Despite the broad selection of spells in D&D, a relative handful of mainstays such as Sleep and Fireball tend to dominate most caster’s spell lists. But there are several lesser-known options that can give casters creative new options for dealing with opponents.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at one such spell in D&D 5E, Crown of Madness, that’s available to most casters and has rich potential for creative use. First, let’s recap the basic details:
Crown of Madness Description
Casting Time: 1 action
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
Classes Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
The caster may target any single humanoid visible within range, who must make a Wisdom save or be charmed for the spell’s duration. A jagged iron crown appears on the target’s head and the target’s eyes glow with madness. Each round, the target must use its action prior to movement to make a melee attack against a creature chosen by the caster. After this attack, the target may use its movement as it desires. If there is no creature in melee range, the target can use its actions normally (though it still has the charmed condition).
The caster must maintain concentration and use his action each round to maintain the spell. In addition, the target attempts the save again at the end of each round, with success ending the spell.
Why Use Crown of Madness?
At first glance, the spell doesn’t seem appealing – it takes up your actions, the target gets multiple shots at one of the less challenging saving throws and – if there’s no suitable candidate for a melee attack – the target can act freely, including using ranged attacks, spells, or any other abilities, so long as they’re not targeting the actual caster.
And even on the rounds they make the attack, they can still use their movement to take themselves out of melee range (or melee range of their own allies, at least).
Those would seem to be lethal drawbacks for the spell, when the basic Charm Person only takes a 1st level slot, doesn’t require such an investment to maintain, and lasts an hour. However, Crown of Madness has a few quirks that set it apart from Charm Person (or the more powerful Dominate Person) and make it a worthy addition to a caster’s arsenal.
Consider this: both Charm Person and Dominate Person give the target advantage on the Wisdom save if they’re cast while the target’s in combat with the caster’s party. Crown of Madness has no such limitation – meaning it’s just as effective if cast at an opponent during battle.
Also, while Charm Person ends immediately if the caster or his allies harm the target – and Dominate Person gives the target another try at the save every time they take damage from any source – attacks against the target of Crown of Madness have no such effect, meaning your allies can whittle away at the target even as it attacks its own allies on your behalf.
And the range of Crown of Madness is a stunning 120 feet – four times that of Charm Person, and twice that of the 5th level Dominate Person. Used correctly, that could make it a very versatile spell, as well as a great sneak attack option.
And while it might seem like a spell useful only against lower-rung humanoids whose low Wisdom and CR make the saving throw more challenging than normal – like goblins, kobolds, grimlocks, or slaad – the trick with Crown of Madness, like any spell, is in how you use it. So, let’s talk about some of those more inventive uses that can elevate this spell.
How Do I Use Crown of Madness?
Have an enemy bashing your healer, bard, or another soft target? Crown of Madness can let you redirect their aggression to, say, your party’s barbarian. As long as the more combat-ready alternative is in melee range (or can get into melee range before the target kicks off his turn), you can keep them engaged with someone they’ll have a harder time damaging, and free up those more vulnerable members to use their talents for more than just dodging. As an added bonus, if the target attempts to move away after attacking – boom, attack of opportunity (since they had to burn their action on melee, Disengage is off the table).
The specific text of the spell says the target “must use its action before moving on each of its turns to make a melee attack”. The implication is that the target of Crown of Madness gets a single strike – meaning that a target with the Multiattack action wouldn’t be able to use it. Casting Crown of Madness on such a target, even if the only available melee opponent is the same party member they’d have attacked anyway, reduces the potential strikes against your allies.
Of course, this is something of a judgment call based on the wording of the spell, and the DM is always free to interpret it their own way. However, the fact that the attack is being made not of their own will, but by the compulsion of the spell (no matter who they’re aiming at), seems consistent with the idea that they’re making a single, forced swing.
Defanging the Spellcasters:
Granted, they’re probably more likely than most to make a Wisdom save. All the same, compelling an enemy mage to take a swing at someone instead of working up a Fireball can only help the party’s odds (and even without melee attacks, the charmed condition keeps them from throwing area-of-effect magic your way). Likewise, making their healer throw a punch instead of tending their wounded is a potentially valuable trick.
Remember that one of the great advantages of the Crown of Madness spell is that attacks by allies don’t impact the spell. This allows them to “corral” the target with Shove or spells like Thorn Whip to keep them in range of melee targets so they can’t act on their own.
Cooperation by party members can keep a Crown of Madness target bouncing into melee range of other creatures for as long as the spell lasts.
As noted, Crown of Madness has impressive range – enough that a party can use it against a group that’s totally unaware of them. Imagine a wizard or bard casting it from a tower window at a member of the formation of guards below.
Not only is the target in the midst of a number of melee options, when they do have the option to move, they won’t have a clue why they need to, or where to.
The crown and crazy eyes will leave those around the target no doubt they’re under some kind of magical effect, but what are the odds they’ll know how to stymie it? As a long distance, sneak-attack option, this spell offers great opportunity to sow chaos for a stealthy caster.
While a first impression might make Crown of Madness seem like a limited spell, these few suggestions show it definitely has potential. Casters that can think outside the box would do well to give the spell a chance.