Hold Person 5e Guide

Posted by Andrew E. on

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Arcane Red Light Green Light - Hold Person 5e

Hold person is a sweet and simple way of saying "screw you in particular" that's been with dnd 5e from the very start at the first iteration of the game. And while it doesn't seem that complicated as spells go, there are countless potential uses and quite a few questions and misconceptions surrounding the spell that seem to pop up quite often. Get that 2nd level spell slot ready and line up your target as we go through everything you need to know.

 

The Spell Itself

Before we dig into the specifics, let's take a look at the raw spell straight from the 5e srd itself:

Hold Person

2nd-level enchantment

Casting Time: 1 action

Range: 60 feet

Components: V, S, M (A small, straight piece of iron)

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

Choose a humanoid that you can see within range. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be paralyzed for the duration. At the end of each of its turns, the target can make another Wisdom saving throw. On a success, the spell ends on the target.

At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can target an additional humanoid for each slot level above 2nd. The humanoids must be within 30 feet of each other when you target them.

 

5e Hold Person Guide

Who Can Cast Hold Person ?

Hold person is a broadly used spell across a bunch of spell lists and you can cast it if you're a bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, or warlock . There's also several class archetypes that get the spell specifically, and you'll be able to cast hold person as a druid of the circle of the land (arctic) , a cleric of the order domain , or a paladin with the oath of vengeance , oath of conquest , or the oath of redemption .

How Does Hold Person Work?

What we're fundamentally working with here is a "save or suck" spell. Your target (or targets if upcast) within 60 feet must make a saving throw when you cast the spell, if they fail then they suffer the effects (in this case the paralyzed condition), if they pass then nothing happens.

Then if they've failed, they get to try and save again (using your same save DC) at the end of each of their turns, or until you stop concentrating on it.

It's also quite specific in what it can and can't target. The spell specifies a humanoid target, which means this will only work on creatures with the humanoid creature type. For holding bigger and weirder baddies, you need the spell hold monster .

This should all be very straightforward for anybody familiar with 5e spells, I think where confusion can sometimes set in is the condition paralyzed.

How Does Paralyzed Work?

Paralyzed is a nasty condition that does a lot more than it first appears, and I think a lot of the confusion comes from the fact that a paralyzed creature is also incapacitated . They sort of wrapped that condition up in this one. All told, the paralyzed condition does the following:

  • A paralyzed creature is also incapacitated, which means paralyzed creature cannot take Actions or Reactions.
  • A paralyzed creature cannot move.
  • A paralyzed creature cannot speak.
  • A paralyzed creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.
  • Attack rolls against the paralyzed creature have advantage.
  • If you're within 5 feet of the paralyzed creature, your attacks against the paralyzed creature that hit them are automatic critical hits.

FAQ

While the spell may seem simple enough, there are a TON of scenarios that come up surrounding it. Let's go through some of the most frequent:

Can I Move a Paralyzed Target?

Yes! The creature held using hold person cannot move, but nothing stops them from being moved . You can walk up and make them pick their own nose, knock them prone, or even scoop them up and chuck them into a nearby river if you have the time and the victim keeps failing their saving throws.

Can I Take a Paralyzed Target's Stuff?

Probably. A creature under the effects of hold person can't move to prevent you from taking their swag, but their hands will still be stuck rigid on whatever they're holding and sadly this isn't properly explored in the spell or any accompanying FAQs. Anything on them as in items they're wearing or have on their belts/in bags is free game to simply take as an action, but things like weapons or whatever they were specifically grasping at the time the spell was cast are in question. The best I've been able to find is that taking such held items would take succeeding on an opposed Strength check, possibly with disadvantage on the part of the held creature. However, this isn't official, and it will ultimately be up to DM discretion.

Can A Paralyzed Creature Breathe?

If you get all smug and technical, you could argue that the inability to move would also stop a creature from breathing. However, it's quite clear that paralysis isn't intended to be a suffocation effect (otherwise it would mention such a deadly effect). There is also the issue of "holding your breath" which should supposedly take conscious action, so what happens when you chuck a paralyzed victim into a river? I've yet to find any official consensus, but it appears that they start suffocating immediately since they can't close their mouth or take any of the little actions that would go into holding your breath.

Can I Wild Shape Out of Hold Person?

Close, but sadly no. Because the spell only works on humanoids, if you ever stop being a humanoid the spell immediately ends as it is no longer cast on a valid target. The wild shape feature doesn't specify any movement, the only stumbling block is that it requires an action to activate and you specifically can't take actions. while you're paralyzed. For those of you wondering about the circle of the moon feature that lets you wild shape as a bonus action, you're still out of luck. There's a rule squirreled away in the Player's Handbook that says if something prevents you from taking actions, you can't take bonus actions either.

However! If somebody else can transform you using say the polymorph spell or some other transformation effect that would change your creature type, you'll get out of that hold person spell instantly!

Can I Cast Hold Person on A Doppelganger?

Maybe. Doppelgangers and other creatures that have the ability to transform from humanoids into non-humanoids present an interesting issue. The long and short of it is that if the creature you're casting hold person on is CURRENTLY in a humanoid shape, then the spell works. If they are currently transformed into something non-humanoid, then it doesn't. And while hold person should prevent practically any transformation abilities, if in some fringe case they can still transform into something non-humanoid, then the spell would immediately end.

Can a held a held person maintain concentration?

While a held person can technically maintain a concentration spell, if they're getting hit on every hit point of damage puts that spell at risk.

Does dispel magic work on hold person?

Yes, it does.

Hold Person Strategies

After going through everything else, let's finally get into some strategizing and the best ways to actually USE the spell hold person .

Screw That Guy in Particular

First and foremost, hold person can make sure a specifically chosen humanoid has a terrible day. If all your allies are within stabbing range of this unfortunate individual, you'll be able to pile on the damage as you all critically hit your paralyzed victim. This is especially insane with rogues and paladins, who can benefit the most from critical hits with their doubled sneak attacks and smites. You're also removing key attacks from your target, so picking out the biggest potential threat is also a sound tactic.

Pick the Guy Who Just Went

This is sort of metagame-y, but you get the most utility out of your hold person spell if you target a creature whose turn isn't coming up in initiative for a while. The target gets to save at the end of each of their turns, which means the odds of your spell ending go way up every time their turn comes around, and you want to maximize the opportunities your allies have to run in for those free critical hits. If you target the enemy whose turn just went, then you should have everybody else's turns in between to get those opportunities. Admittedly this isn't helpful advice when only dealing with a single target but try to keep it in mind. If you cast hold person on a dude who goes right after you and they pass their saving throw, you at best just wasted a single turn.

Stop! Thief!

Hold person is a solid and reliable way to non-lethally stop a target that's trying to get away from you. It could be the pickpocket that just made off with your loot, the bad guy trying to reach their mcguffin, or any other situation where you just need somebody to STOP.

End a Grapple

One of the sorts of hidden utilities of hold person lies in the incapacitated condition. One of the repercussions of being incapacitated is that it immediately ends the grappled condition. This means that if some goliath grabs you or one of your allies, you can instantly escape it by casting hold person .

Counter a Spell

If a humanoid spellcaster is concentrating on a spell, a failed saving throw against hold person nukes it and ends the spell. Why? We can thank the incapacitated condition again, as one of the stipulations tagged in at the end of the concentration rules states that you lose concentration "if you are incapacitated or die". So, when you spot that evil wizard summoning minions or some other powerful effect, simply pop hold person and watch those spells fizzle.

Ground a Flyer

Another bonus to hold person is the ability to make flying creatures do a nosedive into the dirt. This has some caveats though, it'll only work if the flyer is humanoid (a lot of human-ish winged monsters are actually monstrosities), and if the flyer has the "hover" tag next to their fly speed they'll just float rather than plummet. It'll break concentration on the fly spell though, so you can drop wizards and make them take that sweet fall damage.

Drown a Swimmer

If you've got baddies swimming towards you and they're not natural water breathers, then a quick hold person will instantly start suffocating them. As we previously went through, being paralyzed means you can't hold your breath, so they start drowning immediately rather than gaining the ample breath holding time.

Pause, Disarm, Resume

A good chunk of humanoid threats will use some sort of weapon, magical doodad, or other item they rely on for their combat effectiveness. If you don't have enough damage output to simply take down the target while they're held, try disarming them of whatever they're dealing damage with instead. Then when they break free of your spell, they're still missing that item and should be a substantially minimized threat.

Environmental Hazards

If the arena your fight is taking place in includes some pools of lava, sheer drops, vats of acid, or other nasty hazards, consider using hold person and having an ally chuck that villain into whatever nastiness is lying around. You'll get advantage on your shove checks made this way as well.

Legendary Resistance

If you're a dungeon master, and a player lands this spell, you should seriously consider using a legendary resistance. This magical effect gives PCs the chance at a critical hit with every attack roll. Or, if they are an arcane bad guy, you might consider counterspell on this. Of course, undead BBEGs aren't susceptible to this , since they aren't technically a humanoid creature.

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