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While reading through the conditions described in Appendix A of the 5e PHB, I realised, that some of them say a creature "can't move" (e.g. Stunned, Unconscious), while others state that its "speed becomes 0" (e.g. Grappled, Restrained).

Can anyone explain to me the mechanical distinction between these two phrases?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It may help to provide examples (quotes) of features that do the various things you've mentioned \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Nov 11 '19 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please consider taking your "EDIT" and the follow up question and make that a separate (related) question to this one. (then link it to this question). It's fine, and even preferred, to break down questions into one topic at a time, and links to related questions are helpful to all future readers. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 11 '19 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please don't edit your question in a way that invalidates existing answers. If you find that your initial question doesn't quite address your confusion, you're welcome to ask a new one. Related metas: When a Question Changes Completely, Should it be a New Question?, What kind of edits are acceptable to a question after an answer has been posted? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 12 '19 at 7:35
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Under some conditions, a speed that has "become zero" can be increased magically, as discussed in this question.

If you "can't move", then changes to your base speed have no effect.

Also, "can't move" does not imply "can't take an action". This is indicated by the fact that all conditions that use the phrase "can't move" include the condition Incapacitated in their description, which specifically prohibits actions and reactions.

The spell Magic Jar (PHB p.257) gives an example of a case where you can't move, but you can take an action:

You can't move or use reactions. The only action you can take is to project your soul up to 100 feet out of the container, either returning to your living body (and ending the spell) or attempting to possess a humanoids body.

On the follow up:

Is there a difference...?

Technically? Yes, I believe so. Mechanically? Not as far as I can tell.

From both a linguistics and RAW perspective, "can't move" sounds like "cannot take the move portion of their turn", as in the PHB p. 189:

On your turn, you can move a distance up to your speed and take one action.

While "speed becomes 0, and it can't benefit from any bonus to its speed." sounds like you can use your move, but you can only go zero feet and nothing can increase that distance.

The only case I can imagine where these would not yield the same in-game results is if there were a way to use your move to cause an effect while still spending no more than zero feet of your movement. I have yet to find such a case. There are spells that spend feet of movement like currency, such as Tree Stride (PHB p.283), but I have found no instances where one can cause an effect using 0 feet of movement.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In the case of "Can't move", would you be able to still use your move action to say remove an item from your bag, or other action that could use your move action but not displace the character? I would think you would be able to for "Movement speed becomes 0" but not sure on the other one. \$\endgroup\$ – KGlasier Nov 12 '19 at 16:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Things that use fractions of movement will work fine with 0 speed, but they all currently forbid that case, as far as I can tell. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Nov 12 '19 at 23:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ "The only case I can imagine where these would not yield the same in-game results is if there were a way to use your move to cause an effect while still spending no more than zero feet of your movement. I have yet to find such a case." The first thing that comes to mind is the free object interraction, which iirc is not "independent" but needs to be done as part of something else, like movement. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Nov 13 '19 at 1:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Also, "can't move" does not imply "can't take an action"" Eh, in the cases of OP (stunned, paralyzed), it does mean that. I would interpret "can't move" in these cases as literally "can't move". You can't attack, you can't twist, you can't break free, you can't do anything. A "speed of 0" simply just means you can't leave your space but can still move around. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Nov 13 '19 at 17:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd add to this looking at the spell Freedom of Movement. Specifically this question addresses a pertinent interaction: Freedom of Movement and Power Word Stun \$\endgroup\$ – wakkowarner321 Nov 13 '19 at 17:56
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They aren't different in the sense of "tactical movement", but they're very different concepts from the narrative perspective.

If your speed is reduced to zero, you can't move around (i.e. change which square you're standing in), but you can still move your body around, like waving your arms or looking around.

If you can't move, you literally can't move; you've been frozen in place or gone limp. Your arms and legs aren't responding, you can't turn your head, nothing is working.

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Those terms are descriptive, and do not explain where the mechanical difference between them lies. Inclusion of either phrase is not "the reason" the effects they describe exist.

When looked at overall, I think the distinction becomes pretty clear. In the entire Appendix A of the 5e PHB, there are exactly four occurrences of the phrase can't move:

  • A description of the Paralyzed condition
  • A description of the Petrified condition
  • A description of the Stunned condition
  • A description of the Unconscious condition

In each of these conditions there is additional description indicating that, along with any of those conditions, a creature is also Incapacitated:

Incapacitated:


An incapacitated creature can't take actions or reactions.

So it's true that the character not only cannot traverse any squares' worth of distance (Movement, with a capital "M") but also can't shift their position in any way at all (that's the reason for automatically failing Strength and Dexterity saving throws, and why attack rolls against them always have Advantage). Characters with any of these conditions cannot take any actions or reactions, at all, because they are also incapacitated.

The incapacitated condition is only referenced seven times in Appendix A: twice in describing incapacitated itself (the section heading and its description), once when describing one way that the grappled condition may be ended, and then once each in the descriptions of the four conditions in which the phrase can't move is used.


In the same appendix, there are two instances of the phrase speed becomes 0:

  • A description of the Grappled condition
  • A description of the Restrained condition

These conditions indicate a situation in which a character cannot traverse any squares' worth of movement but can still move enough to potentially take Actions (like attempting to break a grapple, or wiggle out of ropes tied to restrain the character). Characters with these conditions can take actions, but cannot move more than 0 feet.


If you are chained to a dungeon wall, or someone strong is holding you down, it is those specific obstacles which stop you from moving into another square. It doesn't matter if you are wearing (or put on) Boots of Striding and Springing, because the extra movement speed it offers doesn't deal with the obstacles at all. That's why your speed becomes 0 and cannot be increased.

If you are paralyzed, petrified, stunned, or unconscious, you are necessarily also incapacitated, which precludes any Action of any type (indeed, the book is even more expansive in using the lowercase a for action).

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I think 'can't move' means you literally can't physically move at all, so you can't struggle or attack.

Whereas 'speed becomes zero' means you can't Move in the technical sense, but you can still attack, attempt to break free etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The obvious argument to this is what is the difference between what you propose and the paralysis condition? \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Nov 11 '19 at 18:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth Can you explain what you mean? Paralyzed says you can't move, which is just what BestGuess has described here; you can't even twitch. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Nov 11 '19 at 20:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym Yes, why is why Slagmoth is asking how that is different to Paralyzed. It isn't different, so why not just use that language? \$\endgroup\$ – gszavae Nov 12 '19 at 3:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth Under this interpretation, "Paralyzed" is a game term, whereas "can't move" is English. \$\endgroup\$ – Nacht Nov 12 '19 at 5:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jgn Using the term paralyzed would be a bit circular -- "Paralyzed: You are paralyzed" isn't a useful piece of rules text. But more to the point, the Paralyzed condition has implications that you don't want to attach to all "cannot move" conditions. Comparing Paralyzed with Petrified, for example, the former has an auto-critical effect that the latter lacks. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Nov 12 '19 at 14:36
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A speed of 0 means that you can't make use of your movement abilities eg. walking, flying, climbing, burrowing. The move action lets you move a distance up to your speed. You can use the dash action to increase the distance you can move via your speed. Having a speed of 0 doesn't mean you can't move at all though, you just can't do it via a move action. You can use methods such as spells like dimension door or misty step. If you can't move however, then you can't move under your own power no matter what method you might try. This also includes not being able to talk, attack, use items etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that 5e doesn't use the phrase "move action"; it uses the term "movement" to describe a thing you can normally do on your turn, not requiring any actions. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 12 '19 at 10:54

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