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the cantrip Mold Earth states:

If you target an area of loose earth, you can instantaneously excavate it, move it along the ground, and deposit it up to 5 feet away. This movement doesn’t have enough force to cause damage.

so the question is if the following graphics are accurate with the assumption that the ground is entirely loose earth

 |

 |

 |

 |

XXXXXXXXXXXOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

move it 3 feet up

 |

 |_________OOOO

 |_________OOOO

 |_________OOOO

XXXXXXXXXXX____XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXX__^_XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXX__|_XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

and then 2 feet over

 |

 |____OOOO

 |____OOOO <-

 |____OOOO

XXXXXXXXXX_____XXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXX_____XXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXX_____XXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

(where the Xs and Os are 1/2 a foot wide and each row is 1 foot deep)

so if a humanoid were to stand in the 3 foot deep hole behind the 3 foot high cover that is two feet thick (and most likely 5 feet wide), how much protection would this provide for them? Does it seem reasonable that a PC would be able to erect such a barricade in combat or would it have to be done prior to combat?

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1  
perhaps you can ask the second question about casting it in combat in a separate question? it doesnt seem to be getting addressed in the existing answers. – daze413 Mar 25 at 23:45
    
@daze413 the second question is in regards to whether or not the caster would be composed enough to use this maneuver in combat. I will wait until the question can be put up for bounty before removing any aspects that then seem unnecessary. I will also wait until then before selecting any answers because there are often people with brilliant ideas but our discouraged from posting because they never had the chance to read the original question or to answer before an answer was selected. – name moniker Mar 26 at 0:30
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Not as much protection as you'd think.

Try this at home - get a shovel, and try to pile "loose earth" into the shape you've described (3ft tall, 2ft deep wall). It will immediately fall down into a pile. The angle of repose of soil is 30-45 degrees. In your configuration (2ft diameter base) the pile needs to have an angle of repose of 75 degrees. So the entire thing flops over to about half its height. The soil from the sides of the hole is also falling inwards, filling up your hole, probably reducing the amount of cover from the hole by half as well. If you're unlucky, the soil from the wall will fall backwards into your hole and reduce the depth even further. It would look more like this:

|      OO

|   OOOOOOO

XXXXXXXXXXXO      XXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXOOO XXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

If you're lucky, you'll get 3 feet of cover (partial cover) out of this. There's a reason soldiers build trenches out of packed, not loose, soil.

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1  
Great answer, digging the "angle of repose." A special case might be when the earth is being excavated behind a boulder or half-buried wall. – timster Mar 26 at 0:10
    
So basically, this spell is much better in concert with allies who can pack the dirt down. Definitely seems like a pre-combat tactic. Thanks for introducing the argument based on the angle of repose, I hadn't considered that. – Sawyer Mar 28 at 1:54
    
@Sawyer Yes, this is a useful construction technique but you need to work the dirt into a fortification after you have moved it. It's a cantrip, after all. – SPavel Mar 28 at 2:17
    
Cantrips: powerful over time, but limited in direct power. Just like how it should be. – Sawyer Mar 28 at 2:21
1  
@LinoFrankCiaralli Disagree. The cantrip does not say anything at all about the earth being secured in place after you have moved it. If you levitate an object with magic and the spell ends, you expect gravity to take its toll. This is the same situation. – SPavel Mar 28 at 13:40

Potentially total cover.

A target has total cover if it is completely concealed by an obstacle.

For particularly large combatants, such as minotaurs or goliaths for PC races, it might be necessary to excavate more, else it would only supply 3/4 cover.

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1  
Goliaths are medium sized. For simplicity's sake, they should have the same level of cover as other medium creatures when under the same circumstances. – LegendaryDude Mar 25 at 20:28
2  
It's not about the size class, it's the fact that they are enormous for the class. Short minotaurs and goliaths are often taller than the largest of the smaller folk. Humans in the PHB range from 5 to over 6 feet tall, while goliaths start at 7 feet and get to over 8 feet tall. Minotaurs are a little smaller by starting at 6 feet, but their body shape is less conducive to crouching behind cover. – Sawyer Mar 25 at 20:48
2  
I understand that. My point is that, as a DM, I'd not want to track the exact height in feet that a particular terrain feature covers and then compare that to the height of each PC in the party to see if it grants them full cover or only 3/4 cover. It's simpler to say, "you're medium sized so it grants you full cover" or "you're medium sized so it grants you 3/4 cover" and apply the ruling to all medium sized creatures. – LegendaryDude Mar 25 at 20:51
2  
That is a DM's call to make. It is better to give a more stringent recommendation that can be relaxed than to attempt to reign in that which has already been released. – Sawyer Mar 25 at 21:00

Yes

The 3 feet up and 2 feet over is unnecessary; the spell reads "instantaneously excavate" and "deposit up to 5 feet away". My RAW, simulationist ruling is that it pulls a 5x5x5 cube straight up and can deposit it into an adjacent square. That seems like enough dirt to cover one crouching medium creature.

But...

The real issue is that this goes pretty hard against the intent of the spell. It's a utility cantrip not intended to be used in combat. A magic backhoe! Letting players use it in combat gives them a new ability that they haven't paid for through feats or leveling.

My RAI, gamist compromise would be to find something with parity and let this flavor it. Like how Dodge gives disadvantage to ranged attacks. Let your druid be an awesome earthbender like Toph! Just try to keep RP opportunities as open as possible without wrecking the action economy.

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