Spell Improvement

As we continue to tinker on our Wizards & Warriors Five Color Game, I am once again looking at spells and how they grow in power as the caster gains levels.

Numbers in this post will all be from Labyrinth Lord’s Advanced Edition Companion. It appears that the spells that were in the core Labyrinth Lord rules, which were based on the 1981 B/X D&D rules and used a lot of fixed durations and ranges, have been copied directly into the AEC. Spells in the AEC which were not in the core set, including virtually all of the druid and illusionist spells, seem to make a lot more use of effects which ramp up as the caster increases in level. This approach wasn’t used much in B/X but was quite common in AD&D.

There are a number of basic methods of spells increasing (or not) in power as the caster improves:

  1. Some spells are completely static. Sleep, for instance, has a fixed range (240′), duration (4d4 turns), total number of hit dice affected (2d8), and maximum HD level (4+1) that can be affected. These numbers do not change as the caster goes up in level. Sleep , even when cast by a high-level magic-user, only affects that number of that HD creatures for that long. There is no difference between a sleep spell cast by a first-level magic-user and a ninth-level magic-user.
  2. Some spells are static, but there are “improved” versions of the spell available for higher level casters. Cure light wounds, for instance, is a fixed first-level spell (cures 1d6+1 points of damage) that has an improved version, cure serious wounds (cures 2d6+2 points of damage) at 4th level. The improved version is also fixed. So while there’s no difference between a cure light wounds cast by a first-level cleric and ninth-level cleric, the ninth-level cleric will have cure serious wounds available.
  3. Some spells increase in power as the caster increases in power (level). There are many ways this is handled.
    • Fireball, for instance, does 1d6 damage per caster level. A third-level caster does 3d6 damage while a ninth-level caster does 9d6. The fireball is simply more powerful.
    • And for every five levels a caster has gained, two additional magic missiles may be fired with each spell. A first-level magic-user fires one while a ninth-level magic-user fires three. Each missile is as powerful as any other, but there are more of them for higher-level casters.
    • Range and duration are often dependent upon caster level, such as pass without trace (lasts one turn per caster level), warp wood (range of 10′ per caster level), and phantasmal killer (lasts 1 round per level and has a range of 5′ per level).
  4. Some spells use other various methods of taking the caster’s level into account. Examples include exorcise and dispel magic (where the chance of success is dependent in part upon the caster’s level), and raise dead (where the length of time since the subject died can increase as the caster goes up in level).

I’m considering changing all the spells in #2 (improved versions available at higher levels) to #3 (spells ramp up in effectiveness as the caster increases in level). This would negate the possibility of a caster knowing the better version but not the basic version. An illusionist, for instance, could know improved invisibility but not invisibility? I’m not sure if that makes much sense. And in our game we require clerics to learn spells like magic-users rather than having all spells available to be memorized, so a cleric could potentially know how to cure critical wounds but not minor ones?

Sorry. I know I was just able to heal the dwarf after his battle with the troll left his spleen hanging out, but I can’t do a thing about that smashed big toe of yours.

A discussion about our series of cure spells brought this up last spring, but I’ve resisted the idea until now.

Lately, I’m thinking about adjusting a few things that will negatively affect compatibility with the standard game, but we’ve already got a significant gap and I’m hesitant to stick with things I want to change just to preserve compatibility. After all, this game is meant for us only (no plans to publish it in any way other than making it available for others to look at) and I don’t have others’ ability to convert things to worry about.

What do you guys think? Is there a reason to NOT make a simple cure wounds spell that looks something like this:

Cure Wounds

Level: 1
Range: Touch
Duration: Instant

Permanently heals 2d4 hit points of damage. For every two levels the caster gains, add 1d4. Alternatively, the spell may cure paralysis instead of healing damage.

So a third-level cleric would cure 3d4, a fifth-level cleric would cure 4d4, and so on.

In addition, I’m wondering if at least some of the spells on the #1 list (completely static) might not be worth considering for the #3 list, as well. I believe that at least a few of them do have level-based specs in AD&D.

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5 Responses to Spell Improvement

  1. Roger GS says:

    I tackled this problem in my own spellhack and you can read my reasoning here. My spells mostly don’t scale to level, but I have “Gray” meta-spells you can learn (not memorize) in order to be able to memorize another spell at a higher level, increasing its effect/duration/range.

    I do appreciate your approach, because going over the mess that is the 3rd edition spell lists, I was struck by just how many entries could have been saved using a scaling spell, and how many I did save by assuming Gray spells can deal with permanence, mass effects and the like. My favorite example is the “awesome super-mega-power” 9th level AD&D spell Meteor Swarm which hands out only about 1 1/2 times as much damage as a 3rd level fireball cast by the same level magic-user.

  2. N. Wright says:

    I like the cut of your jib.

    Honestly, I don’t see any reason that all spells either grow with the caster, or have a single, pre-determined effect. There’s really not much reason to have spells with “sweet spots” like Sleep, where it’s awesome at low levels and then sits uselessly in your spellbook for the other 15 levels. Especially when next to spells like Fireball, which deal increasing damage every level, to the point where a 15th level spellcaster’s fireball is an inferno and a 5th level’s fireball is a little poof of heat.

  3. Steve L. says:

    It’s not entirely unreasonable to believe that a cleric can know a high-level healing spell but be ignorant of a lower-level equivalent if you imagine that each spell is a different ritual that is learned separately. Also, because higher-level spells call forth more energy (energy that would be wasted on relatively trivial wounds), a prudent cleric would equip himself with lower-level cure wounds spells to handle flesh wounds and the like, saving the higher-level spells for more egregious injuries. In your example, it’s not that Cure Critical Wounds couldn’t repair a smashed toe, but that it would be a waste of energy to do so.

  4. Steve L. says:

    Your Cure Wounds example is similar to the progression of cure wounds spells in 3e D&D. That is, a cleric’s ability to heal hit points increases as he rises in level in two ways: as a direct function of his class level (your type 3 progression) and in the greater number of spells he can cast as a function of his class level. Thus, his healing capacity progresses at a more rapid rate compared with the cure wounds spells of 1e/2e D&D (your type 2 progression). Not only does the type 3 (3e) spell allow a cleric to heal more h.p., but he can more easily divide his healing capacity among multiple wounded characters due to the fact that he can cast more such spells compared to a cleric with type 2 (1e/2e) spells. See below where I’ve calculated the healing capacity at each cleric level for both 1e/2e and 3e; the difference is huge.

    But type 3 progression spells are often capped in some way. Each cure wounds spell in 3e is limited to a maximum level bonus (e.g., Cure Light Wounds heals 1d8 +1/caster level, but the caster-level adjustment can’t exceed +5). Magic Missile was limited in 2e and 3e to 5 missiles, regardless of caster level. Even Fireball, which, being a 3rd-level spell, can’t be cast as often as a lower-level spells, is limited to 10d6 damage in 2e and 3e.

    Below, I’ve broken the data out by D&D edition. I used 1e/2e instead of the Basic/Expert editions.

    I. FIRST AND SECOND EDITION D&D (AD&D)

    1. Cure Spells (1e/2e)

    These are the available cure wounds spells. “C1”, “C4”, etc., designate the spell level for a cleric.

    Cure Light Wounds (CLW): C1; heals 1-8 (1d8)
    Cure Serious Wounds (CSW): C4; heals 3-17 (2d8+1)
    Cure Critical Wounds (CCW): C5; heals 6-27 (3d8+3)

    2. Spell Capacity by Cleric Level (1e/2e)

    This shows the maximum number of each cure wounds spell that a cleric can cast at a given class level. See item 1, above, for spell name abbreviations. Bonus spells due to high Wisdom have been ignored; data has been taken directly from the Players Handbook (1e and 2e) tables, which are identical.

    Lvl 1: 1 X CLW
    Lvl 2: 2 X CLW
    Lvl 3: 2 X CLW
    Lvl 4: 3 X CLW
    Lvl 5: 3 X CLW
    Lvl 6: 3 X CLW
    Lvl 7: 3 X CLW, 1 X CSW
    Lvl 8: 3 X CLW, 2 X CSW
    Lvl 9: 4 X CLW, 2 X CSW, 1 X CCW

    3. Healing Capacity by Cleric Level (1e/2e)

    Given the info in item 2, above (i.e., a cleric who has maxed out his cure wound spell capacity), this list shows the number of h.p. that a cleric of a given level can heal. The first number is the average, and the range shows the minimum and maximum values possible, given that all spells are cast.

    Lvl 1: avg. 4.5; range 1-8
    Lvl 2: avg. 9; range 2-16
    Lvl 3: avg. 9; range 2-16
    Lvl 4: avg. 13.5; range 3-24
    Lvl 5: avg. 13.5; range 3-24
    Lvl 6: avg. 13.5; range 3-24
    Lvl 7: avg. 23.5; range 6-41
    Lvl 8: avg. 33.5; range 9-58
    Lvl 9: avg. 54.5; range 16-93

    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

    II. THIRD EDITION D&D

    1. Cure Spells (3e)

    These are the available cure wounds spells. “C1”, “C4”, etc., designate the spell level for a cleric.

    Cure Minor Wounds (CMiW): C0; heals 1
    Cure Light Wounds (CLW): C1; heals 1d8 +1/caster level (up to +5)
    Cure Moderate Wounds (CMoW; C2, heals 2d8 +1/caster level (up to +10)
    Cure Serious Wounds (CSW); C3, heals 3d8 +1/caster level (up to +15)
    Cure Critical Wounds (CCW); C4, heals 4d8 +1/caster level (up to +20)

    2. Spell Capacity by Cleric Level (3e)

    This shows the maximum number of each cure wounds spell that a cleric can cast at a given class level. See item 1, above, for spell name abbreviations. Bonus spells due to high Wisdom and domain have been ignored; data has been taken directly from the Players Handbook (3e) table.

    Lvl 1: 3 X CMiW, 1 X CLW
    Lvl 2: 4 X CMiW, 2 X CLW
    Lvl 3: 4 X CMiW, 2 X CLW, 1 X CMoW
    Lvl 4: 5 X CMiW, 3 X CLW, 2 X CMoW
    Lvl 5: 5 X CMiW, 3 X CLW, 2 X CMoW, 1 X CSW
    Lvl 6: 5 X CMiW, 3 X CLW, 3 X CMoW, 2 X CSW
    Lvl 7: 6 X CMiW, 4 X CLW, 3 X CMoW, 2 X CSW, 1 X CCW
    Lvl 8: 6 X CMiW, 4 X CLW, 3 X CMow, 3 X CSW, 2 X CCW
    Lvl 9: 6 X CMiW, 4 X CLW, 4 X CMoW, 3 X CSW, 2 X CCW

    3. Healing Capacity by Cleric Level (3e)

    Given the info in item 2, above (i.e., a cleric who has maxed out his cure wound spell capacity), this list shows the number of h.p. that a cleric of a given level can heal. The first number is the average, and the range shows the minimum and maximum values possible, given that all spells are cast.

    Lvl 1: avg. 8.5; range 5-12
    Lvl 2: avg. 17; range 10-24
    Lvl 3: avg. 31; range 17-45
    Lvl 4: avg. 56.5; range 32-81
    Lvl 5: avg. 80; range 45-115
    Lvl 6: avg. 118; range 65-170
    Lvl 7: avg. 144.5; range 88-228
    Lvl 8: avg. 211.5; range 117-306
    Lvl 9: avg. 264.5; range 149-380

  5. Yeah. OTOH I’m inclined to remove #1 #3 and #4 and have all spells require improved ones. Or tie the level of effect of variable spells to the slot level used so if you want that 12d6 fireball it needs to fill a 9th level spell slot. Something like that or be comfortable with very much more powerful spell casters at higher levels when their many 1st and 3rd lvl spells are better than most higher level spells.

    In Rolemaster you don’t learn spells you learn a list of themed spells. Many of which are just better versions of same spells. But depending on list can be similar/related spells. for instance the “Matter Ways” list might have detect matter, various versions of destroy matter and shape matter based on level.

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