You choose a portion of dirt or stone that you can see within range and that fits within a 5-foot cube. You manipulate it in one of the following ways:
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.
You cause shapes, colors, or both to appear on the dirt or stone, spelling out words, creating images, or shaping patterns. The changes last for 1 hour.
If the dirt or stone you target is on the ground, you cause it to become difficult terrain. Alternatively, you can cause the ground to become normal terrain if it is already difficult terrain. This change lasts for 1 hour.
If you cast this spell multiple times, you can have no more than two of its non-instantaneous effects active at a time, and you can dismiss such an effect as an action.
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet
School: Transmutation cantrip
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, pg. 162-3
Mold Earth 5e
If DnD had a spell that belonged in Minecraft, it would be Mold Earth. The mega-excavating super shovel of a cantrip would be any army engineer’s best friend, and creative groups can find 101 ways to use it effectively.
We’ll cover the spell’s rules and uses, as well as give advice to DMs who will face many back-of-napkin physics sessions to figure out what Mold Earth does in a given situation.
Who Can Cast Mold Earth in 5e?
The following classes have Mold Earth on their spell list:
No subclasses get Mold Earth for free.
What Does Mold Earth Do in 5e?
Mold Earth has three distinct possible uses:
Target Loose Earth (Instantaneous effect): Move up to a 5’x5’x5′ cube of loose dirt up to 5 feet “away” (horizontally) along the ground. More clarity in the rules section below.
Target Dirt or Stone (1 hour continuous effect): Create shapes, colors, or both to appear to spell words or make images.
Target Dirt or Stone that’s on the ground (1 hour continuous effect): Change regular terrain to difficult terrain or vice versa (affecting a 5’x5′ path of ground).
Options 2 and 3 can have a maximum total of two simultaneous effects. Option 1 can be used ad infinitum. The caster can also dismiss a continuous effect as an action.
What Are the Rules for Mold Earth in 5e?
The rules for Mold Earth in DnD 5e are as follows:
“Loose earth” refers to dirt. That’s how it’s interpreted in this Sage Advice thread. From this, I extrapolate that things like mud structures being invalid targets, but things like sand and (small) gravel being valid.
Basically, if you can use a regular shovel to do it, Mold Earth should work.
You can dig deeper than 5 feet down, but you have to account for dirt spilling back in. That’s because you can only move the excavated earth 5 feet horizontally. As this Sage Advice thread explains, you’d have to dig a broader hole in order to get deeper into the earth.
You can’t bury someone with Mold Earth. If you were to remove the earth from under a creature, the creature would drop down 5 feet. If they stayed put for a round and you then used Mold Earth to move the dirt back into the hole, it will “move along the ground.”
In other words, the creature in the hole will slowly be lifted as dirt rises beneath their feet. Their feet might get a little covered by dirt in the process, but you wouldn’t achieve any sort of restrained or grappled effect (unless you have an exceedingly kind DM).
You can make cover with Mold Earth. Again, Mold Earth does nothing to the normal laws of gravity, so it’s not like one casting creates a 5-foot cube structure for you; it collapses.
Regardless, repeated casting of the spell can create half (+2 AC/Dexterity saves), 3/4 (+5 AC/Dexterity saves), and total (can’t be directly targeted by an attack or spell) cover.
You cannot shape stone with Mold Earth. That’s for the aptly-named fourth level spell, Stone Shape.
How Do I Use Mold Earth in 5e?
Here are a few ways to use Mold Earth in DnD 5e, broken down by option:
Option One: Moving Loose Earth
Setting up defensive positions. Creating cover, digging trenches, etc. — there’s a lot you can get done insanely quickly with Mold Earth. Any army engineer would be delighted to have a caster with this spell prepared.
Making traps. Simple pit-traps are even simpler with Mold Earth. You can even get fancy and combine this with the optional rule for Thieves’ Tools being used to make traps introduced in Xanathar’s (XGtE 84). Another common one is setting up logs to roll and pulling the earth from under them.
Hide/bury things. To reiterate the rules, the dirt will actually move along the ground if you try to cover the buried object using Mold Earth. But you can still dig the hole with the spell, then cover the hidden thing with more mundane means (e.g., a shovel).
Excavate bodies. For necromancy or detective work, chiefly.
Divert water. Irrigation is incredibly important, so if you’re trying to build a town from scratch or help one that’s struggling, Mold Earth can be just the thing to get resource #1 where it needs to go.
On the flip side, floods can be incredibly devastating to towns, cave networks, etc.
Purify water. The dirt part anyway, not the parasites and such.
Disrupt enemy defensive positions. If you can get within 30 feet of an enemy encampent, Mold Earth can be used to ruin an enemy’s trench or uproot the ground beneath a palisade fence.
Getting friends out of holes. By moving earth beneath their feet, they can rise to your level like they’re taking an earthen elevator.
Close off passages. Good for already narrow places, although you might have a tough time finding enough loose dirt in such location.
Start a business. It takes a long time for a human to dig a 5-foot cube of a hole. Time is money, so if people have excavation/construction work in your campaign, this can be an easy way to make some downtime coin.
Option Two: Writing/Drawing on Dirt/Stone
Communication. Being able to leave messages that auto-delete in an hour is a nice perk in DnD.
Map-making. With a literal tablet of stone.
Making portraits. If you’re looking for someone, making a nice rock portrait can be helpful for your detective work.
Option Three: Terrain Change
Creating choke points. Although a 10’x5′ area of difficult terrain isn’t all that much, it will work to slow your enemies down by 10 feet for one turn if they’re forced to run over both spaces with barricades, doorways, and the like.
Making easier escapes. If you have earthen-based difficult terrain behind you, and you suspect a fight is likely to break out, Mold Earth can make that escape route slightly more accessible for your party.
Get a vehicle’s wheel unstuck. Stuck in a muddy rut? Not a problem with the super-digger cantrip at the ready.
I’m sure there are another 100 ways to use Mold Earth — an attractive feature of the spell.
Is Mold Earth 5e a Good Spell?
Mold Earth is an interesting spell. You might be able to get a lot of utility out of the excavation element of the spell, but many adventuring scenarios take place inside of structures, where Mold Earth has no valid targets.
The drawing/writing on stone/dirt function might come up in some roleplaying situations, but it’s unlikely to see much play.
And the ability to change a 5×5 patch of difficult terrain to regular terrain or vice versa is just bad. If you’re running away, you’re better off dashing. If you’re creating a choke point, you won’t slow the enemy down in a very significant way.
Overall, if you have a cantrip to spare and you like thinking of your caster as an Earthbender-type character, Mold Earth is an excellent choice for solidifying that concept.
And if you’re playing a campaign where actual warfare comes up a lot and many of your jobs involve defending key positions, then Mold Earth does become an excellent and reliable tool.
Mold Earth 5e DM Tips
As a DM with a Mold Earth-happy player, be prepared for some creative interpretations of “loose earth” and “dirt.” In general, I err on the side of letting players use this more often than not.
However, I do set limitations from the get-go. Prime among them is that this spell doesn’t allow you to dig your way into any location. Gravity, cave-ins, the spell’s 30-foot range all come into play, but doing math isn’t the point — it’s a cantrip, and it gives you cantrip-level powers.
That said, if your players really love the defensive advantage portion of Mold Earth, give them opportunities to use it. Stage predictable outdoor battles in fields and meadows, so they can easily craft their dream defensive encampment.