13
\$\begingroup\$

I realized something curious about the wording of spiritual weapon:

As a bonus action on your turn, you can move the weapon up to 20 feet and repeat the attack against a creature within 5 feet of it.

Is it possible to move the weapon, but not make the attack (either by choice or no target being in range)?

\$\endgroup\$
0

8 Answers 8

13
\$\begingroup\$

"Can" makes both choices optional

As many answers here have noted, "and" means both things in a list are required; "and" is different from "either/or". For most any verb, that would be true. In Tasha's Mind Whip, for example:

On a failed save, the target takes 3d6 psychic damage, and it can’t take a reaction until the end of its next turn.

The damage and the loss of its reaction both happen; neither the caster nor the target are able to choose one but not the other.

But "can" changes the dynamic. Many actions, especially bonus actions, in 5e use "can". "Can" (as noted by Thomas Markov in the comments on his own answer) usually indicates that an option is operating; it often means not the ability to do something, but rather the choice to do so.

In looking at spiritual weapon:

As a bonus action on your turn, you can move the weapon up to 20 feet and repeat the attack against a creature within 5 feet of it.

At the outset, "can" indicates that taking the bonus action is optional; it doesn't say that having cast spiritual weapon you must dedicate your bonus action to it each turn. But "can" is also operating on both parts of the list here: if the caster uses a bonus action, they can move the weapon up to 20 feet, and they can attack with the weapon, but they aren't required to do either. They could do just one and not the other, because of the specific nature of "can" to grant options.

This is not a mistake in the way spiritual weapon is written; it is the PHB standard for using "can" to signify options. Compare it, for example, with unseen servant:

Once on each of your turns as a bonus action, you can mentally command the servant to move up to 15 feet and interact with an object.

You can mentally command the servant to move up to 15 feet.
You can also mentally command the servant to interact with an object.
If you decide to do both, doing so requires only one bonus action.
You don't have to do one in order to do the other; you do not have to give the servant an object to juggle just so that it may cross an otherwise empty room.

\$\endgroup\$
3
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm glad you pointed this out. Still, it depends. The difference here is whether there is a second clause where "can" is not repeated in the sentence, e.g. you can (move and attack) OR you can (move) and ([can] attack). Both are correct. \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Oct 21, 2022 at 14:25
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Senmurv Yes, both are grammatically correct - in which case IMO we should default to what 'makes sense' in the context of 5e's general assumption that movement is independent of attack \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Oct 21, 2022 at 14:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 yes, that makes sense \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Oct 21, 2022 at 18:49
21
\$\begingroup\$

The writing is imprecise, but not incorrect

The meaning is clear from context - you are permitted to do either without having to do both

Consider the sentence:

He lives in Maine and fishes.

What does this mean? He lives in Maine, and He lives in fishes? Well, it could mean that. But it probably means He lives in Maine and He fishes. One of the uses for "and" is when you have a compound predicate - a sentence with one subject and two verbs. Then the "and" distributes the subject to both predicates.

Now, it certainly would be more clear and more precise to say "He both lives in Maine and he fishes." But I can save myself some time and text by writing just "He lives in Maine and fishes." Given how unlikely it is for someone to live in a fish, I am probably not going to be misunderstood, so the brevity may be worth the lack of clarity.

Now consider the sentence:

I like pickles and ice cream.

This is not a compound predicate, because there is only one verb, "like". And there is only one subject, "I". But it is still a compound sentence in a sense, because "and" is distributing the common subject and verb across the two objects. This sentence probably means I like pickles, and I like ice cream, too. Unfortunately, it could also mean I like the combination of pickles and ice cream. Given the context (the unlikely combination of flavors), it probably means the first. However, the original sentence is grammatically correct regardless of which meaning it has, because "and" can mean slightly different things here.

If I wanted to be precise and clear, I could write either "I like both pickles and ice cream" or "I like pickles and ice cream together," depending on which I actually meant. To be perfectly clear, I would have to use more words. But if I meant the first, that I like both flavors but not necessarily together, I can probably get away with the shorter sentence without misleading the reader.

Finally, consider the sentence:

I like bread and butter.

Grammatically, this is exactly the same as "I like pickles and ice cream." But here, the context has shifted. Bread and butter, unlike pickles and ice cream, are often enjoyed together. When I write I like bread and butter, most people are going to assume that I mean I like bread together with butter and not I like both bread and butter but not necessarily together. The exact meaning of "and" has shifted here, and my only clue to that shift is context, not grammar. The sentence has reached a tipping point; if I really want people to understand the more unusual reading, I now need to add enough words to be more precise.

So now let's look at the text of spiritual weapon:

As a bonus action on your turn, you can move the weapon up to 20 feet and repeat the attack against a creature within 5 feet of it.

This could mean:

As a bonus action on your turn, you can move the weapon up to 20 feet. Also as a bonus action on your turn, you can repeat the attack against a creature within 5 feet of it. You can also do both of those things for the same bonus action.

Or, it could mean:

As a bonus action on your turn, you can both move the weapon up to 20 feet and repeat the attack against a creature within 5 feet of it but you can't do one unless you also do the other.

Either one of these meanings follows grammatically from the actual text. But which is more likely given the context?

In 5e combat, typically someone can Move, and can Attack, independently. You can even break up your move between attacks. Doing one is not typically dependent on doing the other. Thus it would be strange to have a spell that creates a weapon that allows you to attack, but only if you move it, and allows you to move it, but only if you attack. Certainly spells are almost always exceptions to rules or expectations; they are "magic", after all. But if a spell is going to change some fundamental concept about how an attack sequence works, it should have pretty clear language about how it does so.

Thus, it seems likely that the writers of the PHB decided to economize some space by allowing the "and" to distribute "As a bonus action on your turn, you can" between two separate and independent predicates: "move the weapon up to 20 feet", and "repeat the attack against a creature within 5 feet of it". It seems rather less likely they meant that in order to do either, you have to do both.

The following is left as an exercise for the reader. A gnoll has the Rampage trait:

Rampage. When the gnoll reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack on its turn, the gnoll can take a bonus action to move up to half its speed and make a bite attack.

Can a gnoll use its bonus action rampage to move without attacking?
To attack without moving?

\$\endgroup\$
13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is the best answer yet. @vanBoomslang, I would be perfectly happy if you accepted this one instead of my answer. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 7:30
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ I like pickles and ice cream could also mean "I like pickles and I ice cream" (as in I cool down cream using ice en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ice#Verb ) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 12:52
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @vonBoomslang When you check another answer, the system will automatically uncheck the former checkmark. You can see that, in my answer now being unchecked (which is totally fine). \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 14:15
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @OneHotPotat I believe this is what I was referring to when I said "allowing the "and" to distribute "As a bonus action on your turn, you can" between two separate and independent predicates: "move the weapon up to 20 feet", and "repeat the attack against a creature within 5 feet of it"." However, I did not know the correct grammatical term for that so it may in fact be ellipsis. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Sep 21, 2022 at 6:04
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ That REALLY feels like English Language stack exchange. I had to check TWICE to make sure I wasn't there. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2022 at 11:52
16
\$\begingroup\$

You shouldn’t be able to immobilize a hostile spiritual weapon by moving out of its range.

If it is the case that both moving and attacking are required when you use your bonus action, then if there are no eligible targets within 20 feet, then the weapon cannot move. This simply can’t be how the spell is supposed to function. It seems obvious enough that the description means “you can move and you can attack” not “you can move and if you do, you must attack”.

You should be able to attack without moving the weapon.

Another way to think about it is that if moving requires attacking, then attacking requires moving. “Oh, you can’t attack with your spiritual weapon because you haven’t moved it yet this turn.” Again, this just doesn’t make sense. The obvious reading is that neither moving nor attacking are required when you do one or the other.

\$\endgroup\$
10
  • 16
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with your first point, but I don’t think your second one holds up: the use of “up to 20 feet” would allow a movement of zero feet, even if we otherwise interpret the bonus action to require moving and attacking. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 19, 2022 at 11:13
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @GuybrushMcKenzie I’d understand “move up to 20 feet” to be no less than one and no more than 20 since zero is not moving at all. You can’t move zero feet. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 19, 2022 at 11:18
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I’m sure the same phrasing is used on other abilities where it wouldn’t make sense for at least 1 foot of movement to be required, and I’ve certainly always interpreted “move up to” to mean the movement is optional. But this has given me pause. I’ll see if I can find a relevant answer or ruling. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 19, 2022 at 11:41
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov 1/16th of an inch is "up to 20 feet" just as well. Lower limit of 1 foot is not mentioned in any rule, as far as I know. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Sep 19, 2022 at 11:48
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov no it isn't, it just doesn't change the square you are in if you move less. Plus, grid is optional and consensus seems to be that using it shouldn't make otherwise possible things impossible. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Sep 19, 2022 at 11:52
10
\$\begingroup\$

The way this is written, you cannot move it without attacking, but you should ignore that

The text says that as a bonus action you can:

move the weapon up to 20 feet and repeat the attack

That is the bonus action you can do. There is an and between moving the weapon and repeating the attack, so you only can do both, the way it is written. It does not say you can do either (which would require an "or") without the other, nor does it say "and/or" to give you the choice if you want to do either or want to do both.

Kirt‘s answer makes the case that the use of "can" in this context means you should parse the sentence not as "you can {A and B}" but as "{you can A} and {you can B}", which may be a plausible alternative reading.

Forcing you to do both is quite obviously not what was intended, nor how anyone I know plays it. Everyone I know plays this as "and/or", you can either repeatedly hammer the same opponent, or move it, or move it and attack. And I think it is likely it just says "and" because most people read it implicitly as and/or, and in all of the PHB the phrase "and/or" is never used.

I think, Thomas' answer is wise in this regard, in not slavishly following the written text, but transcending it for a more natural, and playable reading. Nobody wants to be unable to move their spiritual weapon, or to make useless attacks against a hypothetical hidden foe to move it (thanks go to @Kirt for this method), and nobody wants to uselessly move it back and forth 5 feet (or a few inches or whatever, depending on what you think "up to 20 feet" includes) just to repeat their attack.

\$\endgroup\$
3
  • \$\begingroup\$ This reads like a "me too" comment as an answer. "Thomas' answer is correct, and we should just ignore the rules." \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Sep 19, 2022 at 18:20
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott I think the difference is that this acknowledges explicitly that the spell as written does not allow you to to one without the other , while Thomas is focused on why that should not be the case. At least I believe, strict RAW you can only move and attack. I've not finished your grammatic lesson yet, maybe there is yet another way to deal with this... \$\endgroup\$ Sep 19, 2022 at 18:23
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ If my DM required me to make an attack with the spiritual weapon in order to move it, I would certainly attempt an attack against a Hidden opponent whose location I did not know, but guessed to be a space adjacent to the weapon. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Sep 19, 2022 at 21:14
6
\$\begingroup\$

In this context, "and" is a conjunction, not a noun

If you check out Merriam-Webster you'll find that "and" can be used in two different ways:

  1. as a noun
  2. as a conjunction

In the noun form, it means "a logical operator that requires both of two inputs to be present or two conditions to be met for an output to be made or a statement to be executed". This is the interpretation you are assuming: "You must move the hammer and attack on the same bonus action." Both conditions need to be met for it to work.

But it does not make logical sense that you cannot will the hammer closer to a target if it doesn't reach the target. Nor does it make sense that you need to move the hammer even though the target is standing still. So let's look at the other meaning...

As a conjunction1, it is "used in logic to form a conjunction", as in, "and other things".

An art teacher says, "You can draw your picture in crayons, pens, and paint." Does that mean that you must use all three media to create a picture? No, it means that you have the option to use one, two, or all three of those items. But nothing except those.

So in the spell phrase, "you can move the weapon up to 20 feet and repeat the attack against a creature within 5 feet of it," "and" is working as a conjunction. You can use one or both of the options, but nothing except for those options. You can move the weapon, you can attack, or you can move and attack. But you can't change its form; something only possible when the spell is initially cast.


1 Conjunction Junction, what's your function...

\$\endgroup\$
5
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, it is used as a conjunction in the effect description, not a noun, but no, there's no reason whatever to think that the OP is interpreting it otherwise. The logical operator definition is talking about a literal operator in a formal language, such as the and operator in Python or the && operator in C or Java. And the meaning of such operators is modeled on the conjunctive meaning, which has the sense of "both" or "all". So yes, I would interpret your Art teacher to be granting permission to create a work in all three designated media together. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 0:56
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think noun vs. conjunction is the right distinction to make. As John comments, the conjunction does normally mean both things are required. The question here is whether can can distribute to both sides of the conjunction separately, like "(can move) and (can attack)", rather than "can (attack and move)". Kirt's answer gets to the heart of the grammar issue, IMO. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 2:55
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ In your example, the art teacher should have used OR. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 7:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This answer 1) assumes that OP somehow got confused with a niche term that's primarily used in electronics in a completely unrelated PoS and 2) uses irrelevant definitions to back things up: "used as a conjunction" in the field of logic means it's synonymous with ∧ (which is the exact opposite of what you're trying to say!) and then you quote one of the four definitions for "and so forth". This answer needs massive revisions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Laurel
    Sep 20, 2022 at 14:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As Peter Cordes mentioned, unless you are talking about the word "and" itself, it is not a noun, e.g. in the sentence "And is a conjunction.", the word "and" is the subject and is a noun. Mostly it is used a conjunction. \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Oct 21, 2022 at 14:38
6
\$\begingroup\$

Whether or not there is a target, you can still move

It seems RAW you would have to attack as you move. As a workaround for this, you can simply attempt to attack an unseen enemy. From the SRD on "Unseen Attackers and Targets":

When you attack a target that you can't see... If the target isn't in the location you targeted, you automatically miss

This implies that you can make attacks against empty squares. So if you want to move the spiritual weapon, you can check to see whether there is an invisible stalker in the square you want to move the spiritual weapon to.

\$\endgroup\$
3
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is the approach I would take (politely!) if a DM wasn't sure how to rule the situation. You could even attack one of squares above the ground if the enemies are really packed in. You might even be able to move the weapon into the floor/walls. \$\endgroup\$
    – Red Orca
    Sep 19, 2022 at 23:15
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ RAW, would this use up Silvery Barbs, which gives "advantage on the next attack roll, ability check, or save"? You don't have the option of saving it for a later roll, unlike with inspiration/guidance/bardic inspiration. I think there's no roll at all if there turns out to be no target (i.e. I think that's what "automatically miss" means), although in past discussions about hidden enemies I think there's been talk of DMs asking for a roll so players don't learn whether it was a swing and a miss in the right location vs. a totally wrong location. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 3:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Given that the DM is not supposed to say whether the target was in the location, a roll is implied (otherwise that advice would be useless). That means that this technique would use any buff like Silvery Barbs RAW. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sirv
    Sep 20, 2022 at 23:35
2
\$\begingroup\$

Yes, you can move it without attacking

"Can" is the important enabler in that spell's text. It means you have an option, not that you have a requirement. If the term "must" was used, that would indicate a requirement. The "and" links the two choices you can make.

  1. You can attack with it: you are not required to attack, you can attack.
  2. You can move it: you are not require to move it, you can move it.
  3. You can move it and you can attack with it, provided that the conditions for the attack are met.
    • If you move it 20' and the desired enemy is still 15' away, you can move but are unable to attack due to a range / reach limitation.
\$\endgroup\$
2
  • \$\begingroup\$ This looks very much like Kirt's second answer, just more condensed? Or is there a difference? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 21, 2022 at 12:54
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As I read the long answers, I felt that a short, concise answer pivoting on "can" and not doing a deep grammar dive was missing. So I tried my hand at it. @GroodytheHobgoblin \$\endgroup\$ Oct 21, 2022 at 22:44
-3
\$\begingroup\$

As a bonus action on your turn, you can move the weapon up to 20 feet and repeat the attack against a creature within 5 feet of it.

I read this as

  1. You can move the weapon up to 20 feet. (Including zero feet.)
  2. You can repeat the attack against a creature within 5 feet of it.

Basically worded like this: As a bonus action on your turn, you may move the weapon up to 20 feet and may repeat the attack against a creature within 5 feet of the weapon.

\$\endgroup\$
1
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer could be improved by adding some more details about why you would rule this way. Right now it just seems like a statement of a ruling with no supporting explanation or references. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2022 at 23:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .