An enemy sorcerer casts dominate person on the party's fighter, and says "give me the sword!"

The party's wizard casts suggestion on the fighter, and says "No, give me the sword!"

In situations like this, where two spells both attempt to achieve contrary effects on the same target, which effect takes precedence? Is there a rule, or is purely it up to the DM?

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    This is not a good example, as suggestion has to be reasonable and I would say that going against an absolute order is not so. – Szega Sep 23 at 14:03
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    @Szega Perhaps "let me quickly use the sword first" might be better? – wizzwizz4 Sep 23 at 18:08
  • @wizzwizz4 I would rule nope. But it is dependent on the DM, which is another reason that it is a bad example. – Szega Sep 23 at 19:10
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    @Szega Oh, yeah, suggestion would still be overruled. But if it was a normal, non-magical order from an authority figure, I think that would be a reasonable suggestion. – wizzwizz4 Sep 23 at 19:17

There isn't a general answer

You need to compare the spell effects where different spells are in opposition to each other. In this case, when the friendly wizard gives the Fighter a suggestion, the Fighter is already dominated by the other wizard. Their decision making has been taken over by that domination.

You can use your action to take total and precise control of the target. Until the end of your next turn, the creature takes only the actions you choose, and doesn’t do anything that you don’t allow it to do. During this time you can also cause the creature to use a reaction, but this requires you to use your own reaction as well. (Basic Rules, Dominate p. 88-89)

The bolded text would be hard to overwrite by a suggestion, since the Fighter would be trying to do something different than the enemy wizard would allow him to do.

You suggest a course of activity... The suggestion must be worded in such a manner as to make the course of action sound reasonable. Asking the creature to stab itself, throw itself onto a spear, immolate itself, or do some other obviously harmful act ends the spell. (Basic Rules, p. 102)

Suggestion does not appear, by the rules text, to overwrite the control being exercised by the wizard who cast dominate.

Can the DM rule otherwise? Sure.

If the DM wants to give this a chance to succeed, the ruling ought to account for the differing levels in power and magical effect between the two spells.

  • Consider this: dispel magic is a 3rd level spell that requires either a 5th level slot be expended, or that DC 15 ability check succeed to overcome a 5th level spell; you would expect Suggestion (a second level spell) to have a harder time than dispel magic if it even could succeed).

    For each spell of 4th level or higher on the target, make an ability check using your spellcasting ability. The DC equals 10 + the spell’s level. On a successful check, the spell ends. (Dispel Magic, spell description, p. 88 Basic Rules)

At best this would be a contest (as outlined below) with disadvantage applied to the friendly wizard's roll, or advantage applied to the enemy caster's roll.

The DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result. (Basic Rules, p. 57, Advantage/Disadvantage)

If the two spells were of the same level, or were the same spell ...

This situation would fit the Contest rules.

Sometimes one character’s or monster’s efforts are directly opposed to another’s. This can occur when both of them are trying to do the same thing and only one can succeed, ...(Basic Rules, p. 58)

Since the two spell casters are contesting control of the fighter, have them roll an ability check under the contest rules (spellcasting ability vs spellcasting ability) presuming that the fighter failed the saving throw versus the enemy spell caster.

Both participants in a contest make ability checks appropriate to their efforts. They apply all appropriate bonuses and penalties, but instead of comparing the total to a DC, they compare the totals of their two checks. The participant with the higher check total wins the contest. That character or monster either succeeds at the action or prevents the other one from succeeding.

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    How would or (or would you) handle the spell level difference in terms of power? Giving equal power between a 5th and 2nd level spell seems potentially problematic. And also how are you handling the Fighter being given the suggestion, but they are dominated by a 3rd party. Their own personal desires have already been removed, no? – NautArch Sep 23 at 13:43
  • Great answer overall. One point of contention for me: in your final section, you mention what would happen if they were subjected to "the same spell", and suggest a Contest. But the rules on Combining Magical Effects (PHB p. 205) indicate otherwise. JC has stated "The effects of the same spell don't stack; use the most potent effect (PH, 205). If equal, use the most recent." – Gandalfmeansme Sep 24 at 19:27
  • @Gandalfmeansme They aren't stacking, though. They are both trying to do the same thing, hence the contest and why I cited those rules for this case. The anti stacking provision is to prevent super buffs. – KorvinStarmast Sep 24 at 23:13
  • @KorvinStarmast The anti-stacking provision's most important rationale may be to prevent super buffs. But it does not specify that the spell needs to be beneficial. The rules in the DMG on combining game effects (p. 252, post errata) state: "When two or more game features have the same name, only the effects of one of them—the most potent one—apply while the durations of the effects overlap. For example, if a target is ignited by a fire elemental’s Fire Form trait, the ongoing fire damage doesn’t increase if the burning target is subjected to that trait again." So they can be harmful. – Gandalfmeansme Sep 25 at 0:25
  • The DMG also clarifies (same page) "Game features include spells, class features, feats, racial traits, monster abilities, and magic items. See the related rule in the ‘Combining Magical Effects’ section of chapter 10 in the Player’s Handbook." Again, I think this answer is great overall. I especially like how you were clear that multiple spells all work at the same time as much as they can, regardless of level. – Gandalfmeansme Sep 25 at 0:31

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