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If you don’t whip the object at a creature, can you instead use the catapult spell to move an object from one place to another without breaking it?

Example: There’s a sword lying on a table at the other end of the room, I catapult the sword to the space in front of me then pick it up.

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Knock Yourself Out (and Don't Knock a Creature Out)

As the spell says emphasis mine:

Choose one object weighing 1 to 5 pounds within range that isn’t being worn or carried. The object flies in a straight line up to 90 feet in a direction you choose before falling to the ground, stopping early if it impacts against a solid surface. If the object would strike a creature, that creature must make a Dexterity saving throw.

The object is the target and the spell launches it up to 90 feet. It goes in "a direction you choose". You choose whether to launch it in the direction of one or, ideally, more creatures (in a line up it would go through each one until one failed the saving throw). It only takes damage and possibly breaks by the terms of the spell (rather than a DM ruling on falling to the ground or what have you), if it hits something (creature, door, whatever).

Note that the "up to" implies you also presumably choose the distance it goes (or maybe not, for a thorough discussion see this question). In any case, it helpful for snatching an object in range and stopping it wherever you want. Catapult is a utility as well as an attack spell. This is, in fact, one of the principle (mechanical) reasons one might choose this "might hit and requires an object" spell over something like the "guaranteed to hit for an average of three less damage" Magic Missile (I believe the other popular reason is that you can fire a flask of acid or such, potentially for more damage on a hit).

In any case, if you ever have that occasion when the McGuffin is on a pedestal next to the big bad rather than held, you'll have a lot of fun with this spell. It's also, naturally, what a stylish wizard would use to throw their grappling hook.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why do you think one chooses the distance it goes? Btw also note that a flask of acid doesn't necessarily activate if you fire it with catapult rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/160738/… \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Dec 16 '19 at 15:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @findusl It could probably be better emphasized with a heading or with emphasis in the quote, but Benjamin Olson does state that it goes "up to 90 feet" which suggests you have control over distance. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Dec 16 '19 at 16:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @findusl On the latter point it is indeed a DM ruling where it splashes, but I didn't want to go into detail on an aside. So far as distance, "up to" means "up to", and the normal meaning of this in such a context is that the spellcaster chooses (Mage Hand would be one comparable "up to" spell). If it meant "always 90 feet unless it hits something", it would, presumably, have clearer language to that effect. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Olson Dec 16 '19 at 16:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Mage hand has a different wording as "you" are the one moving the hand. In this case it is "the object" flying not "you" throwing it. If "you" were the subject of the sentence I'd agree that you can choose it. Here the only thing "you" can do is the choosing of the direction, and grammatically the choosing clearly refers only to the direction, see my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Dec 16 '19 at 16:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @findusl You've got your own answer. It's best to refute the points made in this one in yours rather than in comments. Benjamin Olson can also respond by further supporting their own answer. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Dec 16 '19 at 16:15
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Yes, but maybe not for that exact purpose.

The main effect of the spell is this:

Choose one object weighing 1 to 5 pounds within range that isn't being worn or carried. The object flies in a straight line up to 90 feet in a direction you choose before falling to the ground, stopping early if it impacts against a solid surface.

The range is 60 feet, so you absolutely can use this to grab objects from a distance and huck them at where you want them, if they're 1 to 5 pounds.

(The minimum weight is weird. I infer that's there so that the damage-dealing properties of the spell make sense--it's not supposed to shoot a grain of rice at lethal velocity.)

One limitation it probably has is that the object will fly until it hits something (or the full 90 feet), so you can't deposit it exactly where you want. I say "probably" because this is another case of that inexact "up to (distance)" that the writers like to use (also seen in thorn whip and lightning lure). It's unclear if you get to choose a distance up to 90 feet, or if that's just an acknowledgement that the object might hit something before going the full distance.* However, the spell doesn't say you get to choose a distance, and it does say that you choose a direction of flight, so I read it as "90 feet, stopping early if it hits something solid".

Workarounds

(Note: Herein lies physics. If you're thinking of saying something like "D&D is not a physics simulation", note that I'm not actually using the game mechanics to try to simulate physics.)

You might be able to pick a direction that will lawn-dart the object into the ground at the spot of your choosing. It will stop moving on impact, since the ground is a solid surface. But keep in mind the object moves in a straight line. If there's a sword sitting on a table, and the tabletop is parallel to the floor, there's no straight-line path that will get it off the table and then onto the floor.

A better option may be to throw it at the ceiling. If the object is relatively soft (like a bag of coins), it'll fall roughly straight down, so you'd aim for a point right above where you want it; if it's rigid, it'll ricochet, so there's more uncertainty depending on the shape of the object. This would be where I improvise a ruling like "Make a DC 15 Arcana check, and if you fail, the sword bounces off somewhere and you'd have to go look for it."

*Of course this can happen whether the spell says "up to" or not. Thunderwave doesn't use "up to 10 feet" but the creature can still hit a wall before going the full 10 feet.

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Only if you are exactly 90 feet away from the object.

The object flies in a straight line up to 90 feet in a direction you choose before falling to the ground

You can only choose the direction but not the distance. The distance can only be reduced if it impacts against a solid surface or strikes a creature. However then it will take damage and might break. And if I understand your question correctly you would catapult it at yourself, so you would most likely be the surface it would hit. I wouldn't recommend that. (assuming you fail your dex save. otherwise it just flies on and that doesn't help you either)

When the object strikes something, the object and what it strikes each take 3d8 bludgeoning damage.

Why can't you choose the distance?

Grammatically you can make a verb refer to two things to avoid repeating it. For example "You choose your colour and group". Here choose refers to colour and group. However then when removing one of the things, the sentence still has to make sense with the other (you might have to correct from plural to singular though). If we leave away the "in a direction" part from the spell description, we get "up to 90 feet you choose before falling to the ground". That does not make any sense. If we were allowed to choose the distance the description would be something like "The object flies in a straight line up to a distance (up to 90 feet) and direction you choose before falling to the ground". I am sure there are some examples in the existing spells but I can't think of one now.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Grammatically, without the words "up to" it would more clearly state what you believe it means, since it would not leave the door open to other possible causes of stopping. I can't think of another obvious purpose of "up to", and 5e designers seem to refrain from such (by your logic) unnecessary verbiage. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Olson Dec 16 '19 at 16:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenjaminOlson No, they really don't. There's plenty of unnecessary verbiage in the 5e rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Dec 16 '19 at 16:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenjaminOlson On the other hand then the choosing of the direction would be unnecessary. Many other spells like "mage hand" and "oil flask" do not have it. Curious to hear your opinion on that. \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Dec 16 '19 at 17:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @findusl I don't really follow. Not having "choose the direction" would mean no guidance on which direction it went, which would be a very different and a very incompletely worded spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Olson Dec 16 '19 at 17:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Incidentally, you can't be 90 feet away from the target, the spell, as opposed to the distance the object then flies, has a 60 foot range. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Olson Dec 16 '19 at 17:46

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