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In this scenario my PCs are planning on casting Maze on an evil cleric to take them out of the fight for some time while they handle all the other enemies, then ready actions to attack the cleric when they return from the maze. The question is, could the cleric inside the maze use their actions while in the maze to cast something like Plane Shift or Word of Recall to return them to the material plane, but in some other location where they can safely escape? (Other answers have shown that banishing themselves wouldn't work as the banished creature is incapacitated, thus ending the spell before the banishment finishes)

Here is the entire wording of the Maze spell:

You banish a creature that you can see within range into a labyrinthine demiplane. The target remains there for the duration or until it escapes the maze.

The target can use its action to attempt to escape. When it does so, it makes a DC 20 Intelligence check. If it succeeds, it escapes, and the spell ends (a minotaur or goristro demon automatically succeeds).

When the spell ends, the target reappears in the space it left or, if that space is occupied, in the nearest unoccupied space.

On one hand, the creature isn't explicitly incapacitated like in Banishment so it would make sense that they could use their actions.
But on the other hand, the spell says "The target remains there for the duration or until it escapes the maze" and then the next line defines what "escaping the maze" means, which is a DC 20 Intelligence check.

The rules don't say you can't escape in other ways, but they also don't say you CAN. Additionally, if you escape the maze using some other method like Plane Shift, if the spell doesn't end (because you didn't "escape the maze" via the DC 20 Intelligence check) one could argue that you'd "reappear in the space [the creature] left [from when Maze was cast]"

This is a niche case but I'd be curious if there were any published Sage advice or rules that could clarify this interaction.

they chose maze over something like Banishment or Polymorph because it is a guaranteed success and they know the creature doesn't have a great int score

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The spell says that the target can use its action to make an Int check and attempt to escape. Although it doesn't specify other ways to escape, it also doesn't specify this is the only way to escape.

The target is not incapacitated and is not restricted by the spell in any other way. Because of this, it's reasonable to assume that a creature trapped in maze would be able to cast a teleportation spell to get out (specifically one that teleports across planes, dimension door won't work).

The next part of your question, what happens when the spell ends, could be a bit tricky to answer.

The target remains there for the duration or until it escapes the maze.

Does maze end if the target does not remain in the maze for the duration even if the target didn't 'escape' as defined by the spell? Does the spell continue on even if the target is not inside because they didn't 'escape' as defined by the spell? I'm not sure about that, but something is very clear:

When the spell ends, the target reappears in the space it left or, if that space is occupied, in the nearest unoccupied space.

RAW, the target will be returned to the space it was when maze was cast when it ends.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Possibly worth noting that in the D&D 3.5 SRD, plane shift explicitly gets you out of a maze, so certainly it's historically an option for escaping. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10 at 20:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Escape" is not a specific game mechanic but just a natural English word. Leaving the Maze via a spell like Plane Shift is quite clearly "escaping" the maze. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kryomaani
    Jan 11 at 2:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym The historical perspective of Maze in 3.5 allowing for plane shift is exactly what I was looking for, and I'd probably rule plane shift is "escaping" even if it's not one of the explicitly listed ways of escaping so there isn't the weird RAW (but certainly not RAI) ruling that after the spell ends they'd teleport back to the original banishment location \$\endgroup\$
    – KickN
    Jan 11 at 20:50
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Let us look at a similar spell, entangle.

A creature restrained by the plants can use its action to make a Strength check against your spell save DC. On a success, it frees itself.

The spell allows a special action to be taken, but does not bar any other action. So a restrained creature casting Misty Step or Teleport would be able to escape. Spells only do what they say they do.

With the same logic, the cleric in the Maze should be able to cast Planeshift or Word of Recall if they have such spells prepared.

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