Dominate Person: Am I The Jerk?


Rules Questions


I'd like to hear thoughts from the community about how everyone handles situations with Dominate Person like the situation that came up for us last session.

We're running through Giantslayer and, since giants are known to have weak minds, the group rightfully used Dominate Person and the target rolled a natural 1 on its save. Dominate successful.

The command they gave the giant was to turn and kill that other giant right there, so he did that. Other giant dead. I did not feel that making a giant attack another giant was "against its nature" since I see them as creatures that fight amongst themselves all the time anyway and sometimes that leads to killing each other.

This is the point where my group got frustrated with me as the GM. My interpretation of the spell is that, having completed the action he was commanded to perform, in the absence of any further commands (because the caster's turn had not yet come back up in the initiative to provide another command), the Dominated giant was free to behave normally and do things that he would otherwise normally do such as take attacks of opportunity against these humans who were obviously here to murder him. So he took his AoOs as people moved through his threatened area. My group was upset by this, believing that, in the absence of any further commands, the giant should perform no actions or at the very least should not attack the party.

My group then, beginning to feel that I was being a jerk for trying to be overly pedantic with the wording of the command, next issued an overly worded compound command, something like, "attack this other guy until he's dead and then stop attacking anything and just stand there doing absolutely nothing until we tell you do do something else." I let that go, though I feel in retrospect that I should have paused the game right there to address the underlying issue.

The situation became even more heated when they next ordered the giant to drop his weapon and take off all his armor. In that moment, with the giant surrounded by enemies with their weapons drawn and covered in the blood of his companions, THAT seemed to me like an action that would be against his nature if not completely suicidal so I gave him a second save, per the spell description, which he passed and threw off the spell.

The group became super angry that I was, in their opinion, GMing in an "adversarial" manner and stated that it felt to them like I was giving him a second saving throw because I just wanted to play him and didn't want them to win the fight due to the giant rolling badly on a Dominate Person effect.

I can understand their feelings, that they went from the super high of watching a tough opponent fail an encounter-ending save only to have that excitement dashed due to what felt like an arbitrary adjudication by the GM. On the other hand, I'm trying to follow the spirit and letter of the spell description which allows the caster to force the target to comply with the caster's commands but does not turn the target into a mindless automaton incapable of any actions but what he is told to do.

So, I turn to the community. Do other people interpret the rules of this spell differently? Am I being a jerk about the way I'm ruling it? If you were GMing it, how would you have handled it?


dropping his weapon and taking off his armor is definitely a suicidal action in the middle of a fight but i'm not sure about AOO's, i know with charm person only the caster is considered his friend so he could attack the rest of the party but dominate is different so not 100% on this.


Taking one AoO might be OK (slightly dickish, but OK), but talking is a free action. The caster should be able to tell the giant to stop that after the first AoO.

OTOH telling the giant to strip, disarm (and implied be killed) as a second command after completing one is new save territory, sure.


I think that this is a tough one and emotions were running high.

First up, I think the original command was against its nature. Giants don't generally kill their mates. I would have pointed out to the player that it was a command against its nature and given them a chance to reconsider.

Lets assume that the command went ahead as described; did any of the party attack the dominated giant? If so then the AoO are fair. Defending oneself is a normal.

But by the description of events you described, it reads as though you have not taken a round as 6 seconds of simultaneous activity played in turn for the sake of gameplay, but instead relied on the lineal nature of the game mechanics to determine that the giant was free of command. IMC that would fall foul of my rule of cheese and bad things happen.

The stripping of the armour would seem suicidal if under attack but reasonable if amongst a non-hostile group that were doing similar actions.

To sum up, your adjudication of the spell seems reasonable to generous but your interpretation of the passage of time within a round is woeful.


It appears you adjudicated the spell the best to your understanding at the time. It is a game.

The main issues are social and emotional along with understanding the framework of the game rather than the game itself.

Dominate Person
#1 the group doesn't cast a spell, the spellcaster does. They, in general, can't identify the spell or know its parameters without Spellcraft or being able to cast the spell. So advise them to be quiet and let the caster do his job. Your job isn't to explain your internal thoughts mid game (as that just invites debate), just act. You can work it out later.
#2 did the caster take a full round to cast this?
#3 common language...
#4 "Once you have given a dominated creature a command, it continues to attempt to carry out that command to the exclusion of all other activities except those necessary for day-to-day survival." So it should have continued to attack the fallen giant until totally dead or obviously dead as determining Death isn't all that easy in the game.
#5 "Changing your orders or giving a dominated creature a new command is a move action." so ignore people advising you to change the command about willy-nilly. It takes time(an action).
#6 "Subjects resist this control", spell targets try to resist (subvert and twist the commands) so you have to consider the INT and WIS of the target. They don't become friends of the party or temporary party members.
#7 Killing your allies in a combat IS an action against a social creature's nature. You have to consider the group dynamic, which you did and felt it was minimal thus killing another giant was okay.


Ultimate Campaign pg 140 wrote:
"A creature under a dominate effect is more of a puppet, and you can force it to do anything that isn’t suicidal or otherwise against its well-being. Treat it as player controlled, with the GM making its saving throws to resist inappropriate commands."

Looks like they're player controlled. They refuse things that are against their well being, not just things that are suicidal. I would say that even if they'd often fight and kill their friends, they probably wouldn't do that mid combat making that request prompt a new save.

That said, there could be other rules spread about that I don't know of.

edit: if you want it to work the way you've had it work, then obviously it does, but try to make that clear to the players before hand.


Assuming there is a common language dominate person allows you to force the subject to do pretty much anything you tell them to. It also specifies that it continues to attempt to carry out that command to the exclusion of all other activities except those necessary for day to day survival. Furthermore the DC to determine if the target is being influenced by an enchantment effect is only 15 not the normal 25. This seems to indicate that the target does return to normal when a command is finished

Most characters especially casters have higher mental stats than the players controlling them. If a character has a higher INT or WIS than the player I generally give them a break when it comes to things like this. A characters ability scores are supposed to mean something, but are often ignored unless they are hardwired into the game. Unless this was a sorcerer who dumped his other mental stats chances are the character casting the spell had a good INT. Holding them to the exact wording of what the player said in that case is in my opinion a bit of harsh. In cases like this I will often give the player a INT roll to realize he should give better orders.

The fact that your players felt the need to give overly complicated instruction is a pretty good indication you may have been a little harsh. This type of attitude by all parties is only going to slow down the game and make things less fun for everyone. Regardless of who is in the right is this the kind of game you want to run?


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Jeeze. Those sound like some touchy players. Hats off to you for dealing with that situation fairly well, by the sound of it.

To answer your question, no. You're not your jerk. You're the GM. Your job is to adjudicate. If the players have an issue with it, they can take it up with you after the game. Maybe once during, but just once; they'd better be ready to accept your ruling after offering their two bits.

As ErichAD points out, it looks like the giant wouldn't get attacks of opportunity, but would have also probably received a second save when ordered to attack it's ally, and definitely another one when ordered to disarm itself.


The foreword of book 2 has an official take on mind control on giants, basically saying: Let them, but make sure it's not too easy for them. Your decisions were totally in line with that, IMO.

But maybe you'd be better off with simply banning the spell for this campaign. No spell, hence no expectations, hence no disappointment, hence no frustration. Maybe your players will even appreciate it after this incident.

Liberty's Edge

Domination doesn't change the perception of friends and enemies.
Taking an AoO against enemies is decidedly part of the actions "necessary for day-to-day survival" for a fighting creature.
Disarming yourself when there are present persons that have just butchered your companions is a suicidal act if you have no guarantees of your survival.


Diego Rossi wrote:

Domination doesn't change the perception of friends and enemies.

Taking an AoO against enemies is decidedly part of the actions "necessary for day-to-day survival" for a fighting creature.
Disarming yourself when there are present persons that have just butchered your companions is a suicidal act if you have no guarantees of your survival.

actually ‘surrender’ is a pretty standard survival tactic for people who have just seen their compatriots slaughtered. Unless he saw someone else surrender and then get executed. Attacking people who are clearly more powerful than you would be the more self destructive course. Attacking people is not essentially the same as eating and sleeping, and there are plenty of other spells and effects that explicitly call out self-defense as an allowed activity where this does not.

To me it looks like there is a lot of GM discretion to grant extra saving throws when new orders are given, but “you control the actions” reads much more like ‘this NPC is under PC control’, as per Ultimate Intrigue language, then the ‘multi-round Suggestion’ the OP was going with, and i believe that’s how it is normally handled. GM can rule however he or she wants, but i think it’s better if everyone is on the same page for how things will be ruled before being aggressive with something like that.

Liberty's Edge

Lelomenia wrote:
Diego Rossi wrote:

Domination doesn't change the perception of friends and enemies.

Taking an AoO against enemies is decidedly part of the actions "necessary for day-to-day survival" for a fighting creature.
Disarming yourself when there are present persons that have just butchered your companions is a suicidal act if you have no guarantees of your survival.

actually ‘surrender’ is a pretty standard survival tactic for people who have just seen their compatriots slaughtered. Unless he saw someone else surrender and then get executed. Attacking people who are clearly more powerful than you would be the more self destructive course. Attacking people is not essentially the same as eating and sleeping, and there are plenty of other spells and effects that explicitly call out self-defense as an allowed activity where this does not.

To me it looks like there is a lot of GM discretion to grant extra saving throws when new orders are given, but “you control the actions” reads much more like ‘this NPC is under PC control’, as per Ultimate Intrigue language, then the ‘multi-round Suggestion’ the OP was going with, and i believe that’s how it is normally handled. GM can rule however he or she wants, but i think it’s better if everyone is on the same page for how things will be ruled before being aggressive with something like that.

Offering to surrender and have that surrender accepted is a survival tactic. If you look at what I wrote, I did say "if you have no guarantees of your survival". Generally accepting someone's surrender is an implicit guarantee that he will not be slaughtered out of hand.

"Drop your weapons and remove your armor." lacks that implicit guarantee.
So I would give the giant a new save when ordered to do that. He will not start immediately a fight if he makes the save, but he will ask for some form of guarantee that his surrender will be accepted and respected.

Liberty's Edge

The Giant was still under their control since it had not yet successfully broken out of it. There is zero reason it would try to attack them. So, yes it reads like adversarial GMing.

My advice : explain your position to your players : why you had the Giant act that way and hear their position too. It will help you all get through this.


I think you handled it relatively well. If anything, the initial allowance of the giant turning to kill his ally was too generous, but that can be explained both by your reasoning, and that he failed his save with a natural 1.

However, this did create perhaps a false expectation of what the spell can and should do in regards to control.

The AoO issue could go either way, but doesn't feel especially cheesy if the spell does allow for the subject to continuously try to resist or twist the commands.

The second command given was overly long, and I think there are prohibitions against multi-part commands. I could be mistaken there, but I'm pretty sure it's the same thing as trying to cram to many stipulations into a wish. There's a word and/or preposition limit.

The second save allowed, when told to strip off, seem more than legitimate, but a discussion of commands, and a chance to reword, wouldn't have been amiss.

In the end, you maybe made a few hiccups, but your players were the one's who turned this situation into an overly adversarial interaction.


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My issue with the OP's handling of the encounter is around

ArchAnjel wrote:

... (because the caster's turn had not yet come back up in the initiative to provide another command), ...

To me this shows that the GM is playing the game like a boardgame rather than using the turn based mechanics as a practical and convenient simulation of 6 seconds of simultaneous activity. In a simultaneous situation the spellcaster would have given the next command as soon as the other giant was killed and would not have had to wait for their turn. In my view, ruling that the Giant was free of the Dominate effect in the same round as they were given and completed an action because the spellcaster turn hasn't come round is cheesy because it is using the turn based game mechanics to override the simulation.

As I said earlier, the rest of the OP's ruling looks a little soft. But giving the players the benefit of any doubt is generally a good thing and if the PCs had attacked the Giant then the AoO to defend itself is fair.


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Hugo Rune wrote:
I think the original command was against its nature. Giants don't generally kill their mates.

Any act you order a dominated person to perform is likely to be something they wouldn't generally do.

My interpretation of 'against their nature' is that it should only be for the sort of thing they'd rather die than do.

Telling a Paladin to murder children? Against his/her nature.
Telling a Neutral Ranger to murder a stranger? Not something he would generally do, but not a complete violation of everything he stands for.

So I think it would vary for each individual giant and their personal relationship with the giant you're telling them to attack.


So what we ended up doing was basically just adding the following to the spell description:

The target of Dominate Person behaves as if the caster and his group are allies, effectively becoming an NPC controlled by the caster. The target's original allies still remain allies as well and any command for a creature to attack its allies will be treated as an action that is "against its nature."

Everyone was okay with this as it seemed to capture the "spirit" of the spell that everyone but me felt the spell was supposed to be doing but didn't actually say it did in the spell description.

Thank you everyone for your thoughts and opinions on this rules question. Everyone who shared their ideas helped to inform my final decision on this matter.

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