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The Mold Earth cantrip offers the following option:

You choose a portion of dirt or stone that you can see within range and that fits within a 5-foot cube. You manipulate it in one of the following ways:

  • If you target an area of loose earth, you can instantaneously excavate it, move it along the ground, and deposit it up to 5 feet away. This movement doesn’t have enough force to cause damage.

(plus some other options)

What is loose earth?

For example, which of the following would meet this criteria:

  • Top soil of a recently plowed field
  • Digging a 10 ft hole in the middle of said same field
  • Digging a 10 ft hole with a mixture of dirt, gravel, clay
  • Digging a 10 ft hole in a cobblestone road
  • Digging a 10 ft hole in solid stone
  • Digging a 10 ft hole under the foundation of a building

As an analogy, would it be accurate to say that this spell would work on anything in minecraft that I can use a wooden shovel on (with the exception of snow)?

See also: Is it possible to create a sink hole with mold earth and a portable hole?

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4 Answers 4

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Jeremy Crawford has already provided some insight to this:

Think dirt, not stone.

Basically, if you can use a shovel on it, you can use the cantrip.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ mind commenting on rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/139840/… \$\endgroup\$ Jan 25, 2019 at 7:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I love JC's short ambiguous answers. Does dirt = sand or salt? Or does he mean soil which would be closer to "dirt" and "earth" definitions? \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Jan 25, 2019 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Dirt in this case would most likely mean regolith and soil. \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Jan 25, 2019 at 14:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth Crawford does this enough that I strongly suspect he doesn't actually want to resolve ambiguity. You ask him what exactly move earth can move, and he answers "earth", because that's what the spell description says. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Jan 25, 2019 at 16:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that last sentence stands on its own, without any need for Crawford's quote. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 31, 2020 at 22:11
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Ask your DM

You have cited the only rules related to "loose earth" in your question. No further details are given in the spell or in any other rules. When a term is not defined in the rules, it defaults to its idiomatic meaning, which does give us something to go on.

Specifically the word "loose" here implies that this is not solid, restrained, or compacted "earth".

So the answer to

Digging a 10 ft hole in solid stone

Is clearly "no". Stone is not at all loose and would thus not fit the definition.

Jeremy Crawford has also agreed with this assessment with this clarification:

Think dirt, not stone.

On the flip side the answer to

Top soil of a recently plowed field

is clearly "yes". I can't imagine a better example of the idea of "loose earth" than recently tilled soil.

But there is where the clear answers end. All your other examples are going to vary based on how your DM interprets the phrase. How loose does earth need to be to be loose? Can it contain soil and small rocks? Clay?

Only your DM can answer these; the rules give no further guidance.

Example: Foundation of a building

Since you are specifically interested in this use case I will address this directly (even though the answer is the same as the above).

Digging a 10 ft hole under the foundation of a building

There are questions here that are dependent not only on DM interpretation, but the precise situation as well. What material is the building built on? Is it built on solid rock? Loam? Swamp? Is this a massive stone castle or a small wooden shed (which changes how "loose" the stuff under the building is)?

None of these questions are answered by the rules. They are thus left up to the DM.

This is one of the ways 5e is specifically designed. Instead of writing precise definitions to have to account for all the possibilities of using the spell they left it vague so the DM could decide on the most fun interpretation for their group.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Buildings are not fungible. The earth under a straw hut would not be compacted, but the earth under a 20 foot tall, 5 foot thick castle wall would be. I might even say the earth in a Terrasques footprint would be too compacted, but that's a DM call. \$\endgroup\$
    – user47897
    Jan 25, 2019 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkTO just to be clear, is this a suggestion for me? Because I agree and my answer says as much (or at least I intend it to). Am I being unclear or are you just agreeing with me? \$\endgroup\$
    – Rubiksmoose
    Jan 25, 2019 at 19:35
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I'd say a good rule of thumb is that anything that could be dug and moved with a shovel could be dug with Mold Earth. Sand, soil, gravel, etc. Useful cantrips tend to magically replicate mundane activities.

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I would allow some flexiblty with the spell to retain its gameplay usefullness. It is Dungeon and Dragons not Farming and Cattle. I would allow the player to attempt to focus that same spell energy on to a smaller mass. The player would make a concentration check and the area would be much smaller. Think about how much soil you moving easily with your mind, a 5ft cube of dirt, that's a large excavator's bucket worth. And you could do than at will all day long. So with that kind of energy and with a concentration check(which becomes an effort action subjected to exhaustion rules) I would allow a player to move a small area of stone, say a 5 inch cube. Magic is much closer to physics than grammar class.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's entirely a house rule. By the rules as written, spells do what they say (grammar) and real world physics is secondary at best. \$\endgroup\$
    – Foo Bar
    Jul 31, 2020 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Answer begins, "I would allow", denoting a subjective opinion. So yeah, "that's entirely a house rule"--that is abundantly clear. It's so entirely a useless reply that you might as vapidly state it on the majority of answers on this site... so there's no need to say it at all. 5e is built around DM fiat, so answers like this are how the game evolves. It's exactly how WotC designed the game to work. This answer is clever, flavorful, and interesting, so in the absence of any RAW or RAI to the contrary, this is the only way to answer. Even with rules to the contrary: DM fiat. \$\endgroup\$
    – senselocke
    Apr 3, 2021 at 9:10

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