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From the spell description:

Sleep (...) Creatures within 20 feet of a point you choose within range are affected in ascending order of their current hit points (ignoring unconscious creatures). Starting with the creature that has the lowest current hit points,(...) Subtract each creature’s hit points from the total before moving on to the creature with the next lowest hit points. A creature’s hit points must be equal to or less than the remaining total for that creature to be affected. Undead and creatures immune to being charmed aren’t affected by this spell. (PH p.276)

Now, to build the ascending order of their current hitpoints, the spell instructs to count everyone in area of effect, but only ignore unconscous creatures. Then later on it says that Undead and creatures immune to being charmed aren't affected.

Are those two latter kinds of creatures excluded from the roll of current HP by default? Following the "if they were it would say so" philosophy of Sage Advice, it doesn't seem so to me.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was going to play devil's advocate based on the phrasing the unconscious creatures are ignored, and undead etc are only not affected. But the first sentence also says "be affected", so that doesn't really work. \$\endgroup\$ – ilkkachu Nov 29 '17 at 23:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/59133/… related, possible duplicate \$\endgroup\$ – Saladani Nov 30 '17 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I actually just started looking into this, realized this ruling is extremely effective against a Necromancer encounter. Thank you for this question, it really helped. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Zastoupil Sep 7 '18 at 16:57
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Looking at those two fragments:

Creatures within 20 feet of a point you choose within range are affected(...)

A creature’s hit points must be equal to or less than the remaining total for that creature to be affected.

it seems like "being affected" means having your hp deducted from the roll and being subjected to sleep, so therefore this:

Undead and creatures immune to being charmed aren’t affected by this spell.

would mean to me that these creatures are not subject to the spell at all, just like unconscious ones. Also note it says "aren't affected by this spell", and not "aren't affected by the sleep effect" or something similar.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Invalid targets are invalid :) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 29 '17 at 16:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yep. Creatures that can't be put to sleep (such as elves) are 'affected' and suck up HP from the total, but just don't go to sleep; undead and creatures that are immune to charm (such as most constructs) just get skipped over entirely -- they're rocks, as far as the spell is concerned. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Nov 29 '17 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ January Podcast covers this... basically up to the DM to prevent meta-gaming. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Nov 29 '17 at 17:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym The one and only effect of the spell is being put to sleep. (The HP total thing is used to determine who is affected, it is not in and of itself an effect.) Creatures which are immune to that effect by definition are not affected by the spell. Therefore, if creatures which are not affected by the spell do not count towards the HP total, then half-elves do not count towards the HP total. \$\endgroup\$ – Zeus Nov 29 '17 at 17:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zeus So what you're saying is if the creature is immune to "the one and only effect" of a spell, it is immune to the spell as a whole. This conflicts with what you said about Magic Missile on a Shielded target: "The fact that the target won't take damage doesn't make it an invalid target". I'd say, in the same vein, that the fact that the target won't suffer any effect of the spell does not prevent it to become an "affected target". \$\endgroup\$ – Mark says Reinstate Monica Nov 29 '17 at 17:31
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Yes, they're excluded.

Specific beats general. So the general rule for sleep is that all creatures within 20 feet are affected. Then, later in the spell description, a specific exception is made for undead and creatures immune to being charmed. They aren't affected at all by the spell, so they don't count against the total HP affected by it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just remember, not being affected by magical sleep is not the same as immune to being charmed. So you (half-elves at least) can have your HP total reduce the spell effectivness, but not actually be put to sleep. \$\endgroup\$ – JPicasso Nov 29 '17 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sure, but the question didn't ask that. Is there something specific you think would improve this answer? \$\endgroup\$ – Marq Nov 29 '17 at 19:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I prefer this answer. Not because I'm sure it's right, but because I can tell what it's trying to say. \$\endgroup\$ – candied_orange Nov 30 '17 at 2:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JPicasso But not being affected by magical sleep is the same as not being affected by the sleep spell, so it's another instance that falls in line with being undead or immune to charm. (Not affected.) It would just be silly and redundant to say "creatures which cannot be put to sleep by magic are not put to sleep by this magic." If the conclusion is creatures which are not affected are not counted towards the HP total, then half-elves are in that group. \$\endgroup\$ – Zeus Dec 1 '17 at 19:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zeus The Fey Ancestry trait just says "magic can’t put you to sleep". Creatures affected by sleep have two things happen to them: (1) their hit points reduce the total hit points affected by the spell, and (2) they are put to sleep if all of their hit points were affected. Creatures that can't be put to sleep ignore the second effect; creatures that aren't affected by the spell ignore both of them. \$\endgroup\$ – Marq Apr 8 at 12:31
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They are 'included', but not 'affected'

To me these are separate things included in 2 separate clauses within the description.

Creatures within 20 feet of a point you choose within range are affected in ascending order of their current hit points (ignoring unconscious creatures).

This section talks about how the hit dice work and does not mention undead.

A creature’s hit points must be equal to or less than the remaining total for that creature to be affected. Undead and creatures immune to being charmed aren’t affected by this spell.

This clause only talks about effect and undead are unaffected; if they were not targeted they would not need to pick them out as unaffected.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nothing's targeted, it's an AoE. But you're saying undead HP are still counted towards the effectiveness of the spell, such that some of the effectiveness of the spell is lost by casting it near creatures which are not affected by it? \$\endgroup\$ – Zeus Dec 1 '17 at 19:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes exactly. I mean targeted as the word rather than the D&D term (Must learn to separate my terminology better). I read that any conscious creature counts towards the hit dice pool, regardless of race, class, immunity etc. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Dec 2 '17 at 10:44
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Creatures unaffected by the sleep spell, like undead, do not count towards the hp total.

Undead and creatures immune to charm are not the only sets that do not count toward the hp total of the sleep spell. Any creature unaffected by sleep does not count toward the hp total. This includes elves and warlocks with the aspect of the moon invocation.

Parsing the sleep spell hp calculation

Creatures ... are affected in ascending order of their current hit points

Those that can't be affected aren't in this group.

Starting with the creature that has the lowest current hit points, each creature affected by this spell falls unconscious until..

Reiteration of creatures in the group to be considered. Those that can't be affected aren't in the group.

Subtract each creature's hit points from the total before moving on the creature with the next lowest hit points..."

Each creature described in this statement is drawn from the set described by the previous one (affected creatures). This is why unaffected creatures do not count towards the hp total of the spell. It only applies the unconscious condition and subtracts the hp of affected creatures from the total.

A note about why elves are unaffected

  1. As per fey ancestry, as an elf "magic can’t put you to sleep."
  2. The sleep spell states "This spell sends creatures into a magical slumber."
  3. Slumber denotes sleep, which is something magic cannot do to an elf.
  4. Thus, elves are are in the group of creatures that are unaffected.
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    \$\begingroup\$ How does this add meaningfully to the answers by Mark and Marq? \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Mar 21 at 15:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, the current dndbeyond text on elves is "magic can't put you to sleep", not "you are not affected by the sleep spell". \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Mar 21 at 15:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Grosscol Upvoted for having the most thorough textual analysis and because mentioning the two types of player characters who would be excluded is helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Olson Mar 21 at 17:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ My point is that there's a semantic difference between "unaffected by sleep" (ie, the spell) and "magic can't put you to sleep" (the text on the elf trait). This answer conflates the two without comment, as if ignoring the exact wording on the elf trait. I suppose that you could make the argument that the poitn of the sleep spell is to put people to sleep,a nd therefore if it can't put them to sleep, they are practically unaffected by it, etc, etc, etc... but you haven't made that argument. Given that this is the only logical distinction between your answer and the other two.... \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Mar 21 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ The pertinent answer in "other relevant questions" is rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/110747/… - which disagrees with you. If you want to assert this answer, you're going to need to provide the logic for yourself. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Mar 21 at 18:44

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