Friday 4 May 2018

What Exactly Is The Problem Here Re: 1st level Spell List

Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF A spell list doens't really need to be interesting.
As long as interesting emergent situations happen from players having them
And yet , and yet, I am still IRKED by trying to choose a spell list to include in my game.

They are boring. All of the ones I looked at (it was SEVERAL) 

I will now go through the SRD wizard 1st level spell list and discuss why I hate them or dislike them or like them and see if I can draw some conclusion or its just contrariness and over-familiarity (factors that cannot be entirely discounted)

Just because it says "1st level" doesn't mean this will be a series. 

1st-Level Sorcerer/Wizard Spells

Alarm: Wards an area for 2 hours/level. narrow utilitarian, no real appearance other than a generic magic-ness. Like if was a floating eye ball or something.  

Endure Elements: Exist comfortably in hot or cold environments.  If you could do with normal equipment why make it a spell? 

Hold Portal: Holds door shut. Spells that are going to be same every time because what they do is so narrow bore me A fireball has the potential to play out different depending on how much care you had when you cast. This holds a door shut

Protection from Chaos/Evil/Good/Law: +2 to AC and saves, counter mind control, hedge out elementals and outsiders. "this spell increases numbers and has some janky effects that everyone forgets because how does it work exactly and does a first level spell really stop a demon , ugh no"

Shield: Invisible disc gives +4 to AC, blocks magic missiles. adding a weird specific interaction to a number increaser doesn't hell

Grease: Makes 10-ft. square or one object slippery. This is good spell. It's nearly impossible to think about this spell without going "and what about if there was a pit or spikes or we stood on the high ground so they couldn't get us etc" I mean sure I did just say a spell was bad because it basically did the same thing as mundane item and this literally has the name of the item but this is instant and you can be far away so it gets a pass

Mage Armor: Gives subject +4 armor bonus. a number increaser existing slowly so you can ask "what is the difference between mage armour and shield" at a d&d trivia night

Mount: Summons riding horse for 2 hours/level. Despite them trying to be boring by making it a horse the fact you can use it as literal meat shield or get it to walk off cliffs on top of people is kinda fun. "animal refuse to attack it" is interesting because you can put it between you and bear and the bear will never attack it fuck you bear. The Wizard should vomit up an fragment of an internal organ which then grows into a meat beast though. Spells that always go for a really boring thing instead of thinking of an interesting thing are bad (see shield's invisible disc ) though sure an argument for ease of communication to player and adaptability could be made.  

Obscuring Mist: Fog surrounds you. It's not great but at least it facilitates hi-jinks better than +4 to armour class

Summon Monster I: Calls extraplanar creature to fight for you. The effect is fine but considering the absurd richness of cultural detail that goes around summoning and commanding spirits and otherworldly forces this spell is an insult. Because even if you put that stuff in there , this spell still exists and makes all that goat blood look redundant. 

Unseen Servant: Invisible force obeys your commands.  The capability for hi-jinks out-weighs any lack of flavour or weirdness  

Comprehend Languages: You understand all spoken and written languages. "A instant specific solution for a specific problem!" ugh why not "you can speak or read a written language but only if you get a speaker/reader to share the same food as you or something that makes the "solution" have some emergence 

Detect Secret Doors: Reveals hidden doors within 60 ft. Fuck every detection spell

Detect Undead: Reveals undead within 60 ft. You heard me

Identify M: Determines properties of magic item. If you have too many magical items so you balance it by making the players fuck around , don't , just give them less or make them single use. A staff which just sits in a backpack not getting used because you don't know the command word is dumb. Anyway if you have to have things identified it should be hags and talking eyeless albino savant apes and not just "yeah use the specific solution to the specific problem"

True Strike: +20 on your next attack roll. this is some MMO shit fuck off

Charm Person: Makes one person your friend. Ugh I guess kinda hijinky but I hate the save or nothing happens and it feels played out but that's me being petty

Hypnotism: Fascinates 2d4 HD of creatures. This is even more boring than real hypnotism

Sleep: Puts 4 HD of creatures into magical slumber. I feel like this shouldn't be a spell because it's cool when Sinbad throws some powder or lets the magic bird out but when every combat has 4hd of enemy go to sleep it's kinda naff? Like imagine if it was staple for every fight scene in a visual medium , 4 hd of people just lie down?

Burning Hands: 1d4/level fire damage (max 5d4). Not going to lie, setting things on fire always gets a pass. 

Floating Disk: Creates 3-ft.-diameter horizontal disk that holds 100 lb./level. Redundant because of unseen servant 

Magic Missile: 1d4+1 damage; +1 missile per two levels above 1st (max 5). Let's make hurting people boring. Bad. No

Shocking Grasp: Touch delivers 1d6/level electricity damage (max 5d6).  If it had something like it could "set" on an object and then touching that object makes it go off, or didn't require magic words and finger waves i.e something hijinky, but right now it's damage spell that no-one wants to use and doesn't even result in much special effects

Color Spray: Knocks unconscious, blinds, and/or stuns weak creatures. It was kind fun when Crazy Quilt did but like sleep it's kinda wack when it keeps happening.

Disguise Self: Changes your appearance. Just make this part of the illusion spell

Magic Aura: Alters object’s magic aura. This is literally the worst spell except maybe the implied challenge in killing someone with it. "a partial solution to really specific and minor problem"

Silent Image: Creates minor illusion of your design. Fine it's a illusion spell. 

Ventriloquism: Throws voice for 1 min./level.  Okay. I guess. Couldn't it be part of the illusion spell? Like you can make a sound without an image or an image without a sound?

Cause Fear: One creature of 5 HD or less flees for 1d4 rounds. Save or minor debuff. Ugh. What about makes a object weirdly scary even though the viewer can't explain why? So you could throw it at someone , offer it as example of haunted object, leave it as ward etc. Too specific and unspectacular 

Chill Touch: One touch/level deals 1d6 damage and possibly 1 Str damage. See shocking grasp

Ray of Enfeeblement: Ray deals 1d6 +1 per two levels Str damage. It's pretty MMO but "enfeebling" is a fun verb. It's not the very worst but that's only because the competition is FRAIL. But still I can't really dump on this spell just because it's just sounds like something Skeletor would declare his intention to use. "How Do you LIke that Muscle Boy? Not so strong now that I've used my Enfeeblement Ray MeeheheHEHEHHE"

Animate Rope: Makes a rope move at your command. If it's clear what this can do and what unseen servant can do it can get a pass

Enlarge Person: Humanoid creature doubles in size. Okay there's all these weird caveats on this spell to make sure it only exists as 1st level buff spell (can't crush people, only increases certain abilities but not everything being bigger would) but can it just be higher level and it does all the shit making someone big would do?

Erase: Mundane or magical writing vanishes. See Magic Aura

Expeditious Retreat: Your speed increases by 30 ft. See True Strike but a point for "expeditious"

Feather Fall: Objects or creatures fall slowly. Barely acceptable

Jump: Subject gets bonus on Jump checks. Fuck you

Magic Weapon: Weapon gains +1 bonus. Fuuuuuck you

Reduce Person: Humanoid creature halves in size. See Enlarge

Patterns so far:

Involves Fire

The ability of a spell to be combined with other actions and lateral thinking is a major factor in me in regarding it as not-boring . The "hijink" factor.

Sounds like Something Skeletor Would Say


Does World Building I didn't ask it to and the World being Build  seems to work a lot  like a video game(Protection From Evil/Good, Monster Summoning)

Does something another spell does close enough that it's hard to remember what the difference is (shield and magic armour)

Does something another spell does and it's memorable different but just doesn't really bring anything fun to the table (magic disc vs unseen servant is bad, while unseen servant vs animate rope is passable because the rope is more distinctive objects with its own rich history of dumb gags)

I could just make this all one spell right? Wait are these only different spells because you've got these spell categories like "illusions" and "necromancy" and you've failed to do anything that interesting with them for like 4+ versions of d&d now yet you still have them and have to pad out "illusions" somehow? (disguise self, minor image etc)

Spells that just increase a number are the worst.

Spells that are a "red key card" for "red key card door" are also nearly as bad.
Like , a spell that just makes a specific problem vanish. Compare a "battering ram" or "disguising yourself as an inspectator" as solutions to the "red key card door".
The results are not certain but will result in something (as opposed to it works or nothing happens) happening and both "solutions" can be used again in a varied of situations. 

Spells that have a "special effect" (like if it was t.v series it would involve a special effects budget) but the special effect is a failure of the imagination like Mount or Floating Disc. Again sure ease of reskinning and explainability but the standard it fails is my standard not a universal usefulness standard .

It's d&d classic that I'm arbitrarily sick of  , maybe because it never really was that clear about how it worked (charm person)


  1. You should get your hands on the Wonder and Wickedness. It is a bunch of levelless spell list based on the original spells by Brendan of the Necropraxis blog.

    They are throw in his blog but there is an actual book/pdf you can buy (or easily find the altenative source at Google).

  2. I always hated Shield, so I wrote a new one years ago:

    1st-Level Abjuration
    Casting time: 1 action
    Range: Touch
    Component: V,S,M (splinter or piece from a sundered shield)
    Duration: 1 hour, or until expended
    When you cast this spell, roll 1D6. An invisible force barrier will appear and protect you when you are struck by a nonmagical ranged weapon attack or magical force damage. The triggering attack is stopped and the barrier begins to crack like breaking glass until the number of charges rolled are expended and it shatters. A source of magical force damage will be absorbed one time but will shatter the shield.

    I use this version of a simple first level spell as a solid worldbuilding explanation as to why firearms never really got off the ground as a military technology. A first level wizard can make someone bulletproof. Arrows are a different beast; since the arrow itself is a larger projectile with multiple parts and is complex enough to be imbued with magic, a sufficiently powerful archer will easily this protective spell. Bullets are simple, small, and cheap, so they won't hold magic.

  3. I perceive the Protection from X spells to be like a pentacle. They're cast to keep something out or in. Likewise with others, such as Alarm. They have a maximum volume they can guard, which must be clearly defined with a perimeter. You can also hang other spells on them which they trigger. Cast alarm on a doorway and hang a fireball on it. Boom, magical landmine. Because the door frame forms the perimeter.

    I've split the Charm spells into Beguile and Puppetry spells. Beguile influences the subject's mind and they only get saves when pushed to act against their nature or interests. Puppetry just takes over a person's body without effecting their mind. There's a save when cast but none until it expires.

    1. I like the potential for (protection from/endure element) abjuration spells. On the one hand they have use for mitigating damage of a certain type. If it takes up a precious spell slot then it should apply to things like an open flame, or a pool of acid, so the wizard can get into shenanigans with it.