Saturday, October 17, 2015

Debating B/X Spells

I've been working on my little side-project: producing a concise "cheat sheet" for all the spells in B/X D&D. In the process I ran across a couple of slightly confusing things that I would love to get feedback on, especially from other "B/X fanatics" across the interwebs. I'll just organize this spell-by-spell for now, general themes will probably be dealt with in a later post. Let's start with cleric spells:

  • Bless: Does the reversed version, Blight, also only work if cast before melee is joined?
  • Hold Person: For the group version, does the caster pick who gets affected? Or should there be a rule similar to the Sleep spell that lower HD creatures are affected first?
  • Resist Fire: Why is the duration so much shorter (2 turns versus 6 turns) than for Resist Cold, a lower-level spell? (AD&D gives them both 1 turn/level.)
  • Create Water, Create Food: These two are listed with a range of 0' which usually means "self" or "touch" but I presume that neither does the water "come out of the cleric" nor does he or she have to "touch" all the food that everybody else will eat later. A close range like 10' seems more reasonable, no?
  • Cure Serious Wounds: A spell that's three levels higher but only does twice the healing of Cure Light Wounds? Doesn't seem quite fair, especially since Neutralize Poison is the same level and potentially much more helpful. (Alas AD&D has the same problem.)
  • Speak with Plants: This spell allows for "favors" similar to Speak with Animals but doesn't explain how to determine whether a favor is granted; the latter spell uses a reaction roll, why not do the same here? Or should we just assume that the favor will be granted to make up for the much shorter duration?

Alright, and on to the magic-user spells. Here I have a lot more questions, and many are a lot more complex as well:

  • Invisibility: First the duration is "permanent until broken" which begs two questions: Since objects cannot "attack or cast" they simply stay invisible forever? Seems a tad powerful for a level 2 spell. Also, no other spell uses "permanent until broken" they usually say "special" or "indefinite" for their duration. Second the description says that a "person or object" can be made invisible, but I guess that the intention really is "creature" right? Shouldn't I be able to make my kobold retainer invisible as well? Or really just folks with character classes?
  • Knock: The spell description is written in plurals. Does that really mean all the doors/locks in the area will be blown open for 1 round?
  • Wizard Lock: When they say "magic-using character (or NPC) of three or more levels greater" do they mean to include clerics as well? And what about magic-using monsters with 3+ HD over the caster?
  • Dispel Magic: Does it really dispel all spells in the area? It cannot be targetted any better? Also, it's listed as effective against "magic-user, elf, or cleric" spells but it leaves out spells created by spell-casting monsters like Dragons?
  • Haste: Does the caster get to pick the recipients or are all creatures in the area, up to 24, hasted?
  • Confusion: Shouldn't undead be immune since this is a kind of charm or at least mind-altering?
  • Growth of Plants: What does "all but the largest creatures" mean exactly? Giants? Rocs (ignore flying for the moment)? Purple worms? Maybe we can just put a HD number on it to be clear?
  • Hallucinatory Terrain: Unlike Phantasmal Force this doesn't require concentration. So once cast, it just "sits there" as an illusion. Now it says "touch by intelligent creature dispels" which presumably means that insects and foxes and so on can stumble through the illusion with no effect even if observed. A goblin passing by, however, who touches the illusion by accident will ruin it. Not just for itself mind you, but totally ruin in. (This may be a more general complaint about illusions and how to handle them.)
  • Animate Dead: There is no upper limit to the number or HD a magic-user can control. So cemeteries should be amongst the most well-guarded places in any civilization? And all evil magic-users should be awash in skeletons and zombies.
  • Wall of Ice: Doesn't say "up to" in the spell description, unlike Wall of Fire. So it's always exactly 1,200 square feet? But what's to stop the caster from making whatever is "left over" really long and really low? The wall can be "any other shape the caster desires" after all. Shouldn't we just add the "up to" to the spell description?
  • Feeblemind: Can only be used against magic-users and elves, nobody else? Not against dragons or other magic-using monsters? Not against clerics? Hmm.
  • Magic Jar: Wow, what a complicated spell. First it has two ranges, 30' and 120', and it's not 100% clear which one is which. But then the hard questions start. Is the victim's soul displaced into the jar or not? If not, where does it go? Can the magic-user "chat" with the victim's soul while his soul is in the victim's body? Does the victim remember the actions the magic-user forced his body to take? Does the magic-user have access to the victim's memories or languages or skills? The spell description says that the magic-user cannot cast the victim's spells, but can the magic-user cast his or her own spells while inside the victim's body? Can the magic-user leave the victim's body and return to the jar voluntarily? Should the victim get more saving throws to "push out" the magic-user's soul, similar to what happens for Charm Person? What range counts for returning to the jar, the 30' or the 120'? What happens to a "pushed out" magic-user when the jar is too far away? (The AD&D version answers some of these questions but it also makes the spell even more complex in other ways, something I'd like to avoid.)
  • Wall of Stone: Unlike the other wall spells, this one says 1,000 cubic feet instead of 1,200 square feet. However, it also says the wall is 2' thick. What gives?
  • Invisible Stalker: There is no upper limit to the number of stalkers a magic-user can have concurrently. True, there cannot be complex long-term missions without a risk of the stalkers "reinterpreting" their instructions (see X34), but what's to keep a level 14 wizard from traveling with a revolving retinue of about 21 invisible stalkers guarding him or her? Dismiss the three that are getting grumpy, summon three more, off we go on another day of adventure...
  • Projected Image: Does the position of the image determine the effective range of a spell or does the actual position of the real caster? The description says that the real caster must be able to see the target, but it doesn't detail range issues.

Sorry, I realize this is a lot of spells and a lot of questions. I hope you, dear reader, will take the time to at least set me straight about those closest to your heart? It would be much appreciated! I really hope I get lots of feisty opinions about these things!


  1. For the Invisible Stalker spell I'd say that getting multiple stalkers to hang around and guard a MU is a lengthy task, as per X34, and they'd distort the caster's intent maliciously. Also, who knows if Invisible Stalkers tolerate one another in groups. The Number Appearing is 1(1), so we know that they don't usually show up in gangs. Perhaps a 14th level MU has more to worry about than soothing the hurt feelings and ironing out the arguments of a gang of highly intelligent loners keen on twisting his or her words at every turn.

    1. Fair enough. And keeping just three of them around (instead of 21) doesn't seem that scary anymore. Thanks for the feedback!