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The magic circle spell has the following effect in its description:

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

So the theory is that if someone possessed by a ghost is restrained, then they can be forcibly pushed into a magic circle. The ghost possessing the person cannot willingly enter and therefore must leave the body it's possessing.

This seems to make sense, but there are two possible problems with it. First, if the possessed person is forced into a magic circle, does that imply that the ghost is actually being forced into it? I guess another way of asking that is, is the barrier sufficient to force the ghost to voluntarily break possession to avoid unwillingly entering it?

Secondly, the description of the possession effect states:

The possession lasts until the body drops to 0 hit points, the ghost ends it as a bonus action, or the ghost is turned or forced out by an effect like the dispel evil and good spell.

The dispel evil and good spell is 5th level. Magic circle is 3rd level. A guideline I've always followed (although I don't know if it is in any way official) is that when an effect gives an example of a spell that could break it, an alternative spell would need to be of a similar level. The rationale is that if possession is strong enough that it requires something like a 5th level spell to force the ghost out, then the amount of power in a 3rd level spell just isn't going to do it.

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3 Answers 3

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It will work to expel the ghost

When you push the possessed creature into the magic circle, the ghost does not willingly enter the circle. You are forcing it to enter the circle.

Magic Circle does not say they cannot enter the circle at all, only, that they cannot enter it willingly. The possessed creature would be pushed into the circle.

Magic Circle says this about creatures within the Circle

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

This is entirely separate from other effects of the circle. Creatures within the circle cannot be possessed by a creature of the selected type. As the creature now is within the circle, and is possessed by a creature of the selected type, which it cannot be, the possession will end.

As you point out, one could construe to read "an effect like dispel evil and good" to refer to just the nature of the effect (being able to end possession), or the power and nature of the effect. This will be up to DM ruling.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Some tricky wording there though. Does "can't be possessed" mean "can't be the target of the possession action" or "can't exist in a possessed state". I had read it as the former. \$\endgroup\$
    – aquavitae
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 6:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want to rule that way, for me the power-level argument sounds more convincing than the possession language one, which is why I have it in the answer. I thought about the possession language issue too (so good catch!), and even checked if there are precedent answers on it (could not find any), and in the end conviced myself that "cannot be possessed" means "cannot be possessed" and hence covers both the act of possession and the state of being possessed. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 10, 2022 at 7:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Consider this line: "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." - If we interpret its protection from possession to mean it ends existing possessions, a single casting of the reverse-direction version could end all possessions in the world at once. \$\endgroup\$
    – Robert
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Only all possessions in the world caused by a creature within the circle. (You could argue that RAW doesn't specifically say that the reverse only applies to sources within the circle, but if you read it that way then it's already deeply broken, because possession, charm, etc. actions would never work so long as there existed a reversed circle anywhere at that moment.) \$\endgroup\$
    – smorgan
    Commented May 11, 2022 at 0:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ The specific text is "targets within the cylinder can't be charmed [etc] by the creature." Applying the reversal "preventing a creature from leaving and protecting targets outside it", then it reads "targets outside the cylinder can't be charmed [etc] by the creature", that is, the creature inside. Not any creature of the specified type in the entire universe. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 13, 2022 at 15:51
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Probably this should work

The spell says:

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

The GM can rule any way they wish, but first reading of the language is that if someone is charmed, frightened, or possessed by the appropriate creature type it ends if you get them in the circle.

You can argue that it means "aren't subject to charm, fear, or possession attacks" but that ongoing effects continue, and if the writers had meant that such going effects end, they would have said that.

You mention the power principle, which is in general reasonable, but magic circle specifically says that targets in the circle can't be possessed.

If you want to keep this from happening, you might look for other ways to avoid the ghost being encircled; for instance, there are material components, or maybe a plot reason.

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It's up to the DM, but I don't see a problem.

As always, the DM has to make a decision when the rules are unclear. But, assuming you are the DM here, we should instead discuss the merits of the situation.

To address your points in order: First, forced movement is explicitly not willing, so there's no issue there. A creature can be forced into a magic circle by any means of forced movement, which usually means losing a roll of some sort -- a strength contest to shove, a save against a spell, something of that nature.

Second, you're concerned about a 3rd level spell doing the job of a 5th level spell. That's fair -- good instinct, and you'd be justified in ruling that magic circle only prevents new possessions, but does not end the existing one. However, I don't think it's a problem to rule the other way.

Dispel evil and good is an action to cast, and the exorcism effect is basically automatic; there's no save, you just have to touch them -- which doesn't even require an attack roll -- and it automatically works.

Meanwhile, creating a magic circle costs money and a full minute of work, and then you have to force the target in there, which requires that either you've previously disabled them or, as mentioned, have them lose a roll against your team.

So on one hand you have something you can just do on the fly (assuming you have the spell prepared) and it just works with no save; on the other you have to set a trap, then within that one-hour window get your target into the room and successfully force them into the circle (or have them disabled ahead of time, perhaps by means of poison or a spell and a sturdy rope). The fact that the magic circle is two levels lower is probably appropriate given the amount of effort that goes into making this plan work!

Remember that there is an alternative method, to fight the victim until they reach zero hit points, which will force the ghost out. Assuming you give the victim death saving throws instead of just having them immediately die, the players can then heal the target with magic. Given the options of a 5th level spell, a fight, or a 3rd level spell and a significant amount of RP and effort to set it all up, I don't see an issue with using any of those methods.

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