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The description of Iron Heart Surge seems unclear to me. Normally, you must be able to move to initiate a maneuver. However, Iron Heart Surge seems very broad in what it affects. Can it also remove effects that prevent you from moving, like sleep or paralysis?

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Strictly speaking, no. Iron heart surge requires a standard action; if you cannot take a standard action, you cannot use iron heart surge.

On the other hand, yes, it is worded extremely broadly. Certainly, if you could somehow activate iron heart surge while affected by sleep or paralysis, you would definitely remove those conditions.

Just how broad iron heart surge actually is is a matter of considerable debate. Customer Service notoriously ruled that it could affect literally anything that’s having a negative effect on you – and that, in the case of area effects, iron heart surge doesn’t just remove its effect on you, it removes the entire effect wholesale. This has led to the “I iron heart surge the sun!” jokes, wherein the speaker is someone like an orc with light blindness, negatively affected by the sun’s light, uses iron heart surge to put out the sun.

Obviously, iron heart surge should not be able to put out the sun. In my opinion, it’s also equally obvious that iron heart surge should be a way of dealing with something that prevents you from acting: the narrative precedents for iron heart surge certainly could.

Thus, it is my general recommendation that the entire text of iron heart surge be replaced with

By CRROOOOOOOOMMM!!!

Because anything that Conan could have broken free of by shouting Crom’s name should be something that iron heart surge gets you out of. I furthermore allow iron heart surge even when you cannot act at all – even when you are unconscious. This is both more consistent with the narrative precedent, and far, far less completely broken than the Customer Service ruling.

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Nothing in the description of Iron Heart Surge implies it breaks the usual rules of martial maneuver activation.

This means, unfortunately, it can't end any effect that prevents you from moving of your own free will, including stuff such as sleep, paralysis, and dominate effects. The book only states that you must be able to move to initiate a maneuver, though, so it should still be able to be used if you're restrained or grappled (but not pinned), for example, as long as you're not fully immobile. (The Sage talks about initiating maneuvers while grappled or pinned here.)

However, of note is the specific wording of what Iron Heart Surge actually does. The maneuver states:

When you use this maneuver, select one spell, effect, or other condition currently affecting you with a duration of 1 or more rounds. That effect ends immediately.

Due to this, a strictly RAW reading of the power has garnered a lot of attention for the following reasons:

  • The use of the word "effect" means that it encompases a very wide variety of things
  • The wording of the maneuver doesn't state that the condition no longer affects you, but rather that it simply ends

This makes the power rather notorious around people who like breaking the game with strict RAW interpretations of the rules, leading from interpretations including being able to end an antimagic field you're inside of, all the way up to being able to remove gravity from a plane due to it being described as an "effect" in the Manual of the Planes or some such interpretation. Needless to say, it's up to the DM just how much it actually does.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Seems to coincide with what I said, since Iron Heart Surge doesn't require changing position. Though I suppose I should have known better than to mention grapple without extensive research anyway. =P I'll add something for pinned, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Michaellogg Oct 24 '15 at 15:01
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An initiator that can't move can't initiate maneuvers...

Tome of Battle on Initiating Maneuvers and Stances says

To initiate a maneuver or a stance, you must be able to move. (38)

What this means exactly is technically unclear. For example, a creature isn't, like, paralyzed when it fails a saving throw against the 2nd-level Sor/Wiz spell web [conj] (PH 301), but such a creature specifically can't move, so barring the creature from initiating maneuvers is reasonable (as mentioned in this thread). Further, during the 1-round duration of the 8th-level Clr spell earthquake [evoc] (PH 225-6) creatures in the area "can't move or attack," so barring creatures from initiating maneuvers in the middle of a magical freakin' earthquake is also reasonable.1

But I haven't heard of a DM forbidding initiating maneuvers if the initiator fails his Balance skill check (DC 10) when traversing an area affected by the 1st-level Sor/Wiz spell grease [conj] (PH 237) or the 3rd-level Sor/Wiz spell sleet storm [conj] (PH 280), even though both spells say that a creature failing the Balance check "can't move" this round.

Likewise, the Player's Handbook says, "You can’t move normally while grappling" (156), yet he of the Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 revision, Andy Collins (in his role as the Sage), says, "It's easiest to rule that other maneuvers and stances can be initiated normally while grappling unless something intrinsic to the maneuver indicates otherwise."

Specifically and technically, a paralyzed creature is "unable to move" (PH 311). However, a creature that's sleeping is merely helpless (PH 309), sleeping—like knocked-out—lacking a definition as a condition (DMG 300-1). Presumably, the developers figured readers knew what sleeping was, and, because of that, sleeping creatures are, for the most part, unable to choose to move.2

Undoubtedly, were publication of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 material to have continued and Tome of Battle 2: Devastate the Impossible (or, y'know, whatever) saw the light of day, this ambiguity would've been cleared up, but the world may never know, and the current player of D&D 3.5 is stuck with his DM's rulings on what, in this context, be able to move really means.

...And an initiator must take a standard action to initiate iron heart surge

The 3rd-level Iron Heart maneuver iron heart surge [special] (ToB 68) has an Initiation Action of 1 standard action. Thus an initiator unable to take that standard action just can't initiate the iron heart surge. This means, for example, initiators that are actually sleeping as well as those affected by sleep effects (e.g. sleep et al., a pseudodragon's poison) can't initiate the iron heart surge for many of the same reasons that initiators that are paralyzed are prevented from doing so (and, in addition, initiating maneuvers isn't purely mental, mandating as they do that initiators be able to move). Similarly, dazed or stunned initiators, as they are unable to take actions, can't initiate the iron heart surge. (And, as this answer points out, many view this as an unfortunate rules gap that pointlessly limits what the iron heart surge maneuver should be able to overcome when, as written, the maneuver is otherwise capable of devastating the impossible as described in this answer.)

Contrariwise, creatures suffering the rare condition immobilized (Rules Compendium 35) can initiate an iron heart surge (and similar maneuvers), the condition neither restricting their actions nor their abilities to move, the creatures instead "functioning normally" except unable to leave their spaces.


1 Although creatures can't attack, casters (albeit with some difficulty) can cast during the earthquake spell's duration. This means a player may be able to convince the DM that an initiator can (perhaps with similar difficulty) initiate the iron heart surge to, incredibly, end the effects of the spell earthquake. This is so badass that convincing this DM would be child's play.
2 Assuming, of course, sleeping in the campaign follows typical natural laws present on the Material Plane, "usually the 'home base' for a standard D&D campaign [that] tends to be the most Earthlike of all planes and operates under the same set of natural laws that our own real world does" (DMG 147). Conveniently, then, we can take for granted that much of D&D 3.5 reality is like our own, and that includes actions sleeping creatures can take.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd be remiss were I not to mention the Min/Max Boards unofficial Tome of Battle errata project available here. Also, the 1d4 Chan wiki entry on iron heart surge. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 24 '15 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Suggestions for improvement welcome. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 25 '15 at 17:40
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One way I believe you would be able to use iron heart surge on these conditions is to take a level of cleric of Fharlanghn or Shaundakul. Travel domain ability gives you one round per cleric level of automatic freedom of movement. Then iron heart suuuurge!

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