Because of some confusing text in the PH, some people think there's not
much difference between being incorporeal and being ethereal, when they're
actually quite different (although some of the effects are similar). Ethereal
is like incorporeal "taken to eleven"....
Incorporeal creatures are on the Material Plane, ethereal creatures are
adjacent to the Material Plane. If the Material Plane is your house, an incorporeal
creature is like a paper cutout of a person, while an ethereal creature is
the real person, outside, looking through a tinted window.
Let's check the bullet points in the DMG describing incorporeality, and see where the incorporeal differs from ethereal.
Incorporeal creatures can only
be harmed by other incorporeal creatures, by +1 or better weapons, or by
spells, spell-like effects, or supernatural effects. They are immune to all
nonmagical attack forms. They are not burned by normal fires, affected by
natural cold, or harmed by mundane acids.
Ethereal creatures can be harmed by creatures that aren't ethereal
(with force effects, gaze attacks, or abjurations). They are not immune to
all nonmagical attack forms (assuming they originate from another ethereal
creature). They are burned by fire, affected by cold, or mundane acid, as
long as that fire/cold/acid is on the Ethereal plane with them (not Material
Even when struck by magic or
magic weapons, an incorporeal creature has a 50% chance to ignore any damage
from a corporeal source--except for a force effect, such as magic missile, or damage inflicted by a ghost touch weapon.
Irrelevant, since we've established that ethereal creatures have no actual
immunity to certain attacks as long as those attacks come from the Ethereal
plane. And unlike incorporeal creatures, ethereal creature's aren't affected by ghost touch
weapons (unless, of course, you're on the Ethereal plane, at which point
the weapon works just as well as if you were hitting an orc).
Incorporeal creatures move in
any direction (including up or down) at will. They do not need to walk on
Yep, that's the same. There is no direction or "ground" on the Ethereal plane except when there's a large object nearby.
Incorporeal creatures can pass
through solid objects at will, although they cannot see when their eyes are
within solid matter.
Yep, that's the same, as long as that "solid object" is something that's
on the Material plane (ethereal creatures cannot walk through ethereal objects,
but Material Plane objects are in another dimension and aren't obstacles).
Incorporeal creatures are inaudible unless they decide to make noise.
Ethereal creature's are inaudible to creatures on the Material Plane. They can't be heard even if they want to.
To other creatures on the Ethereal plane, however, ethereal creatures make
noise normally (otherwise if your whole party was on the Ethereal plane,
you couldn't speak with each other).
The physical attacks of incorporeal
creatures ignore material armor, even magic armor, unless it is made of force
(such as mage armor or bracers of defense) or has the ghost touch ability.
Ethereal creatures can't affect creatures on the Material Plane at all!
They affect other creatures on the Ethereal normally, though.
Incorporeal creatures pass through and operate in water as easily as they do in air.
Same, assuming we're talking about an ethereal creature passing through water on the Material plane.
Incorporeal creatures cannot fall or suffer falling damage.
Same, since there isn't gravity on the Ethereal.
Corporeal creatures cannot trip or grapple incorporeal creatures.
Material creatures cannot trip or grapple ethereal creatures, and vice versa.
Incorporeal creatures have no weight and do not set off traps that are triggered by weight.
Same, since there isn't gravity on the Ethereal and they're not touching the Material plane.
Incorporeal creatures do not
leave footprints, have no scent, and make no noise unless they manifest,
and even then they only make noise intentionally.
Ethereal creatures do have scent, it's just that creatures on the Material
plane can't smell them across the planar barrier. A creature on the ethereal
plane can smell another ethereal creature just fine. And again, ethereal
creatures (except ghosts) don't have the inherent power to manifest and can't
make noise on the Material plane while they're ethereal.
Just remember that an ethereal creature is a creature in another, nearby
dimension. Creatures on the Material plane can sometimes see creatures in
that dimension, and can actually reach them with force effects, but that's
the only sort of interaction possible without using magic that specifically
So, ethereal and incorporeal are not the same thing.