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When using the "Fear" extra effect of the hallow spell, the spell says that affected creatures are frightened whilst in the spell's area.

With regards to the frightened condition: is the source of fear the point at which hallow was cast, or the whole area?

This matters for how it interacts with both parts of the frightened condition:

  1. If the source of fear is the point at which the spell is cast, then affected creatures can move away from it and there might be ways to break line of sight within the hallowed area itself.
  2. If the source of the fear is the whole area, being inside the area means that the source of fear is in all directions from the affected creature. This would mean that the creature could not willingly move in any direction, as all directions would be closer to the source of fear.

    Alternatively, you could interpret it as you are always at the source of fear so you could freely move, as moving in any direction could not put you closer to the source of fear than you already are.

    In addition to the movement restriction/non-restriction (depending on your interpretation), the whole area being the source of fear would mean that you are always subject to the effect of being in line of sight of your source of fear whilst in the area.

What is the correct interpretation?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Edit was for format. Nice question, and Welcome to RPGSE. :) The tour and the help center are available as guides for how to get the most out of an SE Q&A site. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 4, 2019 at 16:16

5 Answers 5

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RAW: Unclear

As written, the Hallow spell does not specify any of this, as you noted. I can't find any mention of Hallow in the Sage Advice Compendium or the PHB Errata, and I couldn't find any unofficial tweets by Jeremy Crawford referencing this use of Hallow either, so we have little to go on as for the designer intent.

Recommended: Both

If the Frightened condition inflicted by the area is supposed to have any effect, then it doesn't really do us any good to only look at either the area or the point of origin - as you note, both lead to some absurd results that kind of defeat the point of using the option in the first place.

I'd recommend treating the "source" of the fear as the entire area for the purposes of determining if you can "see" it, and as the origin of the area for the purposes of moving closer to it. That might feel slightly inconsistent, but it leads to much more sensible results - you can move out of the area if you're in it, but not closer into it. You're also continuously affected by the disadvantage imposed by the frightened condition as long as you're in the area.

I can't prove that this is the design intent; it is merely how I'd expect an effect like this to work.

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The source of the fear is the whole area in which the spell was cast.

I know Cubic already pointed out that RAW is unclear, but I'm going to attempt to explain why this is the most logical interpretation.

First of all, this is working from the assumption that a source is "whatever causes a given effect to manifest". Since the trigger for all of the effects is being in the area this must also be the source of the effect. The point at which the spell was cast was simply to determine the centre of the circle the spell affects, but the area itself is what causes the creature within it to become frightened.

So to address point 2, since that is what I'm asserting the source to be:

You're right that being inside the area means that every direction leads towards the source, but keep in mind that creatures rarely move arbitrarily; they are generally moving towards a destination (be that an enemy to attack, a vantage point to scout, or down an escape route as they flee). Rather than saying this creature can't move because it's surrounded by the source of its fear I think it's more accurate to say this creature will head towards the closest destination point outside the spell's area. This means that when it moves, it's still moving away from the source of its fear, even if it doesn't have enough movement to leave the area yet.

Functionally, this results in pretty much identical behaviour to Cubic's recommendation, since the closest exit from the part of the area the creature is in will always end up being the direction leading away from the centre (this also covers an edge case with using the origin as the source meaning the creature would stop moving if the other directions are blocked somehow; considering destinations rather than individual moves means they could move towards the origin if it's the only way to go to get out of the area due to walls, people blocking the way etc)

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    \$\begingroup\$ "this creature will head towards the closest destination point outside the spell's area" The reason I don't like this interpretation is because this is not what the Frightened condition says - it doesn't force you to move anywhere, it just prevents motion in certain directions, specifically "The creature can’t willingly move closer to the source of its fear", if the entire area is equally the source then you're either always or never moving closer to the source as the original question pointed out. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cubic
    Sep 5, 2019 at 9:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I should have specified that this only applies if the creature moves; it could also just not move. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2019 at 9:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cubic If the entire area is the source of the fear, and you're inside the area, you're right on top of the source of your fear (i.e. distance to source = 0). Moving within the area wouldn't be moving any closer, because you can't get any closer than zero, but you also wouldn't be moving away until you leave the area. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2019 at 10:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnClifford To figure out whether they're moving closer, you need to work out both. They are moving closer to the source if distance between source and intended destination is less than distance between source and current location. However, if the entire area is the source, distance between source and intended destination (when within the area) is zero and distance between source and current location is zero; zero is not less than zero, so they aren't moving closer. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2019 at 10:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnClifford From my perspective, no point within the area is any closer to the source of their fear than any other point, so they would have free movement. That is probably not the intended result of the spell, because it seems like it would make the frightened effect weaker, but it's the only explanation that makes sense to me with the way the rules are written. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2019 at 10:58
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Frightened of the area

From the spell description, the targets should be frightened by the area since this effect is bound to it and not to its origin :

Second, you can bind an extra effect to the area.

What does it implies

If the entire area effectively frightening the targets, it implies that :

  • While the target is in the area (per the spell), and the area is within line of sight (per the condition), they have disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls.

    • As John Clifford said in a comment, closing your eyes/being blind doesn't change line of sight since its defined as :

to precisely determine... line of sight..., pick a corner of one space and trace an imaginary line from that corner to any part of another space. If at least one such line doesn't pass through or touch an object or effect that blocks vision... then there is line of sight.

  • The creature can't willingly move closer to the area. Luckily for them, they can't be any closer : since they are inside the space of the area, the distance between the target and the area (not its source) is effectively 0. Moving in the area doesn't make the target move closer than 0ft away so they should be able to do it.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ @JohnClifford Oops, corrected. I'm not really surprised though : it didn't worked either against the monster under my bed. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2019 at 12:07
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You assume the victims are afraid of some source, but nothing in the spell says that. It simply makes the victims afraid. Since they feeling goes away when they leave the area, however, this is effectively the same as being afraid of the area and everything within.

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The area is the source of the fear.

From the spell description:

Second, you can bind an extra effect to the area. Choose the effect from the following list, or choose an effect offered by the DM. Some of these effects apply to creatures in the area...

Emphasis mine. This clearly states that the whole area is the source of the effect chosen, not its point of origin.

The effect of the Fear option therefore does not restrict the movement of an affected creature.

The frightened condition prevents a creature from moving closer to the source of the condition. However, when the creature is inside the area—which is the only time it is affected—the source is 0 ft away from it. Therefore, an affected creature can move freely.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ (1/2) Good job showing that the entire area is the source of the fear - but it doesn't seem like the intent for it to have no affect on movement once inside. Rather, if the point of hallow is to protect it, the fear effect should prevent one from moving toward it (if outside) or deeper within it (if inside). \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Sep 8, 2021 at 20:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ (2/2) If you were programming this, for example, you might measure the distance from the affected creature's square to every other square in the area of effect, and then take the sum of all of those distances. Movement would be prohibited if the sum of all the distances would decrease, but permitted if the sum of all the distances increased - that is, if in a net sense you were moving farther away from the area. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Sep 8, 2021 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ (1/2) While I think that would be an interesting way of conceiving a distance which permits a notion of getting 'closer' to something which you are inside, I don't think that it's appropriate to apply it to this situation discussing D&D 5e game rules (which, I'm fairly sure, doesn't have any kind of system in it). \$\endgroup\$
    – Fie
    Sep 8, 2021 at 22:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ (2/2) Regarding your first point, I believe that other parts of the spell are intended to do the 'protecting' in the sense of keeping creatures out (in particular, the primary effect of the spell): other negative effects (such as the Energy Vulnerability effect) also have no effect on physically prevening creatures from entering (nor moving further into) the area. Note that the frightened condition has other effects which would be beneficial to keeping affected creatures at bay—again, similarly to the Energy Vulnerability effect. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fie
    Sep 8, 2021 at 22:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ (3/2) Note that this is not a question on intent, but effect: while I also believe that the intent is not to have this particular instance of the frightened condition restrict movement, the question asks what the correct interpretation is (as opposed to the intended interpretation), and so that's what I'm trying to answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fie
    Sep 8, 2021 at 22:36

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