Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blue Book, Cover to Cover (Part VII)

Today we take a look at magic-user spells. Holmes only details 1st and 2nd-level spells but he includes a list of 3rd-level spells "to give some idea of the range of magical possibilities." His list of 1st-level spells is identical to that found in Greyhawk but with the addition of three new spells: dancing lights, enlargement, and Tenser's floating disc, all three of which I presume were additions by Gygax or someone else at TSR intended to act as previews of material in the upcoming PHB. His list of 2nd-level spells is similarly identical to that in Supplement I but with the addition of ray of enfeeblement. The list of 3rd-level spells is the same in both books.

Charm person follows Greyhawk in using the target's Intelligence as a factor determining how often it gets a chance to break free from the spell's effects. The spell description also converts OD&D inches directly into feet, just as all the other spell descriptions in the book. In this way, Holmes is a precursor to Moldvay rather than AD&D, which retains the wargame-derived inches notations.

Dancing lights
, as noted above, is new to Holmes. Detect magic is identical to OD&D. Enlargement is also a new spell, but it's much more limited in its explicit mechanical effects than is its AD&D counterpart enlarge, which specifically notes that larger creatures do more damage, etc. Hold portal is nearly identical to OD&D, right down to its reference to balrogs. Light is interesting, because, while it's listed as having a range of "120 feet," its description states that it casts "light in a circle 3" in diameter" -- a clear case where Holmes didn't expunge all references to inches in his text. Magic missile differences have already been noted here.

Protection from evil follows OD&D, right down to its twin role as a ward against "enchanted monsters, here explained as "elementals, invisible stalkers, demons, etc." and as "armor" against "evil attacks," but without any explanation of whether "evil" means "those of evil alignment" or simply "those opposed to the caster."

Read languages retains OD&D's focus on deciphering treasure maps rather than, well, unknown tongues, which has always confused me. Read magic also follows OD&D, although it clarifies that its use is primarily for deciphering scrolls. Shield is straight out of Supplement I, while sleep is identical to OD&D, with the clarifications found in Greyhawk. Tenser's floating disc is completely new and is the first time Ernie Gygax's PC is mentioned in a D&D product so far as I know. Ventriloquism is identical to the spell in Supplement I.

Audible glamer is new to Holmes. Continual light follows OD&D, while darkness follows Greyhawk. Detect evil continues to be divorced from alignment considerations, detecting instead "evil thought or intent," which I've always liked. Detect invisible and ESP follow OD&D, right down to the comic book-inspired impenetrability to lead of the latter spell. Invisibility is as in OD&D, except without any reference to the Chainmail rules. Knock and Levitate follow OD&D as well. Locate Object is as in OD&D and magic mouth is as in Supplement I. Mirror image likewise follows Supplement I, while phantasmal forces stays true to the LBBs. Pyrotechnics is identical to Greyhawk. Ray of enfeeblement is new, but strength follows Supplement I, omitting only the references to exceptional Strength for fighting men, as Holmes does not include it in his rules. Web is given an actual description in Holmes, instead of referring one to the staff of wizardry, as in OD&D. In addition, the range has been shortened to 10 feet from 30. Wizard lock is the same as in the LBBs.

What's most notable about Holmes's descriptions of magic-user spells is how similar they are to what's in OD&D and Supplement I, to the point where large amounts of text are the same in both. Holmes seems primarily to have corrected infelicities in phrasing, but he didn't remove all ambiguities, instead leaving these to the referee to adjudicate. What he primarily added, with the exception of his interpretation of magic missile, were ranges and durations for spells that lacked them in OD&D so that there's a uniformity of presentation. But his spells retain OD&D's terseness, even when doing so fails to eliminate all questions about how to interpret certain aspects of a spell (such as illusions, for example).

Reading through the magic-user spells in Holmes, it's very hard to see it as an introduction to AD&D, whose spell descriptions is expansive in a way that you never see in either the LBBs or the Blue Book.


  1. Just as an aside, I've often wondered why it was spelled "audible glamer" rather than "audible glamour" (which if I'm not mistaken would be a more accurate spelling of the term in this context).

  2. Chalk it up to the Gygaxian love of the archaic and esoteric.

    From Wiktionary:



    1. (archaic, Scottish) Noise.
    2. (archaic, Scottish) The visual influence of a charm, causing people to see things differently from what they are. Hence, to cast a glamer is to cause a visual deception.

  3. Glam, from Middle English, a noun meaning word, message, loud talk, noise, a tinkling sound.

  4. I coukld be worng, but weren't the third level spells included to be found on scrolls?

  5. There are no descriptions of the 3rd-level spells in Holmes, so, even if there were a method of determining which spells are on a scroll in the treasure section -- there's not; it's entirely up to the referee -- there'd be no way of adjudicating their effects.

  6. Thanks, Will! I wasn't aware of the archaic Scottish spelling. Makes perfect sense.