Magic Missile: This is a conjured missile equivalent to a magic arrow, and it does full damage (2-7 points) to any creature it strikes. For every five levels the magic-user has attained he may add an additional two missiles when employing this spell, so a 6th level magic-user may cast three magic missiles at his target, an 11th level magic-user casts five, and so on. Range 15".The Holmes rulebook generally follows this description but offers a particular clarification to it:
Magic Missile -- Level 1; Range: 150 feetAs I understand it, the question of whether a magic missile hit its target automatically or whether it required a to-hit roll to do so was a contentious topic in the early days of D&D, one that was definitively answers with the release of the Players Handbook in 1978:
A conjured missile equal to a magic arrow, and it does 1 die roll plus 1 point (2-7) to any creature it strikes. Roll the missile fire like a long bow arrow (Missile Fire Table). Higher level magic-users fire more than one missile.
Use of the magic missile spell creates one or more magical missiles which dart forth from the magic-user's fingertip and unerringly strike their target. Each missile does 2 to 5 hit points (d4+1) of damage. If the magic-user has multiple missile capability, he or she can have them strike a single target creature or several creatures, as desired. For each level of experience, the range of his or her magic missile extends 1" beyond the 6" base range. For every 2 levels of experience, the magic-user gains an additional missile, i.e. 2 at 3rd level, 3 at 5th level, 4 at 7th level, etc.Moldvay reiterated that magic missile required no to-hit roll to deal damage but otherwise hewed to OD&D and Holmes for his version of the spell:
A magic missile is a glowing arrow, created and shot by magic, which does 2-7 (1d6+1) points of damage to any creature it strikes. It will automatically hit any visible target. For every 5 levels the caster has gained, he or she may shoot two more missiles when casting the spell. EXAMPLE: a 6th level magic-user may cast three missiles. These may be shot at one target, or the caster may choose to cast the missiles at multiple targets.In the Dwimmermount game, I use the OD&D version of the spell and have found it to be extraordinarily useful -- and deadly -- in combat. A trio of 6th-level Termaxian magic-users dealt a lot of damage to the party through the use of magic missile and Iriadessa's wand of magic missiles has proven essential to defeating opponents on more than one occasion. I don't think it'd be as potent if a to-hit roll were required, especially if such a roll depended on the magic-user's combat table and Dexterity modifier.
I like the fact that a 1st-level spell packs a lot of punch even against level 4-6 characters; it helps ensure that magic-users of any level can make a huge difference to a combat if they choose their spells wisely and know the right time to use them. Of course, this is balanced by the limited number of spell slots available to MUs, but then even magic must come with a cost, shouldn't it?