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The Circle of Wildfire Druid subclass released in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything has the feature Summon Wildfire Spirit (p. 40), which (appropriately) summons a Wildfire Spirit. The feature includes this paragraph about what actions are allowed/required relating to the spirit:

In combat, the spirit shares your initiative count, but it takes its turn immediately after yours. The only action it takes on its turn is the Dodge action, unless you take a bonus action on your turn to command it to take another action. That action can be one in its stat block or some other action. If you are incapacitated, the spirit can take any action of its choice, not just Dodge.

However, sometimes characters can't speak in order to issue commands (for example, if the druid is bound and gagged). I don't see any restriction on summoning the spirit in such a situation, but they would be unable to speak a command for it to help them escape.

The Wildfire Spirit does not have any specific mention of a telepathic bond (though there is a vague "bound to your soul" line), but does specifically indicate it "understands the languages you speak". My assumption then was that in order to command the spirit it must hear you speak the command in a language.

However... Nothing in the feature actually says any of those restrictions. There are at least a few instances where a creature explicitly "must be able to hear" something to have an effect, the first one I found being in a Flesh Golem's Berserk trait:

The golem's creator, if within 60 feet of the berserk golem, can try to calm it by speaking firmly and persuasively. The golem must be able to hear its creator, [...]

Additionally, the (potentially) comparable Ranger's Companion feature from the Beast Master Ranger subclass specifies that commands are verbal, and I would interpret that the beast would not be able to follow verbal commands that it doesn't hear.

The Wildfire Druid's Summon Wildfire Spirit feature does not include either of these phrasings, or anything similar.

Can a Circle of Wildfire Druid command a Wildfire Spirit non-verbally?

  • The spirit can "understand" languages you speak; does that include reading a written command?
  • Could you attempt to convey meaning through gestures, or use telepathic communication from some other source?
  • Is merely using your bonus action enough, even without an explanation for how the spirit would know your intentions (perhaps that would allow it to take a non-Dodge action, but it wouldn't necessarily take the specific action you wanted)?
  • Or is "only verbal commands" the default, and a special exception is needed for any alternative?
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The requirements to command the Wildfire Spirit are not laid out clearly

What we know is that you can command using your bonus action and that's about it. We can, of course, compare this to other features which have lines such as:

[...] They obey any verbal commands that you issue to them (no action required by you) [...]

[...] The sahuagin can magically command any shark within 120 feet of it, using a limited telepathy [...]

Notably, the first feature (conjure animals) says the command must be verbal, the second feature (the sahuagin's Shark Telepathy) says the command uses telepathy. These have clear requirements whereas the Wildfire Spirit does not. From this there are, in my opinion, two possible conclusions:

  1. The feature does not say that the command must be verbal, nor does it mention any other requirements and thus there are no requirements for commanding the Wildfire Spirit other than having your bonus action available.

  2. The meaning of "command" falls onto its standard English meaning and/or GM interpretation and so a ruling must be made regarding the requirements to command the Wildfire Spirit.

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Yes, but only if the situation warrants it.

Speech is not absolutely necessary.

Because it isn't constrained by an accompanying adjective or adverb like "verbal" or "verbally," the noun or verb "command" has the flexibility to be interpreted appropriately depending on the specifics of the situation.

For example, any number of possibilities might grant the druid telepathy, such as Rary's Telepathic Bond, the Telepathic feat, the ghostwise halfling's Silent Speech, or the kalashtar's Mind Link. Because the Wildfire Spirit is defined as a creature, it's a valid target for these telepathies. Issuing a verbal command would not be necessary; a telepathic one that could be understood by the spirit would be sufficient.

Interestingly, the Primal Companion (offered in TCoE as an alternative to the PHB's Ranger's Companion) has omitted any mention of speech. Unlike the older Ranger's Companion, it simply says that you may "use a bonus action on your turn to command [your companion] to take another action."

The Wildfire Spirit's literacy and ability to interpret gestures will depend on its attention span and training.

The Wildfire Spirit has an Intelligence of 13 -- matching the drow priestess of Lolth, githyanki warrior, and githzerai monk -- and it's not blind, so it certainly is able to learn how to read and how to interpret gestures.

This Intelligence is significantly higher than those of the beast familiars from the Find Familiar spell, which are between 1 and 3. It's more on par with those of the Pact of the Chain Warlock's familiar's special forms, which are between 7 (quasit) and 14 (sprite).

It would be up to the player and GM to determine, based on this particular Wildfire Spirit's temperament and history, if it would already have learned either reading or gestural commands. If it hasn't, the druid might try to teach the spirit in any free time they have during the hour-long periods when it manifests.

Gestures probably make more sense than passing notes.

Nothing in the description of the Wildfire Spirit says that it can or will set objects ablaze. However, some GMs may decide that parchment or other highly flammable objects will not survive its proximity unscathed. For this reason, you may need to use a nonstandard (non-flammable) substrate when writing messages for it, and you may be risking a conflagration if you ask it to stealthily read someone else's paper correspondence.

However, it does make sense to want to be able to communicate in a noisy environment or when deafened. If telepathy isn't available to you, establishing a shorthand sign language with your spirit (with the speed and effectiveness of such training adjudicated by your GM) could be an excellent investment of your time.

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