Oh, hi gang! It’s me, Felix! I’m back to answer more of your questions about TTRPGs, mostly so that I have a chance to warn you (again) about those cosmic horrors you all seem to keep forgetting about. For example, did you know that the you that looks back at you from the mirror hasn’t been your reflection for months? Who is it then, you ask? Well, stick with me through the end of the column and find out!
Dominate Person says if the person is under the effect they get additional saves if they “take actions against their nature.”
As a GM, how do I run that in a way that is both fair to the players while also not nerfing the spell to make it pointless to even cast it on a player?
That’s an excellent question, and it is one that has been a part of the discourse around the game for many editions. That is, except 5th Edition. Lol. I hope you don’t get Dominated in 5th Edition, but if you do, good luck with “defends and preserves itself to the best of [your] ability.” Perhaps see if you can get a two-for-one deal hiring a lawyer and an undertaker.
The language you cited comes from Pathfinder 2nd Edition, and this version of the spell is a bit more nuanced in ways that mostly favor the target and generally make the spell more fun. First, the spell is pretty short range compared to similar spells such as Phantasmal Killer (30 ft vs 120ft). This means monsters who use it will be within stride-and-strike range for the party. Secondly, on a simple success, the target is stunned 1. For the majority of player characters (PCs) who are likely to encounter this spell, this will be the most likely outcome and will result in an interesting scenario. Finally, failure results in domination with a new save every turn and critical failure results in domination for the day. Like many save-or-suck spells in PF 2nd Edition, only a critical failure completely debilitates a character for more than a few moments.
At the risk of being shoved in the mud and taunted with mean names like ‘Math-finder’ by a bunch of 5th Edition players, the breakdown of likely outcomes here are pretty revealing. Roughly 10 places on the save die will result in a close combat scenario with the target suffering stunned 1. That is going to be a lot of fun for everyone at the table if your caster is a vampire or a succubus. Seven to 10 places on the die will result in your target PC being dominated for, realistically, one to three rounds. In the unlikely event that your target PC rolls extremely low on their save, they are dominated for the day and I believe this is your primary point of concern, Uncle Flumpy.
It’s my opinion that the worst use of a successful Dominate spell is to force a PC to attack the other PCs. For one, your players will correctly argue that they get another save, and they will likely score a success over the course of a few rounds. This is both fair to the players and the most boring outcome, in the opinion of this humble flumph. Dominate is usually only in the kit of monsters who have the ability to plot and plan to an ingenious extent. A successful Dominate spell is much better spent throwing the party out of position in an unexpected way. Remember, for succubi and other monsters, this is an ability they plan around. It isn’t a nerf on the spell to use it for non-lethal applications. Here are some examples that your party should find vexing and fun. You could order a PC to:
- sit down at a table in another room and begin feasting;
- walk into an adjacent room and then bar the door behind them;
- alert your monster’s allies;
- remove equipment that adds bonuses to their saves;
- cast their best buff spell on the monster;
- fetch a cup of sugar.
Your players are less likely to argue for a save when the request seems less dangerous, and luckily players are bad at comparing the danger of direct damage from PC to PC to, well, anything really. An order to walk into a room and bar the door might cut the party off from the environmental solution to the encounter, for example, but it won’t cause the same eruption of player pushback as telling the fighter to bash the wizard with their warhammer.
This is all to say, Dominate is supposed to be a show-stopper when it works, but you are right that it can feel unfair to players if it isn’t used interestingly enough. o when Dominate is on the menu, plan a way to play it cleverly and everyone will have more fun. There’s no need to change or nerf the spell, just think more like a devious demon. A smart demon would probably target a person when they are on their own, and would likely not even reveal themselves to the party, or even their target, until they had them all at a total disadvantage. They could potentially wait for their victim somewhere, re-casting the Dominate spell daily, making horrible preparations. You know, somewhere predictable. If you need a more specific example, just ask your reflection in the mirror the next time you go to brush your teeth.
Anyhoo! Until next time, humans!
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