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The new Star Spawn Hulk from Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes has the following property:

Psychic Mirror. If the hulk takes psychic damage, each creature within 10 feet of the hulk takes that damage instead; the hulk takes none of the damage. In addition, the hulk's thoughts and location can't be discerned by magic.

Imagine that two Star Spawn Hulks are standing within 10 feet of each other. In addition, a player character is standing inbetween them, and decides to hit one with his Longsword of Deal Exactly 1 Psychic Damage.

Did the player just commit suicide?

Explanation: A hulk redirects 1 psychic damage and reflects it to all nearby creatures. The player takes 1 psychic damage. The other hulk redirects 1 psychic damage and reflects it to all nearby creatures. It seems to me like an infinite loop now occurs until the two Hulks are no longer within 10 feet.

But is this correct, by RAW? Obviously RAI it is not, but it seems to me like RAW, this would be the case.

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No, the damage transfer is not infinite.

You say the infinite loop of damage transfer is obviously not RAI. We agree on that. However, I believe it's also in the RAW. Notice the way the feature is worded (emphases mine):

If the hulk takes psychic damage, each creature within 10 feet of the hulk takes that damage instead; the hulk takes none of the damage.

Suppose the first hulk takes psychic damage and that damage is transferred to a nearby second hulk. One of the following two scenarios happens:

  1. The second hulk is mandated to take that damage instead, because that damage is a specific instance of damage, which is more specific than taking just any psychic damage. The more specific exception prevails because specific beats general, so the damage transfer ends when the damage reaches the second hulk. The damage was transferred from hulk to hulk only once, and the second hulk actually took it.

  2. The second hulk transfers the psychic damage back to the nearby first hulk, but it's not just any psychic damage: it's the same damage the first hulk was originally dealt. The first hulk can't take that damage again, because the first hulk explicitly takes none of the damage that it had transferred to nearby creatures. Since it can't take that damage again, it can't transfer it again, so the damage transfer ends when the damage returns to the first hulk. The damage was transferred from hulk to hulk only twice, and no hulks actually took it.

In either scenario, the number of times the damage is transferred is finite. The argument can be generalized to more than two hulks as well without any material changes. Both scenarios are based on RAW: the first using the explicit rule that specific beats general, the second using the explicit phrase "that damage" in the feature. Therefore, by RAW the damage transfer is not infinite.


Jeremy Crawford has confirmed scenario #2 is intended: no hulks take the damage, and adjacent non-hulks take the damage at most once (see this conversation on Twitter).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So following your logic in #2, if there were an infinite row of hulks and I dealt 1 psychic damage to one of the hulks, anyone standing within 10ft of any hulk would also receive 1 psychic damage. Is that correct? If we followed #1, then only someone standing within 10ft of the first hulk would receive 1 psychic damage. \$\endgroup\$ – David K Jun 8 '18 at 16:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yep. You can use star spawn hulks in series as an extraordinarily dangerous and deeply demented method of instant long-distance communication. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Jun 8 '18 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I'm thinking you take two damange. On for the initial reflected damage from hulk1, and 1 for the secondary reflected damage from hulk2. That damage has already been reflected by hulk1 so no further reflection occurs. \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Jackson Jun 8 '18 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Under scenario 2, once a non-hulk has taken that damage, it wouldn't take that damage again because it's already taken it instead of the hulk, so each non-hulk along the chain takes the original damage once. Under scenario 1, each non-hulk takes the original damage as many times as they are adjacent to a hulk that transfers it to them, which must be a finite number of hulks. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Jun 8 '18 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, because it has already not-taken that damage. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Jun 9 '18 at 15:19
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RAW: Yes

The Star Spawn Hulk's damage deflection copies the damage onto each creature, effectively multiplying it per victim. This means the damage is never "expended" like the hitpoints rolled for a sleep spell.

This is an unfortunate oversight and I would recommend implementing a house rule where redirected Hulk damage doesn't trigger other Hulks.

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