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Context

So the PHB states you can be doing something for up to 2hrs during a long rest without interrupting the effects such as a 2hr watch. You can even partake in a brief ambush battle and still gain the full effects. But what are the limitations to this?

Examples

Assuming the group is only taking a long rest of exactly 8hrs and not spending a day in town or something.

Unearthed Aracana a ranger can spend 8hrs summoning a beast companion. Does this negate the long rest?

During a long rest a cleric, paladin, or wizard can change which spells they have prepared. Does this negate a long rest?

A wizard can spend 8hrs recording a new spell from a scroll. Does this interfere with a long rest?

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Yes, because a long rest requires sleep.

PHB 186 (errata'ed):

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps for at least 6 hours and performs no more than 2 hours of light activity, such as reading, talking, eating, or standing watch.

Sage Advice:

If an elf meditates during a long rest (as described in the Trance trait), the elf finishes the rest after only 4 hours. A meditating elf otherwise follows all the rules for a long rest; only the duration is changed.

Because a character must be asleep for 6 hours (or, if they are elves, trancing for 4 hours), they cannot do anything else.

As for your specific examples, the revised ranger UA specifies that summoning an animal is work:

With 8 hours of work and the expenditure of 50 gp worth of rare herbs and fine food, you call forth an animal from the wilderness...

Given that it's explicitly described as work, it is incompatible with a long rest.

PHB 114 specifies that a wizard takes only a few minutes to change out their spells:

Preparing a new list of wizard spells requires time spent studying your spellbook and memorizing the incantations and gestures you must make to cast the spell: at least 1 minute per spell level for each spell on your list.

Which is consistent with the "no more than 2 hours" of light activity requirement.

Finally, copying a spell scroll might fall into the light activity category, given that it's mostly reading and writing, but you obviously cannot copy a spell scroll while asleep, so you can't spend an entire long rest copying a spell scroll.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The wording on long rests was clarified in the PH errata: "A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps for at least 6 hours and performs no more than 2 hours of light activity, such as reading, talking, eating, or standing watch." The Sage Advice question on how Trance affects long rests was revised to account for this new wording; the new ruling is that an elf finishes a long rest in 4 hours. \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Nov 4 '17 at 18:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ The ruling, as properly clarified, is actually an Elf gains the benefit of an 8 hour Long Rest after 8 hours, only 4 of which must be spent Trancing. The other 4 can be spent doing the above mentioned light activity. \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Nov 4 '17 at 18:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Because a character must be asleep for 6 hours, they cannot do anything else You would improve this answer by differentiating between elves/trance and others. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 4 '17 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Airatome No, that's the old ruling. The new ruling very clearly states an elf finishes a long rest in 4 hours: "If an elf meditates during a long rest (as described in the Trance trait), the elf finishes the rest after only 4 hours. A meditating elf otherwise follows all the rules for a long rest; only the duration is changed." \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Nov 4 '17 at 23:57

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