Monday, June 2, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Suggestion

Here's one of the more rarely-used pieces of D&D magic: the 3rd-level wizard spell suggestion. In my recent assessment of long-lasting D&D spells (link), it's the only spell that I would recommend lengthening the duration (from a traditional 1 week to 1 month). Let's take a closer look.


Original D&D

Suggestion: A spell which works on the principle of hypnosis. If the creature which it is thrown at fails to make its saving throw vs. magic it will carry out the suggestion, immediately or deferred according to the wish of the magic-user. Self-destruction is 99% unlikely, but carefully worded suggestions can, at the referee’s option, alter this probability. Suggestions must be simple and relatively short, i.e. a sentence or two. Duration: 1 game week.

Now, suggestion isn't in the LBB's (Little Brown Books in the first-ever D&D boxed set). This spell and the text above were added in Original D&D Sup-I Greyhawk (by Gyagx & Kuntz). I find this new 3rd-level spell hard to parse, considering it just gives one short direction that lasts maybe a week -- especially when you've got charm person at 1st-level, allowing one to continually order the victim around, and lasting arbitrarily long (two weeks before an average-Intelligence victim gets a new save, as shown two pages prior in the same book). In what way is this spell stronger? Is it that the suggestion has potency even in the absence of the caster? Was it simply a glitch that the rules for the two spells were developed in parallel, not knowing how powerful the other was intended to be?

Generally speaking, I find most of the spells added in Sup-I to be puzzling, or hard to make sense of, or weaker than spells in the LBBs, or more complicated or just kind of queer. So suggestion is just one example of that. In fact, the very addition of spell levels 7 to 9 (also in Sup-I) I basically disagree with, and find those spells to be frequently weaker than the original level 6 spells (control weather, death spell, reincarnate, etc.)

Dave Cook left this spell out of his D&D Expert Rules (perhaps wisely), so now we'll just proceed directly to the AD&D line.


AD&D 1st Ed.

Suggestion (Enchantment/Charm)
Level: 3

Range: 3"
Duration: 6 turns + 6 turns/level
Area of Effect: One creature
 

Explanation/Description: When this spell is cast by the magic-user, he or she influences the actions of the chosen recipient by utterance of a few words - phrases, or a sentence or two - suggesting a course of action desirable to the spell caster. The creature to be influenced must, of course, be able to understand the magic-user’s suggestion, i.e., it must be spoken in a language which the spell recipient understands. The suggestion must be worded in such a manner as to make the action sound reasonable; a request asking the creature to stab itself, throw itself onto a spear, immolate itself, or do some other obviously harmful act will automatically negate the effect of the spell. However, a suggestion that a pool of acid was actually pure water, and a quick dip would be refreshing, is another matter; or the urging that a cessation of attack upon the magic-user‘s party would benefit a red dragon, for the group could loot a rich treasure elsewhere through co-operative action, is likewise a reasonable use of the spell’s power. The course of action of a suggestion can continue in effect for a considerable duration, such as in the case of the red dragon mentioned above. If the recipient creature makes its saving throw, the spell has no effect. Note that a very reasonable suggestion will cause the saving throw to be made at a penalty (such as -1, -2, etc.) at the discretion of your Dungeon Master. Undead are not subject to suggestion. The material components of this spell are a snake’s tongue and either a bit of honeycomb or a drop of sweet oil.

Basically the same spell here with some additional verbiage. A small modifier is given for "a very reasonable suggestion" (-1 or -2 to save), and an increased chance seems to be given for getting a creature to kill itself through trickery (i.e., hallucinating that acid is bathwater). Although the spell text says that is has "a considerable duration", the time the spell lasts has actually been radically decreased from 1 game week (in OD&D Sup-I) to only 6 turns + 6 turns/level (that is, by the written rules here, 1 hour/level + 1 more). The charm person spell still retains its arbitrarily long schedule of saves (in units of days, weeks, or months) , so if anything it's even harder to see how that 1st-level spell is not more useful than suggestion.


AD&D 2nd Ed.

Suggestion
(Enchantment/Charm)
Range: 30 yds.

Duration: 1 hr. + 1 hr./level
Area of Effect: 1 creature 

When this spell is cast by the wizard, he influences the actions of the chosen recipient by the utterance of a few words--phrases or a sentence or two--suggesting a course of action desirable to the spellcaster. The creature to be influenced must, of course, be able to understand the wizard's suggestion--it must be spoken in a language that the spell recipient understands.

The suggestion must be worded in such a manner as to make the action sound reasonable; asking the creature to stab itself, throw itself onto a spear, immolate itself, or do some other obviously harmful act automatically negates the effect of the spell. However, a suggestion that a pool of acid was actually pure water and that a quick dip would be refreshing is another matter. Urging a red dragon to stop attacking the wizard's party so that the dragon and party could jointly loot a rich treasure elsewhere is likewise a reasonable use of the spell's power.


The course of action of a suggestion can continue in effect for a considerable duration, such as in the case of the red dragon mentioned above. Conditions that will trigger a special action can also be specified; if the condition is not met before the spell expires, the action will not be performed. If the target successfully rolls its saving throw, the spell has no effect. Note that a very reasonable suggestion causes the saving throw to be made with a penalty (such as -1, -2, etc.) at the discretion of the DM. Undead are not subject to suggestion.


The material components of this spell are a snake's tongue and either a bit of honeycomb or a drop of sweet oil.

I think this is the usual copy-and-paste job from 1E to 2E; I can't see any functional differences at all. On to 3E...


D&D 3rd Ed.

Suggestion
Enchantment (Compulsion)
[Mind-Affecting, Language-Dependent]
Level: Brd 2, Sor/Wiz 3
Components: V, M
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target: One living creature
Duration: 1 hour/level or until completed
Saving Throw: Will negates
Spell Resistance: Yes
The character influences the actions of the enchanted creature by suggesting a course of activity (limited to a sentence or two). The suggestion must be worded in such a manner as to make the activity sound reasonable.

The suggested course of activity 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 he was asked to do. The character can instead specify conditions that will trigger a special activity during the duration. If the condition is not met before the spell expires, the activity is not performed.


A very reasonable suggestion causes the save to be made with a penalty (such as –1, –2, etc.) at the discretion of the DM.

Again, this looks the same as the other AD&D spell versions. Duration has been justified to simply 1 hour/level (no bonus extra hour). But at least in this ruleset charm person has been reduced to the same 1 hour/level duration, so suggestion is not obviously deficient in that particular statistic. But I still can't see any advantage to justify it being two spell levels higher.


Personally, I think what I'm going to house-rule in my games is that charm person lasts 1 day, and suggestion lasts 1 month (again, the only extension to spell duration that I make), so there's a clear long-term advantage to this latter spell. But what do you think? Is there some explicit functional advantage to suggestion that I'm missing out on? Or was the spell simply a waste in Sup-I and the rest of classic D&D?


27 comments:

  1. seems to me
    that Suggestion should be a 1st level spell
    ...
    Charm Person would be 2nd level and
    ...
    Charm monster would be a 3rd level spell
    ..
    c

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  2. Charm Person doesn't grant you any actual control over the target. It simply causes the target to perceive you as a trusted friend and ally. You can then, through conversation, attempt to persuade the target to do things.

    Suggestion is a compulsion. The target must go out and do whatever you suggested. No additional persuasion needed. Suggestion doesn't even need to actually be reasonable, it just needs to sound reasonable.

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  3. I think you're seriously overrating the power of Charm Person. All it does is place the victim "under the influence of" the caster. A charmed creature still has free will, it still retains its original loyalties and ethics. The caster has merely been artificially made the creature's "trusted friend." You have to *convince* your charmed ogre to join forces with you. And a good DM is going to have the ogre push back if the player asks it to betray its clan or kin, or to do something that goes against its ethics ("Merlin, you're my best bud, but I really can't see myself going in for this do-gooder stuff. Let's pillage the village instead of saving it, OK?")

    Suggestion, on the other hand, is a form of mind control. You can force the victim to do something without having to convince them of it, without having to worry very much about it being against their nature, as long as you don't make it too complicated.

    Originally, "hold person" was the upgraded version of Charm Person -- "similar to charm person... of limited duration and greater effect." Somewhere along the line it got changed into a paralysis spell instead, and we were given a new 3rd level spell which acts as a limited but upgraded charm person.

    Considering the duration difference between Hold Person and Suggestion, if I was going to use Hold Person as it was originally intended, I'd deem it to confer total control of the victims - they are your mindless puppets for the next 6+ turns.

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  4. I must admit, I really don't agree with this interpretation that charm person is some weak-sister effect, at least in the original rules. The OD&D text says, "come completely under the influence of the Magic-user" (Vol-1, p. 23), and I don't see how you can read that otherwise. (The "trusted friend" language is from later editions.) I do sympathize with why you'd want to tone down the spell in later iterations, but that particular means is the kind of fiddly interpretative dance that I think causes many more problems than it solves.

    And my reading of hold person is that it's of "greater effect" in that it can hit 1-4 persons instead of just one. To my mind it seems pretty clearly like a reference to the old Conan story where he and some followers get paralyzed by a wizard in just that way.

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    Replies
    1. Also, charm person is the same effect that vampires, nixies, and dryads use to enslave people for long periods of time. In AD&D there's an attempt to bifurcate the two powers, but there's no difference noted in the OD&D boxed set.

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    2. In the original rules it's certainly not a "weak-sister" effect but then, in the original rules you pretty much need no other spell besides charm person for mind control. The duration is effectively permanent and the effect is to bring a person under your complete domination. How can anything else really compete with that?

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    3. Of course you're right about that. It's just that instead of debates at the table over "what would I do for a friend" I'd rather have some more concrete limit imposed, like a short duration.

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    4. For what it's worth, the Conan story I was thinking of was "People of the Black Circle", Ch. 9, where Conan invades a wizards' castle and he and his three companions get initially paralyzed (note that hold person works on up to 4 persons), and then compelled to robotically approach and get their throats cut.

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    5. Regarding table debates, I don't think you're necessarily dodging the issue. My rule of thumb is to tread Charm Person as having the same effect as a best-case Reaction Roll, which has to be resolved anyway.

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    6. Well... I would count that as a weakness of that particular reaction-roll interpretation. Using the original "come completely under the influence" language, I've never seen any debates on effect.

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  5. Ooh! Do Mordenkainen's Lamentable Belaborment!

    ....

    Ah, wait. You're talking *about* Suggestion, not asking for one...

    ;)

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. I have always thought suggestion was a weaker redundant spell as well, and never understood the purpose of it.
    I just noticed for the first time the spell component of snake’s tongue and either a bit of honeycomb or a drop of sweet oil and got a flash image of worm tongue in LOTR. Is it possible they were going for that kind of effect? “You should let those orcs cross your borders, we can round them up easier that way.” Some sort of long term nudging behind the scenes. Kind of hard to do with the shorter duration versions after OD&D.
    Perhaps the weaker 1st edition Charm was what Gary and Company were using by the time supplement 1 came out.

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    1. Maybe... although as you know it's not in the text that way (the Sup-I change to charm person being the long-term repeating save that gets instituted there).

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  8. Charm person only works on persons, while suggestion works on any creature capable of understanding the caster. Example avred dragon cannot be effected by charm person, but the dragon is vulnerable to suggestion.

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  9. I think albert has it right. The difference between two-legged generally mammalian human-sized or smaller (Charm Person) and any creature is a justification for having it be two levels higher, just as Hold Monster is two levels higher than Hold Person.

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    1. An interesting point, but granted that requires some shared intelligible language (as opposed to hold monster), to me it doesn't seem like it's close to counterbalancing the single-command and shorter-duration issues.

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    2. Yeah, I agree here that the only difference I see is it being that stepping stone between Charm Person (1st) and Charm Monster (4th). And ultimately, didn't 3e expand this line with even more variations (see: Dominate Person/Monster). I think the later editions were rife with this kind of further gradations of similar effects, and frankly I don't miss any of them in my B/X campaign. 3rd level is already jam packed with so many great spells (fireball, lightning bolt, haste, fly, water breathing, clairvoyance).

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  10. I thought this post was really good so I added a link to it on my Best Reads of the Week series. I hope you don't mind.

    http://dyverscampaign.blogspot.com/2014/06/best-reads-of-week-may-30-june-5.html

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    Replies
    1. Great, thanks so much for the shout-out! (And I got sucked into various other articles from your "best reads" list, very informative and addictive.)

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    2. I'm glad you liked the list! It's so easy to miss out on people because there's just so many great blogs out there!

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  11. A difference in Charm Person in 3rd edition (though not in OD&D or 1E, not sure about 2nd) is that the target gets a +5 to their save once hostilities have started. Suggestion can be cast in combat without penalty. That's a pretty big distinction, though only in 3rd edition.

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    1. Yeah, that's only in 3E (not in 2E, either). Even that seems fiddly to me, in that the normal time you'd want it is combat, and in other places casting a charm itself counts as an attack (c.f. invisibility).

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