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5E Suggestion: Broken?

tglassy

Adventurer
I'm running a game. The party goes out on to a lake that apparently had something that was influencing people to sacrifice to it. It's an Aboleth, because Aboleth's. I wasn't expecting them to do this, so I was like "Cool, I get to play an Aboleth". Anyway, it tries talking to them telepathically, asking for its usual offerings, and they talk back, initiating conversation. It begins offering all their heart's desires. One of the characters decides to piss it off. It was a hysterical moment.

The Aboleth Attacks. That character, the one who wanted to piss it off, on his first turn, still responding telepathically to it, says "I cast Suggestion. I tell it to f*** off." It rolls a 6...

...

...

It's not immune to being Charmed. It doesn't speak common, but while the Spell has a verbal component, it just says you "Suggest" a course of action, it doesn't say the suggestion itself has to be verbal, and he was in a telepathic conversation with it. And the Aboleth is not immune to being charmed.

So...it eff's off? It just leaves? An Aboleth? A CR 10 creature just leaves due to a 2nd lvl spell because of a low roll? I'm just...I'm flabbergasted.

Anyone else had that experience?
 

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TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I mean, I take for granted that your players are of adequate level. So instead of just seeing it as a level 2 spell, see it as a spell casted by a level 9 or 10 spellcaster.

Also keep in mind that the Aboleth is not defeated; your players simply bought time. It leaves; the spell can last for up to 8 hours but requires concentration. So whenever that caster would fall unconscious (or sleep), take damage or cast another concentration spell then the enchantment of Suggestion will dissipate. Now, the Aboleth simply comes back to influences the people and your heroes haven't really fixed the problem?
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I'm running a game. The party goes out on to a lake that apparently had something that was influencing people to sacrifice to it. It's an Aboleth, because Aboleth's. I wasn't expecting them to do this, so I was like "Cool, I get to play an Aboleth". Anyway, it tries talking to them telepathically, asking for its usual offerings, and they talk back, initiating conversation. It begins offering all their heart's desires. One of the characters decides to piss it off. It was a hysterical moment.

The Aboleth Attacks. That character, the one who wanted to piss it off, on his first turn, still responding telepathically to it, says "I cast Suggestion. I tell it to f*** off." It rolls a 6...

...

...

It's not immune to being Charmed. It doesn't speak common, but while the Spell has a verbal component, it just says you "Suggest" a course of action, it doesn't say the suggestion itself has to be verbal, and he was in a telepathic conversation with it. And the Aboleth is not immune to being charmed.

So...it eff's off? It just leaves? An Aboleth? A CR 10 creature just leaves due to a 2nd lvl spell because of a low roll? I'm just...I'm flabbergasted.

Anyone else had that experience?
Not sure I see the problem. The aboleth indeed leaves the PCs alone (the meaning of F off), but isn't required to leave the area or refrain from other actions. Further, the PC must maintain concentration to keep the effect in place, and it will end in 8 hours in any event. At that point, you have a pissed off aboleth and you haven't solved any problems other than gotten 8 hours of concentration.

So, yep, the PC's got a good deal; a one time jump that means that they've earned an enemy for life and no XP (the problem wasn't solved nor was the monster defeated, just delayed).
 

Wishbone

Paladin Radmaster
Not sure I see the problem. The aboleth indeed leaves the PCs alone (the meaning of F off), but isn't required to leave the area or refrain from other actions. Further, the PC must maintain concentration to keep the effect in place, and it will end in 8 hours in any event. At that point, you have a pissed off aboleth and you haven't solved any problems other than gotten 8 hours of concentration.

So, yep, the PC's got a good deal; a one time jump that means that they've earned an enemy for life and no XP (the problem wasn't solved nor was the monster defeated, just delayed).
Yup, the aboleth's memory is pretty long and I imagine they hold grudges for a while. It seems like there's a pretty good reason for the aboleth to send chuuls or other minions after your players for disrespecting it so blatantly in its feeding ground.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Aboleths are very sneak-some. This one might not let the PC's know it's holding a grudge when the suggestion wears off. I might, since it now knows the PC's greatest desires, arrange to have information regarding one of those desires being near a connected waterway, perhaps sunken or on a small islet. Of course, this information will come from a source that's not connected to the Aboleth, as it's used it's abilities to manage a few cutouts and place the rumor in the PC's ears from a very different source. Should be child's play for an Aboleth to do this, and, of course, it will possibly wait a bit to let any suspicion die down -- besides, it might take a little bit to arrange to rumor. If the PCs don't take the bait, that's fine, the backup plan is to plant the rumor that another group is now seeking the treasure and will surely secure it shortly, and, perhaps, this other group is one opposed to the PC's plans. That way, if they kill each other, great, the Aboleth is happy. If they don't, well, the trap is still well baited.

Or, since Aboleths are good at manipulation and playing with people's greatest desires, just have the Aboleth work with a local to commit a horrible crime and then pin it on the PCs. Say, get a farmer to commit murder while also wounding themselves so they look like a survivor and then tell the story of how the caster PC did it, gruesomely and with great detail, including some of the secrets the Aboleth pried from the caster's brain through telepathy to help sell the story. This really depends on your table's comfort levels. It would play fine at mine -- horror is definitely on the table for my group.
 

Aboleth's are fairly weak sauce. What makes them frightening is this:
Probing Telepathy. If a creature communicates telepathically with the aboleth, the aboleth learns the creature's greatest desires ifthe aboleth can see the creature.

That aboleth now has a psychological profile on the PC. I'm sure you as the DM won't use this at some point down the road.😉
 

It's not immune to being Charmed. It doesn't speak common, but while the Spell has a verbal component, it just says you "Suggest" a course of action, it doesn't say the suggestion itself has to be verbal, and he was in a telepathic conversation with it.
Firstly the Aboleth and only the Aboleth, can communicate telepathically. The PC (unless he has some special ability to do so), can not.

Telepathy
Telepathy is a magical ability that allows a monster to communicate mentally with another creature within a specified range. The contacted creature doesn't need to share a language with the monster to communicate in this way with it, but it must be able to understand at least one language. A creature without telepathy can receive and respond to telepathic messages but can't initiate or terminate a telepathic conversation.


The PC is limited to receiving and responding to telepathic messages; unless 'f**k off' was a direct response to a telepathic message sent by the Aboleth, he cant communicate it to the Aboleth at all.

Additionally the Suggestion spell states:

''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. ''


So all the following need to be true:

1) Can the PC see the Aboleth?
2) Is the Aboleth within 30' (range of the spell)?
3) Can the Aboleth hear the PC?
4) If the above 3 conditions are all met, can it understand the PC?

I presume the Aboleth was within 30' of the PC, and the PC could see the Aboleth (it wasnt lurking at the bottom of its lake). Seeing as the Aboleth knows the PCs desires (and in order to do so, it must also be able to see the PC) so, I'll assume those two conditions were met.

The next question is 'can the Aboleth hear and understand' the PC?

At no stage does the Aboleth hear the PC. Hearing is a specific sense using the ears. If the PC understood Deep Speech (and could speak it) the spell would work. In this case, they dont know Deep Speech (and the Aboleth doesnt understand any other language from the PC) so it officially doesnt work.

Before you say 'that sounds crazy', a PC communicating a Suggestion spell with Drow sign language (to a target that can understand that language) also could not use that Drow sign language for that Suggestion spell. The target is not hearing the Suggestion (even though they understand it just fine).

Nothing in the telepathy ability states it 'counts as' hearing either, unlike Blindsight and vision, which specifically overrides seeing without eyes.

You could rule Telepathy 'counts as' hearing. But as far as the Rules are concerned, the spell should not have worked.
 

MarkB

Legend
Sure, it should work - the Aboleth will leave and not personally pursue the party for 8 hours. But that still leaves it a lot of options.

First, if the lake is its lair, it can use a Lair Action to suck them into the water, at which point they'll be exposed to it's mucus cloud and may find themselves unable to leave the water. It can't go to them, but it can bring them to it.

Second, it can manifest an illusion of itself anywhere within a mile (for instance, right where the PCs are celebrating their easy victory) and immediately Enslave up to 3 of them, which the rest of them won't realise is happening because it's done telepathically.

Third, it can communicate with anyone anywhere on the same plane that it has already Enslaved, which it can have been doing at a rate of up to 3 per day since it arrived, and command them to dedicate all their resources to the destruction of the party.
 

I think DMs just gotta accept that every now and then the PCs pull off something ridiculous that ends a fight in round 1.

If you are able to embrace such moments and weave it into the story as an important moment, then it will be memorable and you'll be talking about it years from now.

Such a victorious moment shouldn't necessarily come back to the players. Perhaps this aboleth will retreat after being told to F-off, and just sulk in its watery lair? Let some of the Aboleth's minions encounter the players, and let the players know that the Aboleth has dismissed them all, because what's the point?

Remember that you are writing a story together, and the players are the main characters and the heroes: Suggestion is not "broken", it is merely a strong spell that can change the storyline that you are creating together with your players.

Personally, I hate it when you come up with something smart as a player, and the DM is vengeful and makes it feel like it was a mistake (i.e. you tell the aboleth to f-off, and now you are the aboleth's #1 enemy - really great way to make a victory feel like a loss.).
 

It shouldn't work.

Even if the PC had the means to telepathically communicate (bearing in mind only the Aboleth has telepathy and can stop listening at any time shutting the PC out from responding) the Aboleth needs to hear and understand the PC.

Hear being the operative word.

You don't 'hear' telepathy any more thsn you hear sign language, even if you understand what is being communicated in both forms of communication.
 

MarkB

Legend
It shouldn't work.

Even if the PC had the means to telepathically communicate (bearing in mind only the Aboleth has telepathy and can stop listening at any time shutting the PC out from responding) the Aboleth needs to hear and understand the PC.
Yeah, but those are two separate requirements. It can hear the caster because they're standing within 30 feet of it, and it can understand them because they're in telepathic communication with it.

And sure, it could relinquish that communication, but from its viewpoint, why would it do so? It's not going to know it's in trouble within the time it takes to mentally project two monosyllabic words.
 

dave2008

Legend
I'm running a game. The party goes out on to a lake that apparently had something that was influencing people to sacrifice to it. It's an Aboleth, because Aboleth's. I wasn't expecting them to do this, so I was like "Cool, I get to play an Aboleth". Anyway, it tries talking to them telepathically, asking for its usual offerings, and they talk back, initiating conversation. It begins offering all their heart's desires. One of the characters decides to piss it off. It was a hysterical moment.

The Aboleth Attacks. That character, the one who wanted to piss it off, on his first turn, still responding telepathically to it, says "I cast Suggestion. I tell it to f*** off." It rolls a 6...

...

...

It's not immune to being Charmed. It doesn't speak common, but while the Spell has a verbal component, it just says you "Suggest" a course of action, it doesn't say the suggestion itself has to be verbal, and he was in a telepathic conversation with it. And the Aboleth is not immune to being charmed.

So...it eff's off? It just leaves? An Aboleth? A CR 10 creature just leaves due to a 2nd lvl spell because of a low roll? I'm just...I'm flabbergasted.

Anyone else had that experience?
In this particular case it seems, as @Flamestrike pointed out, you ruled incorrectly and the spell should not have worked.

However, the bigger question is: have I ever had a monster sidelined by a single action (typically spells)? The answer for most long time DMs would be: of course, it happens. That is the nature of a single d20 roll resolution system. Sometimes the roll doesn't go your way. With experience, you learn to treat it as an opportunity and not an excuse.
 

It seems a bit implausible that a spoken instruction is intelligible to anyone underwater without the aid of some additional magic.
 

dave2008

Legend
Yeah, but those are two separate requirements. It can hear the caster because they're standing within 30 feet of it, and it can understand them because they're in telepathic communication with it.

And sure, it could relinquish that communication, but from its viewpoint, why would it do so? It's not going to know it's in trouble within the time it takes to mentally project two monosyllabic words.
However, that is not how it is explained in the OP: "...still responding telepathically to it, says "I cast Suggestion. I tell it to f*** off." It rolls a 6..."

There was no hearing involved, I bet other requirements weren't met either (like I don't think they could see it from the description), and as noted the PC can 't initiate the telepathic command anyway.
 

Benjamin Olson

Adventurer
I've told this story before, but it's a favorite. My Bard once successfully Suggestioned the massive Devil the big bad summoned with his dying breath to think we weren't worth his trouble and he should just go back through the portal he came out of. Now certainly we all felt bad for the DM for having bought and painted a spectacular Devil and getting to plop it down on the mat for less than a round, but it is one of my all time favorite D&D moments and probably more memorable for everyone there than the fight would have been. At first blush, stories like this make the spell seem ridiculously overpowered. But looking at the details from all sides it seems much more balanced.

There was no way "just go home, we're not worth the bother" would be a "reasonable" suggestion if battle was actually joined, or even if the Devil had a real dog in the fight rather than being semi-unwillingly brought in. After that round the portal would have closed and there would be no chance for this to work so simply. My Bard had to win initiative and then forgo all violent action and use her last spell slot on a save or suck spell with no idea what this Devil was, whether he was immune, whether the DM would deem the suggestion reasonable, or whatever. I think since I was using the magic lute that gave +1 to her spell save DC that she even had to drop her dual magic daggers while staring down a Devil. It was a complete hail mary that I wouldn't have even tried if I thought we stood a real chance against that Devil. Then the Devil had to fail the roll, which in this case required I think getting less than a 4 on the die, but the dice were with us that day, clearly.

And look at the opportunity costs, because they chose this instead of any other spell they could have chosen. Out of combat Suggestion is liable to start combat or at least make enemies if someone succeeds the save, and if they fail you still might fail to come up with something reasonable or phrase it in a way where it is actually effective. There is often simply no useful Suggestion to make. It only works "in combat" under narrow circumstances, based entirely on the DM's subjective reading of the target's psychology, and is a concentration spell which may then require hours of concentrating. My character kept a spell as one of her spells known that while very powerful every time she successfully used it, actually only got successfully used a grand total of 3 times in the campaign, and the Devil was the only time where it went off 100% without a snag.

The reason it often does not go off without a snag is that, per the spell, "if the suggested activity can be completed in a shorter time, the spell ends when the subject finishes what it was asked to do". It is hard to both word a suggestion to be reasonable and ensure that it will not be technically completed prematurely, and hence break the spell. "Leave" is a pretty good combat suggestion when there is a closing portal for the enemy to then no be able to return through, but had it been a stable one the Devil would have left through it, thus completing the spell, and then immediately been free of the spell and able to change his mind and come straight back.

It is an absolute favorite spell of mine because, when the stars align, it is incredibly powerful and can completely shake up the narrative. But that doesn't mean the stars are often in alignment, just that it is very memorable when they are.
 

Galandris

Adventurer
My PCs often add something that explicitely takes 8 hours (or more) to accomplish to avoid the "drop your weapon" suggestion that only results in the target picking it up right away. Usually it's not "leave" but "leave the premise and go to XYZ" XYZ being more than 8 hours away.
 

The more I think about it, the more I feel it literally needs to hear (not telepathically ubderstand) the command.

It wouldn't work if you held up a sign in a language you both understood, and a wouldnt work if you used sign language you both understood.

I don't agree 'hear' should be parsed separate from 'understood' either. I think the intent is the communication must be verbal (part of the components of the spell) and it is those words spoken that must be understood by the target.

You can't for example utter gibberish it can hear while holding up a sign with the command written on it that the creature can understand.
 

The more I think about it, the more I feel it literally needs to hear (not telepathically ubderstand) the command.

It wouldn't work if you held up a sign in a language you both understood, and it wouldnt work if you used sign language you both understood.

I don't agree 'hear' should be parsed separate from 'understood' either. I think the intent is the communication must be verbal (part of the components of the spell) and it is those words spoken that must be understood by the target.

You can't for example utter gibberish it can hear while holding up a sign with the command written on it that the creature can understand.
 


MarkB

Legend
Suggestion should not work this way. The suggestion needs to at least sound reasonable to work.
Ah, the eternal debate of Suggestion. What does it mean for something to "sound reasonable"?

In this instance, if the party are of reasonably high level and a potential threat to the aboleth, isn't it a fairly reasonable course of action for it to retreat and put some distance between itself and them, and then try to neutralise them using less direct means?
 

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