I've looked through the PHB and the RPG Stackexchange but I haven't found anything regarding the following:

Many monsters have some kind of special attack or action that inflict a certain status on the PC. Usually the PCs can remove or escape this status by doing a certain kind of action.

E.g. The Fire Elemental can light PCs on fire and you need to expend an action in order to put it out.

How do I handle this information in regard to my players? Let's take the Fire Elemental's special feature as an example

  • Do I tell them that they are on fire and can put it out as an action in their turn?
  • Do I just tell them that they are on fire and let the players figure out what to do (which is obvious in this case but maybe not in other cases)?
  • If the latter is the case do the players lose their action if they attempt a wrong solution?

I usually tell my players what they can do to get rid of the status but I'd be interested if there is a rule somewhere that states how to handle this situation


Loss of an action is already a significant cost.

The utility of such abilities that require the target to burn an action to end a detrimental effect is to get an advantage in action economy. It forces the target to decide between continuing to take damage or to lose their action on that turn. Losing an action is already an incredibly punishing effect.

There is no rule that the DM is required to tell the players they can use their action to end the detrimental effect, nor any mechanic giving the players an explicit avenue to that knowledge. But fun play at the table will likely require it. Losing your action is bad enough, failing to successfully end the effect and losing your action is a recipe for hard feelings and no fun.

In an effort to preserve the fun of having your turn in combat, I always tell my players when they can end an effect with their action. This puts the power of choice into their hands. They can choose to end the effect, or they can use their action for other stuff and take the heat - in either case they understand the consequences before they make their choice.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ And like all things, there can be exceptions to this. For instance, the characters perform an action which causes a status effect (touched a cursed object, passed through a 'field of evil', pissed off a witch/hag...). The solution may not be as obvious as "put out the fire" and take a single action. It may make more sense to have the players do some research, or trial and error with lesser/greater restoration, remove curse, and a few other spells. It may boil down to a quest-related answer. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Nov 20 '20 at 18:05

There isn't a specific mechanic for this

As you've noticed, there isn't anything specific that details a mechanic on players 'learning' what to do.

This becomes a DM decision and you've got lots of ways to approach this. Depending on the condition/action I've done everything from a skill check to know to simply telling them. It very much depends on the situation, the players, and the table, but picking what ends up being fun is really your core decision making process.

As Thomas Markov says in his answer, the cost of using an action for most of these is still pretty big in the action economy. Forcing more time to figure out what to do could be unfun, but talk to your table and see how they and you would like to handle this.

Player creativity

I'd also be very much open to allowing different actions to resolve the issue. The players know what's wrong and they can be clever - and we should let them be clever. If they come up with an action that does the job, let it do the job! It doesn't have to be the specific thing, but saying, you can try to put it out may be enough to lead them to water.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I try to be more goal-focused then mechanics focused. I wouldn't go "There is a precarious looking bridge across a ravine, make an Acrobatics Check to cross it safely, or you may take multiple Athletics checks to climb down the ravine and back up the other side" as I find this restricts my player's creativity. Instead, I just (1) Describe the environment so that (2) my players can tell me what they want to do and then I (3) Narrate the outcome, calling for checks as appropriate. So in this case: DM: "You are now on fire." P: "Ack! Stop Drop and Roll!" DM: "Ok, that'll take your Action." \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Nov 20 '20 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty Very much this! I shall add. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 20 '20 at 15:38

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