Monday, July 06, 2020

Perusals & Progressions: Cure Light Wounds

Ever since the advent of 4th edition D&D, I've been thinking about designing a version of the game that's more to my liking.  I'd become disillusioned with 3rd edition at the time, not so much because of how it plays at the table, but because of how taxing it can be to prepare material for.  If 4th edition had been mostly the same as 3e but with a streamlining on the DM side of things, I'd probably still be engaged with the current game.  5th edition was a step in the right direction, but it has far too many breaks with D&D tradition for me to get on board with it.  What I really want, and have wanted for some time now, is a stable version of the game that mixes the traditional elements of TSR D&D with the mechanics of 3rd and 5th edition, and does so in a way that I find easy to prep for.  I've known for a long time that the only way that was ever going to happen was if I knuckled down and did the work.  I've been thinking about it for a long time, but it's only recently that I've had time to properly work on it.

As I've mentioned before, I'm calling this project D&D Nth Edition.  My main goal for Nth Edition is to create a version of the game that I'm happy with, and a big part of that is making it scale backwards and forwards to emulate different eras of the game.  Those eras would be Original, Basic D&D, Advanced D&D, and "Modern" D&D (3rd through 5th edition).

Probably the most time-consuming part of the whole process will be working out the details for spells and monsters.  I feel like I've nailed the core rules down at this point, and I'm currently working on the spell list, starting with the spells from Original D&D.  To do this I've been looking at each spell edition by edition, seeing how they progressed and developed over the years, and then taking the elements I like to create a version of the spell that works how I want it to.  And I figured if I'm doing the work, I might as well blog about it.  (At this point I should shout out to and, both of whom have done a series of "Spells Through the Ages" posts.  Those guys are a definite inspiration, and I've used a bunch of their ideas in my own games and designs.)

I'm starting this series with cure light wounds, the staple of the cleric spell list.  There are 12 editions of D&D that I'll be looking at for this series: the 1974 Original D&D boxed set, Holmes Basic, Moldvay Basic (B/X), Mentzer Basic (BECMI), the Rules Cyclopedia, AD&D 1st edition, AD&D 2nd edition, the revised 2nd edition books from the mid-90s, D&D 3rd edition, D&D 3.5, D&D 4th edition, and D&D 5th edition.  At the end of this process, I aim to distill the elements from all those editions into versions of the spell that are broadly compatible but fit  in with the four eras of D&D that I'm trying to emulate with Nth Edition.  Aside from that, it's an excuse to see how these things developed over the years, which is something I'm always fascinated by.

So, with that excessive preamble out of the way, let's look at the history of cure light wounds.


Cure Light Wounds: During the course of one full turn this spell will remove hits from a wounded character (including elves, dwarves, etc.). A die is rolled, one pip added, and the resultant total subtracted from the hits points the character has taken. Thus from 2-7 hit points of damage can be removed.

This is pretty self-explanatory, although the talk of it removing hits rather than restoring hit points is odd from a modern perspective.  It should also be noted that the use of turns (spanning 10 minutes) and rounds (spanning 1 minute) was a bit muddled in OD&D, and that most of the time when turns are mentioned in the spell descriptions it probably should read as 1 minute rounds.

Cure light wounds is noted as having a reverse effect when cast by clerics of chaotic alignment, but the specifics are left pretty vague.


Cure Light Wounds — Level: clerical 1; Range: 0
During the course of one melee round this spell will heal damage done to a character, including elves, dwarves and hobbits. A die is rolled and 1 is added to it; the result is the number of hit points restored (2-7). The zero range means the cleric must touch the wounded person to heal him.

Holmes Basic clarifies the rounds/turns issue, specifies that hobbits can be healed with the spell, and adds the requirement that the cleric must touch the recipient.  It also names the reversed version of the spell as cause light wounds, but gives no further details.

B/X (1981)

Cure Light Wounds*
Range: 0
Duration: permanent 
This spell will heal 2-7 points (1d6+1) of damage done to any living creature (character or monster) when the cleric touches the individual. This spell may also be used to cure paralysis, but will not then cure any points of damage. The spell may be cast on the cleric's own body. The spell's effect will not, in any case, increase a creature's hit point total to more than the normal amount. EXAMPLE: Tars the fighter normally has 6 hp. In a battle with goblins, he takes 5 points of damage. Gantry the cleric casts a cure light wounds spell on him during the battle, and rolls a 6 on the die, which cures up to 7 points of damage. Tars is restored to his original total of 6 hp, but the 2 extra points are wasted.

Aside from the obvious clarifications that the cleric can cast the spell on themselves, and that healing can never exceed the recipient's max hp, the main addition here is the ability to cure paralysis.  The spell is still reversed by chaotic clerics, but the explanation for that has been punted off to the Expert rules.  Here's what they say on the matter:

Cure Light Wounds: When reversed, this spell (cause light wounds) will do 2-7 points of damage to any creature or character touched. The cleric must roll to hit the opponent in normal combat.

It's pretty much what's implied by reversing cure light wounds, with the required attack roll being the only part that might not be obvious.

BECMI (1983)

Cure Light Wounds*
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
Effect: Any one living creature 
This spell will either heal damage or remove paralysis. If used to heal, it will cure 2-7 (1d6+1) points of damage. It will not heal any damage if used to cure paralysis. The cleric may cast it on himself (or herself) if desired. 
This spell will never increase a creature's total hit points above the original amount. 
EXAMPLE: Your first fighter started with 8 hit points. You were damaged in the battle with the snake, down to 4 hit points. Aleena cast a Cure Light Wounds spell and touched you. She rolled a 6, curing a total of 7 points of damage, but your hit points returned to 8, the amount you started with. The "extra" 3 points were not counted.

No changes here. As in B/X, cause light wounds is dealt with in the Expert rules.

Cure Light Wounds*
When reversed, this spell, cause light wounds, causes 2-7 points of damage to any creature touched (no Saving Throw). The cleric must make a normal Hit roll.

Again, no changes, but it's clarified that the spell doesn't have a saving throw.


Cure Light Wounds*
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
Effect: Any one living creature 
This spell either heals damage or removes paralysis. If used to heal, it can cure 2-7 (1d6 + l) points of damage. It cannot heal damage if used to cure paralysis. The cleric may cast it on himself if desired. 
This spell cannot increase a creature's total hit points above the original amount. 
When reversed, this spell, cause light wounds, causes 1d6 + l (2-7) points of damage to any creature or character touched (no saving throw is allowed). The cleric must make a normal attack roll to inflict this damage.

This is the end of the Basic line's development of cure light wounds, and it's remarkably consistent.  In general, the Basic line tends to build on Original D&D without making huge changes, in contrast to the sweeping changes of the AD&D lineage (and the scorched earth policies of modern D&D).  Aside from clarifications, the only change made to the spell from OD&D was the addition of the ability to cure paralysis.

That's the Basic line done, pretty much.  I'm aware that there were revisions of the line in the mid-90s, but I kind of consider the Rules Cyclopedia to be its culmination.  Now let's take a look at how  the AD&D line handled it.

AD&D 1st EDITION (1978)

Cure Light Wounds (Necromantic) Reversible
Level: 1
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
Area of Effect: Character touched
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 5 segments
Saving Throw: None 
Explanation/Description: Upon laying his or her hand upon a creature, the cleric causes from 1 to 8 hit points of wound or other injury damage to the creature's body to be healed. This healing will not affect creatures without corporeal bodies, nor will it cure wounds of creatures not living or those which can be harmed only by iron, silver, and/or magical weapons. Its reverse, cause light wounds, operates in the same manner; and if a person is avoiding this touch, a melee combat "to hit" die is rolled to determine if the cleric's hand strikes the opponent and causes such a wound. Note that cured wounds are permanent only insofar as the creature does not sustain further damage, and that caused wounds will heal - or can be cured - just as any normal injury will. Caused light wounds are 1 to 8 hit points of damage.

There's plenty of added complexity to unpack here.  The first thing is that magic is now divided into schools, and cure light wounds is grouped under necromancy.  This makes a certain logical sense if you define necromancy as being magic that plays around with life force, but it doesn't feel quite right to lump healing in with traditionally evil magic.

Casting time is a thing now, in segments no less, and spells now have spell components divided into (V)erbal, (S)omatic and (M)aterial: V and S mean that the caster must be free to speak and make gestures to cast the spell.

The main change here is that the spell now heals 1d8 damage rather than 1d6+1. It's also interesting to note what was deemed important to clarify in Basic and in AD&D.  Basic deals with a lot of things that are probably common sense but should still be spelled out for the sake of rules clarity, whereas AD&D gets into things such as specific creature types that can't be affected by the spell.  I was especially surprised by the note that it doesn't work on creatures that are immune to normal weapons; I've read the PHB multiple times, but I'd forgotten this bit.

AD&D 2nd EDITION (1989)

Cure Light Wounds (Necromancy)
Sphere: Healing
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: Permanent
Casting Time: 5
Area of Effect: Creature touched
Saving Throw: None 
When casting this spell and laying his hand upon a creature, the priest causes 1d8
points of wound or other injury damage  to the creature’s body to be healed. This healing
cannot affect creatures without corporeal bodies, nor can it cure wounds of creatures not living or of extraplanar origin. 
The reversed spell, cause light wounds, operates in the same manner, inflicting 1d8 points of damage. If a creature is avoiding this touch, an attack roll is needed to determine if the priest’s hand strikes that opponent and causes such a wound. 
Curing is permanent only insofar as the creature does not sustain further damage; caused wounds will heal - or can be cured - just as any normal injury.

In addition to magical schools, cleric spells are now sorted into spheres.  The only other change is that the bit from 1st edition about the spell not affecting creatures immune to normal weapons has been simplified, and now applies to creatures of extraplanar origin.


I won't reproduce this version, because it's pretty much identical except for some very minor changes to wording.

D&D 3rd EDITION (2000)

Cure Light Wounds  
Conjuration (Healing)
Level: Brd 1, Clr 1, Drd 1, Healing 1, Pal 1, Rgr 2
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Target: Creature touched
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: Will half (harmless) (see text)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless) 
When laying your hand upon a living creature, you channel positive energy that cures 1d8 points of damage +1 point per caster level (up to +5). 
Since undead are powered by negative energy, this spell deals damage to them instead of curing their wounds. An undead creature can attempt a Will save to take half damage.

The basics of the spell are the same, although the +1 additional healing per level is new, as is the wrinkle about the spell damaging undead.  It looks like extraplanar creatures can once more be healed with this spell, however.  It's also been taken out of the necromancy school, and shifted over to conjuration.  It's also no longer reversible by evil/chaotic clerics, and the two effects have been split into separate spells.

It should also be noted that in 3rd edition, good clerics can swap out any prepared spell for cure light wounds, and evil clerics can do the same with inflict light wounds.

Inflict Light Wounds 
Level: Clr 1, Destruction 1
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Target: Creature touched
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: Will half
Spell Resistance: Yes 
When laying your hand upon a creature, you channel negative energy that deals 1d8 points of damage +1 point per caster level (up to +5). 
Since undead are powered by negative energy, this spell cures them of a like amount of damage, rather than harming them.

Cause light wounds has become inflict light wounds. This one remains in the necromancy school, which is appropriate, and is otherwise the opposite of cure light wounds.

D&D 3.5th EDITION (2003)

Aside from some minor wording changes and a clarification that undead get to use their spell resistance against cure light wounds in addition to saving throws, this version is the same as in 3rd edition.

D&D 4th EDITION (2008)

Cure Light Wounds Cleric Utility 2 
You utter a simple prayer and gain the power to instantly heal wounds, and your touch momentarily suffuses you or a wounded creature with a dim silver light. 
Daily ✦ Divine, Healing
Standard Action
Target: You or one creature 
Effect: The target regains hit points as if it had spent a healing surge.

A complete overhaul. It's the same spell in name and in spirit, but the specifics are completely different.  If I understand correctly, a healing surge restores a quarter of the recipient's hit points, so this one's a lot more effective than the standard 1d6+1 that this spell began as.  I don't think that cause/inflict light wounds got converted to 4e, unless I've missed something.

D&D 5th EDITION (2014)

Cure Wounds
1st-level evocation 
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V,S
Duration: Instantaneous 
A creature you touch regains a number of hit points equal to 1d8 + your spellcasting ability modifier. This spell has no effect on undead or constructs. 
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the healing increases by 1d8 for each slot level above 1st.

Despite the name change, we're back to something more closely resembling the older versions of the spell.  As with most spells in 5e it's been made so that it can scale upwards when cast at a higher level.  Undead are back to being unaffected, as are constructs (although I guess they were previously covered by the "living" requirement).  Having previously been in the necromancy and conjuration schools, cure wounds is now classed as an evocation spell.

Inflict Wounds
1st level necromancy 
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous 
Make a melee spell attack against a creature you can reach. On a hit, the target takes 3d10 necrotic damage.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 1st.

In terms of damage dealt, this has very much moved away from being the opposite to cure wounds.


The first thing I can definitely say is that I'm keeping the name as cure light wounds; when names conflict across editions, you can generally assume that I'll go with the one that was used in the versions of D&D that I grew up with.  That also means that I'm going with cause light wounds rather than inflict light wounds.  To me it rolls off the tongue better, and I like the alliteration between cure light wounds and cause light wounds.

Basic D&D gave this spell the ability to cure paralysis, but I'm going to ditch that.  Remove paralysis is its own spell in 2nd and 3rd edition, and I don't want to step on that spell's toes.

Over the years, cure light wounds has been in three schools of magic: necromancy, conjuration and evocation.  I'm ruling necromancy out right away for thematic reasons.  Conjuration always seemed more to me about summoning creatures and objects rather than forms of energy, so it doesn't strike me as appropriate either.  Evocation is about the manipulation of energy, so it seems like the best fit.

I'm not going to split cure and cause light wounds into separate spells, as I'm using the reversed spells for good and evil clerics.  I also like the bit about the spells having the opposite effect on the undead.  As for other creatures that aren't affected by the spell, I'm going to go by creature type rather than using the 1st edition bit about creatures only affected by silver and magical weapons.  The types I'd exclude are constructs, extraplanar creatures, and incorporeal creatures.

3rd edition gives a saving throw against cause light wounds, which lowers the damage, but I'm going to leave that out.  It already requires an attack roll from the caster, so the target's AC is already it's saving throw, really.

Casting time ranges from 5 segments in 1e and 2e, to 1 action in more modern versions of D&D.  I'm taking a much more simplified approach to casting times: unless a spell takes more than a round to cast, the casting time will be the level of the spell.  I tend to prefer rules that I can instantly recall at the table, without looking at a book. So cure light wounds will have a casting time of 1.

As for the 5th edition system of scaling the spell upwards by using higher level slots, I don't have enough experience with it to have a concrete opinion.  I'm erring away from using it, because it  appears to swing D&D's Vancian system a little closer to a spell point system.  I could be swayed if I played some more 5e, though, assuming the system works well.

With the above in mind, here's what the Nth edition cure light wounds entry will look like.

Cure Light Wounds / Cause Light Wounds
Evocation / Necromancy 
Level: Cleric 1
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1
Range: Touch
Target: Creature touched
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Magic Resistance: Yes 
When laying hands upon a living creature, the cleric channels positive energy that cures 1d8 points of damage, +1 per caster level (maximum +5). This healing will not affect incorporeal creatures, extraplanar creatures, or constructs, nor will it cure the wounds of those that are not living.  The cleric can cast this spell upon their own body if desired. 
The reverse, cause light wounds, operates in the same manner, inflicting 1d8 points of damage to the creature touched, +1 per caster level (maximum +5). If the target is avoiding this touch, a melee attack roll is required by the cleric to inflict the damage. Creatures immune to cure light wounds are also unaffected by cause light wounds. Cause light wounds is a necromancy spell, whereas cure light wounds is an evocation spell. 
Since undead are powered by negative energy, this spell operates in reverse against them: cure light wounds damages them, and cause light wounds cures them.
EDIT: I had a look at remove paralysis, and that spell is an area effect that removes paralysis from multiple creatures.  I'm trying to keep the functionality from as many different versions of the spells as possible, so I'm actually going to allow this spell to remove paralysis from one creature touched, in lieu of restoring hit points.  I don't think that steps on the toes of remove paralysis at all, as that's still a far more effective spell.

The above would be the entry for the Nth Edition emulations of AD&D and Modern D&D; for Original and Basic, it would be the same, except that the range healed/inflicted would be 1d6+1, without the extra +1 per level.  It makes the entry a little more complex than I'd like for OD&D and Basic, but I'll sacrifice a little simplicity for consistency across versions.

NEXT: For my next post on this series I'm going to tackle detect evil, which has always been a problematic one for me.  I expect I'll be changing things up a bit more extensively for that one.


  1. A couple of quick things - first, even though I played a bunch of d&d as a kid, I have absolutely no recollection of Cure Light Wounds also being able to cure paralysis. I just checked my rulebooks and you're absolutely right. Weird. I wonder if it's because things like Gelatinous Cubes and Carrion Crawlers were a lot more common in early dungeons in those days?

    Secondly, regarding your note about CLW not fitting into the Necromancy school, in 2E (which was my heyday) they'd clearly moved away from using schools at all for priest spells, and the schools were only provided for reference. As you stated, spheres of influence were now the main way of categorising priest and the Healing sphere was built around the Cure X Wounds series.

  2. Ghouls were the monster I was thinking of regarding paralysis, but those carrion crawler and cubes are nasty as well.

    As for the necromancy classification, spheres were very much a 2e thing (although I guess they kind of got rolled into domains for 3e). When looking at these spells from a historical perspective, spell schools are going to be the focus.