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The suggestion spell description says the following:

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. The suggestion must be worded in such a manner as to make the course of action sound reasonable. Asking the creature to stab itself, throw itself onto a spear, immolate itself, or do some other obviously harmful act ends the spell.

The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, it pursues the course of action you described to the best of its ability. The suggested course of action can continue for the entire duration. If the suggested activity can be completed in a shorter time, the spell ends when the subject finishes what it was asked to do.

You can also specify conditions that will trigger a special activity during the duration. For example, you might suggest that a knight give her warhorse to the first beggar she meets. If the condition isn't met before the spell expires, the activity isn't performed.

If you or any of your companions damage the target, the spell ends.

Can I use this spell to force a NPC to tell the truth? For example, with the sentence: "For the next hour, you will answer my questions honestly." I don't know if I can consider this a course of action.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ [Related] Does Zone of Truth bind people to promises? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 5 '15 at 2:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Force? No, but you can Suggest. It's right there on the tin. . . \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Sep 26 '17 at 20:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ What people fail to understand when ruling about suggestion, is that it's never as strong as people hope it is. It only performs 1 suggestion. So they might answer you honestly, as they stab you through the chest or run away or cast silence. They also don't have to be direct about answering your questions, they just have to be "honest", that doesn't mean they have to be forth coming. "What's your plan?", the honest answer is "I don't want to tell you". If the target isn't a fool, they shouldn't act like one. Be a rules lawyer with the spell and think in the motivation of the character. \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Oct 2 at 15:36

10 Answers 10

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My guess is that merely telling truth might work, as the suggestion could nudge the NPC into Bond Villain mode:
"these people are no threat, so I will reveal to them my great plan!"
"I can totally trust these people with this secret that I have been harbouring all these years!"

It does not ensure that the NPC will actually tell the truth, now. If, say, an innocent was Suggested that he reveal his plans when he actually has none, he might spin some up just to please the suggestion.

Your given wording, though, is not a good suggestion. A better one might be something like "You want to show us how dumb we are and reveal your real plans." Or "You absolutely trust me and will tell me everything you know." Your DM may actually like it, as it gives him a chance to roleplay a monologue.

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Based on a reading of the spell, specifically by singling out:

The suggestion must be worded in such a manner as to make the course of action sound reasonable.

I would say that it would work if telling the truth isn't going to hurt the creature. That is; if he's being accused of murder and sitting in a courthouse, it's probably not going to work. If you ask a Dragon about his missing scale, it's probably not going to work. If you ask the villain about his master-plan, it's probably not going to work.

But if you ask the barmaid about her first love, sure, I don't see why not.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In our specific case, our intention was to force a minor villain to reveal her plans while being tied in her house at night by one of our PCs. What I am confused about is whether "telling the truth" can be considered as a course of action. Maybe the course of action is just the act of answering the questions. The problem here is that answering a question implies a decision, while ther actions (like "attack that creature" or "open that door") don't \$\endgroup\$ – firion Nov 4 '15 at 9:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was going to offer a similar answer. I think the key wording here isn't "course of action" but "obviously harmful ends the spell". Asking someone to reveal secret plans that they've made to further their own ends might not be "obviously" harmful, but I would argue it's pretty close. \$\endgroup\$ – Bob Tway Nov 4 '15 at 14:51
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Is the suggestion reasonable?

That's the important bit. If the suggestion is something the target would consider reasonable, then yes, it would do it. So you as the DM need to immerse yourself into the character and consider the suggestion.

Examples of unreasonable suggestions:

  1. Politician asked to not run for a position.
  2. Captain of the guard asked to give up his keys to a stranger.
  3. A blacksmith asked to give away weapons and armor.

Examples of reasonable suggestions:

  1. Politician asked to run for a different position that "suits his unique talents" better.
  2. Captain of the guard asked to switch lockup shifts with a different trusted (and bribed by the party) guard.
  3. A blacksmith asked to consider reducing the price on weapons and armor to help out people who are dealing with a threat to the town he lives and works in.

Basically, it all boils down to a simple question: "Would this character think this is a reasonable thing to do in the course of a normal day?"

That's it. Oh, and if you can't decide, roll the character's persuade check on himself to represent a mental battle. If he scores 15 or higher, it's something he would normally do. If he doesn't, then it's unreasonable.

So when it comes to telling the party the truth, consider the nature of the character your party is questioning. Is the character a compulsive liar? If not, then yes, a suggestion would "force" them to tell the truth.

However, a suggestion to be honest doesn't mean he HAS to talk. It just means that if persuaded to speak, he'll do so honestly. A character finding himself wanting to tell the truth doesn't mean he WILL, especially if it's likely to lead to his death (from either the party or his own boss).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Roll the character's persuade check on himself to represent a mental battle. If he scores 15 or higher, it's something he would normally do. So the more persuasive your target is (better bonus on persuade checks), the more likely they are to find your suggestion reasonable? \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jun 3 '16 at 15:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's why it's 15 and not 10. I mean that's a clear DM decision anyways, alternately you could just flip a coin. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jun 4 '16 at 0:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ What? Regardless of the DC, it doesn't make sense that a character who's exceedingly good at persuasion would be more likely to find your suggestion reasonable than would a character with poor persuasion skills. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jun 4 '16 at 0:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you are missing that this situation is in effect a character being magically compelled to do something they are not already doing. So a person bad at persuading people is not going to see a borderline suggestion as reasonable because they would not be able to justify it to themself. A player good at persuasion would because they are used to selling themself to people in order to get their point of view across. In this situation, the buyer is themself and they would be rolling against a spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jun 4 '16 at 15:51
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I would argue that you can't continually question the target using Suggestion. The course of activity the target must comply to needs to be described in a sentence or two. The target then acts out the activities you described to the best of its ability, but is not subject to any additional commands. Saying "answer my questions truthfully for an hour" is not strictly describing one course of activity, it's describing multiple possible courses of activity that branch out depending on the answers.

You can, however, get a truthful answer to one question that you can describe in a sentence. The suggestion would be "Answer this question truthfully: ...". It is clear what the target must do and the suggestion itself sounds reasonable (though that's debatable, depending on the question). When the answer is given, the spell ends.


Alternatives

I'm not quite sure that my interpretation of a "course of activity" is the correct one, though. I could personally find reasoning either way. But for this specific case we already have a similar spell, the Zone of Truth, so we can approach the issue from a balance aspect.

Let us compare the relevant characteristics of the two.

Suggestion (used to force truths)

  • 2nd lvl enchantment, 1 action, 30ft, Concentration, Wisdom save
  • lasts for 8 hours, or until the request is completed
  • one target
  • must describe the action in a sentence or two
  • the spell fails if "the action doesn't sound reasonable"

Zone of Truth

  • 2nd lvl enchantment, 1 action, 60ft, no Concentration, Charisma save
  • lasts 10 minutes
  • all creatures in a 15ft radius
  • creatures can't lie, but they can try to avoid saying the truth they don't want to tell

First question is, is Suggestion strictly better than Zone of Truth in this respect? I would argue not. They target different saving throws, so there's even a merit to having both spells prepared (if you really hate being lied to). And while the Zone of Truth can be worked around if the creature is intelligent enough to avoid saying the sensitive truths, the Suggestion's application is limited to the truths that aren't unreasonable to blurt out (unfortunately, what is considered reasonable is rather subjective).

Keep in mind, though, that Suggestion is rather versatile. The amount of utility Suggestion brings to the table could make it a better choice than Zone of Truth in almost all situations, which would defeat the purpose of Zone of Truth's existence. If your DM feels this way, it would be best to rule that Suggestion shouldn't be used to force truth out of a target. The Zone of Truth can affect multiple creatures, though, so it still has its uses.

Should the DM allow it to even be possible, the question becomes how to rule the specifics of the spell. Considering the two spells should be of a similar power level, and taking note of the advantages and restrictions of Zone of Truth, I would rule this use of Suggestion one of two ways:

  1. You can get one definite truth from your target.

This is the same as what I described in the first part of this answer. "Answer this question truthfully" sounds reasonable enough, and while the revelation of the truth might bring the target into harm, it is not directly putting itself into harm. As an example, if a target would confess to a crime as a result of this effect, it can still try to escape, reduce its sentence, bribe or otherwise avoid punishment. After the request is completed, the spell ends, so no more truths would be forced.

  1. You can question the target for 8 hours, but you can't ask it to answer questions that would (although indirectly) bring it to harm or otherwise be unreasonable to answer.

The request would be "Answer all my questions truthfully", but it would be limited by the spell's effect. This is somewhat similar to the restriction of Zone of Truth in the way that it won't be necessarily easy to get the truths you're looking for. As for the other aspects of the two spells, you're basically trading a multi-target, Concentration free, 10 minute effect for a single-target, Concentration required, 8 hour effect. Though I doubt you'd ever need more than 10 minutes to get the truth you want if it's possible to gain.

Alternatively, there is a third ruling you could make, which in my opinion is overpowered:

  1. You make the target give you definite truths for 8 hours.

In comparison to my first ruling, it's the difference between a villain telling you how to get out of a trap he placed you in, and him telling you his entire backstory, all his evil plans, how to nullify everything he's ever done and what he had for breakfast this morning.

In comparison to my second ruling, it's the difference between "We can get some good truths, we just have to be careful about what we're asking and how the questions would be perceived as reasonable." and "Tell me the easiest way to remove the protective spell that you have on you, the keyword to deactivate your mechanical guards, and the elemental effects you're not immune to. But don't worry, we won't kill you afterwards. We wouldn't.".

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As the op states it, I'd say no. Allow me to explain. Even outside such things as defining 'a course of action' or 'activity,'we must look at the OP's wording.

May I use this spell to force a NPC to tell the truth? For example with the sentence: For the next hour, you will answer my questions honestly. I don't know if I can consider this as a course of action.

Bold for emphasis.

While a Suggestion can result in a NPC following a course of action desired by the caster, it in and of itself is not a command. It's a suggestion. What the OP has describe is a command, not a suggestion.

A good example of this is trying to get someone to buy you drinks at the local tavern. "You will buy me and my companions a round of drinks" is far different than "I think you should by us drinks, we're bloody heroes!"

or for the most combat oriented, compare "your friends wish to hurt me, don't let them" and "your friends seem to want to hurt me, perhaps we can sort all this out if you kept them from attacking me."

See the difference?

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Although the spell leaves a lot open to the DM's discretion, other answers are restricting the spell too much. In the spell's description it gives an example of a suggested course of action.

For example, you might suggest that a knight give her warhorse to the first beggar she meets.

This would not be a reasonable request by this section's answers, however it is a baseline that the game gives us to base suggestions off of. In other words, if the question won't directly harm them and can be worded to be an understandable course of action, then I would allow anything that fits the spell's description.

The book answers the OP's question: the villain will answer the questions truthfully as long as the act is not obviously harmful to the creature.

I would rule that asking for his weaknesses would be considered obviously harmful, but revealing his plan would not be. An important note to add is he can only tell the truth if he knows the truth.

If someone can manage to charm the main villain, and his allies aren't around to dispel the effect or get him out of there, the party has practically foiled his plan already. That's one way to defeat the main villain. It's not guaranteed.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Please review the edit I made to get the opinion out of your answer. Edit again to make sure your core answer remains intact. Welcome to RPG.SE! We hope you'll keep participating here. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 25 '17 at 1:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, my main concern was if the suggested sentence ("You will tell the truth") could be considered as a course of action, independently from the dangerousness for the target \$\endgroup\$ – firion Sep 25 '17 at 7:55
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Good points above. As an additional consideration:, in general, it's not a good idea to let lower level spells be used to get the results of different or higher level spells. There are spells like Detect Thoughts, also second level, that are specifically designed for ferreting out secrets, that are not as effective at this activity as the suggested use of Suggestion above.

I would read the caveat "obviously harmful" as a broader interpretation than simply, "puts me in mortal danger”. Consider: I like and trust my mother, but there are things about my life that I would never tell her, because the embarrassment would be painful to me.

If a Big Bad Evil Guy likes and trusts his lieutenants, he still is not likely to tell them his Master Plan, because of the chance that the underling could misinterpret it, or be captured and questioned, or just the act of talking about it aloud increases the chance that it could be overheard by others. Also, lawful characters might be bound by oaths of secrecy that transcend mere concerns of trust or affinity. It could also be that their plan is dangerous, and they would like to spare someone they like or trust exposure to that danger.

I've used "like and trust" in the above examples because they are credible examples of how to word the Suggestion to make it sound "reasonable". Other approaches should trigger similar considerations.

In short, it's a second level spell that is being employed to potentially derail an entire campaign. As a DM, I would consider carefully how to interpret the players suggestion in a way that would get them some information, without giving away a campaigns source of mystery and adventure.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I really like your final sentence, and think there’s a big difference between using this on a big bad, where the DM should take the opportunity for exposition rather than game-ending revelations, and using it on a subordinate. If I want to interrogate a captured guard and “suggest” he tell us everything if he wants to live, I think it should work like an 8 hour passed-intimidation-check or something like that. Expecting the same from an important boss is just no fun. DM discretion is key to this one. \$\endgroup\$ – jerclarke Nov 14 at 19:09
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The rule of thumb I always use with Suggestion is: "Could a really good persuasion check accomplish the same thing?" The spell just passes a persuasion check without risk of failure and the cost of time spent smooth taking, buttering-up, making logical arguments or emotional appeals, etc.

So I would say that if I would call for a persuasion roll at all for a particular statement (compare "come now, we're all friends here; if you tell me the truth maybe I can help", and "these aren't the droids you're looking for", to "you are incapable of hiding information from me" and "help me smuggle these droids to the rebellion headquarters"), the Suggestion takes hold.

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To get an unlimited number of true answers? No, it's not discrete enough an action. However, per the example in the power writeup itself, it can be used to convince someone to do something even seriously against their best interest.

you might suggest that a knight give her warhorse to the first beggar she meets.

For most knights, giving up an expensive, beloved, and trained warhorse to a random beggar would not only be unreasonable, but also directly injurious financially and to their ability to do their job of Knighting. But there it is, right there in the example of use.

If the affected Knight were to meet such a beggar (or a clever party Rogue in ragged clothes pretending to be a beggar, waiting nearby) then the Suggestion would go off just fine, reasonableness and injuriousness notwithstanding.

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Multiple suggestions could do basically anything, starting with "You rather like this fellow," moving on to "You would rather like this fellow to be your friend," and then "The guilt of your actions weighs on you, and you feel you must tell someone." These should lead the NPC to tell you just about anything, so long as it feels like a natural train of thought.

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