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Wind wall states that creatures take damage on it's creation:

"When the wall appears, each creature within its area must make a Strength saving throw..."

This seems odd - the rules-as-written would tell us that if you put the wall between yourself and a creature they would take no damage (if they aren't in the walls area), and would also take no damage if they then tried to step through it.

Presumably that's not the intent - unless the creation of the wall creates a sudden burst of damage that does not occur later.

It would seem to me there are three options

  1. Wall only causes damage when it's created on creatures in the wall [rule as written]
  2. Wall causes damage to creatures when they enter it (on creation or due to passing through the wall) [rule as intended?]
  3. Wall causes damage every round that a creature is in it

Fortunately in our case our DM chose to just go with #2/#3 (using the presumption that a wind that strong would push out any creatures that were not trying to intentionally stay inside the wall), but I'd still like a better understanding of why the rule is written this way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you need a narrative reason for why Wind Wall only causes damage when in appears and not afterward, imagine that the wind picks up and hurls debris that causes this damage. On subsequent rounds this debris has been cleared away by the wind. \$\endgroup\$ – Shane Walden Feb 5 '18 at 9:51
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RAW - Only once when the wall first appears

When the wall appears, each creature within its area must make a Strength saving throw. A creature takes 3d8 bludgeoning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

The spell does not describe any kind of effect that continues. Only when the wall appears does it say that damage is taken.

If the spell was intended to have continuing damage it would have said so explicitly as it does in other similar spells.

Example of continuous damage language

For example, wall of fire says:

When the wall appears, each creature within its area must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, a creature takes 5d8 fire damage, or half as much damage on a successful save.

but then specifies the part about continuing damage:

...deals 5d8 fire damage to each creature that ends its turn within 10 feet of that side or inside the wall. A creature takes the same damage when it enters the wall for the first time on a turn or ends its turn there.

Wind Wall has other effects besides damage

The continuing presence of the wall, while not causing damage, does continue to benefit the caster in several ways:

The strong wind keeps fog, smoke, and other gases at bay.

Small or smaller flying creatures or objects can’t pass through the wall.

Loose, lightweight materials brought into the wall fly upward. Arrows, bolts, and other ordinary projectiles launched at targets behind the wall are deflected upward and automatically miss. (Boulders hurled by giants or siege engines, and similar projectiles, are unaffected.)

Creatures in gaseous form can’t pass through it.

Spells' effects sometimes do not mesh perfectly with their flavor

Despite the designers' best efforts sometimes the mechanics of spells do not make sense or do not seem to. In these cases you have three options:

  1. Ignore the fact that is doesn't make sense and just continue with the spell as written
  2. Come up with a way to explain the possibly confusing spell effect in-fiction
  3. Change the spell so it makes sense

Your group seems to have opted for 3, but do be careful when taking this option because it will change the balance of the spell and game depending on the changes made.

But, if 1 and 2 don't make the group happy and the DM is happy with making changes then go ahead. The rules are made to serve the people at the table and create fun not the other way around.

Flavoring the spell to make sense

The fact that damage is caused when the wind is first summoned but not anytime after is unequivocally true (per the above). The issue you seem to be having is making it make sense in game.

One of the more obvious ways I could justify this in-fiction is that when the wall is cast it is very briefly powerful then dies down a bit.

Another explanation might be that when the wall is created is bursts forth in a very strong gust spraying up debris (rocks or whatever is lying around) and spraying those in the area with that. After that, the area generally clear of debris and thus no more damage is taken.

These are simply examples (eg you may not have debris on the ground), but there are many ways to justify it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer would be slightly improved if you provided a brief example of the sort of verbiage we see in "other similar spells." It's the how you know part that's particularly valuable, I think, to the fifteen thousand searchers with the same problem. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 3 '18 at 2:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ So is the explanation that the gust of wind in the beginning is much stronger? (Strong enough to cause 3d8 of damage, which is pretty high relative to general life on the planet). And then somehow it just tosses arrows around after that? That seems odd. \$\endgroup\$ – David Ljung Madison Stellar Feb 4 '18 at 8:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidLjungMadison: See if my updated answer helps a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 6 '18 at 16:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think your second to last paragraph is probably the best explanation, specifically the part about after the first round, there's nothing left to deal damage. The boulder exception in the spell makes it pretty clear that there's a threshold for how much weight it can push around. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Feb 7 '18 at 16:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidLjungMadison: I'm of the opinion that trying to find logic in spell effects is a madman's quest. There many such holes in as far as flavor vs mechanics. In the end, they wrote the spells the way they wrote them, but your DM has the ability to change them however they want at their table. Hopefully my answer has helped you at least a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 7 '18 at 21:52

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