I'm preparing for my first campaign as Dungeon Master. While I was assisting my players with character creation, one of them (playing an Archfey Warlock) expressed enthusiasm for the spell "Crown of Madness" (we're starting at level 3 so they'll have access to 2nd-level spells at the start of the campaign). I told them that, while they were free to choose that spell, in my opinion it isn't a very effective and they might want to consider other options. My argument for this is:
- The target can be forced to attack only "before moving", so as long as its allies don't stand right next to it, this aspect of the spell is useless.
- In addition to requiring your concentration, you have to use your action on each turn (!!!) to prevent the spell from ending.
Taken together, these points mean that on each turn, you either have to trade your action for a very slim chance at forcing the target to abuse its action, or end the spell early. Additionally, point 2 prevents you from using other abilities to try and force the target into positions where it is within reach of other enemies. Why anyone would ever use this spell when Suggestion exists, is the same level, and appears to be far more effective is beyond me.
My player was very surprised by my interpretation of Crown of Madness's mechanics, which they described as "super literal", and explained that their previous DM had allowed them to use the spell in a much more flexible manner. Specifically, they were incredulous that the restriction that the target could be forced to attack only "before moving" would be enforced.
Overall, I was left with the impression that they were accustomed to being able to use Crown of Madness to accomplish an effect comparable to the 3rd level spell Enemies Abound, or even potentially the 5th level spell Dominate Person. I view Enemies Abound as a very good spell and I intend to encourage this player to replace Crown of Madness with it once they gain access to 3rd level spells. But in the meantime, I'm not comfortable letting them use a (in my opinion very bad for its level) 2nd level spell to accomplish the effects of a (in my opinion quite good for its level) 3rd level spell.
Nevertheless, this player is clearly very fond of Crown of Madness, and the idea behind the spell (disrupt an enemy's mind, charming them and potentially forcing them to attack their allies) is thematically perfect for their character. Clearly, we need to have a broader discussion regarding how the rules of the game will be interpreted and enforced for my campaign. But in the meantime, I'd like to propose the following alternative version of Crown of Madness for use at my table. My intent is to keep the spell fun to use for the player while keeping it more in line with the power of other 2nd level spells. I also added some modest spell slot scaling, since spells below 6th level that don't scale with level are inherently less viable for Warlocks.
Changes are indicated in italics.
Crown of Madness
2nd level enchantment
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
One humanoid of your choice that you can see within range must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or become charmed by you for the duration. While the target is charmed in this way, a twisted crown of jagged iron appears on its head, and a madness glows in its eyes.
As part of the action when you cast this spell, and by using your action on subsequent turns, you can force the charmed target to immediately use its reaction, if available, to move up to half its speed in a straight line in a direction chosen by you. If this movement would force the target to move into obviously dangerous ground, such as a fire or a pit, or if it would provoke an Opportunity Attack, the movement ends.
The charmed target must use its action before moving on each of its turns to make a melee attack against a creature other than itself that you mentally choose. This attack deals an extra 1d6 psychic damage on hit, as the target's madness spills over into its victim. The target can act normally on its turn if you choose no creature or if none are within its reach.
The target can make a Wisdom saving throw at the end of each of its turns, and has advantage on the saving throw if it took damage since the end of its last turn. On a success, the spell ends.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the target's forced attacks deal an extra 1d6 psychic damage on hit for every level above 2nd.