Tuesday, January 21, 2014

AD&D Wizard's Spell Compendium

Recently I read another blog commenting on the number of spells in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. This made me think of the AD&D Wizard's Spell Compendium published in the 90's. I went searching for the number of spells contained in these volumes and discovered -- apparently no one had ever counted them. Not on the covers of the books themselves, not anywhere inside, not anywhere on the Internet that I could find. So I'll be doing that, at the end of this post.

I think it's a very nice collection in 4 volumes, and it easily passes my usual threshold of "did anyone give a shit?". Credits run like this (with lots and lots of acknowledgements and thanks to prior creators and such):
Compilation: Mark Middleton. Development and Editing: Jon Pickens. Additional Development: Richard Baker. Creative Director/Project Coordination: Steve Winter, Thomas Reid. Interior Black and White Art: Glen Michael Angus, Arnie Swekel, Ken Frank, Toren Atkinson, John Snyder.

Notice that while 2nd Edition AD&D came out in the prior decade, these volumes are not listed as 2nd Edition -- just "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons". The project here was to compile all the spells from the entire publication history of AD&D up to that point: as the introduction establishes, "This book is the first in a series that will cover the spells of the AD&D game system from 1975 to 1995" (Vol-1, p. 4), that is: 20 years of publications. The creators here attempted to trawl through every book, module, supplement, Dragon, Dungeon, Polyhedron, and Imagine magazine for wizard spells, updating and polishing as necessary, and put them all in this one reference work. Older spells were formatted in the 2nd Ed. style of the time (somewhat stripped-down headers, range in yards not scale inches, etc.). Forward-and-back references to alternate spell names, reversible spell names, etc., are included throughout. Sidebar notes on historical information and optional usage are given. At the end, an over 100-page set of Appendices is included with lists of different spell categories, specialty lists, errata, and so forth.

This is the kind of work with is not tremendously sexy or "wahoo" but obviously took lots and lots of time and attention -- it took over 3 years from start to finish for the four volumes to be published. I feel like it's the kind of work that I'm attracted to in my own blog writings and elsewhere. Even the 17-page Introduction is a delight to read: well-written and clear-headed about what the project is and what the history of the work has been and why. It gives specific references to works by Jack Vance that one should read to understand the flavor of the AD&D spell system -- scoring extra points for being one of the few places that think to observe that the Vancian creation was a "mathematically-based magic system" (p. 3; emphasis mine). The work clearly follows in the footsteps of the earlier Encyclopedia Magica by Dale "slade" Henson, which compiled the entire history of AD&D magic items in a similar 4-volume set (1994-1995), and established the tradition of various "Compendiums" late in the publishing cycle of editions that came afterward.

Copious new artwork was produced here (about one piece every 3rd page or so) -- while many artists are credited throughout the volumes, it's mostly by Glen Michael Angus and Arnie Swekel (the others above are pretty much just credited in Vol-2). The art has an edgy, lively, active style with a lot of clever situations, reactions, and perspectives -- very old-school, and almost always directly related to one of the unique spells on that page (not just generic "wizard stuff"). The 1st volume cover has a different design than the rest, similar to the prior Encyclopedia Magica (no highlighted logo, no ad copy on the back; top left in the image above) -- in fact, I just this second realized that the white "crease markings" on Vol-1 are part of the art design; for years I thought they were real creases on my copy, until the image googled above showed the exact same markings! The cover is so well done it might be too well done, and it evolved back to a more marketable standard in later volumes.

As noted above, the work tries to incorporate pretty much everything from every source in the first 20 years of the game. Spells from all of the different world settings are included (and annotated symbolically, and indexed at the end), even though some or many of those would be of limited usage in a standard D&D campaign. Original D&D spells were technically left out, although to the extent that they migrated to AD&D, they have versions included. Variant magic systems were not included, such as Forgotten Realms spellfire, Birthright realm-spells, Viking rune-magic etc. Some spells were considered unworkable or obsolete, but even these get short descriptions and references as to "lost magic".

Do I use this compilation in my own games? Well, no, I don't. Partly this is due to my use of the earlier and simpler Original D&D system, and liking a limited number of very short spells that I can have more-or-less memorized and not need to look up during play (see also: my open-gaming product Book of Spells). The other issue is that I've only had the chance to run convention-style one-off games for a number years. But if I had a wide-open campaign I'd like to think that this product would give a fairly deep encyclopedia of spell resources for specialist wizard cabals, NPC magic-users, lost treasure troves, and the like. It's a very nice set.

Okay, so here's where I went through and tried to count up all the spells as best I could. I counted only full spell descriptions in the main body of the books (not the references, reversed spell names, lost magic, or anything like that). Each of the volumes has a note as to its "First Printing" date on the inside cover, and the page numbering runs sequentially through all the volumes (kind of like an academic journal) for a full 1,152 pages.
  • Volume 1: A to D, October 1996 -- 576 spells.
  • Volume 2: E to Mn, September 1997 -- 597 spells.
  • Volume 3: Mo to Sp, February 1998 -- 607 spells.
  • Volume 4: Sq to Z, September 1998 -- 393 spells.
The last volume has a smaller number of general spells, because it ends halfway through to make room for the 100+ pages of Appendices. This includes things like the 1st Edition Cantrips (83 cantrip spells), "Dragon King" 10th-level psionic enchantments (28 of those spells), notes on Chronomancy, achieving Lichdom, Paths of Power, and spell lists by frequency, schools of philosophy, effect, thaumaturgy, world setting, specialty, and race. (Cantrips and Dragon King spells are not included in the total count below.) The last page includes errata notes of minor glitches in Vol 1-3 (generally world-specific icons that could be added), and one spell that was accidentally left out of Vol-2 ("Emirikol's Question"). The Wizard's Spell Compendium is not currently available on the dndclassics.com reprint site, but the forerunner Encyclopedia Magica is, so perhaps the wizard's spell collection will be added there soon.

Grand Total: 2,174 Wizard Spells.


12 comments:

  1. These and the Encyclopedia Magica are fantastic books.

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  2. While I loved these books for putting everything into one place, you need to be careful with allowing everything in these books into your games. Some of the spells are just ridiculous.

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    1. Certainly I agree, especially the more world-specific ones. The DM has to be at least a little mindful when placing them, or be willing to retract or modify them later. But I do think think the editors did some pretty reasonable work in that direction already.

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  3. I keep waiting to see these turn up at the used bookstores or FLGS because that's a lot spell chaff to stuff into random scrolls, and some of those spells really are ridiculous if what I've culled from old issues of Dragon is any indication.

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    1. Like a lot of my collection, I got mine off EBay a few years ago. As I write this there's a copy of Vol-1 on EBay for $13 with no bids and 1 day left. Shrink-wrapped copies of the other volumes are listed for $35-60, not the kind of stuff I'd buy (as I expect to actually use anything I get at some point).

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  4. WotC has apparently released new scans of the pdfs for Encyclopedia Magica series, so perhaps they'll get to releasing new scans of the Compendiums as well.

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    1. I hope so! It would be a great resource to have in low-cost digital form these days.

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  5. Excellent post, and thanks for the count! I use these for my 1st edition games, though I strictly enforce material components. Anyway, great job.

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    1. Thanks! Glad to hear they do work well for your 1st Edition games and that the total count is helpful. I was really surprised when I couldn't find a number from my initial search.

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