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In a recent game the verbal component of 'Suggestion' came up. I had assumed that the verbal component was just me saying the words and was added to mechanically stop me from casting it in magical silence. This came up because I tried casting it on a PC while a another party member was near-by.

My questions are:

  • Did my character actually perform a chant before giving the suggestion?

  • Would the victim's character notice on a successful saving throw?

  • Would a bystander notice that a spell was being cast?

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RAW

Most of this is something that will have to be determined by your group / DM:

  • The rules don't clearly state whether or not the suggestion itself is the verbal component for Suggestion.

  • The rules do state that someone who makes a mental save is unaware of the spell unless the spell has a "perceptible effect" (PHB, page 204).

  • The rules do state that you need a material component for the spell, meaning you either need the component itself, a spell component pouch, an arcane focus, or a holy symbol.

  • But the rules don't really state how obvious it is when someone "uses" an arcane focus or holy symbol. Only that you must have a hand free to use a material component.

RAI

  • Jeremy Crawford has stated that the Suggestion spell requires the chanting of "mystic words" in addition to the spoken suggestion.

A few Suggestions

Here are what I see as the best practices for this scenario.

  1. If you want to take an action, but don't want players to know you're taking an action, you should make a stealth check.

    See: How loud/obvious is a wizard casting a spell?.

    This stealth check covers stilted arcane language, somatic gestures, glowing arcane foci, etc.

  2. There would be a variety of skills to detect this

    • Insight — "Huh, he just said these weren't the droids they were looking for, and they repeated it back in a mono-tone? Weird."

    • Arcana — "That stress pattern. The eye contact. His hand in his component pouch. That's a Suggestion spell!"

    • Perception — "Why is this guy keeping that glowing green crystal hidden while he talks?"

    Players should pick one, whichever is most meaningful to their character.

  3. The victim of Suggestion is unaware of the spell unless given cause to question it.

    Points 1 and 2 above apply to external observers. The spell wouldn't be much good if the victim could detect it.

    I would not typically give the victim a chance to notice the spell, unless they made their save.

Q&A

Why stealth?

It doesn't have to be stealth. You could make a good case for deception, or sleight of hand instead. I picked stealth as a "catch all," and a skill that many casters would benefit from anyway.

Why would whispering the verbal component of suggestion require me to make a stealth check?

It isn't clear whether or not you can whisper your suggestion. Or if you need to speak it loudly. Or like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Or how obvious using a material component is (does it glow? does it need to be manipulated in the hands? etc.?).

If you like, you can define all of these aspects of the spell. If Suggestion comes up a lot, this might add quite a bit to your campaign.

But most of the time, I find it's just easier to let the dice decide. Rather than having a prolonged debate about the exact motions required to cast suggestion, or where everyone is standing, or how easy it would have been to notice a Jedi mind trick in the wild, it's more expedient to make a skill check.

Even if they discerned I was up to something, it would already be too late to discover what before the effect took hold.

None of this is intended to be a way to stop Suggestion. The spell should do what it says it does, regardless of what anyone sees or notices. This answer is about who is aware of what happened after the fact.

Wouldn't it require somebody else to make an active perception check to see if they could hear it? On top of that, they would also have to make an insight check to determine if they even knew what I was doing.

In general, if a character can make an active insight/perception roll to notice something, they should be able to use their passive scores without an action. You could have them roll against a DC if you want to emphasize the use of active skill checks (and even have different DCs for passive and active checks).

I generally prefer opposed rolls (or rolling against passive values), simply because it gives the player a bit more control, agency, and time in the spotlight.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. The extended additions cover the eventualities nicely. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Nov 16 '15 at 19:55
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Sage Advice says...

After this question was asked, the 2016 Sage Advice Compendium has provided additional guidance that clarifies the rules from the PH.

Did my character actually perform a chant before giving the suggestion?

Yes, but the chanting is “so subtle” that “it typically goes unnoticed.”

Sage Advice Compendium 2016 (http://media.wizards.com/2016/downloads/dnd/SA-Compendium.pdf) states on page 15:

Verbal components are mystic words (PH, 203), not normal speech. The spell’s suggestion is an intelligible utterance that is separate from the verbal component.

Some have argued that the chanting of mystic words is always obvious, and would be easily identified by anyone present. But that’s not how the designers envision a spell like suggestion working — read on.

Do you always know when you’re under the effect of a spell? Would a bystander notice that a spell was being cast?

Not “typically.” Per the basic rules on spellcasting in the PH, whether a spell is obvious or not depends upon its effect:

An effect like crackling lightning is obvious, but a more subtle spell effect, such as an attempt to read a creature’s thoughts, typically goes unnoticed, unless the spell says otherwise.

PH, p. 204, Targets:

The spellcaster doesn’t have to use any skill or ability to conceal the casting of a spell with a subtle effect — typically.

While in my opnion those rules are cut-and-dried, there has been a fair deal of debate and confusion about this. Fortunately, we’ve gotten some additional guidance. Again from Sage Advice Compendium 2016:

Some spells are so subtle that you might not know you were ever under their effects. A prime example of that sort of spell is suggestion. Assuming you failed to notice the spellcaster casting the spell, you might simply remember the caster saying, “The treasure you’re looking for isn’t here. Go look for it in the room at the top of the next tower.” You failed your saving throw, and off you went to the other tower, thinking it was your idea to go there. You and your companions might deduce that you were beguiled if evidence of the spell is found.

There is wiggle room for interpretation around “failed to notice the spellcaster casting the spell,” and how difficult it would be to notice a spell being cast. But this examples draws a picture of an adventurer (not some orc or peasant) being suggested, and it’s not immediately obvious the target or his companions that magic was used against them. (And remember, the range of Suggestion is only thirty feet.)

How subtle is subtle?

We don’t get any rules for how hard it would be to detect a spell like suggetion, just some guidance on what kind of skills could be used:

It’s ultimately up to the DM whether you discover the presence of inconspicuous spells. Discovery usually comes through the use of skills like Arcana, Investigation, Insight, and Perception or through spells like detect magic.

Sage Advice Compendium 2016, p. 11

Thus, to detect a spell like Suggestion, at least some kind of skill check would be required.

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The Target of the spell would hear what you are saying, as would anyone else within range.

Verbal spells require a spoken component to be cast effectively.

Verbal (V )

Most spells require the chanting of mystic words. The words themselves aren’t the source of the spell’s power; rather, the particular combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance, sets the threads of magic in motion. Thus, a character who is gagged or in an area of silence, such as one created by the silence spell, can’t cast a spell with a verbal component. - Player's Handbook p. 204

Thus you would be speaking out loud. The actual spell description for Suggestion only reinforces this.

You suggest a course of activity (limited to a sentence or two) and magically influence a creature you can see within range that can hear and understand you. Creatures that can’t be charmed are immune to this effect. - Player's Handbook p. 279

Whether or not they can immediately identify it as magic is ultimately up to DM's discretion.

The wording of the description seems to suggest the verbal component is the actual instructions being told to the target, but description says no more no less. Those trained in arcana would probably be able to spot it out, but anyone might be suspicious if you suddenly changed someone's mind (your a wizard after all and you probably didn't spend a lot of time working on your people skills).

The spell does have a material component however, so the caster would either need these materials in hand or have a focus such as a wand in hand to cast the spell, that alone may be enough to suggest something is going on to anyone who can see your hands.

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It's not explicitly stated in the rules, so it's primarily an adjudication by the DM, but we can infer certain things about the spell's verbal component through a bit of analysis:

You suggest a course of activity (limited to a sentence or two) ...

... The suggestion must be worded in such a manner as to make the course of action sound reasonable. - Player's Handbook p. 279

The text of the spell itself has a few sentences that are worded similarly to this, lending to the idea that the verbal component is the actual intended course of action and trigger for that action if applicable. It doesn't seem to require a chant before hand, as intent and magical influence is pushed into the command by the RAW for the spell.

Since it is a direct order, the fact that you are telling them to do something is likely apparent, regardless of their will save. Anyone watching would hear the order, unless it is whispered in to the subject's ear, which would still be somewhat suspect in many scenarios, but fits certain tropes about the mage behind the throne. You may require a skill check to hide the message in a situation like this, but since it can be as long as a couple of sentences the length of the message you are trying to hide may provide disadvantage on checks to hide the spell.

Ultimately, whether the magic can be detected is up to the DM, but it would make sense to make it some form of Wisdom or Intelligence check (Arcana/Insight come to mind) if you want it to be possible, but not a guarantee. That is the general path I use, and it works pretty well to ensure that most people are unlikely to notice, but those who know magic or are intuitive have a fair chance to notice the influence.

TL;DR

Overall, it's a GM based decision on this, but the text implies heavily that the suggestion itself is the verbal component. How easy it is to tell that the spell is identified as magical is up to the DM, but skill checks to hide and perceive the spell casting work well.

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This seems pretty cut and dry to me.

  • The verbal component of the Suggestion spell is the suggestion itself, communicated verbally to the target. There is simply no logical reasoning to assume otherwise. The idea of verbally planted hypnotic suggestions is not new, and unless the rules explicitly state otherwise, I would assume it works as expected.
  • The spell's target does not automatically know that he or she has been the victim of magical influence, regardless of whether they succeed or fail on their saving throw. The Charm Person spell explicitly states that the target of the spell realizes that they have been manipulated at the conclusion of the spell, and the Friends cantrip actively turns it's victims hostile towards you at the end of its effect. If Suggestion were intended to be similarly perceptible by the victim, its description would include similar language.
  • Same as above. A bystander witnessing a Warlock casting Suggestion on a guard or merchant does not automatically know what is happening. However, there are clues that could be perceived via the appropriate skill/ability checks as AceCalhoon recommends.
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