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A Battlesmith Artificer in my campaign wants to have his steel defender basically "programmed" to perform various tasks, many of which involve acting on its own accord. Things like standing guard, acting as an alarm clock, searching for food or water and bringing it back, etc. The description of the steel defender really does not address this, it just says it "obeys your commands" and covers actions it can take in combat. Is it capable of understanding and performing "standing orders" like this?

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Yes, in as far as its intelligence allows

The Steel Defender feature says:

Your tinkering has borne you a companion, a steel defender. It's friendly to you and your companions, and it obeys your commands. See its game statis­tics in the Steel Defender stat block, (...)

The only limitation on actions for the steel defender is in combat, as there is a paragraph that states:

In combat, the defender shares your initiative count, but it takes its turn immediately after yours. It can move and use its reaction on its own, but 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 defender can take any action of its choice, not just Dodge.

There are no restrictions given for outside of combat, so outside of combat, the steel defender can do whatever a creature with its stat block could do.

In its case, it even is proficient in Perception, which would be useful to keep watch, and it understands the languages you speak.

It has an intelligence of only 4, like a very smart beast (a baboon or velociraptor; a mastiff or cat has 3), and that is probably the most limiting factor on the kinds of tasks you can ask it to do -- if it cannot understand the concept, it won't be able to carry out the task. However, the game does not have rules that specify what a creature of a given intelligence can or cannot understand so that will be up to you as a DM to determine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Out of the commands listed in the example it's only the "search for food" one I'd have serious doubts about. As "food" is a highly abstract concept that as an automaton it can't relate to in its own life, I doubt a robot with an intelligence of 4 could carry that instruction out, you'd definitely have to be more specific. Like show them some berries and say "bring me some more of these" or something similar. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 21, 2023 at 12:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @biziclop Yeah, no objections. All of this is up the each individual DM, there a no rules for it, probably because it is hard to quantify such things in rules, and easier to rely on the DM as a general world and plausibility modeler. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2023 at 13:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @biziclop dogs have been used in hunting for thousands of years. Killing something and bringing it back is right up their street. It probably can't go to Tesco, but that's not likely the ask. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 9 at 12:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri a dog has a concept of what is edible to it. A Construct or robot do not. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 9 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish we are talking a fantasy world of magic, with robots... \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 9 at 14:13

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