How does the spell Death Ward (DW) interact with the Intellect Devourer's (ID) "Body Thief" action? My gut instinct is that, assuming the ID is ejected by Protection from Evil and Good and not by dropping to zero HP--which would trigger the Death Ward early--it restores the (0 INT) brain immediately following expulsion, thus "negating the effect that would cause death."

A second reading would be that the instant death after ID-ejection is negated by DW the first round, but the character dies one round later unless the brain is restored by another means. This requires a bit of work, since there is technically no RAW that says you die if you have no brain for a round. Rather, the RAW state that you die one round after an ID which uses Body Thief vacates your skull.

Paradoxically, another good reading to me would be that it negates the death from having no brain for one round, after which the character lives a brainless, Stunned life until Greater Restoration is cast on them. (Preposterous, but a fair reading of RAW in my mind.)

A last reading I would add for completion is that DW could negate the Protection from Evil and Good spell as it would cause the ID to vacate the skull, killing the target one turn later. This doesn't seem likely to me, though, as this effect causes a conditional death. If conditional deaths were negated by DW as a matter of course, it would absorb effects before saving throws were rolled rather than after they were failed, which is obviously not how DW is used.

This same last argument is why I suspect DW won't simply block Body Thief overall, although I'm aware some folks rule that to be the simple case.

How does this interaction work?


2 Answers 2


Intellect Devourer magically consumes the brain of the victim. Once it leaves, there's just an empty hole where the brain used to be.

To quote the monster description:

the intellect devourer magically consumes the target’s brain

Death Ward, on the other hand, prevents the subject from dropping to 0 HP - it drops to 1 HP instead. So while under DW, the Intellect Devourer is actually protected from ejection, if it indeed gets inside in the first place.

Once it leaves the brain has to be grown back in one round, or the subject dies.

"The body then dies, unless its brain is restored within 1 round."

I was about to write how DW would not protect the victim from dying because of a lack of a brain, but then it struck me that as a DM, I would probably rule that "magically removing someone's brain" would fall into the "effect that would kill it instantly" -category which DW protects the subject from.

Mostly because, while the body is still living under the Intellect Devourer's control, there's nothing of the victim left; no memories, intellect, etc.
(Which opens a whole new can of worms in the form of "brain vs soul" -discussion which is open to many interpretations...)

So how DW works in this case (without finding any official ruling on the matter saying otherwise), in my opinion, would be that the Intellect Devourer could not remove a target's brain and enter it, if the target was under DW's protection (which would then end DW and leave the target open for another try, later on).


From the what is presented below and just from a playability and common sense point of view, it is my opinion that it is the second case considered below that should be applied to the case of Death Ward and the Body Thief ability: the Death Ward prevents the creatures brain from being devoured and the Body Thief ability fails.

My case:

Death Ward (PHB p.230)

The first time the target would drop to 0 hit points as a result of taking damage, the target instead drops to 1 hit point, and the spell ends.

If the spell is still in effect when the target is subjected to an effect that would kill it instantaneously without dealing damage, that effect is instead negated against the target, and the spell ends.

Intellect Devourer Body Thief (PHB p.191)

If it wins the contest, the intellect devourer magically consumes the target's brain, teleports into the target's skull, and takes control of the target's body.

This does not on first consideration meet any of the conditions for Death Ward to trigger.

If the host body drops to 0 hit points, the intellect devourer must leave it.

This would trigger the Death Ward's effect and as the body drops to 1 HP instead of 0 HP then there isn't even an argument about which happens first. The body never reaches 0 HPs, so the Intellect Devourer does not have to leave and the Death Ward ends.

By spending 5 feet of its movement, the intellect devourer can voluntarily leave the body, teleporting to the nearest unoccupied space within 5 feet of it. The body then dies, unless its brain is restored within 1 round .

The body does not die until 1 round after the Intellect Devourer leaves it so Death Ward would not prevent it leaving. So the real sticking point with this is what happens when the body dies? This is the order of events:

  1. Intellect Devourer leaves host body
  2. Host body continues to live for 1 round
  3. Host body dies from no brain
  4. Death Ward triggers and protects it from dying from this "effect" and the spell ends
  5. Host body still has no brain, and we can assume it continues to live for one round, as above
  6. Host body dies from no brain

So considering only the above the effect of Death Ward is that the Host Body lives for one extra round.

However, it is arguable that the creature dies at the point it's brain is devoured, not at the point it's body dies after being left by the Intellect Devourer that inhabited it.

The closest thing for RAW on this matter is the spell Magic Jar (PHB p.257) where the rules on what happens in the various permutations around the spell ending due to the container being destroyed includes this:

If your body is more than 100 feet away from you or if your body is dead when you attempt to return to it, you die.

i.e. if your body is alive but more than 100 feet away you die, presumably because your spirit or soul or whatever dies, and so death is not dependant on the body being dead.

This is supported again with the next line from the spell:

If another creature’s soul is in the container when it is destroyed, the creature’s soul returns to its body if the body is alive and within 100 feet. Otherwise, that creature dies.

i.e. the other creature dies in this scenario, even when it's body is alive.

This means that, unless you do not consider (given the rules for Magic Jar above) it is at the point the brain is devoured that the creature dies and not when it's body dies, then a Death Ward would trigger at the point the brain would be destroyed and prevents that effect, as it would cause instantaneous death. The Body Thief ability fails and the Death Ward ends.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the argument from Magic Jar, but the previous argument's item #5 seems a big leap for a RAW argument. As I wrote in the question, there's no rule--or rather, I've seen no rule--that says you die one round after losing your brain. The relevant rule is that you die one turn after an ID vacates your skull after using Body Thief, sans other intervention. EDIT: This is validated by the description of a proper Illithid's "Extract Brain", which says that having one's brain extracted kills the target instantly, which is notably different from one turn later. \$\endgroup\$
    – pondrthis
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @pondrthis I would be quite happy with an instant kill after Death Ward ends, and the Illithid's brain extraction is a good reference. However as a counter argument, the Illithid's brain extraction is just that, extraction, whereas the Intellect Devourer teleports out and there is a fundamental difference in the implied damage done. But there is no RAW on this. I assumed a simple repeat of what had been stopped by the Death Ward, assuming the circumstances were "reset" by the spell's effect. \$\endgroup\$
    – Protonflux
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 14:49

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