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5E Suggestion spell, AKA: the importance of session zero(ish) discussions with your DM

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
Thats actually a feature of Cultists:

Dark Devotion: The cultist has advantage on Saving Throws against being Charmed or Frightened.

Interesting... :unsure:

I don't know if it applies because those are conditions. If you compare Charm Person for instance to Suggestion, Charm Person actually says the target is charmed ("If it fails the saving throw, it is charmed by you until the spell ends...") as where Suggestion never mentions it (except if you are immune to Charm). The target of Suggestion is not under the charmed condition, as where the target of Charm Person certainly is.

I could understand a DM ruling either way on that really, so not trying to be argumentative, just food for thought. :)


So why allow the save in the first place?

Your DM got that one wrong.
Yeah, certainly agree on that one.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I also think this is a symptom of a common issue I see in games: The DM making a ruling to preserve his plan, as opposed to looking for a way for the player to tell their part of the story as they wish to tell it.

This happens when the DM is not on the player's side. The DM thinks about how the DM can challenge the PCs. The DM wants to make things tough for the PCs. The DM is the opposition and controls all the variables.

I believe the game works best when the DM is on the side of the PCs. The DM is rooting for them. The DM creates a story for the PCs, filled with challenges, but the quality of the story is the star, not how close the DM can put the PCs to death in each encounter.
Where I think it works best if the DM is neutral.

In this case the dice are deciding anyway, and given that the target failed what sounds like an easy saving throw the DM IMO should have had the cult leader give the order to let the party pass.

Now, a DM who wanted to throw in a potential complication just for kicks might quietly roll to see whether all the cultists obeyed said order - with low-but-not-zero odds that some fanatic disobeyed - as the Suggestion only affects the cult leader, not the followers. A disobeyance could trigger conflict within the cultists and lead to all sorts of interesting things... :)
 

MarkB

Legend
Where the DM comes off as being a dick is by having the opponent make the saving throw, and then ruling afterwards that it doesn't work. If he didn't want to deal with the effects of a failed save, he should've ruled it ineffective from the start.

The DM should have found a middle ground in some fashion - for instance, the cultist leader chooses to back down, believing he can talk his way out of it to his boss, only for his chief henchman to immediately backstab him and take his place. The DM still gets his confrontation, but your spell got the strongest member of the opposition wiped out and now it's a more even fight.
 

DemoMonkey

Explorer
"That won't work, it's not a reasonable request in this situation. You get the feeling that knowingly disobeying their master is no different than walking off a cliff to these cultists. What else could you Suggest?"

There is no "A card laid is a card played" rule in D&D.
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I think suggestion is a tough spell for a DM to adjudicate.

In this particular case I would have given the leader advantage on their save because to me, enchantment spells it's covered under the "Charmed" rider for the cultist.

However that's where it gets tricky. The leader is the only one that was affected. In addition, the "... or do some other obviously harmful act ends the spell. " is tough. Letting them go is logically obviously harmful in this particular scenario.

However I probably also would have tried to work with the player. Did the PCs know who these cultists were? Could a slightly different suggestion have worked? Should the PC have known about alternative suggestions that would have worked better?

This where I try to work with my players and may have some intelligence or wisdom checks (along with possible proficiencies) before they utter a word of the spell. The PCs are often smarter and wiser than the players, or at least my PCs are frequently smarter or wiser than me.

As others have suggested I think the leader would have had to convince his followers to leave which led to arguments and discussion which would give the PCs a chance to bravely beat a hasty retreat.
 

Where I think it works best if the DM is neutral.
I guess I'm old school here. I recall when the DM was considered a designer, storyteller, and judge. You wrote the adventure, told the story involved, and impartially adjudicated the actions of the players. If the players came up with creative solutions, you rolled with it based on the merit of the idea, not the impact on the game. Of course, this was also back when the philosophy on combat was to try and win before initiative was ever rolled.

From everything I can tell, this was how Lord Robilar was able to succeed in the Tomb or Horrors, which was more or less specifically written to kill him. Gary wrote the meanest dungeon he could, filled with the nastiest tricks and traps, but Rob was just one step ahead every time. Not sure of the details, but I would hazard that Robliar sent many of his followers and henchmen to their deaths.
 

Benjamin Olson

Adventurer
Generally the desire to not risk one's life in a violent confrontation should supply a fair amount of reasonableness in "you want to leave our heavily armed group alone" uses of Suggestion, even if you don't say that.

But Suggestion is a tough spell that requires an impromptu precise phrasing by the caster and then adjudicating what "reasonable" means to the target, whose psychology they may not have really thought out extensively, on the fly, and how they would respond to the precise two sentences of magical suggestion. There's a complex totality of circumstances for the DM to weigh, and that's before getting to the more problematic element that the spell is often going to nullify some encounter the DM planned or screw up their plot entirely. So it is a lot of pressure on the DM all at once, and also a lot on the player casting it to find the perfect phrasing that will get what they want.

A DM who I sometimes frustrated with this spell hit upon the angle of exploiting the "if the suggested activity can be completed in a shorter time, the spell ends when the subject finishes what it was asked to do" element with legalistic precision. Thus in this case they would move aside and let you pass, but the spell would end as soon as you did so and the target returns to his normal thinking (and possibly realizes he was ensorcelled). I think this would be a fair ruling here.

My main guiding principle for a happy table when adjudicating Suggestion should be that if the spell succeeds the players get something, not necessarily what they want, but something, even if they have not crafted the most perfectly worded Suggestion they could. At the very least something interesting should happen, and the real failure here, I think is just that the resolution was boring. "Not reasonable enough" rulings are almost always just going to be boring downers.

If I were the DM, if your phrasing really was "step aside and let us pass unaccosted", I would probably let you pass, and then give you an Arcana check to realize that based on your phrasing the spell would end more or less immediately after you had been allowed to pass, so you had better break into a run once you are past them, or I would have the leader get in an argument with the other cultists and have you make an Insight check to realize that you could get in a surprise round if you immediately attacked.
 

tommybahama

Adventurer
We had a similar situation with the Suggestion spell on Monday. A cleric tried casting it on a monstrosity without realizing that it didn't speak Common so the spell wouldn't work. Our DM allowed him to retcon his action and do something different. I think that was a generous way of handling the situation by the DM.
 

auburn2

Explorer
The DM botched that one. The rules say the suggestion must be worded so as to SOUND reasonable. That is fundamentally different than saying the suggestion needs to BE reasonable.

It might not actually be reasonable for cultists to let you go, but if the suggestion "sounds" reasonable (as yours did) then they need to save.

When all else fails remember we are talking about magic and you are literally casting a spell on him! In terms of being "reasonsable", It is a heck of a lot more "reasonable" for cultists to part and let you pass by then it is to have webs materialize out of midair and entrap them all (which you could have made happen with a different spell selection).

Now if you came out of the dungeon and tried to persuade them to let you pass, without a spell, I would not permit a check (unless for some reason you tried to fool them or something else).
 

Yeah, I agree with @Retreater on this one and your DM, but I also see the other point of view.

The spell affects a single target. The DM could easily rule that target gets advantage because it knows following your suggestion will put it at odds with the other cultists anyway.

That is not how the spell works. The spell makes the target ignore such details. This was a reasonable request that would not result in any direct harm to the target. So at the very least this could have resulted in a conflict between the leader and the other cultists.
 

The spell should have worked. I think the DM might have been trying to save a plot point. A case of poorly implemented DM force.
I agree. The spell would make the cultist believe the leader would want the players to be allowed to pass. The plot point could still have been saved less clumsily and without completely penalising the players by having another cultist realise what had happened and stab the suggested cultist in the back.

"These aren't the droids you are looking for".

You think Vader gave those troopers a medal when they reported in?
 

Torquar

Explorer
Hit the leader and it's all stormtroopers. We aren't the droids you're looking for.

Not necessarily, the suggestion itself is not the verbal component.

The rest of them hear you cast a spell then make a suggestion to their leader who, out of character, obeys it.
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
That is not how the spell works. The spell makes the target ignore such details. This was a reasonable request that would not result in any direct harm to the target. So at the very least this could have resulted in a conflict between the leader and the other cultists.
Well, that is fine for your interpretation. But, please, don't tell me "That is not how the spell works." as that is really up to the DM what is "reasonable" or not and it is also up to the DM when they feel it is appropriate to apply advantage or disadvantage to a roll:

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So, as I said, the "The DM could easily rule that target gets advantage because it knows following your suggestion will put it at odds with the other cultists anyway." I never said they should or shouldn't, because that is up to the individual DM, and why I said "could." :)

Also, in another post, I suggested as well that this could result in a "conflict" between the leader and other cultists (which is what I would have done instead of just saying the lead cultist succeeded even after he had failed--even with advantage).
 

Coroc

Hero
Also the OP describes "a bunch of cultists." The spell specifically works on one target. It absolutely should not have worked. At best, it would've saved you from a single cultist in the mob.
wow so far no one noticed, but for the sake of this discussion let us assume it was mass suggestion instead
 

Galandris

Adventurer
Generally the desire to not risk one's life in a violent confrontation should supply a fair amount of reasonableness in "you want to leave our heavily armed group alone" uses of Suggestion, even if you don't say that.

But Suggestion is a tough spell that requires an impromptu precise phrasing by the caster and then adjudicating what "reasonable" means to the target, whose psychology they may not have really thought out extensively, on the fly, and how they would respond to the precise two sentences of magical suggestion. There's a complex totality of circumstances for the DM to weigh, and that's before getting to the more problematic element that the spell is often going to nullify some encounter the DM planned or screw up their plot entirely. So it is a lot of pressure on the DM all at once, and also a lot on the player casting it to find the perfect phrasing that will get what they want.

Especially, as one of my player is fond of, if the suggestion is "We're officer of the law, you're outnumbered, surrender and cooperate with interogation so you'll be granted a more lenient sentence by the court". It is reasonable, he's using it when there is only a few (usually the biggest) opponent standing around and he's exploiting this to have a cooperative speaker for 8 hours. There is only so much conspiracy you can do if your enforcers are totally ignorant of anything to prevent them from revealing information. I feel they are "abusing" the power of a 2nd level spell. Especially since they never actually cared to mention that they speak for their prisonner when they turn him down to their colleague at the city jail.
 

Hexmage-EN

Adventurer
I want to use yuan-ti heavily in my next campaign, and they've all got Suggestion. Unfortunately, Suggestion is a really hard spell to adjudicate. What's "reasonable"?

Say for example some yuan-ti purebloods want to get some magic items from a shop. How could the purebloods' use of Suggestion affect things?

  • Could they use Suggestion to say "You should give us a discount on this item. We'll be more likely to be repeat customers and recommend your business to others"?
  • Could they use Suggestion to say "You should give us a discount on all the items we buy. We'll be more likely to be repeat customers and recommend your business to others"?
  • Could they use Suggestion to say "You should hand these items over to us. They're cursed, and we don't want a good person like you to come under their evil influence"?
  • Could they use Suggestion to say "You should help us load all your wares into our wagon to be relocated to a safe location. We know thieves are planning to ransack your shop tonight and don't want your business to be ruined"?

I guess perhaps the yuan-ti would have better chances at a Suggestion seeming reasonable if they had an established positive reputation or had spread rumors about cursed items or a planned robbery.

Still, what does Suggestion do exactly that a good Persuasion or Deception roll can't? Is it just an alternative that makes the target roll against a save against a static DC whereas Charisma checks might have contested Persuasion vs Insight roles?

I'm personally considering swapping out the yuan-ti Suggestion power for Charm Person in my next campaign.
 
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Benjamin Olson

Adventurer
Still, what does Suggestion do exactly that a good Persuasion or Deception roll can't? Is it just an alternative that makes the target roll against a save against a static DC whereas Charisma checks might have contested Persuasion vs Insight roles?

That's a good question. Think of suggestion as planting a precise course of action in their mind and forcing them to follow it rather than persuading them. Suggestion can do more than a persuasion roll would because it enables one to convince with no argument, logic, or evidence and keep them convinced until the course of action prescribed by the caster is complete with minimal variation. As long as it is a "reasonable" course of action and they fail the save they will pursue it for up to eight hours without fail.

Say for example some yuan-ti purebloods want to get some magic items from a shop. How could the purebloods' use of Suggestion affect things?

  • Could they use Suggestion to say "You should give us a discount on this item. We'll be more likely to be repeat customers and recommend your business to others"?
  • Could they use Suggestion to say "You should give us a discount on all the items we buy. We'll be more likely to be repeat customers and recommend your business to others"?
  • Could they use Suggestion to say "You should hand these items over to us. They're cursed, and we don't want a good person like you to come under their evil influence"?
  • Could they use Suggestion to say "You should help us load all your wares into our wagon to be relocated to a safe location. We know thieves are planning to ransack your shop tonight and don't want your business to be ruined"?

Most of these they are basically just convincing someone of something, so trying social skills is almost certainly the better tact. Suggestion only works until the spell ends, at which point the target may feel very different about things. Suggestion is really for when you want a specific course of action, not just for convincing someone of something.

Of these examples Suggestion is good for the last where you get the shop keeper to help load all the stuff in your cart to take it someplace safe. Whether or not that is reasonable is definitely going to be a DM call depending on the totality of circumstances (mainly is the NPC at all inclined to trust people, do you have any "evidence", and is this the sort of locale where the story makes sense) but I don't think any deception roll could keep them helping you at length without asking more questions and requiring more successful deception checks, whereas the Suggestion spell commits them to the course of action until it is done. Of course the moment the last item is loaded the spell is broken, but at that point you make a run for it while the angry shopkeeper shakes his fist at you, so you still probably got what you needed.

I would, once again, encourage DMs to be generous in construing "reasonable" because you will have more fun usually having the spell work and then having the characters deal with the fallout when it abruptly ends then you will getting hung up on what is reasonable. "Reasonable" is there to force a little creativity and keep this from just being a "give us your money, dance for our amusement, and then kill yourself" sicko murder-hobo spell or just a boring combat spell.
 

My favorite use of Suggestion is twinned: "Your buddy is about to kill you; you should kill him first before he has a chance!"

But, by the definition of "reasonable" used by the OP's DM, this would not be reasonable.

Maybe the spell description should have used "plausible" rather than "reasonable"? Still subjective, but perhaps better.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I don't usually allow Suggestion to cause results that might directly harm the target, so suggesting the target fight anyone is right out.

But I do allow Suggestion to produce some other non-harmful but certainly silly-looking results; my personal favourite being "Do nothing else except tell this tree the name of every person you have ever met". Target starts talking to a tree, we walk away... :)
 

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