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the cantrip Mold Earth states:

If you target an area of loose earth, you can instantaneously excavate it, move it along the ground, and deposit it up to 5 feet away. This movement doesn’t have enough force to cause damage.

so the question is if the following graphics are accurate with the assumption that the ground is entirely loose earth

 |

 |

 |

 |

XXXXXXXXXXXOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

move it 3 feet up

 |

 |_________OOOO

 |_________OOOO

 |_________OOOO

XXXXXXXXXXX____XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXX__^_XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXX__|_XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

and then 2 feet over

 |

 |____OOOO

 |____OOOO <-

 |____OOOO

XXXXXXXXXX_____XXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXX_____XXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXX_____XXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

(where the Xs and Os are 1/2 a foot wide and each row is 1 foot deep)

so if a humanoid were to stand in the 3 foot deep hole behind the 3 foot high cover that is two feet thick (and most likely 5 feet wide), how much protection would this provide for them? Does it seem reasonable that a PC would be able to erect such a barricade in combat or would it have to be done prior to combat?

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    \$\begingroup\$ perhaps you can ask the second question about casting it in combat in a separate question? it doesnt seem to be getting addressed in the existing answers. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Mar 25 '16 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 the second question is in regards to whether or not the caster would be composed enough to use this maneuver in combat. I will wait until the question can be put up for bounty before removing any aspects that then seem unnecessary. I will also wait until then before selecting any answers because there are often people with brilliant ideas but our discouraged from posting because they never had the chance to read the original question or to answer before an answer was selected. \$\endgroup\$ – name moniker Mar 26 '16 at 0:30
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Not as much protection as you'd think.

Try this at home - get a shovel, and try to pile "loose earth" into the shape you've described (3ft tall, 2ft deep wall). It will immediately fall down into a pile. The angle of repose of soil is 30-45 degrees. In your configuration (2ft diameter base) the pile needs to have an angle of repose of 75 degrees. So the entire thing flops over to about half its height. The soil from the sides of the hole is also falling inwards, filling up your hole, probably reducing the amount of cover from the hole by half as well. If you're unlucky, the soil from the wall will fall backwards into your hole and reduce the depth even further. It would look more like this:

|      OO

|   OOOOOOO

XXXXXXXXXXXO      XXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXOOO XXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

If you're lucky, you'll get 3 feet of cover (partial cover) out of this. There's a reason soldiers build trenches out of packed, not loose, soil.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The trench part, at least, won't collapse immediately unless you're digging in loose sand or something. Most soil will hold its shape until the next rain, or until people do a lot of climbing in and out of the trench, or something. Over the long term, yes, it will get worn down until it's not steeper than the angle of repose, but D&D combat isn't ever about the long term. \$\endgroup\$ – Trip Space-Parasite Mar 30 '17 at 21:11
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Potentially total cover.

A target has total cover if it is completely concealed by an obstacle.

For particularly large combatants, such as minotaurs or goliaths for PC races, it might be necessary to excavate more, else it would only supply 3/4 cover.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Goliaths are medium sized. For simplicity's sake, they should have the same level of cover as other medium creatures when under the same circumstances. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Mar 25 '16 at 20:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not about the size class, it's the fact that they are enormous for the class. Short minotaurs and goliaths are often taller than the largest of the smaller folk. Humans in the PHB range from 5 to over 6 feet tall, while goliaths start at 7 feet and get to over 8 feet tall. Minotaurs are a little smaller by starting at 6 feet, but their body shape is less conducive to crouching behind cover. \$\endgroup\$ – Sawyer Mar 25 '16 at 20:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I understand that. My point is that, as a DM, I'd not want to track the exact height in feet that a particular terrain feature covers and then compare that to the height of each PC in the party to see if it grants them full cover or only 3/4 cover. It's simpler to say, "you're medium sized so it grants you full cover" or "you're medium sized so it grants you 3/4 cover" and apply the ruling to all medium sized creatures. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Mar 25 '16 at 20:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ That is a DM's call to make. It is better to give a more stringent recommendation that can be relaxed than to attempt to reign in that which has already been released. \$\endgroup\$ – Sawyer Mar 25 '16 at 21:00
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Definitely but do it a different way

Just dig a 5' cube hole (or less, depending on your height) and hop in. Doesn't matter where the loose soil goes in this case (Good info in that other answer about how it piles but none falls back in the hole, because the cantrip digs a 5' cube hole). Any PC fits in a 5' cube, that's huge.

In combat?

Of course, it's "instantaneous". There is no question. That's the main reason it's better than just carrying a shovel and not spending a valuable cantrip slot on Mold Earth. You definitely get the ability to dig a 5x5x5 hole in one action. No question.

Balance/OP problems?

There are a lot of great cantrips you passed on to get this. Mold Earth is not a problem cantrip, no need to nerf it. It's situational as you need to be standing on dirt which is common enough outside of dungeons but in my experience not as common as you will want.

Unless you have a good climb speed you are using 10' of movement to get out. Your DM will decide if ducking down into the hole uses the prone mechanics or not. That makes quick retreats a problem. A melee attacker definitely has advantage on you while you are in there and you would have disadvantage. You are making a classic tradeoff to get cover at the expense of an entire round + limiting your movement options significantly.

Other uses

I had a fun Tomelock build for a short campaign that used this and thorn whip and darkness and devil's sight for all sorts of shenanigans. Have an enemy stumble into it (or get shoved, etc) and then fill it back up. Half buried enemies are easier to kill. And throwing/knocking other people into holes is just funny and often quite useful for holding or creating chokepoints.

Mechanically? It was pretty crap, but this was clever and fun and provided opportunities for teamwork and everyone f-ing loved it. I would have had higher utility and higher DPS with a different cantrip. This one is situational and often tactical, don't nerf it.

I also built some sweet trenches and fortifications for our camp at night when I had the time and we were in a field. You can dig more than 5' down with some ramps and some time (5 cubic feet of dirt every 6 seconds by RAW is very fast). Dug under some walls, buried some bodies and treasure. It's good utility, but situationally it's a useful tactical terrain spell in combat.

And battles with interesting or changing terrain are the best battles.

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Yes

The 3 feet up and 2 feet over is unnecessary; the spell reads "instantaneously excavate" and "deposit up to 5 feet away". My RAW, simulationist ruling is that it pulls a 5x5x5 cube straight up and can deposit it into an adjacent square. That seems like enough dirt to cover one crouching medium creature.

But...

The real issue is that this goes pretty hard against the intent of the spell. It's a utility cantrip not intended to be used in combat. A magic backhoe! Letting players use it in combat gives them a new ability that they haven't paid for through feats or leveling.

My RAI, gamist compromise would be to find something with parity and let this flavor it. Like how Dodge gives disadvantage to ranged attacks. Let your druid be an awesome earthbender like Toph! Just try to keep RP opportunities as open as possible without wrecking the action economy.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There is no intent to a spell. The spell does what it does. In this case you can excavate a 5 foot hole. This means you can jump in and give yourself 1/2 cover against most enemies. High ground no longer gives you advantage so it's a trade of movement vs. AC bonus. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachary Burgess-Hicks May 30 at 23:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see any evidence for your interpretation of the intent of the spell. A spell "not intended to be used in combat" often has a 1 or 10 minute casting time. A casting time of an action seems pretty intended to be used in combat to me. \$\endgroup\$ – jamesb May 31 at 0:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jamesb: Or at least intended to be usable in combat (even if that's not the primary purpose). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 31 at 1:44

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