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Published on page 162 of Xanathar's Guide to Everything, the first bullet point of Mold Earth states:

"If you target an area of loose earth, you can instantaneously excavate it, move it along the ground, and deposit it up to 5 feet away. This movement doesn't involve enough force to cause damage."

Emphasis mine.

I notice that the Shape Water (XGE pg. 164) and Control Flames (XGE pg. 152) cantrips both have explicit wording that clarifies that, with a single casting, not only can the total movement of either element be no greater than 5 feet but also that this movement can only be in a single direction.

In contrast, the text of Mold Earth seems to lack both of these important clarifications. Instead, for the purposes of a single casting, it gives no limitation on the total movement or vectors allowed, and only limits how far the loose earth can ever get from the area it was taken from. Therefore...

Firstly:

  • Instantaneously, could a caster use a single casting to excavate a cube of loose earth into a square adjacent to the source point, then have the cube continue a path along the ground that deposits it into a different square that is likewise adjacent to the source point?

This first question addresses loose earth that instantaneously takes a path along the ground which covers more than 5 feet of movement in multiple directions, but without ever disobeying the singular limitation provided of "up to 5 feet away".

For an ingame example, this asks whether or not a caster could use a single casting of the cantrip to move a volume of earth to the opposite side of a wall that was 5 feet in length and height, as long as both the path and destination were visible and always kept within adjacent squares.

Secondly:

  • If the above is possible, could a caster use a single casting to perform the above, but instead have the loose earth be ultimately deposited into the same square it was excavated from?

This second question addresses that, to my understanding, depositing something "up to 5 feet away" includes the possibility of this deposit being "0 feet away".

In both examples, instantaneous excavation and movement of loose earth has been conducted along the ground, with both instances having more than 5 feet of total movement, but never once being moved or deposited more than 5 feet away.

RAI is helpful, but I would like replies to primarily focus on the RAW interpretation, please.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG Stack Exchange! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for additional help. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2022 at 5:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ mold earth is simply an S-tier spell. If you are asking about the mechanics of burying something, the dirt falls 580 ft/round, so you could move dirt down much more than 5 feet, given there's space for it to fall into.. generally, it's 5 ft / cast. \$\endgroup\$
    – tuskiomi
    Jun 23, 2022 at 0:50

1 Answer 1

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There are no hidden limitations on the movement

I will put highlights on the text of Mold Earth I think are relevant to answer your questions:

You choose a portion of dirt or stone that you can see within range and that fits within a 5-foot cube. You manipulate it in one of the following ways:

  • If you target an area of loose earth, you can instantaneously excavate it, move it along the ground, and deposit it up to 5 feet away. This movement doesn't involve enough force to cause damage.

For your questions:

  • "Up to 5 feet away" refers to the location of the excavation. The spell does not say the movement needs to be in a straight line. If one side of the dirt or stone that you want to move was blocked by a short wall section that you want to move it around, this would be possible but only if you can see the other side, as you must be able to see dirt or stone you move. If the wall was long enough to block all paths within five feet, it would not work, as the earth is moving along the ground, not teleported.

  • It may be debatable if 0 feet away still counts as away, and if effectively leaving the earth in place counts as excavating it, ask your DM. I think the answer is likely no. It even is questionable if you could put back the earth in two castings, as you only can excavate earth, and moving a mound of earth is not excavating it: the dictionary definition of excavate is to dig a hole or channel in the ground. The "up to" in the distance is not the only part of the text that is relevant to understand what the spell is meant to do.

Background

In general the rule for spells is that they only do what they say, nothing more. At the same time, there are no hidden rules, so if the spell says it can do something, and imposes no restrictions on it, then it can do that thing without restriction if there is no general rule against it. But to consider what the spell says, you need to look at the entire text, not only at a part of it.

For interpreting the text, unless you are dealing with a specific game term defined in the rules, words are expected to have their plain English meaning. Lastly, 5e is a game of rulings, so it is common practice to have borderline cases adjudicated by the DM to keep the rules text from becoming unwieldy.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. In regards to the first question, it is meant to clarify if pathing is allowed. As in, if two adjacent cubes had a 5-foot wide wall between them, a caster could move the earth to the other side of the wall. The adjacent square is 5 feet away from the source, suiting the RAW, but the total movement conducted would have instantaneously been "10 feet" to get around the wall that makes sense. As for the second question, it's meant to address that depositing "up to 5 feet away" includes "0 feet away" but the earth was instantly moved to another square within 5 feet and then placed back. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2022 at 5:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @XepheusMessorem Ah, then you maybe should clarify this in the question, maybe add the sitatuation as a third bullet. I think the wall would block the movement, as the movement is "along the ground" and the wall would block that. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2022 at 5:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've edited the wording of the two questions to provide as much clarification on the scenarios as possible. Thank you very much. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2022 at 6:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @XepheusMessorem, if your question is really if it can be moved around an obstacle like a wall, it may be more useful for answers to just state that. For example, it might be able to go around a wall that is only 5 feet wide (i.e. along one side of the hole to be excavated) but not around one that is longer. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2022 at 6:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks again, as I've now added the example with the wall as an obstacle, placed after the first question. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2022 at 6:48

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