Spells Through The Ages – Passwall

Here's another light offering for the "Spells Through the Ages" series, the 5th-level wizard spell passwall: you make a temporary hole in a wall to walk through -- simple, right? Well, yeah, pretty much. (Although one of the Endless Quest books interpreted it as phasing through the wall in a magic cloud -- maybe Pillars of Pentegarn?)

Original D&D

Pass-Wall: A spell which opens a hole in a solid rock wall, man-sized and up to 10' in length. Duration: 3 turns. Range: 3".
Opens a hole in a wall, 10' deep, "man-sized". Note the very short duration (this will steadily get longer over time). One material is affected: Rock.

D&D Expert Rules

Range: 30'
Duration: 3 turns

This spell opens up a 5' diameter hole up to 10' deep in solid rock or stone. When the spell ends, the hole closes.

This version is effectively the same as the preceding. Two materials are affected: Rock or stone (synonyms?). Still 10' deep, as usual.

But consider the specific interpretation for width & height (formerly just "man-sized"); Cook makes it circular, 5' in diameter. And sitting above is the Jeff Dee art piece (see top of this post), further emphasizing the idea. It does give it nice organic look, although I'm not sure how comfortable it is to walk through a curved cylindrical tube; and stooped over to just 5' height. Yet this is my normal conceptualization of the spell, even though it's not shared by any other edition -- another example of the "Power of Pictures".

AD&D 1st Edition

Passwall (Alteration)
Level: 5
Range: 3"
Duration: 6 turns + 1 turn/level
Area of Effect: special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 5 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: A passwall enables the spell caster to open a passage through wooden, plaster, or stone walls; thus he or she and any associates can simply walk through. The spell causes a 5' wide by 8' high by 10' deep opening. Note several of these spells will form a continuing passage so that very thick walls can be pierced. The material component of this spell is a pinch of sesame seeds.

Here, the base duration has doubled as compared to OD&D, and a caster-level addition included on top (so, for a minimum caster level of 9, the duration is 15 turns, quintuple the OD&D rule). Three materials are cited: Wood, plaster, and stone.

And for shape, we see that Gygax specifies a hole size of 5' × 8'. That's clearly not circular (as in Cook Expert). Maybe that's intended to be a sharp rectangle? Or alternatively: Note that it's close to exactly half the stated dimensions of the "Standard Corridors" in the Temple of Elemental Evil, which we might take as the default Gygaxian corridor size (p. 43: "The 10' wide corridors have gothic arches, peaking at about 17' height"). So perhaps it's intended as the same gothic arch shape, which seems more aesthetically pleasing?

AD&D 2nd Edition

Range: 30 yds.
Duration: 1 hr. + 1 turn/level
Area of Effect: 5 x 8 x 10 ft.  
A passwall spell enables the spellcaster to open a passage through wooden, plaster, or stone walls, but not other materials. The spellcaster and any associates can simply walk through. The spell causes a 5-foot wide x 8-foot high x 10-foot deep opening. Several of these spells can form a continuing passage so that very thick walls can be pierced. If dispelled, the passwall closes away from the dispelling caster, ejecting those in the passage. The material component of this spell is a pinch of sesame seeds.
Same thing as 1E, although "safety bumper" language has been included in case of a dispel while someone is walking through. Identical wood, plaster, and stone target materials. Still a 5' × 8' (gothic?) doorway 10' deep.

D&D 3rd Edition

Level: Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Effect: 5 ft. x 8 ft. opening, 1 ft./level deep
Duration: 1 hour/level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

The character creates a passage through wooden, plaster, or stone walls, but not through metal or other harder materials. If the wall’s thickness is more than 1 foot per caster level, then a single passwall simply makes a niche or short tunnel. Several passwall spells can then form a continuing passage to breach very thick walls. When passwall ends, creatures within the passage are ejected out the nearest exit. If someone dispels the passwall or the character dismisses it, creatures in the passage are ejected out the far exit if there is one or out the sole exit if there is only one.

Mostly the same as the 1E-2E lineage; the hole is again the 5 by 8 ft. dimension. The affected materials are still the "wooden, plaster, or stone" stipulated in 1E (although the fact that other "harder" materials are explicitly prohibited, means there may now be some gray area between the two classes). Duration has been increased and normalized in these rules to a lengthy 1 hour/level. But...

The depth has changed from a simple 10' to a variable 1 ft./level. WHAT THE HELL 3E? Is that plus-or-minus a foot ever going to be so important as to justify that change? Are you really going to deny players getting through a wall because the wizard is only 9th level when they first pick up this spell? A dumb complication.


  1. I wonder if the 3rd ed version was supposed to be 10' plus 1' per level or 10' per level and it was just a bad edit somewhere. 3.5 changed it to "5 ft. by 8 ft. opening, 10 ft. deep plus 5 ft. deep per three additional levels"

    1. Hmmm, that's interesting. Still too complicated for my tastes, though.

  2. ...wait, when is a wall going to be morethan ten feet thick? I'm not an expert on castlesnor anything, but ten feet of stone or earth doesn't sound like a wall. It's more like a small hill...

    1. Good point. :-) Although wierdly just this past week someone proposed 1000-ft high and 150-ft thick walls around the Midwest USA to ward of tornadoes! (link)

  3. I've always thought that Pass Wall was far too high a level for what it offered.

    1. You may have a point. My main critique of the OD&D spell is that the duration is so short, you might get into a place but not have time to adventure & get out again.

    2. Those castles I visited seemed to mostly have walls more than 10' thick:

      The stone curtain wall there was 44 feet high, while Knareborough Castle's was 40 feet high. The width varied, but most were very thick. They ranged from 7 feet thick at Conisbrough Castle to 20 feet thick at Chepstow Castle. Dover Castle walls were 20 feet thick, while Duffield Castle walls were 18 feet thick.

    3. Good point. Although purely in the game context, you do tend to see 10' separations between dungeon areas. But if passwall was 20' long by default I wouldn't mind at all.