So you want to make friends (or enemies) of the various peoples of the world but only have the length of spellcasting time to form those relationships? No problem! Welcome to the magic school of enchantment.
For the sake of discussion and example, I’m using D&D 5e, but the thoughts are easily applied elsewhere. The description for that school of magic reads thus:
As a member of the School of Enchantment, you have honed your ability to magically entrance and beguile other people and monsters. Some enchanters are peacemakers who bewitch the violent to lay down their arms and charm the cruel into showing mercy. Others are tyrants who magically bind the unwilling into their service. Most enchanters fall somewhere in between.SOURCE: https://www.dndbeyond.com/classes/wizard#SchoolofEnchantment
So the general tone of this school is using magic to alter people’s behaviors to your liking regardless of whether willing or not. For some wizards, it’s a whole field of study. If you specialize in that particular field of magic, you get these things:
- the ability to enthrall someone with a glance
- a general presence that allows you to make people direct their violence elsewhere
- the ability to enthrall two people instead of one
- the ability to make people forget you ever tried to enchant them and/or the time period during which they were enchanted in general
To say the least, this has terrifying implications and those need to be discussed, but first let’s talk about the assumptions that go into this whole thing in brief.
BY ANY MEANS
The general tone of D&D is that you are the heroes of the story. The center and the spotlight. The ones whom destiny summoned or at least someone who’s up for following the Chosen One ™. As such, anything you do is generally justified in some way.
That includes violence or harm of most if not all kinds. Killing sentient creatures, razing towns to the ground, etc. As long as you come back with the artifact, the money, or whatever the objective is. Things like reputation or social standing are included with D&D, so there are no real consequences no matter what you do unless the DM adds it to the narrative. In terms of mechanics, power is the only true law and the only true law is power.
It is in this context that we have a whole school which – rather than summoning a lightning bolt, a fireball, minions, or portals – weaponizes something far more dangerous: agency.
You’re given the power to rob someone of their free will either for a long while or permanently.
* * *
Some spells in the school of enchantment are relatively harmless like Heroism or Sleep. Make someone immune to fear effects and give temporary HP? Heck yeah. Someone causing a bit of trouble? They can have a nap if you roll high enough. We can rock with those things.
On the other hand you have spells like Suggestion or Modify Memory wherein the condition is telling someone something about what they feel or remember or desire to do can is problematic in the best of cases and at its worst, deeply traumatizing.
We won’t even get into Geas.
The rules for what you can suggest or modify are limited only to what is reasonable for that creature and whether or not they understand your language. Everything else is left up to the GM judgment. Additionally, every single one of these things that the players can use is also something the GM can use.
Reminder: these things can happen to you and the mechanics are such that you can have no memory of that moment and after level 10, you can two targets for the price of one.
Power Word: Kill is an enchantment that represents the pinnacle in terms of how this school of magic can be a problem. If you have a certain amount of hit points, you just die. There are no other conditions. No saving throws to be made. No death saves. You don’t even have to share a language.
You’re just Yamcha in a crater and there’s no recourse for it.
It could be argued here that “How else do you represent the pinnacle of power for someone like a Wizard” and I would gently remind you that you have a Wish spell at that level.
WHAT IS THE REASON?!
When we look at the school of enchantment magic, we have to look at the rest of the things the game provides mechanics for. Just about every enchantment is directly connected to something you could attempt to do with a skill check.
You have Modify Memory, but you could also just use Deception. You have Animal Friendship, but the Animal Handling check is right there. You have Command, but you also have Intimidate and Persuasion. You see where I’m going here.
But why enchantments then? What is the reason? My thoughts here are:
- This makes us feel powerful. The whole game is a power fantasy and the feeling of power is the point. Being able to strip someone of their free will for a time with a word or a glance is pretty high up there if power is what you’re going for.
- This allows us to do what our skills checks don’t do. In D&D, if you’re a Wizard, you’re probably more into skills that are based in Intelligence. This usually comes at the sacrifice of things that make you good at social settings, things that make you beefy, and things that make you nimble, so we have a whole school of magic that trivializes all of that.
There’s a 50% chance of failure since these things either work or don’t work, but you also have the mechanics to heavily alter those odds in your favor.
We’re intelligent and can make reality itself do what we want, so we leverage it knowing that, in most cases, creatures will fail the saving throws required to shrug us off. The world is your character’s to command (or the enemy’s depending) for better or for worse. This school of magic, maybe moreso than anything else in the whole game, shows us the truth about what power in this game is for and honestly, it’s scary.
Especially in a game where the general tone of GM to player is adversarial and, as such, will end up with a bad guy who can and very well may use this on players.
It leaves your character to determine for themselves what their moral bounds would be, but given the trope of Wizards being “Intelligent Assholes” or “Socially Inept Because I Read Lots Of Books” and general tendencies to play into that trope, that leaves a lot of room for awful things.
So what happens when we try to be mindful about all of this? Well, let’s use an example where, after safety tool checks have been run, you learn that coercion is a trigger for your players and thereby off the table.
That means you would probably have to take these things off the table for any villain NPC, evil NPC, or evil player (including people who play as good aligned characters, but act like murderous assholes):
- hold person
- mass suggestion
- charm person
- compelled duel
- crown of madness
- dominate person
- fast friends
- friends (remember you can make people forget this happened after level 10, teehee!)
- geas (mother of crow, this one is rough)
- power word pain
- zone of truth
Across the manuals I have, that’s almost one-third of the enchantments the manuals contain. Your mileage may vary.
NOT ALL ENCHANTMENTS
To be clear, I don’t think all of enchantments are bad, but I do think that the more people and perspectives come into the hobby, the more we have to talk about that school of magic and what can be used at our tables.
In general, buffing your friends is good. Debuffing enemies by making them collapse with laughter mid-fight because you have magical pun power is also a delight. Taking someone’s agency from them however… well… sometimes it works.
The idea of enchantments being a last and desperate resort is appealing to me as a narrative point and a moment to show what your character might do in an extreme situation to prevent an Awful Outcome ™ but it requires a dexterous DM and a caring set of players not to let it get out of hand otherwise and that can be hard to trust.
For the somewhat (or very) icky parts, safety tools can help us with establishing those bounds and what can stay or go and should be a mainstay at every single table forever and ever and ever.