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Say, the party encounters a Medusa.

Can the Warlock cast phantasmal force on the Cleric to create, say, a "stone wall" between the Cleric and the Medusa, such that the Cleric will be not be affected by the gaze attack since she can't see the Medusa?

Or is the gaze attack more like a physical thing, such that by looking at the wall (the Medusa), the Cleric is still turned to stone? (The latter would be a mean trap!)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ These edits were for the purposes of clarity, please review to make sure that you concur. Also, please take a look at this related question \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 26 '18 at 17:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of Can an illusion block a monster's harmful gaze? \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Apr 26 '18 at 18:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is strongly related but Phantasmal Force specifically is different than a plain illusion like Minor Image. You have to target a creature's mind with PF, so in this case would it work the same way if you target the Medusa or the Cleric ally? \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 26 '18 at 18:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth OP defines it to be cast on the Cleric, which seems like a dupe. It's definitely different if you cast it on the Medusa. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 26 '18 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I believe it different enough to warrant a separate Q/A specifically because the image only appears in the mind of the targeted creature. That one difference is a pretty significant change in context and interaction \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Apr 26 '18 at 18:22
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The Cleric is still at risk of being petrified

There was a clarification on a similar question like this by Jeremy Crawford, the 5e lead rules designer.

Q: Truesight lets you pierce/nullify illusion effects like the ones create by Phantasmal Force (in the mind of a creature) & Mental Prison (the target to perceive itself as being surrounded)? These spells are considered visual illusions for the purpose of Truesight?

A: A visible illusion is something illusory that you can see with your eyes. If an illusion is perceived only within someone's mind, that's not a visible illusion, even if the person thinks they're seeing it.

(source)

Unlike a spell like minor illusion, whatever phantasmal image the cleric thinks that they see is not actually manifested in reality 1. That is, there is no visible obstruction between the medusa's eyes and the cleric's eyes. The cleric might believe with all of their being that the wall exists, but nobody else can see it; it's effectively a hallucination.

Because of that, the cleric is still technically able to see the medusa's eyes. So if the cleric is in range, they would need to make the saving throw despite the fact that the cleric doesn't think that they can see the medusa's eyes. The effect of Phantasmal Force would then force the cleric to rationalize why she still had to save against the medusa's gaze, even though there is a wall between them.

Tl;dr

The cleric and the medusa can technically see each other, but the cleric doesn't believe that she can see anything past the hallucinatory wall. However, belief does not equal reality. So, since they can see each other, the cleric would have to make the save.


1. By "manifested in reality" I mean that nobody else can see the illusion. There is no "magically bending light to create an image of an object at a location" or however you like to explain lower level illusions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That Q/A and this explanation, perfectly answers the question I was asking, imo. \$\endgroup\$ – NLGPlayerOne Apr 30 '18 at 14:16
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Cleric may be safe, but with caveats that require DM adjudication.

In general, illusions will prevent a gaze attack (if they believe that the illusion is real). If the Cleric has failed their save for Phantasmal Force, then they believe that they cannot see past the wall that is only in their head.

From the Cleric's point of view, they can not see the eyes of the Medusa. And the Medusa requires

a creature that can see the medusa's eyes

If the Cleric can't see the eyes, then they won't be petrified. The main problem here is that the Cleric has the ability to see the eyes of the Medusa, but is unwillingly choosing not to see them.

As with many things Illusory, the DM needs to rule on how this will function with respect to actually seeing or not seeing, but it would be reasonable to say that if the Cleric thinks they're staring at a wall and not the eyes of the Medusa, then they are simply not seeing the eyes of the Medusa to engage the Gaze.

Game Effects

Whether or not the hallucination can do more than just be in their head will be up to DM purview. Jeremy Crawford confirms this:

Phantasmal force details the few game effects that it can reliably create. A DM is free to allow additional effects

Why go through the trouble?

Simply averting your gaze will do the exact same thing as thinking there is an illusory wall. No need for weird mechanics, DM adjudication, or anything else.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a fair interpretation, but I would go with the opposite, from the "The Cleric is still at risk of being petrified" post above. \$\endgroup\$ – NLGPlayerOne Apr 30 '18 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NLGPlayerOne Fair enough, it's your question :) I was looking at it more through Plato's Allegory of the Cave. The difference between an illusion you see with your eyes vs an illusion you see in your brain is functionally equivalent because it's all in the brain. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 30 '18 at 14:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ That was my initial read as well. I was swayed by the idea of having a difference between a phantasm (all in the target's mind) and an illusion (think hologram). Plus, the phantasm specifically states that the target's mind will come up with an explanation as to why, say, the character fell as he stepped onto the "bridge" that he's sure is there. And like a breath weapon, I decided that the gaze is a physical effect, not a mental one. Again though, I think either way would be perfectly legit. \$\endgroup\$ – NLGPlayerOne May 1 '18 at 16:07

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