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The Artificer from Eberron: Rising from the Last War gets the Flash of Genius feature at 7th level:

When you or another creature you can see within 30 feet of you makes an ability check or a saving throw, you can use your reaction to add your Intelligence modifier to the roll.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Would you activate this ability after the creature has made the ability check or saving throw but before the results are known, or would you be able to activate it after the result has been decided?

Many other features such as the Lore bard's Cutting Words, the Battle Master fighter's Precision Attack maneuver, the Wild Magic sorcerer's Bend Luck, and the Divine Soul sorcerer's Favored by the Gods specify when their modifier can be applied, but the artificer's Flash of Genius does not.

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First, as you have noted, it's unclear. That means it's DM's call.

There are a large number of points in the rules of 5e that are not entirely clear. It is explicitly intended that the DM adjudicate those things at their table. It's just one of the features of the game system - they're actively encouraging table adjudications and houserules.

That having been said...

This is in a published book. We can make a reasonable assumption that the wording is as intended... and the wording doesn't say. If we look at the rules for Bardic Inspiration, we see the following:

Once within the next 10 minutes, the creature can roll the die and add the number rolled to one ability check, Attack roll, or saving throw it makes. The creature can wait until after it rolls The D20 before deciding to use the Bardic Inspiration die, but must decide before the DM says whether the roll succeeds or fails. Once the Bardic Inspiration die is rolled, it is lost. A creature can have only one Bardic Inspiration die at a time.

The wording here states outright that in this particular case, the player must decide before the DM says whether the roll succeeds or fails. By implication, then, that's not inherent in the fact that it's giving a bonus to the roll. As such, it should be possible to give a bonus to a roll after success or failure has been determined (and, indeed, the favored soul does it) and Flash of Genius leaves activation in the hands of the player. Thus, it would make sense that the player could wait until after success or failure had been declared before deciding whether or not to use Flash of Genius.

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Another important aspect of the ability is that it requires you to use your reaction. Reactions have their own specific rules on timing.

Typical combatants rely on the opportunity attack and the Ready action for most of their reactions in a fight. Various spells and features give a creature more reaction options, and sometimes the timing of a reaction can be difficult to adjudicate. Use this rule of thumb: follow whatever timing is specified in the reaction’s description. For example, the opportunity attack and the shield spell are clear about the fact that they can interrupt their triggers. If a reaction has no timing specified, or the timing is unclear, the reaction occurs after its trigger finishes, as in the Ready action.

As for the ability itself, it specifies:

When you or another creature you can see within 30 feet of you makes an ability check or a saving throw, you can use your reaction to add your Intelligence modifier to the roll.

Note the wording. "Makes an ability check" not, "about to make an ability check" or such. So you use your reaction after the result. Also since the timing isn't as clearly specified as say bardic inspiration. Then you would fall back to the "timing is unclear" and it would occur after the trigger finishes.

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The system nominally handles abilities like this by giving the player the option add the bonus modifier to their roll while calculating their result. (After they roll their D20) This modifier is added BEFORE the DM announces the result of the roll being a failure or success. The alternative option is to use your reaction to use Flash of Genius and add it to the final calculation of his D20 roll before he rolls the dice.

To support this I'd reference Bardic Inspiration which states:

Once within the next 10 minutes, the creature can roll the die and add the number rolled to one ability check, Attack roll, or saving throw it makes. The creature can wait until after it rolls The D20 before deciding to use the Bardic Inspiration die, but must decide before the DM says whether the roll succeeds or fails. Once the Bardic Inspiration die is rolled, it is lost. A creature can have only one Bardic Inspiration die at a time.

This gives the player the option of rolling the Inspiration die after they make their D20 roll or before they make it. But is done before the DM has announced the outcome of the player's ability check/saving throw.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, the system normally does this, but the system also normally specifies. In this particular case, it does not specify, and so it is not immediately clear. That's the core of the question, really. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Nov 26 '19 at 15:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden Due to the rules for reactions, the other roll must have already been made before you can react to it. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon May 5 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RevenantBacon but there's no indicator whether or not it may be chosen after the DM has declared success or failure. That was the part I was objecting to. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden May 7 at 18:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden In that case, it would be players choice. All you need to do is remember the oft-use maxim of 5e design "there are no hidden rules". If the ability required you to choose before the results were determined, like other similar abilities such as Bardic Inspiration do, then it would say so. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon May 7 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RevenantBacon well, yes. That was, in fact much of my point here. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden May 7 at 22:14

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