When a creature is paralyzed, is it rigid (akin to frozen or petrified but not stone) or limp like a rag doll? Specifically, what happens to what they are holding? Do they have it in a death grip or does it fall from their saggy hands?

The picture in the book doesn't clarify. Looks like he has armor/greaves like a warrior but empty hands, suggesting limp, but his arms are up, suggesting rigid. The pose looks like he was either doing the karate kid crane or a dance dance revolution move.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi rypdnd, welcome to rpg.se! Take the tour and visit the help center for more information. This is a great first question. Thanks for contributing, good luck and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 6:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ It would probably be useful to talk about the word 'paralyze' and what it means. We're used to a paralyzed human being unable to move because their body is unable to send signals to their muscles. A paralyzed person's arms and legs are soft and limp. D&D's paralysis is more akin to a continuous shock with electricity. The end result is the same - the affected creature is unable to move. However, the biological mechanism of impairment is different. In this case, the muscles themselves are unable to move (including relax from their tensed states) and thus the character is rigid like a statue. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian R
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 15:31

5 Answers 5


They are as rigid as when paralysis began

Loss of muscle tone, "going limp", would result in the creature collapsing and being prone. That is only specified in the unconscious condition. That collapse and prone effect is not stated for the paralyzed condition.

Paralyzed means unable to move. Moving would require changing the relaxation or contraction of muscles. Since the creature cannot move in this way, they are as rigid as when the paralyzed condition began. A relaxed arm remains relaxed and unable to be raised. A tensed arm or hand remains as it was unable to relax.


A paralyzed creature can't move, speak, or take actions; besides that, ask your GM

The appendix on "Conditions" describes the paralyzed condition as follows:

  • A paralyzed creature is incapacitated (see the condition) and can't move or speak
  • The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature

The incapacitated condition states:

  • An incapacitated creature can't take actions or reactions.

So the creature can't take actions, bonus actions, or reactions, and they cannot move nor speak. We also know that they do not drop what they are holding and they do not fall prone; neither condition says that these happen, unlike the unconscious condition which explicitly states:

[...] The creature drops whatever it's holding and falls prone

However, that is all we know in terms of describing paralysis. How the paralysis actually presents itself is up to the GM, any additional effects would be up to the GM as well. Perhaps they are solid as a rock, perhaps they simply have no control over themself, perhaps they rag-doll away, perhaps they stay exactly as they were prior to paralysis; all we have are those few game-effects. How paralysis is interpreted outside of the facts above is up to the GM.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The illustration in the MM actually shows the ghoul dragging a rigid body, though illustrations are not "canon". \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 12:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like your title doesn't really match the information you list : the comparison with the Unconscious condition seems clear that the Paralyzed condition doesn't make the target fall prone and drop their items. I don't think the way the target is paralyze is relevant as we only talk about the Paralyzed condition : its effects are clearly established, any additional effect should be the result of the harmful action provoking the paralysis and not the paralysis itself (ie. an attack could make the target fall prone and be paralyzed). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 15:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NahynOklauq The physical effects of paralysis (rigid vs limp) outside of those listed in the condition itself are up to a GM, this is my point. I've edited it down to remove the stuff about rigidity and focused on it being the GM's decision \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 15:42


It makes you remain in whatever position you were in when the condition was inflicted.

Characters will only have a death grip if they had one before, otherwise they will have a perfectly normal grip, just no self control in how to alter it. Going limp also implies a muscular change, which is specifically what paralysis doesn't do.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Technically, going limp implies a neurological change, not a muscular one. But that's a fine distinction, the effect is the same. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – JohnP
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 14:04


Consider the Hold Person spell:

Choose a humanoid that you can see within range. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be paralyzed for the duration. At the end of each of its turns, the target can make another Wisdom saving throw. On a success, the spell ends on the target.

Then consider this part of the Sleep spell:

Starting with the creature that has the lowest current hit points, each creature affected by this spell falls unconscious until the spell ends, the sleeper takes damage, or someone uses an action to shake or slap the sleeper awake.

Now consider the condition each spell applies.

The Hold Person spell applies the paralyzed condition:

  • A paralyzed creature is incapacitated (see the condition) and can’t move or speak.
  • The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.
  • Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.

The Sleep spell applies the unconscious condition:

  • An unconscious creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can’t move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings.
  • The creature drops whatever it’s holding and falls prone.
  • The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.
  • Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.

Both conditions include the incapacitated condition, but only unconscious makes you drop to the ground and let go of whatever you were holding. Therefore, paralysis makes you go rigid, not limp.



Just to add to the discussion: for the same reasons as others give (the conditions applied and the fact that paralyzed does not cause you to go prone or drop items), the general disposition of a paralyzed creature is rigid.

However, it is a soft kind of rigid, similar to time-stopped bodies in a sci-fi show (think Hiro in Heroes or Quicksilver in X-Men) in that they do not fall over from loss of balance, and can be posed as readily as a Ken/Barbie doll (or, rather, some more thoroughly articulated doll).

However, unlike the time stopped examples, they are still aware of their surroundings (in real time). It is up to the DM as to whether they can move their eyes, but since they have no loss of awareness (including 360 degree visibility) it can probably be assumed that they can.

As others have explained it, they have simply lost control of their muscles - tensed muscles remain tensed, relaxed muscles remain relaxed, and the autonomous functions (heart, respiration, and balance) remain active, but conscious control of the muscles is lost. Since they automatically fail strength saves, posing them is not significantly hindered by the tensed/relaxed muscles (i.e. thy will change state easily due to outside influence).

I hope that this provides a better explanation of how a paralyzed creature can interact with (and be interacted with) by others/the environment.

  • \$\begingroup\$ How could they still move their eyes if they lost control of their muscles? Beside that, good point by arguing that they are still aware of their surroundings. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zoma
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 12:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zoma Yeah, that's why I mentioned it was a DM call. Argument for not being able to move their eyes - they have lost all muscle control. Argument aganst - the condition description doesn't state they lose the standard 360 degree awareness (or indeed, suffer any penalty to perception). In many stories/movies/shows where a character is paralyzed by magic (or "science"), they still retain the ability to move their eyes. It's a trope, and some tables might prefer it for dramatic reasons even if it makes little logical sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – cpcodes
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 16:38

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