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I have one player currently stuck in a pit. Another player is attempting to use magical damage to gouge holes, or rather handholds into the surfaces of said pit to make it easier to climb out. As far as I am aware, there are no official rules that allow this. But logically speaking, I think it should be possible.

Are there any rules regarding this? And what would be the consequences of allowing this to happen?

I am not asking for other spells or methods to solve this problem. My question is solely regarding the method proposed here.

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Rules on attacking objects with magic say:

If an item is not carried or worn and is not magical, it does not get a saving throw. It simply is dealt the appropriate damage.

Rules on smashing objects further tell us that:

Acid and sonic attacks deal damage to most objects just as they do to creatures; roll damage and apply it normally after a successful hit. Electricity and fire attacks deal half damage to most objects; divide the damage dealt by 2 before applying the hardness. Cold attacks deal one-quarter damage to most objects; divide the damage dealt by 4 before applying the hardness.

With rare exception, the exact form the damage takes is not described by the rules. People and objects just loose HP until they break / die. But we know that stone has hardness 8 and 15 HP per inch of thickness, so we can conclude that making 3-inch deep handhold requires making 45 HP worth of damage*, after dividers and hardness. If it is not stone, DM should approximate using materials in the table.

As for consequences, they are small. It takes a significant amount of spell slots and time to get similar effect rope ladder or rope with knots would gave. I bet your party will just bring one of those next time. It is a teaching moment on preparation, but it won't make your magic users just create stairs everywhere.


* As noted in comments, DM is empowered to use the rule that:

Very large objects have separate hit point totals for different sections.

45 HP is, by default, HP of 10 by 10 ft wall. You can divide it into a "handhold-sized" sections, substantially reducing damage needed. Also, unless your magic user is a skilled sculptor, you shouldn't allow handholds to be pretty. They will look like holes smashed in the rock, that's all. But indeed no reason they shouldn't give substantial circumstance bonus to the Climb check.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan sculpting is a skill that requires more than the ability to inflict damage. Sculpting might involve smashing but not all smashing is sculpting. \$\endgroup\$ – candied_orange May 8 at 6:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maxim 44: "If it will blow a hole in the ground, it will double as an entrenching tool." \$\endgroup\$ – AlienAtSystem May 8 at 7:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ By default, HP of 10 by 10 ft stone wall is not 45. You probably meant to say something like: By default, large objects get mentally separated into 10' cubes, and get destroyed cube by cube, one cube at a time. One cube by one source of non-AoE damage maximum. \$\endgroup\$ – annoying imp May 10 at 14:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @annoyongimp rules in SRD says only "Very large objects have separate hit point totals for different sections." the rest is how I and people writing in now deleted comments were playing it. If you have better, more detailed sources, or different experiences, by all means, please write your own answer. I'll gladly read it. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot May 10 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Digged through SRD a bit. Now I see it says "per 10-foot-by-10-foot section" not "per 10-foot-by-10-foot-by-10-foot section". While I still believe section goes as far as 10' deep, it really isn't stated anywhere (besides maybe Disintegrate). \$\endgroup\$ – annoying imp May 10 at 19:24

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