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I was wondering where on "the stack" I can cast Absorb Elements. Is it when I get targeted, when I get hit, after I fail a save, or after the damage is rolled?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Check out "Does absorb elements give you resistance to damage from the triggering attack?" \$\endgroup\$ – JRodge01 Dec 3 '19 at 17:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ D&D doesn't have a stack, and you may be making incorrect assumptions about how its mechanics work. Are you asking what information you have when choosing to cast Absorb Elements? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Dec 3 '19 at 18:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Just because the game doesn't explicitly state it doesn't mean it doesn't have a "stack". Example : The priest cast a spell, in reaction an enemy spellcaster cast counterspell, in reaction the fighter with the "Mage Slayer" feat attack the enemy. Those actions resolve from the last to the first, which is exactly what a stack is. \$\endgroup\$ – Nahyn - support Monica Cellio Dec 4 '19 at 8:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nahyn In most cases, reactions wait for the triggering event to finish. (The opportunity attack from Mage Slayer is one of those cases.) Counterspell is an exception, because it has to be. So is Absorb Elements. Really, any rigid mechanistic idea of "timing rules" is a problem, because this is a roleplaying game and it needs to accommodate players doing a thousand things that aren't in the rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Dec 4 '19 at 14:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @markwells the irony was lost, it seems. OP even used quotes. The fact that both games are made by the same company shows in some 5e mechanics. And yes, 5e has a stack the same way MTG had a stack even before it was called as such in the rules. Back in the 90's. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Dec 4 '19 at 14:24
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When you take damage.

The casting time of absorb elements (Elemental Evil, 150) is with my emphasis:

Casting Time: 1 reaction, which you take when you take acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage

This means that the trigger is when you take damage, and that is when you can cast the absorb elements. Not before, not later.

Being targetted, making a saving throw, rolling damage, etc. are not the trigger, so absorb elements has no "before" or "after" relation with those things. For example, you could take damage with none of those things occuring and you would still be able to cast absorb elements[1][2]. Conversely, even if all those things do happen, if in the end you take no damage then you can't cast absorb elements[3].


  1. You walk into a natural occuring fire. You weren't targetted, but you take fire damage so you can cast absorb elements.
  2. You suffer the secondary effect of green-flame blade (the caster's level is less than 5). You didn't make a save, and no damage was rolled, but you take fire damage so you can cast absorb elements.
  3. You were targetted by fireball, you made the save, and fire damage was rolled, but you are immune to fire damage so you take no damage and therefore can't cast absorb elements.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Effects are often worded like "takes 8d6 damage", which makes it seem like one event, which includes rolling the dice to get a number. What makes you say that rolling the damage is not part of taking it and is instead a separate happening? \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Dec 3 '19 at 21:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega as seen in example #2 you can take damage with no damage being rolled. Other example are: a torch which deals 1 fire damage if used to attack; the DM's option to take the average damage of monsters instead of rolling. There's more examples of flat damage out there, I bet. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Dec 3 '19 at 22:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega rolling for damage does not mean you necessarily take damage (example 3). Taking damage does not mean there necessarily was a damage roll (example 2). Rolling damage and taking damage are usually correlated but one is not part of the other. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Dec 4 '19 at 1:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Again, the fact that two thing can occur separately does not mean that when they occur together they are still separate things. And in both of those examples both determination and taking of damage occur. re:1 in that case you take 0 damage, which then translates to no damage; re:2 as I said, rolling is not crucial, damage is still determined somehow \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Dec 4 '19 at 9:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega What I'm trying to get at in my answer is that rolling damage (or making a save, or being targetted) is not an equivalent trigger to taking damage, because they can occur separately. I'm not trying to prove or disprove that rolling and taking damage are one thing if they occur together. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Dec 4 '19 at 10:42
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After the damage is rolled

As described on Absorb Elements'(Elemental Evil, 150) Casting time:

Casting Time: 1 reaction, which you take when you take acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage

When you suffer the damage, you use your reaction to cast the spell.

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When damage is applied to the character (i.e. After everything else was resolved).

Absorb Elements 1st-level abjuration

Casting Time: 1 reaction, which you take when you take acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage

The decision to use the spell also happens at that moment. In the case of a spell attack that deals compatible-typed damage, you'd wait until the damage is rolled, saves, resistances, vulnerabilities, etc... were applied and computed to cast the spell.

After all that was calculated and the amount of damage is known and about to be applied to the caster's HP is when the decision to use the spell and cast it happens.

Declaring one will use the spell before knowing the amount of damage is not necessary (even though it might speed up things). Since 5e combat is a resource grind, both spell slots and HP are resources. Maybe it is better to take a low-damage hit than to spend a 1st level slot.

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Absorb Elements (Elemental Evil, 150) says with my emphasis:

Absorb Elements 1st-level abjuration

Casting Time: 1 reaction, which you take when you take acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage

Based on the casting time it is a reaction to taking the damage, so I would rule that you cast it as soon as you know you will take damage which is usually after the hit.

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