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D&D 5E Charm, the evil spells

My TLDR is at the end just scroll if you want no context:

So let me start by saying I am not the most PC guy, I never have been, most likely never will be. I laugh at mean jokes, my games often have things in them that could be seen as problematic by some (although to be fair I mostly know my players and there limits).

I even used to laugh at an old 3e Dragon mag joke about the Charm Person dating service, the hold person wedding chapel and the break enchantment divorce attorney.

However the Charm spells (enchantment in general) has always been a bit sticky. I even had a friend who used to joke that the jedi code forbids marriage and love, but not the jedi mind trick to suggest (like say the suggestion spell) to someone you were attracted to do something intimate that could not get them pregnant… (and yes this was in an old republic setting in an RPG were ¾ the players where Jedi)

I have also had to stop a(actually that same) player from suggesting that he could physically force himself on an NPC woman. All the while using a ‘joke’ that years later more or less was put in Tony Stark (a damn hero of the story) in avengers 2.

Now I can write off that bad player (not just for these but for MANY examples in the 5ish years we put up with him) but really he was doing the worst case of a bad situation.

Slight tangent: mind control in stories is not always evil Professor X when not written like a jerk (aka pick and choose your continuity) can be a good telepath. I am 100% sure we could fill a thread just with examples of GOOD telepaths that only force there will on others in dire circumstances… however even then we are left with what I see as the problem… invasion of privacy on the most intimate (not like that player) level and the horror of forcing someones will on someone else…

So lets start with Friends, Charm Person, and Suggestion (cantrip, 1st and 2nd level spells) they are the basics. I will be referencing 5e as the current edition I play but any RPG with these kind of effects could be the same.

Friends and charm person:

For the duration, you have advantage on all Charisma checks directed at one creature of your choice that isn’t hostile toward you. When the spell ends, the creature realizes that you used magic to influence its mood and becomes hostile toward you. A creature prone to violence might attack you. Another creature might seek retribution in other ways (at the DM’s discretion), depending on the nature of your interaction with it.

You attempt to charm a humanoid you can see within range. It must make a Wisdom saving throw, and does so with advantage if you or your companions are fighting it. If it fails the saving throw, it is charmed by you until the spell ends or until you or your companions do anything harmful to it. The charmed creature regards you as a friendly acquaintance. When the spell ends, the creature knows it was charmed by you.

Okay, so these spells both really just give you advantage on cha skills… I mean good RP can do that in some (maybe even most) games so no biggie right…

Neither say they have the charmed condition but for sake of completeness here that is:

A charmed creature can’t Attack the charmer or target the charmer with harmful Abilities or magical Effects.

The charmer has advantage on any ability check to interact socially with the creature.



So even these most basic spells that apprentices can use already can mind effect… and force your will on others in some way (all be it minor).



Now I am a big proponent of martial abilities. I have even in other threads suggested that a high Cha rogue or fighter should be able to fast talk someone into being charmed as per the condition. I base this on growing up with a con man father (no not kidding, to this day I have to assume anytime he calls that any and everything he says is a lie, even things that don’t matter) and having worked adjacent to sales departments for years. I have seen people with what some would call a “silver tongue” be able to talk people into doing and saying ridiculous things that no sane person would do… however I also take those and see them in a dim light.

SO yeah charm is forcing your will on others, and in real life and stories we have all seen people do so for good or ill (how many shows have con men turn good and use the tricks to help people). We can again also fill this thread with characters with supernatural control that work for good or ill.



But now lets get to 2nd level suggestion.

You suggest a course of activity (limited to a sentence or two) and magically Influence a creature you can see within range that can hear and understand you. Creatures that can't be Charmed are immune to this Effect. The suggestion must be worded in such a manner as to make the course of action sound reasonable. Asking the creature to stab itself, throw itself onto a spear, immolate itself, or do some other obviously harmful act ends the spell.

The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, it purses 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.

You can also specify Conditions that will trigger a Special activity during the Duration. For example, you might suggest that a Knight give her Warhorse to the first Beggar she meets. If the condition isn't met before the spell expires, the activity isn't preformed.

If you or any of your companions damage the target, the spell ends.



Now Order of the stick played with this a bit MANY years ago. They had someone cast it (maybe twice) first suggested “Kill your friends and bring me there magic items” and the character refused that was not in his character… so they reevaluated “Kill your friends and keep there magic items” and then the character said “OKAY”

Now that is played for laughs, but I started to think back to times I had seen suggestion used in games… to get discounts shopping (aka stealing) to get past guards (mostly good I mean better then killing them) an a few jokes here and there, but over all in the 30 (oh god is it really 30?!?) years I have been gaming we haven’t used it a lot.

However 1 time sticks out (at least one time that didn’t involve the above bad player) where my friend Becky used suggestion from her sorcerer (3.5) a few people at a party that the king was a tyrant. The reason for this had a goodish reason, the king was refusing to help with the main plot but the princess believed us, so we started to over throw the entire country to insert our puppet dictator…for the good of the world (yeah, that sounds bad I know..,)

SO I started to think about those party guests, and those guards, and even those shop keepers… and that yes it is just a game and they are not real, BUT what we are doing is oh so wrong to them. The R word that is not grandma friendly and could often be used to describe the above problem player’s actions is not something I would through around casually… but add the word mind in front of it and it gets pretty on the nose.

That is all before DOMINATE comes into play.



So now let’s bring this all together and

TLDR even low level enchanments can force your will on others and that is one of the most evil things you can do and we often play it off as no big deal. The trope is evil necromancer… but evil enchanter seem WAY scarier.



So someone suggested I wanted these spells removed from the game. Far from it, but a side bar in the 50th anniversary edition talking about the nature of how evil it is and the consequences could go a long way…

Now if you will excuse me I am off to make a Bard BBEG who is totally mind controlling a whole town.
 

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GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Sticking a spear in someone is forcing your will on that person, too. It's as evil as the eye of the beholder says it is. Or the nearest priest.

If the point is that charm spells should be Evil Subtype, define Evil first. Then for kicks, see what other spells and PC actions fit into that category.

By the way, if it's true that the Charm spell doesn't inflict the Charmed condition, reading your wall of text was worth it just for the laugh 🤓
 

ninjayeti

Adventurer
In my experience PC often engage in bad behavior - its where the whole "murder hobo" trope comes from. Most groups I have played with will use trivial excuses to start a fight so they can kill stuff and take their stuff (maybe you should have gotten the orc's side of the story before invading their homes and killing them? just sayn'). The rogue routinely picks pockets, the barbarian uses intimidation to scare people into doing what he wants, the spellcasters use charm and illusion spells to con people, etc.

I don' think these things are seen as "no big deal" so much as we realize that it is a game and part if the fun is doing stuff you couldn't and wouldn't IRL. Obviously many players have reasonable limits as to what they are comfortable with in their games. But if it is all in good fun for the rogue to steal, or the barbarian to extort a "discount," etc. then I wouldn't have a problem with PC using charm do work similar shenanigans. Not because I think mind control is fine, but because I recognize it is fun for the player, which is kinda the point of a game.
 

Scribe

Hero
TLDR even low level enchanments can force your will on others and that is one of the most evil things you can do and we often play it off as no big deal. The trope is evil necromancer… but evil enchanter seem WAY scarier.

I've got a character thats an Evil Bard, and yes, lean's into all the enchantments. Conceptually, there's a lot of issue's with what is essentially mind control and/or brainwashing.

I would say even by my definition of 'Evil' that the charm type effects could easily fall under an 'Evil' subtype.
 

payn

Legend
I have no problems slapping the evil descriptor on charm enchantments. Makes sense if its not a good thing, but some not entirely bad people use it as a tool. Also, some terrible awful people abuse it for selfish reasons. Context rules the day in how its viewed in the setting, and at the table. This is how necromancy is viewed in my own games.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Charm spells definitely have the potential to be used in particularly creepy and evil ways. This was why in my old homebrew there was an order of priests and paladins for who such magic was verboten and they meted out justice on those they caught using it. The question of who deserved which punishment for its use in whatever ways was a huge point of contention in the order and how they interpreted their scripture.

Furthermore, I have long had developed nations in my setting have specific laws on the books about different spells, in particular charm spells and their use in theft, kidnap, etc. . . Kind of like how in the U.S. at least, your charges can be more serious if you use a gun in the commission of a crime, for example.
 



AdmundfortGeographer

Getting lost in fantasy maps
I think mind-control magic is fertile ground for DMs to worldbuild around, if they want to spend the time putting the effort. There can be diminishing returns on getting certain players to engage with the reasons behind the in-world reactions to it and roleplay with it, I have found.

I love it having mind-control magic reacted to negatively and be viewed in a strong negative light by in-world characters and societies.
 


Sticking a spear in someone is forcing your will on that person, too. It's as evil as the eye of the beholder says it is. Or the nearest priest.
yeah but we have this whole self defense or defense of other loop hole on that...

If the point is that charm spells should be Evil Subtype, define Evil first. Then for kicks, see what other spells and PC actions fit into that category.
welll I think I did define this VERSION of evil if not the all evil (a bit much for the half hour of work I put in this) forceing your will over someone else.

By the way, if it's true that the Charm spell doesn't inflict the Charmed condition, reading your wall of text was worth it just for the laugh 🤓
yeah, that was weird. I mean it kinda explains that it is everything the charmed condition is but doesn't call it that...
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
You're not wrong.
Just like necromancy, zapping people with lightning bolts, etc., magic can be evil if used with selfish intent or out of malice. You must let go of hatred, greed, and fear to use it safely, or the dark side, dominate your destiny it will.
Much moreso than those. Necromancy, unless we use the old model in which all necromancy requires drawing power from the negative energy plane and thus sucking life out of the world around you, is only evil if done against the wishes of the family of the deceased, and/or for evil purposes. It's like fire.

Zapping people with lightning is no different than fighting with a sword. Unless you're an absolutist pacifist, it's a little odd to call combat abilities inherently evil. Especially in a world with demons and the like sometimes needing to be dealt with.

But mind control is not excusable in any way. The only enchantment I can think of that isn't outright Evil, is calm emotions, and even that is a landmine, ethically.

Using Dominate Person to make a guy kill his best friend is worse than stabbing the best friend to death yourself. Both are evil, one is much worse.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Much moreso than those. Necromancy, unless we use the old model in which all necromancy requires drawing power from the negative energy plane and thus sucking life out of the world around you, is only evil if done against the wishes of the family of the deceased, and/or for evil purposes. It's like fire.

Zapping people with lightning is no different than fighting with a sword. Unless you're an absolutist pacifist, it's a little odd to call combat abilities inherently evil. Especially in a world with demons and the like sometimes needing to be dealt with.

But mind control is not excusable in any way. The only enchantment I can think of that isn't outright Evil, is calm emotions, and even that is a landmine, ethically.

Using Dominate Person to make a guy kill his best friend is worse than stabbing the best friend to death yourself. Both are evil, one is much worse.
I disagree. Many uses of mind control are unquestionably evil. However, there are applications that are not (or at least no more so than other applications of force).

Take the classic scene from Star Wars, "These are not the droids you are looking for. Move along". Was this a moral act on Obi Wan's part? Possibly not. Was it more moral than whipping out his light saber, cleaving the storm troopers in two, and potentially endangering nearby innocents? IMO, unquestionably. Was it evil? No, I don't believe it was.

Similarly, using charm to steal from a shopkeep is evil. Using charm to stop an orc from killing a child is, IMO, a very morally safe position. It is certainly no less moral than if you tried to stop the orc using violence, and arguably more moral than violent means.
 

Amrûnril

Explorer
Much moreso than those. Necromancy, unless we use the old model in which all necromancy requires drawing power from the negative energy plane and thus sucking life out of the world around you, is only evil if done against the wishes of the family of the deceased, and/or for evil purposes. It's like fire.

Zapping people with lightning is no different than fighting with a sword. Unless you're an absolutist pacifist, it's a little odd to call combat abilities inherently evil. Especially in a world with demons and the like sometimes needing to be dealt with.

But mind control is not excusable in any way. The only enchantment I can think of that isn't outright Evil, is calm emotions, and even that is a landmine, ethically.

Using Dominate Person to make a guy kill his best friend is worse than stabbing the best friend to death yourself. Both are evil, one is much worse.

Killing people with swords or lightning bolts is inherently evil, though, unless it's necessary to protect oneself or others. The game's just written around the assumption that those exceptional circumstances will arise on a regular basis. I think mind control should be viewed in roughly the same way.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I disagree. Many uses of mind control are unquestionably evil. However, there are applications that are not (or at least no more so than other applications of force).

Take the classic scene from Star Wars, "These are not the droids you are looking for. Move along". Was this a moral act on Obi Wan's part? Possibly not. Was it more moral than whipping out his light saber, cleaving the storm troopers in two, and potentially endangering nearby innocents? IMO, unquestionably. Was it evil? No, I don't believe it was.

Similarly, using charm to steal from a shopkeep is evil. Using charm to stop an orc from killing a child is, IMO, a very morally safe position. It is certainly no less moral than if you tried to stop the orc using violence, and arguably more moral than violent means.
Just learning to control minds in the first place is evil. It’s the only hypothetical knowledge that is evil to obtain.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Killing people with swords or lightning bolts is inherently evil, though, unless it's necessary to protect oneself or others. The game's just written around the assumption that those exceptional circumstances will arise on a regular basis. I think mind control should be viewed in roughly the same way.
I fundamentally disagree. Not all violence is murder. All mind control is violation of Will.
 

payn

Legend
I disagree. Many uses of mind control are unquestionably evil. However, there are applications that are not (or at least no more so than other applications of force).

Take the classic scene from Star Wars, "These are not the droids you are looking for. Move along". Was this a moral act on Obi Wan's part? Possibly not. Was it more moral than whipping out his light saber, cleaving the storm troopers in two, and potentially endangering nearby innocents? IMO, unquestionably. Was it evil? No, I don't believe it was.

Similarly, using charm to steal from a shopkeep is evil. Using charm to stop an orc from killing a child is, IMO, a very morally safe position. It is certainly no less moral than if you tried to stop the orc using violence, and arguably more moral than violent means.
This is like that assassin that only kills bad dudes, so its actually good argument. There are degrees of bad, but bad is still bad. Some folks cant handle the fact that they are a pinch bad, and thus have to justify it as being really good. At my table, its ok to be a little bad, this contextual discussion is actually welcomed and something we do. It has hints of playing with darkness or being an anti-hero which can be compelling.
 

toucanbuzz

Legend
In my campaign, most spells, especially charms, are like poison, forbidden and outlawed in most societies. It's a death sentence to even pretend to cast in front of a noble.

A man can see a spear coming. He can train himself in its use, learn to defend against it, run away from it, dodge it. There's the belief I have a chance to overcome a spear. But, poison and Charms are insidious. They're the enemy you can't fight used by the coward who won't look you in the eye. It's a horrific idea akin to a personal assault: that a person can take control of your mind or emotions, even for a bit, and make you do things and think things that aren't you. It's horrible. They violate who you are.

And what type of person would want to do that? To force someone to be who and what they aren't? In the eyes of the commoner, what wouldn't that person be willing to do? Could you blame a spellcaster for the next ill-advised decision ("I didn't mean to make that deal with the merchant, I was sorcered, I was!" or "I didn't mean to get her pregnant, it was the evil witch down the street that made me do it!")

So yeah, you can easily have a campaign where magic use, especially Charms, are seen as worse than poison.

On the flipside, Charms and mind control could be an everyday expected thing. Reference Dark Sun. Mindbenders would control arena beasts for the amusement of the crowd and keep slaves in control. It was expected the Sorcerer Kings would keep them in control or that their societies would self-police so the above fears didn't become true, and the common man who minded his own business had no fear of the Mindbenders.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
This is like that assassin that only kills bad dudes, so its actually good argument. There are degrees of bad, but bad is still bad. Some folks cant handle the fact that they are a pinch bad, and thus have to justify it as being really good. At my table, its ok to be a little bad, this contextual discussion is actually welcomed and something we do. It has hints of playing with darkness or being an anti-hero which can be compelling.
I think it's no more evil than the heroic tropes assumed by the game, wherein the PCs will regularly kill "evil" (oftentimes sentient) being for the cause of "good". If you want to say such killing is evil irrespective of the circumstances, then sure, mind control is also evil irrespective of how it is used. Otherwise, I disagree.
 

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