“Look into my eyes.”
The Barbarian stared into the twin voids in the undead mage’s hollow, grinning skull. Within the lich’s eyes stirred a soft, hypnotic light. It flowed and rolled across the space between them and around the inside of the barbarian’s mind like thick, golden syrup.
It settled atop each and every one of the warrior’s thoughts and memories like glittering sunlight across the ocean at sunset. The barbarian felt his own will dragged beneath the glittering ocean’s surface — sinking down and down until all that remained on the surface of his mind was an absolute sense of serenity and peace.
Again came the voice of the lich, washing over the barbarian like a golden ocean. “Attack your companion. Strike him down where he stands.”
Of course. It was the right thing to do. The golden voice commanded it. Turning to the wizard who had been the barbarian’s closest friend for many years, the hulking warrior unslung his magical warblade and obeyed. Eyes wide, the warrior’s robed companion never stood a chance.
“Good,” came the golden voice again. “Now, go clean all that blood off yourself. Leave my lair and walk out into the ocean. Swim out as far as you can. Then, swim down as deep as you can go. And keep swimming.” Heavy footed, as though in a dream, the barbarian turned toward the ocean, bathed in the rays of the evening sun.
That’s right, folks. Today, we’re going to be talking about one of the most dangerous spells in Dungeons & Dragons 5e — the most powerful form of mind control available to bards, sorcerers, warlocks, wizards, and powerful enemy spellcasters everywhere: Dominate Monster. We’re going to go break down how this spell works and how best to use it to your advantage in your ongoing campaign.
Ready? Let’s begin.
- Level: 8th
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Duration: 1 hour (concentration)
- School: Enchantment
- Classes: Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
- Range/Area: 60 feet
- Damage/Effect: Charmed
- Attack/Save: Wisdom saving throw
- Components: V, S
Source: Basic Rules pg. 235
You magically charm a creature that you can see within 60 feet, forcing it to make a Wisdom Saving Throw. On a failed save, the target becomes charmed by you for the spell’s duration. A creature that is in combat against you or creatures friendly to you makes the saving throw with advantage.
A creature that is charmed by this spell is telepathically linked to the caster as long as both caster and target are on the same plane of existence. The caster can use this telepathic link to issue commands to the target while they are conscious, which the dominated creature must do its best to obey; this requires no action on behalf of the caster. The caster can specify simple, generalized courses of action, such as “Attack that creature,” “Go over there,” “Bring me the book,” or “Open this door.” A dominated creature that completes the caster’s order will defend itself and preserve its existence to the best of its ability.
The caster can also choose to use their action to take precise control of the target, forcing it to perform only actions of their choice and not doing anything not directed by the caster until the end of the caster’s next turn. During this time, the caster can also force the dominated creature to take reactions by using their own reaction.
Each time the target takes damage, it makes a new Wisdom saving throw against the spell. If the saving throw succeeds, the spell ends.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell with a 9th-level spell slot, the duration is concentration up to 8 hours.
How Does Dominate Monster Work?
Dominate Monster is a powerful enchantment spell that imposes the charmed condition on a single target you can see within 60 feet. If the target of the spell fails a Wisdom saving throw rolled against your Spell Save DC, you take control of them (to a greater or lesser degree) for up to an hour or until you dismiss the spell or something breaks your concentration.
You can either give a dominated target telepathic commands or use your own action to directly control the target like a puppet, although this prevents you from doing anything yourself. If the target completes the task you’ve commanded it to do, it will simply “defend and preserve” itself to the best of its ability — which is honestly a pretty open-ended mandate to try and end the spell, depending on how evil your GM is feeling, so it’s probably best to keep those commands coming.
Because this spell also establishes a telepathic link with the target, you can issue commands to the target without speaking or giving any hint that you’ve dominated it and can even continue giving the target orders if it leaves the spell’s range or your line of sight. Although the telepathic link is severed if the target leaves your plane of existence (by using spells like gate or blink, for example), the spell continues to function.
For example, casting Dominate Monster on a creature with access to a spell like Plane Shift (a mind flayer, for example) and telling it to “get as far away from me as you can” might prompt the illithid to plane shift itself to the plane of madness known as the Far Realm. Doing so would sever the link, but it wouldn’t end the effects of the spell once the mind flayer arrived in its native domain.
Ending Dominate Monster happens either when the caster’s concentration is broken (as a result of taking damage or casting a different concentration spell), or when the target takes damage and gets to make another Wisdom saving throw as a result. This second reason is probably why Dominate Person can struggle to feel effective as a combat spell, but used creatively, it can still be deadly.
For example: Finding ways to hurt, kill, or disable enemies either all at once or without taking away their hit points is especially effective. Telling a massive fighter to attack their allies may result in a few big hits and even a lucky critical hit, but it probably won’t be a kill. (To be fair, I have seen one PC get absolutely vaporized by this in a single round, which is why it’s always a good idea to stand on the far side of the party from the power-gamer player with a -3 to Wisdom when you’re going up against an evil wizard played by an evil-er GM — but I digress).
It’s much more effective to cast this spell on the same fighter while they and an ally are standing near a vertiginous drop and tell them to “grab your friend and jump off the cliff.” If you want to add maximum insult to injury, make sure you Counterspell their friend’s Feather Fall on the way down. Or, better yet, make them do it.
Obviously, the big issue with Dominate Monster as a combat spell is that the target gets advantage on their saving throw if you’re already fighting, meaning you’re going to want to find a way to reduce their chances of success before you cast the spell.
Here are four great ways to negate your target’s advantage on their Wisdom saving throw or just make it even more likely that they’re affected by Dominate Monster outside of combat.
- Have a divination wizard use their Portent ability to swap the target’s saving throw roll for something outrageously low.
- Silvery Barbs lets you impose disadvantage on an enemy’s attack roll, check, or saving throw after they roll.
- Bestow Curse imposes disadvantage on saving throws with an Ability Score of your choice.
- Bane forces a target to subtract a d4 from their attack rolls and saving throws while the spell is active.
- Apply three levels of exhaustion (the Dream spell, a prolonged chase, and Sickening Radiance are all effective ways of adding exhaustion to a creature).
Where Dominate Monster really shines, however, is outside of combat, which we’ll talk about more in a minute.
Who Can Cast Dominate Monster?
As an 8th-level spell from the School of Enchantment, Dominate Monster is available to all four of the arcane spellcasting classes: Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard. Each of these classes gets access to this spell when they reach 15th level, making this a firmly high-tier, late-game pickup for any dedicated spellcaster.
As an 8th-level spell (of which high-level spellcasters still only get one per day), Dominate Monster actually stacks up rather well against its peers. It’s more versatile as a disabling tool than Maze or Antipathy/Sympathy and can easily support more roleplaying shenanigans than just about anything. Also, if your allies trust you not to mess with them, you can also use it to partially replicate the effects of the Telepathy spell, which is also an 8th-level effect.
Who (or What) Can I Cast Dominate Monster On?
Anything and anyone that you can see within the spell’s range. The only restriction is that the target must be a creature — although by 5e’s standards, this can also include undead and constructs.
This means that there are some very, very high CR monsters (gods even) that are potential candidates for this spell as long as you aim for the CR bracket below the point where stuff starts getting legendary resistances because having your one 8th-level spell get squashed like a bug right before the start of the ancient black dragon’s turn is not how any adventurer likes to spend a Saturday night.
Still, grabbing powerful monsters to move them to places where they shouldn’t be is still a great way to use this spell. Just make sure to put them back again before the spell wears off. Of course, dominating anything that takes damage is likely to almost immediately have them shaken out of their stupor, so don’t plan on maintaining control of anything that’s going to get hit too often.
My personal recommendation would be a powerful spellcaster. Not only can you use them effectively without them needing to get too close to the action (and take damage), but you can also burn all their most powerful spells on their own side, leaving them with nothing to do when the spell wears off but angrily Comprehend Languages at you.
The target also doesn’t have to be able to see or hear you beforehand, which actually raises the interesting question of whether or not a target even needs to know they’ve been dominated when the spell ends. The telepathic instructions would probably give you away though unless you wanted to go with a whole “I am your god” thing to inspire some real madness.
How To Use Dominate Monster?
As I said before, the best way to use Dominate Monster is in non-combat settings, especially as a way to avoid combat ever having to take place.
Need to steal the cursed idol from the evil villain’s lair? Just dominate his trusty sidekick to go walk in and get it for you. Locked up in the dungeons beneath the palace? Time to persuade the kingdom’s best lawyer to work for you pro bono. Basically, there are very few limits to the potential of mind control in roleplay settings, especially if you upcast this spell to 9th level and get the full 8-hour duration.
My personal favorite use for Dominate Monster (assuming you have the time, space, and total lack of empathy necessary to make it happen) is to command the target to take the Dash action and run back and forth. Now, there’s nothing explicit in the rules about limiting the number of times you can take the dash action before running out of breath. However, we can find this is covered in the rules for chases in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
During the chase, a participant can freely use the Dash action a number of times equal to 3 + its Constitution modifier. Each additional Dash action it takes during the chase requires the creature to succeed on a DC 10 Constitution check at the end of its turn or gain one level of exhaustion.
Obviously, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to get something with a really good CON modifier to accumulate very many levels of exhaustions within the 10 rounds of combat that make up a minute, but even if you manage to tack on one or two levels (while simultaneously giving your allies a whole minute to prepare for the fight or finish off the target’s allies), it can completely unbalance a battle. Exhaustion is nasty, guys.
Upcast this spell to 9th level — extending the duration massively — and you can make a target sprint for long enough to accumulate 4 or 5 levels of exhaustion, which makes it more or less helpless. Alternately, you can then use a spell like Dream to prevent the target from gaining the benefits of a long rest and pushing its exhaustion from level 5 to 6 (death) without ever taking away one of its hit points.
Did I say this was my favorite way to use this spell? I meant my most psychopathic.
Final Thoughts: Is Dominate Monster a Good Spell?
In short: yes.
Now, Dominate Monster might not have the pure, unbridled damage of other 8th-level spells like Incendiary Cloud, it doesn’t work all that well in combat, and it’s very easily undone by a stray arrow or stubbed toe, but for total mind control of any creature in the multiverse (assuming they whiff their saving throw), that’s a very small price to pay.
If you’re playing a character with access to this spell, there are very few reasons not to pick it up.
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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.