Contact Other Plane is an unusual spell in that it carries the risk for the caster to go temporarily insane, a rider retained through all editions of the game. Similar spells, such as Divination do not carry such a risk.

The history of the spell and of its weird side effect goes back all the way to OD&D.

What is the literary or historical origin or inspiration for this spell and can it explain this unusual penalty?


2 Answers 2



The spell is almost surely a reflection of the god-touched nature of the ancient oracles, in particular, Pythia, the Oracle at Delphi.

One of the main stories claimed that the Pythia delivered oracles in a frenzied state induced by vapours rising from a chasm in the rock, and that she spoke gibberish which priests interpreted as the enigmatic prophecies and turned them into poetic dactylic hexameters preserved in Greek literature.

Clearly the lady is crazy which is what happens when a god touches a mortal’s mind.

While there is no direct link, Gygax was almost certainly aware of Pythia and the behaviour of the priestesses. You can’t be exposed to Ancient Greek history and not be aware of this particular oracle because everybody who was anybody went to Delphi before doing anything of significance. Similarly, you can’t be exposed to Ancient Greek myths without finding her because history and myth were the same thing; it’s only us in the modern age that think there is something important is distinguishing things that actually happened from things that people just believed happened - US elections notwithstanding.

We know Gary read Greek and Roman stories because a) they permeate D&D; many of the monsters are directly from those cultures and b) he says so in Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide:

This often leads to reading books of mythology …


This is a recurring theme throughout mythology and history.

Speaking in unknown languages, frenzied or otherwise 'mad' behaviour, is associated with prophecy and future-telling (especially shamanic future-telling) or otherwise unexplainable knowledge in a very large amount of cultures.

In some, rituals approximating a frenzy or madness are used to aid prophecy, such as certain dances or actions (including self-harm, drug use, and more esoteric practices).

Although the exact explanation for this association varies amongst cultures and specific sources, it was often that accessing some otherworldly source of knowledge caused the fit, words, or behaviour, as a side effect or as a cost/requirement. Sociologically, these kinds of extreme effects often were taken as adding authenticity to the prophecy or other knowledge divined in this manner.

More modern versions of this exist both as offshoots of ancient (or theoretically ancient) traditions, and versions based on modern religions such as the pentecostalist (and other) beliefs related to speaking in tongues.

The vast number of potential mythological, cultural, and religious sources for this spell in Dungeons & Dragons means that, barring any indication from the original author, it is hard to narrow down where specifically this influence came from - especially given fantasy fiction at the time Dungeons & Dragons was initially devised made heavy use of mythological and original sources that could have pulled influence from any number of mythologies and 'alternative' religious practices popular at the time.


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