Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Spells Through the Ages -- Names

An investigation of how the names of D&D's most idiomatic spells changed through the years:

This list is in the same order as the list of that I did earlier (and hereafter): Categorized by the most common level and name that each spell appeared under. (Which usually matches the 1E name, with one exception: darkness.)

Again, you can see that 3E represents the greatest break in the tradition of what came before (33 changes highlighted in the chart above). Original D&D and 1st Edition AD&D each have a fair number of changes, as the proto-D&D of Chainmail got ironed out (10 and 14 changes, respectively).

As is usually the case, there are almost no major changes in the even-numbered editions after 1st. 2nd Edition has only a single minimally changed name (the anti-magic shell had its hyphen removed). And the only spells in the list that had major overhauls in 3.5 were the polymorph spells (the standard 4th-level spells polymorph self and polymorph others were taken out -- replaced by the 4th-level polymorph [beneficial-to-self-and-others for a few minutes] and the 5th-level baleful polymorph [permanently changing body and mind into a harmless, 1-HD animal]).

The spells that take the record for most name changes over time? One spell had 4 different names over this cycle: Chainmail's detection became OD&D's detect invisible, 1E's detect invisibility, and then 3E's see invisibility. Meanwhile, the darkness spell is the only other one had as many as 3 changes over this time (due the inclusion of its evolving area in the name). Initially darkness, then darkness 5' radius, darkness 15' radius, and back to just darkness by the time of 3E (perhaps one of the only places I can praise 3E's naming decisions).


  1. I'm confused. Why are you claiming that "protection from evil" became "protection from chaos" in 3.0? The protection from evil spell still exists in 3.0.

    I'm also not sure it's entirely accurate to describe phantasmal forces as having become silent image. Given the changes to illusion magic in 3rd Edition, I think it would be more accurate to say that phantasmal forces no longer exists as a spell.

  2. Very interesting! I've enjoyed this and the previous post on spell history.

  3. Justin: Reasonable questions. I did have to stop and think about both those issues myself.

    In the 3E, the spell roster lists "Protection from Chaos/Evil/Good/Law". Likewise, the main spell description in the book is under "Protection from Chaos", with "Protection from Evil" referencing back to that. So I just transcribed what's literally written in the 3E spell roster (and abbreviated for space in the table).

    For phantasmal force, clearly the text for 3E's silent image originated in 2E's phantasmal force, minimally reworded (same level, still the same phrasing of "object, creature, or force", same "does not create sound, smell, or temperature", etc.). The fact that external rules changed its usefulness is a separate issue, for the purposes of this series.

    2E 1st-level Phantasmal Force: "This spell creates the illusion of any object, creature, or force, as long as it is within the boundaries of the spell's area of effect... It does not create sound, smell, or temperature... The illusionary effect can be moved by the caster within the limits of the area of effect."

    3E 1st-level Silent Image: "This spell creates the visual illusion of an object, creature, or force, as visualized by the character. The illusion does not create sound, smell, texture, or temperature. The character can move the image within the limits of the size of the effect."

  4. goodmangames: Thanks so much for the kind words!