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At 7th level, rogues gain the Evasion feature:

Beginning at 7th level, you can nimbly dodge out of the way of certain area effects, such as an ancient red dragon’s fiery breath or an ice storm spell. When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.

Monks also gain a feature with the same name, although the wording is slightly different:

At 7th level, your instinctive agility lets you dodge out of the way of certain area effects, such as a blue dragon’s lightning breath or a fireball spell. When you [...remaining text is identical]

The Immolation spell certainly allows a Dexterity save for half damage, but it is not an "area effect":

Flames wreathe one creature you can see within range. The target must make a Dexterity saving throw. It takes 8d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. [...]

Given that Evasion mentions dodging "certain area effects", does that prevent it from working against spells that do not target an area, such as immolation? Or does Evasion apply to all Dexterity saves for half damage?

Other spells that call for a Dex save for half damage without an area effect include enervation and hellish rebuke. Possibly also chain lightning and flaming sphere, though it's less clear for those. In addition, Acid splash and sacred flame, when cast by an evocation wizard with Potent Cantrip, would also satisfy this criterion. Of course, there are likely also some non-spell effects that fall into this category, although those are more difficult to search for.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ When you ask "Given that Evasion mentions dodging 'certain area effects', does that prevent it from working against spells that do not target an area, such as immolation? Or does evasion apply to all Dexterity saves for half damage?" what is the basis for thinking that Evasion works even on anything that isn't an area of effect? I'm not sure which part is unclear to you. \$\endgroup\$ – gszavae Feb 7 at 15:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @pwi Two things. 1. It's not clear from the wording whether "certain area effects" is just an example of what kind of effect a rogue can dodge with evasion. 2. In practice I've never heard anyone mention or acknowledge the restriction to area effects in actual play. I only became aware of it from this answer, which mentions the area effect restriction. (Edit: I have a bit more to say on this. I'll edit the question.) \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Feb 7 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @pwi Well, I was going to say that many traps fall into this category, but actually, it seems that none of the sample traps in the DMG do. They're all either not dex-save-for-half, or they actually do affect an area, so the answer to this question is irrelevant for those. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Feb 7 at 17:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...I just noticed that the monk's Evasion feature mentions fireball, where the rogue's mentions ice storm. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 7 at 19:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast They also mention different dragons' breath. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Feb 7 at 19:14
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Yes

Despite the first sentence in the paragraph mentioning "certain area effects", I believe the second part is more important:

When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.

This does not mention only spells that have a specified area. There is an argument that 5th edition has no 'fluff text' hence the 1st sentence still applies. But it does have the concept that rules should be read as plain English, and I believe this is a case where a plain English word ('area') unfortunately coincides with a rules-term used in spell descriptions.

Another way of looking at this is that all spells that require a Dexterity saving throw have some area, otherwise there would be nothing to attempt to dodge away from (which is exactly what a Dex save represents). It's just that sometimes, for spells such as Sacred Flame or Immolation, that area covers only a single individual creature and hence there is no requirement to have an 'Area' stated in the spell description.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How would you reconcile this with sanctuary using "area effects" in a game-defined sort of way? The spell protects you from "an attack or a harmful spell" but "doesn't protect the warded creature from area effects" Clearly an "area effect" must be something or the spell wouldn't mention it \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Feb 7 at 15:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2: Consider Sacred Flame, which requires a Dex save, but doesn't state an area compared to Fireball which does (with my interpretation that Sacred Flame still has a "single target area"). Casting Sacred Flame at Sanctuary-protected target X: "Ha ha! I can target X with my spe...oh, no I can't unless I make a Wisdom save! (target still required)". Compare: "Ha ha! I can target my fireball that spot 10' to the left of X and still get him!". \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Feb 7 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 Except it doesn't "target" them in the sense of the caster choosing them as targets because what the caster chooses is a point, not a creature. You can't impose a consistent meaning on the word "target" across spell descriptions, because they don't use it consistently. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Feb 7 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PJRZ In that situation I'd rule that fireball requires a Wisdom save also, precisely because it is a Wisdom save--it operates on the level of intent--and the intent is to hit the guy who's under sanctuary, whether you're aiming directly at him or not. That's a play style choice, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Feb 7 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Sanctuary specifically says it doesn't protect against fireball, so forcing a wisdom save would be a house rule and not at all RAW \$\endgroup\$ – Glenn Driver Feb 7 at 19:08
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Evasion requires both area-of-effect and Dexterity-save-for-half

D&D rules are meant to be parsed as plain English - one can write about a "green car" in one sentence, then continue talking about that car in subsequent sentences without the need to repeatedly specify that the car is green. The word "effects" in one sentence is implicitly referring to the same "effects" in the next, there's no need to repeatedly specify "area".

Furthermore, one sentence can be used to narrow a definition from a previous sentence. In this case, the first sentence specifies "certain area effects". The second sentence defines what those certain effects are - effects that include a Dexterity saving throw for half damage.

Could it have been written in a more technically precise manner? Sure1, but that isn't license to selectively disregard one sentence in favor of another, when there is a valid reading that takes both sentences into account.

There's nothing beyond the text you've already quoted on Evasion, which indicates it only works on Dexterity-based area affects that allow a save-for-half. The examples provided are illustrative, not exclusive-and-complete.

What's an Area of Effect?

The spell or effect's description will indicate if it's an area effect, in most cases using one of a number of defined shapes - line, cone, cube, sphere, or cylinder. Enervation, Disintegrate, and Immolate may have Dexterity saves, but they are not both area effects and save-for-half, so Evasion doesn't help. Chain Lightning hits multiple targets, but it can skip over people in between, so it's not an area effect either.

Room for Debate

Flaming Sphere is a bit of an edge case. Evasion definitely wouldn't help against the ram, because it's clearly not an area effect. The end-of-turn burn is debatable and could be argued either way; it'd be a DM call. I'd never call it RAW, but this DM would allow Evasion to work against the end-of-turn burn, as I see Evasion being the Rogue easily and quickly finding a very precise position to avoid the brunt of an area spell, and would count skirting the edges of Flaming Sphere's heat as doing just that.

1I, for one, would have preferred a more technical/explicit form of writing, but I suspect the 5E authors decided that level of precision in 4E was something that turned people off. I think the pendulum swung too far, and would have preferred it pointed closer to 3.5E than the looser language we ended up with in 5E.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The thing is, the "certain area effects" are also presented as examples, so it's not 100% clear to me whether or not that wording is intended to limit the ability to only area effects. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Feb 7 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ This may a difference of personal styles, but I would note that I personally found 3.5's style of writing precision to be atrocious. Whether the same book as well as across the many splat books released, I felt that the language inconsistencies led to lack of enjoyment with the game, but also the inherent imbalances of the game. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Feb 7 at 15:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson in 5e there's a fundamental idea that "the rules only do what they say they do", so when it says you can evade "certain area effects" it doesn't mean you can evade "all other area effects", "non-area effects", "melee attacks", "missile attacks", "rampaging elephants", etc. \$\endgroup\$ – gszavae Feb 7 at 15:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson Addressed. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Feb 7 at 15:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical Seconded. The 3.5 mindset of defining everything into rigid categories created the illusion that the rules are a complete system, which enabled them to be used in horribly unbalanced ways. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Feb 7 at 21:22
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The first sentence of Evasion is almost certainly "flavor text" with no mechanical effect

There are a number of monsters listed with an Evasion trait whose text is nearly identical to the second sentence of the rogue's and monk's Evasion traits. For example, the assassin and the master thief, both evidently based loosely on rogues of 12th and 13th level respectively, have this ability:

If the assassin is subjected to an effect that allows it to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, the assassin instead takes no damage if it succeeds on the saving throw, and only half damage if it fails.

While this ability is nearly identical to the 2nd sentence of the rogue's evasion, it omits the first sentence entirely. Regardless, even for monsters based loosely on PC classes, there is no requirement for the mechanics to match up exactly. However, with the publication of Acquisitions Incorporated, the monster list now also includes a stat block for Viari, and we know for sure that this monster stat block is based on the PC version of Viari's stats: a 10th level thief rogue, it would seem. And Viari's Evasion feature also omits the first sentence:

If Viari is subjected to an effect that allows him to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, he instead takes no damage if he succeeds on the saving throw, and only half damage if he fails. He can’t use this trait if he’s incapacitated.

Given that Viari is explicitly based on a PC with the rogue's Evasion feature, the removal of a sentence from that feature for the non-PC stat block seems quite odd, if this sentence is indeed meant to have a mechanical implications. However, if we instead conclude that this sentence is purely flavor text, its removal makes perfect sense in a context where flavor text is extraneous, such as a monster's stat block.

From this, I conclude that in the rogue's Evasion feature (and by extension the monk's), the first sentence is treated as dispensable flavor text with no mechanical import. This in turn means that the Evasion feature of the rogue and monk works identically to the monsters' Evasion feature: an area of effect is not required.


(Note: The additional sentence added in Viari's Evasion preventing its use while incapacitated seems to be part of a new "standard" wording for this feature, for example also seen in the recently released artificer's homunculus servant.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is an argument I only stumbled upon after asking the question, which I find reasonably convincing. I haven't made up my mind, and I'm not going to just post my own answer and accept it over all the others posted here, but I do want to submit this argument for consideration. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Feb 8 at 0:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this reading is supported by the fact that many descriptions of class abilities start with a sentence or little preamble which is a simple descriptive/narrative summary of what the ability does, then details the mechanic which justifies that description. The Evasion fluff is just unfortunately written because almost but not quite all of the effects it would apply to are AoEs. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Feb 8 at 9:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ One reason for Viari having different wording is because that is how the feature was intended to work. Crawford states this in a tweet: "The Evasion feature refers to you dodging, but it doesn't explicitly require you to be mobile. RAI: being paralyzed negates the feature. RAW: being paralyzed has no effect on the feature [...]" \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Feb 9 at 5:09
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Let's explore that logic by reading Immolation together to see how rules should be parsed:

Flames wreathe one creature you can see within range. The target must make a Dexterity saving throw. It takes 8d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one

The first sentence says one creature within range is wreathed in flames, but the second and third sentences don't mention that.

You are effectively arguing that the target doesn't have to be a creature, doesn't have to be in range, and doesn't get wreathed in fire. Clearly this is the wrong interpretation, you can't cast Immolation on a tree 1000ft away and expect it not to be a little charred.

The text for Evasion is all rules

Beginning at 7th level, you can nimbly dodge out of the way of certain area effects, such as an ancient red dragon’s fiery breath or an ice storm spell. When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.

  • It only works for certain area effects
  • Which "certain" effects? Effects that allow you to take a dex save to take half damage

It only works for area effects that allow you to take a dex save to take half damage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the following reasoning fits within the approach you are taking. The area occupied / controlled by a creature, medium sized like most PCs, is a five foot square. The area is greater than zero, however big it is, thus the immolation spell affected that area. (Am I following your line of thought there?) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 8 at 19:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Immolation targets a creature, not an area. An area effect needs to have an area that it effects, eg Aganazzar’s Scorcher. Note areas are denoted in the "Range/Area" statistic. Sorry if I gave the impression that spells targeting a creature an an 'area effect', that isn't correct use of 5e terminology. \$\endgroup\$ – gszavae Feb 9 at 1:05

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