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I was wondering whether a burst effect centered on you affects you.

The Dread Necromancer from Heroes of Horror has a Negative Energy Burst — does it affect her? Also, the player has the Tomb-Tainted Soul from Libris Mortis, and claims she should heal from the burst (this comes down to "is he affected by the burst?").

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your title question doesn't match its context. If you cast Delayed Blast Fireball or Sunburst centered on yourself, you are darned right you would be affected. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Sep 13 '15 at 0:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ True. That's the point of having a whole question besides the title ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Saryk Sep 13 '15 at 1:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ This makes me question all burst effect spells, because if negative energy burst affects the caster, why not every burst effect spell. That makes using any spell with a burst effect pretty suicidal. \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Sep 13 '15 at 4:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Fering -- burst effects are generally centered somewhere else than in your face! \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Sep 13 '15 at 4:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Im justing asking why you would treat the two burst effects differently unless there is something specific, which the feat does seem to indicate \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Sep 13 '15 at 5:11
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Technically, a proper burst can't usually be centered on the creature that created the burst...

When a spell or effect affects an area that's a burst

Regardless of the shape of the area, you select the point where the spell originates, but otherwise you don’t control which creatures or objects the spell affects. The point of origin of a spell is always a grid intersection.... Most spells that affect an area function as a burst, an emanation, or a spread. In each case, you select the spell’s point of origin and measure its effect from that point.

A burst spell affects whatever it catches in its area, even including creatures that you can’t see. It can’t affect creatures with total cover from its point of origin (in other words, its effects don’t extend around corners). The default shape for a burst effect is a sphere, but some burst spells are specifically described as cone-shaped. A burst’s area defines how far from the point of origin the spell’s effect extends.

Emphasis mine. So when a creature casts, for example, the 2nd-level Clr spell sound burst [evoc] (PH 281) with its area of a 10-ft. radius spread or the 8th-level Sor/Wiz spell sunburst [evoc] (PH 289) with its area of an 80-ft. radius burst, the crosshairs at which the area begins can be adjacent to the caster, but the point at which the area begins can't be a square the caster occupies. (Many games such as GURPS and the Hero System—even some d20 games like either edition of Spycraft—do count actual hexes or squares instead of counting crosshairs to crosshairs when dealing with burst-like area, so Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 is exceptional in this case.)

...But everything described as or named a burst isn't, technically, a burst

Sometimes names and descriptions of effects in Dungeons and Dragons demonstrate a shocking lack of imagination. Lots of things that are called bursts don't conform to the technical definition of a burst. Seriously, the 1st-level psionic power burst [psychoportation] (XPH 81-2), for example, isn't a burst at all! And the 0-level Sor/Wiz spell flare [evoc] (PH 232) says Effect: Burst of light, yet that burst of light affects but a lone creature.

The dread necromancer's supernatural ability negative energy burst is one of these fancifully named bursts—not a technical burst—, its specific description overriding the general rules of bursts with its details describing exactly how it functions:

Beginning at 3rd level, a dread necromancer gains the ability to emit a burst of negative energy from her body, harming living creatures within 5 feet of her. (Heroes of Horror 86)

This effect affects creatures in and adjacent to the dread necromancer's space but doesn't affect the dread necromancer himself because he's emitting the effect. Would it be easier to adjudicate were it phrased like the 9th-level Sor/Wiz spell wail of the banshee [necro] (PH 298)? Sure, and such a description would also make it clear how the special ability charnel burst interacts with obstacles, yet negative energy burst's phrasing is clear and playable enough.

(Note that the special ability negative energy burst is hardly unique in being a burst centered on the burst's creator, especially taking into account psionic powers. For example, the 3rd-level psion/wilder power energy burst [psychokinesis] (XPH 101) is a burst centered on the manifester yet dealing no damage to the manifester, while the 6th-level psion/wilder power breath of the black dragon (XPH 81) is a cone-shaped burst centered on the manifester without such an exception! It would've been kind of the developers to've included rules for adjudicating such effects, however. In particular, emanations—especially the effect created by the 6th-level Sor/Wiz spell antimagic field [abjur] (PH 200)—would've benefited greatly from only a few more words of explanation and a diagram.)

In sum, a dread necromancer's negative energy burst does not affect the dread necromancer...

Thus, while it is possible to catch oneself in the area of one's own burst—like in a fireball spell's Area: 20-ft.-radius spread (which, by the way, has been happening for literal decades) or whatever—, it's not possible for a dread necromancer to catch himself in the area of his own negative energy burst. Your player's tomb-tainted dread necromancer is unaffected by his own special ability negative energy burst, but, if it's any consolation, he can still touch himself as a standard action to benefit from his supernatural ability charnel touch.

...But a house rule saying that it can is totally okay

Even if a house rule allows the tomb-tainted dread necromancer to take a standard action 1/day (+1 time/day at levels 8, 13, and 18) to use the supernatural ability negative energy burst to deal 1d4 points of negative energy damage/level to creatures adjacent to his space and to himself, game balance won't be upset. Taking a standard action to heal a comparatively minor amount of damage to himself and some minions (while possibly endangering his living allies) when that standard action could've been spent casting spells that kill people? That's a choice a dread necromancer can be allowed to make without fear of him dominating the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Explanations for downvotes, while never required, are always appreciated. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 13 '15 at 9:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am surprised I haven't received any as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Sep 13 '15 at 10:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Me three -- the downvote I received is a total mystery, too. \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Sep 13 '15 at 13:09
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My ruling would be "no"; "yes" is possible to read, but opens up a potential can of worms...

First we define what a burst ability is. Quoth the SRD:

A burst spell affects whatever it catches in its area, even including creatures that you can’t see. It can’t affect creatures with total cover from its point of origin (in other words, its effects don’t extend around corners). The default shape for a burst effect is a sphere, but some burst spells are specifically described as cone-shaped. A burst’s area defines how far from the point of origin the spell’s effect extends.

Now, we move on to the specific ability in question. From Heroes of Horror (emphasis mine):

Negative Energy Burst (Su): Beginning at 3rd level, a dread necromancer gains the ability to emit a burst of negative energy from her body, harming living creatures within 5 feet of her. This burst deals 1d4 points of damage per class level. A successful Will save (DC 10 + 1/2 her class level + Cha modifier) reduces damage by half. Undead creatures within this burst are healed the same amount of hit points as the damage she deals to living creatures. A dread necromancer can use this ability once per day at 3rd level, and one additional time per day for every five levels she attains beyond 3rd (2/day at 8th level, 3/day at 13th level, and 4/day at 18th level).

There are two readings of these rules:

  1. I would rule that the emphasized wording in Negative Energy Burst changes the shape of the effect, making it exclude the caster by way of emitting from the caster's surface -- this is unlike most burst effects that expand out from a caster-designated point. I suspect that this is the ruling the writers intended as well -- they're Dread Necromancers, not negative-energy suicide bombers!

  2. The alternative ruling is that "all burst effects must originate from a point". This means that Dread Necromancers are affected by their own Negative Energy Bursts, which is mildly nonsensical (since the flavor text for the Charnel Touch ability says that they already have negative energy flowing through them) for the "straight" class, but reads usefully in conjunction with Tomb-Tainted Soul (or being undead). However, I suspect there are other unexpected consequences of such a ruling as well due to this not being the only burst effect that would be affected by it.

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Regarding a spell's burst in general:

Yes it can.

Sunburst, for example, states:

Sunburst causes a globe of searing radiance to explode silently from a point you select. All creatures in the globe are blinded and take 6d6 points of damage.

If you select an area for the burst that includes you in it - sorry - make a reflex save.

However, look at Prismatic Spray, there is no specific mention that you are effected, and the spell description states:

This spell causes seven shimmering, intertwined, multicolored beams of light to spray from your hand.

If the effect comes out of your hand, and shoots outward, why would it effect you, unless you are pointing your hand at yourself?


Regarding a Dread Necromancer's Negative Energy Burst:

It would require a DM Ruling, but there is precedence to support a 'No."

The Energy Burst psionic power specifically states:

Since this power extends outward from you, you are not affected by the damage.

Your DM could just as well state the same thing. But since Negative Energy Burst does not specifically state that, he wouldn't be wrong in stating you are also affected. Every single Handbook available for a Dread Necromancer will tell you to get the Tomb-Tainted Soul feat - or be undead - in order to benefit from the healing aspect of the burst. That implies there is a general consensus that the majority of people that have put some thought into it agree that the Dread Necromancer is affected.

Some of the general consensus lies in a reading of the following to descriptions of Area of Effect:

  1. A burst spell affects whatever it catches in its area.

    Most people will tend to believe you are in the bursts area of effect.

  2. A burst, cone, cylinder, or emanation spell affects only an area, creatures, or objects to which it has line of effect from its origin (a spherical burst’s center point, a cone-shaped burst’s starting point, a cylinder’s circle, or an emanation’s point of origin).

    Most people tend to think in terms of squares - not people - therefore the center point of a square would include the caster.


Some other lines of defense against the "but it affects me too" theory would be the text of Negative Energy Burst:

harming living creatures within 5 feet of her.

This of That is technically a separation. An absurdity of counterargument could be:

  • Do I provoke an attack of opportunity against myself?


But, in the end of it all, Tomb-Tainted Soul, while really not that bad of a feat, would end any and all argument - allowing you to heal yourself with Charnel Touch and some other Negative Energy effects if it does not affect you; allowing you to heal yourself with your Negative Energy Burst in addition to Charnel Touch and some other Negative Energy effects if it does affect you..

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