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A wizard has a summoned familiar within 100 feet that is currently idle and has Feign Death (PHB, p. 240) cast on them by another PC. Would the wizard still be able to issue telepathic commands to their familiar?

Specifically, while Feign Death states that they appear dead and are incapacitated and blind, they aren't listed as being unconscious.

Find Familiar doesn't state that issuing telepathic commands requires an action (which you can't do while incapacitated), whereas it does state that seeing through your familiar's eyes requires an action as does dismissing it.

I was DMing a game where this occurred and I hastily ruled that the wizard was unable to issue commands, but I am second guessing myself after the fact. And knowing my PCs this situation is likely to happen again.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: "How much control does an Unconscious caster maintain over his familiar?" \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 22 at 17:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 - While under the effect of Feign Death, the caster may appear unconscious (or rather, dead), nothing in the spell's description states that they aren't still conscious. \$\endgroup\$ – Geoff Atkins May 22 at 17:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GeoffAtkins I'm aware, it's still a related question about how a given condition changes find familiar \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 22 at 17:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonAristotle If you think you can make that an answer, please do so, but answering in the comments is not allowed here. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose May 22 at 18:00
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Yes, they can still issue telepathic commands to a familiar

The rules for telepathic monsters, for comparison, read, in part:

A telepathic monster doesn't need to see a contacted creature and can end the telepathic contact at any time. The contact is broken as soon as the two creatures are no longer within range of each other or if the telepathic monster contacts a different creature within range. A telepathic monster can initiate or terminate a telepathic conversation without using an action, but while the monster is incapacitated, it can't initiate telepathic contact, and any current contact is terminated.

Whereas the rules for the find familiar spell read, in part:

While your familiar is within 100 feet of you, you can communicate with it telepathically. Additionally, as an action, you can see through your familiar's eyes and hear what it hears until the start of your next turn, gaining the benefits of any Special Senses that the familiar has. During this time, you are deaf and blind with regard to your own Senses.

While both kinds of telepathy do not require actions, only the monster telepathy calls out that it is severed by the incapacitated condition, which it must because ordinarily being incapacitated only prevents actions and reactions (and thus implicitly bonus actions and, post-errata, legendary and lair actions, but not movement or free object interactions) from being taken. The entire description of the incapacitated condition merely states:

An incapacitated creature can’t take actions or reactions.

Note as well that if you begin seeing through your familiar's senses before being subject to feign death (e.g. via a glyph of warding or a second caster), you can continue making use of them (until your next turn, of course), though you cannot begin doing so after becoming incapacitated.

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you can communicate telepathically with your familiar while under the effects of Feign Death

Feign death has the following effects:

  • You touch a willing creature and put it into a cataleptic state
  • For the spell’s duration, or until you use an action to touch the target and dismiss the spell, the target appears dead to all outward inspection and to spells used to determine the target’s status
  • The target is blinded and incapacitated, and its speed drops to 0

The incapacitated condition states:

An incapacitated creature can't take actions or reactions.

The relevant section of Find familiar allows you to:

While your familiar is within 100 feet of you, you can communicate with it telepathically. Additionally, as an action, you can see through your familiar''s eyes and hear what it hears until the start of your next turn, gaining the benefits of any special senses that the familiar has. During this time, you are deaf and blind with regard to your own senses.

The paragraph, read as a whole, is clear. Communicating telepathically with your familiar does not require an action. It would, however (since it is communication) require you to be conscious.

Now, to determine if you are conscious, we need to figure out what a

cataleptic state

is, since the spell specifically puts you into that state (the blinded and incapacitated conditions are in addition to this state).

Using a variety of dictionaries and relevant scientific definitions, a cataleptic state is defined as:

a physical condition usually associated with catatonic schizophrenia, characterized by suspension of sensation, muscular rigidity, fixity of posture, and often by loss of contact with environment

(Dictionary.com)

catalepsy is defined as a state of marked loss of voluntary motion in which the limbs remain in whatever position they are placed.

(Science Direct: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/catalepsy)

a trancelike state marked by loss of voluntary motion in which the limbs remain in whatever position they are placed

(Merriam-Webster)

a medical condition in which a person's body becomes stiff and stops moving, as if dead

(Cambridge Dictionary)

None of these definitions require a lack of consciousness on the affected party (though both the dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster definitions potentially suggest mental faculties can be affected).

As a result, nothing in the rules precludes you from telepathic communication. Therefore you can do this.

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