Monday, November 23, 2009

OD&D Spell Levels

So, yesterday, while playing the latest session of my Dwimmermount campaign -- I'll post a recap tomorrow, most likely -- the characters paid a visit to Morna, the high priestess of Tyche in Adamas. She's 9th level, making her one of the highest level characters in the campaign to date. While the PCs interacted with her, I was idly flipping through my OD&D reference sheets, when it suddenly struck me that there are no spells above level 6 in the LBBs.

Now, I already knew this was the case. I've been playing this campaign for nearly a year now and I'd been immersed in OD&D for far longer than that. Yet, somehow, I guess this fact had never really sunken in. I'm very fond of the Greyhawk supplement to OD&D and use a lot of its contents. Since its the origin of spell levels 7 through 9, I suspect I just naturally elide that material into my recollections of the LBBs. Plus, years of playing AD&D has probably warped my brain in a similar fashion. I simply assume that magic-user spells go up to level 9 and cleric spells to level 7.

Anyway, as this revelation started to sink in during play, I began to consider the possibility of not allowing the existence of spells above level 6 in my campaign. Odds are the PCs will never rise high enough to be able to cast such spells anyway. Both MUs and clerics need to be 12th level to reach such power and I simply can't imagine the characters ever amassing sufficient experience to achieve it. Without levels 7 through 9, there'd be no wish, limited or otherwise, no mass X spells, no symbols, power words, or holy words, no gate, no astral spell, no restoration, and no raise dead fully. The result would be a game that was recognizably D&D but without most of the spells that are regularly deemed "world breaking" or that undermine the seriousness of death and energy drain. Likewise, the planes would be much more inaccessible and distant, making travel there more remarkable (or even non-existent). In short, limiting spells to levels 6 and below would go a long way toward bring OD&D more in line with the kind of fantasy that appeals to me most these days.


  1. It's an interesting idea, one I'm sympathetic to.I tend to prefer lower-power games anyway, so losing levels 7-9 wouldn't really bother me. One option this does give you, however, is the ability to introduce these spells as the occasional magic item that's depleted after one use. Maybe remnants of of a lost "Age of Magic," or something.

  2. As you might expect, I fully agree. The other thing is that the LBB have a thematic coherence in that clearly level 6 stuff was meant as the "final word" stuff.

    At 6th level for wizards you have stone-flesh, reincarnation, anti-magic, death spell, disintegrate, and control weather. At 5th level for clerics you have raise dead, commune, quest, insect plague, and create food.

    By comparison, the stuff from Supp-I for levels 7, 8, and 9 just doesn't have the same thematic "oomph", so having seen the LBBs, I feel like it's a poor fit thereafter. For example, raise dead/reincarnation I can just tolerate if they're at the highest possible spell level -- having them at the 2/3s point doesn't cut it for me.

    Also, d6 for random wizard scroll spell level. Boo-yah.

  3. Both MUs and clerics need to be 12th level to reach such power and I simply can't imagine the characters ever amassing sufficient experience to achieve it.

    In both OD&D and AD&D (1st), it is nearly impossible get this high because of how experience is designed. Until "name level" (about 12th level), experience requirements increase at a nearly exponential rate. However, the XP awards for monsters do not scale for level, and they flatten off much faster -- essentially around 9th level. To go from 11th to 12th, you essentially need to kill Asmodeus on his home plane 30 times or something like that.

    The only way I ever made it above 9th with a 1.0 character was by liberal abuse of the 1 gp = 1 xp rule (which is why I am convinced that Gygax had such ridiculous means of hiding treasure in his modules). And even then, it took a long time.

  4. I like the idea. I've toyed with various low-power versions of D&D before in an effort to stave off the game-breaking, world-shaking stuff. The way the rules are written, at a certain point, your magic goes from 'utility' grade to 'superhero' grade. It's a gradual process, but for people who don't want to play 'superhero' games, the idea that these big spells and powers are out there, just waiting for you a few levels away is a big headache.

    I never had any luck convincing my friends to play a 3rd edition game using the E6 rules. Those rules effectivly capped character advancement at level 6, allowing you to purchase some additional abilies with XP you earned after that, but never additional Hit Dice or higher levels of magic. I always thought they would be interesting for dungeon-crawly sort of campaigns, but I think the lure of big powers is something that draws players in.

    I was very pleased to see that 4th edition has shifted upwards many of the traditional 'game-breakers' like teleport and flight, along with invisibility and planar travel. Thus, you can run a low-power game by simply designing your campaign to take place entirely within the heroic tier. If you want to play a superheroes style D&D game, simply start at the epic tier and carry on from there. It's a big step forward in my opinion.

  5. I also noticed this is one of the more major areas Labyrinth Lord deviates from original B/X D&D. There are a few minor changes to the spell list at the lower levels, but LL adds a full two levels of spells to both lists (MU/Elf goes up from 7th to 9th, and Cleric goes up from 5th to 7th).

    I never really gave this much thought, but in retrospect, I also notice that all the original spells from B/X are pretty self descriptive. With perhaps a few notable exceptions (eg. Knock), it's pretty obvious what a spell does from the title. Not so for most of the higher level spells.

    Not trying to pick on LL too much here, as I really do love it, but I think I'll have to add spells to the list of things I wish the author had stuck closer to the original source on (the other big one being the equipment list).

  6. Remember that EXISTENCE of higher level spells does not guarantee ACCESS. I can think of lots of campaign hooks connected to the various high level spells, whether or not a party member ever gets high enough level to cast them...heck, in 30 years, I've never had a player reach high enough level to cast 8th level mage spells (16th level) or above, but they do come into play as found scrolls, NPCs (both benign and hostile), and various baddies.

    To top it off, what good is a lich if he can't whack a snot nosed party with a spell Way Too High Level For Us To Ever Cast?

  7. That would be a good use for those spells: make a limitation that you have to become a lich (or something equally undesirable) to get access to them. That might even incline some players to have their characters try to become liches, an event I've never seen in a gme but always thought could be made fascinating.

  8. I like this idea for all the reasons given in the post. I also like it because I am a fan of "power balance" between players at any given level, and you just can't balance a Fighter or Thief with an MU at those higher levels. Not without giving the Fighter or Thief quasi-magical powers anyways. It's a good call.

  9. Welcome to the the world of B/X! Stick around might like it!

    : )

  10. I've actually written some LL house rules for an alternate spellcaster where the maximum spell level is 5th, not 6th. It's a more S&S style game where sorcery is less "artillery" and more information gathering and mind-controlling in nature.

  11. I just finished reading through lost caverns of T. And the demonomicon of igwwiev struck as very cool. Basically, you could make all spells higher than 6th require such a tome, giving 7-9th level spells a very different feel.