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Move Earth is a 6th-level 2-hour concentration spell useful in landscaping. Before investing in learning it, I would like to understand the uses and limitations a little better. The spell says

Choose an area of terrain no larger than 40 feet on a side within range. You can reshape dirt, sand, or clay in the area in any manner you choose for the duration. You can raise or lower the area's elevation, create or fill in a trench, erect or flatten a wall, or form a pillar. The extent of any such changes can't exceed half the area's largest dimension.

and

At the end of every 10 minutes you spend concentrating on the spell, you can choose a new area of terrain to affect.

What happens to the originally transformed area, does it remain reshaped while you concentrate on another area? Or will it revert? If it stays in form and you choose another area, can the new area be one you already affected before, so you could continue piling on effects?

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    \$\begingroup\$ To put it shortly, the question is mostly about whether the rules mean "you can reshape the area and it stays that way for the duration" or "you can change the shape of the area as long as the spell's duration isn't over". Seems like another ambiguous english problem. Hopefully there's some example in some book or adventure somewhere that can clear this up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Nov 23 at 7:23

2 Answers 2

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Reshaping is permanent

My read of the spell is that "for the duration" here applies to the active reshaping of the earth, not the new-shape-of-things, which is essentially mundane. It's a magical backhoe and bulldozer.

That is to say, for the duration you can shape the earth, and the changes you've made will remain forever afterward (or at least until altered by the natural forces of wind, water, and gravity -- or a guy with a shovel and sufficient time). That's the point of the spell, to be able to manipulate the landscape at your whim, to build defensive earthworks, undermine a structure, or alter the landscape around your home. If the changes only lasted for the 2 hour duration, this wouldn't be worth a sixth level spell slot, and the spell would need to be a lot more clear about how the earth reverts to normal after the duration expires. The fact that the spell makes no mention of the affected earth moving back to its original shape is strong evidence that the developers never intended that to be the effect.

You can stack effects

To answer your other question, you aren't required to pick a "new area" every ten minutes -- it says you can choose a new area, not that you must. So yes, you can continue to reshape the same 40x40 area or pick a new area to reshape. And as far as I can see, there's no reason to think you can't overlap the areas, so when you pick a new area it could be half of the old area plus another 20 feet, or whatever. If that means you can make a wall taller and taller or dig a deeper and deeper trench, well, that seems to be the intent, so long as you spend 10 minutes per 20 feet of movement. However...

Impossible landscapes

There's an interesting question of what happens if you shape the earth into an unsustainable form. If you bring sand up into a 20 foot pillar, that obviously can't just stand on its own. A sixty-foot-tall earthen wall or 200-foot-deep trench can't possibly retain its shape under the force of gravity; it will collapse into a less extreme angle unless supported by a solid object. (This is called the "angle of repose" and it's a major factor in a number of civil engineering problems.)

I'd almost certainly rule that the changes remain as long as the spell is running on the area in question, but when the spell ends or you move the target area so that it doesn't include that spot, ordinary physics reasserts itself. At that point the pillar collapses into a heap, the wall slumps, the trench falls in, and so on (but to fit with the spell, I'd have to rule that the magic releases slowly enough that it still can't trap creatures or damage them by dropping stuff on their heads).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This all makes sense and you have my upvote already. The main difference to Eddymages answer is if you can stack it. If you can, you could stick to the same patch of land for a really high wall up by 20 feet each time -- up to 240 feet over 2 hours, or a really deep trench. I think the spell is already unpopular as there are next to no Qs on it, in spite of the vague desciption, and this would at least make it somewhat more attractive; but I also suspect the intent is to only allow this to a max of 20 feat for each section. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think putting that limitation in place only makes the spell weirder -- if the effects are permanent (and as said, I think they must be) then what's the implication if you can only affect a given patch once? Surely we aren't assuming that a given patch of ground can only take one Move Earth ever, so can you simply cast the spell repeatedly and make a "really high wall" at a rate of 20 feet per day? If so, what's the point of limiting you to one change per patch per casting? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23 at 17:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think a DM could (and perhaps should) rule that you can only maintain a 20-foot difference from level before you start having to deal with landslides or collapses, but that's what I was getting at with the "impossible landscapes" section -- and ultimately it's going to be a DM decision because at some point you're trying to form sand into a spike ten feet tall and two inches wide and that just isn't the same as molding a twenty foot area into a little hillock. Surely you should be able to build a large hill (or siege ramp) as long as you take the time to spread the incline far enough out. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23 at 17:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can it change it into compacted sand stone? \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Nov 23 at 18:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Since that would represent transmuting sand into stone, that's not really within the purview of Move Earth. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23 at 20:23
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You can affect different areas every 10 minutes, and the previous ones remain reshaped until you end concentration.

The spell description says (emphasis mine):

Choose an area of terrain no larger than 40 feet on a side within range. You can reshape dirt, sand, or clay in the area in any manner you choose for the duration.

The changes in one area occurs during 10 minutes, in which the caster has to concentrate. After these 10 minutes, they can shape another area with a side of 40 ft:

At the end of every 10 minutes you spend concentrating on the spell, you can choose a new area of terrain to affect.

Since the concentration keeps on, the previous area still remains reshaped: indeed, the description says every 10 minutes you spend concentrating on the spell, not on a particular area.


Note anyway that a strict reading of the description implies that after two hours the reshaping stops and it is not permanent: the duration is 2 hours, hence the reshaping last just two hours. There are no indication about how the reversion to the original shape occurs, so it is up to the DM how to rule it. If I were the DM, I would rule that the reversion is slow, in a similar way as the modification occurred.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How about revisiting a previously already affected area, e.g. I shape area A, then area B, then want to pick A again - does "new area" mean I cannot pick one I have already reshaped, so I cannot pile the earth higher or deeper than from one use? (Aslo, do you mean "as long as you concentrate" in the title?) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23 at 8:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin You can not, per the Combining magical effects rule: The effects of the same spell cast multiple times don’t combine. The area A is already been targeted by Move Earth spell, it can not being targeted again by the same spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Nov 23 at 8:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you are probably right, but more because of the "new" language. The rule is for a spell "cast multiple times", and here you do not cast it multiple times, you only cast it once, and as part of the effect of that one casting can apply changes \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23 at 8:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin In this context, "new area" means "an area that has not been modified yet". Spells that allows to affect a target multiple times specify so, like Magic Missile, Scorching ray, or AoE spells like Cloudkill. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Nov 23 at 8:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Btw, thank you for also covering how fast the changed earth reverts. It was another question on my mind, but I did not muddle the main question, to not risk it getting closed for "needs focus", as the idea is in general to ask more or less one thing per question. It it would be OK, I could add it to the question too. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23 at 10:51

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