Is there a distinction between paralysis and a paralysis effect? The Monster Manual Glossary on paralysis says, "Unlike hold person and similar effects, a paralysis effect does not allow a new save each round" (313). Does this make monster paralysis effects different from a spell's paralysis effect and from other kinds of paralysis? And how far can immunity to paralysis be extended anyway?

  • The type dragon includes among its traits immunity to paralysis effects (MM 308). Obviously, a dragon's immune to a ghoul's paralysis, but what if the dragon were reduced to Dex 0? Would the dragon ignore the condition paralyzed? Does the dragon ignore the effects of the spell hold monster?
  • Creatures with the types construct (MM 307), elemental (MM 308), and ooze (MM 313), and, for example, the duergar (MM 92), the kuo-toa (MM 163-4), and the pseudodragon (MM 210-11) are immune to paralysis in general instead of being immune to paralysis effects. (I know, right?) Are such creatures immune to gaining the condition paralyzed? Does that include the paralysis for being reduced to Dex 0, too?

Background: the Frostburn spell shivering touch (104) deals a touched creature that has its SR overcome 3d6 points of Dexterity ability damage. Even the mightiest dragon usually has about Dex 10. Rather than equip all of the campaign's dragons with crazy countermeasures to this spell, I was kind of hoping for an easy out with the dragon's immunity to paralysis, but dragons have immunity to paralysis effects. The subtle difference between that and immunity to paralysis—if any—form this question's crux.

  • \$\begingroup\$ See, I knew this'd get downvoted, but how else to ask about such a distinction when the game seems to make a distinction between paralysis and paralysis effects? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 11, 2016 at 3:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is still a thing in 2020; see this Giant in the Playground thread here. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 24, 2020 at 4:09

1 Answer 1


To my understanding, reducing an ability score to 0 causes a condition that can't be avoided by natural resistances called "helpless".

All of this is mentioned in the basics section of the Hypertext d20 srd:

Ability Score Loss

Some attacks reduce the opponent’s score in one or more abilities. This loss can be temporary (ability damage) or permanent (ability drain).

While any loss is debilitating, losing all points in an ability score can be devastating.

  • Strength 0 means that the character cannot move at all. He lies helpless on the ground.
  • Dexterity 0 means that the character cannot move at all. He stands motionless, rigid, and helpless.
  • Constitution 0 means that the character is dead.
  • Intelligence 0 means that the character cannot think and is unconscious in a coma-like stupor, helpless.
  • Wisdom 0 means that the character is withdrawn into a deep sleep filled with nightmares, helpless.
  • Charisma 0 means that the character is withdrawn into a catatonic, coma-like stupor, helpless.

If you're immune to paralysis you can't be affected by things like ghoul touch, but things like hold person affect you (since hold person is a mind-affecting compulsion). Immunity to paralysis prevents you from being physically immobilized through spell effects.

The golems in your example are immune to hold person because it's a mind affecting effect and they have no intelligence score. The unicorn has an immunity to compulsion effects (which hold person falls under as well), which further distinguishes the difference between paralysis and hold.

Loss of ability score causes gain of helpless so even if you were immune to paralysis, you'd still be rendered immobilized when reduced to 0 dex regardless.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Both the Player's Handbook ("A character with Dexterity 0 is paralyzed") (304) and the Dungeon Master's Guide ("A character with Dexterity 0 is paralyzed") equate Dexterity 0 with paralysis. I've always considered helplessness a consequence of that paralysis not vice versa. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 11, 2016 at 5:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ All of the 0 ability score penalties aside from constitution(which causes death) result in helplessness. The only way to avoid this penalty is having a natural 0 or - in an ability score normally. This is one of the reasons why Ego Whip(Psion). Shivering Touch(Wizard) and Ray of Enfeeblement(Wizard) are good. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sandwich
    Sep 11, 2016 at 5:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Isn't there a general rule that the Glossary's summaries are secondary to the actual rule? The actual rule in this case is DMG p. 289 (and PHB p. 134, which just directs the reader to the DMG), and matches the SRD. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 11, 2016 at 5:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I'm pretty sure after text trumping tables, they're all just rules. However, it looks like the RC (sigh) addresses this, no longer equating Dex 0 with paralysis and, instead, with helplessness (6). Darn you, devs! Just write a clearer core book! ;-) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 11, 2016 at 6:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ So to end the effect of a hold person spell a creature would need to be subject to both a remove paralysis effect and sufficient heat to melt the bonds that have left the creature frozen in place? ;-) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 11, 2016 at 12:22

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