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Below is the text of the forcecage spell. I've numbered the paragraphs for reference. I've used or been in games with this spell many times, and I just noticed something. I can't believe I've never noticed this before. It's particularly relevant because in our game when we ended last session we were in a fight in which forcecage is being used, which is why I've read it about 20 times recently.

Paragraph 1 (P1) defines forcecage as a prison. It further says it can be either a cage or a box.

P2 gives the size of the cage option.

P3 gives the size of the box option, and provides some features of the box.

P4 and P5 both give further properties of the cage.

Here's my point. P4 and P5 only give options for "the cage". They don't say prison, they don't say cage or box, they say, "the cage".

Now, I'm a big proponent of the DM interpreting spells in the way they make the most sense, and to me, this makes the most sense by mentally replacing "the cage" in P4 and P5 with "the prison", which we've always done without even thinking about it.

But, darn it, that's not what it says. It says "cage".

Here's the question:

Is there any Sage Advice or designer statements clarifying that P4 and P5 apply to both box and cage?

I've looked, and couldn't find any.


Forcecage:

(1)An immobile, invisible, cube-shaped prison composed of magical force springs into existence around an area you choose within range. The prison can be a cage or a solid box, as you choose.

(2)A prison in the shape of a cage can be up to 20 feet on a side and is made from 1/2-inch diameter bars spaced 1/2 inch apart.

(3)A prison in the shape of a box can be up to 10 feet on a side, creating a solid barrier that prevents any matter from passing through it and blocking any spells cast into or out from the area.

(4)When you cast the spell, any creature that is completely inside the cage's area is trapped. Creatures only partially within the area, or those too large to fit inside the area, are pushed away from the center of the area until they are completely outside the area.

(5)A creature inside the cage can't leave it by nonmagical means. If the creature tries to use teleportation or interplanar travel to leave the cage, it must first make a Charisma saving throw. On a success, the creature can use that magic to exit the cage. On a failure, the creature can't exit the cage and wastes the use of the spell or effect. The cage also extends into the Ethereal Plane, blocking ethereal travel.

(6)This spell can't be dispelled by dispel magic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ the spell is forceCAGE \$\endgroup\$
    – Tiger Guy
    May 6 at 21:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, that's a good point. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 6 at 21:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Although . . . instead of "cage" they could have said "prison" or "forcecage". It has two options: cage and box. To then refer to it as cage is . . . clumsy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 6 at 22:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you consider the text of forcecage in previous editions of D&D as indirect evidence of design intent? Or are you looking only for explicit designer statements about 5e? \$\endgroup\$ May 7 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson Hmm. I didn't think of that. It certainly might be informative. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 8 at 6:09

3 Answers 3

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(4) and (5) have all the main features of the spell.

If (4) and (5) only apply to the cage form, and not the box form, then the spell hasn’t given us any information about how the box form works. These paragraphs must apply to the box form for the box form to even do anything, as these paragraphs explain the actual function of the spell. “Cage” in (4) and (5) appears to be referring to the “cage” in the name “forcecage”, not the “cage form that is different from the box form” referenced in (2). Since the spell is called “forcecage”, a box created by it may properly be called a cage.

To be clear, I haven’t answered your question about the existence of designer statements, so I’m not actually claiming “Jeremy Crawford intended this ruling”. However, observing that one reading of the spell makes no sense while the other makes fine sense should solve your actual problem, which is “how do I read this spell”.

That said, I’ll let you decide if you think the developers intended for one of the spell’s options to be missing essential information like how to get in and out of the cage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So . . . the box option says "creating a solid barrier that prevents any matter from passing through it and blocking any spells cast into or out from the area." so it has given us information on how it works. However, I agree with you, that it makes the most sense to read 4 and 5 as applying to both and said as much in the answer. The DM should read it in the say it makes the most sense. Both that's not what it says. The question is, did they ever clarify it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 6 at 19:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jack The point is that (4) and (5) have essential information for the box form, like how you get in and out. \$\endgroup\$ May 6 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jack If you have any doubts remaining, I guess I can’t help you. It seems obvious enough that the developers would not have intentionally left out the basic function of the spell. \$\endgroup\$ May 6 at 19:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll take your answer to mean you're aware of no such designer statement or sage advice. Thank you. My "actual problem" is not "how do I read this spell", and that's not what I asked. I asked if there was any designer intent or sage advice. You aren't aware of any. Again, thank you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 6 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would further posit that 4 and 5 could be taken to be clarifications about the cage version because the cage version has holes in it. The box version is solid walls of force, and getting through a wall of force instead of going around it takes pretty much what's described for the cage version. \$\endgroup\$
    – Perkins
    May 7 at 6:16
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In previous editions, the equivalent text/mechanics apply to both forms.

Spells that existed in previous editions of D&D often don't change much in functionality from edition to edition, but still need to be rewritten for consistency with the rules of each new edition. So assuming the spell is intended to work similarly to how it did in previous editions, we can try to look to the text of the same spell in previous editions as an indirect indicator of designer intent.

In the 3.5e version of forcecage, the text equivalent to paragraphs 4 and 5 of the 5e text is:

Creatures within the area are caught and contained unless they are too big to fit inside, in which case the spell automatically fails. Teleportation and other forms of astral travel provide a means of escape, but the force walls or bars extend into the Ethereal Plane, blocking ethereal travel.

Obviously the spell does not work identically in 3.5e: instead of pushing oversized creatures out, the spell fails entirely, and there is no Charisma save for escaping via teleportation. However, this paragraph is still clearly the equivalent text based on the explanation of catching creatures inside the area and the "walls or bars" extending into the Ethereal Plane.

The AD&D text of the spell also treats the two forms of the spell (now distinguished with the names forcecage and "forcecube") as equivalent for these purposes:

This powerful spell enables the caster to bring into being a cube of force, but it is unlike the magic item of that name in one important respect: The forcecage does not have solid walls of force; it has alternating bands of force with 1/2'[sic] gaps between. Thus, it is truly a cage rather than an enclosed space with solid walls.

[...]

By means of special preparation at the time of memorization, a forcecage spell can be altered to a forcecube spell. Forcecube has one-eighth the area of effect (a cube 1" on a side), and the dweomer then resembles the magic of a cube of force in all respects except for the differences between a cast spell and the magic of a device, including the methods of defeating its power.

That's a lot of text, but for the purposes of this question, what it boils down to is that forcecage and forcecube are functionally equivalent except for two differences: the size of the cube (2" vs 1") and the solidity of the walls. This is evident as the replacement of solid walls with the bars of a cage is specifically called out as the "one important respect" in which the two forms differ.

In summary, in both 3.5e and AD&D, the only differences between the solid-walled cube and cage forms of the spell are the size and any mechanical differences directly resulting from the presence of gaps between the bars of the cage.

The apparent "cage only" changes in 5e appear unintentional.

If we take the 3.5e and AD&D spell texts as indicative of the design intent for forcecage, then the corresponding text in the 5e spell description (i.e. the paragraphs in question) should apply regardless of whether the caster chooses the cage or solid box form of the spell. Of course, given that some aspects of the spell's functionally were clearly intentionally changed between 3.5e and 5e (most notably the Charisma save), it's possible that limiting paragraphs 4 and 5 only to the cage form was also an intentional change. However, this interpretation of the spell's text leaves the box form conspicuously under-specified, e.g. with regard to creatures not entirely contained within the spell's area (as other answers have noted). It's unlikely that an intentional change would have properly specified the mechanics for only one form of the spell while leaving the other form so under-specified. Hence, the logical conclusion is that the designers of 5e intended these paragraphs to apply to both forms of the spell, just like the corresponding text in 3.5e, rather than intentionally changing them to apply to only the cage form.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Very interesting, +1, thank you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 8 at 12:19
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There appear to be no designer comments about this to date

Forcecage is not even mentioned in the official Sage Advice Compendium (v. 2.7, the last they made), and on Sage Advice, the free collection of game designer tweets, there are only 4 questions on it overall, none of which about this. Searching for forcecage in combination with the design team names also yields nothing.

Like always, its hard to prove a negative, there might be something in a video interview longform, but I am pretty confident on it. First, Forcecage is a 7th level spell, so fewer people have questions about it, as most play is at lower levels. Secondly, like you yourself experienced, it is extremely easy to overlook this, and read the spell as if the entire spell was talking about the prison, so it is an unlikely question to come up even for those that use the spell. Third, the natural way to resolve it is so obvious and uncontroversial, that even if you have the question, unless you also happened to be an avid peruser of a site like this like as the case for you, you wouldn't bother to ask the designers, you would just make a ruling and move on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ To give some feedback on my downvote, you haven’t provided any evidence that there are no designer statements, yet claim very strongly that there are not. As for the rest of the answer, you really just seem to echo what my answer said. \$\endgroup\$ May 7 at 10:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Thanks for the feedback and explanation. I think it is practically impossible to prove that something does not exist that could exist, as you demand. Requiring that means all such questions would be unanswerable until finally something exists, so you can refer to the positive. But I think you are right, I can make the wording less absolute. \$\endgroup\$ May 8 at 5:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ We just need to be careful about how strongly we infer evidence of absence from an absence of evidence. Observing that the official rulings sources don’t mention the issue is valuable, so we can definitely say “there are no official rulings”, but saying “there are no statements to be found” is just a step too far when your only support is an absence of evidence. \$\endgroup\$ May 8 at 16:18

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