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Quick overview of the situation, the party is 3rd level and the warlock and the bard can now both cast cloud of daggers. We were in a lizardfolk den and they saw us and came running down a 5-foot corridor. The bard was first in initiative and threw out the cloud of daggers right on them. The warlock went next and wanted to do the same. Is there any ruling against this? The lizardfolk were next and would take the 4d4 from the bard at the start of their turn. Would they also take the warlock's 4d4 (A grand total of 8d4), or do these effects need to be staggered?

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It depends on whether you believe damage to be an effect of a spell, and whether you believe the cloud of daggers castings have any sort of overlapping "duration"; personally, only one instance of damage

There is the following rule from the "Combining Magical Effects" section:

The effects of the same spell cast multiple times don't combine, however. Instead, the most potent effect - such as the highest bonus - from those castings applies while their durations overlap.

- Player's Handbook (page 205)

There is also the following optional (as every rule there is optional) rule from the "Simultaneous Effects" section of Xanathar's Guide to Everything:

If two or more things happen at the same time on a character or monster’s turn, the person at the game table — whether player or DM — who controls that creature decides the order in which those things happen. For example, if two effects occur at the end of a player character’s turn, the player decides which of the two effects happens first.

- Xanathar's Guide to Everything (page 77)

There are a few things that need to be determined here; firstly, whether or not damage is even an effect of a spell. One could argue that it is not (and people have done so here), in which case it does not apply to the above rule and the creature will take both instances of damage. That said, I personally believe that the spell causes the damage and therefore the damage is an effect of the spell.

There is also the question of whether the spells actually have an overlapping duration at all. The castings do have their own durations and those are counting down at the same time (overlapping). Thus the spells are overlapping and any effects they might cause must all come from only one of the castings; the creature only takes damage once.

Alternatively, you could say that the rule on overlapping effects applies to each effect separately and not to the spells as a whole; thus the damages never overlap (using Xanathar's) and both would apply fully. But this would likely be incorrect and goes against the current answer to the question "How do you choose active effects when two instances of the same spell/feature overlap?".

I personally believe that damage is an effect of a spell and that the castings are overlapping, thus the creature will only take 4d4 damage, but there is space and reasoning to argue otherwise.

An oddity from having only one instance of damage apply

Spacing apart the castings by a mere 5 feet causes radically different behavior; the creature would take damage when starting its turn and also when entering the second AoE.

If a medium creature walked into one AoE and then the other they would take the damage twice, not just once. However, a large (or larger) creature could potentially walk into both AoEs simultaneously, resulting in them only taking damage once.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why would it matter if the effects were spaced apart? There's no qualifier that says effects only don't stack when they are on the same spot. Note also that when either spell expires their durations no longer apply, and the full both spells damage would then apply, and also that not stacking doesn't mean 4d4 damage, it means the better of 4d4 damage rolled twice (at least, while the durations overlap). \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 2 '19 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pleasestopbeingevil Sorry I don't understand some of what you've said. If you are hit by two firebolts at different times, you take damage from both. If you walk into one cloud of daggers and then the other, you take damage from both. And what do you mean "the full damage from both would apply when one spell ends?" Also what do you mean they would take 4d4 twice? This sounds like a completely different answer moreso than a comment. The stacking rule does not make the more potent effects happen multiple times \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Dec 2 '19 at 17:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ If it did then a level 1 casting and a level 9 casting would result in effectively 2 level 9 castings. I think you're saying it's like advantage but for damage. I do not believe this is, at all, covered in the overlapping effect rule and if you feel that is the case I suggest you open a question on it \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Dec 2 '19 at 17:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2, in a pure English sense damage is of course an effect of the spell. However, I believe effect here is a synonym for condition. Not the save DC, not the damage, only the lasting things. \$\endgroup\$ – András Dec 4 '19 at 9:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @András Exactly why I've said that it depends whether you consider damage an effect at all. Though the rules do say that DoTs do not stack, though DoTs are more like conditions: "For example, if a target is ignited by a fire elemental’s Fire Form trait, the ongoing fire damage doesn’t increase if the burning target is subjected to that trait again." \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Dec 4 '19 at 14:19
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The lizardfolk would only take 4d4

Borrowing heavily from this answer, multiple of the same spell never stack. From the Player's Handbook, “Combining Magical Effects”:

The effects of different spells add together while the durations of those spells overlap. The effects of the same spell cast multiple times don't combine, however. Instead, the most potent effect — such as the highest bonus — from those castings applies while their durations overlap.

RAW, the bard and the warlock would not get more damage out of their cloud of dagger spells by overlapping them.

To narratively justify this RAW, think of it as the damage coming from the fact that the area is filled with daggers, and adding more daggers doesn't change the fact that the area is filled with daggers.

Of course, if as a DM, this seems unrealistic, you could always overrule RAW and claim that both spells do take effect, since there are now twice as many daggers filling that area.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like the rule can be justified from a narrative perspective if you think of magic as ends-oriented rather than like a physical effect. If a computer program contains a line to the effect of "write 8 into memory adress 40" and another line does say the same the two are not added - you just get the end result of 8 in adress 40. Similarly a magic spell that fills a certain volume of space with a certain amount of daggers will leave that space with that amount of daggers - regardless of how many such daggers where there before. \$\endgroup\$ – S. Move Dec 2 '19 at 15:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does this contradict your answer here stating "I would argue that the damage dealt from the fireball is not an "effect"" \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Dec 2 '19 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 It did re-read my other answer before posting this one. I think my take on "effect" in the context of fireball was hinged on the fact that a fireball is instantaneous, whereas cloud of daggers is not. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Dec 2 '19 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah that makes a lot of sense, just wondering what you thought about it. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Dec 2 '19 at 16:12

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