20
\$\begingroup\$

The Feign Death spell begins with this line:

You touch a willing creature and put it into a cataleptic state that is indistinguishable from death.

I read this as flavor, since ‘cataleptic state’ isn’t defined by the game. It is still a very evocative description of the spell effects. Here’s a definition of a catalepsy pulled from Merriam-Webster:

Medical Definition of catalepsy. : a trancelike state of consciousness (as that occurring in catatonic schizophrenia) that is marked by a loss of voluntary motion and a fixed posture in which the limbs remain in whatever position they are place

Feign Death goes on to explicitly describe the effects of the spell in DND terms:

The target is blinded and incapacitated, and its speed drops to 0.

Emphasis is mine

Importantly, none of these conditions or effects prevents a creature from talking, moving their limbs, thinking, hearing, smelling, making saving throws as normal, or making ability checks as normal.

As Jeremy Crawford has said, being incapacitated doesn’t immobilize you. Typically, ‘incapacitated’ is wrapped up inside more specific conditions or effects that describe movement. For example, the paralyzed condition incapacitates a creature and also prevents movement/speech:

A paralyzed creature is incapacitated (see the condition) and can’t move or speak.

It seems to me that the RAW version of Feign Death and its “cataleptic state” would allow a creature to spend an hour flailing its arms around, singing 99 bottles of beer on the wall, and making DEX saves against the odd fireball. Maybe this is RAI, too, since the spell only works on a willing creature, who would presumably lay still and play dead. Unless they’re in it to delay a disease, or rolling around to shield themselves from a fireball.

Is this absurd? Am I understanding the spell correctly?

EDIT: For those answers hinging on “indistinguishable from death”

Here is how that sentence reads, along with the immediately following one:

You touch a willing creature and put it into a cataleptic state that is indistinguishable from death.
For the spell's duration, or until you use an action to touch the target and dismiss the spell, the target appears dead to all outward inspection and to spells used to determine the target's status.

Clearly the spell states that the effect is “indistinguishable from death” to outsiders. I don’t believe it pertains to the target of the spell. After all, they are only blinded and unable to take actions (incapacitated). They aren’t deaf, unconscious, or paralyzed, or even stunned. All defined conditions. They can presumably distinguish their state from death, and I see no reason that they couldn’t move their limbs RAW.

What about the “cataleptic state.” Here’s where I want to defer to a ruling by Jeremy Crawford about the grease spell. A player asks if the grease from this spell was flammable, and Jeremy rules that if it were flammable, the spell would say it were flammable. I think we know that grease is flammable. Applying his ruling to this case, I’d say if the cataleptic state prevented movement and speech, the spell would say it prevents movement and speech. Or choose a condition that does. It doesn’t matter that “cataleptic state” has this property in our world.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are for suggesting improvements or requesting clarification, not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 25 at 10:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Indistinguishable is not restricted to the “outsider”, the description just says indistinguishable. Meaning indistinguishable by anyone (the target, the caster, the public). It appears the target also is unaware they are alive because their state is indistinguishable from death. Indistinguishable by anyone. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Oct 25 at 15:36
21
\$\begingroup\$

The spell says, among other things:

You touch a willing creature and put it into a cataleptic state that is indistinguishable from death.

For the spell’s duration, or until you use an action to touch the target and dismiss the spell, the target appears dead to all outward inspection and to spells used to determine the target’s status. The target is blinded and incapacitated, and its speed drops to 0.

There are a few relevant effects here.

1 - The creature is put into a cataleptic state.

A cataleptic state is, according to Merrian-Webster, "a trancelike state marked by loss of voluntary motion in which the limbs remain in whatever position they are placed".

This isn't optional or fluff - this is an actuall effect of the spell. Once you're affected by Feign Death, you lose voluntary motion. You're a ragdoll, not much else.

2 - Said state is "indistinguishable from death".

The state of loss of movement cited above is a bit special - not only the affected creature loses all voluntary movement but also becomes so still it is indistinguishable from death. Couples with the next item...

3 - The target appears dead to all outward inspection and to spells used to determine the target’s status

This makes so that inspection to check the actual state of the creature fails. One won't be able to detect its breathing, its vital signals, read its mind, and so on. Any attempt to determine if a creature is alive should give the answer that it is actually dead.

4 - The target is blinded, incapacitated, and its speed drops to 0.

Those are straightforward. The target can't take actions or reactions, can't see, and isn't able to move.

None of these effects are optional. All of them apply at the same time.

A creature under effect of Feign Death can't move from its square (since speed 0), can't speak, move, or move their limbs (since catalepetic state removing voluntary control), can't be detected as alive via spells or outward inspection (since the effect says so), is blind and can't take actions or reactions.

That said, the creature can still roll all of their checks (as nothing in those effects say they can't). This is very weird from a rules-as-intended standpoint, but on RAW that's what happens.

You certainly won't be able to speak or move, however. That is pretty clear from the first clause (cataleptic state), and as it is a described effect of the spell, it is non-negotiable.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I find your answer very persuasive, but I wonder what you think of the last paragraph in my question — added in an edit. JC rules on whether grease from the grease spell can be set on fire. He says if it could be, they’d say it. Is that the guiding design principle? In which case, if a cataleptic state means the target can’t move or speak, the spell would say it. WoTC is so explicit about this everywhere else you look. DND has DND rules even if grease burns, and catalepsy makes you rigid in our world. \$\endgroup\$ – Austin Oct 23 at 20:02
  • 13
    \$\begingroup\$ @Austin There is a difference, however. Not every kind of grease is flammable, so a spell having to say if it is in fact flammable or not makes sense. On the other hand, the mere definition of cataleptic states incurs loss of movement, so there is no wiggle room. An extreme example would be a spell that kills a creature - nowehere it says that a "dead" creature can't speak or move, so... \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 20:35
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Zaibis But if being cataleptic, for the purposes of the spell, is indistinguishable from being dead then there is no contention, right? \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Oct 24 at 11:11
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @Zaibis "Cataleptic" is a valid word that has an existing meaning. If you know what "cataleptic" means, then it clearly implies that they can't speak or move. If the spell said that they were made to "talk in limericks", would you require it to then provide a definition of what a limerick is? \$\endgroup\$ – Chronocidal Oct 24 at 11:52
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Austin even if describing the state as cataleptic didn't per say prevent movement, speech, etc. the statement that "the target appears dead to all outward inspection" means that they shouldn't be able to move or speak, because that would make the person appear to be either alive (at first glance) or undead (with further inspection of pulse, breathing, etc). Dead things (distincly different than undead) can't move or speak, so in order for them to appear dead to outside inspection they can't be allowed to do anything a dead person can't do. \$\endgroup\$ – witch'sFISTS Oct 24 at 20:28
27
\$\begingroup\$

Your answer is also contained in your first descriptive sentence.

You touch a willing creature and put it into a cataleptic state that is indistinguishable from death.

(Emphasis mine).

If you are flailing around, singing and making saves, that is very obviously distinguishable from death. So just by that caveat alone it would prevent the activity you describe.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Next line: >For the spell's duration, or until you use an action to touch the target and dismiss the spell, the target appears dead to all outward inspection and to spells used to determine the target's status. Your rational seems plausible but not definitive. “Indistinguishable from death” to whom? Outside observers, ok. Therefore target of the spell cannot do things that the dead cannot do? The target knows they aren’t dead. They’re only blinded. Not unconscious, deaf, or paralyzed. Maybe the willing creature who accepts Feign Death is just assumed to play dead and not spoil things. \$\endgroup\$ – Austin Oct 23 at 17:55
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Austin - While not canon, JC specifically states it puts the target into a cataleptic state, which would take away voluntary motion. sageadvice.eu/2017/06/06/… \$\endgroup\$ – JohnP Oct 23 at 18:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells You’re right, this isn’t clearly answered. If the target believes they are dead, why are they also conscious, hearing, feeling, and thinking? I think what’s left out says a lot here \$\endgroup\$ – Austin Oct 23 at 18:29
16
\$\begingroup\$

Spells do what they say they do, and there is no 'flavor' text

If a word in a rule/spell/whatever isn't specifically defined by the game, it has it's normal English meaning.

You're right that 'cataleptic' is undefined by the game, but it's English meaning is very easily understood, as is 'indistinguishable from death'. You hit the nail on the head with "loss of voluntary motion", so a cataleptic creature would not be able to speak, move, etc. Dex saves are a bit of a grey area since they aren't clearly defined in terms of what movement is needed, but my common sense tells me they would automatically fail.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I like your answer, but I just wonder why the spell description wouldn’t substitute “incapacitated” for “stunned” or “unconscious” if that were the case — two well-defined conditions that incapacitate and also prevent movement/speech \$\endgroup\$ – Austin Oct 23 at 17:32
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ So is Feign Death really an Enchantment spell to bestow idiocy upon all those but the target to charm them into believing you are dead even though you can walk around and/or speak to them? That is a question for your DM :) \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Oct 23 at 17:32
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @Austin Why the DnD5e developers didn't do many things is a question many of us would like answers to. Alas, we are not privy to them, and the most charitable interpretation is: "They didn't think about it much". \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Oct 23 at 17:35
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth This is a good point. Don't forget Feign Death is a necromancy spell - not an enchantment or illusion. It's not making you look dead, or making others think you look dead - its making you as close to dead as you can be without dying - i.e. the cataleptic, indistinguishable from death state. \$\endgroup\$ – G.M.theGM Oct 23 at 18:35
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @GMtheGM The obvious answer to "why sight and not hearing" is that your eyes are closed. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Oct 23 at 20:56
5
\$\begingroup\$

To me, the phrase "indistinguishable from death" is the key to this one. To appear outwardly dead would infer that even involuntary things like heartbeat and breathing have stopped or slowed to such a point that it would be almost impossible to spot. RAW or RAI, it seems unlikely that a creature would lose these telltale signs of life, but then still be allowed to flail about.

Additionally, the fact that the creature becomes blinded seems to make more sense in this context - almost like organ functions are just shut down because of the spell. That does make me wonder why a creature would not also be deafened then...

\$\endgroup\$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.