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I play the Oath of Vengeance paladin and I've came across a problem.

There is the Channel Divinity: Abjure Enemy description, which states:

As an action, you present your holy symbol and speak a prayer of denunciation, using your Channel Divinity. Choose one creature within 60 feet of you that you can see. That creature must make a Wisdom saving throw, unless it is immune to being frightened. Fiends and undead have disadvantage on this saving throw.

On a failed save, the creature is frightened for 1 minute or until it takes any damage. While frightened, the creature’s speed is 0, and it can’t benefit from any bonus to its speed.

On a successful save, the creature’s speed is halved for 1 minute or until the creature takes any damage.

It sounds pretty good, but does anything forbid an abjured enemy from simply harming itself on its turn?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Does my answer solve your problem well enough for a green check? \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Apr 19 at 16:32
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The enemy doesn't know the rules of Dungeons & Dragons.

The only reason you have thought to ask this question is because you read the feature description of Abjure Enemy. But the creature affected by it has not, and so shouldn't even think to try this. Sure, technically if the creature successfully damages itself, it can end the effect of Abjure Enemy, but there is no reason in the narrative that they would know or think to do that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ RAI, the enemy is just frozen by fear, but an intelligent enemy might very well realize that they can "snap out of it" by hitting (narrated as slapping or pinching) itself. Especially if it saw another case of fright paralysis ending by taking damage, or if it has a comrade telling it to snap out of it, emphasized by a good shaking. I concur that it shouldn't work like this for the average bad guy, but the GM could rule thus in special cases. \$\endgroup\$ – zovits Mar 26 at 10:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ While the enemies do not know the rules of the D&D, they might know the spells of the D&D, including the loopholes in them. Not a goblin in the basement, but a rival wizard, yes he can. \$\endgroup\$ – Gray Sheep Mar 26 at 13:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @zovits: Given that paralyzed by fear implies that you're paralyzed because of your brain, not because of a physical effect, I'd hope the DM requires some Wisdom/Charisma check for the affected character to think about that. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Mar 26 at 15:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. Well, if you put it this way, the rules already ask for a Wisdom save, so probably it is the intended narrative. \$\endgroup\$ – zovits Mar 26 at 15:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @zovits: Right... should have checked that ;) Your point still stands about a companion slapping the fear out of them, providing they're smart enough to (1) realize it's possible and (2) think about it. In wars, it's common to hear anecdotes about veterans, or simply braver soldiers, shaking/slapping their fellows out of fear-induced paralysis, so that would be possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Mar 26 at 15:57
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Abjure Enemy has value even if enemies get out of it

It is possible that an Abjure Enemy effect will last only one round. It still has value even if it does.

Firstly, many enemies won’t, though

It’s possible for an enemy who has fought or studied paladins with the Oath of Vengeance to be familiar with this ability. If nothing else, the Oath of Vengeance paladins themselves know, so if two fought one another, they would each know it about the other. Subjects of Abjure Enemy snap out of it whenever they take damage; that is a clear and test-able response. While it’s certainly true that characters don’t automatically “know the rules,” this is also the world they live in. Some creatures (immortal forces of evil, perhaps?) have fought paladins a lot, other creatures study the world and its magic and learn things like this, so some characters would know how Abjure Enemies works.

But it’s only some. How many depends on the setting:

  • In Eberron, where basically the entire continent has been at war for a hundred years and one of the major combatants is a theocracy that leans heavily on paladins for its military, you’d expect most war vets to know this, or at least those that have fought with or against Thrane. Many of the nations of Eberron also have a well-functioning education system that was geared, in large part, to fighting that war—it’s plausible that at least in some cases, the details of paladin’s abilities are close to common knowledge.

  • In the Forgotten Realms, where information travels slowly if at all, and knightly orders of paladins are elite organizations that must be directly sanctioned by a Good god,¹ and Oaths of Vengeance are perhaps unusual for those, only the most learned scholars and ancient evils might be familiar enough with Abjure Enemies to know this detail.

  • In Dark Sun, the only “paladins” may be the sorcerer-kings’ personal enforcers, the templar,² in which case it’s entirely plausible that almost no one who has been Abjured has lived to tell about it, and there it might be that no one knows this aside from the templar themselves.

So it varies, but at least some of the time, in at least some settings, yes, characters may know how this ability works and know they can “snap themselves out of it.”

More importantly, Abjure Enemies still has value even if they do

Creatures can’t just “will” damage unto themselves. They have to act to deal damage. Even if they make an attack with an unarmed strike against themselves, and can presumably choose to forgo any special bonuses to that if they’re a monk or whatever, that still burned their action for the turn. Combats only last so long, so losing an action is a big deal. True, you lost an action using Abjure Enemies in the first place, but there are many combats where losing an action to cause an opponent to lose an action is a good trade for you: say, against a boss creature, the sort of thing that is perhaps more likely to know about how Abjure Enemies works.

So against such creatures, you’re still getting value out of Abjure Enemies. Perhaps less than you would otherwise—since it’s up to the enemy to decide whether to just suffer through it or spend an action undoing it—but used well it still valuable.

Finally, talk to your DM about it

Personally, while I think it’s entirely plausible for enemies to at least sometimes know how Abjure Enemies works (and, frankly, implausible for them to not in some cases), and Abjure Enemies is still valuable even if this is the case, I’m still not sure I like it. My issue here is one of narrative—I’m not sure I buy that this response fits into the narrative that Abjure Enemies is portraying. Are frightened enemies likely to “damage” themselves? Does that even really “count”—narratively—as the sort of thing that Abjure Enemies seems to be calling out as triggers to end the effect? To me, taking damage ends the effect because they’re presented with something scarier than your sheer divine-channeling presence, a more realized threat. But if the damage is coming from themselves, it doesn’t seem like it should “count” for that.

The rules totally say it does. And smacking yourself to snap out of it is hardly an outrageous narrative. But it still doesn’t sit entirely right with me. So as a DM, I might choose to rule that someone subject to Abjure Enemy can’t injure themselves to end the effect—either the fear means they wouldn’t do that, or even if they do it doesn’t count. If you feel the same way, you might ask your DM how they feel about it. Perhaps they’ll rule that way too.

  1. I don’t have Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, so I don’t know if 5e has changed this. If so, though, that is a massive change from previous editions.

  2. There is no official Dark Sun material for 5e, so I’m guessing about how they would include the paladin. There are other plausible, perhaps even superior options for templars (cleric, as they were originally, or warlock, since the sorcerer-kings are quite like patrons). But for my money, they would be likely to go with paladin for templar simply because there isn’t any other good way to include paladins in the setting at all. The original Dark Sun implementation in 2e just left paladins out, but I don’t think they’d ever do that in modern D&D.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You'd assume they'd use the paladin class for templars? That would be extremely odd. 2E templars were full casters largely equivalent to clerics (though better than the Dark Sun version of clerics, who had limited spell selection above 3rd level spells), with the added power of bureaucracy, not holy smiting; there was no equivalent to paladins at all. If they were going to switch it, I'd expect them to go with a warlock variant, as the templars' abilities derive from their "pact" with a sorcerer king (although unlike modern warlock rules, the sorcerer king could revoke their powers). \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowRanger Mar 27 at 2:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowRanger Good point, I had misremembered how 2e implemented them—in my head, Dark Sun clerics were the rare elemental priests, and thus the more martial templars would be paladins, but that isn’t how they did it. Maybe Athas.org did for the licensed 3e adaptation, and that’s what I’m remembering? Anyway, did 2e even include paladins in Dark Sun, then? Because I do tend to imagine they wouldn’t choose to just exclude the class entirely, which was part of my reasoning for guessing that templar is where they’d place them. Anyway, warlock is a great call there, too. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 27 at 2:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ They excluded paladins entirely (remember, in 2E, paladins were strictly Lawful Good with an enforced moral code more strict than merely being Lawful Good; in 5E, without alignment restrictions, I could see a paladin variant for Templar Enforcers or the like), just like they excluded gnomes (they were eliminated in the Cleansing Wars). No sacred cow left unslaughtered. :-) They replaced their slot in the array of warrior classes with the Gladiator class (which had no supernatural abilities or moral code, they were just really good at killing stuff with whatever weapon was available). \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowRanger Mar 27 at 2:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowRanger Yeah, exclusion is actually kind of crucial to Dark Sun, which is exactly why I fear it won’t work well in modern D&D. Anyway, I’ll amend my footnote there to be less confident that paladin is the way they’d go on that. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 27 at 3:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowRanger I looked up 4e Dark Sun, which I wouldn’t put terribly much stake in seeing how poorly they handled parts of it, but they did go the route of including a sorcerer-king patron (which caused templars to become defiling arcanists, since warlock was a strictly arcane class in 4e and they couldn’t really change it, which is... less than great). They also banned divine classes, which was kinda gutsy of them, so maybe I pegged them wrong there. (Elemental priests were druids, which in 4e were “primal” rather than divine.) Still 4e had a lot more classes than 5e—banning a few was easier. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 27 at 3:36
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I've found Abjure Enemy to be the less commonly used Channel Divinity

I played a vengeance paladin from level 5-20 and even though my table used flanking rules, I generally found myself using the Vow of Enmity much more often.

This was mainly because of the Abjure limitations and that as the game progressed through levels, we fought more monsters with immunity to the Frightened condition.

But even outside of that, if I'm using my Short Rest resource during a battle, I often got more value of advantage against the single target and crit fishing. As a Vengeance paladin, damage is kind of the name of the game - although control does have an aspect (especially at the capstone.)

There were a few situational instances here Abjure was the right choice, but with the problems you've noticed and the power of Vow of Enmity, unless it was one of those situational instances, then it was not my choice to Abjure.

But when it is the 'optimal' choice, it can be incredibly powerful - as long as it isn't nerfed immediately. I tend to look at this in a similar way to illusions - make them useful, powerful, but not impossible. Make the use of the resource fun and interesting for the story - and sometimes it might mean the condition is ended quickly. Just like you can opt for the Vow of Enmity and have an ally kill your target before you can finish them off.

There's always a risk that your resource doesn't get used to it's maximum - and that's okay, too.

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