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The Bard in my game knows the spell Unseen Servant, and I'm not sure of its limitations. The PHB (284) says:

This spell creates an invisible, mindless, shapeless force that performs simple tasks at your command until the spell ends... Once on each of your turns as a bonus action, you can mentally command the servant to move up to 15 feet and interact with an object. The servant can perform simple tasks that a human servant could do, such as fetching things, cleaning, mending, folding clothes, lighting fires, serving food, and pouring wine. Once you give the command, the servant performs the task to the best of its ability until it completes the task, then waits for your next command. If you command the servant to perform a task that would move it more than 60 feet away from you, the spell ends.

A few questions here:

Can this mindless force scout around a corner and report back what it sees? This task seems like a "simple task that a human servanct could do", but I'm not sure if this servant can communicate. If it can, I presume it doesn't have darkvision. I don't see why it would, and it isn't specified that it does, but I figure I'd check. If it can scout and communicate, would it communicate back to its Bard master telepathically the way that the Bard communicates with it?

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"Mindless" is probably the limiting factor for this problem. How a mindless servant reacts to this kind of command is simple, really. Imagine how another mindless creature, such as a servant zombie, would react.

Unfortunately, I do not see a servant zombie walking ahead, peeking around the corner, and then calling out "I see three orcs and a goblin, my master!" It is unable to communicate the results back to you!

You might be able to get it to communicate some simple results. The command "If a creature is around the corner pick up that pebble and hand it to me" would likely be successful, but if he handed you the pebble you have no way of knowing if the 'creature' was a rat or an ogre.

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You are attributing abilities to the Unseen Servant that it does not have.

Let's go over the spell text:

This spell creates an invisible, mindless, shapeless force that performs simple tasks at your command until the spell ends...

It does not create a creature, or anything with any type of intelligence - only a mindless, shapeless force. Therefore it cannot remember anything, and cannot relay information to you that you could not find yourself.

So no big deal? Maybe you could just force it to draw an exact image of what it sees around the corner?

Except it can't see what's around the corner. It can only 'perform tasks'.

Once on each of your turns as a bonus action, you can mentally command the servant to move up to 15 feet and interact with an object. The servant can perform simple tasks that a human servant could do, such as...

"Interact with an object" is fairly specific - it can perform actions on any object that you know exists. Nowhere in the spell does it say the servant can see, listen, taste, or use any other type of physical sense to comprehend the world, or even act on things you yourself don't know about. This is because it is not a creature, and it does not have any sense of the things around it. It just, is.

The unseen servant can interact with objects on command, but it cannot sense them in any way. This is also why it doesn't get a Wisdom (perception) check, or any other type of ability check besides strength-based, despite being at your command. For all intents and purposes, besides being able to perform very simple actions, it is a non-entity.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer. A LOT. But it let me with meta-physical verging on philosofical questions: If the servant can't sense the world in any way, how can it know what you are refering to? If there is a pile of pebbles and you order "him" to bring you the red pebble, can it do it? Can it do it if the pebble is buried below the pile and you can't see it? \$\endgroup\$ – xDaizu Jun 23 '17 at 12:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ How does your proposed lack of senses for the servant explain it being able to perform things like: "(...),cleaning, mending, folding clothes, lighting fires,(...)". I'd argue that all those activities require some degree of feedback of your actions, e.g. to "mend" you need to know what is broken, (how to fix it? Not sure, this could be explained by the caster, I guess), and when to stop fixing it. Same thing for folding clothes or lighting fires, isn't it? \$\endgroup\$ – xDaizu Jun 23 '17 at 12:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @xDaizu I know this is an extremely late response but - from a metaphysical sense, the creature can perform those tasks because you know how they are done. It's basically doing what you would do if your hands were over there, doing that thing. Except it's not really an intelligent presence in itself - just a supernatural force doing the actions you would do with your hands. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Mar 9 '18 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Spot check, listen check, and skill checks are all from previous editions and don't make sense here. The servant does have a strength score and so can make strength based ability checks. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Feb 18 at 19:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DerekStucki Thank you for pointing this out - answer updated to reflect 5e checks. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Feb 19 at 15:36
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Yes, if you issue the command properly. The servant has no voice, but a command like "Draw me a picture of whatever is around that corner" would be reasonable; you might get a stick figure, but it should be able to communicate generalities. Mending clothing requires sight and decent dexterity and reasoning, so it should be able to peek around the corner.

Three things to remember:

  1. The spell provides statistics including AC for the summoned servant; while it's shapeless, it is a creature of sorts, so it has rules governing its behavior. It has AC 10, 1 HP, and Strength 2. No other stats are given, so a lot of details about it are up to your GM.
  2. This is a first-level spell. You're casting it instead of doing damage, charming a person, or creating an illusion. Peeking around a corner without being seen is comparable in power considering it can't attack.
  3. It's invisible, but invisible doesn't mean undetectable. Any enemies around the corner could make Perception checks to hear its shapeless movement. Since it doesn't have a stated Dex score, its Stealth rolls would presumably be made without a modifier. Enemies have disadvantage to hit it since it's invisible, but if they do hit it's gone.

Since the spell doesn't say it has darkvision or telepathy or even the ability to speak, as a GM I'd rule that it can't do any of those things.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this over-interprets the spell (but once it is interpreted as a kind of summons-lite, then it makes sense). To me, Unseen Servant is just Mage Hand with automation. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Nov 21 '14 at 13:40
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A "mindless" force can not see or communicate. It is not a creature or spirit and has no intelligence of it's own. If they are looking for a scout they can communicate with that would fall under the benefits of having a familiar.

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    \$\begingroup\$ yet it is smart enough to "fetch things," which would require some sort of sight and recognition capabilities. \$\endgroup\$ – Besty Nov 21 '14 at 0:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Besty that might be the case, but not neccessarily - it definitely could rely on the sight and recognition capabilities of the caster, and the spell simply transmit the needed things to the servant and not vice versa - the distances are very short and the simple commands listed as examples seem to require the caster to identify the needed items, and the servant only moves them but doesn't search for them. The spell description is not specific enough to say if it's one way or the other, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Peteris Nov 21 '14 at 1:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Besty they are not "smart" enough for anything. The spell is creating a force that acts of your will. You can think of this as a kind of telekinesis. A force you control not one that has a will of it's own. \$\endgroup\$ – smclarty1 Nov 21 '14 at 2:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @smclarty1 So... like "The Force™"? It can push, lift, twist, pull... but not do anything on their own, or that requires conditional or feedback? Honest question: Isn't that just and invisible Mage's Hand? \$\endgroup\$ – xDaizu Jun 23 '17 at 12:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ What makes it different/better than mage hand is the extended range 60 compared to 30; duration 1 hour compared to 1 minute; is autonomous compared to standard action; it's invisible; and it is significantly stronger. \$\endgroup\$ – The Composer Jun 27 '17 at 22:03
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Yes, it can!

Unseen Servant is a pretty smart spell!

This spell creates an invisible force that accept simple commands, and tries to perform then to the best of it's ability.

While it is, indeed, mindless, it doesn't mean it is dumb. Computers are mindless machines, and they can do a lot of stuff, including facial recognition. Mindless doesn't mean that it is "unnintellignt" - it may not be sentient, but it indeed have some sort of programming that let it do some cool stuff. You need a pretty complex cognitive processor to be able to do something like cleaning and serving food. Let's take "Cleaning" as an example.

The wizard commands the Unseen Servant to "Clean the house". That's a simple task, that a human servant definetly can do.

If someone asked here on RPG SE if I could use "Unseen Servant" to "Clean this room", I'm pretty sure the response would be yes. However, I assure you, that would be really more complex than peeking around. Let's see what would happen if we ordered it to "Clean this room".

"Clean this room" is a pretty complex task, if you stop to see what it will need to do:

  • First, he will check out the surroundings for something to clean. It will check if there is stuff out of place, dust on the furniture, and dirt in the floor. This means that it is intelligent enough to check if something is "dirty" or "not dirty". Alas, it is perceptive.

  • Then, the unseen servant will start by putting stuff that is out of place in the correct place. That may include folding clothes and puting it back on the wardrobe. Folding arbitrary clothes is a deviously complex task, that modern robots are learning to do today. Check this.

  • Once the stuff is back on place, the Unseen Servant will start removing dust from stuff. How would he do that? I suppose he do the same as a human servant would do: pick up a duster, and start removing dust. That means it can identify tools and USE then, which is also something that most modern robots are starting to pick up. Check this. Also, the servant must understand what "cleaning" means, which it must be smart enough to understand the difference between a clean state and a dirty state.

  • When the dust is removed, it will need to clean the floor. What would it do? I suppose it would grab a broom and start removing the dust from the floor. Again, perception and tool-using together to finish an objective. Also, the Servant is intelligent enough to understand when something is "done", because it knows how to stop doing something and starting to wait the commands from the caster.

So, if the Unseen Servant can do something complex as cleaning, why it wouldn't be able to peek around the corner?

Keep in mind that Unseen Servant have, in 5e, a new clause that makes it way more powerfull that it was back on 3.5: now, it can do stuff that a human servant would do. The spell descrition gives us some examples, but the limitating factor is something that a human servant would do. It can clean, cook, rub your back, mend, open door, serve food, which is another deviously complex task... heck, it could even clean your butt for you, if you are that lazy.

Of course, it telling back what it "saw" is the complicated part. You should create the order in a way that the result of the action could be easily done by the servant. I would pick up a bread, and tell my Unseen Servant to check how many people are beyond the corner and slice the bread on that many slices. If it can count how many people are around a table and serve food for then, it can definetly do that.

Alas, this kind of thing is something that can really enrich your stories. If a player is using its brains to solve problems, let he/she be creative! I really doubt that peeking around a corner could be that much game breaking.

Just remember that a Unseen Servant can't communicate back. If it was my game, I may let it be able to write, if my intent is to have a more creative game (which normally it is).

I use the following rule of thumb: If a mute, relativelly poor-skilled first level commoner could do it and it is not attack of any sort, an Unseen Servant can do it too!

Also, remember that "mindless" in this case is regarding sentience, not ability. You can have a really complex automata, complete with a giant programming that enables it to be a perfect buttler (like the A.I. Assistant from Iron Man), and it still would be a "mindless, souless machine".

Anyway, you are the DM, and the rules on 5e are more of guidelines than rules per se. You can always change stuff (and is incentivated to) if that would bring more fun for your table.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "While it is, indeed, mindless, it doesn't mean it is dumb. Computers are mindless machines, and they can do a lot of stuff, including facial recognition." Computers are dumb as bricks. Literally. Software, on the other hand... I wonder if there are library repositories for Unseen servants. Well, first you'll need to choose an operating system and get some middleware, of course... Then, I guess, you can download and compile the Mr Meeseeks™ app, which really bumps up the Unseen Servant capabilities! \$\endgroup\$ – xDaizu Jun 23 '17 at 12:10
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The text is a bit confusing. I believe the following line is what really confuses people, and I believe that that bolded text does not jive with the spell's intent due to poor wording:

Once on each of your turns as a bonus action, you can mentally command the servant to move up to 15 feet and interact with an object.

If the intent of the spell were to just create an invisible helper that can just pull a lever or play the piano then it would be functionally no more useful that mage-hand. Which doesn't make sense, as this one requires a spell slot. Additionally, if the Servant was not meant to execute more advanced commands, why would the designers waste another paragraph on the ruling?

It makes the most sense to me that the majority of the ruling is correct and this is just poor wording, and should have probably been written to read:

Once on each of your turns as a bonus action, you can mentally command the servant to perform a task, moving no more than 15 feet per turn.

To me, this essentially means that you use your bonus actions to issue a command (if you're in combat) and the Servant will perform the task to the best of it's ability, moving no more than 15 feet per turn. If you use another bonus action you can give the servant a new command.

As for how well the servant performs these tasks, lets look at the servant's stats.

This spell creates an Invisible, mindless, shapeless force that performs simple tasks at your Command until the spell ends. The servant springs into existence in an unoccupied space on the ground within range. It has AC 10, 1 hit point, and a Strength of 2, and it can’t attack. If it drops to 0 hit points, the spell ends.

Here's what we can infer from these stats:

  1. The servant can carry 2 (STRENGTH) * 15 pounds or 30 pounds. This is enough weight to bear a sword, shield, or most common tools (like a pickaxe, broom, pot, axe, hammer, etc.)
  2. The servant can push, pull drag or lift an object up to 60 pounds. (ex. Push or life a 40 lb boulder.)
  3. The servant can be hit in combat and if so, the spell most likely ends. (ie. HP and AC). AoEs will likely end the spell instantly.
  4. There are no other ability scores listed so we can reasonably assume that all of the other scores are non-existent (ie. 0). Supported by "mindless".
  5. The unseen servant cannot be targetd by attacks on the mind (ie. most Psychic damage effect) because it is "mindless"
  6. The Unseen Servant may be able to carry a weapon, but it can never perform an attack action. Not because it isn't strong enough, but just because it can't.
  7. Because the unseen servant has no intelligence and knows no languages, it cannot read, write, or understand any languages. Therefore it cannot communicate with you.
  8. Even simple human tasks like mending and folding clothes require a subtasks. Just because the servant has no intelligence, does not mean that it can't follow conditional instructions. See:

A creature with no Intelligence score is mindless, an automaton operating on simple instincts or programmed instructions

  1. "Move up to 15 feet" doesn't specify a speed, only a distance. So movement for the force is omnidirectional (ie. it doesn't "fly" per-se, but is not of sufficient mass to be constrained by gravity)

  2. The servant does not necessarily have mass, but may. liquid water is also shapeless, but not without mass.

That being said, Here is my take on using Unseen Servant as a scout:

An unseen servant cannot communicate with you telepathically, and even if it has a means to speak (which the spell doesn't provide for) it has a non-existent intelligence (ie. 0) so it cannot understand or speak language. So although I do believe that the servant would be able to detect creatures in an upcoming room, you would have to include a specific means of communicating in your command a la pebble or drawing.

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Yes, the unseen servant can perform rudimentary scouting.

Regarding Darkvision: no, this would be specified if possible.

Re speech: it isn't specified whether the unseen servant can make sounds, but it doesn't have any known languages, so I would assume it can only send you simple psychic responses.

Re drawing: I don't see any issue with the unseen servant drawing what it saw, in lieu of speech, but consider the quality of drawing that an untrained humble servant would create. I would say that it is capable of one of the following:

  1. crude sketches equivalent to a 5-year-old's drawing - if I were DMing this I would literally sketch it left-handed or with my eyes closed and leave it up to the players to interpret the result;

  2. the unseen servant would not know the specific detail you require, so would attempt to draw everything it sees - it could take the unseen servant several minutes to produce a useful drawing, so consider what the enemies etc would be during during this time.

Consider whether modifications to the rules will make the game more fun - a stupid unseen servant that misinterprets complex instructions is more fun than a game-breaking invisible ninja/scout.

Hope that helps

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hello and welcome! You can take the tour to learn about the site. It seems that at least part of your answer is actually more of a response to other answers than the question (drawing is never mentioned in the question but in another answer for example). This does answer the question as well so it is not really an issue in my opinion but mostly something to keep in mind for future reference, the fact that our format is different from a forum in that each answer is expected to individually answer the posed question. Thank you for contributing and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Feb 18 at 16:27

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