The rules describing the Helpless Condition says:

A helpless character is paralyzed, held, bound, sleeping, unconscious, or otherwise completely at an opponent's mercy. A helpless target is treated as having a Dexterity of 0

I am a little bit confused about it.

  1. What about the OR? Who decides whether the character is e.g. held or unconscious? This is a huge difference!
  2. Isn't the passage that the Dexterity is 0 partly redundant since a paralyzed creature has a Dex of 0 anyway.

2 Answers 2


Or means that you need at least one of these conditions to happen for a creature to be considered helpless. No one "decides", creature is in a state it is, and it may qualify it for helpless or not. If you are sleeping, you are helpless - you can't decide for helpless to mean paralyzed at the time and avoid it. On the other hand, being helpless does not put you to sleep, paralyzes you or anything. This sentence is about reasons of being helpless, not about consequences. Probably it might be a little more clear on that.

Passage on dexterity may be redundant. That's not really a problem. Some conditions set your dex at 0. Some don't, but for the purpose of actions that benefits from you being helpless it is 0. It's all right, as long as rules confirms each other it shouldn't cause any confusion.

Because specific beats general, spells like Icy Prison can make you helpless without the need to be asleep etc. Effectively, this means that the helpless rule can be read as

A helpless character is a character who is paralyzed, held, bound, sleeping, unconscious, or otherwise completely at an opponent's mercy due to spell, skill, ability or other specific rule that says character is helpless, or when DM decides this is appropriate.

But, of course, above is only my interpretation.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah ok. Thanks for your answer. I was confused since e.g. Icy Prision says: If the creature fails its save, it is helpless, but can still breathe. This sounds like the spell puts you into the condition helpless. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruedi
    Jan 26, 2017 at 11:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ruedi yes. Because specific beats general, spell can make you helpless without actually causing paralysis or sleep. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jan 26, 2017 at 11:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, the rules could use a lot more redundancy. It's better that there is redundancy that confirms a rule than a lack of ruling creating ambiguity. \$\endgroup\$
    – GreySage
    Jan 26, 2017 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Better than your example, saying it like "A paralyzed, held, bound, sleeping or unconscious character is also helpless." sounds less redundant and clearer. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27, 2017 at 10:08

A character is helpless if something says they are helpless.

A paralyzed character is frozen in place and unable to move or act. A paralyzed character has effective Dexterity and Strength scores of 0 and is helpless,

Unconscious creatures are knocked out and helpless.

Tied Up
A creature that is tied up is "bound" which means it has the Helpless condition.

A helpless opponent is someone who is bound, sleeping, paralyzed, unconscious, or otherwise at your mercy.

If the part about "otherwise at your mercy" is confusing to you, it just means that there are other conditions that cause helplessness. In such cases, the rules text specifically states that the character becomes helpless.

If the part about "held" is confusing to you, it's because there is no such thing as "held". There is "tied up", as described above, caused usually by being physically tied up (by ropes, chains, etc.). Grappled does not mean held, and does not cause helplessness.

Isn't the passage that the Dexterity is 0 partly redundant since a paralyzed creature has a Dex of 0 anyway?

Kind of. Not all helpless creatures are paralyzed. The paralyzed condition, yes, states that the creature has a Dex of 0. However, the sleeping condition does not state this outright. In other words, sleeping creatures also have a Dex of 0.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I personally believe that Dexterity 0 is mentioned twice to imply what happens when your Dexterity is damage, cursed, or drained to a score of 0. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zangief
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also true. A character who has Dex 0 (due to ability damage/drain, for example) is helpless. The relationship between "Dex 0" and "helpless" goes both ways. \$\endgroup\$
    – MGlacier
    Jan 26, 2017 at 16:12

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