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I am just starting an illusionist in a first edition game, and the GM has given me this spell. I am confused about how it works. Let me quote the text

Explanation/Description: Upon casting this spell, the illusionist causes a vivid fan-shaped spray of clashing colors to spring forth from his or her hand. From 1 to 6 creatures within the area of effect can be affected. The spell caster is able to affect 1 level or hit die of creatures for each of his or her levels of experience.

OK that seems simple enough. I am a second level illusionist, and can therefore affect two first level baddies. But

Affected creatures ore struck unconscious for 2 to 8 rounds if their level is less than or equal to that of the spell caster; they are blinded for 1 to 4 rounds if their level or number of hit dice is 1 or 2 greater than the illusionist; and they are stunned (cf. power word, stun, seventh level magic-user spell) for 2 to 8 segments if their level or number of hit dice is 3 or more greater than the spell caster. All creatures above the level of the spell caster and all creatures of 6th level or 6 hit dice are entitled to a saving throw versus the color spray spell.

Hmm. If I can only affect 1 HD per level of the spell, how can I affect creatures higher level than me? It is clearly intended that you can, as about half the spell description is about affecting high level things.

So I think it's clear that there is a typo here.

Could anyone advise me how this is supposed to work?

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We don't know; the spell text was not converted properly from OD&D and no errata was ever published. One suggestion is to add the word "additional" to get

"The spell caster is able to affect 1 additional level or hit die of creatures for each of his or her levels of experience."

so a 5th level caster can affect d6 creatures +5 levels.

Edit: I've not playtested this interpretation myself; it's merely one suggestion I've seen. Check with your DM.

More editing: Here's the original text from the very first issue of The Dragon FYI:

A sheet of bright conflicting colors. They affect 1-6 levels of creatures, rendering them unconscious through confusion. (Note: for every 5 levels above Trickster the caster has obtained, add one to the die roll for amount of levels, the number never to exceed 6.) The distribution of the effect if there are more target levels than spell levels is semi-random, first one creature is fully affected, then another, till all the levels are assigned, there being no more than one partially affected creature. There is no saving throw vs this spell if the creature is fully affected, if all but one level is affected, it gets a normal saving throw, for every level unaffected beyond the first, it gets an additional +2 on its saving throw, in any case, it will not affect any creature above the 6th level. Range 24”.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Definitely an error, +1. For comparison, 2nd edition did away with the "1 HD per level" language entirely, to get a straight 1d6 targets. (But of course the relevance of that fix to the intended wording in 1st edition is slim, as Gygax famously had no involvement with 2nd edition.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 13 '14 at 1:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've played with something very like your "additional" interpretation (it was a long time ago) and it seemed to work OK. It meant the spell had more lasting usefulness as characters rose in level than Sleep, although it was less powerful at low levels. \$\endgroup\$ – John Dallman Jun 28 '17 at 23:53

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