Telekinesis (PHB p. 280)

When you cast the spell, and as your action each round for the duration, you can exert your will on one creature or object that you can see within range...

where the available effects of your will are listed later in the spell.

My question is whether the specific targeting rule: "you can exert your will on one creature or object that you can see within range" overrides the general spell rule "To target something, you must have a clear path to it, so it can’t be behind total cover." (PHB p.205) or adds an extra criteria to it, that you must be able to see it.

There are some very closely associated questions (can you use telekinesis to get a friend out of a gelatinous cube, Can a spell be cast through (semi) transparent things? and Can spells be cast through a Wall of Force) but they don't, for me, comfortably address the specific vs general rule (PHB p.7).

There is a podcast by Jeremy Crawford that seems pretty clear. His discussion talks about fireball and things that shoot out and he talks about effects trying to target beyond a window occurring at the point it meets the obstruction along the line between the caster and the intended target (there is NO line of effect in 5e so I will not use the term as it confuses different D&D versions).

This does not appear to fit well with the idea of exerting your will on an object/creature that you can see, which is the targeting rule for Telekinesis. There is nothing shooting out, there is no concept of a line where the Telekinesis effect could occur at the point it meets an obstruction. It does not fit with the sage advice podcast, admittedly in my opinion.

Further it seems to me very uncomfortable that for "non-shooting out spells", for instance Reverse Gravity, that even a piece of paper stops the area of effect as if it was an anti-magic field due to the total cover it gives...

My thought was that if this is true that my character should carry around a really big fire proofed parasol, big enough to get total cover behind (I can always carry a stand for it if the argument is I am holding it) and I can stop all sorts of spells in their tracks. Reverse gravity? Not me! Time stop? Not me! I have an umbrella! Which is clearly silly and I don't believe that is RAI.

So I was wondering if there was anything more specific RAW or RAI that applied that will convince me, one way or the other, that the specific targeting rule for Telekinesis adds to the general rule rather than overrides it.

My opinion right now is that RAW there is a specific targeting rule in the spell and therefore it overrides the general rule. However RAI may be different and I would like all the evidence before deciding to break or follow RAI.

  • \$\begingroup\$ To help clarify the question - May I suggest removing the parts that seem like an answer and move them to an answer? Additionally, is the question about contradiction or is a question of whether or not the targeting requirement is in addition to general targeting OR instead of the general targeting? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ But, but ... are we sure that "a creature or object that you can see within range" is more specific that the general targeting rules "you must have a clear path to it, so it can't be behind total cover"? ... or maybe is only an introduction to the spell description? \$\endgroup\$
    – Abby
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Abby I thought 5e didn't have any separation of "flavor" and "crunch" - if a spell describes something in some way that's how it is (Flaming Hands has to come from your hands - even a Still Flaming Hands won't work if you are bound). \$\endgroup\$
    – Delioth
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I edited the title to say "contradict." It originally asked if the TK targeting overrode or was in addition to the general targeting rules. They are effectively the same since if they contradict, then it overrides the general targeting rules; if it doesn't contradict, it doesn't override it and hence acts in addition to them. Shortening it to "contradict" uses simpler language, so I made the edit. Feel free to rollback if that has made this Q vaguer though. \$\endgroup\$
    – user27327
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @markovchain! I think that helps clarify - although it would be better if Protonflux removed his answer from the question and submitted it separately. See rpg.stackexchange.com/help/self-answer, for instance. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:56

2 Answers 2



Telekinesis uses the standard language for spell targeting. Dozens of other spells use the phrase "target thing you can see within range". There's nothing in the language of Telekinesis to suggest it is in any way unusual.

Compare to Sacred Flame:

Flame-like radiance descends on a creature that you can see within range. The target must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 radiant damage. The target gains no benefit from cover for this saving throw.

Telekinesis has no similar clause.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ That is an excellent example of specific beats general. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I cannot say with certainty, but I believe the last statement in Sacred Flame is meant to indicate that the target does not get any bonus on their Dex save due to cover. Being behind cover confers advantages when making Dex saves against effects, but not for Sacred Flame. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 19:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical Jeremy Crawford has specifically cited sacred flame as an example of a spell that doesn't require a clear path to the target, specifying that "not being able to be targeted" is one of the benefits that cover provides. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 19:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Marq can you provide a link for that? There may be a nuance to it, which is being missed. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 20:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Randomorph You can't target something behind total cover. \$\endgroup\$
    – Doval
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 23:20

No for the first question, you must be able to see the targets Marq explained.

As for the "big fireproof parasol" question, it wouldn't help you avoid area spells, since the caster would still have a clear view of the affected area starting point. For example, if he targets the spot on the ground right beside your parasol with a reverse gravity spell, you and your parasol go up in the air.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ahhh it is the difference between targeting creatures directly and those that are "targets" as they are in an area of effect... \$\endgroup\$
    – Protonflux
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 8:48

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