Playing D&D 5e.

I asked a similar question on reddit, so I will copy the summary of events from there:

Okay; I admit that part of what I am about to say is fairly absurd, because we do allow silly things in our group. It's also really just a rant, so apologies, but I do want to know whether or not we overreacted in response to the GM.

Some background: We're a group of level 3 - 4 character at the moment. Early on, a neighboring town was wiped out by an necromancer mayor who used my character's love interest as a human sacrifice. This set my character out on a task of getting the resources together to revive her. He asked the mayor of his own village if he could use the land for his own purposes, and rolled high enough that the mayor agreed (yep; our group basically took control of an abandoned town and has been working on rebuilding it). Anyway, clearly my character has become obsessed with the task of reviving this girl.

Today we were dealing with a tiefling that was enchanting us. Even a roll of 18 did nothing to protect us, and I think even a 20 was only a minor save. Fine. We take on a mission, essentially for free, because we're so enamored by her. We leave the area, and my character, with fairly high wisdom and intelligence, who has been able to talk his way out of most situations, was not able to be aware that ANYTHING was up. He didn't even think to question why he took on such an absurd quest. Fine. Maybe some kind of really funky magic was going on, but I accepted that. Moving on, he had someone make a silly roll about his sexuality and it turned out that (and he wanted this to remain canon) he was ONLY interested in unicorns.

This brings us back to the Tiefling and the start of the conflict. The unicorn-sexual pointed out to the GM that if the character only had a thing for unicorns, he should not be affected by the tiefling. That made the GM say that we all saw our deepest desires. But that means my character should have seen his love interest alive and well, which would NOT make sense and if I had said that to other members of the party they would certainly have been WTFing.

From there, the GM decided that either I go with it or my character was no longer interested in the love interest and only in the tiefling. And at that point everything went to hell and that was the end of the game. I get that some loss of agency is fine in a game, but seriously, I think that was unacceptable. The GM set up a situation that in order to keep the story moving along as he wanted, too many things would have had to make no sense.

Of course, the biggest issue is that the DM used a vague reason (enchantment, spell, I don't even know) to take away our agency, even if only partially, rather than just limiting the decisions we can make or suggesting to us that our decisions should be influenced. What is a good way to point out to the DM why we had such an issue with him doing that?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2019 at 16:13

6 Answers 6


I'm going to assume the silliness and the need for the plot to be this tightly on the rails are necessary, and that this is specifically a question about how to communicate that this particular technique is making you feel less, not more, invested in the game and the world.

So I suggest this angle:

If you must restrict our agency, don't do it by getting between us and our characters. Do it by getting between our characters and the world.

If he doesn't see the difference between the two, try examples. Imagine a reason you're going into a dungeon:

  • A ritual is being held inside, and you must stop it or else the world will end.
  • An overwhelmingly powerful enemy chased you or a natural disaster herded you in, and this is your only shelter from them. Alternately, a magical effect is controlling your body in order to compel you to enter.
  • Same magical effect, but instead of compelling the character to enter (whether you like it or not), it compels the character to like it.

Mechanically they're extremely similar, but thematically you can immediately spot the difference:

  • The first has both player and character wanting to go there (provided you started on the same page).
  • The second forces the character to go there but at least it's understood that the world is imposing on the character. They retains the agency to at least feel how they want about it, or to attempt to resist it (even if resistance is impossible).
  • The third takes a degree of control away from, not the character, but the player. At that point, why is the player even at the table if the DM is going to exercise that level of control?

Now, the point at which magical compulsion crosses from #2 to #3 is going to vary with different players and groups, but the most common hard limit I've seen is affecting what a character thinks about what is going on. But again, this is something everyone needs to be on the same page with, and hence, needs a degree of player buy-in to make it work. It sounds like this wasn't the case here.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer. I also used it as an analogy in a political debate, but anyway... \$\endgroup\$ Dec 28, 2017 at 17:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ As you point out, it's not that far a walk from each of those points to the other, but it feels very different to the players. The DM was doing ok with 'the power of the tiefling makes you see what you most desire' and just needed to add, 'and you are magically convinced that doing this quest for the tiefling is the only thing that will revive your true love'. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jul 20, 2023 at 14:53

The problem here is that you have a variety of issues conflated into one, most of which have nothing to do with the question in the title. Let’s split it up.

  1. Can whatever enchantment/spell/power/whatnot is in play force your hand like this? Given that you don’t know what it is, the answer can only be “maybe.”

  2. Does whatever spell care about gender or sexual orientation? Almost certainly not. While I have seen a couple D&D spells in my life that do specify something like “if the subject would normally be attracted to the caster,” that’s unusual and most enchantments work without that.

  3. So when you are charmed/dominated/suggested/whatever is going on, what does that “seem like” to your character? Well, that’s largely up to the DM. When you’re dominated, what’s the in character perspective that justifies it - seeing something different than what’s happening, just being really convinced, being a puppet trapped behind your own eyes, what? It sounds like the DM is trying out one kind of explanation of what it might be like and you don’t like it/find it convincing. Eh. The DM might as well just say “You’re dominated, you figure out what that seems like to you.” You can tell him you don’t find the specific mental picture compelling, but that is just an aspect of our imperfect world. You seem to want to ‘work the angles’ with how he’s describing the charm or whatever to find a way out, but in the end it’s just fluff on top of whatever effect is happening to you.

  4. You don’t like agency being taken away even if it’s by legitimate game rules. That’s entirely fine, and you can discuss it with your DM, but it may just be a case where that happens in D&D as a legit thing and he intends to use it. Then you have to decide if D&D/this DM is the game for you.

  5. Your DM is a control freak who is just puppeting y’all regardless of rules because it’s easy on/entertaining for him. We do not have enough information to know if that’s the case (I suspect it is, but the information you provide is also congruent with not.) This, discuss, quit if he won’t change and you don’t like it.

  6. How do you discuss this politely? You... Discuss it politely. I don’t know what you want here, this is basic social skills stuff - it concerns me that you keep trying to circle back to game rule or fiction “proof” you’re right, which is of course not a good tactic. Explain how the game makes you feel and that you don’t enjoy that. Listen and understand what the DM is trying to get across, etc.


I mostly agree with the previous posts, but I did want to offer a little encouragement for the situation. It sounds like what happened is the DM wanted your party to go on a particular quest but either didn't know how to set up a hook for it properly or simply didn't want to (maybe this was the only story he/she had going and didn't want the players to kill it before even beginning). This is actually fairly common.

Considering your GM: One of the perks of the DM is that they are a storyteller. Large sections of the game can be described completely as a tale that weaves in the characters, their deeds, heroics, even faults. And there shouldn't be anything wrong with a DM shaping their world with the characters, the players have provided him/her. If you had to roll for everything you might fumble walking down the stairs. Unfortunately, this sounds like a situation that the DM would have been better off just 'storytelling' the interaction rather than actually trying to play it. Now players (and possibly even their characters) are angry about very obviously being taken advantage of by this NPC and could easily bend the outcome of further interactions. It could even result in plot sabotage by players, although fearing this may have driven the DM to take this particular course.

Considering your character: Sometimes it helps to think of your character in less absolute terms. For example, just because your character is obsessed with trying to bring back this other girl doesn't mean he's incapable of honestly falling in love with someone else. You could try to consider this a role-playing challenge. Charm spells work in a myriad of ways. Most do not require a romantic attachment to the caster. People do crazy things for the sake of their friends, superiors, confidants, family, etc. Charm spells play on those same emotions, even if they aren't specific attachments. Even the ones that do specifically indicate a romantic interest function on magic! This would mean that your character becomes romantically interested, but it's up to you to figure out what that means. His feelings might become conflicted, or maybe he falls in love but is furious about it (this happens in real life too). This can complicate your feelings toward your personal quest (people can actually fall in love with two, or more, people at the same time). Also, romantic attachments don't have to be related to sexuality either (maybe that character starts having feverish dreams about a unicorn-teifling hybrid). The other part of charm spells is that they tend to wear off, at which point you know, or very strongly feel you were duped. The point behind all this is that you can have fun with this, even if it wasn't meant to be fun necessarily.

Considering yourself as a player: Role-play can actually be more fun when it isn't about how you wanted your character to turn out. Maybe something happens and your character ends up losing an arm, or with brain damage, or the DM allows your love interest to come back only to corrupt them as a soulless husk, or maybe you wrench her soul back from some beautiful heaven and now she hates you. Trying to play a character as a bastion of a single ideal is hard (lots of conflict) and not much fun (unless you're into that). Instead, think about your character's weaknesses and play those as weakness (don't just play to win). Bad things build your character as much as good things do, so be mindful of them. Make the bad things count!

I know this answer has little to do with player/DM discourse, but I wanted to offer some alternatives that I have found to be semi-effective. The trouble is that every DM wants their players to get into the game, but many don't how to make that happen or even what to do once they get there. Be a conscientious player and your DM (and their game) will improve.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ > This would mean that your character becomes romantically interested, but it's up to you to figure out what that means. Agreed, and I would have worked with that. We were not given that option. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 26, 2017 at 1:21

To answer the main posted question: To politely explain something to your DM, be polite. Don't come with a fixed agenda, but instead a series of points to bring up to begin a conversation with information exchanged by all sides.

To answer the sub-question, about player agency, in this case it sounds like an early-level DM having trouble weaving the story in their head into a series of free-will events.

The DM may have a deep story where the players need to be compelled to perform tasks. Perhaps the teifling has a grudge against the necro and is using everyone as pawns. That's a really great story! Read Curse of the Azure Bonds as another great example; the protagonist is compelled to perform services for unknown person/people due to the tattoos they were given.

The problem with running this kind of story line is you need buy-in from the players; a session zero, or in-between sessions deal.

"Hey, I have this idea where you are going to be caught up in a bigger adventure than just walking from dungeon to dungeon. However, one of the hooks is that your characters will sometimes be under an outside influence. So if I put this token on the table, it means you're being compelled and you can't save against it. You will need to role-play so that regardless of what's being asked, you go along with it. Is that cool?

Give the player control in how they are not in control. So for the asker's character, they could still role-play wanting to bring back their love, but somehow this quest, regardless of what it is, somehow furthers that idea.

"The odd teifling starts spinning a tale of adventure to the party. *DM puts out token* He is gesturing strangely while explaining about this mission to a nearby cave. You're not quite sure why, but you instinctively feel that helping the teifling will bring you closer to your goals even faster than you imagined. When he finishes, you are psyched for the adventure that now lies in front of you. What do you do?"

As for charm, dominion, suggestion, geas, and all the other thought-controlling spells, there is nothing to say that the requester has to be sexually appealing to the subject. A male halfling can charm a male orc, even if the halfling looks like a squishy meat bag. Per the spell, "The charmed creature regards you as a friendly acquaintance." Why people seem to think there has to be a sexual component to this is beyond me. People can be captivating, charming, and/or influential without being romantically desirable.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "Give the player control in how they are not in control." You worded it perfectly! I'll have to remember that. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2018 at 16:59

I ran into something like this but smaller with my DM recently. Basically, in combat an NPC ability caused my character to essentially lose his turn for a couple rounds. Having played primarily other systems, this mechanic was stuck out as "un-fun".

After the session was over, I asked if I could give constructive criticism, and then explained generally why I'm against any rule that take control away from the players.

I look at this as a question of whether the players play the game, or the game plays the players.

If your DM is responsive to this kind of feedback, then great. Probably he was trying to do something new and it fell flat, and he'll be happy to have the feedback, since most GMs are always trying to refine their skills.

If he's not responsive to player feedback, then it's a take it or leave it whether you keep going with this GM.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I would pose that, "an NPC ability caused my character to essentially lose his turn for a couple rounds" is not in itself, un-fun or un-fair. Being brought to zero hp, or knocked unconscious is perfectly in line with playing the game, effectively causing a character to lose their turn. So while the message of the answer is good, talk to the DM for a better experience for all, I don't see how not playing a turn or two is off-putting. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Dec 26, 2017 at 18:54

I have been guilty of this exact situation quite a few times in the past. And I learned the following:

As a player: never refuse a quest

I love your character's passion for the love interest... However, find ways for you to justify why you would participate. There are more thing in the game world than what you know and perhaps the GM is throwing you a bone here, something that will move your story line forward, but by fighting him tooth and nail you do not encourage him to do some cool thing.

In improv theater, putting a hard 'no' is a major foul and it is the same in RPGs. Sure the hook may suck. When you have a strong character-goal, most of them will suck unless they are clearly in-line with your goal.

Even if your character is not interested in the quest, as a player DO NOT OPPOSE the quest. You can complain "guys, we should get back because [whine]" and argue, but you never fight the plot. (I will admit the hook you shared seemed weak, but that should not be a campaign-ender)

Don't force your player-goals to stop the game. Digging your heels in is a great way to kill the game. No GM wants to have to fight players on everything. Few players want to choose between their friends.

Remember the GM could be playing WoW or watching TV, giving him much more time than what he invested in preparing the game. By the time you show up, it is very likely that he invested a lot more time into this than you. He prepared the adventure, the maps, the NPCs, counted the encounter XP and thought of the plot, whereas you leveled up your character...

As a GM: never impose a quest

Full disclosure, I still struggle with this. I don't like telling my players what is coming. I don't like spoilers myself so I don't give or ask for them. You will never hear me say "Hey Bud, this quest will be awesome for your character, your story line will advance here and you may get something you really bothered me".

I fought with my players quite a lot to get them to take on a quest. So much so that now let them refuse quests after quests. They don't want to? I show them what they refused and move on. "Did you hear that Rival Bill found a holy avenger in the Quests-you-guys-refused-because-you-hated-the-hook? He will marry the king's daughter and his wizard friend Rival Tom was promoted to headmaster of the academy..." Yes... GM revenge...

I remember an Spelljammer campaign I ran that went like this:

  • PCs land on a planet, the king says "I need help". PCs ask "How much?" What I replied was not enough. PCs left the planet.

  • PCs land on a planet, the king says "I need help". PCs ask "How much?" What I replied was not enough. PCs left the planet.

  • PCs land on a planet, the king says "I need help". PCs ask "How much?" What I replied was not enough. PCs left the planet.

  • PCs land on a planet, the king says "I need help". PCs ask "How much?" What I replied was not enough. PCs left the planet.

  • We started playing Marvel Superheroes instead... (shows you how long ago that was...)

I did not want to tell them about the cool swords, or the magic scrolls or the super plot I came up with because it would cheapen the experience and the surprise. This meant that my super worlds-spanning plot with drow conquering the universe went unstopped, unnoticed and worse of all un-played.

Your GM may very well has reasons to get you on this quest. It may be something that furthers your story line or one of the other players, you don't know until you explore the story.

Others have said it already but: Talk to your GM calmly He may have a plan for you, your storyline, but also that of OTHER characters.

This plot hook may be weak but He may be tired of you guys just being in this abandoned town playing D&D Sim City and fighting off roving dogs and the occasional skeleton.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The odd thing is, we didn't refuse the quest, and probably would not have. Then we went on the quest (by force) and when we got back (some new players joined along the way) he made sure that they were enchanted too. NO CLUE what the end game was. We weren't in an abandoned town. We had already journeyed to a town three weeks away (at risk of the town collapsing without us). \$\endgroup\$ Dec 26, 2017 at 16:33

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