The paladin spell Compelled Duel's effect gives an incentive to attack a specific person by giving disadvantage when attacking someone else. The 14th-level ability Bear Totemic Attunement does the same thing when a Path of the Totem Warrior barbarian is raging.

These effects mean it should be obvious to affected creatures that it is not worth attacking others, only the source of the effect (the Paladin or Barbarian). But how does the target know who they should attack?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's quite possible to ask how something works without asking for opinions on how it should feel. The problem is that the question made an assumption — that how it works must be because disadvantage has a “feel” — and asked for opinions about what disadvantage feels like instead of just asking the plain question of how it works. I've edited the question to focus just on how these abilities/spells work, which avoids asking for people's opinions. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 23 '16 at 23:31

There are multiple factors that can visually or mentally indicate disadvantage or advantage.

I'll address the specific case of compelled duel first. The caster in some way "charms" the person into fighting him, and the target, should he fail the saving throw, now finds his attention focused solely on the caster. If he tries to attack anyone else, he isn't able to focus on his target, and hence he has disadvantage since his attacks are less precise or don't have the strength and speed of dedicated attacks.

Disadvantage in general relates to the attacker's condition in the fight. Restrained? The attacker has trouble moving his weapon, and his strikes are easier to dodge or don't have enough force to penetrate armor, which is the source of the disadvantage. Prone? Well, anyone who's tried hitting someone else while on their hands and knees knows that it adds a layer of difficulty.

Advantage, on the other hand, relates most often to the target's condition. The target is prone or restrained? He has a lot more difficulty moving his weapon or shield to block the attack, or sidestepping it altogether. Reckless attack? The swing was so fast and wild that it was harder to dodge and hit harder, but the recoil makes it so that the barbarian is in a vulnerable position.


Compelled Duel

The spell's components are V (vocals), so I believe that the caster could shout out something like "Fight me!", compelling the target in a duel with the caster. The target will then do a wisdom saving throw, to see if the spell had any effects on it, on failure it will be drawn to the caster.

Should the target now choose to attack someone different than the caster himself, he will find himself distracted, since he's being drawn to the caster. You could use that as a reason for the disadvantage.

Example: Paladin successfully casts Compelled Duel on a tribal Orc, pointing his longsword into his direction and shouts "Orc, fight me one-on-one and we will see who will stand last!". The Orc locks eyes with the paladin and prepares to throw his javelin to him, when he suddenly decides to instead throw it to the weakened halfling not far away from the tall standing paladin.. But due to the Orc feeling drawn to the paladin, he misses miserably.

How should the target know who they should attack? They were verbally told or in a different way (pointing a finger/weapon to someone for example). You can't have someone "cast" Compelled Duel without giving a way to show it. Compelled Duel can't use used if the user has no ways of provocation in my eyes. xD

Bear Totemic Attunement

I believe that the aura given from the Bear attunement becomes like a passive aura, since the Barbarian might look like a Bear while raging in that moment and the feeling of attacking another creature that is next to the bear, gives the attacker a feeling of a raging bear about to attack them (an intimidating aura).

Example: A male assassin was about to attack the fighter, but the intimidating feeling of a raging bear around him distracted him enough, that he failed a throw he was confident in.

How should the target know who they should attack? They should understand that the raging Half-Orc barbarian isn't totally what it seems to be, but when taking your eyes off of him, he is intimidating like a he was in a bear form.

Both Together?

The noble compelled by the mighty hero paladin to a duel, feels really intimidated by the aura of a raging bear that is right behind him, leavinh his back with cold shivers. At this point you should know, that you have to get away from the barbarian in order to attack the paladin or you choose to ignore the paladins words and attack the barbarian (or someone else in range).

I don't know, use whatever you think it should be used as. Either the spell not the feature force the target to attack them, in the end it's up to the DM or player on why the monster chose to attack a certain player.


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