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The immovable rod doesn't move without a very large amount of force. We know this.

One of my players is asking if the button on the immovable rod has to be pressed and then released to activate it, or just pressed down to activate it. There's no RAW answer for this, so I'm looking for a rules as interpreted answer for it.

He's wondering if he can slam the button against a wall and stick the rod there, where the button's permanently pressed so as no one can move it again (outside of destroying the wall and then pressing the button, which would take far more time). Is this possible?

Alternately, does it repeatedly activate and then deactivate until the button's released, causing it to fall to the floor?


Backstory:

The situation we ended the session where my characters are being chased by evil jailers. They've been through a very long portion of the dungeon, and just ran into a cell and locked themselves in. Well, the jailers have keys. The party wanted to place the button end of the immovable rod against the back of the cage to hold the door shut effectively locking themselves in. When they get done with their long rest, the character with the robe of useful items is going to use a window patch to remove a large portion of the door behind the gate, letting them out.

If they just press the button and affix the rod to the door, the enemy can reach through and deactivate the rod and open the door, same with sideways.

Is this a DM discretion question, or is there any direction on how this would work?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Another interesting question is how hard must the button be pressed? If, for example, someone rammed the wall on the other side presumably the button would be pressed slightly by the wall moving. This sort of thing should be DMs discretion really but an interesting thing to think about if you want to mix things up in the future against this tactic. \$\endgroup\$ – Lio Elbammalf Feb 10 at 12:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Irrespective of the rod part of the plan, how are they planing on doing a long rest when there are jailers outside the door? If they can reach through to press a button, they can also throw pebbles or do other things to distract anyone from enjoying actual rest. \$\endgroup\$ – mlk Feb 10 at 12:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mlk I was wondering the same thing. I think the rod-related issues are secondary to the absurd nature of the plan. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Feb 10 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, the old dilemma of which button event to bind... Click, keyUp or keyDown. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Feb 10 at 14:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mlk Pebbles? a Long rest would give plenty of time to boil up some buckets of tar \$\endgroup\$ – Borgh Feb 11 at 9:56
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Your plan should work

The pertinent part of the immovable rod's description is:

You can use an action to press the button. ... Until you or another creature uses an action to push the button again, the rod doesn't move.

The verbs used to describe what you must do to the button are 'press' and 'push'. These verbs encapsulate the pressing down of the button, not the releasing it\$^1\$. This suggests that the effect comes into play when the button is pushed down. This would mean that the rod would activate when you use your action to slam the rod against the wall.

The rod will stay in place until someone uses an action to push the button again. This says that keeping the button pressed (such as up against a wall) does not cause the rod to toggle, as it takes an action to toggle the rod. Additionally, the word 'again' implies that the button needs to be released before it can be pushed again.

This means that your plan to permanently lock the rod against the wall should work. The only way to move the rod would be to either remove the wall so the button can be accessed or to overcome the rod's immobility (by applying excessive weight, passing a high Strength check, or with an antimagic field).

Whether this would buy you 8 hours to long rest is another matter. If the jailers can reach in to grab the rod, then they would also be able to shoot you with ranged attacks or target you with spells. And they'd have 8 hours to get reinforcements and equipment or remove the hinges or figure out some other way to bypass the door. But that's a separate issue.


  1. Although, not all buttons work as I have just described. The whole action of pressing a button and releasing it again can also be described with the verbs 'press' or 'push', from lack of a better common English word describing the whole process. Your DM is the ultimate arbiter as to how precisely the immovable rod functions in your game, although personally I would rule in favour of the players and reward such creative thinking (the kind of thinking the immovable rod is for).
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    \$\begingroup\$ assuming the jailers don't just take the gate off its hinges, anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Erin B Feb 10 at 21:18
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DM's Discretion

The number of people who think about semantically separating "button press" from "button release" is actually pretty small in absolute numbers... It's just that we're disproportionately represented here because user interfaces are important to heavy internet users, and because programmers in general are likely to have gotten caught by that distinction at least once, even if they don't want to care about it.

Honestly, this is a user interface issue, and while I could make either side of the argument, what it boils down to (in this user-interface view) is whether:

  1. The designer intended it to stick to walls (i.e. envisioned something like this as a potential use).

  2. The designer did not intend this (e.g. he got really annoyed when his stupid apprentice propped up the first prototype in a corner and they had to destroy the floor of the top level of the tower to get it free).

  3. The designer did not care and failed to document the creation practice properly and now every possible variant exists out there in the wild.

For fairness of mind, I'd advocate for the third (and incidentally most realistic) scenario, and flip a coin.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Did they field test the prototype? What was the test plan? Arrgghh ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 9 at 20:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ The QA rep noted the ambiguity in the spec just before she was lightning bolted. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Feb 9 at 20:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ That number of people is small, but certainly not non-zero \$\endgroup\$ – Carmeister Feb 10 at 0:54
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The plan would fail, but not because of the rod itself.

Tldr: doors have hinges.

To the guards, the party is in jail.. now I don't know the full motive of these guards. But having someone you chase be "stuck" in a cell seems like the perfect place for them to be. If the prison door is a gate, it's time for a crossbow. if it's not. there's probably a food grate that you can use to smoke them out or something, get creative.

The real issue though is that the party is forgetting an important part of a door. The hinges There is no way those things are on the inside of the cell so the guards can just tap out the hinge nails.(or be a little less delicate) and pull/push out the door.

If the party really does need a rest and you don't want this to be a TPK, you might want to give them a finger here by giving them a short rest. Let part of the time go by with some RP, and once it's almost go time, let the party know that the guards found a way to take that door down. Then, once the rest is over. Let the game begin again.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent point... although if it's possible to reach through the door somehow (barred window, etc), the hinge pins may have some sort of security measure in place to keep an enterprising prisoner from reaching through and tapping the pins out themselves. Maybe the hinge is integral to the door itself (welded in place during manufacture), and then the other flange of the hinge is bolted to the wall with significant torque. They might get their short rest while the guards go find the specialized tool to remove said bolts, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Doktor J Feb 10 at 17:24
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I know this has an accepted answer, but I don't think this is even a question! If you slam it in to a wall and you accept that it's 'button pressed in', then it's already stuck. If you slam it in to a wall and accept that 'button must disengage', then the rod is still against the wall, there's just a button you can try to shimmy against. Plenty of extra time to make a getaway if you just have someone ready an action to cut off some fingers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I understand your second case - if the button must be released again before it activates then the rod won't be against the wall (or if it is the button will be exposed to press again which is explicitly what the OP is trying to prevent). Perhaps its my lack of understanding of what you mean by "There's just a button you can try to shimmy against"... (dictionary didn't help me with what you meant by shimmy either). \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Feb 11 at 9:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Basically the button would 'pop out' such that the button itself is against the wall anyway. If the button only sticks out a tiny bit, it's already really hard for someone to get their finger between the wall and the rod to press it in the first place (especially with someone defending it) \$\endgroup\$ – C Bauer Feb 11 at 20:43

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