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The Player's Handbook says that to execute a charge a creature "must have a clear path toward the opponent, and nothing can hinder [its] movement (such as difficult terrain or obstacles)" (154). Can a creature that possesses the subtype incorporeal pick as the target of a charge a foe if that charge's path takes the creature through the space a corporeal ally or corporeal foe?

That is, with the understanding that incorporeal objects, objects composed of force, allies and foes that possesses the incorporeal subtype, and a handful of other things could still spoil such a creature's charge, is the subtype incorporeal sufficient to render largely moot the necessity of a clear charge path to the incorporeal creature's foe?


Note: You can read more about incorporealness on Monster Manual 310–11, Dungeon Master's Guide 294–5, Libris Mortis 140–3, and the Rules Compendium 64–5; I mean, I did, and I couldn't tease an answer to this question from them, so maybe someone else can? This question was brought about by the latter part of the Dungeons and Dragons BECMI adventure module that I've adapted to 3.5 that has seen the PCs encounter—honestly—far more than their fair share of creatures possessing the subtype incorporeal, them having had multiple encounters with gangs and even swarms of shadows as well as lesser phantoms. Sometimes battlefield conditions have seen these creatures forced to make unusual decisions that some of my players now question mechanically… and that I now question myself. This is one of them.

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Yes, But...

So, there are two concerns here. First, you have this question:

Can an incorporeal creature pass though the space of a corporeal creature?

This is a resounding yes, in general.

An incorporeal creature can occupy the same space as a corporeal creature, unless the corporeal creature is entirely surrounded by a force effect. An incorporeal creature entering a corporeal creature’s space (or vice versa) provokes attacks of opportunity as normal for moving into another creature’s space. The entering creature must then succeed on a touch attack against the target to share the same physical space. If the target is helpless or doesn’t resist, no attack is necessary. (Rules Compendium, 65)

With the assumption that the same is true of objects (since we know incorporeal creatures can pass through objects normally so long as they are not entirely inside them), this definitely covers the situation.

Now, this leads to the second question:

Under what conditions can an incorporeal creature do this?

The answer to this comes from the last line of that quote -- the target to be passed through must be helpless or "non-resistant," which I take to mean it does not actively attempt to counter the action in any way. Objects will (typically) not be able to resist anyway, rendering them moot in this circumstance.

Of note is the attack of opportunity, first. This means that the incorporeal creature could, feasibly, use tumble or other skills/abilities to avoid the attack and keep charging through them if it sucessfully avoids it. Second problem there, though, is the line about the touch attack unless the creature does not resist. Generally these two lines paired together will mean that it is unlikely an incorporeal creature will actually be able to charge through any creature that is not either an ally or entirely unaware of its presence.

Conclusion?

  • Generally speaking, if there are objects in the way an incorporeal creature can charge through them

  • If a creature cannot/will not resist/counter the movement of the incorporeal creature, it can charge through them.

  • If a creature resists the movement of the incorporeal creature, the charge is interrupted by the immediate requirement of a touch attack (although this attack might well get the benefit of the charge depending on movement distances).

Thus, to charge through objects is totally acceptable unless the object can resist; to charge through anything capable of resisting the action is possible, but will only be successful if the creature is thoroughly unaware of the charge, incapable of resisting, or is an ally.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thing is, the incorporeal creature in this case is not really trying to share the space with the creature but, instead, simply trying to get through its space. In context it seems—to this reader anyway—that the touch attack would be unnecessary as the shadow (or whatever) isn't trying to, like, stop in the corporeal creature's space so as to gain cover from it, but maybe you're parsing this differently? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 20 '18 at 14:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan For at least some duration of the movement, it is sharing the space, even if only for a second. If you were to charge through a creature's space normally, that requires some means of avoiding them. As an incorporeal creature, you don't have to worry about this as much, but you are forcing your consciousness to occupy the same space as theirs...not quite possession obviously, but close enough. If they do not want you to move through them, they will resist this (does not specify how, so I'm assuming mentally) which forces your attack to get past that resistance. \$\endgroup\$ – Alphaeus Mar 20 '18 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's reasonable. However, my concern then becomes the ill-defined touch attack that becomes necessary during the charge—is that in addition to whatever else the incorporeal creature does during its turn? Can that touch attack also deal damage like an incorporeal creature's normal touch attack can? That sort of thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 20 '18 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Ah, I see that problem, and there isn't really any clear answer. To get RAW as possible, though, it does define a special type of attack, therefore we are to assume it does not deal damage (much like a touch attack to deliver a spell). Of note is that other touch attack effects would apply (negative levels, etc). As an action triggered by the movement being resisted, it is immediately triggered as a free action by the resistance (since the movement could be at the end of the turn with no actual actions left, and the resistance unexpected, this is the only feasible scenario). \$\endgroup\$ – Alphaeus Mar 20 '18 at 14:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ That reading seems to make, for example, shadows extremely dangerous, allowing them to just take a pair of move actions to fly through multiple foes and making their touch attacks that deal Strength damage while they do so instead of making their one touch attack normally. I mean, in that case, nothing should prevent a shadow that's all up in a Medium dude's grill from making against that poor dude six of those special touch attacks by bouncing in and out of the poor dude's space. (Sure, it'll provoke each time, but what does the shadow care? It's incorporeal.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 20 '18 at 15:19
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First, as the DM, you're in your right to MAKE this decision yourself.

Now, you should ask yourself why the creature could, or could not, charge "through" someone else. How does the creature harm someone ? Is it by merely touching it ? Does it "discharge" the creature, even for some time ? Does the creature have to CHOOSE to harm its target ?

If the incorporeal creature is, say, an electric-charged thing, it would stand to reason that the first thing it touches, in its charge line, would be the one to get hit (because the electricity would discharge through its body, while the creature passes through), and thus, the creature wouldn't be able to "hit" a target behind it. At least, not this round - it would need to recharge for some time.

Same if it automatically "drains" life force, or whatever, you could rule that it drains the first thing it passes through, and needs to "digest" it for some time. OR you could rule that it drains everything it goes through / touches (much like how ray would affect all the targets it goes through - but with the creature starting at one end, and arriving at the other end of the ray)

Now, however, if the thing is like a poltergeist (a ghost able to use material force at will), it might very well go through a lot of things (walls, people, etc.) without any consequence, and only THEN, choose to exert its will to harm something, or someone, at the end of its charge action. Of course, for it to charge through someone or something, it must be able to see (or detect, in some way) its target.

So, to sum it up, I'd say it's your decision, but that it should feel "logical", both to you and your players. And, of course, should your players acquire similar characteristics (through the effects of a spell, or a magical item, whatever), the same ruling should apply to them too.

[EDIT: Now, the text below is based solely on the rules] http://www.d20srd.org/srd/typesSubtypes.htm#incorporealSubtype

After reading what they said on the incorporeal subtype, it doesn't state anything about charging THROUGH an opponent. So, if it doesn't allow it, the basic rule (which is that it is forbidden) should apply.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While it's fair to remind those of us who become rules-fixated on occasion that the DM's word goes, this is actually a really specific question centered on the intricacies of two of D&D 3.5's clumsier mechanics. I really am looking for an answer I can bring to my players that has some rules support. However, thank you for trying to help. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 20 '18 at 12:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand your desire to go "by the rules", but, when rules are fuzzy, or contradict themselves, it is indeed the DM's job (and privilege) to choose an interpretation. Also, the rules in the books are intended to "translate" properties into some easy-to-follow procedures, dice rolls, and so on, so that people don't have to wonder how to handle a given situation. Well, it appears that your predicament is that you've read the rules, but still don't know how to handle the current situation. So, in such a case, in the interest of game flow and of world "coherence", I'd still go with this :) \$\endgroup\$ – Kzwix Mar 20 '18 at 13:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I looked at a couple of your other answers, and they seem to hinge frequently on the gamemaster making the call. Answer typically go there as a last resort after exhausting the rules. You may be interested in this Meta question that goes into more detail. Once again, while I appreciate the help, I already cited the SRD on incorporealness in my question, and such creatures according to the other texts can go through many corporeal objects and creatures without issue, but it's the specificity of charging through them that troubles me. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 20 '18 at 13:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your observation is right. I am a game master on several games (In Nomine Satanis / Magna Veritas, also Star Wars D6, and a few others), and that's the style I tend to use when mastering (in fact, our whole gaming group tends to work like this: less rules, more "logic", especially when falling on "borderline" cases where rules are fuzzy or hard to find/understand.) So, no hard feelings, and I'll let rules gurus take the point, here ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Kzwix Mar 20 '18 at 16:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ …And that's a totally legit playstyle that I—and the site—respect. Nonetheless, the site also typically has higher standards for answers than Make it up yourself! or Go with what makes the most sense for you! because either could be the answer to 90% of the site's questions, making such answers not really useful (useful answers earning upvotes)… unless the answer has previously addressed the existing rules and proven them lacking — then such recommendations become useful for filling in the gaps. And, of course, no hard feelings! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 20 '18 at 16:29
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The charge is illegal, but it has nothing to do with incorporeal or physical. It has to do with line of sight. From Player's Handbook page 155:

If you don’t have line of sight to the opponent at the start of your turn, you can’t charge that opponent.

Unless the creature can see through obstacles, it is not allowed to attempt a charge.

Cover rules dealing with creatures in-the-way.

I would rule that by definition, something with cover cannot also have clear line-of-sight, but maybe partial line-of-sight is sufficient? Line of effect is only removed with total cover.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Elegant, except that creatures generally don't block line of sight. You wouldn't be invisible to an opponent by standing behind someone, for example. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Mar 21 '18 at 0:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ …And there are plenty of obstacles that creatures can see over or around and—maybe—not care about if the creatures are incorporeal. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 21 '18 at 1:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I add more info about creatures in the way providing cover. It would be up to the dm to decide if line-of-sight is only broken with full cover or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Wannabe Warlock Mar 21 '18 at 5:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why would it be up to DM if there is clear definition of Line of Sight and by definition it doesn't care about anything less than total consealment (or opaque total cover, as it provides total consealment, if cover is a concern here)? \$\endgroup\$ – annoying imp Mar 21 '18 at 10:31

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