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The Planar Binding spell reads:

You can attempt to compel the creature to perform a service by describing the service and perhaps offering some sort of reward. [...] This process can be repeated until the creature promises to serve, until it breaks free, or until you decide to get rid of it by means of some other spell.

If the creature promises to serve... Does it have to?

Not doing the service would mean not holding their promise, but a lot of outsiders seem like they would not really care.

Are they magically bound to hold their promise? (which seems like an enchantment effect and would brings a lot of other issues)

And if the bound outsider has to do its task, can it not try really hard?

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2 Answers 2

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A Creature Who Promises Must Serve

The spell lesser planar binding et. al. says, in part,

You can attempt to compel the creature to perform a service by describing the service and perhaps offering some sort of reward.

To be clear, that's one of the spell's effects: to allows attempts to compel. That's part of it's magic. Exactly how that attempt to compel is made and its results are covered by the next batch of text.

You make a Charisma check opposed by the creature's Charisma check. The check is assigned a bonus of +0 to +6 based on the nature of the service and the reward. If the creature wins the opposed check, it refuses service. New offers, bribes, and the like can be made or the old ones re-offered every 24 hours. This process can be repeated until the creature promises to serve, until it breaks free, or until you decide to get rid of it by means of some other spell. Impossible demands or unreasonable commands are never agreed to. If you ever roll a natural 1 on the Charisma check, the creature breaks free of the spell's effect and can escape or attack you.

Therefore there are 4 possible outcomes for the attempt to compel:

  1. If the caster rolls a 1 on the opposed Charisma check made to attempt to compel, the creature is freed.
  2. If the caster proposed a service the creature deems impossible or unreasonable, the creature wins the attempt to compel.
  3. If the creature wins the attempt to compel, the creature refuses to serve, and the caster can try again tomorrow.
  4. If the caster wins the attempt to compel, the creature is compelled to serve.

In case 4 the attempt to compel has succeeded, and the creature, by giving its promise, shows that the attempt's succeeded. There's otherwise no way for the caster to know the attempt to compel has really succeeded; it's either die rolls at the gaming table or uncomfortable silences over lines of powdered silver in the caster's basement if the creature doesn't make it clear he's compelled. The promise makes it clear that the caster won the attempt to compel.

"Yes, Yes, I'm Totally Compelled. Sure, I Promise."
[Caster Frees Creature. Creature Eats Caster.]
"Wizards. Tasty and Wisdom's a Dump Stat!"

Once the creature's promised to serve, it must serve as the creature is compelled as the spell says. Don't worry about this being an enchantment effect, magical compulsion, or ongoing magical effect; the text mentions none of that. The creature's already used its Spell Resistance during the spell, so that's not an issue either. The spell does what it does, and if it compels without being an enchantment effect or whatever, it just does that.

That said, it is up to the DM if the creature can lie about being compelled; I'd argue the creature can lie because, seriously, man, outsiders are jerks, and if a caster's doing this he should have a decent Sense Motive skill and maybe a buddy running discern lies, too, just in case. The spell says the spell's dangerous; be prepared.

But a more generous DM might say the creature can't lie, that the magic of the spell prevents a promise from being given without it meaning the creature's compelled. That is, the promise can't be faked as the promise is required by the magic to show the attempt to compel has succeeded. Such a DM would likely mandate confirmation of the creature's promise: the caster asks, "Do you promise to perform such a service in exchange for this reward?" and anything less than the creature saying, "Yes, I promise," means it's not compelled, and that's a totally valid way to run the spell.

"You Slow-walking Me, Salt Mephit?"
"O, No, Master. I'm Just Very Careful."
The DM's planar binding escape route is the the line Impossible demands or unreasonable commands are never agreed to, which means the DM can just tell the caster a creature finds any--or perhaps even every if the DM or the creature's obstructionist--service impossible or unreasonable and say the creature just won't promise to do it. The creature then wins any attempt to compel unless the caster changes the service.

That means there just shouldn't be bound outsiders who are disagreeable to a task. The DM should have nipped that in the bud when the attempt to compel was made. It's unfair for the DM to say the creature finds the initial service as described unreasonable and have the creature go about subverting instructions after it's promised to do exactly what the caster now wants it to do.

But an outsider who later finds itself in an impossible or unreasonable position nonetheless has an out with this line:

Note that a clever recipient can subvert some instructions.

The outsider still can't refuse to perform the service, nor can it break its promise, but lawful outsiders are often portrayed as legal geniuses and chaotic ones full-on loons, so while one clever subversive creature might say, "I'm protecting you by sealing you behind this wall of force," another might say, "I'm protecting you by eating this pudding." (Okay, maybe not that pudding.)

"Demon, If You Will..."
"I Promise. We Can Discuss Details Later. Let's Do Some Evil."
Some creatures want to be brought to the Material Plane, viewing all services as reasonable or possible, assuming they'll simply subvert instructions when services become unreasonable or impossible. Such creatures are usually those that lack the native ability to use an effect like the spell plane shift to depart their planes, and planar binding et. al. lets them satisfy their desires on the Material Plane; were such creatures able to plane shift and wanted to be on the Material Plane, they'd already be on the Material Plane.

Obviously, casters should be wary of creatures who are too willing to serve. Obviously, DMs should hint that such creatures will inevitably pervert their instructions.

Most creatures--even good creatures--want something for being bound into service and need the service specified, even if the service is something they'd do anyway. Apparently, the caster is interrupting them; they have things to do, but they'll do this for the caster in exchange for that. On the other hand, "[d]emons," for example, "view [...] summoners with a mix of hatred and thanks, for most demons lack the ability to come to the Material Plane to wreak havoc on their own," and "devils often travel to the Material Plane at the summons of evil spellcasters[; being q]uick to bargain and willing to serve mortals to assure their damnation, devils ever obey the letter of their agreements, but serve the whims of Hell foremost."

But even a willing-to-serve creature must still lose the attempt to compel. No mechanic exists to allow the creature to fail the attempt to compel voluntarily, but, as an ability check, the caster and the creature can, instead of rolling the attempt to compel, take 10. Therefore, given sufficient modifiers and an agreeable creature, it's possible to guarantee the binding of an all-too-willing creature. Whether that creature who is willingly bound deserves the caster's trust is something else entirely.

DMs should have creatures who readily agree to serve be rare lest the spell's effects become a game of hyper-legal one-upsmanship or chaotic linguistic gymnastics, and the spell's power become meaningless.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for a wonderful answer. I'd like to add only one point: some outsiders like being summoned and doing deals with mortals - it gets them chances to act on another plane. An outsiders that wants more chances to do this may keep to the spirit of the agreement because it cares about its reputation. (Until the character offends it, and suddenly it becomes the demon of reading-the-fine-print-very-carefully. "I swore to return the lost gem of fire to the McGuffin clan. I never said in what year.") \$\endgroup\$
    – Tynam
    Apr 2, 2014 at 14:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Tynam Thank you. Can you give me an example of Pathfinder outsiders that are described as agreeable to planar binding? It seems like it'd be easier to plane shift to such creatures, bring desserts, and just ask them to help than go through all the planar binding stuff. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 2, 2014 at 15:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Surely some archons don't mind being bound in order to help with a good cause. (Especially as the only requirement is for them to adhere to a lawfully negotiated deal.) And according to the Bestiary, devils "willingly serve and bargain with those who conjure them, but always seek to pervert their orders to serve the greater agenda of Hell" - I'd guess that evil, legalistic entities would rather be in the world with opportunities to pervert their orders than locked away in other planes where they can't do anything to procure souls for their infernal masters. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tynam
    Apr 2, 2014 at 16:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Plane shifting is not a good solution, however. The advantage of using Planar Binding to negotiate with devils is that you only have to negotiate with one at a time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tynam
    Apr 2, 2014 at 16:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have to is different from will. A deal's been sealed, and the creature will stick to it unless the deal's later discovered to be unreasonable or impossible, in which case subversion occurs. That's what's mechanized by the attempt to compel. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 3, 2014 at 17:50
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Short Answer: Yes, it is not magically compelled to obey your orders, he just agrees to do so.

In the text of Lesser Planar Binding we find:

If the creature does not break free of the trap, you can keep it bound for as long as you dare. You can attempt to compel the creature to perform a service by describing the service and perhaps offering some sort of reward. You make a Charisma check opposed by the creature's Charisma check. The check is assigned a bonus of +0 to +6 based on the nature of the service and the reward. If the creature wins the opposed check, it refuses service. New offers, bribes, and the like can be made or the old ones re-offered every 24 hours. This process can be repeated until the creature promises to serve, until it breaks free, or until you decide to get rid of it by means of some other spell. Impossible demands or unreasonable commands are never agreed to. If you ever roll a natural 1 on the Charisma check, the creature breaks free of the spell's effect and can escape or attack you.

Once the requested service is completed, the creature need only to inform you to be instantly sent back whence it came. The creature might later seek revenge. If you assign some open-ended task that the creature cannot complete through its own actions, the spell remains in effect for a maximum of 1 day per caster level, and the creature gains an immediate chance to break free (with the same chance to resist as when it was trapped). Note that a clever recipient can subvert some instructions.

Emphasis mine.

RAW: If you win the opposed Charisma check the creature agrees to work with you for the offered reward. That's it. The Devil said yes, he meant yes, he will do what you requested. Or, as the last phrase reads, he can try to work inside the instructions to produce unwanted effects.

My Personal Opinion (or read-if-you-want ^^):

Anyway, as a Player or GM I'd like to roleplay the pact-making situation. Use all the social skills every part has.

Is your Devil-calling wizard trying to reason with the summoned Devil? Or is he trying to bluff the external into beliving something that's not gonna happen? (Yeeeeah, suuuure, I'll give you my first-born. Count on it)

As you can see Alignment and "personal inclinations" of the summoned external play a significant role in the reward-vs-task balance and should be different from creature to creature ^^

The roleplay situation created by this spell is sure nice, but it can become quite time consuming since it will be between GM and Player of the Caster only, so pick the right balance for your group so other Players don't get bored, or get them to participate in the Pact-Making.

RAI the spell doesn't allow anyone else then the summoner to make an agreement, but I'd see it as a fun idea to try out: what happens when the charming Bard uses his silver tongue to con the summoned Succubus into working for him? ^^

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