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I need some clarification on what the limits of the 'danger sense' feature of the barbarian class are. My group recently ran into a scenario where they were participating in a race while riding giant tortoises. As part of the encounter they needed to make an animal handling check to see if they could keep their mounts under control. If they failed the check, they would need to make a DEX saving throw to avoid being bucked off.

The barbarian failed the initial check and the tried to use 'danger sense' to get advantage on the dex save. The rules (phb 48) read:

At 2nd level, you gain an uncanny sense of when things are not as they should be, giving you an edge when you dodge away from danger.

You have advantage on Dexterity saving throws against effects that you can see, such as traps and spells. To gain this benefit, you can't be blinded, deafened, or incapacitated.

The way I read the rule, there is no way to 'dodge away' from danger here. The DEX save is to see if you can keep your balance or grab onto something. Am I wrong in ruling that 'danger sense' would not apply in this scenario?

Update:

In addition to the specific scenario above, part of this question is to establish where the limits of danger sense are. Clearly there are some expected cases where the feature does not apply, otherwise the text would simply be 'gains advantage on DEX saving throws'. However I'm having a hard time imagining a situation where a DEX saving throw is called for that doesn't involve SOME sort of sensory trigger that the player could perceive and react to. The goal is to give my players a reasonable expectation of when this ability is applicable so they don't feel cheated if it doesn't work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Giving the players a Dex Save means that you have acknowledged their ability to possibly prevent or minimize the damage done to them. You are acknowledging they can "dodge away" as soon as you give them a Saving Throw. \$\endgroup\$
    – Toddleson
    May 9, 2022 at 13:56

4 Answers 4

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Danger Sense should likely apply in this situation

Although there is no actual separation between flavor and mechanics when it comes to the rules, the phrase:

giving you an edge when you dodge away from danger.

does not read to me as a restriction on when you can or can't use this feature. It is a common example of when the feature often applies. Just because this sentence mentions the feature being used for dodging does not make it an exhaustive list of scenarios. This exhaustive list is instead given by:

You have advantage on Dexterity saving throws against effects that you can see, such as traps and spells. To gain this benefit, you can't be blinded, deafened, or incapacitated.

The effect you described fits the bill, it is a Dexterity saving throw caused by a bucking animal the barbarian can see.

To answer what the main limitations of Danger Sense are:

  • The barbarian can't be blinded, deafened, or incapacitated. This will mainly come up in darkness and other effects that make the source of the Dexterity saving throw heavily obscured. This includes invisible creatures.

A heavily obscured area—such as Darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage—blocks vision entirely. A creature effectively suffers from the Blinded condition (see Conditions ) when trying to see something in that area.

An invisible creature is impossible to see without the aid of magic or a Special sense. For the Purpose of Hiding, the creature is heavily obscured. The creature’s Location can be detected by any noise it makes or any tracks it leaves.

  • Arguments can be made that certain attacks or traps are (near) instantaneous and sufficiently hidden so that they leave no room for Danger Sense to apply. These situations rely on DM rulings and should be handled case by case (but as consistently as possible).
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This player thinks you're wrong

You're the DM, so what you say goes. However, I would point out that 'dodging away' can mean all kinds of things including just shifting your weight.

The features states that the Barbarian has, "...an uncanny sense of when things are not as they should be..." The notion of being able to sense when something's wrong with your mount, or the manner by which you are mounted, seems to fit that definition to me. Even more so as someone whom has owned a lot of dogs in his life and is pretty in-tune to know when something's wrong with my dog with only the subtlest of cues.

Furthermore, to evaluate whether the criteria is met for effects that you can see, I think it's important to recognize that it's generally understood to be effects that you can perceive. And Perception includes a lot more than just what you can visually see.

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In this case, probably

You quoted the relevant text:

You have advantage on Dexterity saving throws against effects that you can see

Can you see danger from falling from an animal? Maybe, maybe not.

Additionally, it says:

To gain this benefit, you can’t be blinded, deafened, or incapacitated.

That is slightly ambiguous, implying that being deafened has something? to do with it, so it isn't just seeing.

But even if it is just seeing, you might get a visual clue an animal was about to throw you off, perhaps with a shake of the head or the look in an eye.

I don't think there's anything wrong with erring on the side of the player here; but if you are concerned about abuse, you could choose to side with the player with the caveat that future similar situations would need to be evaluated individually, and justified against the RAW of the feature.

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Being mildly contrary, I don't think that a bucking torotoise is a case of "effects that you can see, such as traps and spells". The animal you are riding is not an effect. That said, I would allow Danger Sense for things like dealing with a loosened saddle cinch or a gopher hole in the road that caused them to suddenly have to make a Dexterity saving throw. The chief idea of Danger Sense is avoiding surprises by realizing something is wrong with the scenario, not to deal with things which are exactly what you signed up for (to provide another example, the barbarian ought to get that advantage when stepping on a bear trap in the underbrush, not when deliberately sticking their hand into the teeth).

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