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So, the Awaken spell must be cast on a beast or plant with int of 3 or less. For beasts, it has the following permanent effect: "The target gains an Intelligence of 10. The target also gains the ability to speak one language you know." It has a casting time of 8 hours.

The Feeblemind spell will, among other things, reduce the target's int to 1 for a duration measured in months. The 4d6 psychic damage is nontrivial, but still manageable. Feeblemind does not appear to do anything to known languages, and can be cured with Greater Restoration, Heal, or Wish.

Would it be possible, then, to repeatedly Feeblemind and Awaken something so as to give it an arbitrary number of spoken languages? (Assuming you could get the assistance of reasonably high-level druids who knew the various languages in question.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a note to consider for those answering: Awaken only charms the plant/beast - it does not make it under someone's control. If you keep feebleminding it, it may not like you very much. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jan 5, 2021 at 19:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch If I could learn a new language in a day instead of weeks, I might consider subjecting myself willingly (not saying the rules allow that, just admitting that the benefits are there) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5, 2021 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron Let's not go into the potential benefits of torture :) But the creature not being under your actual control is something to consider. And just because the outcome is enjoyed, doesn't mean the process was. At the end of 30 days, we may see the sequel to Awakened: electric boogaloo. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jan 5, 2021 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Really quite related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/115768/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Feb 2, 2021 at 21:01

6 Answers 6

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Frame Challenge: There's a much cheaper way for your bear to learn languages

(I'm using bear for continuity with MivaScott's answer and because I find it funny, but it should work with any awakened beast. Replace words here as necessary.)

Even ignoring whether it works, there's a much easier, cheaper, and less tormenting way to teach an awakened bear languages. And it's to have them taught.

The Downtime activity directions in both the PHB (p. 187) or XGtE (p. 134) puts the cost of learning a language at 250 gp, a quarter the cost of each awaken. They differ in time – PHB says 250 days and XGtE 10 workweeks – but if you can increase the bear's intelligence (eg. with a headband of intellect) you can even decrease the XGtE time (and cost). It also requires a tutor, which with a permissive DM could be you, or one of the mentioned druids. Handing the teaching off to a friendly druid (or a junior member of their circle) frees you off to do your normal adventurer things.

You are relying on the bear appreciating you paying for their education for it to continue its education past the 30 days of awaken charm, but I'd suspect that's an easier conversation to have than to talk it through repeated feeblemind (and possibly to talk your DM through).


†: Of course with a sufficiently permissive DM/play world there may even exist an academy or similar institution for the education of bears and other awakened beasts and I'd expect their tuition be lower than the 1000 gp per language of your proposed solution. If such an establishment does not exist, it is now your duty to found Sir Bearington's Academy for Gifted Wildlife.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Relevant to a PC acting as the tutor: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/51106/… (Personally I'd probably allow it -- if a PC wants to spend their downtime teaching a sidekick a new language, that's fine with me! -- but I'd probably require the tutor PC to have a minimum INT of 13 or something.) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 6, 2021 at 14:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Language teaching still takes a great deal more time than chained Awaken spells, but it's a good point. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Jan 6, 2021 at 14:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, more directly (just occurred to me), the ability to speak a language (as a bear) requires more than just the ability to understand it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Jan 6, 2021 at 23:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is for examplen "Modify memory" which would easily allow the bear to remain friendly. Also, an INT 10 bear could be made to agree to the process. It becoming hostile is a very minor inconvenience for a high level PC. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 8, 2021 at 9:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's also possible that what I want is an enraged bear who can inveigh against me in five languages. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Jan 8, 2021 at 18:07
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This falls on the DM to decide, because...

Yes. As long as you have casters who can cast Awaken and know the language, you can repeat this teaching method... Details on how exactly Feeblemind and Awaken interact depend on DM interpretation (like, does Awaken override the Feebleminded INT or does it stay at 1 until Feeblemind actually ends), but the rules have nothing which can be interpreted to deny lowering the INT to 1 with Feeblemind (combining magical effects rule on PHB p.205 says most potent or recent casting applies). An awakened plant is still a plant, and an awakened beast is still a beast, so Awaken can be cast if target INT is 1, and the target gains an ability to speak a language, even if they might be blocked from using it because of existing Feeblemind effect. Repeat as infinitum.

But no. Unless it is a comedy sandbox campaign, there are too many ways for the DM to stop this foolishness. Maybe they rule that only the first or last language sticks, maybe an Intellect Devourer is summoned on 3rd language, maybe the DM will just laugh evilly and say nothing seems to happen. In 5th edition the DM has the latitude to override stuff like this, by RAW (as explained in the first chapter of the PHB). A DM could simply make a ruling that once awakened, the target becomes invalid for Awaken, or that Awaken uses the "normal" INT score without any bonuses or other temporary effects including Feeblemind.

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Short answer: No, but with a LOT of considerations along the way

Let's break down what is happening:

  • Find a beast/plant with no intelligence or an intelligence of 3 or less
  • Cast Awaken to make it smart and gain a language
  • Cast Feeblemind to make it dumb again
  • Cast Awaken again to give it a new language
  • Cast Greater Restoration to remove Feeblemind

1. Find a beast/plant with no intelligence or an intelligence of 3 or less

We'll use a black bear as an example... It has an Intelligence of 2 so it qualifies.

2. Cast Awaken to make it smart and gain a language

Per Awaken, after spending 8 hours (casting time) the target:

gains an Intelligence of 10. The target also gains the ability to speak one language you know.
The awakened beast or plant is charmed by you for 30 days or until you or your companions do anything harmful to it.

So now we have a friendly bear that can speak Common.

3. Cast Feeblemind to make it dumb again

Here is one sticking point:

  1. This is an attack with an average damage of 14; enough to kill some beasts, but the bear has 19 so it would survive all but the best of dice rolls (4d6 maxes at 24). The bear is no longer your friend.
  2. If they then pass the saving throw, you now have an angry and intelligent bear on your hands.
  3. If they fail the save...
    1. The creature's Intelligence and Charisma scores become 1.
    2. The creature can't cast spells, activate magic items, understand language, or communicate in any intelligible way. The creature can, however, identify its friends, follow them, and even protect them.

Assuming the bear is still alive, and you can calm it down for 8 hours, go on to step 4...

4. Cast Awaken again to give it a new language

And here is the problem, Feeblemind caused TWO conditions; lower ability score AND no way to understand language (or cast spells, etc). You have temporarily lowered the bears Intelligence back below 3 again.

But here is where the tricky logic comes into play.

  • Awaken works on plants and beasts even if they have no intelligence, and presumably, no language.
  • Awaken gives the target an Intelligence Score of 10.

But it doesn't counteract Feeblemind!

Feeblemind acts like a curse in that it must be removed (either by spell or a distant future saving throw) to be cured, not by masking the symptoms. As pointed out in this question, the headband would give you an Intelligence Score or 19, but you're still the village idiot and cannot understand language or communicate. But you haven't lost any languages you speak.

And as pointed out elsewhere, per the DMG, at the end of the Combat section it specifies what happens when game effects overlap:

Different game features can affect a target at the same time. But when two or more game features have the same name, only the effects of one of them—the most potent one—apply while the durations of the effects overlap. For example, if a target is ignited by a fire elemental’s Fire Form trait, the ongoing fire damage doesn’t increase if the burning target is subjected to that trait again. Game features include spells, class features, feats, racial traits, monster abilities, and magic items.

Feeblemind does not cancel out Awaken, only counteracts some of its features. So the first casting is still in effect. Which means that at the most basic level, since Awaken never expires, any future casting would be considered overlapping with the first. Now you're left deciding if the first casting is canceled out completely (resetting Int and losing the language) or that the first casting is "most potent" and therefore cannot be undone 1.

Which brings us back to the point of the question; can the target learn a second (or more) language while under the effects of Feeblemind?

As a DM, I would rule no.

First off, you cannot have two effects of the same name (in this case Awaken) active on the same thing as the same time. So you can't have multiple _Awaken_s on a single creature; whether cast by one caster or multiple casters.

Secondly, as the spell states, "The target also gains the ability to speak one language you know." They know one language the caster speaks, but due to Feeblemind they are unable to understand it. So you could cast Awaken again, but would not bring about the results you hoped for.

1 It may be possible to be undone via Dispel Magic, Wish, and other similar means, but that still resets everything back to the beginning; a normal beast with no increase in Int and no language (beyond its original language if it had one).

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No.

The rules for combining game effects say (DMG p. 252, note errata):

Different game features can affect a target at the same time. But when two or more game features have the same name, only the effects of one of them—the most potent one—apply while the durations of the effects overlap. For example, if a target is ignited by a fire elemental’s Fire Form trait, the ongoing fire damage doesn’t increase if the burning target is subjected to that trait again. Game features include spells, class features, feats, racial traits, monster abilities, and magic items. See the related rule in the “Combining Magical Effects” section of chapter 10 in the Player’s Handbook.

So a creature can only be under the effect of a single awaken spell at a time. It is up to the DM to determine which is active when a target is awakened again.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I would argue, that there is no mechanical "knowledge" on a language about how it was gained. So, Awaken can't suppress/remove a langauge gained with an earlier Awaken. It could only remove all current languages, but it does not say it does so. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 8, 2021 at 13:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ The duration of Awaken is instantaneous. It seems like that would undercut this argument rather badly... unless you're saying that it's not possible to damage someone with a Fireball if they have unhealed damage from a previous Fireball. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Jan 8, 2021 at 17:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ The duration of the spell is instantaneous. The rule I cited concerns spell effects, which can have curations that differ from the spell duration. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 8, 2021 at 17:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Arguably, the int increase and the language gain are instantaneous effects, and thereafter are nonmagical alterations to the creature, rather than being effects with a duration. There's no provision in the spell for reversing them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Jan 8, 2021 at 18:03
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Sometimes, Rule Zero is non-optional. This is one of those times.

First, as noted in the question, this is somewhat cheesy. It's pretty clear that using feeblemind in order to get around the limitations on using Awaken so that you can enable your critter to speak multiple languages was not the intended use-case. 5th ed has Rule Zero for a reason. It would be entirely reasonable for the DM to decide that they simply didn't like this effect, and to deny it in any of a wide variety of ways. That's what Rule Zero is for, after all... to allow for DM adjudications in cases where the rules are being warped inappropriately. At the same time, it's not particularly game-breaking. At the end of the day, you're investing a fair amount of time and effort from multiple high-level casters in order to get a bear who can speak three or four languages, instead of just one. It would also be reasonable for a DM to agree to let it work if the rules let it work. Many DMs will allow even moderately silly things if the rules permit them.

Second, Awaken is an instant spell. That should mean that the magic effects are in-the-moment and then change reality, rather than being a "persistent magical effect" (just like the damage from a fireball is just damage, rather than being a persistent magical effect). Unfortunately, that's made somewhat more messy by the fact that it has an effect with a duration that's also tagged onto it (the charm). Second, Feeblemind has exactly the same issue, made even uglier by the fact that the thing with the save-ends duration is the part that we actually care about here. The fact that Feeblemind is an Enchantment just muddles the waters further. (Awaken is a transmutation).

So... there's an argument that says that Awaken's effects are a persistent magical effect, and thus do not stack with other castings of Awaken. I believe that this is in error. Following that logic all the way down, if you hit someone with two fireballs and didn't allow them to recover HP in between, only the damage from the more significant fireball would matter. As further support, it's a transmutation. Its entire thing is making actual changes in the target. Still, it is an argument that has been made, and the fact that neither of the spells in question is exactly instant muddles things further. Thus, I acknowledge it and move on.

...well, I'd like to, anyway, but the whole "fireball exception" breaks down going the other way, too. It turns out, putatively "instant" spells with an obviously temporary effect are actually pretty common. There's a notable number of enchantment spells that have "instantaneous" durations, for example, including things like Power Word Stun. That one has only one effect, which in turn is Save Ends). So this particular conflux isn't just a "rule zero if your DM thinks it's problematic". It's actually straight-up "rule zero because the rules are messy and 5th ed doesn't always bother to make them clear". The duration of a spell isn't necessarily tied to the durations of its effects with any real strength, and thus in cases where "instant" vs "permanent" is unclear in spell effect duration, we really have no recourse other than DM adjudication.

So it's a mess. I mean, it's even more of a mess than that, because we haven't even gotten into stuff like the bit where feeblemind removes the ability to understand languages but Awaken doesn't just grant the ability to understand it also grants the ability to speak in spite of vocal cord construction but Awaken only says one language the caster knows but what if you get two different people to do the awakening and you make sure that they don't know any of the same languages but what about druidic but what about bards and who gets to decide which language the creature learns anyway and after you've awakened them the second time are they now intelligent or not and it's just a mess.

So, I guess if I was adjudicating things as a DM... well, I suppose the core of it breaks down into which of the effects of Awaken are truly shape-the-world instant (like Fireball or Shape Stone or Mending) and which ones are persistent magical effects (like Power Word Stun or a made-permanent True Polymorph or the save-ends parts of Feeblemind). I can (and do) credit the int boost as a permanent effect. The ability to speak one language, though... that seems to be very much a magical thing. It isn't just knowing the language, as they can speak it in spite of their animal vocal cords. It isn't a permanent change in those vocal cords, because it doesn't explicitly let them learn to speak any other languages, even though they are now intelligent enough to learn. (though that, too, is ripe for DM adjudication). On the face of it, this is just the ability to speak this one language, and it's specific enough that I can't credit it as anything other than an ongoing magical effect, reading the rules as closely as I can.

...admittedly, if the game was gonzo enough, I'd probably go for it anyway, as it would likely add to the fun and not break anything, and you are supposed to try to say yes when that happens... but by my best grasp of the (desperately in need of adjudication) rules, I'd probably say no. Huh.

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It's probably unwise to allow Awaken to be used this way

Let's consider a related question you didn't ask and apply your technique a bit differently. Can I permanently lower a smart creature's intelligence to 10 via using Awaken on it? Let's say I somehow get (for example) a Kraken (Int 21) under my thumb firmly enough to guarantee it fails its save versus Feeblemind and also somehow shrink it to Huge or smaller (never mind how). Its Int is now 1. I Awaken it. What happens to its Intelligence score when the Feeblemind wears off?

Probably Awaken dissipates when its target is no longer valid

This could be worded more clearly, and it isn't. But to me, the most sensible way to read this is a creature that temporarily meets the prerequisites for Awaken only has its statistics modified as long as it is an eligible target. (Ignore the meta-recursion of Awaken itself causing the target to fail to meet the prerequisite, obviously.)

This fix is a bit unnatural, since the spell is Instantaneous (not 'permanent') and generally not noted as being subject to dispelling. (Which is why it's a bad idea to let it be used to reduce a genius to average Int.) Think of it like the difference between Cure Light Wounds and Heal if it helps: When the feeblemind wears off, it causes the full restoration of what Awaken only partially healed (in a way that reverses all of the spell's other effects, too).

To answer the question

As others have pointed out, if a creature is under the effects of Feeblemind, teaching it a language accomplishes nothing because the spell prevents them from using this knowledge. Likewise, the text of Awaken and Feeblemind conflict. A creature's Int can't be both 1 and 10, after all.

Feeblemind probably wins, for two reasons. First, it's eighth level, and Awaken only fifth, so it makes sense Feeblemind would be more powerful. Second, Feeblemind lists specific spells that end its effects, and Awaken is not one of them.

So while the target is Feebleminded the only real effect of Awaken is the charm. And I don't like to get "cute" like this, but the charm ends when the party does something "harmful" to the creature. Like cast Feeblemind on it. Yes, I would rule that if you use this spell on a creature you've already harmed, the Charm never takes effect at all (it feels in line with what I see the intent being).

And when the target is no longer Feebleminded, their mind "snaps back" to the way it was before, effectively erasing any changes from Awaken.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The Kraken you are using as an example creature is from Pathfinder 1st edition, while this question is about D&D 5th edition. The example creature provided doesn't help reinforce your point, as there is no comparable creature in 5e. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 8, 2021 at 13:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ "gains int 10" seems to imply pretty directly that that effect is nt useful for reducing intelligence. Further, it's entirely possible for someone to gain an ability (like the ability to speak a language) while under an effect that prevents them from using it at the time (like if you cast Awaken on a creature while it is kept asleep). \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Jan 8, 2021 at 18:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oops. So you'd probably also need to add in some kind of polymorph. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ton Day
    Jan 8, 2021 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RevenantBacon: bizarrely, Traxigor now exists, meaning that we now have a beast who's at least arguably comparable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Mar 2, 2021 at 2:33

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