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According to the spell description from the Dream spell, the spell can end in the following ways:

The messenger can emerge from the trance at any time, ending the effect of the spell early.

If the caster chooses to make the dream a nightmare:

On a failed save, echoes of the phantasmal monstrosity spawn a nightmare that lasts the duration of the target's sleep and prevents the target from gaining any benefit from that rest.

So, my question is, when someone is targeted via the Dream spell, can they simply choose to wake up to end the spell early? Or are they forced to stay asleep for the duration of the spell?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you will yourself awake when you have a nightmare? \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Apr 29, 2023 at 0:00

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That depends...

Whether the target can just decide to wake up from sleep early is probably something your DM would have to make a ruling on.

...but it doesn't really matter.

The spell says that the target is having

a nightmare that lasts the duration of the target's sleep

So, as soon as the target fail's their save, it doesn't matter how long they sleep. As soon as they wake up, whether it's immediately or 14 hours later, they get no benefit from the rest AND they take damage.

And, just to be clear, the duration of the spell is related to the messenger's ability to stay in a trance to utilize the spell and not the target's length of sleep.

If the target is awake when you cast the spell, the messenger knows it, and can either end the trance (and the spell) or wait for the target to fall asleep, at which point the messenger appears in the target's dreams.

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    \$\begingroup\$ But if you can wake up at will, you can just cancel the rest as soon as you fall asleep and get Dreamed, and then take a new long rest. The second section is correct, but the heading is arguable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phoenices
    Apr 27, 2023 at 16:50
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There are two parties in this spell: the messenger and the target.

The messenger:

  • You, or a willing creature you touch, enters a trance state, acting as a messenger
  • If the target is asleep, the messenger appears in the target's dreams
  • The messenger can emerge from the trance at any time, ending the effect of the spell early

So the messenger is the one who can choose to end the spell early. I guess the caster could too.

The target isn't so lucky. The only bit that mentions the duration of the target's sleep is:

  • On a failed save, echoes of the phantasmal monstrosity spawn a nightmare that lasts the duration of the target's sleep and prevents the target from gaining any benefit from that rest.

I would read that as the target is a plain ol' victim that has no agency in the matter. The spell description doesn't say the target sleep ends earlier or later, so the target should sleep as long as they would have if Dream hadn't been cast.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The nightmare lasts the duration of the target's sleep, not viceversa. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Apr 27, 2023 at 15:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ To say what Eddymage did more explicitly, the messenger can choose to end the spell early, but nothing in the spell description says that the spell forces the target to sleep or that any effect of the spell is make the target sleep. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 27, 2023 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @Kirt - I was trying to use the same terminology as the question, and it wasn't as accurate. I've updated the answer to indicate the target should sleep as long as they would have if the spell hadn't been cast. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erigami
    Apr 27, 2023 at 18:42
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Sleep is meant to be applied intuitively

Sleep is not defined as a condition or state in the PHB or DMG (the Dream spell was written before the optional rules on sleep in Xanathar's Guide to Everything). Rather, from the DMG "Using and Tracking Conditions" (p.248 - emphases mine)

Various rules and features in the game are clear about when they apply a condition to a creature. You can also apply conditions on the fly. They're meant to be intuitive for you to do so. For example, if a character is in a state such as sleep, that lacks consciousness, you can say the character is unconscious.

This passage does not say that sleeping characters have the unconscious condition. Rather, the point is that sometimes a DM can apply the mechanical effects of conditions 'on the fly', that is, when they feel the situation as such warrants it. In the case of sleep, it is not that a character is unconscious, but rather that they lack consciousness and thus can be treated for some situations as if they were unconscious, while for other situations they may be treated as if they are not unconscious (for more on this, see my answer to What is the difference between "Unconscious" and "Asleep"?).

Nothing in the Dream spell implies that it forces a creature to remain asleep, but:

On a failed save, echoes of the phantasmal monstrosity spawn a nightmare that lasts the duration of the target's sleep

So the nightmares will last the duration of the sleep, but nothing in the spell says that the target must remain asleep for the duration of the spell. Since sleep is supposed to be applied intuitively, it comes down to your DM's sense of what seems naturalistic. In our world, sometimes people wake up from their nightmares immediately, starting awake. Sometimes people have the sense of having had nightmares 'all night long'. Sometimes people have 'night terrors' where they are conscious of being asleep and desperately trying to awake but cannot. Any one of those could apply at the DM's discretion, and it would equally be the DM's discretion as to whether the target could make a conscious effort to awake.

I suggest that PC's be given choices

In this DM's experience, players enjoy the game more when they are given more choices about what happens to their character, while being given fewer choices often leads to resentment. In the case of Dream, there is an important trade-off:

On a failed save, echoes of the phantasmal monstrosity spawn a nightmare that lasts the duration of the target's sleep and prevents the target from gaining any benefit from that rest. In addition, when the target wakes up, it takes 3d6 psychic damage.

Staying asleep longer staves off the damage but means more of the rest is wasted. Waking sooner means taking the damage sooner but then having more time in which to re-start their rest. If this spell targeted a PC in my campaign, my inclination would be to give the player the choice of when to wake up; 'you can force yourself awake, taking damage now but then having a chance to actually have a long rest before the morrow, or you can toss and turn with bad dreams all night, not getting a rest but at least not taking damage until your healers have had a chance to rest themselves and replenish their spells'.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Depending on how strict your campaign is with long rests and if there are any time pressures, this could massively reduce the impact of the spell. If you allow the players to just immediately wake and take the damage now and then start a new long rest, the only real impact is that they sleep a bit longer into the morning - the long rest wipes the damage and they're no worse for wear. I would maybe rule that they're welcome to wake from the dream at any time, but the fear of the nightmare prevents them from attempting sleep again until the time their initial long rest would have ended. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kayndarr
    Apr 27, 2023 at 7:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kayndarr By the rules, characters can undertake long rest tries right one after the other. The only limitation is they cannot benefit from more than one in a 24-hour period. If they were woken up by nightmare they have not yet benefited and can try again. Of course, you as a DM can overrule this when you think it makes narrative sense. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 27, 2023 at 12:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kayndarr If the narrative purpose of the spell in your campaign is to make sure the PC's don't get a long rest, then sure, you need to make sure it does that job. I could see one specific NPC villain plaquing the party from afar using this technique as part of a specific story arc. But 'massively reducing the impact of the spell' assumes that using the spell offensively this way is a common occurrence in your campaign, and that supposes a very particular kind of setting. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 27, 2023 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin Yes, as referenced in Can a victim of the Dream spell's nightmare take another long rest immediately after the rest they were affected by Dream? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 27, 2023 at 16:58

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