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The Magic Circle spell description says:

  • The creature can't willingly enter the cylinder by nonmagical means. If the creature tries to use teleportation or interplanar travel to do so, it must first succeed on a Charisma saving throw.
  • The creature has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets within the cylinder.
  • Targets within the cylinder can't be charmed, frightened, or possessed by the creature.

What happens after a creature of the chosen type penetrates my Magic Circle? Does a character lose the other protections of the Circle for that creature?

I had always assumed no. I thought the creature could then try to knock or drag them out of the circle, but those attempts would still be made at disadvantage. And as long as they remained in the cylinder the character would still be immune to the creature's charm, frighten or possession attempts.

An answer to a question about an inverted Magic Circle made me doubt my understanding. It made it sound that it is the barrier (the surface of the cylinder) that provides those defenses not just the state of being inside the field defined by the cylinder. I think my confusion lies in that the rules text doesn't say something like, "As long as the creature is outside the circle it has disadvantage..." or "...can't be charmed, frightened, or possessed by the creature as long as it is outside the circle." The only criteria I see is that the targets have to be in the cylinder, nothing about where the creature is.

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The description of Magic Circle reads (in part):

You create a 10-foot-radius, 20-foot-tall cylinder of magical energy centered on a point on the ground that you can see within range.

  • The creature can't willingly enter the cylinder by nonmagical means.

  • The creature has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets within the cylinder.

  • Targets within the cylinder can't be charmed, frightened, or possessed by the creature.

A creature of the specified type may not enter the volume demarcated by the spell (unless they use a spell). A creature may direct attacks into the area (at disadvantage) because the target of the attack is within the cylinder. These attacks would have to be ranged attacks or attacks with a weapon long enough to reach the target without their appendage crossing the edge of the cylinder.

Additionally, the creature may not grapple or shove or make any kind of unarmed strike against a creature within the circle because doing so would require a part of their body to enter the warded space.

So long as a target is within the volume of the cylinder, the creature's attempts to charm, frighten, or possess the target automatically fail regardless of where the creature is positioned. It's the target's location that is relevant for that part.

However

If a member of the specified creature type is forced into the zone unwillingly (bypassing the "can't willingly" prohibition), they may then drag the target out of the space to remove the handicap of attacking with disadvantage (or continue to attack with disadvantage from inside). They would need to drag the target out of the area of effect in order to charm, frighten, or mind control the target.

The grapple check to accomplish this would be made normally (ie not with disadvantage) since it uses a contested roll, not an attack roll.


When used in inverted fashion (where the affected creature type is "corraled" by the circle, the same rules apply just in reverse. To wit: a creature of the specified type:

  • May not willingly leave the circle (it can be knocked out of it by an external force, however)
  • May only teleport or planar travel out of the circle if it passes a charisma saving throw.
  • Suffers disadvantage on any attack directed at a target positioned outside the circle.
  • It can't charm, frighten, or possess a creature that is positioned outside of the circle.

I think you may be confused by the wording of the answer you linked which reads: "But [the circles] only work against the creature in the cylinder." This statement in that answer assumes the selected creature type is within the circle by default because of the creature's inability to voluntarily leave. It is not intended to mean that the chosen creature types only suffer the penalties while they are within the circle.

The spell's description very clearly states that it:

prevent[s] a creature of the specified type from [willingly] leaving the cylinder and protect[s] targets outside it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ They can also misty step or teleport into the circle as it only bars entry by nonmagical means (sure that requires a charisma ST, but it's possible). \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Jul 6 '19 at 8:19
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Penetrating the circle has no special effect.

It doesn't matter which side of the circle's barrier the creature is on. As long as either the creature or its target is inside the spell's area, the disadvantage on attacks and the immunity to various mental effects applies. Mechanically, the barrier is only relevant to the first of the 3 listed effects, which makes it difficult to traverse that barrier in one direction.

An inverted Magic Circle has the same area of effect as a "regular" one.

The confusion about how an inverted Magic Circle works stems from a mistaken assumption: that an inverted circle's area of effect is the entire world outside the circle. In fact, regardless of which kind of circle you create, the area of effect is always a cylinder 20 feet wide and 20 feet tall, and as such it has no effect on any interaction between creatures that are entirely outside that area (just like any other area-of-effect spell).

So given this, what does an inverted circle actually do? Let's start with what the spell says about inverting:

When you cast this spell, you can elect to cause its magic to operate in the reverse direction, preventing a creature of the specified type from leaving the cylinder and protecting targets outside it.

With that in mind, let's rewrite the effects of the circle to be consistent with these changes (rewrites highlighted in bold):

  • The creature can't willingly enter leave the cylinder by nonmagical means. If the creature tries to use teleportation or interplanar travel to do so, it must first succeed on a Charisma saving throw.
  • The creature has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets within outside the cylinder.
  • Targets within outside the cylinder can't be charmed, frightened, or possessed by the creature.

The only thing to keep in mind here is that as noted above, these effects only apply if an affected creature is either inside the spell's area or attempts to interact in some way with someone or something inside the spell's area. Because the spell's effects are inverted but its area is not, this leads to a few unintuitive asymmetries between a "regular" circle and an inverted one. For example, if you are protected inside a regular circle, a creature that successfully enters the circle (either via unwilling movement or teleportation) still has disadvantage on attacks against you and is unable to charm, frighten, or possess you. However, if you are protected outside an inverted circle, a creature that successfully exits the circle is no longer affected by the spell and can attack you, charm you, etc., completely unimpeded.

In practical terms, this means that an inverted circle provides less protection, since its protection effectively ends once an affected creature is able to penetrate the barrier, not because of any special function of the spell itself, but simply because the creature has left the spell's area of effect. Hence, the only reason you should ever use an inverted circle is to trap or imprison a creature inside it. If your goal is to protect yourself against incoming attacks, taking cover inside a standard Magic Circle will be much more effective.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. This was the answer I needed. The area of effect is always inside the cylinder, inverted or not. It's so simple now. Also, thank you for describing it as 'unintuitive'. \$\endgroup\$ – Blinky Dec 22 '19 at 9:52
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Any penetration, however slight, is sufficient to allow an attack ...

... with disadvantage.

Spells do what they say that they do. While spell's text provides a chance for the hostile creature (fiend, fey, etc) to get inside the circle via magical means, nothing in the spell's text says that once inside the circle that the other features of the spell are voided.

Case 1: Successful Charisma save on attempted entry

Hostile fiend/fey, etc, tries to enter via Dimension Door or Teleport: with a successful Charisma save, it does so, but it's subsequent attack is at disadvantage. Why? The protected creature is still inside the Magic Circle.

The creature has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets within the cylinder.

Any attempt to charm the creature inside the circle auto fails.

Any attempt to frighten the creature inside the circle auto fails

Any attempt to possess the creature inside the circle auto fails

Case two: drag protected character out of the circle

As to the fiend/fey/etc's attempt to grapple the creature and either throw it or drag it out of the circle? The circle would have to be inverted to prevent that.

When you cast this spell, you can elect to cause its magic to operate in the reverse direction, preventing a creature of the specified type from leaving the cylinder and protecting targets outside it.

To prevent being dragged out, the protected creature, or an ally, would need to cast an inverted Magic circle before the fiend's next turn ...

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