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The Command spell says:

You speak a one-word command to a creature you can see within range. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or follow the command on its next turn. The spell has no effect if the target is undead, if it doesn’t understand your language, or if your command is directly harmful to it.

Obviously, the Command spell is balanced with English speakers in mind. I don't know if the spell description has been modified in any official translations of the rulebooks, but depending on the language spoken at the table, Command can be either buffed (German being the most famous example of this - see "zurückverwandeln" and "entzauberne") or nerfed into oblivion.

In some languages, "to yourself", "to him" or "to me" are added to the verb itself, meaning that "toss it to him" would be a single word (in English, the command "toss" or "pass" or "give" doesn't work since the target would just toss it at random/into the air as there is no specified recipient).

While in some other languages, some of the suggested commands in the spell descriptions cannot be said in one word.

Things become even more complicated when taking into account that in-universe, the characters don't speak English or German. It can be decided that certain commands are or aren't a single word in-universe.

My question is: is removing the one word restriction and replacing it with "a single action" a reasonable move ? The spell Command already has enough limiters (the spell only lasts 6 seconds and you can't command self harm, so if the command takes too long or is too complex, the creature can't follow it within 6 seconds so the spell has no effect).

(Note: yes, I know, this change would buff Command, but the goal is to make the spell's power level equal and constant regardless of language)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Similar to @Pepijin below, in my answers to Could the spell Command make a target drop concentration? and How can I temporarily blind an opponent with the Command spell? I argue that the 'one word' limit of Command is a red herring, and has been from the earliest editions of the game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 28 at 16:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a native German speaker: entzaubern is not especially better in German, it just means dispel (ent = dis, zauber = spell), so it is really the same thing as in English. Zurückverwandeln (transmute back) would better to show what you mean. The imperatives would be Entzaubere! and when you try to use Zurückverwandlen as an imperative, you have to break it up into several words Verwandle zurück! So effectively for the spell neither is better than English. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28 at 17:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin casting Command and Sending (and other likewise spells) in German is a kind of cheat code. <wink emoji> \$\endgroup\$
    – Mindwin
    Jun 28 at 19:55

2 Answers 2

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Command's one word limit is already semi-arbitrary.

Although the spell indeed limits the commands to one word, the list of typical commands included make it clear the commands work more like (realistic) code words that have been agreed upon by the DM rather than strict interpretations of a single word.

For example, 'Drop' as a command is rather vague. Drop what? Yourself, your shield, your weapon, your money? The spell lists this as the typical effect:

The target drops whatever it is holding and then ends its turn.

Because these listed commands are already vague but with specific effects it's not uncommon for players and DMs to agree upon the effects of their own commands beforehand. This seems to be what you are trying to achieve, the player issuing the command to not have to rely on the DMs interpretation during play. The spell's power level can be maintained if the agreed upon commands and effects do not outclass the listed commands.

Allowing players to better explain what they want to achieve with their commands during gameplay has the same result as discussing a custom set of commands beforehand, but with the disadvantage of taking up more time during play and requiring the DM to estimate the power of their request in the moment. It does allow players to perhaps be more creative and tailor the command better to the situation.

Both approaches, removing the one word hard limit or agreeing on sensible code words, make the spell more consistent between different languages. It is easier to maintain the intended power level of the spell and it wastes less playtime to agree on codewords beforehand, but the increased flexibility from the other approach might be more desirable to you

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Session 0 might be a good time to talk about that

In the end, this is a situation where the rules cannot give guidelines, especially since there's so many languages and ways of interpreting "one word" in each one. The limitations to take in this kind of situation is up to the DM.

Nevertheless, if a player decides to play the spell in such a game, session 0 (or any out-of-session time later on if the game already started) would be a good time to talk about the spell's limitations with the players. If the players know the limits of the spell according to what their DM wants to do before the issue comes up (which it probably will, if a player learns the spell), it will avoid any frustration during the game when a player tries to use the spell in a way the DM doesn't want to allow.

All in all, it depends on how the DM and the players agree on how to play the spell.

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