Simulacrum is a peculiar wizard spell that is widely held to be broken when it comes to power level, and is the source of so many rules questions that it is one of the very few spells has its own tag, .

It has been part of the game going back all the way to 1st Edition. Simulacrum allows you to create a functional duplicate of a creature partly from their organic materials, and partly from ice and snow. (Depending on the edition of the game, other details differ; typically it has only half the hit points and cannot become more powerful from experience).

Does anyone know what the literary or other origin of the spell is, that would explain some of its unusual features?


2 Answers 2


The idea of a D&D simulacrum probably came from the 1975 book The Complete Enchanter, which had one adventure explicitly based on the epic 16th century poem The Faerie Queen about ultra-chivalrous King-Arthur knights on quests. The book copies elements from the poem, including how an evil enchanter has kidnapped the noblewoman Florimel and replaced her with a simulacrum made of snow. She gets screen-time since one of the heroes — even knowing she's a copy — has fallen in love with her and stays to try to turn her into a human or at least make her immune to small flames (which would melt her).

The book was well-known. The Incomplete Enchanter came from stories in pulp magazines which were gathered into that book in 1940, then re-issued in 1975 with a third adventure added. In part two the modern-day characters are pulled into the world of The Faerie Queen, and explain to us why that poem is so famous and classy. One of the authors, Fletcher Pratt, was also a war-gamer. The other, L. Sprague de Camp, was a prolific SciFi author. Appendix N "Inspirational Reading" of the 1e DMG lists this book, calling it the "Harold Shea" series (the main hero's name).

The book probably influenced a few other things. The Bigby's Hand spells are probably from how during the final battle one of the heroes hides under a table, casting a spell to make huge copies of his hands fly around, strangling and ripping. Likewise the Web spell: a staircase in the evil castle is blocked by a solid mass of ropey web-like tendrils which the hero easily but slowly cuts through with a flaming sword (2e Web specifically mentions flaming swords as doing this). Adamantite is in The Faerie Queen, as the second toughest substance known to man (King Arthur has the toughest: a diamond shield). It's also possible TCE influenced the slashing/crushing/piercing rules and the old weapon vs. armour tables. The other hero uses an epee — a fencing sword with a point but no edge — and talks quite a bit about a thrust to the heart vs. a painful slash vs. a bone-breaking shot from a dull broadsword; and how an epee has no chance against someone with armour.


Before 1st edition in fact

Simulacrum was a 7th level magic-user spell in Supplement 1 Greyhawk in 1976. It was not at this time a stand-alone spell but required using other spells, including Limited Wish, in conjunction. In Dragon No 12 it was made a 5th level spell for the first appearance of the Illusionist.

It’s probably impossible to determine exactly why Gary Gygax included this (or anything else) in the game. No one realised they were making history, so no one kept those sorts of records.

However, the history of simulacrum is well known and it was in the sci-fi zeitgeist in the 1960s and GG was probably aware.

The word entered English from Latin in the 16th century when it meant a representation of a person or thing, particularly a god, in sculpture or painting. By the 19th century it had gained the sense of being an inferior copy, which is the interpretation built into the spell.

Androids, replicants, golems, and other manufactured creatures have all been referred to as simulacrum. Relevantly, Phillip K. Dick, the science fiction author used the word in many of his works published in the 1960s and early 1970s including one called The Simulacra.

The ice and snow aspect probably comes from Russian fairy tales of Snegurochka, literally Snow Maiden dating from 1869.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What I find most peculiar is that it is created from ice and snow. That seems weirdly specific, and I'd have thought there might be some fairy-tale or literary precedent for exatly that kind of method to create a simulacrum, which then would be the likely concrete inspiration. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12 at 7:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin snowmen coming alive is the theme of dozens of children stories. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MindwinRememberMonica There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found \$\endgroup\$
    – No Name
    Mar 12 at 21:19

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