStarmast that it is an interesting ruling and one you are allowed to make. I would however go with the answer from NautArch if I was looking for RAW or RAI. For RAI its pretty clear that the intent is that only one instance of QP in effect. \$\endgroup\$ – user2015 Jul 26 '17 at 21:49

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