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I have read this part of the Mold Earth as allowing a trip effect:

  • 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.

The save is a Dexterity save against the spellcaster's Save DC or be knocked Prone. I had ruled that Huge and larger creatures cannot be tripped this way, and that Large creatures and creatures with more than two legs have Advantage on the save.

It seemed clever the first time it was used but now it creates problems with encounters — the Wizard simply Readies the spell until after the intended target's turn, and releases it with his high Spell DC (15- he has 20 Int at level 1). This allows the party members to attack with Advantage for the whole round.

Does tripping the enemy in this way violate the limitation of force exerted by the spell?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Possibly relevant: Can you ready an action for "immediately before my next turn"? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 24 '16 at 3:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ How in the world does a player have 20 Int at first level? \$\endgroup\$ – Mr Tumnus Oct 24 '16 at 21:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MrTumnus Happening to roll stats and get at least one 18, and then being a Variant human adding a +1 to the 18 and a Feat that also adds +1 to Intelligence, is one way to do it. \$\endgroup\$ – Javelin Oct 24 '16 at 21:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or a gnome who rolled 18. Everyone has to remember that the 27-point buy is the variant and not the rule ;) \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Oct 24 '16 at 22:16
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Well done!

Congratulations to your player in coming up with an imaginative use for the spell. Congratulations to you for enabling it and working out simple, practical mechanics for it.

I personally would have made it a Dexterity (Acrobatics) ability check rather than a saving throw as it is an attempt to keep your balance rather then actually resist the spell and also because more creatures have proficiency in Acrobatics than Dexterity saving throws. I would also consider Strength (Athletics) to stand your ground and give the target the choice.

I would also rule that creatures with other than 2 legs get advantage due to their greater stability.

Is this OP?

Does it break the rule about causing damage? Clearly not.

However, what I think you are asking is: is this overpowered for a cantrip?

My take is probably not and here's why:

  • The wizard is giving up their action to possibly knock a single enemy prone. This means they are not using that action for something else like casting a higher level spell or a different cantrip. The chance is 70% for a modifier of 0 on the roll (going down by 5% for each +1).
  • If the wizard instead used their action to Help they would guarantee advantage for one of their companions.
  • "Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me". Guess who the creature is targeting next round, you know, while the wizard is concentrating on the Mold Earth cantrip? With a ready action, the caster is concentrating on the spell from their turn up to the trigger point.
  • Anyone with a decent Strength (Athletics) modifier can do this as one of their attacks in an Attack action. If they have the same modifier they are better than the wizard (77.25%) and they are even better as the opponent's modifier increases. If they have multiple attacks, they can do this and still attack themselves.
  • Don't even get me started on someone with expertise in Strength (Athletics) and the Shield Master feat. Grapple, knock prone with a bonus and they can't get up because their movement is 0.

Deeper concerns

Readying action requires you to "decide what perceivable circumstance will trigger your reaction." That is perceivable to the character. "When it completes its turn" is perceivable to the player, not the character.

I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying it can't be done with that trigger.

"When it attacks, moves or casts a spell" is a workable trigger but there is the possibility that it does none of those things and the wizard is left with nothing to hang their action on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I mostly agree with you, but I don't think the Mold Earth cantrip requires concentration. Could you remind me how that works? (Should I make that a separate question?) \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Oct 24 '16 at 6:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ In your last sentence do you mean "hand" or "hang"? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 24 '16 at 13:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanB readying any spell requires concentration from your Ready action until the spell goes off. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Oct 24 '16 at 14:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DerekStucki Weird! I hadn't known that rule. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Oct 24 '16 at 16:30
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No, it does not violate the rule against the spell causing damage, because the spell is not causing damage. The other PCs are causing damage (as is their right) after the spell has knocked an enemy prone. I tend to agree with Dale that this is a perfectly valid and creative use for the spell, nor am I concerned about it being overpowered in any way.

If the wizard is doing this all the damn time and you just want to mix it up a bit, there are still some things you can do:

  1. You could throw encounters at them where the monsters have natural bonuses to avoid the effect (ie: large size, multiple legs) as you've already established they have bonuses against it. Still throw SOME regular encounters their way though - nothing more annoying, as a player, than finding a sweet combo and suddenly EVERY ENCOUNTER IS BUILT TO DEFEAT IT.
  2. You could have a few adventures indoors or underground, ie: places where there isn't a substantial amount of "loose earth" (which the spell requires in order to work.)
  3. As a cantrip, it shouldn't take much in the way of antimagic/spell resistance/counterspelling to overcome this one.
  4. One of my personal faves: give the enemy group a spellcaster and have him do the same thing to the party.
  5. Two words: Displacer Beasts! (or similar illusion magic for other creatures.) The party wizard can't trip an enemy if he's not 100% sure where their feet actually are.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ I really meant whether the force to allow a trip were enough to cause damage if, say, the dirt was moved to one's unprotected face. Not that the cantrip would do actual damage. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Oct 24 '16 at 14:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.se! Take a look at the tour; it's a useful introduction to the site. You appear to have accidentally created more than one account. You will be unable to control some of your own answers until you merge your accounts using the instructions in the help centre. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 24 '16 at 14:49

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