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D&D 5E Commanding your Steel Defender

WizardOfFrobozz

Accardi-by-the-Sea
I read the thread about "Using Commands on Familiars and the Like," and I'd like to throw out a follow-up question around the level of detail folks generally allow at their table for the control of these companions. Specifically, let's look at the Steel Defender, where the text reads:

It can move and use its reaction on its own, but the only action it takes on its turn is the Dodge action, unless you take a bonus action on your turn to command it to take one of the actions in its stat block or the Dash, Disengage, Help, Hide, or Search action.

So two questions about RAI at your table:
  1. How do you interpret "It can move and use its reaction on its own?" For example, I take that as, "It uses its own best judgment about how/where to move, and how/whether to use its reaction" But I have a player who reads that more like, "You can control its movement and reaction for free without spending a bonus action."
  2. When using a bonus action to command the Steel Defender to "Rend" (for example), do you also let the player specify the rest of the creature's movement/actions in detail, e.g., the exact path by which it moves to its target?
Of course I've got my own hot take, but I'm gonna sit on that for a moment because I'm more curious about what's worked (or not) for other folks.

Thanks!
 

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I read the thread about "Using Commands on Familiars and the Like," and I'd like to throw out a follow-up question around the level of detail folks generally allow at their table for the control of these companions. Specifically, let's look at the Steel Defender, where the text reads:



So two questions about RAI at your table:
  1. How do you interpret "It can move and use its reaction on its own?" For example, I take that as, "It uses its own best judgment about how/where to move, and how/whether to use its reaction" But I have a player who reads that more like, "You can control its movement and reaction for free without spending a bonus action."
  2. When using a bonus action to command the Steel Defender to "Rend" (for example), do you also let the player specify the rest of the creature's movement/actions in detail, e.g., the exact path by which it moves to its target?
Of course I've got my own hot take, but I'm gonna sit on that for a moment because I'm more curious about what's worked (or not) for other folks.

Thanks!
The Steel defender is a class ability controlled by the player. It does not require the artificer character to spend an action to have it move or take reactions: it will just do those as the player wishes. If the player wants it to take an action other than dodge, be that an action in its stat block, or any other, the artificer character needs to spend a bonus action to do so. Otherwise it will just take the dodge action.
 

Ulorian

Explorer
I would let the player control the defender's reactions. What is the point of not allowing this? I'm not seeing the validity of the defense of the counter-argument here.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I don't think it needs any interpretation - it lays out in clear language what it can do. It's part of the character and as such controlled by the player, with the caveat that some actions are not available unless the PC takes a bonus action to command it.
 

MarkB

Legend
I see no value in treating it as anything other than a creature under the player's control. Whether it's a creature under the character's direct orders at any particular moment seems like much too fine a point, and only likely to lead to contention and frustration if pushed.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I agree with what folks above are saying - it is a class ability, so it really should behave as the player wants.

However, I note that you didn't quote the text quite fully (I've broken out the paragraph a bit for readability):

In combat, the defender shares your initiative count, but it takes its turn immediately after yours.

It can move and use its reaction on its own, but the only action it takes on its turn is the Dodge action, unless you take a bonus action on your turn to command it to take another action. That action can be one in its stat block or some other action.

If you are incapacitated, the defender can take any action of its choice, not just Dodge.

If the character is incapacitated, it would be fair of the GM to limit the steel defender to actions that are within the Defender's Intelligence to come up with. It would be reasonable for the Defender to, say, run up and haul the Artificer out of danger (a dog might do that, if it had the strength). It won't, however, hop up and play the magical organ the Phantom of the Dungeon has been playing to control the Phantom's minions like the Artificer was doing...
 

They are powered by the artificer's magic. So they are controlled by him if they are in his vicinity.
And even i if they were just a companion npc, I would still let a player control the actions, because as a DM I usually don't want to play against myself. In this case however I would object against obviously deadly orders in some cases.
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
Agree with everyone who has posted so far: it's an extension of the character (as a familiar would be, or a Ranger's Beast). It is the point of the subclass, there's no gain to make it an undesirable option for the player.
 

It won't, however, hop up and play the magical organ the Phantom of the Dungeon has been playing to control the Phantom's minions like the Artificer was doing...
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