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The PHB gives the following description of the 1st-level spell Command (emphasis mine), and I'm curious about the implications of the RAW here:

You speak a one-word command to a creature you can see within range. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or follow the command on its next turn. The spell has no effect if the target is undead, if it doesn’t understand your language, or if your command is directly harmful to it.

So my question is about the "directly harmful" clause. From an "in-universe" perspective, it seems reasonable that a creature's self-preservation instincts would prevent it from knowingly injuring itself; but what if the harm is caused by something that the Commanded creature is unaware of? For instance, if you poisoned one of their rations, could you command them to eat it?

Similarly, if neither the caster nor the Commanded creature are aware of the danger, would the command fail? For instance, if you order a creature to walk towards you, but there's a pit hidden by an illusion between the two of you.

If this causes the spell to fail, could it be used as a foolproof trap detector (Command a party member to walk down a hallway, knowing that the spell would prevent them from harming themselves, and thus prevent them from moving if there is a trap ahead)?

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Can the spell "Command" be used to cause unwitting damage?

RAW: Yes, you can, IF that damage is unbeknownst to the target (and in most cases the caster as well). You could not tell the target to walk off a cliff, jump into the spike pit, or smash its face into your Paladin's Warhammer. You could however tell the target to walk down a hallway you suspect but are not certain may contain traps. Why? Because it wouldn't be "directly harmful to it", it would be potentially indirectly harmful to it. What if it doesn't trigger any of the traps you aren't even sure are (and may not even be) down there? So no, it could not be used as a foolproof trap detector because unless the GM tells you and you (your character) becomes aware there are traps in said hallway, the spell would not fail. Let's say you poisoned one of their 5 rations and then told them to eat one? You can't be sure which one the target will eat, so it's still indirect.

As for the in-universe thought process? You are exactly correct. Self preservation would cause the magical command to fail, to cease functioning, to not take effect. If the target is unaware that it needs preserve its own life from something that might occur as a result of following the given command, then there would be no need for self preservation, and thus it would follow your command.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the trap example confuses matters; you suggest that it’s necessary for the caster to be unaware of the danger, but the spell seems to clearly indicate that it is the target that must be unaware. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 21 '15 at 14:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, the only thing the spell indicates is that none of your commands can be directly harmful to it. If the caster knew there were traps, and tried to walk the target into them, under rules as written it wouldn't succeed, because the caster would know that directly harms the target. You bring up a good point that the target can't know there are traps in said hallway either, though, even if the caster did not. \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Sep 21 '15 at 14:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ If the target knows there are traps in the hallway, there's at least some chance he knows how to avoid them. (ie. A Kobold knows where the pit trap trigger is) In that case he would obey the command while avoiding triggering them because he knows how. \$\endgroup\$ – CrusaderJ Sep 21 '15 at 15:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ The idea of the spell seems to be that the compulsion isn't strong enough to make the target do something the target knows will hurt. Whether the caster knows it will hurt doesn't seem to be relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Sep 21 '15 at 15:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CrusaderJ Damn...that's tricky. I hadn't thought of it that way. Perhaps this spell is more complicated than I thought. \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Sep 21 '15 at 15:28

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