Here's another installment in our look at top (6th) level spells in Original D&D that have surprising little details packed into them -- ones that informed particular editing choices in the upcoming Book of Spells, 2nd Edition (available on Dec-1). This week we look at move earth.
Moving Terrain: Causing the shifting of vegetation hills, etc. A spell possible only to a Wizard. (Complexity 6)
My understanding is that moving terrain wasn't in the 1st-edition Chainmail wizard's spell list, but it was in the 2nd edition from 1972, so it does predate Dungeons & Dragons. (Thanks to Jon Peterson for that info.) Now that's a short spell description, almost the shortest in the game -- beat only in a few characters by haste and slow. Note that the "Wizard" specifier restricts this spell to only the highest level magic-users in the game.
Basically my whole key observation about move earth is right here in the original presentation as moving terrain; it's delightfully curt, clear, and coherent specifically because it's so tightly coupled with the miniatures wargame. All it does is reference the existing terrain pieces in the wargame, and allow them to be moved around on the table. (In Chainmail, this terrain is suggested in the form of 3×5" index cards which are drawn randomly for placement; see p. 10.) In this regard it's a rather obvious game design strategy to introduce an element that monkeys with pre-existing, usually fixed mechanics; in the same category we might include magics like control weather, wizard light and darkness, summoning effective new units via phantasmal forces, etc.
The history of move earth from this point is basically one of its evolution away from this atomic miniatures-wargame mechanic. In so doing it perhaps becomes progressively harder to discern the mission or proper interpretation of the spell.
Move Earth: When above ground the Magic-User may utilize this spell to move prominences such as hills or ridges. The spell takes one turn to go into effect. The terrain affected will move at the rate of 6" per turn. Duration: 6 turns. Range 24".
In OD&D, the spell has changed its name to move earth, slightly obscuring the original intent, but otherwise pretty much the same and comparably brief. It does get additional detail in terms of range, duration, and speed at which the affected terrain features move, which I think was definitely necessary. It doesn't say "vegetation" anymore, so one might possibly rule out its affecting terrain such as woods, swamp, etc.? (Not that I would do that.)
Swords & Spells
Move Earth: [Range] 24", [Area of Effect] 80" (square), [Turn Duration] 6.
In the Swords & Spells listing, move earth has the same range & duration as OD&D, but the area of effect is a new specification. Generally when Gygax writes "(square)" here, it synchs up with "square inches" in OD&D (albeit a mangled way of writing such), so by inference this indicates an 8"×10" area, close to the size of a standard sheet of paper on the tabletop, if that's being used for terrain pieces. Note that this specification is not shared by any later edition.
Duration: 6 turns
This spell may be used to magically move earth. It can also be used to alter the surface features of any area within the spell range. The spell will extend downwards until it reaches the limit of the spell range or solid rock. The earth in this area will be moved at 60' per turn, according to the spell caster's wishes. Stone will not be affected by this spell, only soil.
As usual, the Dave Cook Expert D&D rules do a very light brush-up on the spell from OD&D. Perhaps the text here might not appear as crisp nor powerful as OD&D's "move prominences such as hills or ridges". It also introduces restriction in regards to how deep it can go, and that hard stone is unaffected. I'm really not offended by those delimitations.
AD&D 1st Ed.
Move Earth (Alteration)
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: Special
Saving Throw: None
Explanation/Description: When cast, the move earth spell moves dirt (clay, loam, sand) and its other components. Thus, embankments can be collapsed, hillocks moved, dunes shifted, etc. The area to be affected will dictate the casting time; for every 4" square area, 1 turn of casting time is required. If terrain features are to be moved - as compared to simply caving in banks or walls of earth - it is necessary that an earth elemental be subsequently summoned to assist. All spell casting and/or summoning must be completed before any effects occur. In no event con rock prominences be collapsed or moved. The material components for this spell are a mixture of soils (clay, loam, sand) in a small bag, and an iron blade.
Here's the move earth spell as I first encountered it, in AD&D. The emphasis at this time clearly seems to be on flattening terrain features, i.e., removing them, rather than transporting them around ("embankments can be collapsed... dunes shifted... simply caving in banks or walls of earth..."). There is an exceptional case permitted for actually moving terrain features a la OD&D/Chainmail; but it requires a whole extra spell to be cast, namely conjure (earth) elemental, to empower it so. Also we get area limitations (vis-a-vis spell casting time) for the first time, which is probably a good idea. And the prohibition from affecting hard rock is also here.
The AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide also says this about the spell:
Move Earth: The practical limitation on the area of effect of this spell is a 24" square area, with four hours of casting time, exclusive of elemental conjuration.
I would argue that doesn't mathematically make sense. If you cast move earth for 4 hours (24 turns), and got a 4" square area each turn, then you'd affect a total of 384 square inches ~ 20" square. But the stated 24" square area is at least on the same order of magnitude.
AD&D 2nd Ed.
Range: 10 yds./level
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: Special
Saving Throw: None
When cast, the move earth spell moves dirt (clay, loam, sand) and its other components. Thus, embankments can be collapsed, hillocks moved, dunes shifted, etc. However, in no event can rock prominences be collapsed or moved. The area to be affected dictates the casting time; for every 40 yard x 40 yard surface area and 10 feet of depth, one turn of casting time is required. The maximum area that can be affected is 240 yards x 240 yards, which takes four hours.
If terrain features are to be moved--as compared to simply caving in banks or walls of earth--it is necessary that an earth elemental be subsequently summoned to assist. All spell casting or summoning must be completed before any effects occur. As any summoned earth elemental will perform most of its work underground, it is unlikely that it will be intercepted or interrupted. Should this occur, however, the movement of the earth requiring its services must be stopped until the elemental is once again available. Should the elemental be slain or dismissed, the move earth spell is limited to collapsing banks or walls of earth.
The spell cannot be used for tunneling and is generally too slow to trap or bury creatures; its primary use is for digging or filling moats or for adjusting terrain contours before a battle.
The material components for this spell are a mixture of soils (clay, loam, sand) in a small bag and an iron blade.
Note: This spell does not violently break the surface of the ground. Instead, it creates wavelike crests and troughs, with the earth reacting with glacierlike fluidity until the desired result is achieved. Trees, structures, rock formations, etc. are relatively unaffected, save for changes in elevation and relative topography.
So in 2nd Edition, the move earth spell jumps from one paragraph to five paragraphs in length. The first two paragraphs are mostly the same as the 1E AD&D spell, with added notation on any associated earth elemental doing work underground, being unlikely to be interrupted, but losing its advantage if it is (which starts to look a bit pedantic to my eye). Paragraphs three and five seem to mostly entail restrictions on using it in combat to bury or trap opponents, due to issues of speed, location, and functionality. It can't be used for tunneling (which I agree with).
D&D 3rd Ed.
Level: Sor/Wiz 6
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: See text
Range: Long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
Area: Dirt in an area up to 750 ft. square and up to 10 ft. deep (S)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No
Move earth moves dirt, possibly collapsing embankments, moving hillocks, shifting dunes, etc. However, in no event can rock formations be collapsed or moved. The area to be affected determines the casting time. For every 150-foot square (up to 10 feet deep), casting takes 10 minutes. The maximum area, 750 feet by 750 feet, takes 4 hours and 10 minutes to move.
This spell does not violently break the surface of the ground. Instead, it creates wavelike crests and troughs, with the earth reacting with glacierlike fluidity until the desired result is achieved. Trees, structures, rock formations, and such are mostly unaffected except for changes in elevation and relative topography.
The spell cannot be used for tunneling and is generally too slow to trap or bury creatures. Its primary use is for digging or filling moats or for adjusting terrain contours before a battle.
The 3rd Edition version is largely the same as the 2nd. Certainly it's not a widely-used spell, nor one that seems overpowered, so it's likely not one that the designers felt needed a total overhaul. Note that, as in 2d Edition, "Trees... are relatively unaffected", which is exactly the opposite of the original version of the spell in Chainmail, which actually mentioned moving "vegetation" around first and foremost, even before hills and other features, in the context of terrain pieces in a miniatures wargame.
ConclusionsHere's what I decided to do in Book of Spells, 2nd Edition: go back to the inspiration, clarity, and brevity in the OD&D/Chainmail version of move earth/moving terrain. Instead of obscuring the use of the spell in a miniatures wargame, I wanted to highlight it and bring it to the fore -- without prohibiting more creative uses. At this highest level of spell power, this provides an intentional and direct link to a mass warfare game such as Book of War, for example, and indeed it was designed and tested in parallel with that game. Here's the final text:
Move Earth: (Range: 24 inches, Duration: 6 turns) This spell can move any one terrain feature over soft ground (not hard rock formations). An area up to 12” × 12” square is affected, and moves at a speed of 6” per turn. Creatures may be caught up and moved with the feature in question. Concentration is required throughout the spell's duration.
The prohibition against moving hard rock is maintained. I specify that creatures caught in the effect are moved with the terrain, because that's the simplest adjudication while the mass warfare game is in progress (picture a stand of figures already sitting on a hill; might as well just keep them on the hill while it moves -- in contrast, perhaps, to the 2nd & 3rd Edition "wavelike crests and troughs" ruling).
One other point should be made; the 12 × 12" square area (smaller and simpler than the 1E/2E rule) is chosen specifically to encompass the size of terrain features established for my Book of War game. (These are specified as being equal to a standard page size of about 8½×11"; and that in turn designed to be compatible with terrain pieces from Warhammer 6th Ed.: "...areas are all assumed to be no greater than 12" across at their widest point. So, a wood or hill can be 12" in diameter or 12"×6" for example", p. 220).
However, in this regard we run into a problem with the rules-fix that first appeared in the AD&D Player's Handbook p. 39: "IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT OUTDOOR SCALE BE USED FOR RANGE ONLY, NEVER FOR SPELL AREA OF EFFECT (which is kept at 1” = 10’)" (screamy caps as in the original). Unfortunately, this would actually mean that our area here is fixed at 120 feet square, and in the outdoors/mass-warfare scale of 1"=10 yards or so, the spell would effectively shrink on the tabletop to a mere 4" in length and width (and thereby not encompass a whole terrain piece). So specifically because of this I've invented a new rules exception in the Foreword to Book of Spells, 2nd Edition for this and other spells in the same category:
While areas-of-effect do not usually scale up outdoors (feet-to-yards), this should be allowed for higher level spells that are specialized to the wilderness setting (i.e., hallucinatory terrain, plant growth, transmute rock to mud, lower water, move earth).
How does that look to you?