Freedom of Movement Headaches

Freedom of movement is either a much more powerful spell than I first imagined or it’s badly written. I can’t decide which.

Everything's Better With Tentacles (for the GM) by Matt Morrow
Everything’s Better With Tentacles (for the GM) by Matt Morrow


We were playing last week and one of the players cast freedom of movement, which almost immediately led to a rules discussion.

Here’s the bit of the wording I don’t like/don’t understand:

“This spell enables you or a creature you touch to move and attack normally for the duration of the spell, even under the influence of magic that impedes movement such as paralysis, solid fog, slow and web.”

That seems breathtakingly wide and tremendously powerful. For example,

  • When you are dead you can neither move or attack. (Obviously not applicable).
  • When you are unconscious you can neither attack or move. (Obviously not applicable).
  • When you are staggered you can only take a single action a round which means you are not attacking or moving normally.
  • When your Strength or Dexterity is reduced to 0 you fall unconscious and can neither attack or move.
  • When you are blinded you cannot see, which means you cannot attack normally, and you have problems moving at your normal pace.
  • When you are exhausted or fatigued you suffer Dexterity and Strength penalties and (thus) are not attacking normally.
  • When you are frightened you flee from the source of the fear which means you are not attacking or moving as normal.
  • When you are confused you may or may not be moving and attacking normally.
  • When you sleep (perhaps you were hit by deep slumber) you are neither moving or attacking normally.
  • When you are stunned you drop everything and can’t take actions.
  • When you are poisoned you might be paralysed or fall asleep and be thus unable to attack or move normally.
  • When you wear armour with an armour check penalty or carry a medium or heavy load, your movement is hindered. Does freedom of movement negate this movement penalties?

Does freedom of movement provide immunity to all the above conditions?

Similarly, when you encounter movement inhibiting spells (such as web) you ignore their effects: However:

  • When you encounter a wall of ice, stone or force can you just walk through it (like you walk through a web)?
  • When you are trapped in a force cage can you escape?
  • When you are subjected to flesh to stone do you ignore the effects because being a statue means you can’t move or attack?
  • When you are subject to dominate person you are not acting normally, thus does freedom of movement protect you?

After all they are all magic spells impeding your movement!

And finally, a hilarious question from one of my players (which I wish I thought of myself): a party of adventurers are travelling down a dungeon corridor. One or more of them is protected by freedom of movement. Suddenly, a 100 ft. deep pit with lots of lovely spikes opens up beneath their feet. As the party plummets to their death, the wizard casts feather fall (which inhibits normal movement in that it stops you plummeting to your death). Does it affect the PC(s) protected by freedom of movement or not? (Chortle).

What Do You Think?

Does freedom of movement really provide immunity to all these effects? (Obviously not, but I’m having drawing a consistent line in the metaphorical sand). I’d love to know your take on the spell and its seemingly rather wide range of immunities. Please leave a note in the comments below.

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

9 thoughts on “Freedom of Movement Headaches”

  1. The spell is poorly worded if you look for loopholes, however I believe it is designed to counter any effect that changes your movement speed.

    By this definition, death, unconsciousness, staggered (which limits your actions not your movement speed), Strength or Dexterity, fatigued, fear, confusion, sleep, stunned, poisoned* are not affected (* unless it directly affects your speed).

    Blindness, exhaustion, Armor and encumbrance do change your speed so would be countered (but not the ability score and skill modifiers).

    Walls and cage traps do not change your speed just your space. Transmutations spells like flesh to stone provide you with new forms of movement, but don’t effect your new forms “normal speed”. Dominate person does not affect your speed, just your free will.

    1. I agree with James assessment for the most part.

      The reason Blindness requires you to move at half speed is because you can not see where you are going so you have to be careful. FOM might allow you to move at full speed but that doesn’t stop you from running into walls or running right into an open pit trap.

      Asking about sleep and other unconscious states, seem a bit silly to me. If your mind is not present to direct your actions it doesn’t matter if your body is immobilized or not.

      By that same token, if you are turned to stone, the spell might allow you to move again. But your brain is stone. Your mind is not working. ( and neither are any of your senses. ) So being able to move is a mute point.

      Finally, about the subject of feather fall. While I would say that by straight interpretation, FOM would prevent Feather from working properly. However, I would rule that the wizard that created the current version of FOM understood that and adjusted the magic to allow them to work together. ( Which means somewhere out there are spellbooks with an older version.)

  2. James (below) I think hits the nail on the head.

    As an addendum I do think that both RAI and RAW would have the feather fall/freedom of movement PC plummet to a sticky fate

  3. I would say that it only prevents effects that DIRECTLY impede your movement. Such as the tentacles from a black tentacles spell DIRECTLY impede you. Dexterity or strength penalty/damage however do not DIRECTLY impede you, the impedance there is only a peripheral result of the effect and so would not be prevented.

  4. Effects which affect YOU (rather than the environment) and which, in and of themselves (rather than as a side effect of the effect) impede your movement are ignored under FoM.

    Coming up with a good way to word this (without using a ridiculously long list of examples) is not easy.

  5. I think that’s a huge over complication of the text. The name of the spell and the description are clearly referencing to magical or physical effects are attempting to impede ur ability to move ur body. Death, unconsciousness, staggered and stun are not magical effects, nor are they impeding ur movement. They’re internal physical statuses. Freedom of MOVEMENT is clearly referencing ur ability to move. Grapple, entangle, web, slow, paralyze, etc are all magic or physical restraining effects. And as far as Slow Fall, I’d rule that two spells that have positive effects don’t cause unforeseen negative consequences just to screw players for using resources. At most I’d rule that the slow fall replaces freedom of movement so if the character wanted Slow Fall after the fall, he’d have to use more resources to accomplish it.

  6. What about swimming? Do you cast it and force someone to drop to the bottom as if open air?

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