Monday, January 23, 2017

Spells Through The Ages – Feeblemind

Bearded man, struck by magic, drooling
Feeblemind: A spell to make a master magician (or their ilk) really, really stupid.

Original D&D

Feeblemind: A spell usable only against Magic-Users, it causes the recipient to become feeble-minded until the spell is countered with a Dispell Magic. Because of its specialized nature the Feeblemind spell has a 20% better chance of success, i.e. lowers the Magic-Users saving throw against magic by 4, so that if normally a 12 or better were required to save against magic, a 16 would be required against a Feeblemind. Range: 24".

The exact effect of being "feeble-minded" does not seem to be explicitly spelled out here, but whereas the spell is 5th level (out of 6) and only usable against Magic-Users, we can assume that it is highly potent.

Historically, the term "feeble-minded" was used as a technical term from the late 1800's on for a particular category of mental deficiency. Like many (all?) such terms, it has come to be considered a pejorative -- and also has an unfortunate relation to projects of eugenics and forced sterilization in the U.S. and U.K. A London Times editorial from 1834 described the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, in retrospect, as being a "feeble-minded pedant of office". Clearly, the term feeble-minded indicates someone entirely not fit for any high-functioning operations. (Wikipedia)

In the Swords & Spells spell table, feeblemind was given an area of effect of "personal" and a duration of "until dispelled".

D&D Expert Rules

Range: 240'
Duration: indefinite

This spell makes a magic-user or elf unable to think or cast spells, becoming a helpless idiot. The victim is allowed a saving throw vs. Spells at -4. A successful save negates the effect of the spell. The spell effect lasts until negated by a dispel magic spell. This spell will have no effect on creatures or character classes other than magic-users or elves.

The Cook Expert D&D rules give more specificity to the spell; the victim cannot think or cast spells (really, the only thing a Magic-User is allegedly good for); he is "a helpless idiot". Indeed.

AD&D 1st Ed.

Feeblemind  (Enchantment/Charm)
Level:  5
Range: 1"/level
Duration: Permanent 
Area of Effect: One creature

Components:  V,  S,  M
Casting Time:  5  segments

Saving Throw: Neg.

Explanation/Description:  Except as noted above,  this  spell is the same as the sixth level druid spell, feeblemind (q.v.). The material component of this spell is a handful of small clay, crystal, glass or mineral spheres.

 The relevant description from the druidic listing being:
Explanation/Description:  A spell which  is  solely for employment against those persons or creatures who use magic spells, feeblemind causes the victim's brain to become that of a moronic child. The victim remains in this state until a heal, restoration or wish spell  is  used to do away with the effects. The spell  is  of such a nature that the probability of  it  affecting the target creature is generally enhanced, i.e. saving throws are lowered. 


The major change wrought here by Gygax is that the use of the spell has been expanded from (wizard-style) magic-users only to any spell caster, including clerics and druids (although the effect is easier to save against for those types). Also, the effect is even more difficult to recover from; instead of a mere dispel magic, it now requires a heal, restoration (6th or 7th level cleric spells), or full wish (9th level magic-user spell) to remove. Like they say, "There's no cure for stupidity" (or close to it).

The 1E DMG  has a few more details in its section on effects of psionic combat: "A feebleminded person has a combined intelligence and wisdom score of 0-5" (with the consequent effect of being 85% likely to die instantly from a psionic blast); and "All memory of spells is gone, and the affected creature cannot attack or defend."

AD&D 2nd Ed.

Range: 10 yds./level
Duration: Permanent
Area of Effect: 1 creature

 Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 5
Saving Throw: Neg.

This spell is used solely against people or creatures who use magic spells. The feeblemind causes the subject's intellect to degenerate to that of a moronic child. The subject remains in this state until a heal or wish spell is used to cancel the effects. Magic-using beings are very vulnerable to this spell; thus, their saving throws are made with the following adjustments:

The material component of this spell is a handful of clay, crystal, glass, or mineral spheres, which disappears when the spell is cast.

Cook in 2nd Edition has consolidated the save categories, and yet again made the spell a bit harder to recover from; restoration will no longer work.

D&D 3rd Ed.

Enchantment (Compulsion) [Mind-Affecting]
Level: Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Target: One creature
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: Will negates (see text)
Spell Resistance: Yes

The subject’s Intelligence score drops to 1. Still, the creature knows who its friends are and can follow them and even protect them. The creature remains in this state until a heal, limited wish, miracle, or wish spell is used to cancel the effects. Creatures who can cast arcane spells or use arcane spell-like effects suffer a –4 penalty on their saving throws.
A few more adjustments here in 3rd Ed. -- the spell can now apparently affect any creature; the only explicit remnant of the original anti-magic-user focus is the same -4 saving throw penalty to creatures using wizard-type spells. Other than that, the spell effect has been softened a bit; the victim "knows who its friends are and can follow them and even protect them" (compare to note in the 1E DMG), and a few more spells can now counter the effect (limited wish and miracle).


Feeblemind is a really great spell for its given purpose in early D&D. If you've got a boss necromancer leading an army of evil or whatever, this one spell is your huckleberry -- simply put, it nukes wizards ("It's the only way to be sure."). It's actually the spell that ended the campaign the last time I ran a multi-year convention G/D module series, up in the Great Fane of Lolth (link). When hit by the effect of this spell, even one's own god is hard-pressed to save the subject.


  1. Glad to see you back, hope things are well.

  2. Well, that's terrifying. If it was common enough to be known method of disabling Wizards in a setting, I could see a group of spellcasters working together to produce more effective countermeasures, or failing that, try to destroy every copy of the spell in existence.

  3. One way to think about this spell is that Feeblemind provides a bridge between the Game world and the Real world. If a player successfully casts the spell on an evil wizard I would say to the players around the table, "see before you the transformation of this genius, before he had the mind of a god, now his mind is almost exactly like yours."

  4. Good to see you back!

    I'd love to see how this spell would be treated in a setting. In a magocracy, it might be banned, with severe penalties for anyone found with even a copy of the spell. In a magic fearing society though, it might be the tool of the inquisition, essential for hunting down mages who refuse to work for the state.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and ideas!

  5. Great analysis as usual, and good to see you posting again. I would just add that the material component is a joke - losing one's marbles!

    1. Thank you! You're right, I didn't notice that about the component. :-)

  6. It's a save or die spell, and as a rule I don't care for those too much...

    For comparison, the 5e version targets Charisma and Intelligence, although not Wisdom, so it theoretically doesn't affect clerics. However, after that it says that the creature can't cast spells, activate magic items, understand language, or communicate in any intelligible way. It retains the "identify its friends, follow them, and even protect them."

    They get a saving throw every 30 days to recover, or a greater restoration removes the effects. That is, a 5th level spell (that practically everybody has access to), negates an 8th level spell.

    Personally, I'll probably rewrite it to just cause Ability Damage. In my campaign you recover very slowly from ability damage (it uses the death save mechanic, 1 save daily), and 3 failures indicates that point of loss is permanent. Most likely it will cause just Intelligence damage, although since spellcasting is tied to Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma depending on class, it might target the relevant ability. I don't particularly like that idea due to it being called feeblemind, though.

    The intention of the spell is to target spellcasters (although originally wizards). So I guess I'm OK with just Intelligence. There could be additional spells that target Charisma or Wisdom.

    Ability damage in the campaign requires 7th level magic to heal. Even though that's lower level than the spell that caused it, it's actually addressing an effect, so I'm OK with that. Plus, it will probably require several applications to heal it all.

    I might do a variable amount of Intelligence damage too - say, 4d4, or maybe as high as 8d4, with the amount over the creature's intelligence score being psychic damage (instead of rolling such damage separately).

    Although perhaps I'd make this a necromantic spell. Casting necromantic spells in my campaign can draw unwanted attention to the caster, and potentially corrupt them as well. Necrotic damage doesn't heal naturally in the campaign either - it requires magical healing (3rd level or higher).

    Regardless, in most civilized regions, it would be a significant crime against another to cast such a spell. If you're caught. That's not to say that in less scrupulous areas that it's not used by the state as spaceLem suggests. It's probably a favorite of the Wizards of Thay.

    Almost certainly there are defenses against such a spell by high level wizards - at the very least a contingency spell of some sort.

    1. Keep in mind this is an old-school blog, and we'll be using a lot of save-or-die stuff; particularly at the 5th-6th spell levels which are the maximum in OD&D. :-)