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Many areas of effect, like wall of fire, do damage to creatures when they enter it.

One side of the wall deals 5d8 fire damage to a creature that [...] enters the wall for the first time on a turn.

That wording seems to imply that the creature takes the damage even if it was unwilling to move there (such as if pushed by a Repelling Blast or grappled and moved there).

However, prismatic wall's wording is different :

When a creature attempts to reach into or pass through the wall, it does so one layer at a time through all the wall’s layers. As it passes or reaches through each layer, the creature must make a Dexterity saving throw or be affected by that layer’s properties as described below.

Here, the words "attempts to" are used, instead of just "enters".

So, if a creature is unwillingly moved into a prismatic wall, does it have to make the saving throw(s)?

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Creatures can be thrown through the walls, but would have to make the saves one at a time as they attempt to pass through them. Willingness to do so doesn't matter, unless specified in the spell.

I believe the wording is made in that way because a creature might not pass through all of the walls, because they're stopped short by an effect, leaving the rest of the walls up. I don't believe that the wording means you must intend to go through the walls to be affected by them, rather, you attempt to make it through all of them because there is a chance you might be stopped (or killed).

You make the saving throws one at a time, as you pass through it. You might pass through every wall, eventually, but only one at a time. Imagine time slowing down for each save, because the effect from the first might prevent you from traveling through the second.

Another thing to consider, most of the spells in the game specify if the creature needs to be willing or not. A quote supporting this from an official source, Jeremy Crawford:

A spell specifies whether a target must be willing. If it doesn't specify that, the target doesn't need to be willing. #DnD

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I would recommend you rephrase this a little. Lead with that earlier effects may negate the need to make later saves as I think it's the heart of your argument (and a good one) but it's at the end so it's coming late. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Sep 20 '18 at 15:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, funny enough, they might fall through each wall if they are thrown. So they might fail the first dexterity save, die, and momentum carry through the rest and immediately fail your death saves. Good stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – Austin Donley Sep 20 '18 at 18:48
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Yes, they would need to make saving throws

In this case the word "attempts" is merely to convey the fact that the creature may not actually succeed in passing through the layers due to the effects of the spell.

In a more general sense, the only place where willing and unwilling movement are treated differently is the Opportunity Attack rule. This rule specifically states that

You don't provoke an opportunity attack when you teleport or when someone or something moves you without using your movement, action, or reaction

However, this rule is specifically for Opportunity Attacks and there is no equivalent for a creature being forcibly moved through a spell effect that requires a Saving Throw on entering or leaving the effect. So by default, they would need to make the save(s).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the OA rule is worth mentioning as a possible reason for thinking that willing and unwilling movement 'work' differently. But you're right about "attempts". I will add that in. \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Sep 20 '18 at 15:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your phrasing is slightly inaccurate; opportunity attacks make no mention of "willing" movement, only whether you are moved without using your movement, action, or reaction. However, booming blade does explicitly mention "willing" movement. This is why dissonant whispers triggers opportunity attacks but not the booming blade extra damage: it forces the creature to use its reaction to move. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 20 '18 at 16:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ As others have mentioned, OAs don't care if the movement is willing or not. This JC quote might also help: "A spell specifies whether a target must be willing. If it doesn't specify that, the target doesn't need to be willing." \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Sep 20 '18 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Went down that rabbit hole just to see where it would lead, @Rubiksmoose. For everyone else, "Willing" means the character made that choice. However, Attacks of Opportunity are enabled whenever the target spent something for that movement (whether that's speed, reaction, action, whatever). Dissonant Whipsers might make you move unwillingly (so it can't activate Booming Blade), but it can force an attack of opportunity (because it forces you to use your reaction). \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Zastoupil Sep 20 '18 at 22:18

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