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I'm DMing for a group of players. The barbarian entered winter phoenix rage, which allows him to spend a healing surge as an immediate interrupt when he is reduced to 0 or fewer hit points. He also has something that lets him make an attack as a free action when he is reduced to 0 or fewer hit points.

I said that he couldn't get the attack off at the same time, because the immediate interrupt happens before the trigger, so technically he didn't truly go below 0 hit points to initiate the free action attack. My players gave me stink about this, but I stuck to my guns.

Did I make the right call?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "has something that lets him make an attack"... what is it? \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Feb 21 '15 at 4:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the free-attack feature an immediate interrupt? What is its name? We may be totally wrong here, depending on how it's constructed. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 23 '15 at 23:11
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You are correct, the immediate interrupt gets priority here, the Barbarian did not go to 0 and thus does not trigger the free action.

The key is when various kinds of actions occur. Immediate interrupts happen before their trigger. Whereas triggered free actions happen after their trigger completes.

Since the Barbarian is technically never at 0 HP, the free action power cannot trigger.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's important to note that free actions only generally happen after their trigger completes (RC 195, under Immediate Action). If they need to interrupt their trigger, they can do so. A good example is Insightful Riposte- the trigger is missing on an attack, the effect is gaining a power bonus to hit, which could turn the attack into a hit. It actually should depend on the wording of the free action- making such an attack actually has to interrupt the dropping to 0, because if it didn't, the character would already have fallen unconscious. \$\endgroup\$ – JLan Feb 4 '15 at 3:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know this is getting off-topic and in the direction of a different question, but would the same apply to an effect that has the same trigger and effect, but can be done as no action? Or would that fall into the same category as a free action, happening after the trigger? \$\endgroup\$ – Seiat Feb 4 '15 at 6:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't seem entirely logical. If the barbarian never hit 0 hp, then the interrupt wouldn't have been triggered. Wouldn't the action granting the attack be triggered at the same time the interrupt was triggered? \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Feb 21 '15 at 4:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DCShannon The question becomes what does the Barbarian's Winter Phoenix rage interrupt? My assumption in this answer is that it interrupts dropping to 0 HP. That's not the only thing it could interrupt though. Though if it interrupts the damage source, it could still mean the barbarian drops (And is just a lower amount of negative HP), if that's the case, then the free action would trigger. It's not clear what is interrupted. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Feb 21 '15 at 4:31
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You made the right call. Immediate interrupts are often designed to invalidate their own triggering actions. If a character used an immediate interrupt upon reaching 0hp to heal, they never reached 0hp.

An example of this mechanic occurs in the rules for immediate interrupts in the PHB (p268):

Interrupt: An immediate interrupt lets you jump in when a certain trigger condition arises, acting before the trigger resolves. If an interrupt invalidates a triggering action, that action is lost. For example, an enemy makes a melee attack against you, but you use a power that lets you shift away as an immediate interrupt. If your enemy can no longer reach you, the enemy’s attack action is lost.

In that example, after getting hit, you invalidate the hit — and nothing that would occur as a result of you getting hit, such as damage, happens. It's kind of mind-bending sometimes, but interrupts by definition occur before the thing that triggered them actually completely happens.

An immediate interrupt to heal on reaching 0hp is designed to prevent various things that trigger from reaching 0hp from happening: you don't go unconscious and fall prone, you don't begin to die, and any other conditions, triggers, effects and so on from hitting 0hp never happen. The free attack is one of those, so the free attack doesn't happen either. (Of course, if you still hit 0hp even with the healing, all of this stuff happens, because you didn't successfully prevent yourself from reaching that point.)

If the free attack is also an immediate interrupt, characters are limited to one immediate action per round, so that character still can't both heal and attack. If they've somehow acquired a second immediate action through a feature, then they can probably do both: they've invested resources in being able to do this, after all.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @DCShannon We have no rules text at all; the asker never provided it. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 24 '15 at 1:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DCShannon "Also, what makes you think that the healing happens before the damage?" -- It's an immediate interrupt. It occurs at an arbitrary point before its trigger resolves, by definition. See getting hit triggering a shift which means you don't get hit. It's kinda timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 24 '15 at 1:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Removed my downvote after the edit, but I still think it could be clearer that an action can't be both a free action and also an immediate action. It's one or the other. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Feb 24 '15 at 2:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DCShannon yeah, I agree, though I will have to wait to clarify this answer - my rules compendium is in a box for a few days while I move house. :) I'll review your answer again later. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 24 '15 at 2:17
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No. I don't think you made the right call.

Setup

You say there is a barbarian PC with 'Winter Phoenix Rage', which has this effect:

You enter the rage of the winter phoenix. Until the rage ends, you gain regeneration 5 + your Constitution modifier. In addition, the first time you drop to 0 hit points or fewer, you can spend a healing surge as an immediate interrupt.

The barbarian also has a power or feature that lets them make an attack when they drop to 0 hit points. The specific power or feature is not identified, but I'll assume that it's worded like so:

The first time in an encounter that you drop to 0 hit points or fewer, you can make a melee basic attack as a free action.

The question I'm reading is, "After dropping to 0 hit points for the first time in an encounter, can the barbarian both spend the healing surge and make the attack?"

Short Answer

I can certainly see the logic behind your interpretation, but that's not how I see it.

It seems to me that both of these abilities have the same trigger, so if one triggers they both trigger, and therefore both will happen.

An argument could be made that the healing surge will prevent the character from reaching zero hp, and that this will somehow retroactively cancel the attack's trigger. If you see things this way, then the player can simply make the attack first, and heal afterward.

Action Types

For the rest of the answer, rules are from the 'Action Types' section of the Rules Compendium, starting on page 194.

First off, the type of each action is important. One is an immediate interrupt, the other is a free action.

You can only take one immediate action per round, but you can take an unbounded number of free actions per turn, except in the case of free actions used to make attacks. You may only take one of these actions per turn. So, the PC can't spend the healing surge if they previously used an immediate action this round, and can't make the attack if they've previously used a free action to make an attack this turn. Additionally, you can only take immediate actions on other characters' turns, so the surge can't be spent on the PC's turn.

Timing

Assuming that's all fine, then we get to the trigger. The 'Triggered Actions' section says:

A triggered action is any action that can be taken only when a specific trigger occurs. A trigger is an action, an event, or an effect that allows the use of a triggered action.

So, the surge cannot be spent unless the trigger occurred, i.e. the barbarian must have dropped to zero hit points or fewer at some point. If the barbarian dropped to zero hit points or fewer, then the trigger for the attack has also occurred.

Now, the question is whether multiple triggered actions can be triggered by the same event. I can think of at least one question where this community has supported the use of multiple triggered powers on the same trigger, so I think that the answer is yes, although I cannot find a specific rules reference to cite.

We then need to consider when the actions will occur. Let's start with the surge. The 'Interrupts' paragraph of the 'Immediate Actions' section says that:

An immediate interrupt jumps in when its trigger occurs, taking place before the trigger finishes.

In regards to the attack, the 'Other Triggered Effects' section says:

If an effect has a trigger but is neither an immediate action nor an opportunity action, assume that it behave like an immediate reaction ... however, ignore this guideline when the effect has to interrupt its trigger to function.

As the 'attack' effect must interrupt the 'fall unconscious' trigger to function, we treat this attack like an immediate interrupt. Note that we are treating it like an immediate interrupt in terms of timing. This doesn't actually make the free action into an immediate action, so the limitation of one free action per round still does not apply to it.

An argument has been made that if the healing surge was used first, then it would prevent the character from actually reaching zero hp, and therefore prevent them from using their attack power. This could be an issue if multiple powers are triggered that could potentially invalidate their trigger, but isn't really a concern in this instance.

Here, the player can simply make their attack in response to falling to 0 hp, and then heal in response to falling to 0 hp.

Therefore, this is the sequence of events I would expect:

  1. The barbarian is damaged, dropping the barbarian's hp to zero.
  2. Both of the barbarian's abilities are triggered
  3. The barbarian makes a melee basic attack
  4. The barbarian uses a healing surge, raising their hp back above zero
  5. The barbarian remains conscious and standing

Note: There is some ambiguity on when the healing surge would actually occur. The trigger in this instance is falling to 0 hp, not being hit by an attack that would reduce you to 0 hp. So, are those separate events? This is important for determining the hp value after the surge, and seems worthy of a separate question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How do you account for immediate interrupts invalidating their triggers? (Assuming the attack is an immediate interrupt may not be valid.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 23 '15 at 23:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just recalled: you only get one immediate action per round. (PHB p268, immediate action rules.) If the free attack is also an immediate interrupt, you can't use both it and the heal. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 23 '15 at 23:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Well then do the attack first. It doesn't invalidate the trigger. Either way, it doesn't bother me. I guess I'm looking at the triggered events as going on a stack, and then resolving, which is how I would normally look at triggered events. That being said, I don't see anything dictating the order in which you put the events on the stack. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Feb 24 '15 at 1:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener The fact that you get one immediate action in the round is already in the answer and accounted for. The free action isn't an immediate action, it's a free action. It just "behaves like" one. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Feb 24 '15 at 1:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ We should center discussion about your answer on your answer rather than on mine. Re your comment: "We have rules text for how to handle a free action that invalidates its trigger. Those rules say that it "behaves like" an immediate interrupt, not that it becomes one. You can find the relevant rules quote in my answer." -- If you're asserting that behaving like an immediate interrupt means it somehow circumvents the restrictions on immediate actions (i.e. a part of their rules), I don't agree. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 24 '15 at 2:04

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