Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cleric Magic

The “Vancian” magic of the OD&D magic user is a hot topic for discussion.  Funnily enough, cleric magic hardly gets a mention, but then, it hardly gets a mention in the 3lbb’s either.  Many Dungeon Masters seem to assume it’s just the same memorize, fire, forget as Magic-user spells, with the possible exception – as revealed in Supplement I: Greyhawk – that the "memory" of the spell comes from a deity rather than a spellbook.
One of the very first Cleric player characters was played by Mike Carr in Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor campaign.  Mike had this to say about his character;

“I also recall having the ability to cast one or two spells and having the ability to help heal minor wounds, but in retrospect it's obvious my character was low level and not particularly impressive.” (Carr interview,
So from that we basically know that clerics had spell like abilities from the start, and while that might not seem like much, it does tell us something.  Remember, that in early Blackmoor, wizardly magic was alchemical, typically involving balls of Superberries.  Clerical magic in Blackmoor was apparently not alchemical but neither would it have been Vancian, as that was something Gygax introduced during playtesting - long after the debut of the Cleric.  The first Clerics could apparently simply cast the spells they knew, and if Mike is correct they could expect to acquire more spells as they advanced.
In fact, 3lbb magic for both Clerics and Magic-users can be read almost the same way.  We are really only told that each class level gets a number of spells they can “remember” for an adventure  and that no spell may be cast twice in 24 hrs (M&M:18).  So a 3rd level Cleric can cast two spells “in an adventure”, but they can’t be the same spell in a 24 hour period.  How or when the Cleric or Magic user renews spells is vague, but would seem to have to take place between adventures.
We are also told that spells are kept in spell books, (although Gygax later explained spell books were only meant for Magic-users), so this could be presumed to be the source from which spells were “remembered”.  
Beyond This Point Be Dragons says nothing at all about remembering spells and alters the 24 hr rule by telling us the number of spells a Magic-user or Cleric is given on the Spells/Level table indicates the total number of spells that can be cast in 24hrs.  So a 3rd level priest could cast 2 First level spells every 24 hrs.  That would seem to allow a more freeform renewal of spells than the 3lbb’s and add the possibility of casting more spells in an adventure that lasts more than a day.
Even so, in both BTPBD and 3lbbs, Magic-user spells and Cleric spells would seem to work in an identical fashion, until we look at spell reversal.  Anti-Clerics (evil) are given the power to cast reversed Cleric spells.  “Evil” magic users aren’t given a similar option.  There seems to be no such thing as reversing a MU spell.  Yes, MU spells can be countered by a second casting while chanting the same spell backwards, according to the Rock to Mud and Stone to Flesh spells, but If you have “Slow” memorized you can’t simply decide to cast “Haste” instead.  These are separate spells for Magic-users.
So Cleric magic and MU magic is somewhat different after all, but is it a difference of just reversal, or of how they are acquired and renewed also?
While Gygax’s Supplement I Greyhawk is predominantly a game changer for OD&D, it also contains some clarifications of meaning that are meant to clarify, not alter the original.  “All cleric spells are considered as "divinely" given.”, (page 8) seems to be one such clarification.  
This is further explained in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.  "It is well known by all experienced players that clerics, unlike magic-users, have their spells bestowed upon them by their respective deities. By meditation and prayer the clerics receive the specially empowered words which form the various spells...." Gygax, DMG:38.  Very, very rarely will I look to anything in AD&D for clarification of OD&D, but this quote seems to be a reasonable exception, given that the “experienced players” Gary refers to could only have been experienced OD&D players at the time it was written.

This divine granting of spells explains something else about the 3lbb's.  There's no Read Magic spell for Clerics.  Magic-user spells can only be understood with the use of a Read Magic spell.  If Clerics were expected to memorize thier spells from spell books and scrolls as magic users do, and if their magic is basically the same, then Clerics would need a Read Magic spell too.
So we do see an intended difference in 3lbb spell acquisition even from the start.  Magic-users memorize (remember) spells, whereas Clerics simply know them via divine inspiration.  Clerics therefore can simply pray and renew any spells they cast every 24 hours, and this could possibly be true even during the course of an adventure if you stretch the 3lbb rule.  Magic-users must however study a spellbook to remember the spell and, according to the 3lbb’s, can only memorize spells between adventures.
This, by the way, is exactly how John Erich Holmes interpreted the rules for his “blue book” introductory D&D rulebook.  Apparently to rationalize the "during an adventure" rule, he added the detail that spell books are giant tomes that can’t be carried on adventures, thus necessitating the MU to return to his study to renew spells.  But for Clerics, Holmes says “Since clerical spells are divinely given, they do not have to be studied to master them. A second level cleric can call on any first level spell he wants to use, thus the entire gamut of spells is available to him for selection prior to the adventure.  However, only that spell or spells selected can be used during the course of the adventure.” Holmes D&D:17.
This difference in Cleric and Magic-user magic is interesting in another way also.  OD&D Cleric magic, being non-vancian, looks very much like it preserves a simpler spellcasting system from Blackmoor.  Cleric spells are essentially an inherent ability of Clerics; they are just limited by how often they can be cast, and which spells can be cast by Cleric level.


  1. I think the lack of reversible spells in the magic user list is not significant. In the straight 3lbb, a magic-user knows all spells listed in the rulebook. So making splitting a reversible spell into two different magic user spells won't affect the magic user at all. He simply picks the spell he wants.

    Reversible cleric spells, however, have one use that doesn't apply to magic users in that it adds evil versions of spells for evil clerics without actually expanding the list. There's no reason to do this for magic users.

    1. I agree that not having spells listed as reversible in the magic user list is not especially significant by itself. However, if Magic Users could reverse spells in the same way as Clerics, then it would make sense to either mark the reversible spells, or list the opposite of those spells that can be reversed. Instead there are some spells with opposites listed (haste/slow), and a number of others that have no opposite, even though they could. There's no "raise water" or "supermind" for example.