Gnome Stew reader Noumenon requested the following article in our Suggestion Pot:

I just want to know how you deal with spells like Hypnotism, Charm Person, and Suggestion. Monsters you know the PCs are going to try to kill, but how do you plan for them to start controlling your NPCs?

Martin’s note: I want to personally apologize to Noumenon, who emailed me about this article just over one year ago. I forwarded that email to the Gnome Stew author mailing list…and then we forgot about it.

We try to get to Suggestion Pot article requests in a timely manner, but for one reason or another, it doesn’t always happen. (We’re chaotic neutral, so I blame our alignment…) Our thanks to Noumenon for waiting so damned long — we hope you like Troy’s article.

We’re in the process of clearing our 2008-2009 Suggestion Pot right now, and we’re putting a process in place to make sure none of your suggestions fall through the cracks in year two. If you’re patiently awaiting an article, thank you — bear with us!

Rule 1: Know the spells

If you have an inkling that one of the players relies heavily on enchantments, go ahead and bookmark those spells in the Player’s Handbook or print them out from an Open Game License source.  Then give them a close read. You’ll find these spells have very specific instructions.

Knowing the limits of the mind-affecting effects of each enchantment spell goes a long way to handling NPCs in those situations. Know what the spell does — and doesn’t allow —is key.
Here is a summary of those effects:

Charm person, Brd 1, Sor/Wiz 1
Effect: The subject regards the caster and his suggestions favorably, as if they were friends
What it doesn’t do: The caster doesn’t get to control the person as if an automaton.

Hypnotism, Brd 1, Sor/Wiz 1
Effect: Subject stares blankly at you and reacts to a single reasonable request or suggestion as if it were two steps more friendly.in attitude.
What it doesn’t do: The subject’s new attitude carries on after the spell’s duration, but only in regard to that specific request.

Suggestion, Brd 2, Sor/Wiz 3
Effect: The subject will attempt to complete a task or activity if the caster makes a reasonable suggestion or request in a sentence or two.
What it doesn’t do: The subject won’t perform a harmful act, and such a suggestion ends the spell.

Dominate Person, Brd 4, Sor/Wiz 5
Effect: The subjects actions are controlled by commands given by the caster.
What it doesn’t do: Self-destructive orders are not carried out and commands given against its nature allow the subject to make a saving throw with a +2 bonus.

Rule 2: Go with the flow

NPCs under enchantments can be a lot of fun to roleplay, actually. (Remember, the DM is a roleplayer too). Look at it as an opportunity to stretch those acting muscles. If you’re not careful, you may end up entertaining everyone else at the table when the encounter takes a humorous turn.

Pay specific attention to the commands and instructions issued by the caster in these situations. If there’s a chance to follow the instruction literally — but ignore the intent — feel free to exploit it.  If the caster give an imprecise instruction, look for loopholes to frustrate the players, if that’s your wish.

They’ll learn they have keep things simple, which is more keeping with the intent of the descriptions of the rules anyway.

Rule 3: Encourage the caster to be creative

Through these trial and failure moments, your players will learn that it’s better to suggest to the guard, for instance, that he go hunt for wildflowers rather than try to convince him to let you pass. A charmed guard might leave his post to obey a request that she fetch a drink of water for a friend rather than try to convince her that you’re something that you’re obviously not.

The real fun in charms comes when NPCs are asked to do something harmless that ordinarily would be contrary to their personality.

The beautiful merchant’s daughter might not ordinarily give the geeky PC wizard the time of day. But under an enchantment, she might agree to a request for a stroll in a location where witnesses might presume the pair are an item. Later, the PCs could exploit that assumption, (if not win a token of affection, in the bargain).

Rule 4: The NPCs are still in your control

Even under a dominate person spell, the NPC is still the DM’s character. Never relinquish the NPC to the players.  The rules for enchantments all provide means to eventually break the hold of the caster or spell to run its course within a prescribed duration.

Rule fairly and firmly each time an enchanted character is asked to do something. Be true to the NPC’s personality, motivations and attitudes. How long will an NPC who might ordinarily be predisposed to the PCs remain a friend if they later learn they were enchanted by them. Conversely, will an enemy become more vindictive because they were tricked by a simple enchantment? In fact, a PC that tries to presume too much control over an NPC or to take liberties with that NPC will likely find they’ve overreached and will trigger something that will allow that control to be broken.

What are the consequences of that act?

Even if the NPC doesn’t react negatively (if they remember the enchantment at all), word will get around that the PC in question uses enchantments. Attitudes may vary from setting to setting, of course, but reasonable people in any community are going to view enchanters with suspicion, if not indignant outrage. Pinning the character’s interactions with the community is another good check on players that attempt to abuse enchantments.

Rule 5: Know when to bend the rules

Enchantment spells work because they really help define the setting in ways that, say the old reliable magic missile, can’t.  Think about the tone and feel of your campaign and the place enchantments have in it. You might find you can give the PCs greater leeway, or conversely instill greater restrictions, depending on the mores and cultural taboos of your world.

Generally speaking, if your setting has a gentler, light-hearted atmosphere, you might get away with tweaking your enchantments.If your realm resembles the Carolingian romances or a fairy-tale kingdom, then it might be great fun enchanting the recurring villain, a scheming sorceress, and the kingdom’s forthright stick-in-the-mud champion and convincing them both they have fallen in love with each other. You’d probably have to grant an allowance in how enchantments work to pull it off, but the hi jinks that result will probably be worth it.

On the other hand, perhaps your setting has the trappings of voodoo. Enchantments smack of zombie control and the like. Everyday folk will take a very different viewpoint of enchanters in such a setting, and as DM you might have to enforce restrictions on enchantments depending on the circumstances.

In closing

In any event, look at enchantments as an opportunity to flex DMing muscle, to expand your command of the game and to take cues from the player’s suggestions and charms. More often than not, you’ll be rewarded with some inspired roleplaying.