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Just a thought experiment I had while I was working on my Armorer artificer. There's a part about their Arcane Armor feature that specifies they can don or doff the armor as an action (TCoE, p. 15-16).

This typically would work in the artificer's advantage, as it allows them to quickly wear it if they're caught unarmored. However, I also realized it can be used against them if they fail a Command spell and are told to "Doff" their armor.

Would the Armorer have to use their Arcane Armor feature to immediately doff it as an action? Or could they do a sort of malicious compliance and start doffing their armor manually, which at most just makes them waste a turn undoing their straps before getting right back into the fight?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting question. Keep in mind that enemies would be unlikely to issue this command in the first place unless they know the artificer can get their armor all the way off as an action, so a PC armorer is unlikely to be on the receiving end in most fights, unless they've been publicly showing off this feature of their Iron Man armor. Enemies that can cast Command would otherwise be more likely to pick Flee or Grovel, or Drop. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2023 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ How about a non-ambiguous Command verb like "Disrobe" that doesn't need an object? RAW the spell describes it as being carried out in the most efficient manner. For an Armorer artificer, the most efficient way to "Disrobe" would be to doff their Arcane Armor as fast as possible first to get to their clothes. I hate how they included an ambiguous command that semantically requires an object like "Drop" in the rules. That just opens the floodgates for complications. If someone commanded me to "Drop" my first thought would be to drop myself down to the ground, even if I was holding something. \$\endgroup\$
    – CitizenRon
    Nov 8, 2023 at 16:14

4 Answers 4

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The DM interprets how non-standard commands are carried out

"Doff" is not one of the standard actions of command, and how other single-word commands work always will have to be interpreted by the DM. For that consideration, the spell only says:

The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or follow the command on its next turn.

It does not explicitly say that the target must use the best means available to carry out the command.

However, the specific command option "Flee" for example says the target must move away "by the fastest available means", which would indicate that the target puts their best effort into carrying out the command. If you apply this to "Doff", they would doff the armor using their best means too, and that would mean taking it off in one round. The "Approach" option likewise says the target must do so by "the shortest and most direct route", demanding best effort instead of just approaching as little as possible. Or the "Drop" option says "The target drops whatever it is holding and then ends its turn.", again in favor of the interpretation that maximizes the benefits to the caster of command -- normally, dropping an item is a free object interaction at most, and a target could easily drop an item and still move or have its other actions available, but the command say it ends its turn, in effect also wasting them. All of these suggest they would doff the armor in one turn.

Since the spell does not say specifically one way or the other, so this requires the DM to decide which of the two interpretations they prefer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It might also be worth quoting this relevant part of the spell description (emphasis mine): "Some typical commands and their effects follow. You might issue a command other than one described here. If you do so, the DM determines how the target behaves. If the target can't follow your command, the spell ends." \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Nov 7, 2023 at 23:54
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Your DM gets to decide – but most probably, you doff your armor fully with your action

"Doff" is not one of the commands given as examples in the description of the command spell. For everything else, it just says (emphasis mine):

You might issue a command other than one described here. If you do so, the DM determines how the target behaves.

So this states clearly that your DM gets to make a decision about what happens. In my opinion, they would have to be extremely generous (perhaps bordering on unreasonably generous) to allow you to start doffing your armor manually when you have the means to do it in a single turn – because nothing in the examples given suggests malicious compliance is an option, while many directly state the contrary:

Approach. The target moves toward you by the shortest and most direct route [...]

Flee. The target spends its turn moving away from you by the fastest available means.

Grovel. The target falls prone and then ends its turn.

All these go out of the way that you follow the command in the most efficient way and to the best of your abilities. It doesn't say they can e.g. Approach or Flee in a meandering way running in a circle ending up 5 ft. closer or further away. It doesn't say you Grovel by dropping prone and then immediately standing up again; it specifies that you end your turn lying on the the ground.

Following the spirit and wording of these examples, I would expect "Doff" to work somehow like this if it was one of the typical commands on the list, and this is also how I would rule in my game:

Doff. The target spends its turn removing its armor using the most efficient way available to them.

This would mean you cannot start manually undoing the straps, etc., because you have a more efficient way available that lets you take the entire armor off with a single action.

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The Artificer likely needs to use their action to fully doff the armor

Looking at examples of other orders that the Command spell can give, there is a clear pattern that the Commanded creature needs to take the most effective form of action when obeying the command.

A few instances are:

Approach: The target moves toward you by the shortest and most direct route

Flee: The target spends its turn moving away from you by the fastest available means.

After you fail the save, Malicious Compliance does not seem to be an option for you, else the existing commands would not specify such absolute terms.

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RAW it's the DM's call. Doing nothing is the most reasonable response, as commands must be (largely) self-contained and unambiguous to be acted upon

This is obviously going to be a DM judgment call since it's not one of the standard commands, but, based on prior iterations of the spell in older editions, I would rule that the command must have obvious, largely unambiguous meaning for the subject to obey it, where the only implied word in the command can be "You" (as the subject) and "me" (as the object). Of the available default commands, almost all of them follow this construct:

  • (You) Approach (me)

  • (You) Drop (what you're holding) - This is a bad command, explanation below

  • (You) Flee (me)

  • (You) Grovel

  • (You) Halt

Admittedly, the standard commands include Drop, which is wildly ambiguous to my mind. If I heard that word without knowing the spell, I'd assume it meant to go prone (just like Grovel), not to drop what I'm holding, but at least things you're holding (in your hands) are a narrowly defined concept.

By contrast, "Doff" just means "to take off or remove something". There's no indication it means armor vs. anything else you're carrying/wearing, so dropping their backpack, or taking off their hat or gloves would be equally possible. Commands must be one word, and if that word doesn't clearly correspond to do an obvious action, they do nothing.


For comparison, back in 2E, the wording of the spell included:

The subject will obey to the best of his/its ability only as long as the command is absolutely clear and unequivocal; thus, a command of “Suicide!” is ignored.

The new version of the spell is not so clear as that, but if there's no clear and unequivocal action to take in response to the command, then expecting the subject of the spell to choose the worst response to it is unreasonable.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 - none of this is supported by the text of the spell itself or by the general rules; don/doff in the context of 5e is (almost) universally related to armour; stating "you do nothing" in the title and then "obviously this is DM's call" in the first sentence is both confusing and exclusive - you either do nothing OR it's DM's call; imo this is a bad answer overall + you can't really decide something explicitly RAW is incorrect because it doesn't fit with your interpretation \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 7, 2023 at 12:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Commands must be one word, and if that word doesn't clearly correspond to do an obvious action, they do nothing." Sure, that's one interpretation. Another, IMO more fun one would be they do one thing that matches the command. Want to drop your pants after "Drop"? Sure, I'll allow it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jorn
    Nov 7, 2023 at 15:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jorn yeah, it's an interpretation but imo the reasoning behind it isn't very strong AND it shouldn't be presented as an absolute truth. The closest line in the spell's description that could be used to back this up would be "If the target can't follow your command, the spell ends." and even that to me implies that if the command is impossible to carry out, the creature is no longer under the spell and free to act on its turn as it wants, not "does nothing". \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 7, 2023 at 16:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG: Game terms don't mean anything when it comes to commands issued by the caster, to the target, within the game. The characters don't know they're in a game, they don't know the game rules are talking about armor when they say doff, they just know they were taught to doff their cap to ladies and the elderly. There's zero reason to favor any particular interpretation of "Doff", and a target given this command has no useful guidance as to what constitutes following the command to the best of their ability. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2023 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Further more in 5E Doff is not limited to armor. Shields are also don/doff using an action. So there is clear ambiguity to what is being doff. \$\endgroup\$
    – Anketam
    Nov 7, 2023 at 17:03

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