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My situation is as follows: One of my players wanted to force a creature to commit suicide by casting geas on it, with the suggestion for the creature to jump into a pit (which the party knew to be a fatal act). Before this, the party intended to cast a combination of sympathy (targeting the pit as 'interesting location') and hypnotism on the creature.

On the Geas/Quest spell, the SRD states that

a geas cannot compel a creature to kill itself or perform acts that would result in certain death

which obviously conflicts with what the player tried to do. He argued that the sense of "this command is suicidal and therefore I will not do it" is purely subjective - that is, if the creature is not actually aware that the suggested action will lead to death, it is in fact valid. And with the other mind-affecting spells, he could convince the target that jumping into the pit is a good idea.

Is combining geas with other mind-affecting spells to override the no-suicide requirement like this OK? Or is it an objective requirement that does not involve the creature's own common sense?

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Using geas to have a creature commit suicide is invalid

The 4th-level Sor/Wiz spell lesser geas [ench] (PH 235) and the 6th-level Sor/Wiz spell geas/quest [ench] (PH 234-5) mandate that the caster either order the target "to carry out some service" or order the target "to refrain from some action or course of activity." An order to commit suicide certainly "compel[s] a creature to kill itself," which the spell can't do, and an order to refrain from an activity like Never not leap in a pit will certainly cause the target to "perform acts that would result in certain death," which the spell also can't do. The spell will fail if services like those are stipulated or actions like that are constrained.

The 1st-level spell hypnotism [ench] (PH 242-3) and the 8th-level spell sympathy [ench] (PH 292) don't change the spell geas/quest, and, likewise, those spells can't force a suicide.

In fact, many enchantment spells have provisos against self-slaughter:

  • A creature affected by the spell charm person et al. "never obeys suicidal or obviously harmful orders, but it might be convinced that something very dangerous is worth doing."
  • A "request must be brief and reasonable" if made of a creature affected by the spell hypnotism et al.
  • "Asking the creature to do some obviously harmful act automatically negates the effect of the spell" suggestion et al.
  • "Obviously self-destructive orders are not carried out" by a creature affected by the spell dominate person et al.

Layering on a creature these spells that specifically say they can't be used to force a creature to commit suicide doesn't make the creature any more likely to commit suicide.1

"But this player's making this argument..."

In a sense, the player who argues that suicide is subjective is correct—for instance, a creature wearing a ring of feather falling that's ordered to jump into a 200-ft.-deep pit isn't being ordered to commit suicide, but, if the same creature is first ordered to remove the ring, the creature is being ordered to commit suicide. Therefore suicide can't be weighed purely objectively.

But it sounds like the player's arguing that this subjectivity makes any order of suicide instantly a valid order because no order is suicidal until the order leads to the creature's actual death. Hence, a creature should follow all orders because the creature's factually incapable of proving the order is suicidal, and the creature will remain incapable of proving a suicidal order until the creature dies.

I am certain students of rhetoric or formal logic have a name for that particular technique or fallacy; however, I am neither, so I think I'd just tell the player to shut up and move on.


1 This is, also, a huge waste of resources. Why hasn't the fighter just bull rushed this dude into the pit already?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good points here. I am aware that it's a waste of resources, but that's not quite my call to make as the DM (and the context given is not entirely correct, but it would be beside the point to describe everything). \$\endgroup\$ – BinarySpark Mar 13 '16 at 20:22
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Your wizard has a point - if they don't know the act is dangerous, they'll do it. Rather than layering a million mind-control spells on them, has the wizard considered a silent image to make it look like the pit has been filled in?

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No, mind manipulation cannot override the no-suicide clause.

If the creature believes an action would be suicidal, geas cannot compel them to take that action. The spells you listed (hypnotism and sympathy) will not mislead the creature into believing that jumping into a pit would be safe.

However, it's very possible to use illusion magic to trick a creature into believing that an action would be safe. For example, if the creature had not seen the pit before, you could use silent image to make it look like the pit wasn't there, and then use geas (or similar spells such as charm person or suggestion) to get them to walk into it.

Also, I'm confused about why you're using geas for this specifically. I get that the spell has no saving throw, but it takes ten minutes to cast! If you're standing there chanting at the creature for ten minutes, presumably you have the creature tied up or restrained somehow. It seems like you could just shove the creature in the pit and it would be a lot less effort.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Apologies to gatherer818 and SPavel for basically stealing and combining their answers. Both answers were excellent but I thought there should be one answer discussing both issues. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Mar 13 '16 at 5:12
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It seems like it would work, but it has nothing to do with hypnotism or sympathy. Jumping into a pit is not certain death. Fall damage, especially at your level, is pretty much negligible.

Sympathy isn't good for this

How large is the pit? Sympathy simply makes an area desirable to be in (since a pit is not an object). I suppose you could indicate a single point right above the pit as the desirable spot, but the creature could simply stretch his arm out and fulfill the clause of staying in the area. You'd need a pretty large pit in order to make it impossible to reach that area without jumping. Sympathy also takes an hour to cast and is an 8th level spell.

Hypnotism doesn't work at all

Hypnotism makes a single request more plausible, but still says "the request must be brief and reasonable." You cannot "stack" a bunch of conditions, all of which require a reasonable request, and claim that the request can now become unreasonable. Hypnotism in particular defines what the reasonable request can be even more specifically - the creature's attitude goes up two steps. Even if it was indifferent before and is now helpful, a helpful creature won't kill itself just because you ask.

Geas is a waste

Geas is a 6th level spell that takes 10 whole minutes to cast. And all you want a guy to do is jump into a hole? Come on! At least go make him fight demons or something. That's so much cooler.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, to be fair, the example given isn't entirely correct; the real context is different. The point is whether it's mechanically allowed or not. \$\endgroup\$ – BinarySpark Mar 13 '16 at 20:14
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The spell Charm Person contains the following guideline:

An affected creature never obeys suicidal or obviously harmful orders, but a charmed fighter, for example, might believe you if you assured him that the only chance to save your life is for him to hold back an onrushing red dragon for “just a few seconds.”

This example covers a similar situation and Hypnotism is a similar spell, thus I would judge that you can compel a hypnotised creature into performing an act that is not obviously suicidal, but effectively. Even more so for a higher level spell like Geas.

The only effective limit is the phrase "might believe you". In the Geas spell description the limit is "certain death".It is the DM's judgement which commands can still be believed as not being suicidal. But the example given in charm person imply a rather broad approach.

The other issue is game balance - this ruling makes spells like Hypnotism save or die spells given enough effort to give credible suicidal commands. On the other hand Hold Person can also be deadly given the right circumstances. Thus I would allow it, but have a close look on the credibility of the commands given. In the example given the nature of the pool and the abilities of the target are decisive: If the creature knows it will die it will not enter the pool. If there is any chance the creature does not see this - it will go. For higher level spells like Geas you could even be less strict. In the end there are several save or die spells at this level.

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