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Paladin auras typically state that all friendly creatures (including you) within X ft. gain effect Y.

For roleplay reasons, can a paladin decide that they no longer consider party member Z to be "friendly" (whilst not actively hostile, for roleplay reasons they no longer care for or consider party member Z a friend) and therefore deny them the benefits of their auras?

This is entirely in-game character to character to character. At the table to the real life players, I am and will likely remain forever indebted for stuff they have done over the last year or so to help me continue playing D&D, and consider akin to family members... but a running joke within the game will have started grating on my character, and I want to be able to show that with a bit of 'weight' behind it as such (i.e. "make that comment one last time, gnome, and you'll lose my favor"). Knowing the players, they only respond to consequences, so if they decide to push my character one last time, I want the consequence to be loss of aura privileges.

This table is by no means toxic, and in fact everyone (including the DM) will likely get a bit of a kick out of it. Also, my DM will want to know if denying access to a paladin's aura is possible under RAW.

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    \$\begingroup\$ None of the auras in the PHB uses the term ally, they all use the term "friendly creature". \$\endgroup\$ Dec 12, 2023 at 17:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin: That said, answers that aren't ridiculously fine parsing of the rules (e.g. trying to use social interaction rules to establish game terms for non-social purposes) are inevitably going to be pretty similar to defining "ally"; it's a plain English word, there's multiple ways to interpret it, and, as one of the answers there suggests, it's probably better to replace such uses with "willing creature you choose" rather than decide someone's powers, bestowed only while conscious, are somehow tied to the attitudes held internally by other people. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 13, 2023 at 0:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin Not in the PHB, but the Crown paladin's Exalted Champion ability works on allies, not friends. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Dec 13, 2023 at 1:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ This hair splitting over "ally" and "friendly" is really pointless, and is another one of those "why we can't have nice things" problems. D&D 5e was not written in computer code. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 13, 2023 at 3:56

3 Answers 3

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There is no official rule, nor was there ever meant to be one

It is, frankly, incorrect to analyze every time Wizards of the Coast used the word “friendly” in the text in an attempt to determine what “their definition” of the word was. They weren’t using any special definition here.

They also weren’t consulting any official dictionary for some precise English-language definition of the word.

Quoting the rules, quoting a dictionary, any answer taking that approach is wrong because that is not how this is written.

This is written in a much more natural, non-technical style. “Friendly” means exactly what it means to us, as people who speak the English language. We don’t all necessarily understand the word exactly the same way—but that’s fine. That hasn’t stopped anyone from using the word productively, and it didn’t stop Wizards of the Coast. As long as everyone playing a game more-or-less agrees on what it means—and is willing to maturely discuss corner cases for what they are, corner cases, and decide those cases on their own merits and without any appeal to authority in the form of trying to insist upon definitions that Wizards of the Coast wasn’t using themselves—everything is fine.

And that’s what we have here—a corner case. Arguing semantics won’t help you. The real question is, is your game better if paladins can do this, or better if they can’t? And framed that way, I think we can immediately discard some possibilities: for instance, the aura probably shouldn’t fail to work on someone who is secretly plotting to betray the paladin, because that gives the paladin a magical “friendliness” detector that the aura doesn’t seem to be intended as (but if your table thinks that sounds like an interesting bit of world-building, more power to you). In the inverse case, where the paladin is secretly planning to betray someone who thinks of themselves as a friend, that becomes a little trickier—it might be pretty interesting if a paladin can’t lie about something like that. But it also could be a headache; while interesting, I probably wouldn’t go for it myself. And so on.

Anyway, if we really want to take a step back and divine what Wizards of the Coast meant, my guess is that they just used “friendly” here as a synonym for “allied,” because good English writing doesn’t keep reusing the same words over and over. And “ally” is, I think, a little clearer here that it should be something the paladin has voluntary discretion over—whatever you think of someone in general, if they’re on your side in a fight, they’re on your side in a fight. But that’s just a guess—though honestly, I think it’s a better-supported guess than anything trying to demand specificity from the rules text that its authors plainly never put into it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I thnk you are right that friendly is likely just as we read it. But the language is not a good fit for how 5e would word an aura that the palading gets to choose its targets for. For example, look at the warlock of the great old ones aura, that says At the start of each of the warlock's turns, each creature of its choice within 10 feet of it. This is how this might be worded if the affected creatures would be at the paladins choice \$\endgroup\$ Dec 13, 2023 at 6:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin what aura are you referring to? I don't see an aura in the great old one subclass. My guess is anywhere that talks about choice has some potential downside, such as granting temp hp which you might not want to give at times, the paladin is pure buff so they never even thought about not wanting to give it \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Dec 13, 2023 at 6:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Warlock of the Great Old One (Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, p. 256) \$\endgroup\$ Dec 13, 2023 at 6:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah ok, enemy 🙂 that is a damage aura, so choosing targets is pretty important. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Dec 13, 2023 at 6:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimGrant I consider it self-evident from the wording and do not agree that this answer would benefit from citing anything about it. I wouldn’t refuse to mention it if I had a quote on hand, but I see no need to go find one. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 14, 2023 at 18:02
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Framing (you can skip this)

Editorial Note: To be explicit here about what I am claiming; I am attempting to answer OP's question "[is] denying access to a paladin's aura is possible under RAW." The rules about paladin auras include the term 'friendly', and thus we need to know what this word means within the context of the larger body of rules.

I agree with KRyan that the authors of the PHB might not have had any particular rules-intent associated with this word; it might both have had only its standard English usage and had its usage shift in meaning depending on the passage. I find this entirely possible. However, I disagree with him on two points: First, that we are better off assuming there was no intent and no pattern then actually checking for one (and that the process of looking for patterns is, in itself, incorrect and wrong). And second, that if there was no intent, then there can be no meaningful application of the word 'friendly' to OP's question.

Rather, I believe that happy accidents can exist. Even if the authors did not intend to create a consistent in-game definition of friendly, they could have done so unintentionally, and that definition could still be useful to OP and their DM. If the word is used consistently throughout the corpus in ways that connect logically to other powers and abilities, that may be useful in their game, regardless of intent.

Actual answer starts here

What does friendly mean?

There is no game definition of what is a friend. However, the PHB does tell us what being "friendly" means (p. 185):

In general terms, an NPC’s attitude toward you is described as friendly, indifferent, or hostile. Friendly NPCs are predisposed to help you, and hostile ones are inclined to get in your way

And the DMG adds to this understanding (p. 244):

A friendly creature wants to help the adventurers and wishes for them to succeed. For tasks or actions that require no particular risk, effort, or cost, friendly creatures usually help without question. If an element of personal risk is involved, a successful Charisma check might be required to convince a friendly creature to take that risk.

So by definition, a friendly creature wants you to succeed, but is not always willing to risk itself to help you. We can also note that about a third of the time when the PHB mentions allies, it also mentions them as being friendly. The two terms seem to be related1:

PHB, Help Action, emphases mine:

Alternatively, you can aid a friendly creature in attacking a creature within 5 feet of you. You feint, distract the target, or in some other way team up to make your ally's attack more effective. If your ally attacks the target before your next turn, the first attack roll is made with advantage.

PHB, Forest Gnome (p. 37), emphases mine:

Forest gnomes tend to be friendly with other good-spirited woodland folk, and they regard elves and good fey as their most important allies. These gnomes also befriend small forest animals and rely on them for information about threats that might prowl their lands.

It is clear that being an ally is linked to being friendly, and it appears that allies are always friendly2.

What is the difference between an ally and a friend as they relate to other rules? Here we can return to the DMG definition of friendly, and note that while a friendly creature always wants its friends to succeed, it is not always willing to risk itself to help. While a friendly creature wants you to succeed, an ally is a friendly creature that is furthermore willing to incur risk, effort, or cost to itself in order to help you succeed. That an ally is willing to incur personal risk on your behalf is consistent with all the uses of 'ally' in the PHB. It is especially congruent with the definition of the Help action, where you must place yourself within five feet of a foe to give your ally advantage3. And it even touches on the distinction made in the description of Forest Gnomes, where small woodland creatures are just friends, but more combat-ready fey and elves are not only friends but allies as well.

Thus, any ally is always friendly, but not every friend is an ally. A "friend" of the paladin is someone who is predisposed to help them, but this is a less stringent definition than an ally - they may be just 'fair-weather friends' who welcome the beneficial auras the paladins provide without being willing to risk themselves on the paladin's behalf, or inconvenience themselves by attempting to follow the paladin's code, or moderate their behavior to retain the paladin's favor.

Only at the point in time in which the paladin's companions cease to be predisposed to help the paladin, and become indifferent to the paladin's goals, would they cease to be friendly and would thus no longer receive the benefit of the paladin's aura.

The paladin does not actively choose

Typically abilities that a character elects to use have "can" or "choose" in their language. Your paladin's Aura of Protection says:

Starting at 6th level, whenever you or a friendly creature within 10 feet of you must make a saving throw, the creature gains a bonus to the saving throw equal to your Charisma modifier (with a minimum bonus of +1).

"The creature gains a bonus" leaves no room for the paladin to decide. If the paladin could extend this benefit or not, it would say something like "whenever you or a friendly creature within 10 feet of you must make a saving throw, the creature can gain a bonus to the saving throw". Similarly, your Aura of Courage says,

Starting at 10th level, you and friendly creatures within 10 feet of you can’t be frightened while you are conscious.

It doesn't say "you and friendly creatures you choose can't be frightened".

Within the description of the abilities, the paladin cannot choose anything - they will provide the benefit to those who are friendly to the paladin, regardless of the paladin's feelings or intentions.

A caveat - the paladin's abilities are powered by their Oath

A paladin may or may not worship a god, but even if they do, that god is not what is powering the paladin's abilities. The source of a Paladin's power is their Oath - their deep personal commitment to their values. Like their spells, their auras are a function of the paladin's belief (and they don't work while the paladin is unconscious).

Even though the paladin doesn't have a choice about to whom they extend the benefits of their aura, as a DM, I would look hard at the tenets of the paladin's Oath, and in some cases, let their guiding philosophy decide. A Paladin of Mercy believes in:

Forgiveness. Let bygones be bygones. Forgive those who trespass against you.
Redemption. Those who aren't evil can be redeemed. Show them the error of their ways and ensure they are on the path to redemption.

Here, you are stuck with your jackass friends. In fact, the behavior you are willing to suffer on their behalf is what is powering your abilities to begin with. I wouldn't think a Mercy paladin would be able to deny their aura to anyone who legitimately sought it.

Contrast that with the Oath of Conquest:

Rule with an Iron Fist. Once you have conquered, tolerate no dissent. Your word is law. Those who obey it shall be favored. Those who defy it shall be punished as an example to all who might follow.
Strength Above All. You shall rule until a stronger one arises.

As a DM, if a player's Conquest paladin wanted to deny their aura to 'friends' until those friends straightened up and flew right, I would permit it - not because the paladin wanted to, but because their belief required it.


1 Similar links between 'friendly' and 'allied' can be found in the descriptions of Character Building (Building Bruenor, Step 4), the Tiefling Race details, and the Bard Class Feature, Song of Rest.

2 There are places in the PHB where being an ally is mentioned without an explicit mention of friendliness. We can look to these to see whether it is ever possible to be an ally without being friendly. A review of who a Bard inspires (p.54, in two places), the functions of the Cleric class (p.56), who can benefit from a Battlemaster's Distracting Strike (p.84), who a Ranger can teach (p.90), who can benefit from a Wizard's Illusory Reality (p.118), who a flawed Folk Hero has trouble trusting (p.132), who might be healed with the Healer feat (p.167), and who can be targeted with an Aid spell (p.211) finds that in no case is it suggested that an ally would not be friendly.

3 It also makes sense with the feature Pack Tactics (found in the PHB descriptions of Dire Wolves, Lions, Reef Sharks, and Wolves), which confers advantage on your attacks when an ally of yours is willing to risk themselves by being adjacent to your shared foe.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A Paladin of Mercy could argue that continuing to bestow an unmerited benefit is no mercy, but rather a cowardly refusal to show them the error of their ways. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mary
    Dec 13, 2023 at 4:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ It’s simply not a helpful or accurate approach to do this kind of word-parsing here. Wizards of the Coast didn’t write to this standard of specificity, so trying to extract this level of specificity from their writing is just lying to yourself. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 13, 2023 at 5:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mary I think the question is whether 'showing them the error of their ways' is something better done out of combat around the campfire or when they are depending on your aura to protect them from fear-inducing undead and the elemental breath of dragons. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Dec 13, 2023 at 6:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I'll certainly admit that I'm reading more into it than the authors likely intended. But since we generally don't know intent, nor what can be taken as game terms and what are simply synonyms, the question for me is utility. Regardless of intent, the words 'friendly' and 'ally' are actually used consistently and cohesively, so if one wants to take a RAW approach here, that is possible in this case even if it is a happy accident. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Dec 13, 2023 at 6:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I simply don’t agree. I don’t think this is a reasonable option. I think what you see as a “consistent and cohesive” usage is really just a rationalization, apophenia. For any consistent and cohesive usage to be meaningful, rather than coincidence, we would have to believe that the authors consciously chose to use the words in this way in order to convey this meaning. Since extracting that meaning requires this answer, I call that an unreasonable assumption. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 13, 2023 at 7:41
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You should do what you all enjoy

I think the answer for your group is not to look at this from a purely wording or rules mechanics perspective. You write:

This table is by no means toxic and in fact everyone including the DM will likely get a bit of a kick out of it.

If both you, and the other players at the table, and the DM all will enjoy it, then by all means, go ahead and play it like that.

Rules as written, the paladin has no control over it

To see an example how the aura would be worded if the affected creatures were chosen by the paladin, we look at the Whispering Aura of the Warlock of the Great Old One (Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, p. 256):

Whispering Aura. At the start of each of the warlock's turns, each creature of its choice within 10 feet of it must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or take 10 (3d6) psychic damage, provided the warlock isn 't incapacitated.

This language makes it clear that the warlock gets to choose who is affected by the aura. The Paladin has no such language, and thus would not get to chose the creatures affected by their aura. Also, at least for spell-based auras, the guideline of interpreting spells is that they only do what they say they do. If the aura does not say you can suppress it, you cannot suppress it. Simple as that.

Who is friendly is not up to the paladin

Here is a typical wording of how they work, as an example from the Aura of Courage:

you and friendly creatures within 10 feet of you can’t be frightened while you are conscious.

For these auras, it is useful to observe is that in all of them, it are the creatures that are described as friendly1, it is not the Paladin that is described as friendly towards the creatures. It is not "creatures you are allied to" or "creatures you consider friendly". Because of that, if the creatures wish the paladin to succeed or want to help him, then the auras should work for them: it depends on their attitude, not his.

The aura also works if the paladin is incapacitated

The auras typically only work when the paladin is conscious. This may suggest that the aura is something the Paladin actively instills in others, but it does not say so. It only demands that the paladin is conscious. For example, if the paladin was merely incapacitaded, which is one of the effects of being unconscious, he likewise

can't move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings

but he still could grant the aura. So, as written the paladin does not even need to be aware of his surroundings to have the aura work. That would not fit with the paladin activley choosing who is affected. The aura just works.


1 "Friendly creature" is defined under Resolving Interactions in the DMG on p. 244:

A friendly creature wants to help the adventurers and wishes for them to succeed. For tasks or actions that require no particular risk, effort, or cost, friendly creatures usually help without question.

(Big thanks to @V2Blast for digging this up.)

If you think this definition is not generalizable, you are back to the usual approach is to look at the common, English language definition, which this ranges from "showing kindly interest and goodwill" to "not hostile". In any case, how exactly you interpret freindly in the end does not matter. The paladin cannot just unilaterally and arbitrarily declare who is, or is not, a friendly creature. Nothing in the text suggests they could.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is actually a definition of "friendly", in the DMG's rules on social interaction. Per the "Starting Attitude" section: "A friendly creature wants to help the adventurers and wishes for them to succeed. For tasks or actions that require no particular risk, effort, or cost, friendly creatures usually help without question. If an element of personal risk is involved, a successful Charisma check might be required to convince a friendly creature to take that risk." \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Dec 12, 2023 at 17:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I totally did not think of that. That's awesome, I will revise. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 12, 2023 at 18:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I do not think it’s accurate to conflate “friendly” defined as a specific NPC attitude with every use of the word throughout the rules. It’s a mistake to assume that they are always using the game definition when they use a word that has one, and in this context, I don’t think it really works. That said, this answer’s current claims about what the word “friendly” means are also, I think, wrong—or at least, too limited, which is a problem when it turns around and says that therefore that (overly limited) definition is strictly what applies here. That section fails as analysis, IMO. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 12, 2023 at 21:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, if you're using the plain English definition, there are more ways to interpret it. "Friendly" can mean "easily forms friendships", not just "behaves towards you as a friend would". Now the social mavens of the local orc tribe, or the fun guys in the local gang, etc., benefit from your aura. Or you just give up on this sort of fine parsing and substitute "willing creatures you choose" for "friendly creatures", much like Carcer suggests doing for "ally". \$\endgroup\$ Dec 13, 2023 at 0:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowRanger Yes, the definition of friendly is pretty vague but that would not make a difference here I think; if the DM chose to use that defintion, the aura would also apply to sociable monsters. I think it is a bit of a strech, for example Orcus bestows an aura that affects the creature and any friendly Undead -- maybe these are just sociable undead, but it seems more likely it means "not hostile" or something along those lines. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 13, 2023 at 6:15

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