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A simple scenario:

The DM wishes to break a cleric's concentration on their bless spell, and a foe uses suggestion to tell the cleric to cast silence on an enemy spellcaster. The rationale is that this would prevent enemy AoE spells from affecting frontliners.

The PC rejects this, saying "No, my PC thinks that's unreasonable and continues to concentrate on bless instead."


In such a case, who gets the say whether the suggestion is or is not reasonable? Or should it be determined by a Persuasion roll? How can the DM give a fair ruling that doesn't take away the player's agency, but at the same time does not allow the player to freely deny the effects of suggestion?

The rationale is assumed to be "50-50".

This question is different from this suggested duplicate, as this is specifically asking for guidance on how to give a fair ruling that the suggestion will fail/succeed when the spell is cast on a PC, which may result in agency being taken away from the player.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Very related: Who decides whether to opt out of beneficial abilities when under Suggestion? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 14 '18 at 0:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hey y’all, as best as I can tell only one answer below actually answers the question posed, mostly they go on about what you think is reasonable. That’s not the question. It should be pretty easy to answer the question and then add your 2 cents, so maybe try that. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 14 '18 at 13:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ When you say "enemy spellcaster" -- Whose enemy? \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Mar 14 '18 at 17:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimGrant there's only two sides, so the cleric's enemy. The spellcaster is the caster's ally. \$\endgroup\$ – Vylix Mar 14 '18 at 18:05
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Ideally it should be agreed on, but DM has the final call

When the rules are vague (intentionally or not) the DM gets to decide how to fill the gaps.

Suggestion contains no wording that suggests a measurement for "reasonable" nor who would judge that. Therefore, the DM has the final call. However, making unilateral contentious decisions without consideration of the player will lead to no fun and lots of trouble.

Before I dive into that, I want to challenge something very important that you said in your question:

This is not an issue of player agency

Mind control spells take away player agency by their very definition. Their point is to control a PC's actions to make them do something you want them to do. This is removing agency and it is 100% legal and part of the game. There is no way to have mind control while preserving player agency so that is not the issue for this particular question.

DM and player should talk it out (and trust each other)

The first thing to note is that this isn't a negotiation per se, but the fact is, the player may have a valid objection to what is "reasonable" to their character and hearing that out will be beneficial to everybody. Defining what is "reasonable" is something that I am not going to dive into because it is not relevant to the question (and already has a Q&A covering just that).

When I DM, unless it is blatantly obvious (DM & player agrees), scenes like this usually play out as a short dialog between me (the DM) and my player. I tell them what the suggestion wording is and ask them how their character reacts. If they object (as in your scenario) I'll ask them to explain briefly why their character finds the suggestion absolutely unreasonable. If I find their answer compelling I let the spell have no effect. Otherwise, I'd rule that the spell takes effect and explain my reasoning if necessary. The ruling should focus on what the character would or would not find reasonable.

As DM, it is important to listen to your players and to assume and trust that they are earnestly telling you something important about their character.

However, as a player you must also trust that the DM (hopefully) has a bit more of an unbiased view of your character (eg is probably not as bothered by bad things happening to them as you are) and allow the DM to make the final judgement.

If there is mutual respect and trust at your table, this interaction becomes on average much easier.

Building/maintaining trust

A great way as a player to build up Player-DM trust is to accept the DM's suggestion without a fight in cases where it really makes sense (even if it likely works against your character). A great way to reward and encourage this is to award advantage to players who do this for staying true to character, especially if they really follow the spirit of the spell (as an enchanted character would).

As a DM you can build trust by recognizing when/if you made a clearly unreasonable suggestion and not fighting the player/character when they point it out. Always remember that enemies do not necessarily know or understand PCs in a way that would allow then complete accuracy when casting suggestion. Even a spell failure can be a successful storytelling moment. Also, by being judicious in your use of mind control spells to begin with. They can feel unfun and unfair even to the most sporting of players if used in certain ways.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If, as DM, you end up overruling a player and having the spell take effect, it can be helpful to turn the tables, too. If players are asked if they'd expect the spell to take effect if they were the ones casting Suggestion, the "reasonableness" of the course of action often seems much more plausible. Most players know deep down they can be overly bias toward their characters, and asking them to put themselves in the shoes of another can go a long way in highlighting when those moments have maybe gone a bit too far. \$\endgroup\$ – Euch Jul 9 '18 at 18:47
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I think your player is in the wrong in a huge way, honestly.

The wording says "reasonable". The player is trying to rules-lawyer their way around that wording by claiming the suggestion is not something their character would do.

But "reasonable" does not mean "it's what my character would do". If it's what your character would do, then they wouldn't need the suggestion. They'd already be doing it.

"Reasonable" means, simply, that if the character did it, others around them would not be aghast wondering "Why would he/she do such an unreasonable thing?!".

Attacking a friend? That's not reasonable. Punching a wall? That's not reasonable.

Casting a spell on an enemy? That's perfectly reasonable. It may not be optimal. But it is reasonable.

Once we're all on the same page about what the term "reasonable" means, the question of "who decides what is reasonable" becomes a lot more clear; It's a simple rules adjudication, so it falls to the DM. How a character thinks or feels about it is irrelevant.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This does not seem to answer the core of what the question is asking: who gets to decide what is reasonable. The question is not about how to determine what reasonable is. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 14 '18 at 2:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose: Yes, but the question itself is a flawed one. It's only up for debate because of the interpretation that there is some aspect of willingness required on part of the character, which thus caused confusion about who is the authority on that character's thoughts/beliefs. In truth, though, the spell doesn't care about your character's ideals, beliefs, or attitudes, and as such, the player has no domain over the interpretation of what is or is not "reasonable". The simple answer is "The DM", but the reason is "because the question is flawed". \$\endgroup\$ – Jake Roby Mar 14 '18 at 22:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gravityplanx Though I very much disagree with just about everything you just said, I think adding that explanation to your answer would improve it considerably. You can't just not answer the question and not explain why. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 14 '18 at 22:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose If someone asks "What color is an wonderwoman's invisible jet?", saying "invisible objects don't have color" is indeed a valid answer, despite not naming a color. \$\endgroup\$ – Jake Roby Mar 14 '18 at 22:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GarretGang: Out of combat, perhaps. But mid battle, it is not reasonable for you to stop for a snack, regardless of what the snack is. \$\endgroup\$ – Jake Roby Mar 19 '18 at 16:51
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On a failed save, worrying about agency is a red herring

Ultimately, the DM decides on what is reasonable, but it would be best to address all of the related bits of your question:

  1. A reasonable suggestion to a creature that failed a saving throw should be followed. The suggestion offered is reasonable: it uses the PC's abilities to do something the player might do to obstruct/harm the PC's enemy. The player has no grounds to object. By the rules of this game, saving throw failures have consequences.

  2. You ask:

    In such a case, who gets the say whether the Suggestion is or is not reasonable?

    The DM, and certainly not whomever failed the saving throw. You seem to be asking for a hard and fast rule where there isn't a specific rule. The fundamental answer is that "The DM rules on what is reasonable." (But see point 5 at the end). D&D 5e generally relies on rulings over rules. See also "how the game is played:" (PHB, p. 6/ Basic Rules, p. 3)

    1. The DM describes the environment.
    2. Player describes what they do {note: dice rolled if necessary ..."the DM decides what happens, often relying on the roll of a die to determine the results of an action."}
    3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers' actions.

    At a healthy table where the players and the DM generally act in good faith, a player might well ask "how is that reasonable?" and the DM will offer an answer as to why, or will reconsider and then rule "Yeah, not reasonable, so here's what happens."

    If the climate at the table is more adversarial then this spell isn't the problem, but rather the problem is the climate at the table.

  3. Then you ask about adding another roll:

    Or should it be determined by a Persuasion roll?

    No. The player already failed the saving throw. D&D 5e has tried to streamline combat, not add unnecessary rolls. The necessary roll already happened: a failed saving throw.

  4. You then add a subjective element to the question

    How can the DM give a fair ruling that doesn't take away the player's agency, but at the same time does not allow the player to freely deny the effects of Suggestion?

    This is a problem with the question's underlying assumption. Spells like charm, suggestion and command that are cast on PC's -- when the PC misses their save -- by their nature either limit, reduce, or remove player agency for the duration of the spell's effect. That is their express purpose as spells. Similarly, a slow spell reduces their character's movement on a failed save. With that fact-of-the-game's-rules in mind, worrying about a loss of player agency on a failed saving throw from such a spell that influences a PC's decision making is a red herring. The only concern is: is the outcome reasonable?

  5. What's fair?

    Two points on this:

    (a) The suggestion that you offered in the example is fair. What the DM needs to ask internally, before choosing the suggested action, is

    • How does the NPC/enemy know that the cleric had cast Bless?
    • How does the enemy caster know the cleric has the spell silence available, and would that affect the reasonableness of the spell

    • What check did the DM make to determine that?

      • If the enemy has an idea that such a spell was cast, and that the cleric knows the silence spell, then foiling it in that way is reasonable. If the enemy would have no idea that such a spell was cast, such as the bless already being up before the two parties saw each other, then the DM's problem of giving the NPC omniscience is what's unfair. Likewise with silence. Only the DM can answer that internal question, and a good DM will. (Thanks to @CareySauerbrun)

    (b) I refer you back to the climate at the table, and if the tone is non-adversarial or adversarial in nature. The game as written presumes that the DM will endeavor to be fair. What people actually do is another matter.

Bottom line for failed saving throws by PC's

DM makes a ruling, and then you play on. Failed saving throws have consequences.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That is a nice call on the "how the NPC knows it's a Bless spell". I haven't pointed that out to the DM. This answer mentioned an important part that I miss: the saving throw. Failing it might means that the PC failed to"think clearly" and accept the suggestion as reasonable. \$\endgroup\$ – Vylix Mar 14 '18 at 17:37
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There is potential for abuse on both sides

I've seen this go both ways. I've seen GMs use spells like this too often, too heavy-handedly, and basically turn the PCs into puppets at terrible moments with 'suggestion' or 'charm' similar effects that seemed utterly unreasonable to me as a player.

I've also seen players (and been a player) intent on twisting what 'reasonable' means to get my way and keep doing what I wanted to do.

But everything about GMing can be abused

And that right there is the rub-- the GM can abuse everything and anything. I've seen GMs outright veto player actions in systems like GURPS over -1 point quirks, and other trivialities. (This is not a GURPS question, so I'll just add for reference: That is not the intent of a quirk.)

Disputes go to the GM, like they nearly always do, because there is no way to preserve agency under the effects of mind control spells. That is the point of mind control spells. This can be abused, like nearly everything else the GM does.

Frankly, if your GM is abusing this, he's probably abusing other things, too. If he's not abusing everything else, this is at least some evidence that he's okay here, too.

The real issue is that this is often not fun

As long as player agency is part of the fun of RPGs, mind control spells always come with a great risk of harming the fun due to agency decrease. But that's beyond the scope of the question, aside from pointing it out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The "not fun" aspect is why I personally use mind control spells exceedingly rarely, and then only in a limited way. \$\endgroup\$ – kleineg Mar 14 '18 at 2:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer seems to not answer the question? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 14 '18 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk "Disputes go to the GM." \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Mar 14 '18 at 15:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ “Burying the lede”. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 14 '18 at 19:51
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The biggest problem with this spell being used on players is the ability of a DM to rationalize what's considered reasonable.

So I have a solution you may not like, but ultimately ends all argument on it, well at least it did in every campaign I've played with this spell.

The spell requires a saving throw, if you fail it, you are under the effects of the spell. If the DM doesn't know HOW to phrase the suggestion to make it sound reasonable, then the DM can simply state the desired outcome, and let you rationalize it yourself.

In your provided example, the DM could have said this:

"Ok, the enemy caster compels you with suggestion to silence the other enemy caster. You failed the save so his suggestion sounds reasonable to you."

That's it. No roleplay required or rule lawyering specifics on what sounds reasonable. You put the WHY it's reasonable into the hands of the player. They get to internalize what would make that a reasonable suggestion.

If the player says, "What does he say to make me think it's reasonable?" then the DM can counter with, "That's up to you. Whatever it is, you're convinced that it's a reasonable suggestion, so role play it accordingly. The desired outcome is that you are silencing the enemy mage."

The obvious problem with this: If your DM is abusive, he/she may use this to present unreasonable suggestions. That being said, if your DM is abusive you likely already have far more pressing problems than this singular spell anyways. If the outcome doesn't seem unreasonable, then the specifics on rule lawyering should be left up to the player so they don't feel their player agency is being intruded on.

The focus here is the outcome. Instead of worrying about whether or not the question sounds reasonable, focus on the outcome. Is it possible that it's a reasonable outcome? If it is, then this is why this approach works. You let the player rationalize it however they see fit. If the outcome is entirely unreasonable, that should be evident. Like asking a blacksmith to give you his wares for free. That is entirely unreasonable. Whereas asking said blacksmith for a discount is entirely reasonable, and the outcome of the spell doesn't need to be decided by whether or not a player instead of their character is able to vocalize that appropriately. Remember, you're playing a character, and their stats are not your stats. That's why my 20 Charisma Bard relies on roles for his persuasion and diplomacy checks. Because he's far better at it than I ever will be.

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I love using suggestion, and had it used on me quite a few times. It is important to understand that the spell is not complete mind control, but it is not a trivial spell (2nd level in 5e) therefore it should have some measure of power as the person using it expends a non-trivial amount of magical power to do it.

I always try to provide a "reason" for why it would be "reasonable" to do. Again, keeping in mind that the caster expanded a non-trivial amount of magic to do it. The following are what I considered good examples of the use of suggestion.

(During a fight with BBEG) "This is going to be a tough battle, you should run to the market to get more potions of healing"

(While the PC meets with evil vizier) "You really should ask the king about his secret love child before the council, so we all can have a good laugh."

(During a fight going poorly for BBEG) "Open that door/chest to see what it contains that you could use against him." (Of course it has a trap or reinforcements)

That way there is a "reason" to do it. As others have touched upon, this spell is one that is more difficult to adjudicate. Remember:

  • It is not complete mind control like dominate, you still have some agency, but must still follow the suggestion.

  • It ends once you completed it

  • It should not put the person at immediate risk

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    \$\begingroup\$ I will note that this really depends on the player group being decent roleplayers and accepting the rules. I know players who will try to BS their way out of everything. If you ever watch Critical Role, that group handles dominate/suggestion/etc amazingly (especially Grog/Travis Willingham). Mercer (the DM) provides some framing for how the suggestion is influencing the person and the player ultimately decides how they act with that framing. It's similar to the improv idea of "never say no" \$\endgroup\$ – Marshall Tigerus Mar 14 '18 at 16:27

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