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Sub-questions:

Do Suggestion's suggested activities need to be pursued immediately, at the expense of anything else?

Can the DM decide that the influence of Suggestion sets limits on action economy, like some conditions?

My scenario:

I'm a player. Party is surprised by a group of enemies. I'm on watch outside, rest of the party's inside asleep. After being hit with three arrows and yelling the party awake, I fail the check against the caster's Suggestion, who says "you've been invited to meet our leader, accept the invitation and come with me to the palace." Being a loyal group-oriented type, my character asks if he can bring his friends. Caster says yes. Meanwhile, baddies are laying into the folks inside pretty hard, some of which I can see.

Now, I'm into it and ready to role-play trying to get the party to leave with our "escorts", but when my turn comes, DM says that I cannot take any actions or move in any direction other than towards the palace (wherever that is) or to get within 5ft of the caster (who is already next to me). Instead I must hold an action to Dash towards the caster if she moves, apparently because she said "come with me." What I think my character understood from her words (i.e. that we were getting ready for a trip together) and how they would pursue it (go in to break up camp, admonish my imperiled friends for dallying), does not sway DM, who calls this a "judgement call."

This kinda killed the session for me, and it continues to irk me for a few reasons:

  1. As a player I totally rolled with a borderline unreasonable suggestion (i.e. stop fighting and cooperate with people who pincushioned me seconds before and were actively firing on my allies), had a character-specific plan for pursuing it, and was denied the opportunity to role-play;

  2. The idea that "come with me to the palace" means "cleave to my side and do nothing else" doesn't sit right with me (is it normal to stick right next to your companions, even when they aren't leaving yet?), especially after my character got permission to bring a friend.

  3. I have just never encountered Suggestion being used this way - as in, having a specific mechanical effect with consequences for action economy like the Command spell or Fear does, and there's no language about it in the spell as written.

Now, there is the "rule of fun" which was obviously broken for me, but there is also the more objective question of the actual rules of the spell, and it seems to come down to a lack of clarity on who gets to decide how a Suggestion is resolved. I've found a lot of discussion on what's a "reasonable" suggestion to begin with, but no satisfying answers on this part. When PCs cast on NPCs, DM obviously decides NPC's interpretation and any behavior that isn't made explicit by the PC, but what about the other way around?

I get preventing players from specifically subverting the suggestion or delaying it too long, but this seemed absurd. What if I had left all my weapons and money inside, could I not go fetch them? What if some gnolls attacked on the way there? Should I not take any attack actions then? In combat, even if a player's whole turn should be used with the suggestion as the main goal, should the player still get to select an action/movement that they think achieves it (and therefore possibly go get the money or kill the gnolls blocking the way)?

And can a player supply their character's interpretation of the Suggestion, provided they do so in good faith? I know there's a degree of DM discretion in all things, but this scenario seemed to me like a straight-up wrong interpretation of the spell and I would like to know if this is the case or if it really is just a judgement call.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The answers to this question give you the correct answer, but I would just caution against taking away "the DM is wrong, how dare he" and understand that it isn't always easy to adjudicate on the fly, so if you are going to approach this subject again, do so carefully. I definitely would, because I would be unhappy with this happening again, but be understanding rather than accusatory. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri May 7 at 12:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri That sounds like it would be a good answer to submit. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 7 at 12:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree and I don't intend to approach things that way. I expect next time we meet we will have done our research, clarify some stuff together, and all will be well. \$\endgroup\$ – chasingamy May 7 at 16:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ "And can a player supply their character's interpretation of the Suggestion, provided they do so in good faith?" YES, that is the way to go IMHO. But also a hint at where the problem lies at: it seems like the DM didn't trust you to RP this properly (OR he is in the wrong, I dont have the full information here obviously) \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok May 9 at 10:14
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Generally speaking, the Suggestion spell keeps full control with the player. It is up to them how they will try to perform the activity.

The idea of being fully compelled to do things a certain way under absolute control of the caster exists within the Dominate Person spell.

Not only is this a 5th level spell, it also has a lower duration, gives Advantage on the save in threatening situations and requires the caster to give up their own Action to assume direct control of the target.

All this together suggests that your DM has made the Suggestion spell vastly more powerful than it is generally intended to be. It would take an 8th level Dominate Person to successfully drag you off to the castle like this over that period of time.

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This is being played as if the only thing the player can say to the DM is the command they've been given, word for word. If that were true it would be explicitly mentioned in the spell. Even Dominate Person isn't that restrictive.

Nothing in all of D&D ever takes away player agency to role play. Well except death, sometimes.

"I continue to rot on a pile of corpses. Motionless, apart from the occasional passing of gas"

As for reasonable, I'll just note a few lines from Suggestion.

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.

"Come with me to the palace" is reasonable.

"Cleave to my side and do nothing else" is reasonable.

Why? The spell sets the bar for reasonable at not-suicidal.

However, these suggestions are not the same. The caster doesn't get to decide what you think the suggestion means.

Now if the caster moved making you'd think you might lose track of them and thus lose your ability to fulfill the suggestion, that would distract you from anything else you were trying to do. It does not turn you into a zombie devoid of will once you've done all you can at the moment to complete the task.

On a failed save, it pursues the course of action you described to the best of its ability.

So long as that's true you can do as you please.

Since you were sincerely attempting to follow the suggestion and take actions in pursuit of that goal I fail to see how the caster can stop you.

Some case specific notes:

A subtle distinction here is the concept of best. Is getting to the palace fastest best? Is getting to the palace in the most reliable way best? If it's the best of my ability it might be to knock you out, shove you in a duffle bag, and ride to the palace with you because I know if I don't my party members are likely to skin you and eat you before you've had a chance to tell me where this palace is.

A suggestion is like a wish. Be careful what you wish for.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Only tangentially related...but the biggest yoinker of player agency in 5E is Dominate Person. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty May 7 at 11:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty back in the day when Gary Gygax cast enchant person on you he took your player sheet. \$\endgroup\$ – candied_orange May 7 at 12:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @candied_orange Yeah, failed saving throws have consequences. It's been part of the game forever. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 7 at 12:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast the difference here is that the caster gets only one suggestion. Getting the wording wrong also has consequences. \$\endgroup\$ – candied_orange May 7 at 12:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is it like Wish, where it's possible to trip yourself up by wording it badly, or is Suggestion supposed to respect the caster's intent? I don't know that the text of either spell really says one way or the other. There's just a tradition (in D&D but also in fantasy/folklore generally) that wishes in particular are subject to hairsplitting about exact words. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells May 7 at 16:29
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Suggestion and similar charm spells are tricky to adjudicate.

I'll start by saying that their effects are pretty much up to the DM (the '0th rule'), so I cannot say "The DM was wrong by the rules" in this case. But a reasonable DM also shouldn't completely deny the player's agency.

Personally, I feel the Suggestion should work like a "post-hypnotic suggestion" is often said to work. i.e. the target wants to to follow the suggestion, but exactly how they do that is up to the target.

In your case, you want to accompany the caster to the palace. So you grab your things, say to your allies (who are currently fighting): "Hey guys, I'm going with my new friend to the palace! See you later!". And off you go.

This, to me, wouldn't prevent you from defending yourself against attack* or even attacking an enemy yourself along the way, as long as you do hurry to keep up with your new friend as soon as possible (yes, using your movement, but because you want to!)

* the spell is broken if you are attacked by the caster OR the caster's allies.

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Preface: This is why I don't use these spells on players when I'm a GM. Don't take the front part of my answer to be a lack of sympathy-- it isn't. I'm extremely sympathetic to this situation.

That said....

The Original Suggestion

The full text of the suggestion as reported was:

"you've been invited to meet our leader, accept the invitation and come with me to the palace."

What I think are the relevant portions of the text of the spell description itself are:

The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, it pursues the course of action you described to the best of its ability. The suggested course of action can continue for the entire duration. If the suggested activity can be completed in a shorter time, the spell ends when the subject finishes what it was asked to do.

This is frustratingly vague, but I would argue that "to the best of its ability" includes something like, "with all due haste unless a delay somehow meaningfully increases the best of its ability. The last sentence also suggests to me (weakly) that promptness is implied because the description talks about the spell ending early due to a short task, not how long the target can delay a short task before acting.

The Spell Sets You And The GM Up With Unpleasant Questions

The GM is in some sense asking, "How much agency can I take away from the player?" while the player is in some sense asking, "How much can I as a player creatively subvert the intent?"

This is also the lens I'm looking at delaying tactics through-- is the player trying to rationalize a delay that will run out the clock on the spell duration? (I am not suggesting that you were or were not, merely saying how I would look at things as a GM.)

That seems counter to the spirit of the spell, even if I don't like the spell itself when used on player characters. If I did find myself using it as a GM, I would not look kindly on delaying tactics.

The Complicating Factor In Your Favor

Being a loyal group-oriented type, my character asks if he can bring his friends. Caster says yes.

But, your character asked if they could bring their friends, and the GM, on behalf of the spellcaster, said yes. There are multiple ways to interpret that. One is, "Sure, as long as you don't delay any." But that isn't what the spellcaster said.

In my mind, it's perfectly reasonable to think that bringing the friends is included in the suggestion-- that you've clarified the ambiguous English-language "you" into the plural, in which case clearly telling the other characters about the summons is going to increase the level of a "best effort."

Again, not the only way to interpret, but in my mind a pretty reasonable one.

It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I think you have a leg to stand on. The spellcaster could have said, "No, now," and closed the issue out. Having screwed up, they should abide by it and let it play out as it does.

And I would expect that GM to be very careful about future Suggestion phrasings, which you will probably not enjoy.

Summary

I think it is reasonable for the player to decide how to fulfill the terms of the Suggestion, but also that the GM has the right to set and enforce some limits to player creativity in this regard. This is an inherent source of tension.

In this particular case, because of the question and answer, I lean in your direction.

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The DM's ruling was fair

The suggestion spell is intended to be usable in combat. The most common way to use this spell is to remove one target from the combat.

We can see an example of this in a tweet from Jeremy Crawford. This link says you can cast suggestion on someone and tell them: "Flee! A dragon comes!"

You've described a case where a caster used this spell on your character and attempted to remove your character from a combat. This is exactly an intended use of the spell.

The DM probably should have chosen to do something else

-- And, to be clear, having a save-or-lose spell cast on you is no fun. Nobody likes having their character removed from combat, and the DM should know that and should try to avoid doing it. One alternative would have been to cast a different spell such as hold person or blindness on you, since those save-or-lose spells at least give you a save every round to try to get out of them. An even better alternative might have been to use a damage spell like spiritual weapon or scorching ray that didn't remove your character from combat at all.

When I use mind-control magic on player characters, I pause the game and explain:

Your character is mind-controlled, and you're required to literally do this thing that they told you to do. You're allowed to roleplay doing it in whatever way you want. Your character is trying very hard to fight the mind control, so I'm expecting you to try to weasel out of it. But you have to literally do this thing, and if you don't, then I will take control of your character and narrate you doing this thing.

But that's just how I do it, and your DM isn't required to do that.


You've asked:

Do Suggestion's suggested activities need to be pursued immediately, at the expense of anything else?

The answer is unambiguously yes. You can't say: "Okay, sure, I'll come with you to the palace just as soon as we finish this combat."

Can the DM decide that the influence of Suggestion sets limits on action economy, like some conditions?

Also unambiguously yes, for the same reason. You can't say: "Okay, I'll come with you to the palace, except right now I'm using my actions to fight in this combat."

The player is welcome to argue that a suggestion was poorly worded, and that fighting in the combat is still possible due to a loophole. For example if someone gives a suggestion like "drop your weapon", I'd expect the player to say: "okay, I drop my weapon -- and then I pick it back up and hit him with it."

In your case, it sounds like you tried to make this argument and the DM did not accept it. That's within their rights.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a reminder that your first link is NOT a Sage Advice ruling. It's just a tweet from Jeremy Crawford and is indicative only of his thoughts at the time her wrote the tweet. Sageadvice.eu is not WoTC's Sage Advice, it is just a guy who aggregates tweets. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 7 at 14:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question is not whether Suggestion can be used in combat or remove a player from fight - it clearly can - but rather whether it comes with further restrictions on play (not just nixing certain activities but blocking all actions or the ability to move). It seems like you've missed the part where I accepted that fighting right then was out of the question for this character. "Okay, lemme rustle up my crew" is not at all like "okay, but let me stab you on the way." \$\endgroup\$ – chasingamy May 7 at 15:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Dominate is mind control. Suggestion is influence, not control. This whole answer sounds very controlling and DM vs. Player. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. May 8 at 15:14

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