In the transition from second edition D&D to third edition, lots of rules were re-examined. For instance, why do clerics only have seven spell levels while wizards get nine?
In older versions of D&D, clerics were half-casters, half-fighters. In OD&D, for instance, clerics didn’t get a spell till second level, and they topped out with fifth-level spells and 15 total spell slots, while wizards had twice as many spell slots and sixth-level spells.
The 3e designers decided that clerics were full casters and should get level 9 spells. In the long run, that would lead to complaints that clerics were now as overpowered as wizards: maybe both should have been capped at 7th level spells! In the short term, it meant that the 3e designers had to write a bunch of new level 8 and 9 cleric spells. That was a tall order, considering that the level 7 spells let you spawn natural disasters, resurrect people, and summon Asmodeus. Where do you go from there?
The designers used a couple of strategies: 1) promote 7th level spells to higher levels; 2) move spells over from the wizard spell list; 3) create super-powered versions of existing spells; and 4) actually make up new spells. Let’s go over all the new spells.
SPELLS PROMOTED FROM LEVEL 7:
Earthquake and Firestorm moved to level 8: These spells indiscriminately kill lots of people in a huge area. Don’t worry, the mass-slaughter gap in the level 7 spell list was replaced with a new spell, Mass Inflict Serious Wounds.
Symbol of Death and Symbol of Insanity moved to level 8: Actually, 2nd edition has one tidy wizard spell, Symbol, with lots of options, and a more limited clerical version. 3e divided the wizard spell up into 8 spells from levels 5 to 8 and made it available to both classes. I prefer a single spell to spell list bloat, but fine.
Astral Projection and Gate moved to level 9: These ultimate planar travel spells let you go visit Zeus if you want, or make Zeus come to you, and deserve to be bumped up to level 9.
Energy Drain moved to level 9: In 2e, this was actually the reverse of the level 7 spell Restoration. In 3e, Restoration was left at 7 but the reverse was moved to 9 (because people hate energy drain).
SPELLS COPIED FROM THE WIZARD LIST
Antimagic Field copied from wizard 8 to cleric 8: Because both magical disciplines should be able to build annoying trick dungeons. It would be cool if the wizard version only cancelled divine spells and the cleric version only cancelled arcane spells, but alas, I was not consulted.
Summon Monster VIII, Summon Monster IX: The 2e Monster Summoning spell chain, seven spells, was expanded to 9 spells and copied to the cleric list. This whole series has always felt to me like spell bloat, never more than in 3e.
“GREATER” VERSIONS OF EXISTING SPELLS
Create Greater Undead, level 8: Skeletons and zombies? Peh! This spell lets you raise shadows, wraiths, spectres, and devourers. How often has your 2e cleric lamented, “Oh for a devourer to call my own!” Prayers answered!
Cure/Inflict Critical Wounds, Mass, level 8, and Heal, Mass, level 9: In 3e, the traditional Cure Wounds spells were given out earlier, and the high-level gaps were filled by “Mass” versions of each spell that let you cure the whole party at once.
Dimensional Lock, level 8: This is a puzzler. 2e and 3e both have the sixth-level spell Forbiddance. As far as I can tell, Dimensional Lock is a less powerful version of this lower level spell – smaller area, more limited duration, and it doesn’t damage your enemies. It seems like it should be a 4th-level spell.
Planar Ally, Greater and Spell Immunity, Greater, level 8: You get more hit dice on your yugoloth and more spell levels in your /ignore list.
True Resurrection, level 9: First there was Raise Dead. Then Raise Dead Fully in the Greyhawk supplement, renamed Resurrection in AD&D. 3e added True Resurrection, which you can cast on some random guy you never met who died ten years ago. So right now I could cast it on Richard Pryor or Pat Morita, if I had a spare diamond worth 25,000 GP.
ACTUALLY NEW SPELLS
OK, here it is, the meat of the matter: the all-original 3e cleric spells! Was it worth the addition of two extra spell levels? Let’s find out!
Level 8: 2 new spells!
Cloak of Chaos/Shield of Law/Holy Aura/Unholy Aura: I’m counting this as a single spell, though it’s listed four times, one for each cardinal alignment. This gives you buffs against attackers of the opposite alignment: mostly boring stat boosts to AC and saves and stuff, but attackers also get one cute themed debuff: confusion for Cloak of Chaos, for instance. This isn’t a very exciting spell, but considering all the save or die spells in 3e, the bonus to saving throws might be important in some bizarre theoretical metagame.
Discern Location: This lets you find a guy, like, “Where did Pat Morita go after I resurrected him?”
Verdict: New level 8 spells: not that great.
Level 9: 5 new spells!
Etherealness: Previous editions let you travel to the Astral Plane but there was no spell that took you to the Ethereal Plane. How did players of previous editions steal all the Leomund’s Secret Chests?
Implosion: This spell lets you kill a guy every six seconds. OK, that seems like a true level 9 spell!
Miracle: The divine version of Wish is cool because you’re humbly asking your god for something, not casting a spell and feeling entitled to it. It’s arguably the only religious spell in the entire cleric spell list. I can imagine a cleric variant who got this spell at level 1, and no other spells.
Soul Bind: This permutation of the earlier-edition Trap the Soul is necessary to counter the new True Resurrection spell. It makes True Resurrection impossible on a specific dead guy. So you could cast it on Pat Morita if you’d really prefer I spent my 25k diamond resurrecting Richard Pryor.
Storm of Vengeance: You’d think this would be an upgrade of the level 8 Fire Storm, but like Dimensional Lock, it’s something of a downgrade. Fire Storm does 17d6 or more damage to everyone in one round. Storm of Vengeance has a big list of fiddly effects over the course of 10 rounds, some of which are situationally useful (like deafening people, creating concealment) but the damage output is lower. What Storm of Vengeance really has going for it is area. It covers something like 16,000 5-foot squares. So if your enemies are standing really far away from each other, you can probably still deafen them.
Verdict: New 9th level spells: Some are decent! Implosion and Miracle seem appropriately hefty.