5E An Odd Rules Issue with Suggestion

Hussar

Legend
Well, that was a thing.

Had a bit of a conundrum come up in today's session and I was wondering if folks could offer some guidance on a ruling here. So, here's the situation:

1. Two goblins are fleeing the party carrying a valuable sword they have stolen. The goblins are also being pursued by the undead guardians who also want the sword back, but, I'm not sure how important that is.

2. The goblins are sort of tag teaming their running away - as one goblin passes the other, the leading goblin passes the sword off to the passing goblin. This allows them to get the sword further away from the party.

3. Bard casts Suggestion on the goblin carrying the sword. Suggests that the only way the goblin will survive is if he throws the sword back. Goblin fails saving throw, and I feel this is a perfectly legitimate suggestion.

4. Second goblin goes before the Suggested Goblin. Second goblin goes past the Suggested Goblin, taking the sword as they have done in the past.

Now, here's where it gets sticky. Does the Suggested Goblin resist? We've always ruled that taking items held in hand by an ally counts as part of the free interaction for the round. But, does the Suggestion spell cause the Goblin to no longer be an "ally" at least for this action?

My ruling on the spot was to make a second saving throw for the Suggested Goblin. Not to break the Suggestion, but, if he succeeded the saving throw, the charm wasn't quite totally complete and he interpreted the Suggestion in such a way that passing it backward counted as throwing away. A failed save would result in the Suggested Goblin resisting and not giving up the sword.

Players were ... less than happy with my ruling. :(

How would you have ruled this?
 

werecorpse

Explorer
I would have ruled that as handing the sword off to the other goblin was contrary to the suggested action the swordgoblin would not do so, or co-operate with it happening. At which point the other goblin either decides to run off or if his greed got the better of him to try and wrestle the sword off his swordgoblin who resists.
 

Harzel

Adventurer
Yeah, sorry, I'd also have treated giving the sword to the other goblin (or letting them take it) as contrary to the Suggestion. I'd make goblin #2 trying to take the sword away a Strength contest between the goblins with some bonus (maybe advantage) for goblin #1 because they have hold of the sword to begin with. Or maybe a Dex contest to see if goblin #2 can grab it and then, if they can, a Strength contest to see if they can yank it away. Probably let one of the players roll for goblin #1.
 
It sounds like one of those ambiguous moments where the goblins were trying to escape combat and initiate a chase scene, and one of the players wanted to cast a spell to thwart their escape? I could be mistaken, but that's what it sounds like based on your description.

Often, in similar moments transitioning from combat turns to a chase scene, I like to give the attackers a chance to short circuit the retreat, but I also like to make it hard for the attackers (usually by limiting line of sight unless a high Perception check is rolled or creative means / resources are used to gain line of sight).

In this case, I think adhering strictly to initiative and movement speeds may have been hampering resolution.

From the outside looking in, I'd wonder whether "the only way you'll survive is to throw the sword back" would appear reasonable to the goblin? Who did the goblin think was the bigger threat – the Undead Guardian or the PCs or the demanding Goblin Boss waiting back at home? Did the goblin believe that the bigger threat would stop chasing if it didn't have the sword? Conversely, if the goblin viewed the Goblin Boss (or whomever it serves) as the bigger threat, did it anticipate surviving its return home empty-handed?

For the sake of argument, let's say it was reasonable. How the goblin might interpret that comment from a scheming sneaky goblin paradigm? Would tossing back a short sword it was carrying, slipping it into the old sword's scabbard as a decoy meet the terms of the suggestion?

From a pure rules standpoint on the wording of suggestion, the key section is:

On a failed save, it pursues the course of action you described to the best of its ability. The suggested course of action can continue for the entire duration. If the suggested activity can be completed in a shorter time, the spell ends when the subject finishes what it was asked to do.

Since it's a concentration spell that can involve a task lasting up to 8 hours long, I think the design intent is to genuinely attempt to accomplish the task to the best of its ability. In this case, that could include defending against anyone (including PCs or goblins) who attempted to wrest the sword away & whom didn't appear to intend to throw the sword back. Now, at that point if the other goblin was savvy to what was going on, it might attempt a Deception check to convince its ally that it has a better throwing arm to toss the sword back, and that this will help them both stay alive.
 

Hussar

Legend
Yeah, thinking about it more, I can see that argument. The Suggestion Goblin resists anything other than something that makes the sword go back to the undead guardians so it can escape.

Note, the bit about bigger bad guys and whatnot, well, as I said, I ruled that the suggestion was perfectly okay. That's not something I feel I need to reexamine.

Like I said, I left it up to the dice - a second saving throw. But, thinking about it now, that's kinda screwing over the caster.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Personally, I could see the goblin letting it's buddy take the sword as long as it had no reason to believe that the buddy wouldn't give the sword back to him on his turn (at which point he could have tossed it back to the party). He has to follow the command as soon as he can, but letting the buddy take it actually is a more efficient way of following the command than wrestling over the sword. Of course, whether a panicked goblin has the ability to reason to that degree is entirely up to you.

That said, to me this scene is a bit odd. Turn based movement is perfectly sufficient for the average combat, but using it this way in a chase scene borders on comedic. The two goblins were running at the same speed. Unless one was slowing down and the other sprinting ahead (and then they alternated), there's no reason they should have been leapfrogging one another. Removing the leapfrogging eliminates the hand off, which means the goblin carrying the sword would have just tossed it back. Just my 2 cents.
 

Hussar

Legend
To be fair, it hadn't gotten to a chase scene. It was a combat (three way combat at that) where the goblins were trying to get away from both the party and the undead guardians. And everyone was chasing the sword. In game it actually looked okay as they were scrambling over terrain, sometimes one goblin would take an attack, and not double move, that sort of thing.

Like I said, that part of things wasn't something I was having an issue with. It was just an odd interaction between the Suggestion Spell, Initiative and plausibility.

Although, thinking about it, I kinda screwed over the caster, who succeeded on casting the spell, so, I probably shouldn't have taken that success away. Funny thing is, the Suggested Goblin wound up dying before he even actually got an action. I was going to have him take the sword back from the other goblin, by force if necessary, and throw it back.
 

MarkB

Hero
How exactly was the whole sword-relay thing making them faster? If it was a matter of encumbrance, wouldn't it have made more sense for them to be carrying it between them?
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I have no problems with the OP ruling. I would also allow str check vs str check to grab the sword. Sometimes magic and the dice are fickle.
 

dnd4vr

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
I think the OP handled it fine on the spot. To me that is the type of thing that the table discusses after the fact. While the Suggestion was fine, maybe the goblin realizes it can also survive if it isn't the one with the sword or maybe it thought the other goblin was taking the sword to throw it back? Maybe it was thinking of throwing the sword back and surprised when the other goblin pulled the sword from its grasp?

Allowing a second save is basically like letting fate decide in this instance because you don't want to take the time to hash out how it should work. If I was a player at the table, the result would have been disappointing, but I completely would be behind the ruling on how it worked.

No problem IMO. Take it out later for future issues.
 

dnd4vr

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Keep in mind also Suggestion is not Dominate. The bard can suggest throwing the sword back is the best course of action. The goblin could hand-off the sword to his comrade, yelling at him to throw it back. The non-effected comrade could keep running with it, creating a comical argument between the two. :)
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
How would you have ruled this?
The goblin under the effects of the suggestion spell refuses to let go of the sword as he plans to throw it back as per the caster's request. On his turn, the goblin throws it back 20 to 60 ft. to the dismay of his comrade at which point the undead make a play for the sword.
 
How exactly was the whole sword-relay thing making them faster? If it was a matter of encumbrance, wouldn't it have made more sense for them to be carrying it between them?
Yeah I'm trying to figure this out. I think it's unintentional metagaming producing weirdness. It requires that the goblins are on different initiatives and the one with sword is initially behind the other one, but higher on initiative. So say Goblin A is 10ft from the PCs and has an initiative of 15 and Goblin B is 40ft away and has initiative of 10. Goblin A moves 60ft so is at 70. Goblin B moves 30ft, takes the sword, then moves 30ft, so is at 100ft. Goblin A moves 30ft, takes the sword and moves 30ft more, so is at 130ft. And so on. This maxmizes the distance the sword is from the PCs at any given point. Realistic? No. Brain-breaking? Slightly. Tactically smart in a boardgame kind of way? Definitely.

I would just have not done the hand off more than once myself, maybe not at all.

Ruling-wise the Suggestion landed and Goblins are cowardly and panicky beings so I wouldn't have let the other Goblin take it without a struggle. It feels like a continuation of metagaming and negates a 3rd level spell in a way that feels a bit cheap to me.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
First, an on-the-fly-ruling doesn't have to be perfect.

I think your ruling was okay, even if I hadn't ruled that way. I am a bit confused as to how handing off the sword was getting it anywhere faster, but I guess that's not really the point (I know turns can make things a bit wonky).

But suggestion in general one is a hard one to rule on.
  • Would not handing off the sword put the goblin in immediate danger? After all if the undead are after the sword, a cowardly goblin might think their best chance of survival was to get rid of the sword and not getting rid of it was endangering them.
  • How reasonable was the suggestion? How important was the sword to the goblins? If throwing the sword back means effectively leaving it behind then the suggestion may not have worked at all.
I would be more inclined to rule in favor of the player if they had worded it differently (and might give the player some feedback on wording). Basically something like "If you throw the sword away, you get away! Run!" or "Throw the sword to the side, you can always sneak back later to get it!"

But like I said, suggestion is almost never simple so I tend to work with my players to come up with something that works.
 

Quartz

Explorer
3. Bard casts Suggestion on the goblin carrying the sword. Suggests that the only way the goblin will survive is if he throws the sword back. Goblin fails saving throw, and I feel this is a perfectly legitimate suggestion.
Does the goblin have an Action available at this point? If so, it should have thrown the sword, obviating the problem.


4. Second goblin goes before the Suggested Goblin. Second goblin goes past the Suggested Goblin, taking the sword as they have done in the past.
No problem here. The first goblin no longer has to throw the sword so no big deal.

It feels like a continuation of metagaming and negates a 3rd level spell in a way that feels a bit cheap to me.
It was the PC that made the Suggestion. A bad Suggestion is just the same as a Fireball launched against a statue or illusion. Player's choice so player bears the consequences.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
3. Bard casts Suggestion on the goblin carrying the sword. Suggests that the only way the goblin will survive is if he throws the sword back. Goblin fails saving throw, and I feel this is a perfectly legitimate suggestion.
So, "throw the sword back," is ambiguous. Throw it physically back behind it? Throw it back to the goblin it just took it from? Throw it back to the pursuing undead guardians who had it before the goblins?

If the players don't specify that leaves it up to the goblin to interpret what "back" means. That will only sometimes go the way the PCs want.

If the goblin interprets this as "back to the other goblin", then the handoff does not violate the suggestion - back is more "to the previous posessor" than "physically backwards" in this case. If it interprets it as "back to the people chasing you that want it..." (a good interpretation for a somewhat cowardly goblin) it should go to whichever is more scary to the goblin - the PCs or the undead.

Unless the PCS are really, really scary, the undead would have been a good pick, there.
 
It was the PC that made the Suggestion. A bad Suggestion is just the same as a Fireball launched against a statue or illusion. Player's choice so player bears the consequences.
Holding players responsible for DMs deciding to metagame and ignore how spells work is some pretty bizarre reasoning, even by the standards of the internet. Every good DM makes a bad call occasionally. Only terrible DMs "never" make bad calls.

Even the DM in question now is thinking he made the wrong decision. And the entire relay was ungodly metagaming caused by a corner-case interaction of the movement and initiative rules and a house rule on exchanging items.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
Yeah, thinking about it more, I can see that argument. The Suggestion Goblin resists anything other than something that makes the sword go back to the undead guardians so it can escape.

Note, the bit about bigger bad guys and whatnot, well, as I said, I ruled that the suggestion was perfectly okay. That's not something I feel I need to reexamine.

Like I said, I left it up to the dice - a second saving throw. But, thinking about it now, that's kinda screwing over the caster.
I would have ruled it was contrary to the suggestion forcing the goblins to squabble over the sword. That would have had the added benefit of slowing them down relative to the party and the undead guardians as they played tug-of-war over it.

As a player, I would have felt cheated out of my 'clever spell use' moment which I so love if the spell had succeeded and then suddenly failed all the same round. it would have been deflating for sure.
 

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