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My D&D group has run into this problem multiple times and we were never able to find a solution to it according to the RAW.

Situation

If an enemy casts Dominate Person on a PC and commands him or her to attack/ kill his friends or a specific target - can the dominated person verbally warn his friends/ target that he is going to attack them?

It states in the spell that the creature "does its best to obey" but since it is being mind-controlled would this override the creature's knowledge that those are its friends or does it know that it is not acting on its own accord?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: How detailed can the description of the course of action for a dominated creature be? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 30, 2023 at 23:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regardless of whether or not you can explicitly warn allies, as the GM, I'd throw hints to the rest of the party after some time or a couple combat rounds, like a passive perception check to notice that the person being dominated has lost one of his/her well-known mannerisms or fights in a way that he/she usually doesn't; something subtle but which the other characters could have noticed by virtue of knowing the dominated target well. \$\endgroup\$
    – anto418
    Dec 1, 2023 at 16:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ In the absence of explicit direction, I would pay attention to the naming. The connotations of "domination" do not really allow for something so counter to the will of the dominator; it's a serious/complete form of control. Or you could look at the effect, "charmed", and say that the charmed person is effectively in favor of whatever the charmer is doing -- same result. That's just my take, though, not based in anything official. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2023 at 20:40

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Explicitly this is banned if using the "direct control" feature

You can use your action to take total and precise control of the target. Until the end of your next turn, the creature takes only the actions you choose, and doesn't do anything that you don't allow it to do. During this time you can also cause the creature to use a reaction, but this requires you to use your own reaction as well.

When using direct control, any action not allowed or ordered is banned by default. This includes things like saying anything. Yes, talking is a free activity that would fall under this, following the rules on "other activities" in Player Handbook p. 190.

Unlikely in "automatic mode"

You can use this telepathic link to issue commands to the creature while you are conscious (no action required), which it does its best to obey. You can specify a simple and general course of action, such as "Attack that creature," "Run over there," or "Fetch that object." If the creature completes the order and doesn't receive further direction from you, it defends and preserves itself to the best of its ability.

That exactly prescribes what the creature does: it follows the order at the best of its abilities, nothing more, nothing less. Without an order, it just defends itself. Nothing here explicitly allows the creature to do anything other than obey the order or defend/protect itself.

Talking or saying anything is not directly covered, but it appears to run contrary to the explicit language: the description demands to do the best to obey, and warning to negate a surprise attack would not follow the best to follow the order.

However, it is up to the GM to call such a ruling and make it final.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You are missing one key ingredient to understand this: The dominated creature knows it's dominated. A level 14th Enchanter is required to do otherwise. Whatever doesn't go against the letter or spirit of the order can be done. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2023 at 12:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MindwinRememberMonica without Order, the creature does nothing but defend itself. I don't see an allowance for "anything not against letter or spirit of the order". \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Dec 1, 2023 at 13:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MindwinRememberMonica Spells with no perceptable effects are already unnoticed. "Unless a spell has a perceptible effect, a creature might not know it was targeted by a spell at all." So, "An effect like crackling lightning is obvious, but a more subtle effect, such as an attempt to read a creature’s thoughts, typically goes unnoticed, unless a spell says otherwise." That part of the 14th level Enchanter feature is relatively useless, unless the creature can detect being charmed (which is possible: if the effect wasn't a subtle spell, and the target knows enough arcana to decode it.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Dec 1, 2023 at 16:01
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I don't think so but your DM gets final say

As said in the spell's description (emphasis mine):

You can use this telepathic link to issue commands to the creature while you are conscious (no action required), which it does its best to obey.

Let's say the command is "Attack this person". Would you say warning someone you're about to attack them is doing your best to obey that command? I don't think so. Catching them unaware and unprepared to defend themselves gives you a much better chance of succeeding. It doesn't matter what the creatures knows or doesn't know, the spell works by magical compulsion, not logic, it's the same as being magically frightened, even if you know the creature that cast the spell is your ally or not really scary you are still frightened.

I guess a particularly generous DM might allow you to give a warning and then attack but I am considered quite generous and would not allow this.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You can do your best to attack without doing your best to harm/kill. If you were unarmed and on a roof and and your target was on the street 40' below, the best way to Attack is to jump at them. The best way to harm them is to get a weapon and run down to street level. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sam Azon
    Nov 30, 2023 at 15:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SamAzon sure but in either case warning them gives you a disadvantages, whether you mean to harm them or just incapacitate \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 30, 2023 at 15:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ To use a real world example, suppose a grade school student is acting out and refuses to obey the teacher and stop. The teacher might approach the child, seize both of the child's wrists, and pull the child to the principal's office. I would say that the teacher attacked the child, but there was no intent to harm the child. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sam Azon
    Nov 30, 2023 at 15:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SamAzon: You have a very strange definition of "attack". Attack means intent to do harm. If I told you to attack someone, no one who wasn't being pathologically lawyerly (which defies "doing their best to obey") would interpret that as anything other but "attempt to harm them physically". Also, restraining a child is very different from attacking a child; if I hear a teacher attacked my child, that means they tried to strike them, not that they had to restrain them for some reason. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2023 at 22:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SamAzon If you are an expert murder hobo in a violent situation, that wouldn't be the best way to attack the target. If you are a socialite in high school, it would be. The spell compels you to be effective, not literal. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Dec 1, 2023 at 21:47
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Probably by RAW, but I wouldn't allow it anyway

Dominate person has 2 options, full control, or just providing an order.

Full control is pretty clear:

You can use your action to take total and precise control of the target. Until the end of your next turn, the creature takes only the actions you choose, and doesn't do anything that you don't allow it to do. During this time you can also cause the creature to use a reaction, but this requires you to use your own reaction as well.

Providing an order is less clear:

You can use this telepathic link to issue commands to the creature while you are conscious (no action required), which it does its best to obey.

The clue however is in the full control section, because it specifically calls out that the target doesn't do anything that you don't allow it to do. It would not need to say that if providing an order also stopped the target from doing things in addition to whatever instructions it was given.

So strictly RAW I think you probably could warn your companions. However I don't think this meshes well with the theme of the spell, which is that you are dominated and doing as you are told. There is also the argument that you have to do your best to obey a command and talking may get in the way of that, but that is very subjective.

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The spell covers two different cases for controlling the creature.

The text description states:

While the target is charmed, you have a telepathic link with it as long as the two of you are on the same plane of existence. You can use this telepathic link to issue commands to the creature while you are conscious (no action required), which it does its best to obey. You can specify a simple and general course of action, such as "Attack that creature," "Run over there," or "Fetch that object." If the creature completes the order and doesn't receive further direction from you, it defends and preserves itself to the best of its ability.

In this case, as noted in the question, the target does its best to obey the magical compulsion. Since the spell's text is not very specific, the interpretation of this wording is up to the DM: they must decide if warning the target is indeed the best course of action to obey the command.

Moreover, the condition imposed on the target is the charmed one, which means they cannot harm the caster in any way and they are friendly to them. The spell does not say that the target sees their friends/allies as enemies once under the effect of the spell: compare this with the text of Enemies Abound:

On a failed save, the target loses the ability to distinguish friend from foe, regarding all creatures it can see as enemies until the spell ends.

The second part of the description, instead, says (emphases mine):

You can use your action to take total and precise control of the target. Until the end of your next turn, the creature takes only the actions you choose, and doesn't do anything that you don't allow it to do. During this time you can also cause the creature to use a reaction, but this requires you to use your own reaction as well.

In this case, if the caster denies the target the ability to warn their allies, there is nothing the target can do to warn them: the magical compulsion is too strong.

In the first case, a generous DM could decide that the magic of the issued command is not strong enough to forbid the warning, while in the second one the spell description specifically states that the caster can prohibit some course of action, including warning friends/allies, at the cost of their entire Action.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ you got the last part wrong: unless the caster explicitly allows them to warn the others, it is banned under direct control. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Nov 30, 2023 at 14:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish waht do you mean? If the caster does not allow to warn the others, the target cannot do it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Nov 30, 2023 at 14:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, but your wording is implying different on the 2nd to last paragraph. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Nov 30, 2023 at 14:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ "if the caster does not positively order or allow" would clarify it \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Nov 30, 2023 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ The caster doesn't have to deny or even say anything about warning anyone, unless they directly command you to warn someone and then attack, you cannot warn them \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 30, 2023 at 15:20
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Depends on the exact command

The dominated creature is forced to obey the enemy's commands, but the creature still knows who its friends are. It's likely that the creature is actively looking for ways to subvert the commands.

So, yes: if the enemy says "attack your allies" then the creature does its best to make an attack against its allies. But if the enemy forgot to say "attack your allies and don't speak" then the creature can speak, and most likely is going to.

Trish's answer says:

Without an order, it just defends itself. Nothing here explicitly allows the creature to do anything other than obey the order or defend/protect itself.

but this seems like a strange interpretation of the rules: the spell doesn't say that you can talk, so therefore you can't talk? It seems to me that the more natural interpretation is: the spell doesn't say that you're prevented from talking, so therefore you can still talk.

It's best to preserve at least a little bit of agency

Here is a way to think about this: getting your character mind-controlled is no fun. Getting your character mind-controlled while actively looking for ways to foil the mind control restores at least a bit of agency to the player and can make your game more fun.

So, in my games, I go further than just allowing the character to speak a warning. When a player character gets mind controlled, I pause the action for a moment, and I say: "your character has to obey, but they're actively looking for ways to fight the mind control. Feel free to search for loopholes in the enemy's commands."

If the enemy forgot to say "attack your allies but don't warn them first" then the creature can warn them first. If the enemy forgot to say "attack your allies with your best attack" then the creature can attack with unarmed strikes. If the enemy forgot to say "attack your allies but don't do anything that would injure me" then the creature can throw a fireball that hits both allies and the enemy. (Note that the "charmed" condition forbids targeting the enemy, but fireball does not target.)

This does rely on a certain reading of the phrase "does its best to obey". I interpret this as "definitely make certain that the command is literally obeyed" rather than "obey the command in the way that the enemy wants". Other DMs might have a different interpretation.


Of course, as Trish notes, if the enemy uses the "direct control" option then the character loses the ability to fight back.

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