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Say a friendly barbarian is currently paralyzed. Part of the description of the paralyzed condition says:

The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

Its friend, the School of Evocation wizard, casts a fireball in the room, using its Sculpt Spells feature to protect the Barbarian:

When you cast an evocation spell that affects other creatures that you can see, you can choose a number of them equal to 1 + the spell’s level. The chosen creatures automatically succeed on their saving throws against the spell, and they take no damage if they would normally take half damage on a successful save.

Fireball requires a Dex save, but paralyzed creatures normally fail Dex saves; you can easily see the conundrum.

Does the Barbarian fail its Dex save?

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While these are two contrary rules exceptions, and therefore ambiguous, from a story perspective, Sculpt Spell is intended to represent the evoker guiding their damaging spell to avoid the target, so it doesn't matter if they actively dodge the attack or not; it just doesn't hit them (or at least has the minimum possible effect). So I would say Sculpt Spell overrides the condition -- the paralyzed character takes no damage, because the fireball just isn't intruding into their space.

The argument could also be made that these are 'simultaneous effects' as discussed on page 77 of Xanathar's Guide to Everything, in which case the character whose turn it is -- the caster -- chooses which effect happens first, so the 'sculpt spell' effect can be the last one, overriding all previous effects.

But I think the conceptual storytelling aspect should be enough to make a decision in this case.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Specificity would agree with you... most creatures can have the condition of Paralysis placed upon them but much fewer, in theory, would be able to use Sculpt Spell. Specific beats general. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Nov 6 '18 at 13:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ The “intent” of the Sculpt Spell is to control the area of effect from the spell to spare an ally from most of the damage. As well as the Xanathar reference and Slagmoth comment are compelling enough to save your barbarian. \$\endgroup\$ – XAQT78 Nov 6 '18 at 13:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ WoTC is doing a wonderful job of shaping Dungeons the Gathering little by little. The active player has control over the effect stack now. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Nov 6 '18 at 14:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think "spells do what they say they do" should mean spell trumps non-magic. Otherwise, this is like saying I can't cast fly on a target with clipped wings because the effect of clipped wings is "the creature can no longer fly". \$\endgroup\$ – Tezra Nov 6 '18 at 21:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that maybe the 'specific beats general' doesn't make sense in terms of rarer conditions overcoming less rare conditions. Rarity has nothing to do with specificity. You woudn't say that a panda is a more specific animal than a racoon, for example, just because it's rarer. \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Nov 6 '18 at 22:04
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The barbarian is fine

While it will be difficult to argue if the wizard feature or the paralyzed feature are more 'specific', the intent is obviously that the wizard is sculpting the spell in such a way that the damage goes around the target.

It doesn't matter how bad the target is at dodging, they will always dodge it, so why would it matter if they're physically restrained? The spell isn't trying to hit them, it's sculpted around them.

The reason that the sculpt spell feature says characters automatically succeed on the save, instead of stating that creatures are simply unaffected, is because this might cause other weird interactions.

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Specific Beats General: Sculpt Wins.

Generally, paralyzed creatures automatically fail Str and Dex saves.

Paralysis is a general condition. There are a myriad of ways creatures can end up with this condition.

The sculpt spell feature is more specific.

Sculpt spell specifies single instances where the target creatures always succeed. It defines a narrower scope of targets and circumstances.

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I think the real question here is .. if your wizard knows the radius of the fireball spell, and was able to look into the room to get a general idea of how big the room is (volume-wise as compared to the volume of a fireball spell), and knew the paralyzed barbarian was in the room... why did the wizard cast the fireball spell? Seems like a jerk move.

I think from that alone...

  1. if wizard didn't know the barbarian was in the room, and/or didn't know they were paralyzed, then wizard shouldn't be able to sculpt spell to try to avoid them.

  2. if wizard knew the barbarian was in the room and the barbarian was paralyzed (and knew the barbarian's location), then I would think just some simple role-playing could take care of this whole problem:

(gm) "Barbarian is paralyzed on the floor in the corner."

(player) "Ok, if I cast a fireball in the room, could I place it in such a way that something like a big table or something would protect him from the blast?"

(gm) "Um.. sure."

(player) "ok.. fire in the hole!"

(gm) "BOOM... the fireball goes off in the other corner of the room, creating a blast pattern that engulfs the enemies. Any blast that would have hit the barbarian is absorbed by a flipped-over table."

Basically, what I'm saying is... as a former GM.. I would prefer to role-play a solution instead of rules-lawyering it.

Often we get questions on here about situations AFTER they happened in someone's session, and a player is trying to post-mortem rules-lawyer the situation to rub their GM's nose in it.

Even though you found rules to support your argument, I would say it's a moot point if the situation already happened and the GM already made a ruling during play, even if it was a ruling you didn't like.

The whole point of role-playing is to abstract reality in order to provide more ways to interpret situations with role-playing. WotC have gone a bit over-board with creating more and more rules for every situation under the sun, and thus it's gotten more and more players lately turning into rules-lawyers and tactical micro-managers. If that's what you group and GM like, then go for it. But, you can find tons of cases like this (two conflicting rules) in the rules lately, and all it does is cause confusion and debate.

That's why I always focused on RP solutions first, and rule solutions second.

May not be the answer you want, but it's just I'm noticing a LOT of very detailed, minutiae-related questions on the stack exchange RPG posts lately, trying to dissect rules and find some way to min/max something or justify something. All of which seem like things that RPing could solve if folks would RP it first instead of rules-ing it first.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My problem with this argument, is that spells should "do what they say they do (and only what they say they do)". It would be pretty infuriating as a caster if my fly spell could be nullified because my target had clipped wings, which should be irrelevant to what the spell says it does. When a rule clashes with a spell effect, unless it explicitly counters spells, the spell should take priority. \$\endgroup\$ – Tezra Nov 6 '18 at 21:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Tezra: In this case, this argument is actually pretty good. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Nov 6 '18 at 21:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure that there isn't any roleplaying going on in that example. That's just asking the GM to allow a table to block Fireball, which it doesn't by the book, since it goes around corners and fills the space it affects. \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Nov 6 '18 at 22:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ > (Paraphrased) "If your wizard knew the paralyzed barbarian was in the room, why did the wizard cast the fireball spell?" Because if Sculpt Spell (as the wording implies) allows you to shape the spell so the barbarian is unaffected, then the wizard can freely cast fireball into the room to take out enemies. Your answer of houseruling a roleplay solution is meaningless since it does not mention what Sculpt Spell allows you to do. Even if you consider it a purely roleplay-based effect and not a DEX save, a wizard with Sculpt Spell should have a different status quo than one who does not. \$\endgroup\$ – Nox Nov 7 '18 at 14:52

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