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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 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 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Is it different enough for a new question? My read suggests that the questions are "is there a mechanical distinction?" and "what is that distinction?". I'm still trying to get a good feel for best practices on the stack. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Nov 11 at 22:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case We are not supposed to signal edits, and if we edit the question to address an answer, that's a party foul. ;) This isn't a forum. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 12 at 2:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Of course, and thank you for the clarification. My thought was just that the questions seemed similar enough to entirely overlap, but I won't push in any direction. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Nov 12 at 2:42
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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\$ Just so you know, the OP has edited their question and your answer may need some revisions now \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Nov 11 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 I have asked the op to create a second related question. this answer handles the first point well enough. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 11 at 21:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe one of the reasons it says "your speed becomes 0" is because you could otherwise use your free action for a five foot step, which has one requirement: you must have a non-zero move speed. \$\endgroup\$ – khaoliang Nov 12 at 10:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @khaoliang 5-foot steps aren't a thing in D&D 5e. \$\endgroup\$ – BBeast Nov 12 at 11:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd add to this looking at the spell Freedom of Movement. Specifically this question addresses a pertinent interaction: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/111939/… \$\endgroup\$ – wakkowarner321 Nov 13 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 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 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\$ – jgn Nov 12 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 - Reinstate Monica Nov 12 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 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 at 10:54

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