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Theme / Plot-Premise: a great mage has been bound to the uppermost level of a wizard's tower. Research suggests use of Imprisonment-Chains works best for this long-term restraint story-idea // condition // plot device.

Here is the essence of the 9th level Imprisonment-Chains:

You create a magical restraint to hold a creature that you can see within range. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be bound by the spell; if it succeeds, it is immune to this spell if you cast it again. While affected by this spell, the creature doesn't need to breathe, eat, or drink, and it doesn't age. Divination spells can't locate or perceive the target.

Chaining: Heavy chains, firmly rooted in the ground, hold the target in place. The target is restrained until the spell ends, and it can't move or be moved by any means until then. The special component for this version of the spell is a fine chain of precious metal.

And, at the top of their tower, the restrained wizard:

A restrained creature’s speed becomes 0, and it can’t benefit from any bonus to its speed. Attack Rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature’s Attack Rolls have disadvantage. The creature has disadvantage on Dexterity Saving Throws.

Given mage hand and magical help, how much does this target-victim suffer? They can still cast spells. What all can they do while magically bound?


Question: How much freedom does any target-victim have whilst under Imprisonment / Chains?

Possibilities, Concerns & Examples // Can the target-subject:

  • eat &/or drink? - 'does not need it', yes... but can they?

  • soil themselves ('pee & poop')? / able to clean up thereafter?

  • need sleep / able to sleep (i.e. gets tired, takes 'short &/or long rests')

  • study, research, write, design &/or make-follow plans?

  • do exercises? Possibly making use of those chains?

  • cast concentration-type spells - such as scrying &/or even ritual spells?

  • can they attempt &/or succeed at procreation - either individually or with a partner?

It is just hard to imagine a person comfortably chained up for a few thousand years. I will be thankful for any answer that can clear this situation up a bit.


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    \$\begingroup\$ Related on What are the options for my restrained and overwhelmed spellcaster NPC? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Dec 29 '20 at 23:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Tim, you've got a LOT of questions buried in your prose here. You'll really need to be clear and ask each one separately, but please take a look across the stack to try and find some of these answers before posting. Additionally, if you're going to reference spells, please don't hide the spell in a link and use random prose on top. It doesn't help us at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Dec 30 '20 at 0:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch sorry, dear sir. I really have challenges parsing out topic-separation. To me it is all related to 'one mage totally stuck in a tower'. It LOOKS super focused to me (though obviously it isn't). Also, would it be bad to send yet another seven questions to stack exchange?. I will gladly do that... as long as it doesn't annoy everyone. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 30 '20 at 1:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ It may help in the future to ask for assistance in paring and parsing on Meta, but if we boil your question down, are you just asking about what "While affected by this spell, the creature doesn't need to breathe, eat, or drink, and it doesn't age" and what "move or be moved" means. Is that accurate? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Dec 30 '20 at 1:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch i believe you figured out the question: "How flexible is 'cannot move or be moved' in role-playing terms?" That clarifies it greatly! May i ask where this 'meta' is (a link or URL) - so i can run this by these mystical editors you speak of... in the future? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 31 '20 at 19:55
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The target cannot move.

The Chaining option of imprisonment says:

Heavy chains, firmly rooted in the ground, hold the target in place. The target is restrained until the spell ends, and it can't move or be moved by any means until then.

The target cannot do anything that requires moving any part of the body. So ask yourself, "can I do this without moving anything?" If no, then the target cannot do that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Restrained is a separate condition. The target is restrained... and it can't move. So your interpretation of restrained isn't relevant. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 30 '20 at 2:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ So... harder than petrification. Nothing moves, not even scratchable. So you are saying the spell DOES bestow invulnerability then. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 30 '20 at 5:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov "Can't move", is there any explicit example where "can't move" includes "can't speak"? I think much more reasonable interpretation is "can't move or be moved eg. by teleportation" than "can't move any body part". \$\endgroup\$ Dec 30 '20 at 11:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimofTime Can we affirm that RPG.SE embraces a plurality of play styles? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 30 '20 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimofTime If you have taken some issue with RAW or the RAW playstyle or answers as a result of your questions or their answers, it may be fruitful to have a discussion around that. I'm not sure what it would look like on meta, but you may want to drop into Role-playing Games Chat. (Though do see the meta Q&A linked above.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Dec 30 '20 at 23:47
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It's the Prometheus punishment.

These kind of questions tend to be up to the DM to determine, depending on the story they want to tell, but to me, this application of the spell appears to be based on the Greek myth of Prometheus, who was chained to a rock while eagles tore out his liver every morning (which regenerated by nightfall, because, y'know, god). Or if you prefer, Loki, chained in a cave while a huge snake drips venom into his eyes.

Being restrained by chains and unable to move or be moved would imply to me that the target can still wiggle fingers, talk, and maybe even thrash around a bit, but is held in position by the chains, so they can't really scratch their face, write, or do exercises (other than isometric). Nothing in the description seems to stop the target from eating, but they'd need somebody to bring them the food and put it in their mouth.

The spell doesn't say the target stops needing sleep, so presumably they do pass out from time to time, and it doesn't say the target can't take damage or die, so if they were somehow prevented from sleeping, I suppose levels of exhaustion would accumulate until they did in fact die.

It doesn't say they can't cast spells, but I would probably say they can't cast any spell with a somatic or material component since their hands are bound, which limits them pretty heavily.

Basically if you can see somebody doing something while chained tightly to a wall, it's probably within the realm of what they can do while under this spell's effect.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, yes and yes! This is the story archetype, you figured it out. If this were not 'Stack Exchange' then this is by far the very best answer. That said, i asked Stack Exchange for a '5e R.A.W.' answer. I will probably / begrudgingly get what i paid for. Thank you, though. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 31 '20 at 19:38
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The target is held in its current location

As per the restrained condition, the target's speed is 0, which means it cannot move itself from its current location. In addition, any kind of forced movement is also prevented, per the spell's text. This means that there is no way for the target to move to a different location. If you think in terms of the usual 5-foot grid used for combat encounters, the target is unable to leave its space or be removed from it. Note that even a spell like freedom of movement that prevents the restrained condition cannot release the creature from the chains, because imprisonment specifies that the creature cannot move in addition to the restrained condition. (Although freedom of movement would still prevent the other effects of being restrained for the duration.)

The target is not paralyzed or similar

In plain English, "move" has a number of related meanings. However, in D&D 5e, movement is a defined game term with specific mechanics:

On your turn, you can move a distance up to your speed. You can use as much or as little of your speed as you like on your turn, following the rules here.

Your movement can include jumping, climbing, and swimming. These different modes of movement can be combined with walking, or they can constitute your entire move. However you're moving, you deduct the distance of each part of your move from your speed until it is used up or until you are done moving.

Roughly, "movement" in 5e means translocation: moving from one location to another. This is the kind of motion that is specifically prevented by the chaining variant of imprisonment. It does not include things like turning around in place, making an attack, talking, performing the components of a spell, or any other action that requires moving a muscle but does not cause the creature to move to a new location. A strict RAW reading would allow a chained creature to do all of the above, including casting spells. This means that a chained mage could indeed survive indefinitely, assuming they are equipped with the right spells: mage hand, unseen servant, tiny servant, etc.; as well as perhaps create food and water.

The DM can decide the exact degree of restraint imposed by the spell

Of course, this level of autonomy isn't necessarily consistent with how chaining curses are often portrayed in stories (nor how chains are often used in practice). Frequently, the victim of such a curse has their wrists and ankles bound tightly to the surface they are chained to, making most of the mentioned actions (including somatic spell components) impossible. The Greek god Prometheus is one such example. As the DM, you have the latitude to determine the precise details of what the spell means when it says that "Heavy chains, firmly rooted in the ground, hold the target in place." It could mean that just the target's ankles are chained to the ground, leaving them otherwise unhindered, or it could mean that they are tightly wrapped in chains from head to toe, or anything in between. You could even rule that the decision is left up to the caster according to their intent at the time of casting.

If you are a player planning to learn or use this spell, you should probably talk to your DM and ask how they will handle this ambiguity in the rules. Alternatively, pick another variant of the spell that leaves less room for interpretation. In particular, if you're planning to imprison a mage who might have the ability to cast dispel magic at 9th level, you would want to choose a variant that unambiguously prevents the target from casting spells. In particular, it looks to me like slumber is the only suitable variant for such a high-level mage.

As DM, don't feel obligated to stick to the spell's text

You seem to be asking all of this as a DM designing an NPC in the situation of being magically imprisoned in this way. There is nothing stopping you from designing your own custom magical prison that works in exactly the way you need it to work for your story. You could "implement" this magical prison as an additional variant of the imprisonment spell, but there's no need to do so. You can just declare that the NPC was imprisoned in the specific way you want without having to justify it by referencing a specific spell. Remember that the spells and magic items listed in the rule book are not intended to represent an exhaustive list of all magic that exists in the world -- they are just the spells available for PCs to learn. Encountering magical effects beyond the ability of PCs to replicate is par for the course in D&D.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If "can't move" just means "speed is 0", then isnt that statement entirely redundant since "speed is 0" is part of being restrained? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 30 '20 at 20:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov It's not entirely redundant, because it means that effects that negate the restrained condition (e.g. freedom of movement) will not free the target from being chained. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 30 '20 at 20:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are both arguing different components of 'enough yet not too much, very Occam's Razor. Yes, speed is zero. Yes, the target can blink their eyelids! But what else can move? Thomas says 'not even eyelids'. ALL the other forms of imprisonment... and logic... and reason... do not agree with Thomas. Thomas wants his specific-wording logic to win though - this is Stack Exchange, right? That is The Way, right? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 31 '20 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimofTime I'm trying to answer exactly what RAW does specify and what it does not (i.e. what is left up to the DM to make a ruling on.) I believe that anything between "restrained condition only" and "effectively paralyzed" is potentially consistent with RAW. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1 at 8:55

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