Spells Through The Ages – Durations Redux

Last week, I looked at the evolution of spell names and ranges across most of the different editions of D&D (links one, two). Previously I made a study of durations (link), but when I recently went back to use that table, I found that it didn't help me very much (the way it was set up before, I couldn't record any durations like Special-Instantaneous-Permanent, etc., nothing in B/X or the 3E line, etc.). So here's a second/third attempt at a more comprehensive table (PDF version here):


N/S = Not Specified.
U. = Until (e.g., "until dispelled", "until broken", etc. in OD&D)
Instant = Instantaneous.
Permanent * = Permanent until discharged
- = Spell does not exist in this edition (or instant or special in S&S).


While most Chainmail spells are totally silent on durations (“N/S” above), there's a text note following the list that says, "In order to cast and maintain any spell, a Wizard must be both stationary and undisturbed by attack upon his person" (p. 32), so we may possibly interpret any or all of those as effectively duration “Concentration”.

OD&D doesn't have a standard “Duration” stat block, so one must parse out details from the text when available. Thus, you'll see a lot of variation in OD&D the descriptors above, such as "until dispelled" (usually equivalent to "Permanent" later on), "until broken" (as by special rules for charm or invisibility spells), "until contact", etc. The few “N/S” entries above are in many cases the same as “Instantaneous”, although a few of those spells are presumably very long-lasting (wall of ice, magic jar, control weather). 

At the very start of the OD&D list, a few spells are listed with durations of simply “Short” (detect magic, read magic, read languages); but Sup-I amends detect magic to “2 turns” (and probably this should have been added to read languages and read magic, likewise?), which I've entered above. The charm spells are given no durations in Vol-1, but these are amended in Sup-I to give a special save schedule based on Intelligence. Also in Sup-I, the new monster summoning spells are uniquely worded as “6 melee turns” – above I simply entered “6 turns”, but this might reasonably be interpreted as “6 rounds” (although no other spells in OD&D are ever given durations in rounds).

I've also added a column for S&S, that is, Gygax's Swords & Spells miniature combat rules for use with late-era OD&D; this work includes a comprehensive "Spell Chart" on p. 12-15 with a listing for Range, Area, and Duration for almost every spell in D&D -- sometimes with updates or fill-ins to spells that previously had no specifications for those elements (thanks to Zenopus Archives for reminding me of that). One thing to look for here is that Gygax uses a dash ("-") for both instantaneous spells (fireball, lightning bolt, teleport, etc.) and specially long-lasting spells (charm person, charm monster), and I've also been using a dash for spells missing from a given edition (for S&S: read magic, read languages, telekinesis, legend lore). Gygax specified "until dispelled" both for spells limited in the text by concentration and those that were literally unending (e.g. makes wall of fire and wall of ice look identical when they weren't in OD&D Vol-1). Also note: the newly-minted duration for sleep (4-16 turns), reductions to clairaudience/clairvoyance, and some minor changes (or typos?) to ventriloquism, detect evil, and ESP, that were ignored in later editions (including Holmes Basic, B/X, etc.).

Note on this point that the Moldvay/Cook  B/X rules are the first to actually list spell durations as "Concentration" or use the word "Permanent". (Even Holmes Basic uses the description "infinite" in any of these cases; see continual light, invisibility, magic mouth, phantasmal forces, and wizard lock).

As we look at later editions, here's a very rough correlation of duration categories:
  • OD&D 2-3 turns → AD&D 1 round/level → 3E 1 round/level.
  • OD&D 6 turns → AD&D 2 rounds/level → 3E 1 minute/level.
  • OD&D 12 turns → AD&D 5 rounds/level → 3E 10 minutes/level.

In D&D 3E, many formerly “Permanent” spells were made “Instantaneous” (so as to make them non-dispellable under those rules; e.g., plant growth, animate dead, wall of iron, wall of stone, move earth, reincarnation, stone to flesh). Spells with duration by Concentration are formally listed as "Concentration, up to 1 minute/level (D)" (e.g., detect magic, where (D) indicates dispellable at will by the caster). The distinctive conjure elemental and invisible stalker spells are removed, but those monsters can still be instantiated by the revised summon monster spells (very short duration, 1 round/level). Wall of fire uniquely has a duration of "Concentration + 1 round/level".

Importantly, as noted last time, while all of the spells in OD&D Vol-1 are listed in units of "turns" (nowhere is the word "rounds" ever used), this is probably an artifact of "turns" in Chainmail (and Vol-1?) that were 1 minute each, prior to the Vol-3 redefinition of turns as 10 minutes long. Granted that almost all of these spells were then changed to round-based duration in AD&D (again, 1 minute long), I take that as a strong indication that the original intent for all of these spells was to have fairly limited, encounter-based durations (a principle from which the B/X line, for example, diverged). Secondarily, note again that while most spells in OD&D have fixed turn durations, AD&D altered almost all of them to be some function of caster level, a complication that I personally frown upon.

Anything else that you can spot here of interest?

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