forgotten 1e spells: part 1, low level wizard spells

A surprising number of the spells from the First Edition Players Handbook never made it into 3e+, even though the later editions had many more pages and supplements to fill. Maybe some of these spells deserve to be left behind, but venerable spells like Massmorph, Spiritwrack, and Chariot of Sustarre are worth rehabilitating. Here are some of the spells that didn’t achieve “classic” status:


Affect Normal Fires: This is a lovable little spell, with lots of potential: it rewards paying attention to the DM’s description of the environment, and it provides interesting tools for problem-solving… almost. The problem is that it can’t compete against the many other level-1 wizard spells that more reliably produce light, fire and/or damage: Burning Hands, Dancing Lights, and Light. All that Affect Normal Fires can do is increase or decrease the light, but not the temperature, of an existing fire.

Since Affect Normal Fires is so situational, I’d like it to be potentially more dangerous than Burning Hands. Say that it can extinguish (not just dim) a normal fire, so that it can potentially blind a group dependent on a single torch; or cause a fire to flare, causing 1d6 damage to everyone within 10 feet; or make a fire smoke, forcing everyone to move away or suffer a coughing fit. A wizard* with such a spell is going to be eagerly looking for chances to cause incendiary mayhem. I love mayhem so much that I’d be tempted to make this “Improved Affect Normal Fires” an at-will cantrip for wizards who specialize in fire spells.

* or monster! Imagine PCs harried by monsters with this spell:
DM: A whisper from the dark. Your torch goes out.
PC: OK, we light two torches.
DM: Whispers from the dark. Your torches explode!

If the spell summoned Chandler Bing, it might have made it into 3e.

Friends: Friends has a hard time competing against the classic Charm Person. Where Charm is a Save or Win spell against a single creature, Friends is a Save or Gain 2-8 Charisma Points spell against groups. In First Edition, that’s not a big deal. It gives you a slight edge on your reaction roll and that’s it. (Going from 10 to 15 Charisma only gives you a +15% on your roll.) The real benefit of Friends is that it operates on everyone within range: 1″+1″/level radius. A level 8 caster, standing on the pitcher’s mound at Wrigley Field, could cast Friends on all 40,000 spectators at a sold-out Cubs game.

Friends has a use in any D&D game that includes mass combat, politics, and demagoguery. In other words, high-level play. If it were a higher-level spell, with a name like “Sway the Masses” that more accurately pointed to its strengths, it might have been more popular.

Push: Push is more limited than the later-edition Mage Hand, since it can only push objects away from the caster, but, unlike Mage Hand, it does have some combat use: it’s got rules for pushing enemies over or messing up their attack rolls (-1 per wizard level). I think the real problem with Push is that it looks insufficiently like Star Wars. After the 1980 release of Empire Strikes Back, everyone knew that, as a beginning wizard, you should be able to throw switches, lift rocks, and float lightsabers to your hand. In 1e D&D, you have to wait for the 5th-level Telekinesis spell for that. In my opinion, Mage Hand is a better spell than Push, and 4e’s decision to make it an at-will cantrip was inspired.

Write: Write is only used to transcribe spells you’re not high enough level to learn yet. In most circumstances, you don’t need it because you can just throw a high-level spellbook or scroll into your backpack until you gain a few levels. I guess there might be a rare circumstance where you have a limited-time chance to trade spells with a high-level caster. As written, the Write spell makes sense only in a game that’s laser-focused on wizards and their quest for new spells: in other words, OD&D as it was originally played.

If I were inventing a spell with a simple, seemingly-universal name like Write, I’d have it animate a pen, paintbrush, or other writing tool, which could write on anything in range; perfectly copy spells and text, like the third edition spell Amanuensis; and maybe take dictation; all while you’re paralyzed, restrained, or gagged. Even with all these extra perks, it might be better off as a cantrip.


Continual Light: Continual Light still exists in 3e: it’s called Continual Flame. Ever-burning flame is more appropriate for a pseudo-medieval fantasy world, and it puts to rest a lot of questions PCs often ask about ancient dungeons (“Who lit all these candles and torches?”) but there’s something charming about the idea of adventuring in the cold, fluorescent glow of Continual Light. It’s appropriate for the weird dungeon-crawl-through-an-office-building feeling of original D&D.

Fools Gold: (Technically, Fools Gold showed up in some 3e Forgotten Realms supplement, but I don’t think that counts as becoming a classic spell.) This is an awesome spell! It makes a mockery of the monetary system and is rife for possibilities for all sorts of exploitation. At level 1, you can use it to turn $1.50 in copper into $150 for an hour (long enough for you to buy a horse and skip town). The very existence of this spell, no matter its rarity, means that pretty much every shopkeeper will have a little piece of iron to tap gold coins on. I believe that some monster should have routine access to this spell. My vote is goblins. Maybe you can only learn the spell from a goblin spellcaster.

Forget: This is a great utility spell, useful in all sorts of situations, especially if the DM rules that creatures remember being Charmed. In a non-combat-heavy game, Forget would be a go-to spell for cleaning up after the inevitable failure of the PCs’ half-assed plans. 3e has high-level spells that allow you to alter memories, but starting with this ability out of the gate really enables a certain kind of freewheeling Shadowrun-for-dummies gameplay. I’ll admit, it would not be great as a starting wizard’s only spell. (Or would it? If GP=XP, you could probably use it to shoplift your way up to level 2 pretty fast.)

Next time: mid-level wizard spells like Fire Charm and Distance Distortion!

9 Responses to “forgotten 1e spells: part 1, low level wizard spells”

  1. Alzrius says:

    This article brought a nostalgic smile to my face. I started in 2E, but most of these spells (save for Push) were there, and it’s great to go back and look at them again in the light of Third Edition.

  2. 1d30 says:

    Your Affect Normal Fires looks an awful lot like Pyrotechnics. Maybe just dramatically increase the area of effect for ANF and allow temperature increase / decrease.

    Always thought of Pyrotechnics as a firefighting spell because when it goes off it extinguishes the fires. I suspect the spell was put in to mimic Gandalf’s spell against the goblins under the Misty Mountains, and the extinguishing helps prevent repeated castings.

  3. Roland says:

    I loved “Forget”. I did a couple adventures in a custom-made world where Elves has this spell as a racial ability. Goes along with the theme of them being secretive and rarely seen. This spell would allow them to wipe the slate clean after being sighted. It provided 1 minute of memory erasure. Pretty handy for staying hidden.

  4. 1d30 says:

    I always felt that Forget wasn’t enough. There needs to be

    Mass Forget (like the MIB neuralizer),

    a longer-term Forget (up to 1 min per level, able to select carefully enough to make him forget an entire conversation),

    Amnesia (forget all details, including name, but able to walk, speak, use class abilities if he tries, cast a spell if he tries and has that spell memorized, etc.),

    Excise Memory (pick a topic; target has Amnesia about that topic and it might not even come up for a long time so he won’t notice when it happens)

    All this really should be rolled up into whatever mental wizard / psionicist / inquisitor you have.

  5. Paul says:

    1d30: Good point, this is a lot like Pyrotechnics! Come to think of it, does anybody take Pyrotechnics? Would it be better as a 1st level spell?

    Roland: For a minute I thought Elvis had the Forget ability. That would make sense of a lot of things in the tabloids!

  6. Joseph says:

    Personally, I love Continual Light – and the AD&D 2e reverse, continual darkness. If you’re an infravision race, you just lay down some darkness on a hat or what have you and boom, you’ve got a massive advantage against opponents lacking infravision. Also, it acts as blindness in a pinch, if you cast it on somebody else’s eyes.

  7. 1d30 says:

    We had one campaign where we fought some drow who had special goggles that could see through magical darkness. I think the description of the spell in 2E says you can’t see through with infra vision – or it was a house rule, I dunno. But yeah, we would each carry dozens of Continual Darkness items to throw down, and frequently it turned into a back-and-forth as the enemy would drop Continual Light to cancel one and we’d throw down three more. Especially against enemies who use ranged attacks, not being able to see your target is a huge penalty. And because it’s -4 to hit rather than +4 to AC, it effectively let us go beyond the -10 AC limit …

    Pretty quickly the DM retconned the goggles so that if you wore them in normal light you’d be blind, kinda like light-amplification equipment. So during daylight operations you’d have to have someone throw down Darkness and then everyone would be blind until they spent their first round putting on goggles – or leaving the darkness, which turned you into a huge target. Seems like a good limitation.

    Even so it was a crazy benefit in combat.

  8. Canageek says:

    Affect Normal Fires: This could explain why people insist on using torches when there are lanterns in the PHB. No one wants to get TPKed by an oil explosion.

    I think Mage Hand should scale with level: Something like, 5 lb + 1 lb/level, no upper limit. 25 lb just isn’t that much, and it rewards wizards who don’t forget their cantrips.

    Also there is an odd gap where I can cast Fireball but can’t levitate a heavy book or bucket of water, and who wants to waste a high level spell on showing off that you are a wizard?

  9. […] A lot of first-edition spells never made it to 3e and beyond. Some of them would be fun in a later-edition game. Let's rehabilitate some of the forgotten mid-level wizard spells. […]

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