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Phantasmal Force states:

You create a phantasmal object, creature, or other visible phenomenon of your choice that is no larger than a 10-foot cube and that is perceivable only to the target for the duration. [...]

The phantasm includes sound, temperature, and other stimuli, also evident only to the creature. [...]

While a target is affected by the spell, the target treats the phantasm as if it were real. The target rationalizes any illogical outcomes from interacting with the phantasm. [...] An affected target is so convinced of the phantasm’s reality that it can even take damage from the illusion. A phantasm created to appear as a creature can attack the target. Similarly, a phantasm created to appear as fire, a pool of acid, or lava can burn the target. [...]

So, let's say I create phantasmal red hot chains that come out of the ground, gripping each limb and dragging him down. If the target fails its intelligence save, would it now be prone and taking 1d6 damage?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure if this should go in the question body or here, but it seems like both answers here are legitimate and are purely an interpretation of how a DM wants to treat illusions. Are they a bad trip where you fully believe, and your body therefore does too? Then Lino is right. Are they convincing, but not that much? Then Ceribia is correct. I think that both can be used, but at discretion of DM and maybe as a way to reward extremely clever illusions and not just spamming. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 23 '16 at 12:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I honestly think the key word is in the part where it says.. treats the illusion as real. Which means if it thinks it gets shoved, it treats the illusion as something shoving it so it falls backwards. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 24 '16 at 21:10
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There is no RAW answer. It must be decided by the DM.

Firstly, this ambiguity is likely an intentional, direct consequence of 5e's design ethos of "rulings over rules" and the prominent role of the DM as the person that must make those rulings in the case where the rules are silent. Illusions and illusion magic are one area in which there is essential no general rules guidance, and thus falls squarely into the domain of DM-rule.

Jeremy Crawford said as much when asked about this exact question on Twitter:

Q: Can a creature under the effects of Phantasmal Force be restrained by it, i.e chains wrapping around a creature?

A: Phantasmal force details the few game effects that it can reliably create. A DM is free to allow additional effects.

Because illusions are a complicated issue, I will outline two of the major DM approaches to this issue. Since they take opposite stances to each other, any DM reading this will have to figure out which way makes the most sense, seems the most fun. and/or which way aligns better with how they've already been handling it.

The core of the disagreement is whether the DM rules that an illusion fools the mind so thoroughly that the body will react physically to it or not.

Interpretation 1: No, Phantasmal Force cannot chain someone and force them prone

In this argument, the spell looks and feels like a chain, but the chains (not being real chains) would not be able to restrain the creature since they would offer no resistance when the creature tries to struggle out of them.

The target rationalizes any illogical outcomes from interacting with the phantasm

Because of the above effect from the spell, the mind of the creature would try to rationalize this in some way (the chains broke, the chains loosened temporarily, etc.) but they would still believe the illusion to be true.

In this way the creature would not gain the prone condition because their movement is not actually inhibited in any way even though they believe the illusion is real.

See this answer for a more thorough take on this interpretation.

Interpretation 2: Yes, Phantasmal Force can chain someone and force them prone

In this interpretation, the chains really do restrain the creature because the creature treats the chains as real chains, even though they are not.

While a target is affected by the spell, the target treats the phantasm as if it were real.

The chains also sound and feel real to the target in every way.

An affected target is so convinced of the phantasm’s reality that it can even take damage from the illusion.

So, in this case, when the creature tries to escape from its restraints, its mind, thoroughly convinced that the chains are real, will act under that assumption. Thus, the creature's limbs will be bound. And this creates the case for the fact that the creature is able to gain the restrained condition from this spell.

See this answer for a more thorough take on this interpretation.

Decide but stay consistent

So I have provided very brief overviews of two interpretations of the spell's effect. There are certainly more of them out there. As a DM, the key is to decide on one and apply it fairly, transparently, and consistently. Not only across this spell but other similar ones.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ With regard to rationalization, why assume they rationalize why they were able to escape? Why not rationalize why they couldn't escape. I think that the crux of this question: What does rationalizing the illogical outcome mean? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 22 '18 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch: Not being able to escape would be the logical outcome from the creature's perspective. They see themselves covered in chains. not being able to move is the normal result. Being able to move through the chains is illogical (thus causing some sort of rationalization). \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 22 '18 at 19:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ That makes sense, which makes me think that holding them in place shouldn't be able to work. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 22 '18 at 19:53
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Yes

Disclaimer: All instances of real/reality used in this answer are with respect to the target thinking they're being affected. Phantasmal Force does not have the capability of actually creating something tangible, only to appear to be tangible to the afflicted target.

I've emphasized the important bit in the spell.

While a target is affected by the spell, the target treats the phantasm as if it were real.

Obviously this speaks to the reality of the spell.

A phantasm created to appear as a creature can attack the target. Similarly, a phantasm created to appear as fire, a pool of acid, or lava can burn the target.

That part details that whatever you describe can function as it normally would if it were real.

An affected target is so convinced of the phantasm’s reality that it can even take damage from the illusion.

And that part reinforces it all over again.

The phantasm includes sound, temperature, and other stimuli, also evident only to the creature.

That's the part where the illusion actually feels real to the affected target. This means that the chains, for all intents and purposes, are real to the target. Up to and including touch.

Obviously the writers couldn't outline literally every single illusion you can conceivably cast, so you have to extrapolate a bit. The three quoted parts above clearly demonstrate that the phantasm, for all intents and purposes, functions in whatever manner you describe as if it were real.

The balance is built in with the damage caused by the spell. It doesn't really hurt that bad at a meager 1d6, so using it as a means of crowd control is a far more effective and creative use.

So what can you do with this spell?

Well, you can't create things that are actually real, so you couldn't get a creature to cross a bridge no matter how hard it tried. It would simply keep falling and chalking it up to earthquakes or something.

However, in my opinion, if the creature is capable of performing the action without an external force acting on it, like being restrained by hot chains, then that is definitely within the bounds of the spell. It requires no contradiction and no actual force because the creature will act as if it is restrained.

This is reinforced by the last sentence of the spell:

The target perceives the damage as a type appropriate to the illusion.

This statement means, quite clearly, that the affected target is perceiving the pain of being afflicted by whatever illusion you cast. That, coupled with all the statements in the spell that treat the illusion as if it were real, and the stimuli accompanying the illusion, make it so that the illusion for all practical purposes, counts as real for the target, and the target alone.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So basically what it comes down to is if the recipient believes something is happening to it, it is. Probably get a minimum of one free round before it settles in and actually investigates :) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 22 '16 at 23:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch, the damage is psychic meaning that it all happens in the brain of the target... so thinking that he's being burned by the restrains will not actually create any burn on the limbs. But the target sees burns there up until the point it succeeds on its Intelligence check. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Mar 23 '16 at 4:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Adding to what @AlexisWilke said, if the target believes he is being pulled to the ground and restrained, then he will lay down on the ground and not move. Not because he is incapable of being moved, but because he has lost the awareness of his ability to move. In an extreme case, he might even attempt to fight off allies that come to assist/move him. This sounds like it would be rather funny to watch, actually... \$\endgroup\$ – tzxAzrael Jul 19 '16 at 16:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Resurrecting this...Crawford just gave an interesting ruling: twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/858011420708945920 \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 30 '17 at 17:46
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No, phantasmal illusion can't knock or hold someone prone

The target rationalizes any illogical outcomes from interacting with the phantasm

The objects created by the phantasm are still illusions so they will not actually restrain/bind/grapple/whatever other status you want to use to hold them prone.

Say, for example, you created chains to bind the target. To the target these chains appear totally real, they can see them, they can feel the metal, they can see they are totally bound. But then the target tries to move. They strain mightily against their chains and.... their movement is totally unimpeded. The spell is still working so the target envisions it as bursting the chains, or the chains crumbling, or any other way as long as it matches up with the reality that they can in fact move. The chains are only an illusion so when the target tries to move.... they move. They wouldn't be taking damage unless there is a logical reason the chain could hurt them.

Another example would be a phantasmal flaming wall that appears over the prone target. The wall being made of fire is a good incentive for the target to stay prone and avoid being burnt. However they could choose to stand up if they wished and move through the wall. It would still cause them damage (1d6 as noted in the spell) either way.

For a final example let's say you created an illusionary creature to knock the target prone. When the creature tried to push the target the target would notice they are not actually knocked down. They would rationalize it and assume the creature missed, that they pushed the creature back, or some other way of explaining why it didn't work. They would continue taking damage as noted in the spell.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, I have an issue with this, "They strain mightily against their chains, and find their movement totally unimpeded." When one is chained to a flat surface, they struggle and flail, and the chains typically move with them. That is what the illusion would show. But the victim would believe that they were Restrained and that they couldn't get-out, sort-of like an induced psychosomatic condition, in the same way that a person who moved into a Phantasmal Smoke Cloud would be Blinded. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Mar 22 '18 at 18:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Chris Perkins also weighed in on a similar question years ago here: sageadvice.eu/2016/10/30/… \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 22 '18 at 19:43
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No, a character cannot be knocked prone or restrained by Phantasmal Force.

There is no text in the spell description that states the affected creature can be the subject of any mechanical conditions. What is stated is that it treats the illusion as real despite any contradiction, which will be rationalized away. Spells are restricted to doing exactly what they are described as being able to do.

Contradictions such as being able to see an ally through a wall are rationalized away. Being able to hear despite a fog horn blasting is rationalized away. Being able to move freely despite being engulfed by red hot chains is rationalized away. Being able to charge cage bars and pass through them is rationalized away.

Admittedly odd scenarios arise from this, such as a creature refusing to attack a real creature that it believes it can't see, while mechanically having vision of it. Rationalizing this contradiction is left as an exercise for the reader.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While I'm not disagreeing with you (see comment in my original question), there can't be text in an illusion spell that accommodates for everything that can be thought of when developing an illusion. Nowhere does it say that someone may flee a major illusion so that it works like Fear, but it isn't unreasonable to create an illusion that does just that. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 23 '16 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree about the open ended nature of illusions; but I think the person in control of the creature affected by the illusion has agency to react appropriately as their character. A major illusion cannot impose the fear condition; the person in control of the affected creature decides how their character responds. This is all my RAW interpretation, not how I would insist anyone play at the table. \$\endgroup\$ – Tumin Mar 23 '16 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent answer. The key point being that NO CONDITION is imposed on the target, merely that the target will do it's best to act as if the illusion were real. \$\endgroup\$ – Protonflux Nov 16 '16 at 11:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Actually, I think the best place for that is in another (possibly self-)answer. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Feb 21 '17 at 23:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would say that, so long as the illusion makes the target think they have a condition, then they have that condition as a sort of induced-psychosomatic condition. For example, if I were to create a phantasmal cloud of smoke, then the target would be Blinded within it because they can't see through it. It would impose the Blinded condition. In the same way, if I created an illusion of a huge avalanche, the target would be Deafened from the noise that is in their head. So, if I create an illusion that is holding the victim, and they believe they are being held, they will be Restrained. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Mar 22 '18 at 18:17
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A simple solution if the DM says no, is to team up with another spellcaster and have them cast something like web or hold person/hold monster while you cast phantasmal force. That way the illusion is reinforced by the hold/restrained effect. I myself would say yes for this, as it is a psychosomatic affliction and thus the mind rationalizes that they can't move due to the illusion. But to each their own.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You can fix errors in your posts using the edit button located below the post, rather than just noting the error in a comment. (I’ve made the correction for you and removed the comment.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 4 at 15:05
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