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We're having an epic scene where the tavern in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is being raided by the Waterdeep government representatives who suspect that there is a Zhentarim officer hiding in the party's tavern. The party tries to delay the guards coming upstairs so that the Zhent could get away from the building. The party can't directly hit the guards with weapons or spells 'cause the guards will notice that and the party will have some serious legal issues.

But it turned out that there's a Chronurgy wizard in the party. And he says that he can use Momentary Stasis to "freeze" the guards and they will not notice anything because the feature description says nothing about any V/S/M components.

The questions I'm struggling with as a DM:

  1. Is it really, by RAW, Momentary Stasis in NOT actually a spell and is NOT related to any V/S/M activity noticeable by someone else? So basically the "casting" of Momentary Stasis happens "in PC's brain"...
  2. Does it mean that Momentary Stasis shouldn't break the invisibility?
  3. How have you ruled in this situation or in similar situations? Would your guards suspect that the Wizard is doing some shenanigans even if they're seeing that the wizard's standing still? Or maybe you would reward the player for finding such an interesting loophole in the rules and let the guy use Momentary Stasis "in his brain" even after this encounter?
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Question #3 seems primarily opinion-based, as it currently stands; "how would you rule" is just polling for answers, so there's no way to choose a single "best" answer. Instead, you may want to edit it to focus on the relevant rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 26, 2022 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast - I disagree. I think "How would you rule" should be understood as asking, "How should I rule," which is an answerable expert opinion question. Moreover, I think an answer to this sort of question that draws exclusively from RAW and doesn't address issues like table dynamics or consequences of ruling one way versus another would be an incomplete answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim C
    Aug 26, 2022 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ You ask in #2 about invisibility. Are you asking whether Momentary Stasis ends an Invisibility Spell on the user of the ability? Or are you asking whether a visible user has to take some perceivable action (analogous to spell components) in order to use it? Or both? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 26, 2022 at 19:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson yes, in #2 my question is about caster's invisibility. Cause if "Momentary Stasis" is not a spell or an attack does it mean that the guy can freeze people all around many times and keep being invisible? \$\endgroup\$
    – Lisa
    Aug 29, 2022 at 22:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related to "is magical energy visible": rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/198748/… \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 31, 2022 at 4:35

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No, there are not any RAW V/S/M requirements for Momentary Stasis

As you stated, there are not any V/S/M requirements for activating the ability this feature provides.

A Chronurgy wizard can only use Momentary Stasis on one target every six seconds

Actions do not have a set amount of time per Jeremy Crawford, but RAW you can only take one action every six seconds.

A round in D&D lasts for about 6 seconds. None of the things that take place during a round—actions, movement, and the like—have official amounts of time assigned to them. #DnD

If a Chronurgy wizard were to try to stasis one creature in a group, barring extreme circumstances, the others in the group would be able to notice their ally freeze for six seconds.

Momentary Stasis reads:

As an action, you can magically force a Large or smaller creature you can see within 60 feet of you to make a Constitution saving throw against your spell save DC. Unless the saving throw is a success, the creature is encased in a field of magical energy until the end of your next turn or until the creature takes any damage. While encased in this way, the creature is incapacitated and has a speed of 0.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Becoming affected by Momentary Stasis would not cause a creature to lose its invisibility, nor does using Momentary Stasis

The rules text for the Invisibility spell is as follows:

A creature you touch becomes invisible until the spell ends. Anything the target is wearing or carrying is invisible as long as it is on the target's person. The spell ends for a target that attacks or casts a spell.

Even if you could see the invisible target, being put under the influence of any spell does not remove invisibility.

Also, using the ability granted by the Momentary Stasis feature is not a spell also per Jeremy Crawford.

Want to know what spells look like? See "Spells" (PH, 211–89). Nothing else is a spell unless it is presented as a spell or called one. #DnD

Therefore, a creature under the effects of the Invisibility spell would not lose the effects by using the ability granted by this feature.

I believe these answers give you the tools you need to come to the conclusion that the guards would probably notice they were being targeted. But only you/the DM know the nuances and complexities of the scene you experienced, and you will have to use your own judgement given the facts I've presented here.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey thanks for the answer. One small clarification. The #2 question was actually about breaking the invisibility for the wizard. If M.S. is not a spell nor an attack does it mean that the guy can freeze people all around many times and keep being invisible? \$\endgroup\$
    – Lisa
    Aug 29, 2022 at 22:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LisaRanger hey! I did address that in my answer, it wasn't clear who was invisible in your question so I addressed both possibilities. Basically, using the ability is not casting a spell. And if a creature is under the effects of the invisibility spell then only attacking or casting a spell would break invisibility, neither of which happen by using the feature. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sleepwave
    Aug 30, 2022 at 15:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also had to clarify every time that the invisibility is assumed to be from the Invisibility spell. RAW there's no actions that break invisibility based on your actions, it's just a condition, but the Invisibility spell does have those caveats about it dropping if you cast a spell or make an attack :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Sleepwave
    Aug 30, 2022 at 16:23
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Class features are not spells unless they say they are.

Momentary Stasis is not a spell; it's a class feature. A class feature could give you the ability to cast a spell, but unless it specifically references a spell, it's not a spell and has no components to use. Sometimes an ability will say there's some action affiliated with it, like playing music or touching an object, but even then it's not necessarily an obviously magical effect.

Will this break invisibility? No, technically it is neither a spell nor an attack. As DM, you could possibly rule differently, but I would definitely expect an argument at that point.

This plan will not work.

Let's look at the text of Momentary Stasis:

As an action, you can magically force a Large or smaller creature you can see within 60 feet of you to make a Constitution saving throw ... the creature is encased in a field of magical energy until the end of your next turn or until the creature takes any damage. While encased in this way, the creature is incapacitated and has a speed of 0.

It's important to realize this is an action that affects one creature, with a save. If there's a squad of soldiers coming into the room, you can't just freeze them all. You can maybe freeze one of them and the rest of them are probably going to immediately notice that one of their coworkers was just encased in a field of magical energy. I have no idea what a field of magical energy looks like, but clearly it's meant to be visible. Possibly the wizard could try to play this off (Deception check) but it's probably not gonna go great for him.

Either way, he definitely can't just freeze the whole incoming group so they don't realize they've been frozen and are none the wiser. I don't see how this would work without bringing, at minimum, heavy suspicion on the wizard.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "clearly it's meant to be visible" - I'm not very convinced of that, are all "fields" plainly visible? As for the rest of the answer, spot on and succinct! \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 29, 2022 at 5:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, generally speaking, if the spell description says it creates a thing, that thing should be perceptible, and in the cases where it isn't, the spell will say so (wall of force, forcecage). Still, even if you argue the energy field itself is invisible, it should be very obvious that one of your friends has just frozen in place like a statue, so either way, it's not super secret. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 29, 2022 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with the last, but I'm not totally sure about the former. Do you have something that supports that concept? \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 30, 2022 at 0:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Only by implication. The word 'encased' is a strange choice if the intent was that the field is undetectable. It could have easily said "the target is frozen in place" or some such phrasing, so the fact that it goes out of the way to say "encased in a field of magical energy" strongly suggests that this information is important to understanding what the effect looks like. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30, 2022 at 15:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm still not convinced, sorry. Perhaps the magical energy is important for spells like Detect Magic or arcana checks in general. It seems to me that it is up to the DM and is less definitive than you are saying. I did a quick search for "magical energy" and it seems to be broad term for ki, spell slots, anything magical, I came across the term "radiates palpable magical energy" note that it is palpable not visible. If it's good for you then that's fine though, it feels like a DM call to me. (I still upvoted your answer I just feel this is not quite right). \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 30, 2022 at 23:59
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By RAW, no, but ruling that way causes problems

RAW says very little about what is or is not detectable, but it does clearly establish some things as detectable, and Momentary Stasis is not one of them.

However, at my table, most actions that target other creatures are detectable by default, unless the rules clearly intend it to be otherwise. I believe that this ruling removes more problematic edge cases than it creates.

RAW does not prevent Momentary Stasis from being the perfect crime

Some class features specify some kind of motion in their ruleblock. For example, Lay on Hands specifies "As an action, you can touch a creature and..." - or Bardic Inspiration, which strongly implies that it makes noise but doesn't outright say what that noise necessarily is, "You can inspire others through stirring words or music. To do so, you use a bonus action on your turn to choose one creature... who can hear you."

Others, like Channel Divinity and most Warlock and Wizard class features, including Momentary Stasis do not specify any motion or sound.

One could make an argument because they lack any wording to the contrary, activating these features is entirely mental and has no detectable presence.

The problem

The problem with this ruling is that it is a non-obvious reading of the rules. It grants certain abilities additional utility based on words that are missing from their rules, rather than by the words that are present.

This is ambiguous RAI, ambiguously playtested, and leaves room for careless designer error. There's no way to know if the designers intended for those abilities to be usable that way, or if they simply forgot to put anything there and then didn't catch it in playtesting.

This causes a couple problems

  • It is completely one-sided. If something is undetectable, then it can be done unerringly even against other PCs, and the victim can't respond at all without metagaming. While bullying dynamics between players like this are best solved outside the game, I think the game works better without one-sided interactions even if they're only pointed at NPCs.
    • As an example of this, I was playing once in a group once with a sorcerer who would Subtle Spell Counterspell his own teammates when things didn't go his way. I don't hate intra-party conflict, but having it only occur in situations where I couldn't respond at all sucked a lot of fun out of the game. (Subtle Spell itself is clearly intended to be stealthy and I would exempt it from detectability-by-default, but I would advocate against adding more one-sided interactions to the game than are necessary)
  • It crowds out abilities that were clearly intended to be stealthy. With this ruling, a School of Conjuration wizard is less likely to get caught creating a distraction than a School of Illusion wizard, because Minor Conjuration doesn't specify any signature while Minor Illusion has somatic and material components.

I argue that RAW is ambiguous, not decisive

There is no rule that says this action is detectable.

However, there is also no rule that says actions are not detectable by default. For physical actions (like attacks) we can fall back on our knowledge of the real world to determine if something should or should not be detectable. For magic actions, we have no common sense to fall back on. I believe that the game works better if one rules that magic actions have some detectable signature which needs to be deliberately disguised or hidden in order to use them secretly.

At my table, players tell me what their magic looks like

If the text of the action doesn't describe what it is, the default ruling at my table is that all actions are physical actions - but that if it's unspecified, then the players get to describe what the action looks like.

I make allowances for rule-of-cool or players who want to be sneaky; incantations can be whispered, gestures can be done under the table, an unblinking stare can be disguised in a crowd of people, but it's never free.

If undetectability is the default, monsters can make much better of it use than players

If your players are unconvinced about the fairness of this ruling and think you should rule the other way, stress that the ruling apply equally to monster abilities. Many monsters also have actions in their stat blocks which are neither attacks nor spells, and which don't have defined signatures. These include things like the Breath Attacks of Mephits, many of which also have the False Appearance trait.

I think most players will realize how undetectability-by-default is unfair as soon as you even suggest the possibility of pointing the same rules back at them.

Addendum: The Invisibility Spell

Invisibility, by RAW, ends only if the caster attacks, casts a spell, or stops concentrating on it. I extend this to also include any class and monster ability which requires an action and affects a hostile creature.

This is a house-rule, not a ruling, because it explicitly goes against RAW, but I believe it makes the game better. As with undetectability-as-default, I believe this house rule this removes more problematic edge cases than it adds.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you go through which edge cases your ruling affects specifically? You keep mentioning them, but you dont actually discuss them. If you're going to make the claim it reduces edge cases, then please support that with your table experience in which edge cases it removed (and if it created any new ones.) \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 26, 2022 at 21:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that RAW is ambiguous, we don't particularly know what a "magical field" is supposed to look like or if it should be visible. I am not particularly convinced about monsters being scary, for example you mention mephits, an ice mephit breathes cold air - that's definitely not visible. Where as a smoke or magma or mud mephit breath ash, fire, or mud which are. The ambiguity is with momentary stasis, not all effects in the entire game. \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 29, 2022 at 5:15

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