HD&D: Spell Classificiations

As my work on HD&D continues apace, I am now turning my attention to spells and spell descriptions. I have collated the spell descriptions from the 3.5 edition SRD into a single Word document and I’m going through spell-by-spell converting them into HD&D. I’m not entirely sure how many spells there are, but the document is 121 pages long and weighs in at about 108,000 words.

Fortunately, I’m only looking at spells of levels zero, one and two in this pass through the list. Although that’s still more than a hundred of the little bleeders, if I make sure to do a handful every day I should be able to work my way through and still have time to finish playing Mass Effect.

One of the things that has occurred to me as I work through the list, is that the spells have to be classified correctly. Third and fourth edition have an unending  litany of schools, subschools, classes, descriptors, domains and the like that they use to classifiy spells with. I’ve touched on this issue before on the blog, but I’ve changed my mind on a few things and I just wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of my plans for spells.

Tradition and Character Class

The easiest way to categorise spells is by character class. These are Wizard Spells. These are Bard Spells. These are Cleric Spells – and so on, and so forth. Back in first edition AD&D spells were categorised by class, this was simplified in second edition with just two lists: Wizard and Priest. Third edition went nuts on this sort of categorisation, with a single spell appearing on multiple class lists – often as a different level spell. Fourth edition took this a step further, but 4e powers don’t compare very well with spell system in HD&D, so we’ll put that to one side for the moment.

In drawing up the spell list, I have begun to wonder whether we actually need to identify which class can cast which spells. Do we need to know that Detect Magic is a “Bard 0, Cleric 0, Druid 0, Paladin 1, Ranger 1, Sorcerer 0, Wizard 0” as third edition states. Is all we really need to know which magical tradition it’s from?

In HD&D there are five main magical traditions: Arcane (wizards and sorcerers), Primal (druids and rangers), Divine (clerics and paladins), Psionic (psions and wilders) and Sonorant (bards). Is it not simply enough to label a spell by its tradition, then all classes that use that tradition cast the spell at the same level?

For example, rather than calling Stoneskin a “Cleric 6, Druid 5, Sorcerer 4, Wizard 4” spell isn’t it better to label it “Arcane 4, Divine 6, Primal 5”.  It may not seem like much of a difference at this stage, but as HD&D grows and more obscure classes are thrown into the mix then this approach will greatly simplify things.

My thoughts stem from the question: why does a ranger need his own spell list? why doesn’t he just share the Primal spell list with the druid? The ranger would still only be able to cast spells of levels 0 to 4, and he’d get access to those spells later in his career than the druid, and the HD&D rules for spell acquisition mean that he wouldn’t have a heap more spells than he has under third edition. It would just make things easier, don’t you think?

The same rules would apply to paladins. Why have a paladin spell list? Why not get him to share the cleric spell list? Some of you may baulk at the seeming lack of diversity between clerics and paladins, but remember that in HD&D there is no single Cleric spell list as there was in third edition. All the spells are divivded between 47 different Spheres of influence (as in second edition). Each cleric picks a handful of spheres to draw spells from depending on the portfolio of his god. Paladins would do the same. “I’m a paladin, so I have access to the Protection, Healing, Order, War and Strength spheres”, for example.

Within each tradition a spell would have the same level. So if Acid Fog is a seventh level spell for a cleric with access to the Elemental Water sphere, it is also a seventh level spell for a cleric with access to the Weather sphere. It need not be a seventh level spell for Arcane, Psionic, Sonorant or Primal casters (if they can cast it at all).

I think something has to be done to simplify the relationship between class, spell and spell level in HD&D. Third edition got a little bit too complicated for my liking. Classifying spells by tradition instead of character class seems like a good idea to me. Does it seem like a good idea to you?

Schools of Magic

The eight schools of magic still exist in HD&D. All spells are therefore classified as either Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy and Transmutation. And yes, Wizards will still be able to specialise in these areas.

However, I am excising the subschools as I think they add an unnecessary layer of complication. They also come into play extremely infrequently. The third edition subschools printed in the PHB were Calling, Creation, Healing, Summoning, Scrying, Charm, Compulsion, Figment, Glamour, Phantasm, Shadow.

Also there is no longer a “Universal” school of magic. All spells belong to one (and only one) school of magic. I think the Universal school was only introduced to allow specialist wizards to access fundamental spells like detect magic and read magic. Well, that’s not an issue in HD&D as the rules for specialists will be completely different.

Divine Spheres

As I mentioned above. There is no single cleric list of spells. Instead there are 47 different Spheres, that players use as building blocks to create their own spell list. This will work better than the unique spell lists I tried to come up with in third edition, which were fine in principle but too much hassle to put together in practice. This time there is a Sphere called “All” which mops up fundamental spells that all clerics should have access to. The full list of spheres is as follows:

All, Animal, Celerity, Change, Charm, Community, Creation, Destruction, Elemental Air, Elemental Death, Elemental Earth, Elemental Fire, Elemental Life, Elemental Water, Entropy, Freedom, Frigidity, Healing, Hope, Journeys, Justice, Knowledge, Light, Love, Luck, Madness, Magic, Moon, Oracle, Order, Pestilence, Plant, Protection, Rebirth, Shadow, Strength, Strife, Summoning, Sun, Torment, Trickery, Tyranny, Undeath, Vengeance, War, Weather and Wisdom.

The list is derrived from the many Spheres in the second edition game, and the Domains of third edition. Obviously, it is closely based upon the needs of the Iourn setting. The six “Elemental” spheres marry up with the six Moon Gods. Because there are no alignment rules in HD&D I have done away with Good, Evil, Law and Chaos as specific spheres of deific influence. Although, you will notice others that can be thematically applied to various deities.

I have also gone out of my way to rename any spheres that had the same name as spell Descriptors (which I’m getting to next). That’s why the Spheres are called “Elemental Fire” and “Frigidity”, and not “Fire” and “Cold” respectively.

Just for old-school D&D players, clerics will have Major or Minor access to each sphere. Major access lets them cast spells of any level. Minor access only lets them cast spells of Levels 0 to 4. That will allow us a little more diversity when drawing up spell lists for individual faiths. For example, we can make healing magic more widely available, without handing out resurrection spells.


Descriptors are keywords that unite disparate spells that have similar effects. These are the same keywords that I apply to talents and feats, so if there is a rule that says a Monster is immune to effects of ‘Descriptor X’ then the immunity applies equally to all of a character’s abilities.

Descriptors were introduced in third edition and carried over into 4e. They’re a darn good idea. Although it was sometimes confusing in third edition when a Domain and a Descriptor had the same name. As stated above, this is no longer the case. This is the list of descriptors that I’m starting with:

Acid, Air, Cold, Darkness, Death, Earth, Fear, Fire, Force, Language-Dependent, Light, Lightning, Mind-Affecting, Necrotic, Polymorph, Radiant, Teleportation, Thunder, Water

If there is a mechanical case for their inclusion, I may reinstate Good, Evil, Chaos and Law as descriptors. Evil on Iourn will be handled with a variant of the Taint rules presented in books like Heroes of Horror. Creatures of Aduro (the Light) will be infused with the stuff of tangible ‘goodness’ for want of a better word. While the presence of Taint will be detectable to certain spells, I’m not sure if we need to balance the equation by having Good, Law and Chaos equally detectable. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.

Depending on how the work on Psionics goes, I might include the desciptors Psychometabolism, Psychokinesis, Psychoportation, Clairsentience, Metacreativity and Telepathy. Again, we’ll see how that goes.

In Summary

So in HD&D, spells will be classified in the following ways:

  • Their tradition: Arcane, Divine, Primal, Psionic or Sonorant. Divine spells will be further divided into the 47 Spheres.
  • Their level: spells may have different levels in different traditions.
  • Their school: all spells are included in one of the eight schools of magic.
  • Their descriptors: most spells will also be tagged with one or more descriptors.

While not a million miles away from third edition and Pathfinder, this is a somewhat streamlined way of doing things. Have I gone too far? Would you prefer to see each obscure character class keeping its unique spell list? Time to decide.


14 thoughts on “HD&D: Spell Classificiations

  1. i think, personally ur very ambitious and i am not going to get in between ur passion for HDnD and I do credit ur effort for it.

    Right, spells are kewl and fantasy world would be boring without it…but when it comes to combat, spellcasters take the longest to execute due to so much description, rules and flavour text to follow…

    Great, ur redoing spell list, but can we make it more efficient so that it speeds up combat.

    i’ve been thinking, can we implement some of the systems used in video games into the game play. So for one, classify spells into combat and non-combat and meaning, some spells can be both. It should not stop nicos lobbing fireball at the enemy in combat or at ravenna just to irritate her outside in combat. But in combat, the combat descriptors should be used, so that it can be executed quickly….

    So for example, if u have prismatic spell cast in combat (Btw i am just reinventing the spell affect)

    So in combat, it goes something like this:
    Before casting:
    You have to check range, duration, etc…

    After Casting:
    You cast a rainbow spray with hues
    Roll 1D6
    1: Strike with lightning
    2: Strike with fire
    3, 4….etc…

    If this is cast outside combat, you can just follow the text descriptor as in the PHB and SC.

    The above is an example, all i am trying to say here to make spell execution simpler for players in combat…

  2. ok i forgot to add the video games point.

    Right, how many ways can u throw a fire type spell at an enemy? Nicos would agree that it’s shit loads!!

    so, lets look at Dragon Age…Instead of inventing and inventing new spells that does in some ways the same way, why dont create a spell hierarchical in power.

    So for example, at level 1, fire priest can cast burning hands, but the variation increases with levels, so at level 2, on top of doing more damage, burning hands could turn into something like a magic fire missle…this is just giving u the idea tier variations…and when the fire priest gets to level 5, he creates the fireball tier and this can be expanded even further….

    this is only intended for combat specific attacks only…

  3. Some radical thoughts there, INdran!

    If we did this, and followed this approach to its logical conclusion, we’d end up recreating fourth edition D&D. The simplification of the spell description, the division of spells into combat and non-combat (attack and utility) is exactly what 4e has done. And I don’t think that’s been a change for the better. At least not for us.

    If I want a degree of consistency and verissimilitude in HD&D, then I can’t defend a spell that acts one way in combat, and another way outside combat. How is that justified without metagaming?

    I know that you’re very keen on speeding up combat around the table, but I don’t think that the third edition spell descriptions are that much of problem. Yes, we all know that Summoning and Polymorph spells can bog down play, but I’ll address those issues in the spell descriptions. The act of reading a spell description and casting a spell doesn’t cause that much of an issue, does it? Players should get to know the spells they can cast. Most aren’t that complex.

    My intention in going through the spell list is not to rewrite them wholesale. These are spells that have been in play for a decade or more and have been playtested to death. We’d be silly to alter them too much, because we know that they work. I’ll be reformatting the spells, slotting the mechanics into the hybrid game, tweaking the text, maybe changing the damage to fit in with how HD&D works, but an HD&D fireball will still be recognisable as a third edition fireball.

    Wouldn’t it be too much work to do otherwise? And while I appreciate the simplicity of the spell system you suggest, wouldn’t it be a bit dull? Isn’t the attraction of being a spellcaster in D&D the enormous choice and variety of spells that you can command? Don’t we want to encourage flavourful and esoteric spells as much as possible?

    To make all fire spells, to use your example, based on a single hierachical progression wouldn’t be that rewarding, and it would be devilishly hard to implement consistantly and fairly. If you recall, I was thinking of doing something similar for the HD&D sorcerer, but in the end decided against it in favour of the formalised spells.

    I don’t want to completely reject your ideas, but they’re largely incompatible with what I have in mind for HD&D. And I don’t think they’d really save that much time around the table. I would be interested in hearing what other people have to say about this, though.

  4. Hey Guys

    Sorry Indran I have to agree with Neil. I think it would be too dull if for example all fire spells were just variations on the same theme. It was bad enough anyway.

    I reckon if each character has access to a much smaller list of spells then the time spent on a spellcasters turn would be greatly reduced. The biggest time consumer for me was when it got to the druids turn and he had to pick one from the many many spells on the druid list. This is no sleight on Arvan (as Cortez was guilty of the same thing at times), but some classes had just too many spell options and the player obviously wants to ensure that they make the optimum choice. I think that once a spell is chosen it doesn’t take any longer than combat characters rolling many attack and damage dice.

    I like the idea of bringing back minor and major spell spheres though. As you say, low level healing spells could be more widely accessible.

  5. just a comment neil, i really like the idea of major and minor spheres…reminds me of jack’s game…

    just coming back to my point…partially i am whinging about spell casting time cost, raza is so supa fast when it comes to combat cos his character sheet is only one sheet…right dont ask about his history sheet…

    so, i generally agree to what you are proposaing neil…now, all i can say is…good luck with working all the spell list out…

  6. Just added all the SRD psionic power powers to the spell list.
    It now stands 180 pages and 160,000 words.

    So far I’ve done nine spells.

    This may take a while…

  7. u know i reckon, by the time ur done with HDnD, WoTC would have released DnD v5 which will likely be similar to HDnD ;)

  8. I seem to remember that in the Game of Souls campaign it was the big gnarly fighter types that took the longest time to complete their turns. I don’t think casting spells is damaging to the flow of the game. A Wizard casting Finger of Death is considerably quicker to resolve than a Barbarian Supremely Cleaving through a horde of Goblins would be.

    What takes time, as mentioned by Steve, is picking from a vast list. That’s already been dealt with though. In my experience as a powerful Necromancer, it’s very easy to select an appropriate spell if your list is focussed. Druids are the big problem as they can do almost anything at any time. I believe that Neil has this all in hand.

    As far as this post goes, I think it will all work nicely. I’m a big fan of the sphere system, but then you already know that. Ditching the subschools makes sense. They almost never come up. If you want to specify the difference between what happens to the creature after casting Summon Monster or Planar Ally, you can do that in the spell text.

    The only concern is that some of the minor spellcasters would end up with too many spell choices. Paladins would be limited by sphere so that seems fine to me, but would Rangers get too many options? I’m thinking even more of prestige classes like the Assassin. If you have an Assassin along the lines of the one in 3rd edition, what type of spells would they use. Arcane presumably, but isn’t that opening up too many options for a specialist class. Maybe you wouldn’t sanction this particular class, but any prestige type class with a specialist spell list could get considerably more powerful if they are allowed free reign of all arcane spells.

  9. You’re right that rangers would have larger spell list than they have now. They’d have the druid list. And the druid list would be bigger too, as ranger-specific spells migrate on to it. However, this shouldn’t be a problem in play, only an issue in character generation or when advancing a level.

    I do take your point about assassins, though. Well, not specifically about assassins. I don’t think assassins should cast spells at all, but there are plenty of other non-divine spellcasters out there that had a unique spell list in third edition. What to do with them is still an answered quesiton.

    What do we do with the Warmage, the Wu Jen, the Beguiler, the Dusk Blade or the Spell Thief? And those are just core classes. What about the hundreds of prestige classes that third edition spawned? Should they have their own unique spell lists? That would rather defeat the purpose of removing them for the PHB classes.

    There is no one answer to this, except to say that HD&D is not third edition and I’m not behoven to include any of the extra classes. Do we actually need them? Is the Beguiler simply just a specialist enchanter? Can’t we fold his signature powers into a wizard who specislises in the enchantment school?

    The essence of the Spell Thief are his class abilities that let him steal magic from other casters. Maybe those abilities get converted into talents that are only available to mulitclass wizard/rogues. The simple act of selecting those talents slows down spell progression in a manner similar to the original 3rd ed class.

    And then there are those classes that have spells in third edition that really don’t need them. The Warlock or the fourth edition Swordmage have a spell list. They don’t need a spell list. They just need a number of funky powers. This could also apply to some prestige classes that have a very small number of spells: strip out the flavourful stuff that speaks of the essence of the character and turn them into talents. Then ditch the rest of the spellcasting completely.

    Will this work? No idea. I think it’s true to say that an HD&D Duskblade would bear much less ressemblance to a third edition Duskblade, than an HD&D Wizard to a 3rd edition Wizard. I’m an optimist. It might be for the better!

  10. Neil says:

    Just a quick word about the 47 spheres for clerics, it looks to me as if some of them can be folded up, for example creation and healing could be under elemental life, destruction and entropy could be under elemental death, justice and order could be one etc. I suspect you will say that this can’t happen because of the access problem but I just thought 47 spheres seemed rather a lot!

  11. Hi Neil. Yes, it is a lot of spheres – but I think you have correctly guessed my logic. The Spheres are all about intent and theme.

    A Death god may not necessarily be into entropy or destruction. Clerics with access to the Healing sphere, may not have knowledge of radiant energy (Life sphere). They may seem similar, but the gods who grant these powers might be so very different that I think we need all these different spheres. We might even need more!

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