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There´s a first-level spell on the Witch's spell list available for Changelings, Sow Thought, that says:

You plant an idea, concept, or suspicion in the mind of the subject. The target genuinely believes that the idea is his own, but is not required to act upon it.

I could use this spell to make someone my servant, using something like "You are my loyal servant" as the "concept" implanted?

I am aware that this spell can't directly force someone on doing something - it just inserts a statement on the target's mind that the target will consider "true".

"I should serve that mage the best as I can" is not really different from "I should drink water" or "I prefer red-haired women", as far as I can see. The target creature will see that idea as "true" and will believe that this idea is his own.

However, can this spell make someone believe that he/she is a servant of another person? I know that it is an unexpected use of this spell, but it seems - to me at least - fair game, considering how that spell "works".

As far as I can see, it would appears that the target will be "willing" to be a servant, but I really want some insight on how other GM's would handle this situation.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Imagine if the thought "I am lisardggY's servant" popped up in your head, entirely naturally. At first it's natural, but then it starts to conflict with other thoughts, like "hey, I already have a job!", and maybe "Wait, when do I get paid? How much am I paid?". Then, maybe, "When did I get this job? Why would I go be a servant when I'm a trained adventurer?".

The bigger the thought you're putting in someone's head, the more it conflicts with other thoughts and memories that are already in there. Something like "I want a drink of water" doesn't conflict as much - it's short, self-contained and non-contradictory. "My name is Joe" has a whole weight of personality against it.

Note that the spell's caveat uses a rather extreme example, but the text of the exception is more general:

If the idea is contrary to the target's normal thoughts (such as making a paladin think, “I should murder my friends”) the target may suspect mind-altering magic is at play.

Which I would interpret that any thought that doesn't mesh in with normal thoughts will arouse suspicion.

An equivalent spell from a different system would be Ars Magica's Memory of the Distant Dream:

Inserts a full and complete memory into a person's mind. If the target gives the memory some thought and concentration, and makes an Intelligence roll of 9+, the memory is revealed as false. When the duration expires, the memory vanishes, although the subject may remember remembering it.

This seems equivalent, and addresses the issue of conflicting memories directly.

So yes, planting "I am Thales' loyal servant" would work... for all of five seconds, after which the guy will shake his head, say "wait a minute, no I'm not" and move on.

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In short, no.

There's a line in the spell description that states:

If the idea is contrary to the target's normal thoughts (such as making a paladin think, “I should murder my friends”) the target may suspect mind-altering magic is at play.

Of course, this is an extreme example, but this kind of thing goes for anything that the person wouldn't ordinarily do. Sow Thought doesn't compel action, and people can notice if the thought is not something that they'd normally think. It's more like making someone consciously think a particular sentence, rather than actually telling them to do something.

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The spell can plant ideas, but not beliefs. It can't "just insert a statement on the target's mind that the target will consider true", it can create an idea that the person will consider, even if they wouldn't originally thought of that.

In short, it can make someone think "hey, maybe I should apply to be that mage's servant, he could be a better employer than my current one" - as long as it would be reasonable for that person to look for work as someone's personal servant. It can't plant a false memory (i.e., that he already is serving that mage), and can't force him to take an action against his will - i.e., you can't expect a shopkeeper to agree to that, and you can't expect that servant to work for free.

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+1. The difference between Ideas and Beliefs is really important. I will keep that in mind while I think about this. –  Thales Sarczuk Apr 7 '14 at 19:09

You can sort of do this, and Sow Thoughts is hardly fleeting. Quite the opposite actually.

Sow Thought's greatest asset is its permanent duration. Even if your target recognises later that the thought is not their own for some reason (e.g. because it wont go away no matter what they do) they still have the thought. You can (and I have in games before) use Sow Thought to make a person do what you want, you just have to be clever about it (just like with the suggestion spell) and it's not going to work, for example, in the middle of combat. Times my Changeling Witch/Mage of the Veil used this to control people:

The senate of a newly founded nation held their first meeting. I was the chef. Using my Cauldron hex I brewed up a course of Sow Thoughts Truffles, Portabella Polypurpose Panacea Patties (with pickles, provolone cheese, and poppy seed bun), and Guidance Gumbo. I fried the patties in oils of Mask Dweomer to conceal the magic of the food, and coated the truffles similarly. When the senate began talks, they were heading towards a militaristic oligarchy. When they ended thoughts they were a (very) idealistic egalitarian republic that had also decided to appoint me Grand Advisor of the Nation for some reason. Because the senators were discussing political theory and the nation's plans and the potions inserted concepts like "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality" and "Vox Populi Vox Dei" into the discussion on multiple sides at key moments, the result of the meeting (and thus the course of the nation) could be determined.

Later, and in another land, a sexist human bigot decided to contest my growing authority as Patroness and Protector of the Material Plane, Beloved Goddess, Mother to All. A couple castings of Sow Thoughts left him with 1) the idea that he was currently hearing eldritch whispers crying "Flesh. Pain. Blood. We will tear you open. Our children will feast upon your bowels." in the Aklo tongue over and over again in an endless loop. 2) The concept of being in excruciating pain. 3) The suspicion that he had gone mad. Sow Thoughts is not beyond being overridden temporarily by the subject's personality, native thoughts, and will, of course, and so the nobleman scoffed at my curse, spat on me, and refused to accommodate the demands I was making of him (no more prima nocta, certain legal protections for children, slaves, and animals, 20% reduction in excise taxes on gambling for the lower nobility, tax exemption for my personally owned extra-planar magic item emporium). He went mad within 3 weeks and I put him down in the street when he (Sow Thoughts #4) begged for death. People didn't bug me about being female after that.

A particular paladin caught my eye as a potentially cool person. So I set myself up as a fiendish seductress, tempting him towards evil. I kept him isolated from his fellow knights for 6 months while he quested against me, during which time I poisoned his mind with more and more evil ideas, concepts, and suspicions seemingly designed to destroy his faith. He persevered and when he finally tracked me down and killed me (actually an illusion) I cast dispel magic on him and suddenly the mountains and mountains of doubt and hatred and evil lies that he had been tirelessly struggling against disappeared, while the coping mechanisms he'd developed remained, basically making him good-on-steroids for a while.

So, basically, you can't make someone your slave with Sow Thoughts by giving them the idea that they are your slave. You can do it by giving the idea that they are in a great deal of pain and the only way to make it stop is to serve you, or by giving you meaningless honorary titles (that turn out not to be so meaningless after all) because you were oh-so-helpful, or by using reverse psychology and then dispelling the curse.

You should note that Sow Thoughts is really much better at sowing beliefs (concepts you think are true) discretely than ideas, even though people do not automatically believe the concepts you sow. Because it lasts until dispelled, anything that isn't the sort of thing a person would normally hold unwaveringly for their entire lives will probably be noticed eventually, whereas concepts the person keeps coming back to are likely to be accepted eventually.

You should also only instil suspicions in people you want to cause to suffer, as permanent unshakable nagging suspicions are basically classic psychological horror material and usually drive their possessor insane.

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You opened a whole new way for me to see this spell. I threw a +1 a bit earlier, and will be thinking a lot about what you suggested. Thank you! –  Thales Sarczuk Feb 27 at 10:40
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-1: That seems sort of... ridiculously powerful for a level 1 enchantment. I'm not convinced that there is support for a ruling that lets you give someone thoughts like "I'm in tons of pain". I'm also not convinced that the permanent duration means that the target is always thinking that thought, now and forever more. It looks to me more like the thought is just something that they remember, and that it's as permanent as memory usually is after you cast it. –  DuckTapeAl Feb 27 at 15:16
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@DuckTapeAl 1) spell level is only sort of vaguely related to power level. Racial spells in particular tend to be pretty awesome. Also note that most of these uses require multiple castings. 2) the idea of being in pain is different that actually being in pain. The subject realizes that they are not actually in pain whenever they think about it. 3) Your interpretation of the duration is a cop-out. You would not use that same interpretation of 'permanent' for any other spell. Eg, Is Modify Memory only as permanent as forgetting something normally is? Does Memory Lapse do absolutely nothing? –  the dark wanderer Feb 27 at 17:51

No, not directly.

You might insert the idea that they should help you with a specific immediate task, or that you seem like a good person to get on the good side of... but unless you've come across someone who just woke up without a memory or something, the thought "I am so-and-so's servant" probably isn't going to get you anywhere, absent an extremely liberal reading of the spell by your DM.

As a DM myself, I might have permitted the dark wanderer's first example, and there is not enough enough detail about the third (and relative character levels) to tell, but I would never have allowed her character's use of sow thoughts to work as described in the second example with the nobleman.

Specifically, while sow thoughts puts an idea into someone's head (and then of course they have permanently had the idea - hence the permanent nature of the spell), I would never adjudicate it implanting clearly unnatural thoughts (as all of the examples given there were) in such a way as to have them come up again and again to the point of inducing madness.

I think the best uses of this spell are to do Jedi mind trick type effects (eg. "These clearly aren't the droids we're looking for.") and to start pebbles rolling down mountains with thoughts that, once you've had them once, can't be entirely forgotten - placing the first seed of doubt in the king's mind about the loyalty of his chief advisor, or in the advisor's mind the first thought that he should really be the one sitting on the throne, or in a husband or wife's mind, the first real doubt about their spouse's fidelity. Or, with sufficient prescience, one might put in young Frankenstien's mind the idea that he should really take the time to do some reading on human anatomy - which I suppose MIGHT count as inducing madness.

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Sorry, but it's hard to follow this answer. It appears to be responding to another answer rather than addressing itself directly to the question in the way we expect on a Q&A site (as opposed to a forum). Could you rephrase this to be a direct answer to the question? That will make it clearer what your answer is, since the reader will not have to sift through it to figure out which parts are forum-style reply and which are answer. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 11 at 19:22
    
Well, it would have been a comment on the Dark Wanderer's answer from February 27th, but for some reason that wasn't allowed. –  Jeff Apr 13 at 2:04
    
Ah. Commenting is a restricted privilege, so that people have the chance to learn how we're not a discussion site before gaining the power to leave comments—it's a way of teaching what comments are and are not for. Check out our tour and that link about comments for a primer on what makes SE different. This is a good first edit—the next step should be detaching it from thedarkwanderer's answer by explicitly saying what you might (not) allow, as you're not guaranteed the other post will always be seen/exist beside yours. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 13 at 2:14
    
The "accepted" answer resolves the actual question perfectly well (as do the next two highest voted answers as of time of writing) - the only reason I bothered to chime in at all was out of concern that people would have their expectations for how much potency their DMs are likely to allow the spell thrown off by thedarkwanderer's account of its use in his/her game. Removed from that context, we might as well just delete my response altogether - and frankly, I think we probably should, because it's clearly more substantive than the comment guidelines allow, but doesn't stand alone well. –  Jeff Apr 13 at 5:35

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