Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Compiling a D&D Spell Compendium — Where to Begin?

This is kind of a big project I've set up for myself, going through all the core AD&D 1e spells and doing my own conversions to OD&D/BECMI standards. But where to begin? Do I flip open Unearthed Arcana, where I can see that there are no fewer than forty 1st level magic-user spells alone? (And that's not even counting all the cantrips, my goodness…) Start with affect normal fires and work my way down the list?

…I think not. A better idea would be to begin with the core spell selection that developed out of the OD&D editions, particularly since this will form of the core of spells that I would always allow in a campaign. The "common" spells that most casters already know to exist — the spell "canon" (not unlike that of Vance's Dying Earth setting). The converted AD&D spells, meanwhile, are intended to be the rarities — the odd bits of magical treasure left lying about for magic-users to discover by happenstance, to add just a little hint of spice and variety to a campaign. So I need to have a solid foundation first — a core from which to work outward.

For the sake of this project, I'm going to treat the Rules Cyclopedia as the foundational document (as I'm so often wont to do). It is, after all, the final edition of OD&D. It's not without its flaws; some changes were made between the BECM boxes and Cyclopedia which are undoubtedly errors. (Notably the clerical version of wish.) But there are thorough errata documents out there for the RC which already compile such information. For now, I wish to focus in on the spell lists found in the Cyclopedia: the 117 magical spells and the 84 clerical/druidical spells. These will form the core list that sets the standards I'll be converting the AD&D spells to.

Dan Collins has a long-running series of blog posts known as "Spells Through the Ages"; the information in these posts is extremely valuable to my project, since I'll be doing much the same sort of comparisons, looking at every version of every spell and then deciding on what a D&D-based standard should be and bringing all of the AD&D spells into line with that standard. Thus, it may be the case that many of my posts that follow will be treading over much the same ground as Delta — but I'll be coming at this from a different perspective. Delta is interested in playing LBB OD&D and looking to later versions of the spells as curiosities, or to AD&D as a potential source of errata/clarification for the original intent behind the spells as they appear in the booklets ad supplements. For example, his reading of the spell durations (given in "turns" or "melee turns" originally) is that this should mean what we now call "rounds" — 1-minute AD&D rounds, to be precise. Whereas my intent here is to treat the preservation of spell durations based on 10-minute dungeon turns by Holmes, Moldvay, Cook, Mentzer, &al. not as an error but as a deliberate choice (and a very good one, since it foregrounds dungeon exploration rather than combat as the fundamental activity of play). Thus, I will be needing to convert the AD&D spells, with variable durations based on rounds, variable ranges, and sundry caveats and drawbacks, to the D&D system's fixed durations based on turns, fixed ranges, and any drawbacks left wholly up to referee discretion.

So I won't be starting with affect normal fires after all; the proper place to begin is with charm person. Very quickly, the canonical list of 1st level magic-user spells is as follows:

1. Charm Person
2. Detect Magic
3. Floating Disc (a.k.a. Tenser's Floating Disc)
4. Hold Portal
5. Light
6. Magic Missile
7. Protection from Evil
8. Read Languages (a.k.a. Comprehend Languages)
9. Read Magic
10. Shield
11. Sleep
12. Ventriloquism
13. Analyze (a.k.a. Identify)

Already, I can see that I've got my work cut out for me; some spells even have different names in AD&D. (I'm ignoring Chainmail for the moment, wherein light is called wizard light — the name was doubtless changed because the spell is shared by wizards and clerics in D&D, and so it made no sense to keep the original name.) Anyway; moving on. Charm person, as it happens, is probably the most complicated of all the 1st level spells in the game. Even in D&D, there is a whole section of rules devoted solely to helping the referee adjudicate charm person. So that's a spell that doubtless deserves a whole post of its own; let this one stand as a mere introduction only. Until next time. ■

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