Crown of Madness is a unique, thematic spell that lets you turn your enemies against one another, disrupt their plans, and generally raise the level of chaos on the battlefield.
Whether or not this spell is “good” (especially if you hold it up against other 2nd level control spells like Hold Person and Suggestion) is a matter of some debate.
However, used correctly, Crown of Madness can be the perfect magical wrench to throw into your enemies’ perfectly coordinated attack.
Crown of Madness
- Casting Time: 1 Action
- Range/Area: 120 ft.
- Duration: 1 Minute (Concentration)
- School: Enchantment
- Class: Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard, Paladin (Oathbreaker)
- Level: 2nd
- Damage/Effect: Charmed
- Attack/Save: Wisdom Saving Throw
- Components: V, S
As an action, choose one humanoid that you can see with the spell’s range (120 feet).
The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or become charmed by you for the spell’s duration (1 minute, or until your concentration is broken, or you choose to end the spell).
While the target is charmed in this way, a twisted crown of jagged iron appears on its head, and a madness glows in its eyes.
The charmed target must use its action before moving on each of its turns to make a melee attack against a creature other than itself that you mentally choose.
The target can act normally on its turn if you choose no creature or if none are within its reach.
On your subsequent turns, you must use your action to maintain control over the target, or the spell ends. Also, the target can make a Wisdom saving throw at the end of each of its turns. On a success, the spell ends.
What Is Crown of Madness?
Crown of Madness is an enchantment spell that not only prevents a powerful enemy from attacking you or your allies but also creates the chance they’ll successfully deal some damage to their own team as well.
It’s a disruption spell that can effectively mess up a closely packed group of enemies, force a powerful boss monster to multiattack one of its minions to death, and force enemies to spread out into unfavorable positions.
You force your enemies to move away from one another or risk tearing each other apart.
However, the fact that this spell requires you to burn a 2nd-level spell slot and effectively exchange your action for an enemy’s (not to mention that the enemy can use their movement to effectively negate this spell on subsequent turns) means that Crown of Madness has a rather high opportunity cost, especially when compared to other 2nd-level spells that also control, disrupt, and otherwise mess with enemies, like Suggestion and Hold Person.
However, infecting an enemy’s mind with temporary madness and bloodlust not only allows you to command them to cut down an ally (which feels very much like the Greek gods cursing Hercules to slay his family in a drunken rage) but also conjures a jagged iron crown on their head while they do it is just. So. Freaking. Metal.
There’s a lot of debate over whether this spell is actually good or not. Frankly, it’s so thematically cool that I’m not sure I actually care.
But, in the interest of good science, we’re going to take a look at its weaknesses and try to figure out how to use it effectively.
Spoiler alert: it’s probably not the way that you think.
Who Can Cast Crown of Madness?
Crown of Madness is a broadly available spell that crops up on the spell lists of the three main “caster classes” (the sorcerer, the warlock, and the wizard) as well as the bard and the Oathbreaker paladin.
With the exception of the paladin, all these classes can start learning, preparing, and casting Crown of Madness at 3rd level.
At that point, there are probably better options to pick up, but as your roster of lower-level spells grows, it’s definitely worth learning since the spell is as effective as the creature you cast it on, and the more dangerous the target the better.
Is Crown of Madness Good?
First, let’s look at some of the options you’ll be forgoing in order to prepare and cast Crown of Madness. The D&D 5e spell list (especially if you’re a wizard) starts to get really good at 2nd level.
You’ve got outstanding damage spells like Scorching Ray, defensive options like Blur, and even other powerful disruption effects like Hold Person and Heat Metal.
Honestly, there are few things that Crown of Madness does that a different spell of the same level (or lower, honestly; Sleep is amazing) doesn’t do better.
Making Crown of Madness feel worth its spell slot is going to be heavily dependent on the situation, the target, and what you hope to achieve with the spell.
The reason I think so many players are disappointed by Crown of Madness is that the spell seems like it does one thing, which, in reality, it’s pretty bad at.
The first time I read Crown of Madness, I imagined facing down a gang of orcs, warping the mind of their leader, sending him on a frenzied killing spree as he cut down one of his warriors after another.
Honestly, it’s how I wish this spell worked, but the reality is very different.
Not that this doesn’t mean Crown of Madness is bad, per se. It just means it’s bad at getting one enemy to repeatedly attack their allies for you.
When you cast this spell (especially if you’re a sorcerer and can use Metamagic to twin it for double the effect), you’ll obviously want to pick a target that’s standing within 5 feet of an ally. That already narrows down your options.
Also, the target is going to get repeated Wisdom saving throws to end the spell, so you don’t want to pick anything with a super high Wisdom score unless you have a way to consistently cast something like Mind Sliver or Bane against it as well. So the list of good options gets shorter again.
You also can’t cast this spell on enemies with Charmed immunity either. So that’s another 440+ monsters off the table, including all undead.
Then, to get the most out of this spell as a source of damage, you’re going to want to pick an enemy that either hits really, really hard, has multiattack, or has some kind of extra juice on its attack (like the Carrion Crawler, which actually has multiattack and a paralysis effect) because, despite the one minute duration, there’s basically no way you can force this spell to go off more than once.
What’s going to happen is that you cast this spell on the biggest, baddest enemy you can see. If they fail their throw, they attack an enemy within melee range.
Maybe they kill their target, and maybe they don’t, but the next thing any even semi-intelligent enemy is going to do is move their full movement either away from their allies or toward you.
Remember: if there’s no “legal” target for them to attack at the start of their turn, the spell has no effect.
If you’re looking to Crown of Madness as a way to get your enemies to tear each other apart, this spell unequivocally sucks.
So, what is Crown of Madness good for, exactly?
How Do I Use Crown of Madness?
Let’s be clear here: Crown of Madness is actually a pretty good spell. Okay, it’s not as good as Hold Person or, frankly, a lot of other 2nd-level spells, but that’s a stupid reason not to pick it.
It may be situational, have a high opportunity cost, and not work the way you want it to, but I just want to reiterate that Crown of Madness is not only super badass, but if you use it the right way, it’s a boss fight winner.
Let’s look at what this spell does in a more positive light, assuming you’ve found a monster to cast it on who’s surrounded by their allies.
Once you successfully hit a big, scary monster with this spell, it has two choices if it doesn’t want to tear its allies to pieces: either run away from the fight so it doesn’t tear its allies to pieces or stay in the fight while its allies hang back and get torn to pieces by the now-stacked action economy.
Crown of Madness may be one of the best spells in the game for forcing your opponents into a disadvantageous situation. It allows you to isolate powerful enemies, force them out of cover, and maybe even score a kill from range.
Speaking of range, 120 feet is pretty damn good if you want to use this spell to create a distraction while hidden. Just drop it on an enemy patrol and stroll on by under the cover of the carnage.
Or be super evil and combo this spell with something that restricts the enemies’ ability to get away, like Wall of Fire or Wall of Stone. Or just collapse some tunnels the old fashioned way.
Basically, Crown of Madness is one of those wonderful, nuanced spells that lets you get as much out of it as you put in.
Throw it out blindly in the middle of combat where enemy movement is largely unobstructed and your allies are in no position to take advantage? Obviously it’s going to be underwhelming.
Carefully set up this spell as a way to quickly isolate and eliminate key enemies, create a distraction at a pivotal moment, land a hit on a fleeing enemy that’s nearly out of range… the possibilities aren’t endless, but Crown of Madness is one of those beautiful spells where, the more you think about it, the more varied the applications get.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does Crown of Madness Do?
Crown of Madness forces a target you can see within range to make a Wisdom saving throw.
If the target fails, you can force it to make a melee attack against an allied creature within range at the start of each of its turns while the spell is active.
If the target doesn’t have an ally within melee range, the spell has no effect, and it can make a saving throw at the end of each of its turns to end the spell.
Is Crown of Madness a Charm Spell?
Yes. Crown of Madness belongs to the school of Enchantment and imposes the Charmed condition on its target, meaning many undead, constructs, and other powerful monsters are immune to its effects.
Can You Twin Crown of Madness?
Yes. The spell technically only affects a single target (the fact that the target then has to attack another creature isn’t technically part of the casting process). It can be twinned using the Sorcerer’s Metamagic.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.