When is an object made of other objects?

It still seems pretty unclear though to me, specifically when I read:

For the purpose of these rules, an object is a discrete. inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects.

A window is glass and pane, a sword has its handle and blade, a book its leather binding and pages...

When does an object become composed of other objects? This seems very contradictory to me. Most objects aren't made of a single material. A basic bridge is wood and rope. A basic candle is wax and wick. A basic chest is metal and wood.

And here we have a tweet that makes things even more broken - https://twitter.com/Scyllan8/status/801488065600561152

@JeremyECrawford wizzard in my group wants to use the reduce spell on all locked doors to bypass them is this valid?

@JeremyECrawford 23 Nov 2016 Replying to @Scyllan8

I would ask the wizard which part of the door they're trying to reduce. Most doors are made of multiple objects.

Okay so we have to specify the binding vs the pages in the case of a book, or the wood vs rope in the case of a wooden bridge... but if this is accurate then we could shrink the blade of a sword but not the handle causing it to fall out.

The spell I'm actually focused on is Enlarge / Reduce.

• "if this is accurate then we could shrink the blade of a sword but not the handle causing it to fall out" — why does this bother you? Jul 18, 2018 at 19:12
• @RyanFromGDSE - OMG, this is a great question. The implications are . . . huge . . . and maybe getting bigger. It might be even better if you don't bury the lede and put the enlarge / reduce part up front, maybe even put it in the question, if that's what you're actually focused on.
– Jack
Jul 18, 2018 at 23:24

When the DM says so

It's up to DM when to divide one big object into smaller ones. DMG page 247 suggest to do it when the object size is Huge or Gargantua:

If you track hit points for the object, divide it into Large or smaller sections, and track each section's hit points separately. Destroying one of those sections could ruin the entire object.

DM can decide on their own discretion, as it was in the Jeremy Crawford's door example. It can be used to give more choices (consequently, more possibilities) to the players. For example, you can shrink the door's lock only, in order to leave the door itself functional.

The DM either

• accepts your announcement and says what happens next
• asks you for the details
• or explains "you can't do this, because/until..."

Also, good DM always find an in-game explanation, instead of just saying "because the rules, you know".

• If the DM has strange interpretations I may not want to take the spell and as a Bard using Magical Secrets to get it I don't have the luxury of switching later. Knowing as much as I can about how it will be interpreted prior to selecting it alleviates risk. This isn't to say you're wrong just that players should care. Jul 18, 2018 at 19:04
• @RyanFromGDSE we can't guarantee your DM won't have strange interpretations. You should ask the DM about it, not us. Jul 18, 2018 at 19:05
• @RyanFromGDSE If that's the case, you should talk with your DM ahead of time to try and lay out some expectations for what constitutes an object.
– user39842
Jul 18, 2018 at 19:06
• @RyanFromGDSE "I don't have the luxury of switching later" — why not? If the DM's interpretations becomes way to far from your expectations, just say so. "When I chose this spell I was sure it works different way. At this table it does not, so I want to change it". Jul 19, 2018 at 12:08

DM Fiat

As you said, the only guidance provided by the rules does not define a clear break point between an object and a composition of objects.

For the purpose of these rules, an object is a discrete. inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects.

Because there is no specific ruling, it is up to the DM to decide what counts as an object and what is a composition of objects.

Personally, I would suggest that an object is not composed of other objects when it can be described as a phrase without the use of modifiers.

For example, a door is a singular object, but a locked door is multiple objects, because door is modified with lock. A book is a singular object, but a bookshelf with books is multiple objects. Bridge, chest, and candle are all singular.

• As for you book comment, I'm not so sure. By your "locked door" explanation, the pages are trying to present information, the binding is trying to keep all the information in one place. The papers could do their job without the binding. And if "present information in a compact packet" is a single purpose, then "block this doorway in such a way that it isn't easy to unblock" sounds like one, too, making the lock and door a single unit. I'm not disagreeing with either side in particular, but your two examples don't seem adequately disparate. Jul 18, 2018 at 18:34
• @MisterB That's fair. It's a bit more philosophical a question than I usually try to answer. I'll see if I can come up with better examples.
– user39842
Jul 18, 2018 at 18:37
• Its also worth considering whether the object is firmly connected to other objects. E.g A chair may be multiple objects but the entire chair is a single discreet unattached object. But a door is attached firmly to a door frame, and a door lock will be firmly attached to the door.Hence the entire chair could be lifted etc with telekinesis, but a door could probably only be opened/closed (assuming unlocked) but not lifted. Unless there is some criteria for calculating the "equivalent strength" of the telekinesis so it can be ripped off!
– PJRZ
Jul 18, 2018 at 18:42
• @RyanFromGDSE We are veering into discussion, but I would say that a locked chest is multiple. The lock and the chest are different objects.
– user39842
Jul 18, 2018 at 18:53
• As far as the "locked door" example goes, when you cast the spell arcane lock on a door, window, gate, chest, or other entryway, it increases the DC of "any locks on it", so there's precedent for counting the door (or chest, or whatever) as a separate object from its lock(s). Jul 19, 2018 at 8:27

Warning - this is house rules territory

It's a long post and provides useful guidance, but if you are hoping for RAW (or even RAI) this ain't it. This is simply additional guidance on how to determine when an accumulation of molecules goes from being labelled as one object or many, as well as an interpretation of the shrink/enlarge spell that eschews the distinction between object and creature as well as one object or many. Useful for DM adjudication, but only loosely an answer to the question as asked. I'm posting it because I think it is useful to the community, but I'll understand if it gets down-voted for being off-topic (I don't think it is, but I can see both sides of this).

DM Guidance

To add to the other answers, a possible rule of thumb would be to ask if the collection of objects could be broken up without tools and/or significant amounts of time or effort. Furthermore, the guidance in the DM's Guide that objects Huge or larger should also be considered. However, for play-ability, I'd say that the magic of the spell works with the caster to define an object more or less as the caster would expect for his/her purposes.

• A sword and hilt should be counted as a singular item as the sword is smaller than huge and separating them requires quite a bit of work (and/or tools). However, if the caster wanted to target only the blade, the magic would accommodate his/her will and treat them as multiple objects so that it could affect the blade but not the hilt.

• A jar with a lid would be two objects as separating them is simple. However, if the caster wants to shrink or enlarge the jar and lid (and they are currently together), the magic would consider the jar one item and shrink them. If the jar and lid were separated when the spell was cast, they would quite clearly be two items, regardless of what the caster wished. If the jar and lid were later separated, the effect would remain with them both, so one would not suddenly return to normal size upon separation. This could possibly be exploited, allowing a single spell to be used on multiple targets by combining them before casting, but this is no more an issue than anything else that requires a DM call. I offer a way to handle this later.

• A door is one item unless the caster wishes to treat it as multiple items by specifically targeting the knob or barred window embedded in it.

• A carriage is multiple items because, per the DMG guidance, it is Huge or larger. The caster can try to treat it as a single item, but it is simply too large for the magic to affect at once and the spell would fail if attempted (even though a Gargantuan creature is well within the spell's capabilities, which seems weirdly inconsistent).

• A small gnomish clockwork is also one object if the caster wishes (this goes against the DMG guidance, but is more logically consistent with the "because magic" interpretation), or many smaller objects if they so wish. This seems a broken interpretation, but...

• A person and all of his belongings is a single target. This is specifically called out in the spell. The spell treats creatures differently than normal objects, but it might be a good idea to treat them the same, in which case...

A rules tweak

Definitely house rule, but the most consistent and specific I can think of while remaining simple and only minimally broken (no more than the spell is by default if not properly adjudicated).

The spell can affect any number of items so long as they meet the following conditions:

• They all fit within a (max) 10' cube (Large or smaller). This cube can be of any smaller size that the caster wishes, specified at the time of casting.
• They are all touching each other. This contact doesn't have to be direct - object A and C can both be affected so long as they are both touching object B. Object D and E would also be affected if object D was in contact with A and E was in contact with C, and so on (chaining).
• The spell is cast on a point in the dead center of the cube.
• The ground - or anything extending outside the area affected by the spell - is not affected.
• Likewise, any objects "connected" only through an unaffected object are not affected. So you could target a single creature even if it was adjacent to another creature if their only contact chain was the ground.

This allows for some rather different uses of the spell. For instance, a group of 4 medium sized creatures could all hold hands and be affected by a single casting. However, here's the rub:

If anything breaks contact with the point targeted by the caster, it is no longer affected by the spell and immediately returns to its original size. This is just like the way the RAW spell behaves in regards to creatures and their carried items.

So the group of four in our example would have to remain holding hands for the entirety of the spell (or they could have tied themselves together with rope prior to the spell's casting), imposing significant restrictions on the spell when used in this fashion.

This in effect treats an automaton full of gears and such the same as a human full of guts and bones. It treats a cart full of oranges the same as a horse loaded down with party gear (a valid target for the spell as per RAW).

The contact doesn't have to remain the exact same - the characters in our example can switch hands, so long as at least one unbroken link is maintained between each affected part and the targeted point.

Another consequence of this is that if an object is forcefully sundered, the part of that object no longer in contact with the targeted point immediately returns to normal size.

Re-establishing contact does not allow the spell to resume affect. Just like in the RAW version of the spell with affected creature carried items, once the item returns to normal size, another casting of the spell is required to change its size again.

But how do I target just the door knob? Easy - the caster can reduce the affected area of the spell when casting - the 10' cube is simply the maximum area that can be affected, but the affected area could certainly be a 1" cube if all you wish to enlarge is a ring. Or a 1' cube if all you want to affect is the knob - since the door would extend beyond the affected area, it would not be subject to the spell's effects even though part of the door is in the area of the spell.

This interpretation prevents the spell from affecting a creature larger than Large, which the RAW spell can do, so the 10' cube rule might need some adjustment if the DM feels that affecting such creatures is necessary (perhaps with some player prodding).

This interpretation largely allows the spell to function in a way that is similar to how it is commonly portrayed in media - movies and TV and books (comic and otherwise). The mage that points his wand at a stack of luggage and shrinks it down to portable size. The Ant-Man shrinking both car and passengers. The prankster causing a victim's toupee to shrink to the size of a dime. The spell's limit of only allowing the target to grow or shrink by a single category makes it less versatile than many of these portrayals, and the mechanics might make it less powerful than some of the extremes seen in a comic book (still looking at you, Ant-Man), but it makes it flexible enough to allow a group of adventurers to all sneak through a small opening by holding hands or to make a chest and its contents more portable without making it completely broken.

Is it perfect? Unlikely, but I think it provides consistent guidance that a GM could use to adjudicate edge cases for the spell without taking away significant player agency. And the DM is always allowed to intervene if it still manages to get out of hand.

Very large objects are composed

The object definition says:

For the purpose of these rules, an object is a discrete. inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects.

The limitation of not being composed of other objects serves to prevent treating huge things as a single object. Otherwise you just could true polymorph a castle into a frog, or could not breach a castle wall without destroying the entire castle.

The limitiation is not intended to concern itself with components or smaller sized objects: that is composed of many objects applies only to vehicles, or buildings, both of which can be Huge or larger.

Other object examples listed in a table for object sizes (DMG p. 247) include a lock, chest, barrel, chandelier, window. All of these are composed of several parts, often even moving parts that are only interlocking. At least the lock is quite complex too with "many" parts, tumblers, mechanism and so forth. So the criterium for composition clearly cannot be concerned with how "many" parts are involved.

The list of object sizes (DMG p. 247) even includes a cart as an example for a single object, which is both a vehicle (PHB, p. 156) and composed of parts (wheels, axle etc). How does that make sense, if the defintion of objects excludes objects that are vehicles composed of parts?

We can resolve this apparent contradiction if we assume the restriction is about very large structures, like houses or ships, that are too big to be treated as a single thing for purpose of attack and damage, and need to be broken down into sections they are composed of. A cart in comparison, is merely Large, small enought to count as a single object.

On page 247, DMG, in the section of how to treat Huge and Gargantuan Objects:

If you track hit points for the object, divide it into Large or smaller sections, and track each section's hit points separately.

The guidance is that if objects are too large, then they should be considered as being composed of other objects. The house has windows, a door, sections of walls.

There too are many other things to be considered, so the DMG leaves it to the DM to apply reasonable rulings on when to break down such extra-large objects into separate components for a given game situation:

That said, one torch can burn a Huge tapestry, and an earthquake spell can reduce a colossus to rubble. You can track a Huge or Gargantuan object's hit points if you like, or you can simply decide how long the object can withstand whatever weapon or force is acting against it. (...) Destroying one of those sections could ruin the entire object. For example, a Gargantuan statue of a human might topple over when one of its Large legs is reduced to 0 hit points.

And of course, if they think it makese sense for the story or to limit abuse, they are also free to ignore other rules guidelines, and declare that even smaller objects are composed of objects.