Here we’re taking a look at the 2nd level spell crown of madness, which exists on the Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard spell lists. Putting it simply, this spell is regarded as quite possibly one of the worst spells in the game.
As always, I’ll be breaking down the basic rules of the spell itself, and rather than offering optimization options, I’ll be diving in-depth into why this is such a bad spell.
The rules of crown of madness, found on page 229 of the Player’s Handbook, are as follows:
Crown of Madness 5e
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
One humanoid of your choice that you can see within range must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or become charmed by you for the duration.
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 in 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.
Looking simply at the rules, this spell follows the general similarities to other spells that charm creatures in the enchantment school of magic.
They target a creature, they force that creature to make a saving throw or do something against their will, and the creature gets a conditional chance to break the charm.
In addition to the above similarities, crown of madness also has numerous additional drawbacks that unfortunately put it far below similar spells.
Charm in 5e
In order to understand how bad crown of madness is, it’s important to view its positives first, few as they are.
A major feature of most enchantment spells, which crown of madness shares, is the Charmed condition, which has the following effects:
- A charmed creature can’t Attack the charmer or target the charmer with harmful abilities or magical Effects
- The charmer has advantage on any ability check to interact socially with the creature
This does have its limits, however. Many creatures are immune to the charmed condition, but more importantly, there are a large number of spells and effects that can inflict it on creatures, nearly all of which are better than crown of madness.
Why Crown of Madness is So Bad?
The first limitation on crown of madness is that it requires the casters concentration. This means that the caster cannot cast another spell requiring concentration, otherwise the first spell ends immediately.
Many of the most powerful or best spells in the game require concentration, such as haste or polymorph, so any other spell requiring concentration must be good enough to justify not casting these effective spells.
The second is that this spell, like many others that charm, requires the target to make a Wisdom saving throw, only taking effect if they fail this save. This is compounded by the fact that the target creature can repeat this saving throw at the end of each of its turns.
Across the majority of creatures in 5th edition, Wisdom is the average highest mental ability score compared to Intelligence or Charisma, which means that the average creature has a better chance of succeeding should it be forced to make a Wisdom saving throw, compared to an Intelligence or Charisma saving throw.
The third is that the target must spend its action to attack a creature of the caster’s choice at the start of its turn.
This might seem like a benefit of spell, and it can be, but only if there is a creature within reach. If no creature is in reach, the target can just act normally – moving, taking actions, doing as it wants with no downsides (save that it is still charmed by the caster).
The fourth and final nail in this spell’s coffin is that the caster must use their action every turn to maintain the spell.
This means that they cannot cast any other spells, make any attacks or do anything else unless it uses a bonus action or involves movement.
Given the third limitation above, it should be fairly clear that this fourth limitation is especially terrible.
The caster must give up their action every turn to force their target to possibly give up their Action and only then with strict conditions.
Taking all these downsides together, it’s quite easy to see why crown of madness is regarded as one of the worst spells in the game.
The caster gives up their action every turn, their concentration, and a 2nd-level spell slot to possibly make one target creature waste its action every turn, with a good chance that the target’s action will not be wasted and a good chance that the creature will simply pass its Wisdom save and thus invalidate all of that investiture.
My final conclusion and suggestion would be to pretty much ignore this spell entirely.
If you want the charmed condition, the charm person and charm monster spells are far better – while they also require concentration and Wisdom saving throws, they do not require the constant investment of your action and do not allow the target creature to repeat the saving throw every turn.
If you want to control your enemies, the dominate person and dominate monster spells will have you covered.
They are, of course, more powerful magic so require higher-level spell slots, but they give you total control over the target for the duration should they fail the save, and they only get to attempt the save again if they take damage.