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This concerns all forced movement, but is especially relevant for spells like Dissonant Whispers, that caveat how the creature moves. The relevant text for this sort of spell is quoted below:

The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, it takes 3d6 psychic damage and must immediately use its reaction, if available, to move as far as its speed allows away from you. The creature doesn’t move into obviously dangerous ground, such as a fire or a pit.

If I could move further away from the source of the spell, by using part of my movement to move towards it, rather than move up against the obstacle, is that allowed? Instance where that would happen include the 'dangerous ground' clause in the above spell quote, or walls or other direct impediments to movement.

For example, in this diagram, Red casts Dissonant Whispers on Blue. Can Blue choose between the green and purple paths, or is Blue compelled to take one, and if so, which?

Blue stands in the bottom-middle border tile of a 3x3 square, of which the other border tiles are blocked. Red is below Blue. A green arrow points one square directly up, and a purple arrow one square down, three squares to the side, then four squares up.

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Yes, probably.

The spell says:

… move as far as its speed allows away from you …

There will be a place(s) that is “as far as its speed allows” that involve approaching the caster to get there - that place(s) would be legitimate aiming points if “away” only applies at the end of the move. Which supports your interpretation.

But is also ambiguous. Because “away” could also be interpreted as being applicable throughout the movement.

If it has said:

… move away from you as far as its speed allows …

Then that isn’t ambiguous and doesn’t support your interpretation. But it doesn’t.

However, we have other things to go on.

The Frightened condition is explicit that you cannot approach the source of your fear. Because that is explicit and this isn’t we come back to the Princess Bride solution- if it doesn’t say it, it doesn’t do it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think adding an example of "a situation where you are frightened and also forced to move away" would beneficial. In particular, the spell Fear would be good for that I think. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 21:05
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Yes

Based on the interpretation of

The creature doesn’t move into obviously dangerous ground, such as a fire or a pit.

there is an argument to be made that moving into an area where you are trapped and can’t escape could be construed as “obviously dangerous ground”. Additionally, because the spell doesn’t explicitly inflict the “frightened” condition, using movement to step towards the caster would be allowed.

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No, because of what a saving throw represents

As Dale M points out, the spell text relating to the forced movement itself is unfortunately ambiguous, and either interpretation is possible.

So let's look at the part of the spell that AncientSwordRage did not quote:

You whisper a discordant melody that only one creature of your choice within range can hear, wracking it with terrible pain.

Remembering that there is no fluff is spell descriptions, this part is relevant to understanding how to interpret the spell. Suppose you are being wracked with terrible pain - and then presented with a choice. You can move directly away from the source of your pain (even if only a limited amount), or you could move temporarily closer, knowing that would allow you to move further away in a net sense. Now, obviously the logical choice would be to resist the pain and move closer so that you could then move further away, but that is difficult to actually do. Pain has a tendency to strip away our logic and make us act in very simplistic ways.

So, what we really need is a way to measure our willpower in the face of pain - a way to assess our ability to resist the pain, perceive the logical action that will help in our survival, and then take that action.

Fortunately, there is already a measure of this.
It's called a Wisdom save. And you already failed it.

A saving throw--also called a save--represents an attempt to resist a spell, a trap, a poison, a disease, or a similar threat. You don’t normally decide to make a saving throw; you are forced to make one because your character or monster is at risk of harm...Usually, a successful save means that a creature suffers no harm, or reduced harm, from an effect.

Wisdom, in particular, mediates Perception, Survival, and whether you 'Get a gut feeling about what course of action to follow'. And you failed.

Had you made the save, you would have had enough force of will to resist the spell completely; you could have reasoned 'this is painful now, but it will be over soon and I should hold my position'. But you failed, and the pain has overcome your reasoning. You retreat directly away (green path) because your failure represents that (at least for this moment) you are incapable of making a wise choice. You won't move onto something that is obviously dangerous, like a pit or a fire, because your instinctive fear of them is just as strong as your aversion to pain. But you would move into a hallway that you suspect is trapped, and you would move into a dead-end if that was the most direct way away from the pain.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In that case, why is it spelled out in the Cause Fear spell? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 13:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage ? All cause fear (L1 Necromancy) says is that the target becomes frightened - it doesn't specify where they can move. Do you mean Fear? (Level 3 Illusion)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 15:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ahhh not spelled out, but both impose the Frightened condition, which has the effect you're inferring Dissonant Whispers causes despite no condition \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think I am equating this spell with the frightened condition. For one thing, frightened is based on fear, while whispers is based on pain. For another, frightened affects only willing movement, while whispers imposes forced movement (and consider that whispers could cause a creature to move toward something it was frightened of, if that took it away from the source of pain). They are completely different mechanics. As such, we have to interpret the effects of whispers independently, which I believe my answer does, since it does not make reference to the frightened condition \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 19:05

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