I have a Warlock with the Utility Power Ruinous Phrase.

Target: One unattended Medium or smaller non-magical, inanimate object

Effect: if the target has hit pints equal to 20 + your level or fewer, you destroy it.

I have read up on what Unattended is, and have read the item HP table in the DMG.

My question relates to using the power to destroy an incoming projectile (say from a siege weapon). I could ready an action to use Ruinous Phrase to destroy a bolt. However, as readied action is a reaction rather than interrupt, and the power only targets unattended objects, my only valid trigger is the bolt being released. However, there is no 'room' in time, as far as I can see, where the projectile is in flight, short of using an interrupt (which would create a time for it to resolve).

So, DO projectiles exist in flight? Could I use Ruinous Phrase or any other readied action to affect a projectile?


2 Answers 2


Naturally they exist. However, the question of whether you can interact with them in flight is a bit more ponderous.

There are two questions. The first is whether or not we can intervene on a flying projectile. the second is whether or not a projectile weapon counts as an item being "unattended" and "inanimate."

Generally the answer to this question is no. However, an immediate action might allow you to change it's course. An immediate interrupt would let you disturb the flight in some way (either intervening before it hits, or before it was fired). However, the action in question here is an immediate reaction.

Immediate reactions happen after their trigger full resolves. However, the conditions have to have mechanical meaning (at least I would rule that way). So "arrow in flight" isn't meaningful, "an ally is targeted by a siege weapon" and "an ally is hit by a siege weapon" are both valid triggers. Let's assume for the sake of this argument, that we use "an ally is targeted by a siege weapon" and said siege weapon is fired upon the targeting. Our readied action will go off between the targetting and the hitting. Ostensibly while the item is in the air. Alternatively, "a projectile enters my range" would be a valid trigger, and the power would go off when it fully entered the range of the power.

This reasoning seems to indicate that yes you can interact with a projectile (at least in a way) to interfere with it in flight.

The other question is much harder to answer I think. because "inanimate" does not have mechanical meaning in 4e. The only entries for unattended seem to basically indicate that it means that it's not in a hostile creature's square. And inanimate's dictionary definition means "not alive" so unless you've got dancing baslista bolts flying at you, I'm gonna say that a projectile generally qualifies as both inanimate and unattended.

So between these two things it seems to be allowed by the book. And I'm OK with this both from a player's perspective and a GM's. This is an inventive use of a game power and something I'd encourage from the GM's chair. From a player's point of view, this is a hefty cost for something that may or may not benefit me. You're consuming your standard to ready an action for a trigger that may not come, to prevent a single attack that might not hit. You're doing this instead of attacking, which is probably a better use of your standard, and you're modifying your place in the initiative order if your trigger goes off. These are things to consider before you try this as a player. As a GM, I'd say, "go for it".

  • \$\begingroup\$ Because Immediate Reactions occur after the triggering action completes, the action that fired the projectile would complete and the projectile would strike its target before the immediate reaction could take place. Unless there were an action that fired a projectile that took more than one round to reach it's target, there would be no way to intercept it with Ruinous Phrase. \$\endgroup\$
    – Soulrift
    Aug 22, 2014 at 0:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Soulrift the whole action doesn't need to complete, just the trigger. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Aug 22, 2014 at 0:23
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "Readying an action to be triggered by an enemy attack means that the readied action will occur as a reaction to the attack, so the character’s attack happens only after the enemy attacks." (Glossary entry for Ready an Action) A projectile attack is still an attack, so if your trigger is part of an attack, you have to wait for the attack to complete. Otherwise you could make up ridiculous trigger conditions like "the enemy grips his weapon firmly as if to attack" in order to interrupt an attack with a readied action (by triggering on the "grip" rather than the "swing" or whatever). \$\endgroup\$
    – Soulrift
    Aug 22, 2014 at 2:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, this was basically my concern, @Soulrift. A Reaction would happen after resolution of the attack. \$\endgroup\$
    – Frezak
    Aug 22, 2014 at 7:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why not trigger on <siege projectile comes within 20 feet> or something like that? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 22, 2014 at 17:57

No, projectiles do not exist in flight.

I believe I have a case for an opposing answer, but this answer is based on a few presuppositions that may not apply to all interpretations of D&D 4th Edition rules. I do not believe there is a firm answer, but I would propose the following for my own campaigns, should this come up whilst I was a DM:

  1. Firstly, I presuppose that ambiguities favour the "gamist" set of rules rather than the open role-playing interpretation in 4th Edition.

  2. Secondly, I define D&D 4th Edition actions as a series of singular points in time that are executed in sequence (eg: select power, select targets, roll attacks, roll damage, apply effects, etc.) and are themselves indivisible (they take zero time, so nothing happens in the middle of them). I chose to define these as events; see below for my reasoning.

  3. Thirdly, that an interrupt happens before a point in time, and a reaction happens after a point in time, and that these points -- events -- can be used as triggers.

What are events?

The glossary entry for Ready an Action is unfortunately vague in so far as it does not provide a clear definition of what the triggers for Readying can be. It merely states:

Choose Trigger: Choose the circumstance that will trigger the readied action.

The word circumstance is clearly not a game term and does not show up again. But the rest of the glossary entry does give some guidance, in so far as it only provides examples of movement and attacks. The entry for Action Types provides this little piece of information (emphasis added):

An immediate action is always in response to a trigger on another creature’s turn (such as an action or an event)

Actions are clearly defined, but "events" are not.

Immediate Reactions are further defined as (emphasis added):

The triggering action or event occurs and is completely resolved before the reaction takes place. An immediate reaction waits for its trigger to finish, not necessarily for the action that contains the trigger to finish.

Thus, the rules are suggesting that events are sub-units of actions and can be triggers for interruptions or reactions, and that these sub-units must be resolved completely before the next step of game logic can occur.

Thusly, I define events as the sub-units that make up actions, as defined by game mechanics and powers.

What are the events in a raged attack that could be used as triggers?

A ranged basic attack would be comprised of the following events:

  1. Use the power

  2. Select the target

  3. Make the attack

  4. If hit, deal damage

An opportunity attack would be triggered by event #1, because the definition of opportunity attack specifies:

Ranged and Area Powers Provoke: If an enemy adjacent to you uses a ranged power or an area power, you can make an opportunity attack against that enemy.

Therefore, in the strictest sense, the OA would have to be made before one knows who is being targeted by the ranged attack; though in practical game terms steps 1 and 2 are usually combined (DM declares: monster shoots PC, then PC declares interrupt).

In any case, step 3 is what concerns us in this example, and the important thing is that the attack event comprises the entire flight duration of the projectile, the projectile "exists" for zero time, or, practically speaking, doesn't exist in flight at all. The projectile leaves the attacker and arrives at its target in the same event, and each event is a zero-duration point in time.

But what if projectiles do move?

To explore the counter-argument, if projectiles did exist in flight, one would have to insert a series of events for the movement of the projectile. But where would they be inserted?

  1. Use the power

  2. Select the target

  3. Make the attack

    4. Move the projectile (repeat for each square moved)

  4. If hit, deal damage

If this is the case, we already know the projectile has hit the target before it starts to move, which is logically odd. It's also unclear if the projectile does its series of move events if the target has already been determined to have been missed. Thus, I do not think the movement events could occur here.

  1. Use the power

  2. Select the target

    3. Move the projectile (repeat for each square moved)

  3. Make the attack

  4. If hit, deal damage

This sequence, while it seems more intuitive, also has a very odd problem in D&D 4th Edition, in so far as all square by square movement can be re-calculated or re-considered after each square has been moved. Moreover, movement never has to be a straight line (see rules for charging, which allow zig-zags). Moreover, there is no rule that specifies that a projectile has to move one square towards its target as a charge has to, which means it can move in any direction. Moreover, a projectile does not have a specified number of squares of movement, which means it can move an infinite number of squares to reach its target.

This means that the projectile does not have to move in a straight line towards the target, and if the trigger condition were "the projectile moves within 4 squares of me" and the target is positioned far enough from the action-readier that the projectile could become adjacent to the target without passing within 4 squares of the action-readier, it could, plausibly, take a rather circuitous route, winding around the danger zone to reach the target. In fact, it could move the other way around the world to hit the target from behind, or navigate through a dungeon to avoid entering the action-readier's zone.

Because of the implausibility of these consequences, I therefore refuse to accept the argument that projectiles have movement events, and instead conclude that they do not exist in flight.


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