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The party tonight was about to face a Demilich. They didn't have any specific knowledge of demiliches, but it was clear they were about to confront the boss, and just about every minion they had faced in the lair so far had either caused fear or was more powerful against frightened targets, so the Bard began playing a countercharm:

At 6th level, you gain the ability to use musical notes or words of power to disrupt mind-influencing effects. As an action, you can start a performance that lasts until the end of your next turn. During that time, you and any friendly creatures within 30 feet of you have advantage on saving throws against being frightened or charmed.

All of the party was in range of the countercharm when the Demilich began to Howl:

Howl - Recharge 5. The demilich emits a bloodcurdling howl. Each creature within 30 feet of the demilich that can hear the howl must succeed on a DC15 Constitution saving throw or drop to 0 hit points. On a successful save, the creature is frightened until the end of its next turn.

Does the countercharm give advantage on this save?
Is it a 'save against being frightened' if you are frightened only when you succeed on the save?
Is it a 'save for being frightened?'
Or is it a 'save against dropping to 0 hp' and advantage from countercharm does not apply?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it's a bit of X Y problem. I believe the question in the title may be irrelevant to the actual situation, because there are arguments that dropping to 0 hit points in this particular situation should also be considered extension of being frightened. I don't know if it would be good arguments, but maybe allowing them in the answers would be beneficial? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Mar 6, 2023 at 5:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot I hadn't considered that the whole thing could be a fear effect, with failing meaning 'frightened into unconsciousness' and success meaning 'frightened but still conscious'. I don't think there is as much support for that view as, for example, here or here, but I would certainly entertain such an answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Mar 6, 2023 at 5:59

1 Answer 1

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A really strict reading of just the stats block implies that countercharm cannot help in this case.

A Bard's countercharm grants advantage to saving throws against being charmed or frightened. The saving throw against the Demilich's Howl ability is against dropping to 0 HPs, hence it is a different effect than the two that countercharm protects from. Only in the case of a successful save does the frightened condition apply, but then the saving throw has already been done and there's no application of advantage.

The description text of the Demilich helps here: countercharm actually grants advantage.

The description of the Demilich reports that (emphases mine):

This “demilich” contains only a fragment of the lich’s malevolent life force — just enough so that if it is disturbed, these remains rise into the air and assume a wraithlike form. The skull then emits a terrifying howl that can slay the weak-hearted and leave others trembling with fear. Left alone, it sinks back down and returns to the empty peace of its existence.

This bit of text clearly states that the demilich's ability is a terrifying howl, which kills the weak-hearted (i.e., fearful) and leaves in terror those who survive: it is an ability based on fright. Since the description is part of the monster statistics, a DM can conclude that countercharm actually does provide advantage against the Demilich's Howl.


Credits to Molot for the basis of this answer, provided in the comments to the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So by the same logic, would I be immune to both sides of the Howl effect if I'm immune to the Frightened condition (such as from the Heroism spell)? Why or why not? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jorn
    Mar 6, 2023 at 15:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jorn I'd definitely grant at least advantage. Because DMs giving advantage for situations where the rules don't cover it, but it makes sense, is a core part of 5e D&D rules; this is akin to "you have the high ground". (and, of course, on a failed save you won't get frightened) \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Mar 6, 2023 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jorn If you adopt a really strict reading of the rules, you would be only immune to the 2nd effect of Demilich's Howl, the one that activates after a successful ST (first part of the answer). Otherwise, by the same reasoning above, being under some effects that make you immune to being frightened makes you immune to the Howl. However, as a DM, I would consider the source of this immunity and eventually make a ruling: a 1st level spell should be unlikely to automatically contrast a powerful monster such as a Demilich, maybe I would grant advantage to the ST instead of full immunity. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Mar 6, 2023 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of course, just to add to the weirdness, the fact that it uses a Con save implies that it's not a matter of any mental attribute (courage, willpower, force of personality, whatever, which would be a Wisdom or Charisma save), but simple physical fortitude (you're scared no matter what, all that matters is whether you're tough enough to avoid your heart giving out). The rules for this, and for various forms of protection against being frightened, overlap truly terribly. Personally, I'd consider immunity to fear enough to prevent all effects, no roll required, and advantage would apply. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 6, 2023 at 22:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ This definitely seems to me like a time when "cool and fun" trumps "technically accurate". It's a really cool character moment when you happen to have the perfect counter to a monster and use it at exactly the right time (or when your character abilities happen to protect you from a dangerous attack) and "Well technically it doesn't say--" is just the worst possible response. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 8, 2023 at 14:35

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