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In Moldvay, possibly Holmes, and the retro-clone, Swords & Wizardry, Clerics simultaneously unlock 3rd and 4th level spells at the 6th experience level. They advance from 2/2 at level 5, to 2/2/1/1 at level 6.

I always put this down to a mistake, because it is gone in Mentzer. Why did Clerics advance in this way, and why is it repeated in the retro-clone S&W?

Why do Clerics then unlock 5th level spells the very next experience level (7th)?

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D&D

Moldvay only covers to level 6. Cook wrote expert. However, Moldvay states:

4 2 1st level, 1 2nd level<br>
5 2 1st level, 2 2nd level<br>
6 3 1st level, 2 2nd level

D&D Basic, p. B18

No third level clerical spells are included in Moldvay.

Cook Expert shows your hop:

L Title              Spells
1 Acolyte            - - - - -
2 Adept              1 - - - -
3 Priest (Priestess) 2 - - - -
4 Vicar              2 1 - - -
5 Curate             2 2 - - -
6 Elder              2 2 1 1 -
7 Bishop             2 2 2 1 1 

Cook, D&D Expert, p X5

Classic D&D (little brown book) also shows this hop, however

L Title          HD      Combat      Spells by Level
1 Acolyte         1      man         - - - - - -
2 Adept           2      man         1 - - - - -
3 Village Priest  3      2 men       2 - - - - -
4 Vicar           4      3 men       2 1 - - - -
5 Curate         4+1     3 men       2 2 - - - -
6 Bishop          5      Hero -1     2 2 1 1 - -
7 Lama            6      Hero        2 2 2 1 1 -

Men & Magic, p. 18. Level numbers added for clarity

It's likely a typo in the OD&D rules, and matches Cook's Expert, but note that both of those are different from Moldvay, where level 6 has no 3rd level spells.

By AD&D PH, it was fixed:

L   1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1   1 - - - - - -
2   2 - - - - - -
3   2 1 - - - - - 
4   3 2 - - - - -
5   3 3 1 - - - -
6   3 3 2 - - - -
7   3 3 2 1 - - - 

Gygax, AD&D Player's Handbook, p. 20

Likewise, in Mentzer:

 L   1 2 3 4 5 6
 1   - - - - - - 
 2   1 - - - - -
 3   2 - - - - -
 4   2 1 - - - -
 5   2 2 - - - -
 6   2 2 1 - - -
 7   3 2 2 - - -

I contacted a friend with Holmes basic; it covers ONLY levels 1-3; while it has 2nd level clerical spells, it has no provisions for characters to cast them.

S&W

Swords and Wizardry includes this jump because it was in the game it clones: classic D&D in it's brown or white cover era. S&W makes only a couple changes mechanically. None of them are in character capability, only in resolution mechanics, and the most notable being ascending AC, which is mathematically equivalent.

If you want to "fix" it

If you want a smoother progression, the following is a better fit with later lines on the chart for Classic, Moldvay, and Cook, and by extension, S&W:

L Title              Spells
1 Acolyte            - - - - -
2 Adept              1 - - - -
3 Priest (Priestess) 2 - - - -
4 Vicar              2 1 - - -
5 Curate             2 1 1 - -
6 Elder              2 2 1 1 -
7 Bishop             2 2 2 1 1 

I penciled this into a copy of Cook Expert some time around 1982...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I own the Cook Expert rules, and can verify it is 2/2/1/1 at level 6 as I've stated. Possibly Moldvay is compensating for not including the higher level cleric spells by simply giving more spells at those higher levels unless the Cook rules are included? Note that given all these occurences, it doesn't explain why rules released just days ago should continue the trend. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Joiner May 16 '11 at 17:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @matt The rules for S&W are a clone; they are a rewording of the processes and practices described in the original. They chose to retain the idiosyncrasy there because it's what is in the original. \$\endgroup\$ – aramis May 16 '11 at 17:37
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As already noted, this dates all the way back to the 1974 rules. There's no way to be certain what Gygax and Arneson were thinking when they wrote it that way, but there are a couple obvious points to consider:

  • Clerics start getting spells at 2nd level, not 1st;
  • Clerics reach name level at 8th level
  • Name-level clerics cast two of every spell level.

There is only a seven-level range to get access to five spell levels, compared to a twelve-level range for magic-users to get five spell levels. The intention seems to be purely aesthetic, to get that magic line of "all 2s" by the time they reached name-level. If they had set name-level at a higher level, they could have used a smoother progression to get there, but they didn't, so they needed a bump at level 6.

AD&D is different because AD&D clerics get their spells earlier (1st level,) get 5th level spells later, and Gygax gave up going for that line of 2s and instead beefed up the number of spells. It's a different design decision.

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You have to remember that there is only 5 spell levels in the 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. And that the original edition was developed through feedback from Gygax refereeing his Greyhawk campaign.

It looks like that from level 1 to 5 the Cleric gained one new spell per level. Then with level 6, 7, & 8; the cleric gained two new spells per level. There is a jump at 9 with three new spells and winds up with 2 new spells at 10th. The cleric now has 3 spells for each spell level 1st to 5th.

If I had to guess the bump was due the fact that clerics started gaining more spells per character level starting at 6th level coupled with the fact that there are only 5 spell levels.

Since Cook was a continuation of OD&D it preserved the original bump, but in AD&D and then later Mentzer it was fixed to a smoother progression that took in account the full 7 levels of clerical spells.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Given that the top two spell levels get 1 each for higher levels under the original, it's easily smoothed as I noted by giving level 5 2/1/1/-/- instead of 2/2/-/-/- It's as likely a transcription error that made it to print. Cook Expert also has only 5 levels of spells... \$\endgroup\$ – aramis May 16 '11 at 22:01
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As others have mentioned, the rule was carried forward unmodified from OD&D to B/X. Given the excellent editing of B/X, and the revision in AD&D, and the assumption by Moldvay that it would be changed, I am sure this was no accident. (But it is possible that Moldvay didn't mention it because he didn't want to have to include any 4th level spells in Basic.)

So if not an error, why then?

I think it is because Neutralize Poison is a 4th level spell, and Raise Dead is a 5th level spell. Nobody wants to lose their high level characters to a random die roll, so it is important that the party gain access to these spells.

Notice that after 7th level, the cleric does not gain additional 5th/6th level slots for some time, not until the lower level spells catch up. That's a clue that this is about access, not power.

Why was a 3rd level spell were not granted at 5th level? Since clerics' experience progression is faster than wizards, that would make the cleric a "third level caster" sooner than the dedicated magic user, in addition to all his fighting and turning prowess.

But in the end, this is D&D, not engineering. Gary thought it would make the game more fun to give access to those spells at that level. That's the bottom line.

An alternative would have been to make Neutralize Poison and Raise Dead both third level spells... but then the cleric starts accumulating lots of them at higher levels. Raising the dead is pretty legendary: how do you top that? So I think it is correctly classed as a top-of-the-line 5th level spell.

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