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A spellcaster has gone and murder hobo'd and has gotten caught by the authorities. Now he faces either life imprisonment or capital punishment.

However, as a third alternative, his spellcasting can also be permanently removed, in the following way:

  • He is able to expend spell slots. Post magic-removal, he should not have the ability to expend them anymore (or even perhaps have them at all);

  • As the goal is to substitute life imprisonment or capital punishment, the way their magic is removed must not give them super powers of a different kind;

  • Imagine a wizard losing their Spellcasting ability feature: that is how it looks like, in the end.

Now, being a benign mundane person, the offender can potentially be released back to society after serving some amount of jail time, without the authorities worrying about releasing someone who was irresponsible with their magic enough to murder innocents in the first place.

Is there a way to do this in D&D? Answers across editions is fine, but 5E-specific answers are particularly appreciated. If there are none, that is also an acceptable answer.


Related to How do I keep spellcasters from casting while in jail?, How could towns restrain a magic user?, and How can we prevent a sorcerer with subtle spell metamagic from casting?, but different as those questions seek to imprison a magical person, while I seek to turn a magical person mundane and imprison them normally.

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closed as too broad by mxyzplk Sep 18 '17 at 17:54

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 18 '17 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're getting a wide spread of answers that show you need to clarify the question. Does it have to have no side effects? Does it need to withstand being restored via wish or other super high level magic, or dying and being raised? How much, realistically, is the society willing to spend per person on this punishment instead of just killing them (eg. rings of antimagic are pretty expensive). \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 18 '17 at 17:54

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Permanent Anything in 5E is basically impossible, because Wish exists. If the character stripped of magic can convinced someone to Wish their magic back to them, and they phrase the Wish well enough...then whatever permanent effects you established are undone.

Thus, I have to somewhat challenge the frame of the question. Because Wish exists, even capital punishment, maiming, cursing, etc. cannot permanently bar anyone from using magic. So, as I do not believe the question as-asked can be answered, I must revise the question: How can you remove magic from someone so that it is as hard as possible to get it back?

Well, you have a few options...

Feeblemind

RAW, the simplest way to strip someone of spellcasting ability is the spell Feeblemind As part of the spell description, it explicitly says:

The creature can't cast spells, activate magic items, understand language, or communicate in any intelligible way.

Now, this is quite certainly cruel and unusual punishment. You've turned someone into a shattered husk of a person that is in a state little better than a vegetable.

That said, it requires a 5th level spell (at the lowest) in order to undo (Greater Restoration), though Heal and Wish will also do the trick. Coupled with something such as a Criminal Brand in a highly visible location, and laws that state that anyone found guilty of removing a Feeblemind spell from someone so branded (or removing the brand) will be subject to a Feeblemind spell themselves. That should make it quite difficult to find a spellcaster of high enough level to cast the spell, and willing to take that risk.

In short, in order to get a Criminal Feeblemind removed from you, you'd need to find a 9th level spellcaster who is willing to take the risk of having a truly horrific punishment imposed on them to use Greater Restoration on a known criminal. And if Feeblemind is a publicly known punishment for the worst of spellcasting criminals...then any spellcaster who is not freely willing to risk their mind and magic who is presented with someone afflicted with Feeblemind and asked to cure it is going to check with law enforcement before they cast the spell.

All of this bearing in mind, of course, that the criminal is incapable of communicating on their own behalf. So they also have to find someone else willing to risk being Feebleminded in order to do the searching for a healer on their behalf

Wish

As an additional option, Wish is always on the table. But, using Wish to directly strip someone's magic from them is risky, as that is not one of the 'prescribed uses' of the spell, and carries the risk of losing the ability to ever cast Wish again. Thus...this is not really practical as a form of criminal punishment.

Now, to move to a slightly less RAW option, but is instead one that follows logically...

Divine Intervention

A high level Cleric of the god of Magic (in The Realms, this would be Mystra, so I'm going to use that name going forward) asks Mystra to take away the target's magic. Whether or not this works would be entirely up to your DM, but it does make logical sense and, if he's on-board with your idea of how to replace your character, he may give you the thumbs up. Simply put, the Cleric of Mystra uses Divine Intervention to ask Mystra to sever the target character's connection to The Weave of Magic.

Canonically, according to Realms History, Mystra once re-wrote the rules of magic on a cosmic scale (in the aftermath of Karsus's Folly). I would imagine she'd be quite capable of stripping someone's ability to use magic away from them. Again, this could almost certainly be undone using Wish, but that's true of literally anything.

Other

From here, you're soundly in homebrew territory. As the DM has the ability to make stuff up and add it to the game at will, it wouldn't be all that hard to create a ritual or spell or something with a long cast time that serves to permanently shut down magic.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Now I can't use that in my answer: Divine Intervention. Good answer. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 18 '17 at 16:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Mystra wouldn't strip anyone of magic unless their crimes were against the weave herself. One of the tenets of Mystra's faith is to spread the use of magic (this is the WHOLE POINT of making a magister office). A cleric of mystra making that kind of intervention request on behalf of secular matters would sooner find himself without magic. Deities of magic in other settings might have similar regards. -1 \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Sep 18 '17 at 16:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin Mystra wouldn't strip anyone of magic unless their crimes were against the weave herself We mere mortals may want to be careful in presuming to know what a god will or won't do. ;) (Heck, the various weirdnesses between version of the Realms ought to warn us of that!) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 18 '17 at 17:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I'm a DM, Mystra do as I say (in my game at least, but I try to follow the books). But this discrepancy in editions is due to Lord AO answering to Lord Market and Lord Dollar first. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Sep 19 '17 at 4:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin 8^D Yeah, that's how it goes. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 19 '17 at 4:18
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Mechanically, the only way to take away a spellcaster's abilities short of death is an antimagic field. If you wanted to do this in a campaign that you are DMing, you could do this with a ring, or something else that said caster would wear. If this is a PC, you would also need to make sure that the player can either earn back his casting or contribute in other ways to the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would add that if you went with an item, the item needs to be cursed, or else he can easily take it off. \$\endgroup\$ – Miatog Sep 18 '17 at 7:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miatog Of course a magic curse wouldn't work inside an anti magic field \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Sep 18 '17 at 12:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ A curse that simply slays the bearer, but is suppressed in the anti-magic field might convince the caster to keep wearing the ring. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Sep 18 '17 at 12:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ The issue with this is, antimagic field is still pretty potent. Suddenly, you can bypass any alarm spells, glyphs of warding, etc, and divination spells cannot detect you. At the same time, no magical damage can ever reach you (immunity to disintegrate is pretty good) and neither can you receive magical healing. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Sep 18 '17 at 12:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain if you don't want the neutering process to have (potent) side effects, you should probably specify that in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Sep 18 '17 at 13:09
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True Polymorph, maybe.

In 5e, I couldn't find any straightforward way to permanently remove a spellcaster's magic. The best I could come up with is a particular interpretation of True Polymorph:

Creature into Creature: If you turn a creature into another kind of creature,... The target's game Statistics, including mental Ability Scores, are replaced by the Statistics of the new form. It retains its alignment and personality.

If you read "another kind of creature" as "entry in the MM," then you could conceivably polymorph the spellcaster into a commoner without any spellcasting abilities.

However, as several questions (1, 2) on the stack show, this is a controversial opinion.

Mage's Disjunction

3.5/Pathfinder had a much more concrete way of losing your spellcasting, though it's very difficult to pull off as a punishment. Mage's Disjunction, if it successfully destroyed an artifact, could potentially force you to lose your spellcasting forever:

Even artifacts are subject to disjunction, though there is only a 1% chance per caster level of actually affecting such powerful items. Additionally, if an artifact is destroyed, you must make a DC 25 Will save or permanently lose all spellcasting abilities. (These abilities cannot be recovered by mortal magic, not even miracle or wish.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Icyfire, one thing to note is that True Polymorph can be dispelled at any time. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Sep 18 '17 at 8:20
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This is a frame challenge:

You can’t, and you shouldn’t

All the answers so far focus on homebrew, “creative” interpretations of the rules, temporary or conditional approaches, or asserting that this could be done with a high-level, open-ended magic like wish or divine intervention. That is because there is no way to explicitly do so under the rules, and there never will be because gentling is inappropriate for a game of Dungeons & Dragons 5e.

It is very important to understand two things:

  1. The setting of D&D, be it the Forgotten Realms or any other, including your own setting based on the rules of D&D, is very different from the world of Wheel of Time, or really, just about any fantasy novel you have ever read (excepting some—but by no means all—of those actually set in the Realms or what have you).

  2. A role-playing game takes many cues from fictional narratives, but ultimately a game is very, very different from a novel. Things that are entirely appropriate to a novel, even excellent literature, are not automatically appropriate to a game. The question of how much the narrative should or should not give way to the game is a difficult, subjective, divisive question in gaming, but no matter who you are it is a question, and one that needs consideration.

Consider a situation entirely separate from gentling: death. Characters die in both D&D and Wheel of Time, but what it means in each place are very, very different things. In D&D, of course, we have the raise dead spell, among others. In Wheel of Time, death is more realistic—it’s quite permanent, barring the intervention of the Dark One, and even that appears to have significant consequences (though those consequences may have been punishments handed out by the Dark One rather than limitations in its power).1

What is the difference here? D&D allows you to keep playing. This is a huge, obvious way in which the narrative—which would generally want to heighten the importance and drama of character death—gives way to the game—in which players sometimes want to keep playing as a favorite character despite death.

Gentling a spellcaster takes that spellcaster out of the game. They cannot continue playing, because a character with a spellcaster’s stats but no spells is completely crippled. In this sense, gentling is a far more severe punishment than death. Even effects that endeavor to be more permanent than death—e.g. imprisonment, magic jar—are decidedly temporary and can be undone with assistance.

Taking a character entirely out of the game is bad for the game, or at least it is in Wizard of the Coast’s opinion. Thus gentling will never appear in official materials as an explicit option, at least not without some way of undoing it. And for this same reason, I would strongly argue that it is a poor choice for something to introduce to your game. Even if it were used on an NPC, the fact that it exists means you could be put in a situation in the future where you either have to gentle a PC, or inconsistently choose to not apply it to a PC even though it exists and you could and it would make sense. Both of those are bad for the game.

So my suggestion is that this shouldn’t exist, and you should find a different narrative for this character’s punishment.

  1. Yes, I am aware that there are arguably a couple other exceptions, maybe. I am avoiding spoilers here; the Dark One’s promise of immortality to the Forsaken is a well-known, established thing at the beginning of the novels.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the frame challenge, but you may have focused on the novel reference too much. While I'm not attached to this avenue of punishment by any means, I submit that, should a mechanic like this exist, it will add value to my game. Much of this particular campaign is focused on how people cope with bad and difficult situations, rather than your typical mechanical combative play. In that light, a PC or NPC losing their casting is a good thing, because in my game, that creates more opportunity to explore who the characters are and how they deal with challenging scenarios. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Sep 18 '17 at 16:48
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Have an intellect devourer eat up their brain, but stop the process before they take over the body. Then they can be imprisoned easily on a vegetative state.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While I am intrigued by this approach, does this approach not require alliance with/deal with, mind flayers? I was under the impression that in 5e the intellect devourer is directly related to, almost in symbiosis with, mind flayers. (I may be reading too much into the MM on that, however). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 19 '17 at 13:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @korvinstarmast A sufficiently strong organization can always capture one and coerce it to work for you. Specially when you promise it tons of brains to eat, you can even get it to cooperate willingly. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Sep 19 '17 at 16:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Mind flayer or intellect devourer? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 19 '17 at 16:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @korvinstarmast dunno. Maybe either. ID's can understand language. An Illithid could be persuaded to sell an ID for the right price, they are like dogs to them (AFAIRecall). Did I mention there were brains on the negotiating table? \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Sep 19 '17 at 17:34
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Assuming for a moment that you understand that you are taking away the individual's primary class abilities, and understand the ramifications of doing so, I see a few options at your disposal.

  • Create a way to sever their connection to the weave. They cannot draw upon the weave to create magical effects, but they would still be able to be affected by most spells, although some types would have no effect (particularly divination spells) at the DM's discretion.

  • Create a magic item that has the desired effect. A set of cursed manacles or metal collar that act as a continuous counterspell and Geas. The character would never be able to cast spells of 3rd level or below, and higher ones would require a caster level check which is where the Geas comes in. If the PC is successful on the caster check, the spell works but the PC would also take 5d10 psychic damage. Place a glyph of warding hidden on (or inside) the individual that teleports him to a jail cell if he is not wearing the object. This means that if he tries to use an antimagic field or remove curse spell to eventually remove the collar, he will be teleported as soon as the antimagic effect ends.

  • Use a monster. Make the PC the host of a young arcane ooze (3.5 edition) implanted somewhere in his body. You would have to grant the character immunity to acid, but the rest is straightforward. Any time the character tries to cast a spell, the ooze eats the magical energy instead and no spell happens. Traditional surgery would be the only way to remove the ooze, which I imagine has its own perils as the study of medicine seems limited to common ailments and the treatment of battlefield injuries (a direct result of the use of magic as an alternative form of healing).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your last sentence is a little incoherent. Maybe you can straighten that out a bit? \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Sep 18 '17 at 18:01
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While quite gruesome, and not as effective as the ideas above, you could try cutting out their tongue. This would stop them from casting spells with a vocal component.

However, the 7th level cleric spell regenerate would undo this maiming.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ They could still cast spells without verbal components or use the silent spell metamagic. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Sep 18 '17 at 13:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Cut both hands and tongue is still a good start. Not a definitive solution, but an easy one. \$\endgroup\$ – aloisdg Sep 18 '17 at 13:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Cut out tongue, remove hands. Seems like a quick and gruesome solution. Unless he has outside help, he's not gonna be casting anything. Maybe brand his forehead too, as a warning to whoever might think about helping him. \$\endgroup\$ – JPicasso Sep 18 '17 at 16:00
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It's possible, but requires creative interpretation of the rules.

Within the idiom presented by the rules, verbal and somatic components require a significant amount of training to perform. Simply saying the word and making a hand gesture are insufficient, otherwise, any old schmo could cast a fireball.

The following is a suggestion that keeps within the spirit of this idiom, but requires some interpretation of the existing rules. RAW doesn't allow for this sort of thing, and almost nothing that is done to a character cannot be undone.

The Punishment

It would be possible to simply cut out the tongue, and sever the hands and make the spellcaster unable to cast. A truly ruthless society might do this. A gentler society might just remove thumbs or other fingers and split or shorten the tongue. This would allow a person to function in society, but still remove their ability to cast.

Loopholes

Learning to adjust

The player might reasonably argue that such a person might be able to learn new gestures and utterances, but a DM might require that such a character be required to start their casting levels over in terms of XP and level.

Magical restoration

A simple regeneration spell could restore the missing body parts. This is where the law must step in again to preserve the punishment. Presumably, while in jail a prisoner has no access to anyone who would do this for him, but you plan on having the person released to society. Society needs some way to discourage other spellcasters from undoing the punishment. I would suggest that the prisoner be branded in a prominent location. This mark would indicate to other spellcasters that they must render no magical aid to this person, upon pain of the same punishment being levied upon them. This might even be a case where a death sentence would be the punishment on either the ex-criminal, or even the restoring caster.

Subtle metamagic

This technique would not work on a Sorcerer with subtle metamagic. This is likely to be a small subset of spellcasters, but the above technique should work for most magical criminals.

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What I did when I was DMing is as follows:

Permanent silence collars (non-RAW). These rare items will provide an aura of silence within a feet or two radius, stopping anyone wearing these from casting spells.

There are only ever used if a spellcaster is found guilty of some severe crime, since these collars are going to stop the spellcaster from hearing anything as well as from being able to speak.

Of course, this may seem inhumane to some people, but there's not much else a normal person can do stop a spellcaster from casting spells.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ They could still cast spells without verbal components or use the silent spell metamagic \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Sep 18 '17 at 13:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin Ah, I guess so. Though I was utilizing this for low level spellcasters, since higher level ones are too dangerous to allow themselves to be captured. (Also, you could just put in an antimagic collar instead, since we're not RAW bound) \$\endgroup\$ – John Hamilton Sep 18 '17 at 13:52
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Geas comes pretty close. You could command them to refrain from casting magic, however they could just ignore it and take the psychic damage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As implied in other answers, there are ways to dispel a geas. \$\endgroup\$ – Codes with Hammer Sep 18 '17 at 18:24
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There is not a way in the rules as written to simply and permanently remove the Spellcasting feature from a character -- barring one possibility.

Under the rules as written, the Wish spell may be used to alter reality -- with backlash on the caster -- but interpreted by the DM. Being the DM, if you grant the Wish spell the ability to remove the Spellcasting class feature from a character, you can do so. The only way to reverse this would be another Wish spell.

The requirement, however, is that there be NPCs in the world powerful enough to cast the Wish spell, which means 17th level or higher Wizards or Sorcerers.

Another option would be to homebrew your solution. If you want to make it an option for the party, a tiered approach may work well, with different spells offering different potency or duration. Perhaps a spell like the following:

Neutralize Magic 3rd level Necromancy

Casting Time: 1 hour

Range: Touch

Duration: 1 day per 1,000 gp value (rounded down) of the gem used to cast this spell

Components: V, S, M (one finely ground gemstone worth at least 1,000 gp)

When this spell is cast, the caster takes on a charge. This charge lasts for one hour. At any time when touching another creature, the charge may be released. At this time, the creature must make a Constitution saving throw or lose the use of any magical abilities or Spellcasting class features they may have. If the save is successful or the caster does not release the charge within one hour, the caster must roll the same Constitution save. On a failed save, the caster is affected by the spell for 2d12 hours per day the spell would have affected their target. On a successful save, the caster takes 1d4 necrotic damage, which cannot be reduced in any way.

Higher Levels: When cast with a spell slot of higher than 3rd level, the backlash duration on a failed save is reduced by 1d4 hours per level of the spell slot used above 3rd.

Similar spells, with orders of magnitude longer durations, may be placed into higher spell levels to create tiers, perhaps using months for a 5th-level spell and years for a 7th-level spell, but with increasingly more rare components required to cast the spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you ever tried such a spell in one of your games? This site generally requires homebrew examples to be backed up with real experience. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Sep 18 '17 at 14:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, two. Wish and Divine Intervention. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 18 '17 at 16:09