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The description of the moonbeam spell (PHB pg. 261) says:

When a creature enters the spell's area for the first time on a turn or starts its turn there, it is engulfed in ghostly flames that cause searing pain...

On each of your turns after you cast this spell, you can use an action to move the beam 60 feet in any direction.

We read this to mean a creature takes damage from moonbeam when any of the following conditions are met:

  • It begins its turn inside the moonbeam
  • It enters the moonbeam on its turn
  • The creature finds itself inside the beam on another character's turn, no matter how it got there

The creature will not take damage in the following instances:

  • A creature moves from one part of the beam to another (obviously it had to take damage, but it won't take more damage)
  • A creature is in the beam after having been inside the beam already on that turn.

Following these assumptions, our druid cast a moonbeam and did damage to two enemies, Bob and Frank. On their turn, they took damage again, killing Bob. Frank left the beam. On the druid's next turn, she moved the beam in a circular motion, not exceeding 60 total feet of movement, and in the process the beam came in contact with a dozen enemies and ended on Frank. All dozen enemies received damage, as they were inside the beam at some point during the turn. On Frank's next turn, he again took damage for the fourth time and died. On each of the druid's turns, she moved the moonbeam around like this until the fight ended (it did not exceed the time limit and she made all concentration checks).

Is this a legitimate use of moonbeam? It seems awfully powerful for a level 2 spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I may be incorrect on this, but the wording of the spell, to me at least. When you move moonbeam it is only one direction and only 60 foot no more no less. where as flaming sphere gives you no such limits as to direction, and adds up to before its distance. \$\endgroup\$ – Quiescat Apr 11 '15 at 11:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for this post. I was thinking that Moonbeam got outshined (haha) by cantrips when characters hit 5th level and cantrips go up to 2 dice, unless the enemies happened to be extremely bunched up. I totally missed the point about hitting other enemies by running the beam over them! \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Aug 7 '15 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you thinking the targets take damage during every (even unrelated creatures') turns while in the beam? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 25 '16 at 12:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk just whenever they enter the beam, no matter how they enter it or whose turn it is when they enter it. Plus the beginning of their turn if they start in it. \$\endgroup\$ – Taejang Mar 28 '16 at 13:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @lithas, I have changed the accepted answer to fall in line with the expanded explanation in Apr 2016's Sage Advice. \$\endgroup\$ – Taejang Apr 21 '16 at 13:21
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In a tweet from Jeremy Crawford, he says:

When a spell's description uses "enter" in relation to an AoE, the entering has to be voluntary only if the text says so.

By itself, it seems to imply that moving the Moonbeam counts as "entering".

But, in a Sage Advice article, he clarifies this:

Our design intent for such spells is this: a creature enters the area of effect when the creature passes into it. Creating the area of effect on the creature or moving it onto the creature doesn't count. If the creature is still in the area at the start of its turn, it is subjected to the area’s effect.

Entering such an area of effect needn't be voluntary, unless a spell says otherwise. You can, therefore, hurl a creature into the area with a spell like thunderwave. [...] Keep in mind, however, that a creature is subjected to such an area of effect only the first time it enters the area on a turn. You can't move a creature in and out of it to damage it over and over again on the same turn.

In summary, a spell like moonbeam affects a creature when the creature passes into the spell’s area of effect and when the creature starts its turn there. You’re essentially creating a hazard on the battlefield.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer was chosen over DuckTapeAl's newly edited answer because of the additional details you provide, Adeptus. \$\endgroup\$ – Taejang Apr 21 '16 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems "Creating the area of effect on the creature or moving it onto the creature doesn't count." should be highlighted as well, since it is the major point as to why the way of using it described in the original question does not work. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Aug 19 at 0:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that Crawford's tweets are no longer considered official rulings, though the actual Sage Advice column contains official rulings that are also included in the Sage Advice Compendium. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 19 at 2:18
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You're using the spell incorrectly. Note that the condition that causes the spell to damage a creature is when the creature enters the beam. It takes movement on the part of the creature (including forced movement) to do that. It does not cause damage when the beam just passes over a creature. As you note, that would be super powerful for a 2nd level spell.

As it stands, the spell is very poorly written. The meaning of "enter" in the description isn't as clear as it could be, but the spell would be way more powerful than any other 2nd level spell if it did damage just by passing over an enemy.

This reading of the rules is supported by the April 2016 Sage Advice column, which explicitly states:

Our design intent for such spells is this: a creature enters the area of effect when the creature passes into it. Creating the area of effect on the creature or moving it onto the creature doesn’t count. If the creature is still in the area at the start of its turn, it is subjected to the area’s effect.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This interpretation seems to mean the creature won't take damage the turn it is cast- after all, they didn't enter the beam, it came to them. Likewise, if the beam is moved, no creature would take damage the turn it is moved. \$\endgroup\$ – Taejang Dec 14 '14 at 3:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dan They won't take damage right away if it's moved, but if the beam is moved onto them, they take the damage once their turn starts. It's slightly delayed, sure, but it's still going to deal damage unless someone moves the creature out of the area before their turn starts. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Dec 14 '14 at 4:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ . . . or if someone realises what the druid is doing and stops them. There are several concentration spells which seem to have very high damage output until you see this and realise there is a good chance that they end early unless the spell caster is heavily protected. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Dec 14 '14 at 8:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I had previously marked this as the answer, but Adeptus quoted Jeremy Crawford, who I think is more qualified to judge RAW (or at least RAI). \$\endgroup\$ – Taejang Mar 17 '15 at 14:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ DuckTapeAl: your focus on the semantic point of the word "enter" implying volition on the part of the target is is a poor playability argument. Although you did get lots of votes, the relative motion between the target and the spell is what's important. It doesn't matter which frame of reference one uses: beam still and target moves, target still and beam moves. In either case, the target "enters" the area, thus damage. That's why Adeptus' answer is better. (Your point on how PHB wording is poor is agreed). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 3 '15 at 19:10
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It would be relevant to say, in relation to the accepted answer, that recently Jeremy Crawford has changed his official position on Moonbeam in this tweet (24 March 2016):

Regan Knight @Day_Knights

@JeremyECrawford "When a creature enters the spells area for the first time on a turn". What does this mean in relation to moonbeam?

Jeremy Crawford @JeremyECrawford

Moonbeam is meant to get you when you enter the light (not when it passes over you) or start your turn in it. #DnD

And this one (12 April 2016):

Kasey Umland @kaseyumland

@JeremyECrawford Movement of Moonbeam not count as creatures entering when spirit guardians moving into creature counts as entering?

Jeremy Crawford @JeremyECrawford

Moonbeam, spirit guardians & the like work the same way: a creature, not the spell effect, does the entering. #DnD

This has lead to him addressing the issue in the official rules answers for April 2016:

A creature enters the area of effect when the creature passes into it. Creating the area of effect on the creature or moving it onto the creature doesn’t count. If the creature is still in the area at the start of its turn, it is subjected to the area’s effect.

Entering such an area of effect needn’t be voluntary, unless a spell says otherwise. You can, therefore, hurl a creature into the area with a spell like thunderwave. We consider that clever play, not an imbalance, so hurl away! Keep in mind, however, that a creature is subjected to such an area of effect only the first time it enters the area on a turn. You can’t move a creature in and out of it to damage it over and over again on the same turn.

In summary, a spell like moonbeam affects a creature when the creature passes into the spell’s area of effect and when the creature starts its turn there. You’re essentially creating a hazard on the battlefield.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that Crawford's tweets are no longer considered official rulings, though the actual Sage Advice column contains official rulings that are also included in the Sage Advice Compendium. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 19 at 2:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I'm glad to hear that. A big part of why I stopped answering questions here was that the "official" rules changed every once in a while whenever Crawford felt like it. \$\endgroup\$ – Olorin Aug 19 at 5:45
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This is one of the most poorly written parts of the PHB, although there are plenty of others. Al's response seems to account for the ENTERS wording, which is vague and confounding. There is something being overlooked, however, in the interpretation that a creature should take damage twice during any turn to turn timeframe from the moonbeam. Notice that the description says a creature takes damage on one OR the other condition (entering or being within).

If you think about what is happening magically from the spell description, a creature should not suffer more of the searing flames damage simply because of being struck by the beam for the first time before its turn and then being inside a few seconds later at the beginning of its turn, before it has had a chance to act. The difference should be that the damage taken in the first case could not be prefaced by other creatures' actions whose turns came before that of the subject creature, whereas the damage taken in the second case could be prefaced by others' actions whose initiatives allowed them a turn occurring between the instant of the beam "settling" on its target and the start of the subject creature's turn (say from a Healing Word spell from a cleric acting after the moonbeam caster's turn and before the subject creature's turn in initiative order).

In other words, the beam damages creatures within the target 5' cylinder at the instant it strikes them, unless they have previously been inside the same beam, in which case it doesn't damage them until the start of their turn.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a good reason why you are interpreting that "or" as an exclusive, rather than the and/or that the word usually connotes in everyday English? (Not calling you out, I am truly interested if there's some place in the texts where ORs were declared to be XORs.) \$\endgroup\$ – Lexible Apr 19 '16 at 16:58
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When I read the description for Moonbeam, It sounded like the target would only take damage if during its turn it starts off inside the moonbeam or walks/is moved into it. Meaning that you have to move the beam over your target and leave it there, which of course means you can't just sweep the area with it and harm everything. Now given the fact that it is a 10 foot wide circle, you could easily hit multiple targets at once with a good placement.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is not backed-up by rules or expertise of that rationale. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Jun 18 at 9:45

protected by Oblivious Sage Aug 11 '15 at 15:24

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