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The web spell is a bit special, in that it initially fills a 20-foot cube, but can collapse and/or disappear if the chosen placement does not provide sufficient anchorage:

You conjure a mass of thick, sticky webbing at a point of your choice within range. The webs fill a 20-foot cube from that point for the duration. The webs are difficult terrain and lightly obscure their area.

If the webs aren't anchored between two solid masses (such as walls or trees) or layered across a floor, wall, or ceiling, the conjured web collapses on itself, and the spell ends at the start of your next turn. Webs layered over a flat surface have a depth of 5 feet.

Notably, a web placed in midair with no contact with either the ground or two solid masses "collapses on itself", but the spell does not end immediately, instead lasting up to 1 round before ending. So, what happens during that 1 round before the spell ends? Does the airborne web simply fall straight down until it lands on the ground, turning a 20-foot square into difficult, restraining terrain for 1 round? Or does the web collapse uselessly to the ground, immediately ceasing to have any mechanical effect and effectively ending the spell as soon as it is cast? If the web falls, is there any possibility that it could catch flying creatures in or under its area as it falls?

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3 Answers 3

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The "ground" becomes difficult terrain and restraining

The web instantly collapses on itself as soon as you cast the spell.

The spell does not say it loses its properties when the web collapses. The spell still lasts until your next turn, so any mechanical effect will stay until it ends, i.e:

  1. Difficult terrain
  2. Light obscurement
  3. Restrain creatures on failing dexterity save
  4. Flammability

If the falling web catches a creature, the creature must make dexterity save as usual.

After the web completes its fall, it will still retain its properties until the spell ends (your next turn). It does not mean that it is now "layered on the ground" and will stay until the full duration; it will still disappear on your next turn.

It's up to your DM how wide the ground covered by the falling web. It might be wider than a 20 ft square, or even less, because the web is now clumped together.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure about the effect of a falling web on airborne creatures in its path, since the spell states that creatures only make a save on their turn. (Although maybe you could do some readied action shenanigans to force a save?) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 15:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson You are correct, the web will not restrain unless a creature starts its turn within the web, or on its turn, enter the web. Falling or not, this stays true. Readied move into the web will not restrain you, because it's not your turn. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 1:13
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The webs stay in the air until the start of your next turn, then vanish.

If you cast web in midair, the spell ends at the start of your next turn:

If the webs aren't anchored between two solid masses (such as walls or trees) or layered across a floor, wall, or ceiling, the conjured web collapses on itself, and the spell ends at the start of your next turn.

Beside the spell ending early, there are no indications that the spell is changed or altered by the web collapsing on itself. The collapsing is completed at the start of the caster's turn, at which point the spell ends.

The webs don't fall for the duration of the spell:

You conjure a mass of thick, sticky webbing at a point of your choice within range. The webs fill a 20-foot cube from that point for the duration.

Clearly, the webs fill the same 20-foot cube for the entire duration of the spell - meaning the webs can't move or fall out of that area.

Flying creatures that fail their saving throws when starting their turn in the web or moving into the web become restrained. Once restrained, a creature's speed becomes zero, which cause a flying creature to immediately fall to the ground. The behavior is identical to what would happen if the web was properly anchored.

Essentially, the only difference between an anchored and an unanchored web spell, is the duration.

Ruling otherwise leads to odd results

There are two ways to interpret the phrase, "the conjured web collapses on itself, and the spell ends at the start of your next turn". Either the web's collapse is a process that is only completed at the start of the next turn which ends the spell, or the web fully collapses on itself immediately.

Assuming the web collapses immediately leads to odd results:

First, there is no explanation regarding what size the collapsed web ends up occupying. Presumably the web would end up less than 20' tall, but it is not specified.

Second, the web would fall to the ground immediately, but by RAW, flying creatures in or under the web would be unaffected. The web would fall on the turn it is cast, but web only affects creature on their own turn, so the web would drop to the ground before it can do anything. Effectively, the web would fall through creatures in and under it.

As a result, there would be basically no point whatsoever in creating an unanchored web in midair. It would be much better to just anchor it to some solid masses, barring that, layer it on the ground. If that is the intended goal, why not simply prevent the web from being cast in midair in the first place?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you saying that the webs always fill the full cube even if there is no wall or ceiling for them to be suspended from? Also, why would a creature caught in the web fall? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 2, 2022 at 1:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ryan C. Thompson Correct. The web stays suspended in the air for 1 round then vanishes. A creature caught in the web is restrained, its speed becomes 0, and it falls. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 2, 2022 at 2:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mean, if you cast the spell on flat ground, or against a vertical cliff face, are you saying it still occupies the entire cube? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 2, 2022 at 2:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Those are two separate statements. The conjunction, "and", doesn't imply the first is dependent upon the second. The web collapsing immediately and subsequently vanishing at the start of the next turn is a situation described by that statement. Why should a reader accept the collapse and disappearance as both occurring on the next round instead of collapse immediately and subsequent disappearance? \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 7:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson How can a creature fall if it is restrained? "Restrained" doesn't mean the creature is held in place - it means the creature cannot move itself. If one is tossed from a plane while wearing a straight jacket, one falls even while restrained. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented May 3, 2022 at 5:39
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There is no time for the web to fall

When casting a web, there are three possibilities for its placement, and these possibilities affect its duration and size.

(1) You can cast it "anchored between two solid masses", in which case it remains there for the full duration (Concentration / 1 hour), and fills the volume of a 20 foot cube (that is, a cube twenty feet on a side).

(2) You can cast it attached to one solid mass ("layered across a floor, wall, or ceiling"), in which case it has the same duration, but its size is 20 feet long, 20 feet wide, and with "a depth of 5 feet".

(3) You can cast it not anchored to any surface ("If the webs aren't anchored...or layered"), in which case it collapses on itself (on the turn it is cast by my reading, although some disagree) and then disappears (at the start of your next turn).

The spell already describes exactly what happens when the webs are not anchored at all; they do not fall because the spell does not say they fall. Vylix's answer provides reasonable assumptions for what to do if the spell did not say what happens when it was cast unanchored, but in fact the spell completely describes this possibility; spells do what they say they do.

The OP says:

but the spell does not end immediately, instead lasting up to 1 round before ending. So, what happens during that 1 round before the spell ends?

What is essential to understand here is that it is not one round between the end of your turn and the start of your next turn. It would be one round (that is, six seconds) between the end of your turn and the end of your next turn. But between the end of your turn and the start of your next turn, effectively no new time passes. Instead, it is the same six seconds that you had on your turn, "replayed" for everyone else in the initiative order, to determine what they did in that concurrently shared time. New time doesn't start again until after the start of your turn.

This can be illustrated through the optional rules for falling in XGtE:

When you fall from a great height you instantly descend up to 500 feet. If you're still falling on your next turn you descend up to 500 feet at the end of that turn. This process continues until the fall ends.

On your turn, during your time, you narratively fall 500 feet in six seconds. But you do not then remain narratively suspended in the air while the other creatures in the initiative order take their turns, and then later resume falling when it is again your turn. Within the narrative you are not playing freeze tag. Rather, your fall is continuous. The "pause" on the turns of the other creatures is only to determine what they did during the same six seconds that you were falling; when new time begins you resume the fall that you never left off.

This is exactly how the unanchored web works - during your turn you cast it, it fills space, it collapses on itself, and at the end of your turn it is frozen in place for the purpose of how other creatures interact with it. When time resumes at the start of your next turn it disappears. It never has time to fall because no time passes between your turns.

This can be seen for any continuous action you are taking. If you are running all-out across a battlefield (dashing), within the narrative you do not suddenly stop or freeze in place while others take their turns, but you are treated this way within the initiative order for determining the range and cover you have for the others in this order on their turns. You certainly do not have to 'pause longer' in time when more creatures are in the initiative order than when there are few. When you resume your turn, what was narratively a continuous action resumes as well.

But if no time passes, you might object, why make the web last until the start of your next turn - why not just have it disappear at the end of the turn you cast it? Because the point of an unanchored web is for you to try to catch flying creatures with it and knock them from the sky.

Two of the effects of web (difficult terrain and restraint) affect movement, and thus happen on the turns of the creatures affected (the third effect, obscurement, happens on everyone's turn). If the effect of web happened on your turn only (like, for example, the damage of a typical evocation spell), it could be cast and resolved entirely on your turn. But because its effects on movement happen on the turns of other creatures, it has to remain 'on the board' for one complete cycle of everyone's turns so that it has a chance to affect whomever you shot it at. It only disappears just when time 'starts' again.

Narratively, you shoot your unanchored web at a flying creature. Other creatures nearby swerve out of the way and avoid your web. You either miss the creature you shot it at or hit it; if you hit it, and it was flying, it might fall. As the creature falls, your web disappears and you continue to fight, with no break in the action at any point.

But to achieve this narrative result within the rules of initiative order we resolve events as follows: you cast your web and define the volume that it fills in the sky. On their turns, other creatures have to avoid that aerial space or suffer its effects. The creature you shot it at necessarily starts its turn in the affected space, and so makes a Dex save at that time it starts its turn - on a success, it avoids being restrained but still has to treat the space as difficult terrain. On a failure it is restrained, which could force it to immediately fall, but after it hits the ground it is no longer restrained because it is no longer in the space of the aerial web. Other creatures that come after it in initiative order still have to avoid the space or suffer its effects. The web's effects on the aerial space you targeted end at the start of your next turn.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "But between the end of your turn and the start of your next turn, effectively no time passes." How can Chill Touch prevent creatures from regaining HP, then? The effect last until the start of your next turn - shouldn't that mean it is instantly over? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2022 at 6:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GuillaumeF. The disadvantage it has against you lasts until the end of your next turn. The part about regaining hit points has only to last through its next turn so that it can't regenerate on its turn and has served its purpose by the start of your next turn. Remember that its next turn is taking place narratively at the same time as your turn. You can surely find examples, perhaps involving reactions, that make what you call odd results. These are artefacts of trying to represent continuous time flow within the abstraction of a turn-based initiative order. It does the best it can. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented May 3, 2022 at 13:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ "The part about regaining hit points has only to last through its next turn" - not true, "On a hit, the target takes 1d8 necrotic damage, and it can't regain hit points until the start of your next turn". \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2022 at 14:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GuillaumeF. You are correct that it does last until the start of your next turn. My point is that to do its job it would have only to last until the end of its target's next turn, since its primary purpose is to shut down regeneration or self-healing. The fact that it does exist until the start of your next turn is seldom useful; edge cases where it is healed by allies before your next turn are a rare exception. However, I am not sure of your larger point here - our answers are effectively the same, except for a disagreement about how to interpret a comma that decides when the web collapses. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented May 3, 2022 at 16:36

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