Saturday, May 06, 2017

AD&D Player's Handbook part 38: 1st-Level Magic-User Spells

Notes Regarding Magic-User Spells: Before the spell descriptions begin, there's a short section that mostly deals with magic-user spell components. The most interesting thing here is that casting times are dependent on the caster having all of their components to hand and easily accessible; if that's not the case, a 30-second delay is recommended to rummage in packs looking for them. It's also said that any delay by the player in deciding on a spell to cast will impact on the character's casting time, with every 6 seconds of real-world delay counting as 1 segment of the combat round. It's a way to curtail magic-users somewhat, and it also enforces a certain style of play. Of all the classes, magic-users emphasise preparedness the most, and this rule really punishes players who don't live up to that requirement.

1st-Level Magic-User Spells: There are a whopping 30 1st-level magic-user spells, so grab some snacks, make a coffee and find a comfy chair, because this is going to take a while.  There were only 11 1st-level spells in OD&D, so it's obvious that there are a lot of new spells being introduced here.  All the spells in OD&D have made the transition, although read languages has had its name changed to comprehend languages.  We also have three spells that were in the first D&D Basic Set: dancing lights, enlarge (formerly known as enlargement) and Tenser's floating disc. That leaves 16 all-new spells, which is fine by me, because it's much quicker for me to write about them without doing comparisons back to OD&D.

Affect Normal Fires: Allows the caster to alter the size and brightness of a small fire. It can shrink a fire to as small as a candle, or increase a fire's brightness to equal that of a light spell (2" radius). The amount of light produced changes, but the heat of the fire doesn't, and the change in size also comes with a change in fuel consumption: quicker for brighter fires, lower for smaller ones. It's interesting to note that the spell says you can shrink a fire, but it says nothing about enlarging one; it seems that the only property of the fire that can be increased is its brightness. I had originally thought that it could be use it to set torch-wielding goblins on fire, but it doesn't seem so. Blinding them might be possible, though.

Burning Hands: Creates a jet of flame 3 feet in length, with a 120 degree arc (so it can hit up to two, maybe three opponents). It deals 1 point of damage per caster level, which... is pretty good for a 1st-level spell at high level, I guess, but what do you do with this as a 1st-level caster? Kill swarms of bees? It really does seem under-powered.

Charm Person: Charms any one "person", causing them to believe that the caster is their trusted friend. The spell has a long duration, with the target getting a regular saving throw based on Intelligence; for example, a creature with an Intelligence of 3 gets a saving throw every 3 months, whereas a creature with 18 Intelligence gets a save every 2 days.  The types of "persons" affected by the spell are specified as follows: brownies, dwarves, elves, gnolls, gnomes, goblins, half-elves, halflings, half-orcs, hobgoblins, humans, kobolds, lizard men, nixies, orcs, pixies, sprites and troglodytes.

In OD&D, the spell was said to affect "all two-legged, generally mammalian figures near to or less than man-size". The list included sprites, nixies, pixies, kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins and gnolls. The main difference here is that the "mammalian" restriction seems to have been lifted in AD&D, with the inclusion of lizard men and troglodytes. The OD&D spell also put the target under the caster's complete control. The periods of time between saving throws were different in OD&D, mostly skewing towards more frequent saves. Overall, the spell has changed to give less control over the target, but a greater duration on average and a slightly wider range of creatures that can be affected.

Comprehend Languages: Allows the caster to read an incomprehensible language, or understand speech in a language they otherwise don't know. The caster must touch the object to be read, or the creature to be understood, which could cause some complications if said creature is unfriendly. It doesn't allow the caster to read magical writing. The reverse of the spell, confuse languages, prevents comprehension or cancels out a comprehend languages spell.

In OD&D, the spell was called read languages, and it had a vague description about allowing the caster to read directions, such as those on a treasure map. It didn't allow the comprehension of spoken languages, and didn't have a reversed version. The AD&D spell is more versatile, and much more well-defined.

Dancing Lights: Creates one of three effects: 1-4 lights, each similar to a torch or lantern; 1-4 glowing spheres similar in appearance to a will-o-wisp; or one glowing, man-like shape. The caster can make the lights move however they want, and doesn't need to concentrate on them at all. They wink out if they get beyond the spell range. Useful for distractions, luring creatures into traps, or just plain old illumination I suppose.

It's meant to be 1-4 lights, you cheat.

Detect Magic: Like the cleric version of the spell this detects magical radiations, can scan a 60 degree arc per round, and is blocked by a foot of stone, an inch of metal or 3 feet of wood. It's detection range is double that of the cleric spell, though, and has a duration of 2 rounds per level instead of the cleric's flat duration of 1 turn.  The OD&D version of the spell was basically the same, but had a flat duration of 2 turns (which could mean rounds, because OD&D is very screwy with its rounds/turns terminology.)

Enlarge: The caster can make one object or creature larger. When cast on a creature, the growth is 20% per caster level, to a maximum of 200%. On inanimate objects, the increase and maximum are both halved. Magical properties aren't increased proportionately, not even for potions, which must still be consumed in their entirety to be effective. Natural properties, such as strength, weight and durability, are increased proportionately. It's stated that a person increased to 12' in height would be "as an ogre", while someone 18' tall would be "as a giant". Nothing is given statistically for these effects, and with the Dungeon Masters Guide still a couple of years away we can't look at the gauntlets of ogre power and girdles of giant strength for guidance. A look at the Monster Manual might give us a +2 damage bonus for ogre-sized characters; an 18'-tall character would be the equivalent of a cloud giant, and might deal 6-36 points of damage and be able to hurl boulders. At this point, it's all up to the DM.  (That +2 damage bonus for ogres is small, though; a full-strength human gets a damage bonus of +6. Perhaps the +2 could be in addition to whatever the character already gets?)

The spell was in the D&D Basic Set, under the name of enlargement. Curiously, it was more effective on non-living matter than on living creatures, which is the opposite of AD&D. It didn't give any guidelines for characters with increased Strength, so it's no help on that matter.

Erase: Erases any writing from a scroll or a piece of paper, even magical writing (though it doesn't get rid of explosive runes or a symbol). The spell doesn't always work, but it's more effective the higher level you are. I'm sure there must be situations where this spell has come in handy for somebody, but it really is highly specific and not particularly useful for adventurers.

Feather Fall: Causes the target to fall slowly, and thus land without taking any damage. It has a casting time of 1/10 of a segment, so it can be cast almost instantaneously.  It only lasts for 1 segment per caster level though, so at 1st level it won't fully protect from a fall longer than 12 feet.  What I can't figure out is if the spell can affect multiple creatures. It's said to affect an area of "1 cubic inch"; because it's written as the word and not the symbol, it should mean an actual inch, and not a "game inch" of 10 feet. That's weird, because it wouldn't even cover a single creature. Yet the spell does say it can affect "creature(s)", so I don't know what to think. I'd be inclined to interpret the inch as a ten foot cube, and allow the spell to affect creatures within that area up to the weight maximum of the spell. Another curious thing is that the spell can apparently affect missile weapons, which makes for a nice one-off defensive tactic.

Find Familiar: The caster summons an animal familiar that serves them and grants them some extra-sensory powers. The spell can only be attempted once per year, and the caster gets no choice in the type of animal that answers the summons. Most of them are regular animals (cats, crows, hawks, owls, toads, and weasels), and the powers they grant are mostly enhanced sight, smell or hearing. Sometimes there will be no suitable familiar within range, and the spell is wasted, and can't be tried again for a year. Rarely (a 1-in-20 chance) a special familiar will be summoned, dependent on the caster's alignment: chaotic evil or chaotic neutral casters will summon a quasit; chaotic good, neutral or neutral good casters will summon a pseudo-dragon; lawful neutral or lawful good casters will summon a brownie; and lawful evil or neutral evil casters will summon an imp.

Each familiar adds its hit point total to that of the caster when within 12", but if the familiar dies the caster loses double the amount permanently. The special familiars grant a host of abilities as follows:

Brownie: a Dexterity of 18, immunity to being surprised, and +2 on all saving throws.

Imp and Quasit: telepathic communication with the familiar, 25% magic resistance, regeneration of 1 hp/round, and an extra level of ability (!). That's dope as fuck, but if the imp or quasit is more than a mile away the character loses a level, and if it dies they lose four levels, so the risks are harsh. The familiar can also contact a lower plane once per week and ask six questions to help its master. Evil magic-users always get the best stuff.

Pseudo-Dragon: Telepathic communication, the ability to see invisible creatures, 35% magic resistance and maybe a chameleon-like power (it's not as clear-cut with the pseudo-dragon as it is with the others).

Friends: Either increases the caster's Charisma by 2-8 points, or lowers it by 1-4 if the creatures nearby make their save vs spells. The spell doesn't affect creatures of animal intelligence or lower. It requires the caster to rub his face with chalk, soot and vermillion, which would kind of make it obvious that they're about to cast a spell, wouldn't it? And technically, a crowd of onlookers would be split between those that made their save and those that didn't, unless you make a single save for everyone.  This one might be best used to influence a single person, or a small group.

Hold Portal: A spell that keeps a door or gate closed as though it were locked. It can be forced open by normal means, and also opened with a knock or dispel magic spell. A magic-user four or more levels higher than the caster can pass through at will, and an extra-dimensional creature can shatter any portal held with this spell.

The OD&D version of the spell had a duration of 2d6 turns, whereas in AD&D it lasts for 1 round/level.  The creatures that could shatter it were said to be "strongly anti-magical", with the balrog being called out specifically; AD&D has changed this to the more concrete descriptor of "extra-dimensional". There was also no indication that higher-level casters could pass through it at will (although this was in the description for wizard lock, so it's possible it was intended for hold portal as well).

Identify: This spell lasts 1 segment per level, and for every segment the caster has a chance to determine one magical property of a specific item (15%+5% per level). The caster has to hold or wear the item being identified, and so will have to suffer any possible curses or ill effects. An item never reveals exactly how many plusses or charges it has, but an approximate value might be given.

I might be wrong here, but it seems to me that in addition to the percentage roll above, the caster must also make a save vs. magic; if the save is successful the property is revealed. If the roll is one point short, a false property is revealed, and if it's lower than that the caster learns nothing.

The item must be examined within 1 hour per caster level of its discovery, or "all readable impressions will have been blended into those of the characters who have possessed it since". Is it just me, or does this make the spell mostly useless? If you're more than a day away from a large city when you find an item there's no way you'll ever get it identified.  And what about items that recently belonged to someone else? Wouldn't they already have their readable impressions all scrambled?  None of this makes a lot of sense, but it could all be tied into Gary's earlier notions about every creature having their own connections to various planes and pocket dimensions.  Perhaps only items that have been lying unclaimed for a while should be identifiable. It might be that killing the owner breaks whatever is scrambling the impressions. Food for thought.

Not only is there a time limit and a decent chance of failure, but the caster temporarily loses 8 points of Constitution, so it's not really something for one of your adventuring buddies to cast in the middle of a dungeon. Throw in the 100gp pearl that's required, and it becomes a spell that just has too many restrictions to be practical. Something tells me that Gary wanted to maintain the trial-and-error approach to magic items, rather than giving everything away with a simple spell.

Jump: One creature touched can leap 30' forward or 10' back or straight up.  At 4th level the caster can enable two such jumps, at 7th level three, and so on.  The material component is a broken grasshopper's leg.  It's a handy spell for low-level parties, before they get the ability to fly.

Light: Like the cleric spell it creates a globe of light similar to a torch, can be targeted at creatures to blind them, and is reversible as darkness. It has half the range of the cleric version, a much shorter duration, but a faster casting time.

Magic Missile: Creates one or more missiles that "unerringly strike" their target, each dealing 1d4+1 damage. For every 2 levels of experience, the caster creates another missile: two at 3rd, three at 5th, and so on.  They can be targeted at multiple creatures, so long as those creatures are all within a 10' square area. This is the rare case of a spell that gets more useful at higher levels. And there's no cap on the number of missiles that can be created, which could make this spell pretty devastating.

The OD&D version of the spell dealt 1d6+1 damage per missile, and it created an extra two missiles every five levels: three at 6th, five at 11th, and so on. The main difference is that the OD&D spell said nothing about the missiles being "unerring", so they would have required attack rolls to hit (and they were interpreted that way in the Holmes Basic Set).

Mending: Mends small breaks, cracks or holes in normal objects, but can't repair magic items. Requires two magnets or two burrs as material components.  It's another of the AD&D spells with everyday applications but not much use for adventurers, but it still seems like it would come in handy more often than erase.

Message: The caster can whisper a message, point to someone in their unobstructed line of sight, and that target will receive the message. If there's time left, the target can whisper something back. The material component is a piece of copper drawn fine.  Again, it's very situational.

Nystul's Magic Aura: Casts an illusory magic aura on a normal object (with a weight limit of 50gp per level). Anyone detecting magic can hold the object, and will get a saving throw to determine whether the aura is fake.

The biggest thing here is the introduction of Nystul, who will eventually be developed as a powerful archmage in the Greyhawk setting. At this point it's just a shout-out to Brad Nystul, a guy that Gygax had played with. (It's often attributed to Mike Nystul, his son, but that goes against Gary's own recollections and those of some other contemporaries of Gary; I could be wrong about all of this, but there's discussion about it over here. It's also the same guy who became an NPC in some Ultima games, which is pretty rad. I'll quite happily declare them as the same character, unless there are large discrepancies.)

Protection from Evil: Like the cleric spell, it stops bodily contact from all summoned, conjured or enchanted creatures (aerial servants, demons, devils, djinn, efreet, elementals, imps, invisible stalkers, night hags, quasits, salamanders, water weirds, wind walkers, xorn, and any other summoned animal or monster). It also causes evil creatures to attack the caster at -2. It doesn't last quite as long as the cleric version, but it does have a faster casting time. The material component is a powdered circle of silver and iron.

The OD&D version of the spell protected from attacks from "enchanted" creatures, and granted a +1 bonus to saving throws and AC against evil creatures.

Push: Causes an invisible force to strike the target, albeit a weak one of 1 foot pound per level. It can move small objects, topple them, or cause a creature to lose its balance and be unable to attack that round (but the creature can't weigh more than 50 lbs. per caster level). It can also be cast on an attacker's, subtracting the force in foot pounds from the attacker's to-hit roll. The material component is a pinch of powdered brass.

Read Magic: Allows the caster to read magical writing, which is normally unintelligible even to spell-casters. (It's noted that magic-users can read their own writing though, which isn't always true even of regular folk writing in English.)  Once a piece of writing has been read, it can thenceforth be read without the need for a read magic spell. The material component is a clear crystal or a mineral prism. It can be reversed as unreadable magic, which makes the writing indecipherable to read magic for the spell's duration.  The reversed spell has different components: a pinch of dirt and a drop of water. (Clear as mud, innit?)

The OD&D version of the spell was simply "the means by which the incantations on an item or scroll are read". That was pretty much it in its entirety.

(As for the reason that magic-users can't read the magical writing of others, I'm going with the idea that arcane magic is very idiosyncratic, and every magic-user learns and does things in their own way. Part of the reason for this is security, so that other magic-users can't steal their secrets at a glance.)

Shield: Creates a barrier in front of the magic-user that: completely negates a magic missile; provides AC 2 against hurled missiles like axes; provides AC 3 against small, device-propelled missiles like arrows, bolts or manticore spikes; provides AC 4 against all other attacks; and grants +1 on saves against all frontal attacks.

The OD&D version of the spell was much simpler: it granted AC 2 against missiles and AC 4 against other attacks. It lasted for 2 turns, whereas the AD&D version lasts for 5 rounds/lvl.


Shocking Grasp: Gives the caster an electrically-charged touch attack that deals 1d8 points of damage +1 per caster level. It's a lot more useful at low levels than burning hands, and it can deal more damage than pretty much anything else a wizard can use in melee.  Obviously it improves at high level, but probably never becomes more useful than magic missile.

Sleep: Puts a number of creatures within a 3" diameter to sleep, based on their Hit Dice. At most, it can affect 4d4 creatures of 1 HD; it can't affect creatures with more than 4+4 HD, and it's also ineffective against undead. Targets get no saving throw, but they can be awakened by slapping or wounding (but not by noise). It's noted here that one sleeping creature can be killed per slayer per round (a rule that should probably be in the Combat section to cover a bunch of situations). The material component is a pinch of sand, rose petals or a live cricket.

The OD&D spell was similar, but it had different - generally lower - ranges for the number of creatures of each Hit Dice that would be affected. It also wasn't clear whether targets got a saving throw or not (they don't in AD&D). The range was 24", whereas in AD&D it's been significantly shortened to 3"+1"/lvl. It seems as though range was sacrificed for power with this spell.

Spider Climb: Lets the target cling to walls and the ceiling, with a movement rate of 3". What's interesting is that, because the target's hands become sticky, they can't handle light items, which makes spell-casting impossible (at least for spells with material components). That's a bummer, but check it out: this spell has no saving throw. Technically, you should be able to use it as a touch attack that can temporarily disable an enemy spell-caster. The material component is a drop of bitumen and a live spider. Most people would be concerned about eating the spider, but I'd be more worried about the bitumen personally. At least the spider is organic.

Tenser's Floating Disc: Creates a "circular plane of null gravity", a concave disc 3' in diameter. It can hold a weight of 1,000gp per caster level.  (A weight requirement is all well and good, but there's only so many coins that will fit on the disc regardless of weight.) It always floats about 3' off the ground, and always remains level. The caster can command its movements (at a speed of 6").  If the caster moves out of range or the spell ends, the disc disappears and whatever was on it crashes to the ground. The material component is a drop of mercury.

This spell wasn't in OD&D proper, but it was in the first D&D Basic Set. There it functioned similarly, but with a few numerical differences. It could carry a flat weight of 5,000gp.  There was nothing in the spell about the magic-user commanding the disc's movement; it simply followed along six feet behind the caster. It had a range of 10 feet, as opposed to 2" in AD&D. It's duration was 6 turns, whereas in AD&D it's 3 turns + 1/level.

Tenser was described as being greedy for treasure in the Basic Set.  In AD&D he's described as a "famed wizard", known for his ability to locate treasure and his greed to recover every copper piece.

Unseen Servant: Creates an invisible force which can perform menial chores: open doors, hold chairs, clean and mend items, or whatever else the caster commands. It can only carry items to a maximum weight of 200gp. It can't fight, but it can be dispelled or destroyed after taking 6 points of damage. The material components are a piece of string and a bit of wood.  The most obvious use of this spell (and one called out in the description) is as a valet or butler, but there are definite uses for this one in dungeon exploration.  Touching potentially dangerous objects, mostly.

Ventriloquism: The caster can make his own voice appear to emanate from somewhere else (1"/level away, to a maximum of 6").  The voice can be altered to sound like someone else, or to make sounds that the caster would normally be able to make. (Can it be used to impersonate a specific person? It's not 100% clear.) Character with an Intelligence over 12 have a chance to recognise the ruse. The material component is a cone of parchment.

The OD&D version of the spell simply allowed the caster to make his voice issue from somewhere else, to a range of 6". It had a duration of 2 turns, as opposed to 2 rounds +1/level in AD&D.

Write: Allows the caster to transcribe a spell that he doesn't understand (either due to low Intelligence or being too low-level) into his own spell-book. Doing so requires a successful save vs. magic, with success being more difficult for higher-level spells. Failing the save results in the caster taking 1d4 points of damage per level of the spell; this is a mix of psychic and bodily damage that takes longer than normal to heal. It takes an hour per level to transcribe a spell, and during this time the magic-user is in a trance and will always be surprised by enemies.  It also requires fine ink of at least 200gp in value.

As far as I can tell, there was nothing in OD&D about copying spells from scrolls or other spellbooks, so this might very well be the first time this idea comes into the game. I've never used the spell, as we always just assumed that the process was automatic (if time-consuming). I like this method though; it's nice to add a little bit of risk to the obtainment of spells.

4 comments:

Jonothan said...

"Most people would be concerned about eating the spider, but I'd be more worried about the bitumen personally."
I wonder where you'd even find bitumen in a pre-industrial society.

Nathan P. Mahney said...

Apparently the Sumerians and Egyptians had it, if Wikipedia is to be believed.

Glen Sprigg said...

Burning Hands does 1d3+1/level, so it's not completely useless. However, Flame Arrow does suck thoroughly.

Nathan P. Mahney said...

Funny you mention that Glen, I was just writing about the dubious utility of Flame Arrow in my latest post.