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The spell simulacrum states:

The simulacrum lacks the ability to learn or become more powerful, so it never increases its level or other abilities, nor can it regain expended spell slots.

The first part of this sentence is giving me trouble - "the simulacrum lacks the ability to learn". Intuitively, it seems that the rest of the sentence explains what exactly is meant by this, that the simulacrum cannot gain levels or learn new abilities.

How broad are we to understand this statement to be? Can it learn other things, such as peoples' names? Does a simulacrum remember things that happen to it? Can it learn tactical information during combat and apply that information to make better decisions? These are just some examples of things that one might understand to be within the scope of "learning" (not things I necessarily expect an answer to address directly, but ideally I should be able to rule on those things based on an answer given).

Does the statement "the simulacrum lacks the ability to learn" impose any limitations on the simulacrum beyond those explicitly stated in the spell description?

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I make the cut where conventional learning stops and extraordinary abilities start.

Any ruling is up to the DM, and this DM thinks it would be absurd if "learning" would extend to the inability of perception and recognition of colours, places where the simulacrum might walk where it has not seen, or the inability to follow commands because no one has commanded the original in exactly the same manner.

In basic English, "learning" means the active process of getting an understanding of something by studying it or by experience over time. So this DM thinks the best approach to defining the limitations is by looking at what the inability to learn signifies. The spell description implies:

so it never increases its level or other abilities, nor can it regain expended spell slots.

The common factor is the acquisition of such abilities that are extraordinary and would create permanent resources in the form of these extraordinary abilities.

A simulacrum that doesn't remember commands and cannot follow them would be absurd. In the same manner, it would be absurd if it couldn't walk to places or obtain basic information about its surroundings. So this DM ruling is such that the limitations of learning concern the acquisition or replenishing of such abilities that are extraordinary and would create permanent resources in the form of abilities, feats, spell slots, traits or replenishing them once the simulacrum expends them.

Can it learn other things, such as peoples' names? Does a simulacrum remember things that happen to it? Can it learn tactical information during combat and apply that information to make better decisions?

Based on the above ruling, the simulacrum can remember names and what happens to them. I have also ruled that they can make better decisions due to applying information that they conventionally learn, such as running a shop, haggling with customers, remembering their names and the procedures of shop upkeep.

I make the cut where conventional learning stops and extraordinary abilities start. I can also understand other DMs who would rule that some "conventional learning" might be out of scope. This ruling is enjoyable for my players - the simulacrum is a resource that my players often deploy to enrich the storytelling. Limiting the simulacrum's ability to "conventionally learn," would limit the application of the spell. Such that it would remove almost every way that my players use the simulacrum. Removing the basic functions of "learning" would render the spell defunct.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a very helpful experience based answer, thank you. 😎 \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 20 at 15:03
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It's really up to the DM

In d&d 5e the rules say what they mean. A lot of us get into trouble when we start guessing at what the intent is. In this case there is a clearly defined definition

The simulacrum lacks the ability to learn or become more powerful....

It seems clear that the intent is to prevent the Simulacrum from gaining abilities.

The rest is up to the DM.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @I'mwithMonica I will suggest that your write your own answer, rather than using a comment to argue with Sam, since (1) you seem to strongly disagree with Sam and (2) you have a strong opinion/belief on how this spell does/does not work. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 20 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast, yes, I do have a different opinion. I just tried to point out the flawed reasoning in this answer, though, in a genuine effort to help improve it. Or is it only me who has a problem with arguing with intent after first pointing out that guessing the intent is leading to trouble? \$\endgroup\$ – I'm with Monica Jul 21 at 7:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ To give you some feedback on your answer here, I think it is correct, but it is not particularly insightful. A good "it's up to the DM" answer will usually do some work to to give some insight into the rules to illustrate why "it's up to the DM" is the best we can do rather than to give a more definitive ruling. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jul 22 at 20:32
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The operative word in the text is "so." This rule could be rephrased "The simulacrum lacks the ability to learn or become more powerful, therefore it never increases its level or other abilities, nor can it regain expended spell slots."

The "so" indicates that the independent clause should be understood based on the context provided in the dependent clause.

In this case, an inability to learn means the simulacrum won't increase its level or other abilities or regain spell slots after they've been used. It does not exclude that it could improve its tactics or recall names, information, as this is not included in the dependent clause.

This reading does imply something interesting about how "learning" is to be understood in the D&D universe, i.e., learning is tied to the acquisition of levels or abilities, whereas tactical improvement or recall could better be described being an element of reasoning or intelligence, rather than learning as a process or activity.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "therefore" means "for that reason": Not being able to learn is the reason for not gaining levels, etc. - It will be the reason for not being able to learn from tactical mistakes, too. \$\endgroup\$ – I'm with Monica Jul 20 at 7:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I find this argument interesting, but I feel like the linguistic part of the argument relying on the word "so" is kind of iffy. There is similar wording on PHB p. 177 (bold added) "An invisible creature can’t be seen, so it can always try to hide," but I don't see that as implying that the ability to hide is the only benefit of invisibility. Although... maybe I would if there were no other rules on being invisible? I'm on the fence. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Jul 20 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @I'mwithMonica This ignores "otherwise, the illusion uses all the statistics of the creature it duplicates." Stats are already an abstraction of a creature's capabilities and experience. I would argue that the ability to make tactical decisions is implied by the creature's proficiency bonus, intelligence, wisdom, etc. You wouldn't expect animals to be particularly tactical. You would expect more intelligent creatures to be. The same should apply for their simulacra. \$\endgroup\$ – Graph Theory Jul 20 at 18:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I took away your car keys so you can't drive to the store." "Hey, I'm sitting in the car to go pick up a friend from the airport, why isn't the car starting?" I don't think you've proved that the word "so" does what you're saying it does here. \$\endgroup\$ – mkdir Jul 21 at 16:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think @ImwithMonica's argument logically follows. The rule does not specify anything about, for instance, recalling how to get to a place. That's simply acquisition of information, something which a computer can do. \$\endgroup\$ – BprDM Jul 21 at 22:31
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Yes, (at least RAI) it extends beyond those specific things. If it were limited to the things listed in the second part ("so it never increases its level or other abilities, nor can it regain expended spell slots"), they likely would not have included the first part ("The simulacrum lacks the ability to learn or become more powerful").

As one concrete example, Jeremy Crawford notes that, RAI, the simulacrum is unable to regain any of its features that it expends:

Simulacrum—the spell's creation can't gain levels or regain expended spell slots (RAW). The creation is meant to be unable to regain use of any of its features that it expends (RAI).

More broadly, he has also noted that the simulacrum is basically intended to be a snapshot of the other creature at the end of the cast time:

A simulacrum is a duplicate of another creature at the time of the spell's casting. You essentially take a snapshot of that creature's game statistics at the completion of the 12-hour casting, and those become the statistics of the simulacrum.

I'd interpret this to mean that it can do whatever that creature could do without learning a new skill.

Applying this to your examples...

Can it learn other things, such as peoples' names? Does a simulacrum remember things that happen to it? Can it learn tactical information during combat and apply that information to make better decisions?

I would say it can definitely remember names, facts, and events, because those are abilities that the original creature already has. Learning tactical information during combat would depend on whether the original creature would be able to do so. If the original creature had combat experience (as most adventurers surely are), it's likely that adapting to combat would be within its repertoire. It's not as though one learns a new skill during a fight to be able to defeat the enemy.

However, I'd draw the line at, say, learning to play an instrument. That would be something the original creature doesn't already know how to do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The real problem is the word "learn" is not explicitly defined in the spell description. Does it mean any form of learning whatsoever? Clearly not. The spell description states that the simulacrum will be friendly to people the caster designates. This is impossible if the simulacrum cannot learn any new information of any kind. Therefore, we can assume "learn" does not mean "acquire any kind of new information" but something more specific. \$\endgroup\$ – barbecue Jul 20 at 13:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ OK, comments back and forth about the usefulness of RAI and JCs statements didn't seem to want to go anywhere productive. Please just use your votes, give or vote for an opposing answer as appropriate, and move on. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jul 20 at 16:01
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No

None of the things mentioned such as remembering people's names, remembering previous events, or learning tactics are attached to any skill check or ability. If you talked to someone, that person doesn't need to make a roll to remember you, as long as it was recently.

Also, it can't be possible that the Simulacrum can't remember current information. If the simulacrum can't recall any new information made after its creation then a simulacrum could start brewing a potion, and then screw up the potion because it doesn't know what step it just completed. Not only would the simulacrum be unable to learn advanced tactics, but not being able to remember even the immediate past would be a liability in even basic combat.

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DM discretion, but taken literally, the text explicitly says "The simulacrum lacks the ability to learn".

That doesn't mean it can't follow orders, but it does imply it doesn't doesn't learn anything.

A bit like a computer, perhaps.

Under this interpretation, you could tell a simalcrum "go to that building, look in the window, then come back and tell me how many people are there are there."

And then the simalcrum could do it, and give you a full report on how many people are there.

And then, if you asked it to repeat the information, or to say anything about what those people were wearing, or whether the building was on fire or not, it couldn't do it. It literally couldn't tell you what it just did. Because it didn't learn anything, it just held the specified information for just long enough to complete the task.

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The simulacrum is a copy of the target at the time the spell was cast

It will not improve (its tactics or languages) beyond what its original knew. It cannot get any abilities. I take that to include skills/proficiencies.

Your GM could allow new information to be remembered but not used in new ways.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I really do not understand the downvotes. This should be the accepted answer! \$\endgroup\$ – I'm with Monica Jul 20 at 7:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Use real headers instead of fake headers \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jul 20 at 14:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @I'mwithMonica I am going to guess on why the down votes: an assertion that (while it seems to be on track, to me) lacks sufficient support to make this as good of an answer as some of the others. While sometimes brevity is the soul of wit, in other cases brevity leaves the reader hungry for more {support or clarification}. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 20 at 15:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast, okay, I can understand how this could then be considered a sub-par answer, but "not useful" seems a bit harsh to me. ;) \$\endgroup\$ – I'm with Monica Jul 21 at 7:51

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