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Only 4 spells in D&D 5e meaningfully use the word spot (thanks to techurbana for the list) as a place where something happens:

  • Silent Image - The image appears at a spot within range

  • Major Image - The image appears at a spot that you can see within range

  • Tree Stride - You appear in a spot of your choice within 5 feet of the destination tree

  • Dimension Door - You Teleport yourself from your current location to any other spot within range.

What does "spot" mean here?

  • Is it like a point of origin, as many other spells have, meaning you need direct line of sight with it? This implies that mentioning the that you can see clause in Major Image is redundant.

  • Is it just any point we desire? This implies that we can choose a point under the ground, for example, but it would mean that Silent Image (a level 1 spell) has lighter requirements than Major Image (a level 3 spell), in the sense that Major Image cannot be cast behind walls and stuff like that.

  • Is it the same as an unoccupied space? Many spells refer to unoccupied spaces as targeting locations. Does this mean that you cannot cast these illusions around, say, a treasure chest, to protect them, since the space is occupied?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind "a spot/space you can see" and "need direct line of sight" is not the same thing. There are spells like Clairvoyance that allow you to see without the direct line of sight. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jun 9 '17 at 2:14
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It means any place

If you look at Dimension Door, it equates "spot" with "place":

You Teleport yourself from your current location to any other spot within range... If you would arrive in a place already occupied by an object or a creature...

"Spot" is not formally defined by the rules, so it must be used in its normal English meaning. However, Dimension Door provides us with a statement that shows us the developers did intend to use "spot" as meaning the same as "place".

It does not mean point of origin

Tree Stride has a range of Self, so it cannot have a point of origin (only spells with areas of effect have that). Still, it uses the word "spot." Therefore, spot cannot mean the same as point of origin.

It does not mean unoccupied space

As Dimension Door shows, a spot can be an occupied space.

If you would arrive in a place already occupied by an object or a creature...

Therefore, it is not the same as any unoccupied space.

On Silent Image v Major Image

While Silent Image may have laxer rules compared with Major Image, the former spell cannot create auditory sensory input while the latter can while also having a shorter range and smaller maximum image size, so all things considered, the 3rd level spell still wins out. The discrepancy that SI can get to places the caster cannot see is likely not going to come into play that often, and does not make it stronger than its higher level equivalent.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Clear analysis and explanation of your reasoning. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – BlueMoon93 Jun 9 '17 at 8:26
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Having just listened to the Podcasts today for Sage Advice...

Jeremy Crawford repeatedly indicates that if there is no definition in the game that contradicts an English definition then refer to the English definition.

In this case (based on context):

Spot a particular place or point

That said a spell does exactly what it says, so unless it explicitly states that the place or point is required to be unoccupied it can be occupied when the effect takes place. Bearing in mind that in the case of an illusion it could cause an immediate roll to notice its nature.

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A Spot is a type of target

The spell description language in the PHB is not consistent, but the intent is that of consistency. Language for targeting can include creature, object, spot, location, space, and probably more.

The intent is that most spells have a target. And that target can be any of those things listed above. Some spells may have further requirements such as "you can see" or "within 5' of X".

It may help to think of a grip map for this. A spot is a 5x5 location on the grid map.

As long as the spell fulfills the requirements for targeting both in the general sense(PHB 204) and the specifics of the spell description, it can be cast.

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